[EDITOR'S NOTE: indieWIRE's monthly production report looks at independent films in various stages of production. If you'd like to tell us about a film in production for future columns, please contact us.]
In March's edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month's group includes Ryan Pierson's "At Best Derivative," Brian Herzlinger's "Baby On Board," Ti West's "The House of the Devil," Kevin Heffernan's ""The Slamin' Salmon" and Bradley Beesley's "Untitled Prison Rodeo Documentary."
"At Best Derivative"
When a group of fledgling criminals get together to attempt the biggest score of their lives, they decide to capitalize on their grand scheme by selling the story rights to the crime before they commit it.
Led by a wanna-be gangster who answers to the nickname "Waffle House," (Robert Friedlander) he enlists a team of crooks (all not the most accomplished at what they do), including a Kung-Fu Baptist preacher, a computer geek and a Vietnam Vet described as a "MacGyver-type." He even hires a screenwriter to start a script. Unfortunately, Waffle House has never heard of the Son of Sam law (keeps criminals from profiting from their crimes).
Shot in Arizona, director Ryan Pierson and screenwriter Jeremy K. Clayton, who wrote the script three years ago, came together for the project after meeting through their wives a year ago.
Hoping to highlight the film community in Arizona, Pierson and Clayton cast and crewed up with local talent and have been shooting around Mesa and Chandler on weekends since last September. Principal photography wrapped last month. Outside of the 53 speaking parts and 57 location shoots, Pierson says the biggest challenge was finding a bank to shoot in. "Especially when you say, 'Hey, we want to rob your bank and we need inside your vault for multiple days.'"
But the Arizona Film Commission was able to find them a bank that had been converted into a pharmacy but still had the look and a vault. Clayton says that's been the most rewarding part of making the film -- the help from the film community. "Out here in Arizona people do get excited about the process of filmmaking," he says, "and you'd be surprised what you can do on a zero budget when you have that type of support."
Film is produced by Pierson and Clayton through Smoke & Mirrors Productions and shot on HD by Chuck Harding.
[For more information, please visit www.myspace.com/atbestderivative]
"Baby On Board"
Coming on the scene with his ode to Drew Barrymore ("My Date With Drew") in 2004, Brian Herzlinger's sophomore effort is a romantic comedy starring Heather Graham as a career-driven woman who must rethink her priorities after learning she's pregnant.
While trying to get his own scripts off the ground after "My Date With Drew," Herzlinger's manager passed him Russell Scalise and Michael Wright's script. He was instantly drawn to the material and envisioned a "Working Girl" meets "Baby Boom" story of a woman sacrificing to make it in the male-dominated corporate world only to find herself blindsided by a greater responsibility. "Being able to pull comedy out of one of the most amazing miracles of life hasn't been done to this extent that we're doing it," says Herzlinger from the set. The film also stars Jerry O'Connell as Graham's wife, John Corbett as O'Connell's best friend and Lara Flynn Boyle as Graham's work-obsessed boss.
Currently shooting in Chicago for 20 days, the Windy City's popular landmarks will be front and center as Herzlinger is set to shoot at the John Hancock Center, Tru restaurant, Nick's Fishmarket, Michigan Avenue along with some scenes shot in Evanston. But going from an $1100 documentary to a romantic comedy with an impressive ensemble brings a little more pressure, especially scenes with multiple characters and just one camera. "Ten principle characters in the scene at once, you have to deal with them coming in and out, blocking, schedule and each of these actors have different methods and you need to adapt your directing and communication skills with them to give them what they need," Herzlinger explains. "But I'm really thrilled with the results so far."
Shot on 35mm by Denis Maloney, the editor is Ross Albert. Emilio Ferrari is producing and Scalise is executive producing.
"The House of the Devil"
Indie horror director Ti West ("The Roost," "Trigger Man") uses the frantic paranoia of an urban myth back in the '80s of satanic worshipers living in America's suburbs as the hook of his latest film. Starring Jocelin Donahue, Greta Gerwig ("Hannah Takes the Stairs"), Mary Woronov, AJ Bowen ("The Signal") and Tom Noonan, filming will begin in Connecticut later this month.
West has been searching for financing for the film since 2006. Growing impatient, he put it aside and made "Trigger Man" and "Cabin Fever 2" but within the last year the film was finally a go through the help of Dark Sky Films, producers Roger Kass and Josh Braun (both were producers on "A History of Violence"), Larry Fessenden and Peter Phok.
In the film, college student Samantha Hughes (Donahue) is tired of living in the dorms and needs some extra cash to get into an apartment. She gets a job as a babysitter but soon realizes that the family in the house is a little weird and with a lunar eclipse on the way Samantha finds herself in the middle of their satanic ritual.
West says the film will have all the elements of Satanism - pentagrams, sacrificing, goat heads - but the family in the film isn't as deranged as the one in say "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," so he hopes to play on the audience's expectations and give them a different kind of horror. West adds that he isn't for shocking the audience, instead he enjoys the horror genre because he can get away with creative decisions that would be hard to pull off on other films. "Seven minute tracking shots, you can't do that in a romantic comedy, people just won't stand for it," he says. "But in a horror movie, because there's anticipation, you can try all types of different stuff."
DP Eliot Rockett ("Liberty Kid") will shoot on Super 16mm. Malik Ali and Greg Newman are executive producing.
"The Slamin' Salmon"
In comedy troupe Broken Lizard's ("Super Troopers," "Beerfest") latest film, Lizard member Kevin Heffernan takes the directing reigns usually reserved for Jay Chandrasekhar in this comedy set around a struggling Miami restaurant whose owner puts together a contest to his wait staff to help pick up business.
The premise was developed by the troupe a few years ago while making "Beerfest" as a small project they could do quickly if need be. In October, when the WGA strike looked to be inevitable, they took it off the shelf and put together private money to make the film. "We are with the writer's guild but since we put the money together independently we weren't functioning with any struck companies," explains Heffernan on how they were able to make the film during the strike. "We couldn't write necessarily the way we are supposed to write - we basically didn't revise any drafts once the strike hit - so we did improvise a lot. It did get kind of hazy; you find yourself on the phone with the lawyers asking if we can do this and do that."
Shot in a Van Nuys studio in early January in 25 days, the film mostly takes place in the restaurant owned by the former heavyweight champion, Cleon "The Slammin'" Salmon (Michael Clark Duncan). As Jay Chandrasekhar had obligations at Warner Bros. and couldn't direct, Heffernan volunteered. "What was interesting was I would be able to do my own thing," he says. "Seeing we raised the money independently, we could go back and do how we did 'Super Troopers.'"
As always, the Lizard members will all play wacky characters. Heffernan is the manager of the restaurant; Chandrasekhar plays a character named Nuts who goes crazy by the end of the movie; Steve Lemme plays a TV actor who had to come back to the restaurant after being fired by the show her was on; Eric Stolhanske plays the orange-tanned snob of the group and Paul Soter plays twin brothers, one is a crazy chef the other a timid bus boy. "You got to have twins," Heffernan informs. "It's like any good Jean-Claude Van Damme movie."
Heffernan hopes to have a final cut in the next ten weeks and then look for a distributor either through their relationships at the studios or on the fest circuit. Budgeted at under $10 million, the film is produced by Rich Perello, shot on 35mm by Robert Barocci and edited by Brad Katz. Executive producers are Julia Dray and Pete Lengyel.
Director Bradley Beesley ("Okie Noodling," "Summercamp") focuses on the bizarre novelty of prison rodeos, and the inclusion of women convicts in the event, for his latest documentary.
Fascinated by the event since he was a kid in Oklahoma, Beesley attended his first prison rodeo a few years ago with producer James Payne and brought a camera along to get some footage. He later used this for a short film titled "Money The Hard Way," which he showed at last year's South By Southwest (SXSW). But the fascination soon turned to more than that after meeting the people who get on the bull and decided to make a feature about them. "Prison rodeos, that's just the palette for our characters to play on," Beesley says. "Ultimately what we want the story to be is about the characters themselves.
Held yearly at the Oklahoma State Prison, and touted as the "World's Only Prison Rodeo," 12 different prisons throughout the state participate and for the first time ever women were invited to the event (according the Beesely, only model inmates who have no infractions and a job within the prison can participate). Beesley says getting access wasn't a problem as the warden was an "Okie Noodling" fan and the women were more than willing to be a part of the film. "They were excited to talk to guys," he says of the six months he spent with the girls. "Some have been locked up for 13 to 17 years, they were very eager."
Currently in post, and trying to figure out a title for the film (some that he's playing around with are "Money The Hard Way," "Convict Cowgirls," "Behind The Walls"), Beesely hopes to have a rough cut by the summer as he's also completing a sequel to "Noodling." "Untitled Doc" is produced by Beesley, Payne and Amy Dotson and the production company Field Guide Media. Shot on HD and Super 16mm by Alan Novey, the film is edited by Louisiana Kreutz.