This week's production column takes a look at a script from Ry Russo-Young and Lena Dunham ("You Wont Miss Me" and "Tiny Furniture," respectively) that has made the rounds at the Sundance Institute and IFP. From Kickstarter, is a feature-length collection of short docs from the artist collective The HIV Story Project; a doc about Burmese residents resettling in the U.S.; the true story of orphans and a storyteller in Swaziland; and a fiction feature about the personal troubles of a struggling artist.
Last awards season, Ry Russo-Young's "You Wont Miss Me" (out in New York December 10, multi-city roll-out to follow) was named the Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You at the Gotham Awards. A year ago, Lena Dunham hadn't finished the script for her semi-autobiographical film "Tiny Furniture" that propelled her to the podium at this year's SXSW as the jury award-winning feature. This summer, both women headed to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab with their co-written script "Nobody Walks." Last week, the script was at IFP.
"Nobody Walks" follows a young artist from New York as she heads to LA to work on her film. When she's in LA, she stays with a Hollywood sound designer and his family. As the protagonist becomes enmeshed in the sound designer's home life, the characters enter a "sexual vortex," to quote Producer Alicia Van Couvering ("Tiny Furniture", upcoming Judd Apatow collaboration for HBO). For Russo-Young, who will direct the project, L.A. was an inspiration. She was particularly struck with what happens when Los Angeles is experienced by a New Yorker. "The rhythms of the city — the light, the haze, the car culture – all of these LA things. Coming from this other culture, it's fascinating exploring this city. It's like when Fassbinder and others made films about their view of America. This isn't a New Yorker's version of Los Angeles in a shticky Woody Allen 'Annie Hall' kind of way."
For Russo-Young, her projects have feelings to them. She speaks of being "very OCD…storyboarding everything" in the past. The look for this film is inspired by "the golden light that kisses everyone's skin," the foreignness a New Yorker feels in Los Angeles will be central. Russo-Young added, "It's a very sexually charged movie and the environment is a part of it."
As the script has developed, Russo-Young, Dunham, and producers Van Couvering and Warren Fischer ("Fischerspooner") have developed a community. As Russo-Young and Dunham work through the script, their separate styles come out. Van Couvering notes, "Lena is very verbal, narrative. Ry is physical, visual. Ry likes to act out the scenes as they are written." She continued, laughing, "especially the sex scenes, which makes Lena and I slightly uncomfortable."
Talking to Van Couvering and Russo-Young, a few things become clear. The first is that they convey great purpose and thought. They care about their films; more importantly, they care about film. Another is that they are motivated to do their work in order to share in a creative venture with people who likewise care about the project. Says Russo-Young, "It's all about the people you work with. It's so much more effortless that way. It can be hard. It's gonna get hard no matter what is the point. When you're working with people you really like and respect, it pushes you and makes everyone work harder to make something amazing. You have the opportunity to make something you've never seen before."
The team is currently completing another draft of the script and will start casting soon. They expect to start shooting in the spring of 2011.
More projects, from Kickstarter
Logline: A feature-length compilation of 15 documentary-, experimental-, spoken word-, dance- and music shorts and videos about people affected by HIV/AIDS directed by 15 different filmmakers.
Production team: Produced by "The HIV Story Project;" Executive Producer: Marc Smolowitz; Co-Executive Producer: Jörg Fockele; Associate Producers: Ian Wolfley, Timothy Kulikowski; Manager of Development: Reginald Evans; Directors: Various; Editors: Various; Main Cinematographer: Alexander du Prel
About the film: "The idea for 'Still Around' was born in the spring of 2009 when Derrick Mapp, a friend of mine, who works in HIV prevention in San Francisco approached me about producing some videos for his organization Shanti. It was during that conversation that I realized that I hadn't seen much art content around HIV/AIDS in the past years, despite of the fact that new infection rates around the world are still high and that there still is no cure. In addition to that the year 2011 marks the 30 year 'anniversary' (a strange term to use in this context) of the pandemic.
"That conversation sparked the idea for a full compilation of short films called 'Still Around' about how people at the beginning of the 21st Century deal and live with the disease. I started contacting both the filmmaking and the HIV prevention communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and instantly received overwhelming support. The HIV/AIDS non-profits helped us identify individuals who were willing to tell their story on camera and to collaborate with directors in finding creative ways to represent who they are on film. And in no time the short film compilation turned into something much bigger: the media collective 'The HIV Story Project' which currently has 5 active members. Now, in the fall of 2010, 'The HIV Story Project' is not only the short film compilation 'Still Around' but also a media production partner for San Francisco HIV/AIDS non-profits, the creator of a web site that eventually will turn into a global web portal and the producer of the video story telling booth 'Generations HIV,' which so far has recorded over 150 stories about people living and dealing with HIV/AIDS." — Jörg Fockele
Current status: Most of the films that are part of the project are finished, but the project is looking for funds to finish the remaining films.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. The project's Kickstarter campaign ends tomorrow, and the team recently completed their goal but is still accepting donations.
"In a Strange Land"
Logline: After living most of her life as a refugee, a single mother from an ethnic minority from Burma must choose to resettle to the U.S.A. or stay behind with her community at the Thai-Burma border. The decision isn't as easy as one might think.
Production team: Co-Directors: Paco Beltrán and Jessica W. Leung; Producers: Jessica W. Leung and Paco Beltrán; Associate Producer: Dirk Craft; Cinematographer: Paco Beltrán
About the film: "While staying with the Kayan (a.k.a. Long Neck) refugees at the Thai-Burma border in 2008, we scratched the surface on the story behind why this tribe and a multitude of other ethnic minorities from eastern Burma had fled their country and were sitting stagnant in refugee camps and villages for more than 20 years. When we heard that the UN had started a resettlement program and that the U.S. had swung the door wide open to accept as many refugees as possible, we couldn´t help but wonder why; especially when walls were literally going up around the U.S. borders.
"We could see the refugees struggling with the dilemma of an imminent dispersion of their community as they openly discussed what would happen to their culture and their people left behind. It was clear that the decision wasn't an easy one for many of them. We knew immediately we had to return to live and work with these people in depth to understand their story, to uncover their own motivations behind their decisions and to communicate it to the rest of the world in an effort to shed light on this abandoned corner of the world. We are committed to this project as we believe that the ethnic minorities of Burma deserve to be supported, respected and understood!"
Current status: The project is preparing for a final shoot in Kentucky.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $4,800 by the end of the campaign on October 12.
Logline: An incredible group of orphans in Swaziland dive into their imaginations to create their own modern African fairytale!
Brief Synopsis: "Liyana" is a tale about a girl whose epic adventure will unfold alongside the real-life creative journey of an incredible group of orphans in the Kingdom of Swaziland. This feature-length film by award-winning director, Aaron Kopp, intertwines documentary elements with an original animated African fairytale, all brought together by the graceful lyricism of Gcina Mhlophe, the internationally acclaimed storyteller.
Production Team: Co-direrector/Camera: Aaron Kopp; Co-director/subject: Gcina Mhlophe; Producer: Alison Greenberg; Co-producer/Camera: Amanda Kopp; Writer: Craig Volk; Co-producers: Stephanie Two Eagles & Erik Brandberg
About the film: "For the past 20 years, my family has lived in the lovely little Kingdom of Swaziland in Southern Africa. And although I was born in the US, I moved to Swaziland almost before I can remember. That is to say, Swaziland is home. In the last 10 years, I have come to know and love an amazing group of women and children who run a sustainable, small-scale, agriculturally based orphan care program, Likhaya Limphilo Lensha (New Life Homes). These children come from tumultuous circumstances; many have experienced devastating abuse, neglect, and loss. Yet the psychosocial healing in the lives of these children has been nothing short of miraculous and it is this story that I am compelled to tell. The children have tremendous bonds to each other and to the land from which they make their living. It is this complicated and beautiful relationship that we will explore through the stories they will tell during the course of our documentary.
"I believe I have a unique ability to bring their story to American audiences because I am so familiar with both worlds. I feel it is my responsibility to share this rarely seen vision of rich tradition, joy and healing, in a region otherwise characterized by pandemic disease and sociopolitical disrepair. 'Liyana' has been my passion for the past three years and I am delighted to finally be moving forward with production. These are incredible children that we are working to empower and inspire." — Aaron Kopp
Current status: After completing a short film on the subject, the team is to begin shooting this fall, with the post process starting in January and some post taking place in southern Africa.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $24,550 by the end of the campaign on October 29.
"The Miseducation of Simon Kraus"
Logline: "The Miseducation of Simon Kraus" follows the story of a young painter who struggles to survive in suburban Florida while pursuing his big break, only to find himself caught in a dangerous love affair that may cost him his dreams and life.
Production Team: Writer/Director – Michael Diaz; Producer – James Holden, Kristen Baker; Editor – Eric Carden; Cinematographer – Marco Cordero
About the Film: "I began writing 'The Miseducation of Simon Kraus' in 2008 as a coming-of-age story that was based on the experiences my peers were encountering as they joined a rapidly shrinking job market. I had recently moved home to Melbourne, Florida where I encountered long-lost friends who had just graduated college, and with no job prospects, were forced to live at home and hope for some sort of professional 'break' down the road. Friends who had majored in the arts were forced to tend bar or work retail, and after a few months a general sense of hopelessness gripped us all. Melbourne is a beautiful place, but it didn't seem to offer much in the way of inspiration for many of us; after a while I watched a lot of brilliant people succumb to apathy.
"That sense of hopelessness was so universal that I began to wonder if it would define our generation further down the road. So, 'The Miseducation of Simon Kraus' quickly became my attempt at a portrait of the Millennial Generation, told through the eyes of a recently graduated art student with big dreams. I hope that the film serves to analyze great cultural changes in America, viewed on the microcosm through Simon's experiences." — Michael Diaz
Current Status: The film is currently in post-production. The film is scheduled to finish post in December.
For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $3,500 by the end of the campaign on October 8.
Also in the works:
The Hollywood Reporter reports that Darren Aronofsky is on the list of possible directors for the new Warner Bros. "Superman" film and that Ben Affleck is out as a possible director. If you missed it earlier, there are rumblings that industry fave Jon Hamm is in consideration for the title spandex-wearing role.