By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire January 13, 2011 at 3:08AM
This week, indieWIRE's In the Works column spoke with first-time director Christopher Neil about his first project "Goats," based on a novel by Mark Jude Poirier. Also up are two projects looking for funds on Indiegogo: A doc about a group of solar engineers looking to bring panels to Africa and a feature about one former soldier's contribution to his community of veterans in the psychiatric ward of a veterans hospital. Finally, we're profiling the Kickstarter campaign of the Camden International Film Festival's DocYard program, which is now going into its second year.
Christopher Neil was drawn to the film industry because it's in his blood; Francis Ford Coppola is his uncle. He was drawn to adapt Mark Jude Poirier's book "Goats" because it's in his blood; he grew up on a goat farm.
Neil's directorial debut, "Goats" comes after years working in the film industry as an acting coach and a dialect coach on films like "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," Sundance alum "Hesher" and cousin Sofia's "Somewhere." Neil optioned the rights to "Goats" eight years ago and hired Poirier to adapt. Working closely, the two have explored the Tucson locations that inspired the book's writing.
"Mark gave me the lay of the land in Tucson early on," said Neil. "He drove me around, showing me the real places in the novel." The two began working on the script in late 2003; Neil started taking a draft of the script out for funding a year later. "Getting the film cast and financed has been a long path" he said. "The coming-of-age drama is a difficult kind of film to get made. The script had spoken for itself and I'm very lucky to have the actors attached that I have."
In "Goats," 15-year-old Ellis (Graham Phillips) prepares to attend a prep school far from his home in Tucson, where his mother (Vera Farmiga) has hired a goat herder (David Duchovny) to maintain the house. For Ellis, Goat Man is his pot-smoking mentor and the only father he has ever known. When Ellis moves to a prep school on the East Coast, where his father (Ty Burrell) was a star student, he must also confront the culture of his estranged father and his new wife (Keri Russell), as well as her friends, played by Minnie Driver and Will Arnett.
The film will be shot in the same Tucson neighborhoods in which the story takes place. Filling in for the East Coast will be locations in Albuquerque, which is also the home base for production company Sandia Media. The biggest challenge, Neil anticipates, is "all of the scenes with the goats. I'm excited to film the scenes where the actors are interacting with the goats as if they're other characters in the movie. I think it's going to be very real and consequently very funny."
Neil has heard horror stories about training goats, but says they are currently practicing their lines. "There's a resident goat expert in Tucson who goes on goat treks into the mountains with people. He's providing a couple of goats for the movie and coaching and rehearsing with goats as we speak.
Growing up on a Northern California goat farm in the 1970's, Neil says he feels close to goats. "I spent a lot of time in a goat pen as a kid. I can tell you from experience that they are oftentimes more interesting than human beings. I felt like I knew these characters, knew them my whole life. My father was almost identical to goat man. I felt like these were my own family. I get to put everything to use that I've learned with themes that are not only universal, but personal to me as well."
"Goats" is in the final stage of casting and will begin shooting shortly in Tucson, AZ, and Albuquerque, NM. Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Eric Kopeloff, and Shannon Lail will produce. Richard Arlook, Peter Touche, and Daniel Crown will executive produce. Echo Bridge Entertainment is handling international sales, and is presenting the film during the European Film Market this February.
Logline: "Solar Maasai" tells the story of a team American solar engineers who travel to the rural Maasai village of Emprukel, Kenya to teach the local students how to use solar power. Together the team and the students install a solar power system in the local schoolhouse, giving the village electricity and powered light for the first time.
Production Team: Producer/Director/Writer: Stephen Gillis; Producer/Writer - Patrick Earley; Producer - Jessica Cheung; Director of Photography - Michael Goode; Editor - Greg Ng
About The film: "'Solar Maasai' is a very special and unique story. I was approached by my dear friend and Solar project manager Barret Raftery to document his journey to rural Africa and training these students. I could not pass up the offer; however, due to medical concerns, I could not join them. So I worked with the crew that went and sort of directed the film via email and conference calling. Michael, our cinematographer, was amazing and was able to catch the moments as I would. His filming style is organic and unobtrusive, and he allowed the subjects to tell the story.
"Energy poverty (lack of access to electricity) is rising in only a few areas and that includes Africa. In fact, studies show Africa is the only continent where energy poverty will rise over the next 20 years. Due to politics, these rural areas are left behind when it comes to basic needs. With the people of Kenya and the Maasai now putting an emphasis on education, basics like electricity are needed for these students to make the most of the education they are given. By providing them with the means and education to spread solar power, the Maasai people are now empowered to spread the resource to other villages and teach others. This is the best way to help a society. Rather than going in and saying, "Your way of life is wrong, here's the North American way," Barrett and his team provide them with the means to fish, so to speak, and where they take it is up to them." -- Stephen Gillis
Current Status: The team is currently raising the funds to complete postproduction.
For more information and to support the film: Check out the film’s IndieGoGo page. The campaign for “Solar Maasai” ends in a month.
"Happy New Year"
Logline: "Happy New Year" is the story of Sgt. Cole Lewis who, mentally and physically scarred by his time served in Iraq and Afghanistan, finds humanity, compassion and friendship in a group of similarly injured veterans in the psychiatric ward at a remote Veterans Hospital. Through humor and pathos, Lewis becomes a ray of hope in the ward, as the men find a way to combat their post-war grief, but just as their luck starts to change, Lewis soon faces his fiercest battle yet —the one against himself.
Production team: Writer/Director: K. Lorrel Manning; Producers: Michael Cuomo, Karl Jacob, Victoria Hay, Tom Stein; Executive Producers: Iain Smith, Whitney Arcaro, Terrence Gray; Editor: William Miller; Cinematographer: Soopum Sohn; Score: Paul Brill; Music Supervisor: Joe Rudge; Cast: Michael Cuomo, JD Williams, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Jose Yenque, Wilmer Calderon
About the film: "'Happy New Year' began as a short Off-Broadway play that I wrote four years ago after meeting an Iraq War veteran who'd just returned home a year earlier and who was very disillusioned about his future. I had become aware of the perils of PTSD and the lack of care provided for veterans when they returned stateside by various articles I had read and other veterans that I'd met a few years before. I immediately sent the play to good friend and actor Michael Cuomo, and he urged me to continue developing it. A few months later the play was given an Off-Broadway production by the Barrow Group, with me as director and Cuomo in the lead role of Lewis. At the urging of a group of military mothers who saw the play, we then made a 15-minute short (based on the play), which went on to win numerous awards on the festival circuit, completing its run with an online premiere on the Huffington Post.
"Based on the success and reaction to the short film, we were strongly encouraged to expand the story into a feature. Over the next couple of years, I and lead actor/producer Michael Cuomo interviewed dozens of veterans from various wars – Iraq, Afghanistan, Desert Storm, Vietnam and WWII – their families, as well as various military and VA personnel. As painful as these stories were to hear, we realized how therapeutic the experience was for them and for us. These conversations inspired some of the various characters and events in the feature film version. The film, now completed, has been referred to by one veteran who has seen it as "the most powerful portrayal of soldiers returning from this current war to ever hit the screen." -- K. Lorrel Manning
Current status: "Happy New Year" was shot with the RED camera, on location at the Bronx Psychiatric Center. The team recently finished their final cut, and is looking for funds to complete the final elements.
For more information and to support the film: Check out the film’s IndieGoGo page. The campaign for “Happy New Year” ends in a month.
Special Feature: DocYard on Kickstarter
Short Description of DocYard: Celebrating documentary filmmaking’s past, present and future, The DocYard is a biweekly documentary film and discussion series that takes place at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, MA. Created in the summer of 2010 by the Camden International Film Festival, LEF Foundation and Principle Pictures, the organization's inaugural season included regional premieres of a number of festival favorites, including "45365" and a "Last Train Home," as well as rediscovered classics like Frederick Wiseman's "Hospital." All films were followed by Q&A's with film directors. The DocYard returns February 1 and will open its winter season with the second US screening of the acclaimed film "Armadillo" by Janus Metz.
Mission Statement: The DocYard aims to develop and grow a vibrant, creative community for Boston’s filmmakers, film students and film lovers through screenings, discussion and intimate networking opportunities with some of today's most prominent documentary filmmakers.
About the program: Our Winter program is an eclectic mix of standout festival documentaries from the past three years. We choose films that inspire our audience to reflect on a variety of approaches to the craft of documentary storytelling.
Plans for the campaign:The campaign was created to provide travel and hospitality support for visiting filmmakers and get the series closer to long-term financial sustainability. It is also a convenient way to sell season passes, which will be distributed to all those who pledge $50 or more.
For more information and to support DocYard: Check out the DocYard IndieGoGo page. The DocYard campaign ends Jan. 30.