Are these the backstories of future indie moguls?
In the ’90s, Gordon Bijelonic was a New York theater actor and Vin Diesel was staying on his couch. Diesel asked Bijelonic to produce his first film, “Strays,” which debuted at Sundance 1997.
Meanwhile, Datari Turner got his break as a model for Bruce Weber’s infamous Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs. After becoming the face of Sean John, Turner left modeling to pursue a career in creating reality television shows.
Bijelonic and Turner met in 1999 but it wasn’t until recently that they worked together on a film, “Video Girl,” which Turner wrote, produced and stars in opposite Meagan Good. It wasn’t the kind of film that goes on the festival circuit; it received a very limited release this year.
And from this hodgepodge of humble beginnings, the duo has gone on to produce seven films in the last 18 months with a film in Sundance 2011 (“Another Happy Day”) and again in 2012 with “LUV.”
“It adds to the cachet,” Bijelonic said. “Having two Sundance films back to back and having Vin’s film in 1997, it’s putting a message out there that we are getting behind quality scripts and we’re able to attach quality actors at the same time.”
Their ambition is palpable. “We read everything that gets sent to us,” Bijelonic said.
Turner added, “We’re real producers. I can talk directors, actors, movies, for hours. When we met Sam Levinson [director of “Another Happy Day”], it turned into hours talking about Fellini and Truffaut and Kazan. In general, we really respond to material, we want to have that long relationship.”
Bijelonic and Turner use some of their own capital along with help from varying configurations of a pool of investors to make these projects a reality.
In describing their joint venture, the two compared themselves to Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson as well as Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. Bijelonic was quick to point out a few differences. For one, he said, “there’s stories of Bruckheimer and Simpson racing their Ferraris down the backlot. That’s not us.”
Turner continued, “We like to have five productions going on at one time, all at different stages at production. That helps us not get burned out.”
Even so, it’s hard to believe the two are not completely exhausted: “LUV” will premiere at Sundance 2012 and the duo has arranged a theatrical run for their film “Dysfunctional Friends.” Their films “Cherry” (the James Franco-Heather Graham pornography drama) and the apocalyptic brunch film “It’s a Disaster” are being pitched to premiere at film festivals; meanwhile, films from Neil Labute, John Stockwell, and York Shackleton will begin shooting in the spring.
“What makes us work as producers,” Bijelonic added, “is we’re open to getting behind all kinds of films.”
With the slate these two have amassed, it looks like these two might have films to talk about all year long.
Projects in the works:
debuting at Sundance 2012
Director: Sheldon Candis
Cast: Common, Michael Kenneth Williams, Danny Glover
will be released in February
Director: Corey Grant
Cast: Stacey Dash, Reagan Gomez-Preston
Director: Stephen Elliot
Cast: James Franco, Heather Graham, Dev Patel
“It’s a Disaster”
Director: Todd Berger
Cast: Julia Stiles, David Cross, America Ferrera
Neil Labute Project
Cast: Alice Eve
Director: John Stockwell
Director: York Shackleton