A New Orleans madam, a love drama, a troubled 20 year-old, the criminal underworld, and a journalist experiencing post-traumatic stress are among the stories included in indieWIRE's Production Report for May. This month's goup include Cameron Yates' "The Canal Street Madam," Bryan Poyser's "Lovers of Hate," Sean Durkin's "Martha Marcy May Marlene," Domenic Silipo's "Paulie at Odds" and Charles-Olivier Michaud's "Til Snow Turns to Ashes."
"The Canal Street Madam"
Documentary filmmaker Cameron Yates looks at the colorful career of New Orleans madam Jeanette Maier, who after being arrested in the fall of 2001 in an FBI sting for running a brothel has become a quasi-celebrity in the Crescent City since her release.
Building a relationship with Maier while finishing her sentence in a halfway house, Yates began filming her after her release in the beginning of 2004. "I wanted to create a humanistic portrait of a businesswoman who just happens to be in the sex industry and a business that is illegal," says Yates.
Though much of the attention brought on Maier's trial and sentencing had to do with the high profile clients she had, that her mother was the book keeper and daughter tricked for her (which led to national media attention and a made-for-TV movie, "The Madam's Family"), Yates was more interested in the family dynamic. "When we talked we discussed her life and her family and more about her as a person as opposed to what she does," Yates says. "The sex, how the brothel worked, I didn't really care that much about that."
Spending months at a time in New Orleans filming Maier and her family on and off for four years, ending on her 50th birthday in the end of 2008, Yates captured everything from her rise in notoriety in New Orleans, which almost led her to running for office, to the family coping with Hurricane Katrina.
Having worked under the tutelage of Albert Maysles, Yates describes the style of the film as being verite and hopes audiences will come into the film with an open mind and make their own conclusions. "In no way did I want to influence audiences by bringing out her opinions on what she does or how I feel about it," he says.
Currently seeking finishing funds, "The Canal Street Madam" (working title) is produced by Mridu Chandra ("Poundcake") and being edited by Sakae Ishikawa. Yates shot the film himself on DV.
[For more information, please visit www.cameronyates.com]
"Lovers of Hate"
Returning to feature films after co-writing and producing "The Cassidy Kids" in 2006, Bryan Poyser ("Dear Pillow") writes and directs this dark comedy which follows two brothers who are in love with the same woman.
The Austin, Texas-based filmmaker came up with the story last summer and cast Austin actors Chris Doubek, Heather Kafka and "Woodpecker" director Alex Karpovsky to play the three main leads. Poyser learned of Karpovsky's acting abilities when friend Andrew Bujalski showed him a rough cut of his latest film "Beeswax." "Andrew is actually my tenant, I own a duplex here in Austin and he lives in one half; his Steenbeck is in my old bedroom," Poyser says. "I saw a rough cut of ['Beeswax'] and thought Alex was amazing so I asked him to do the part and he was down with it."
In the film brothers Rudy (Doubek) and Paul (Karpovsky) are sibling rivals as Rudy believes his brother betrayed him by finding success through writing children's books based on childhood moments they shared. But things escalate between the two when Rudy and his wife Diana (Kafka) decide to split up, opening the door for Paul to put the moves on Diana who he's always been infatuated with, causing Rudy to go into a fit of paranoia.
Though Poyser got a lot of attention after making the low budget "Dear Pillow," he says the experience of making the mid six-figure "Cassidy Kids" gave him a reality check and caused him to take a step away from feature films. Since then, he has made shorts while working for the Austin Film Society as their director of artist services. Now with a clearer head and Megan Gilbride taking the producing reigns, Poyser decided he was ready to go back to making smaller, character-driven films and found enough money through friends to make the film, as well as a little help from a philanthropist friend who let him shoot two weeks at her four-story ski lodge in Park City for the film's climax.
Currently looking for finishing funds, Poyser is editing the film on his own and hopes to have the film done by the end of the year. Shot in 20 days by "St. Nick" director David Lowery on HD, the film is executive produced by Mark and Jay Duplass ("Baghead").
"Martha Marcy May Marlene"
Having produced Antonio Campos's "Afterschool" and being the cinematographer on his previous film "Buy It Now," Sean Durkin is currently in pre-production on his directorial debut which examines the life of a troubled 20-year-old.
The story follows Martha, who after escaping a cult she was involved with in a farm in New York's Catskills, now lives with her older sister. While trying to adjust to normal life, horrifying flashbacks give a glimpse of what she experienced on the farm. "I've always been fascinated with how someone gets into this kind of situation," Durkin says. "A lot of these people join without realizing what they are being a part of, and the cult uses tactics to develop this philosophy to reason them into petty crimes - and sometimes into larger crimes - so the film reveals through time that Martha was running away from something."
Putting the final touches on a script he's been working on since last October, Durkin says in developing the story he read up on cults like the Manson family and The Jonestown Massacre as well as smaller ones which got lesser headlines. He also interviewed people who were once in cults. Through this, Durkin's main goal is the have an aesthetic that portrays the delusion and loss of time people go through while in this situation. He says the greatest challenge will be visualizing the transitions from present day to Martha's flashbacks. "I'm a huge fan of [Michael] Haneke and there's elements of 'Code Unknown' to reference, but I'm also a fan of 'Zodiac' and admire the cinematic features that [David] Fincher uses, so it's balancing those two and finding a unique middle ground."
Currently putting together the last of the financing, Durkin is planning for a 24-day shoot in June. Produced by Josh Mond and Antonio Campos through their Borderline Films, the film is executive produced by Andrew Renzi. Planned to be shot on 35mm anamorphic by Jody Lee Lipes ("Afterschool"), casting is currently being done by Susan Shopmaker ("Afterschool," "Great World of Sound," "Shortbus").
[For more information, please visit www.blfilm.com]
"Paulie at Odds"
After garnering attention with his award-winning short "Mimmo and Paulie" five years ago, writer-director Domenic Silipo is currently in pre-production on a feature version of the short with David Zayas ("Dexter") reprising the role of Paulie.
The film follows 24-hours in the life of Paulie, the leader of a four-man crew for an underworld syndicate, on the eve of being promoted. But when the people he trusts the most begin to let him down, Paulie is left with some difficult choices.
Though even when Silipo was on the festival circuit with his short in 2004, he always had a feature script version. But with two children and other family responsibilities taking up most of his time, Silipo had to put his aspirations on hold though he never gave up on his desire to make the feature.
Silipo says the biggest challenge in working on the script through the years was deciding how to integrate the well-written and well-received short. "My first instinct was to keep the script from the short completely in tact and build the feature story around it," he says. "People weren't responding well to that style so I listened to that and cut it up so now it's over three scenes. The challenge was making [the script] a little more conventional and more producible while keeping my own vision and I think I've done that." In the short, Mimmo reveals a secret to Paulie that he's never told anyone and Paulie does not take it very well.
Currently putting financing in place, Silipo plans to shoot in New York City later this year and into 2010 during Zayas's hiatus from "Dexter." He's also found interest within the industry after holding a reading a few months ago in Manhattan with Zayas (who will be co-producing with Silipo), Bobby Cannavale, Kevin Corrigan and other New York-based actors. Film will be shot on the Red by D.P. Nara Garber.
[For more information, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org]
"Til Snow Turns to Ashes"
After covering a conflict in Eastern Europe, an American journalist (Rhys Coiro) returns back home with post traumatic stress and guilt ridden as he doesn't know what happened to the colleague he convinced to go with him.
The debut film of Canadian filmmaker Charles-Olivier Michaud, Coiro's ("Entourage") character attempts to figure out what has happened to his friend (played by David-Alexandre Coiteux) with the help of his friend's girlfriend (Lina Roessler).
Michaud met Coiteux (who's also a producer on the film) at the American Film Market in 2007 and the two French Canadians have been trying to team up on a project ever since. Failing to get one off the ground, late last year Michaud showed Coiteux the script for "Ashes" and he was instantly taken by it. He and his business partner, Eric Mantion, came on board with their company Storm Pictures and got the financing together.
"I approached the story as a post-modern Western," Michaud says. "These two cowboys of our times going to this crazy place and being reckless and not thinking of the consequences of the job, it was very fascinating for me." In researching for the story Michaud went to conferences and became friends with many of the journalists he interviewed. Coiteux also found assistance through the organization Reporters Without Borders.
Michaud says he wrote the lead role with Coiro in mind, but most people told him it wasn't likely he'd get the actor. "I have a friend who is a casting director and he told me it was going to be a long shot because he's very much in demand and we are all a bunch of unknowns in Quebec, but I said screw it and I sent the script to his agent. That was on a Friday and at 10am on Monday, Rhys called me and said he loved the script. He read it three times. We spoke for three hours and decided to make the film."
Shot in Quebec, the 5-week shoot wrapped in late April and Michaud plans to take a trailer to Cannes to spark interest. The film was shot on the Red and 16mm by Jean-Francois Lord.
[Disclosure: Cameron Yates has contributed to indieWIRE's film festival coverage.]