In this week's In the Works column, indieWIRE speaks to recent Sundance alum Holly Lynn Ellis about her three projects brewing in the wake of her first trip to Sundancce. Also, this week, two projects from Kickstarter, a feature-length dance interpretation of Girl Talk's new album and an investigative doc that probes the case of the tragic death of the police killing of a schizophrenic Portland punk mainstay.
EDITOR’S NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.
"Drinking Games," "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn," and "Nailing Jello"
When the Sundance programmers launched the NEXT competition last year, they wanted to provide space for new filmmakers whose work would be drowned out by the bigger-budget, often bigger-name films in the dramatic competition. Holly Lynn Ellis, producer and co-star of 2011 NEXT title "Prairie Love," visited Park City last month to attend the world premiere of her first Sundance film. A few days after the festival ended, she is back into her groove at her day job at a parenting website.
Ellis described her Sundance as "ridiculous, amazing." James Franco shuffled into her world premiere as the lights were going down, Sundance programmer Trevor Groth noted that films like "Prairie Love" reminded him why Sundance does what they do. A compliment Ellis found odd, remembering her time on the "Prairie Love" shoot "picking up dead rodents off of abandoned farmhouse floors."
The hardworking Brooklynite is not only busy trying to extend the festival life of "Prairie Love" (the film already has some acceptances, soon be announced), she is also overseeing post-production on two other films for which she serves as producer and actor, and editing her own feature-length script based on her short film, "Nailing Jello."
"I've been a multitasker my whole life," Ellis said. "I had a lot of energy as a kid. I wasn't exceptionally good at everything I tried, and figuring out what I did like." Ellis' energy led her to realize what really made her happy was being on stage, acting and singing. But while she loves producing small films with a network that began with friends she met while studying acting at the New School, she's also happy to have a straight job. "Doing something full time would turn it into a job rather than something I love," she said. "I want other things so that when I get on set, it's a treat and not a chore."
Now that she is back to the grind, Ellis is submitting two more films to festivals, both of which she produced and were directed by Ryan Gielen. "Drinking Games" is the story of four college freshmen trapped in their dorm, hit by the biggest snowstorm of the year right before winter break, whose group is infiltrated by an upperclassman set on corrupting them. In "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn," Will and Mateo are celebrating Will's 30th birthday at a party where guests, invited and uninvited, shed insight on the couple's relationship and secrets unravel. The actor who plays Will is also working with Ellis on her own feature script, "Nailing Jello." That script is based on a short of the same name (watch online here) about a woman who realizes her "gay" best friend is actually bisexual.
All this work, Ellis said on the lunch break from her office job, is music to her ears. "I work at a place that encourages me to do what I love," she said. "It makes me happy to be distracted. It keeps me from obsessing over something."
"Girl Walk // All Day"
Logline: "Girl Walk // All Day" is an epic, 71-minute dance music video set to "All Day," the new album by the mashup musician Girl Talk. Using Kickstarter funding to back the project, and freely released music, the film will be screened as part cinematic experience and part dance party.
Production team: Director/Lead cinematographer: Jacob Krupnick; Dancers: Anne Marsen, John Doyle and Dai Omira; Production Assistant: Youngna Park
Girl Walk // All Day is a growing project powered by talented creatives, producers, web gurus, dance fanatics and people who heard about us and have made the approach to come help. So the team is growing.
About the film: "Three years ago, a fashion agency commissioned me to make an installation video for a shoe show. The result was 'MOVES,' a dance video incorporating 50 dancers of all abilities. Along the way, I met the freestyle dancer Anne Marsen, who is the lead figure in "Girl Walk // All Day." Like a human kaleidoscope, Anne has the ability to move in and out of different styles of dance in a way I find totally thrilling. I've wanted to make a longer film with Anne for a couple years, but have been waiting for the right soundtrack.
"When I first heard Girl Walk's new album, 'All Day,' it was a total 'a-ha!' moment. The music is propulsive, engaging and nonstop. It occurred to me that this piece of music would be a strong-enough, diverse-enough piece of music to sustain a really big music video. We're trying to extend the boundary around what a music video can be and create a viewing experience that's intensely fun and visceral." — Jacob Krupnick
Current Status: The team has released a trailer and a test for the film, and is planning to start production in early April.
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 (March 14).
"Alien Boy: the Death and Life of James Chasse"
Logline: This feature length documentary film is about the vibrant life and tragic death of James Chasse Jr., a shy and gentle 42 year-old man with schizophrenia who died in police custody on September 29, 2006 in Portland, Oregon.
Production team: Director: Brian Lindstrom ("Finding Normal"); Cinematographer: John Campbell; Composer: Charlie Campbell; Co-Editor & Associate Producer: Andrew Saunderson; Producer: Jason Renaud.
About the film: "At the time of his tragic death, James Chasse's life was reduced to the headline '42 year old man dies in police custody.' This film is a close examination of his life, of what it means to live with severe and persistent mental illness. We learn of Jim's deep involvement in Portland's early punk rock scene (a singer and fanzine publisher, he was the inspiration for the Wiper's seminal song 'Alien Boy'), the early onset of his mental illness and the subsequent loss of relationships and opportunities, and of the resilience that allowed him to live independently for 20 years and maintain his relationship with his family.
The film also examines the events surrounding Jim's death, the actions of police and medical personnel, the reactions of elected officials, the settlement of the civil case brought by the Chasse family, and the challenges inherent in police becoming de facto social workers as our safety net frays. 'Alien Boy' is a continuation of what I see as the unifying theme of my films: intimate profiles of individuals that society usually puts an 'X' through, or, with apologies to Woody Guthrie, 'hard-hitting films about hard-hit people.' 'Alien Boy' reveals the depth of Jim's life, the many lives he touched, and how his death — and his life — impacted our city." — Brian Lindstrom
Current status: The team is headed into post-production with the film, looking to compose music, engineer and mix sound, and more.
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 $12,500 by the end of the campaign (March 12).