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indieWIRE PRODUCTION REPORT | "Hanging Out," "Chess," "Four Seasons," "Killing Holly," and "Pontypo

Indiewire By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire June 4, 2008 at 6:52AM

[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.]
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[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 June's edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month's group includes Jerry Zaks' "Chess," Andrew Jacobs' "Four Seasons Lodge," Barra Grant's "HangingOutHookingUpFallingInLove," Anthony Akiniz and Christopher Compton's "Killing Holly," and Bruce McDonald's "Pontypool."

"Chess"

"Chess" Director Jerry Zaks ("Marvin's Room") chronicles the life and career of legendary record producer Leonard Chess from his humble beginnings working in a junkyard to creating Chess Records and launching the careers of electric blues patriarchs Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Chuck Berry.

Zaks was offered the director's chair by the film's producer and longtime friend Les Alexander late last year but Zaks was skeptical when reading an early draft of the script, saying it wasn't good enough. He eventually signed on after extensive rewrites noting his love for the music of that era as a major draw. "The rewrite was infinitely better," Zaks says, "and then the actors were invaluable in helping with really compelling dialogue."

Alessandro Nivola ("Grace Is Gone") plays Chess, who Zaks says has a physical similarity to the record producer in his youth and felt he also captured the compulsive work ethic that drove Chess. "Leonard Chess was a complicated guy," says Zaks. "For Alessandro it was very easy for him to suggest that obsession and intensity [of Chess]." (Adrien Brody stars as Leonard Chess in a similar film in the works titled "Cadillac Records" directed by Darnell Martin).

Written by Robert Conte and Peter Martin Wortmann, the script is based on many source materials including the Chess biography "Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records" and the cooperation from the Chess estate, which gave the production access to the Chess Records catalogue. But Zaks notes, the film not only highlights the music but also the life of Chess, including his upbringing as a Jewish immigrant in Chicago, his relationship with his brother and business partner, Phil (played by Jon Abrahams), his dilemma to be a family man while also chasing his career goals and the suggestions that he may have not always paid his performers in full. "We try not to make him an angel that's for damn sure and I think that's important," Zaks says.

Shot 30 days in New Orleans, which doubled for '40s-'50s Chicago, production wrapped two weeks ago and Zaks hopes to have a picture lock by late summer. Along with Alexander, the film's produced by Andrea Baynes and Jonathan Mitchell. Shot on 35mm by David Franco, Anthony Redman is editing. Executive producers are Gideon Amir and Dennis A. Brown.

A scene from Andrew Jacobs' "Four Seasons Lodge." Image courtesy of Rainlake Productions.


"Four Seasons Lodge"

Based on a series of stories he wrote in The New York Times in 2005, reporter Andrew Jacobs replaces his pen and pad for a video camera to further explore this community of Holocaust survivors who for decades have traveled to the Catskills of New York to relax, rejoice and remember.

"I felt I didn't do it justice," says Jacobs as to why he's making the doc, noting he'd stumbled across the community at the tail end of his series. "And I just felt it was an extraordinary community, not only because they are all Holocaust survivors but their parties were astounding. They dressed up in formal wear and made these lavish meals."

But Jacobs had never made a film before, though he admits to being an obsessive videographer since he was a kid. So his friend got him in touch with legendary documentarian Albert Maysles. "We just proposed that he come on board during a pitch session and he was immediately enthused," Jacobs says. Maysles came on as an executive producer and shares cinematography credit with Andrew Federman, Avi Kastoriano and Justin Schein.

Shot in the summer of 2006 on DV, the doc takes a verite look at the community, highlighting the joke telling, free living and candid discussions shared with one another. "It's a different type of Holocaust film," Jacobs explains. "It's not a sit down interview, tell your story about the train to Auschwitz. That's one thing we wanted to convey in that these people are self selected. There are a lot of survivors who don't talk about [the Holocaust] and they do and they are drawn to each other because of that, they are able to deal with their past by verbalizing it."

World premiering in competition at Silverdocs this month, Jacobs also is hoping to create an educational program from the film that can be used in schools to teach about the Holocaust, tolerance issues and aging. Edited by Kim Connell and Aaron Soffin, producers are Jacobs and Matthew Lavine. Along with Maysles, the film's executive producer is Kelly Sheehan.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Hanging Out Hooking Up Falling In Love"

When Dr. Ben Bingham finds himself all alone after his wife of 20 years walks out on him, he's thrust into a dating world he's completely out of touch with and calls on the help of his studly college-aged son (Johnny Pacar) to guide him through the social scene.

Written and directed by Barra Grant, veteran British actor Richard E. Grant ("Gosford Park," "The Player") plays Dr. Bingham in this comedy that its director would not categorize as a romantic comedy but something more in the vein of the Dudley Moore classic "10." "It's not romantic when you're going around sleeping with a lot of women," Grant proclaims. "It's really one man's odyssey into a world he's never seen before."

Grant began writing the script after knocking around a few ideas with executive producer Laura Hopper and came up with what she felt was a commercial script that she could sell to a studio. But without a name actor attached to entice anyone, she found backing from the group of New York investors who financed her pervious project, the Lifetime film "Life of the Party."

With financing and her lead in place the next step was finding the women Dr. Bingham would woo. First to sign on was Carrie-Ann Moss who plays Dr. Bingham's wife, Amanda. Janeane Garofalo, Jenna Elfman, Rita Rudner, Camryn Manheim and Caroline Aaron also star as women who hope to be the next Mrs. Bingham. "Jenna Elfman plays a hip-hop freak and Janeane Garofalo is a trainer at a gym," Grant says. "It was great because every day we'd shoot a scene with another woman with Richard and I never knew what movie I was making, each day was different and new, it was wonderful."

Shooting L.A. for New York and the neighboring suburbs for Manhasset, Long Island, the 30 day shoot wrapped late last month and Grant hopes to be finished with post by early fall. Produced by Brian Reilly, the film's shot on super 35mm by Alan Caso and edited by Roger Bondelli.


"Killing Holly"

Dallas, Texas filmmakers Anthony Akiniz and Christopher Compton embark on their first feature film with this dark comedy about an actor on the rise who will go to great lengths to increase his profile in the business.

After working together on numerous projects, in March the two decided to join forces and make a feature. Meeting at an IHOP and coffee shops around town, the two would vet ideas taking in consideration what they could afford and what would interest audiences. They decided on a story of an actor named David Michael Cooper (Drew Waters) who's dating a Hollywood starlet named Holly (Lindsay Hightower) and because of it is getting more work. But Holly doesn't appreciate her man taking the limelight away from her and decides to leave him, though with a film coming out David is concerned the breakup may kill his momentum. So he calls on his friend Tom (Josh Durham) to deflate the situation and soon realizes that will be harder than it looks.

"Everyone has really recognized the originality of the project," says Akiniz. Recently having wrapped the eight-day shoot, when interviewed by indieWIRE before shooting started, Compton said the biggest challenge was making sure to get everything done in the limited time they had. "A lot of the scenes have seven to eight characters in it so it's about having everyone knowing what they're supposed to do and not just make what's in the foreground interesting but what's going on in the background as well."

Compton is also editing and hopes to have a locked picture in a few months and then submit to festivals. Produced by Compton, the film is shot on HD by Mason Compton and executive produced by Akiniz.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Pontypool"

Unconventional Canadian director Bruce McDonald ("The Tracey Fragments," "Roadkill") goes into the horror genre with this adaptation of Tony Burgess's 1998 novel "Pontypool Changes Everything" about a deadly virus that's spread through conversation and infects the small Ontario town of Pontypool.

"This is a real departure for Bruce," says producer Jeffrey Coghlan from the set in Toronto. "He's really taking an older, Hitchcockian/David Lynch approach to his vision, and he's real adamant on what he wants to do in post with sound. He wants the audience to feel like their putting their ear to a vent and hearing someone talking in the other room."

Stephen McHattie ("300") stars as radio shock jock Grant Mazzy who after his most recent tirade on the air has been banished to a morning show gig in a church basement radio studio in Pontypool. But he quickly realizes that something outside isn't right and tries to survive along with his small crew.

McDonald optioned the book rights quickly after it hit shelves and has spent the last seven years trying to bring it to the screen. Then while telling Coghlan about it three months ago at Toronto's legendary Horseshoe Tavern, the producer and his partner Ambrose Roche jumped on board and quickly found financing through private investors. Burgess wrote the screenplay.

Filming began the day after Victoria Day in Toronto for 15 days. The film is being shot on the Red One camera, the first Canadian feature to do so. "We were skeptical going into it, but the quality has blown everyone away," Coghlan says. "Pontypool" also stars Lisa Houle and 22-year-old newcomer Georgina Reilly who plays on of Grant's crew members. "This girl is the next Ellen Page," Coghlan boasts. "We had over 3,000 submissions for her character and we literally didn't cast it until we met her three days before we began shooting. She's phenomenal."

Director of photography is Miroslaw Baszak, Jeremiah L. Munce is editing and Jasper Graham is executive producing.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]

This article is related to: In The Works





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