This week's production column, 'In the Works', checks in with acclaimed producer Peter Wintonick ("Manufacturing Consent," "Earthkeepers") on his new project with "Up the Yangtze" director Yung Chang, “China Heavyweight,” then profiles a few upcoming films featured on crowd-funding website IndieGoGo and elsewhere.
EDITORS 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.
Canadian director Yung Chang ("Up the Yangtze") is making a return to China with his latest doc project, "China Heavyweight," to take a look at a Western sport that is quickly taking root in one rural Chinese province. Both Chang and veteran doc filmmaker, Peter Wintonick ("Noam Chomsky: Personal Influences") attended the iDocs festival in Beijing last December and noticed an article about a boxing school in Szechuan province. The idea intrigued them and they set out to take a look.
"We just had to go there, you get that impulse," said Wintonick. "Yung [Chang] had been saying for a few years that he wanted to make a boxing film, and so we went on this research shoot in this very pristine Shangrila-like isolated area." What they found were tobacco farms and mines, which forms the backbone of the local economy. The area's young must either uproot from their family's to the country's industrial cities, or they can give a go at the rising sport of boxing, which has suddenly become a focus of the country's 2012 Olympic aspirations.
"There is a boxing camp headed by a Master coach, and kids as young as eight are recruited," explained Wintonick. "Because of their hard-labor upbringing, these kids are already very strong and are suited for boxing. If they're selected, they attend a huge school - with about 3,000 students - and afterward they go to this very primitive boxing facility."
Both Chang and Wintonick were struck by the intersecting stories of American-style boxing invading this rural outpost, being headed by a self-avowed pacifist coach and the dreams of its aspirants who must content with the dual pressures of their own personal dreams vs. the Olympic hopes of a nation.
"It's a chance for them to get out of poverty, [and] what drives them is that it's an opportunity for them to escape their situation," said Chang. "They don't want to live in their small villages, so it's a chance to move forward. Also it's fascinating for them to have this connection with the West."
It's also a striking turnaround for China, which had banned boxing under Chairman Mao until 1986. Now the sport is on the rise and even American promoters have come calling, including super-impresario, Don King.
"Whether they succeed or fail is all a part of the story," added Chang. "I suspect there will be some stories in which some of these kids won't make it and they'll return to the fields."
Both Chang and Wintonick will be taking the project to the Toronto Documentary Forum at Hot Docs, currently underway. TDF allows selected producers to pitch their projects to over 150 international broadcasters and financiers from North America, Europe, Japan and Australia.
"We're pursuing a theatrical release in China, and we hope to use the certifying process [through Chinese partners] in order to eventually show the film there," said Chang and Wintonick to indieWIRE in a recent conversation. "We're aiming the finished date for the film for the 2012 Olympics in London."
Logline: The story of young, gay, Dominican-American at two stages of his life: as a 9-year-old who is best friend and side-kick to his single mother; and as a 21-year-old, seeking love and attention in New York City.
The team: Terracino, Writer/Director/Producer; Juan Caceres, Producer; Elizabeth Gardner, Marisa Viola & Tsahai Wilson, Associate Producers; Saro Varjabedian, Director of Photography; Kerry Bar & Paul Schnee, Casting Directors ("Boys Don't Cry," "The Station Agent," "Pineapple Express"); Alain Alfaro, Editor; Cast includes: Elena Goode (“As the World Turns”), Fabio Costaprado, Quentin Davis Araujo, Robin de Jesus (Tony-nominee “In the Heights”), Monte Bezell, Erin Fogel (“27 Dresses”)
About the film: Single-monikered Terracino played Sundance and New Directors/New Films with his award-winning short "My Polish Waiter" before generating support and additional awards for the script for his first feature, "Elliot Loves." He explains his motivations for the project: "I wanted to tell a Latino coming-of-age story like no other - something with sex appeal, youth, and urgency, but culturally relevant." Rather than tell the story of his protagonist, Terracino breaks the rules of traditional storytelling to mix chronology and various genres with the aim to help a diverse audience experience and appreciate Elliot's life as he lives it.
Current status: The largely self-financed project is nearly halfway through principal photography, with the aim to complete shooting by July. The producers are running various fundraising campaigns through their Facebook page as well as through IndieGoGo to raise an additional $40,000 to offset production costs not covered by the support of Latino-oriented national brands like Heineken, Café Bustelo, and Papi Underwear and others.
"What If People Died"
Logline: A devious comedy with a paranormal bent that poses the question: What if a bunch of hipsters died and came back to life like it was no big thing?
The team: Dominic Mah, Writer/Director/Editor/Producer; Carrie Lynn Certa, Producer; Pyongson Yim, DP; Kyle Peterson, Production Design; Tomoko Kubo, Costumes; Cast includes Feodor Chin, Jae Suh, Dwayne Perkins, Karin Anna Cheung, Alexandra Fulton, Cristina Sasso, Luis Aldana, Ewan Chung, Jennie Yee, and Brendan Elms
About the film: An alumni of the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, Dominic Mah describes the basic relatability of his dark comedy: "It's as simple as the questions of what are you doing with your life, why do you get up in the morning, and why does it seem that bad things are always happening only to the nice people?" Intentionally diverse in its casting, to reflect Los Angeles melting pot, "What If People Died" is described as a topical indie pastiche of "Heathers" and "Slacker" by way of Woody Allen, with some nerdcore and J-pop thrown in for fun.
Current status: The project has completed principal photography and is currently in post. The producers are running an IndieGoGo campaign to help cover these costs.
For more information and to support the film: http://www.indiegogo.com/What-If-People-Died. The funding deadline for this IndieGoGo campaign is less than two months away.
Logline: In this short film, Marcus Freeman is released from serving time only to find himself right back into the prison of his father’s control. After learning his secrets, Marcus must choose between betraying his own father or following in his footsteps.
The team: Robert C Boler, Writer/Director; Shaleah Poster, Cinematographer; Zachary Honea, Editor; Misti Fields, Producer; Andy McGovern, Producer; Joel Morales, Sound Designer; Cast includes Alex Ripley Lysak ("Marcus") and Tom Young ("Father")
About the film: "Patriarchy" is a student film, with crew composed of students of the University of North Texas at Denton, whose Department of Radio, Television & Film provides all production and post-production equipment free of charge. The filmmakers have also founded Story Seven Cinema, a small production company that is concurrently working on a number of projects and which has a progressive, egalitarian creed. "Patriarchy" was loosely inspired by a short story and aims to explore the different kinds of prisons and harmful cycles that people can be stuck within.
Current status: Having recently wrapped production, "Patriarchy" is currently in post-production. Producers are running an IndieGoGo campaign to assist with production expenses and upcoming festival and distribution fees. The film will premiere at the 2010 University of North Texas Advanced Films Premiere on May 8, with further festival play intended.
For more information and to support the film: http://www.indiegogo.com/patriarchy. The funding deadline for this IndieGoGo campaign is about four months away.
"Heart of Now"
Logline: When Amber discovers she's pregnant, her boyfriend leaves her while close friends insist that she get an abortion. Abandoned at every turn, she willfully seeks a safe haven with the father figure who left her and her dying mother a decade ago.
The team: Zak Forsman, Writer/Director; Kevin K Shah, Producer; Jamie Cobb, Editor; Addison Brock III, Cinematographer; Deklun & Airom Bleicher, Music; Marion Kerr & Kelly McCracken, Cast.
About the film: "Heart of Now" bears the attribute "A Film by SABI," reflecting the collaborative nature of the production, where several filmmakers worked together under Zak Forsman's direction, and where the cast employed improvisational techniques to more honestly realize their characters. Forsman explains the inspiration of the project was the early death of his father, while the director was still a teenager: "This film grew out of unsettled emotions and the distress I felt from being left by someone who I hadnʼt known life without."
Current status: Producers are just wrapping up post-production and are planning a Fall release.
Also currently In the Works:
“The Encore of Tony Duran,” the feature directorial debut of Fred A Sayeg and starring Elliott Gould, Nikki Ziering, William Katt, Cody Kasch, and Gene Pietragallo, recently wrapped the first part of principal photography in Palm Springs and Los Angeles. The dark comedy tells a story of redemption for a would-be performer who long ago gave up his dreams, let his body go to, and made a general mess of his life. When he hits rock bottom, he's inspired by a friend to pull his life together. Production has been on a hiatus while the lead loses 30-40 lbs as part of the character's story arc.