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by Jason Guerrasio
August 7, 2008 5:41 AM
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iW AUGUST PRODUCTION REPORT | "Palace," "Exam," "Heart," "Magic Bus" and "New York, I Love You"

A scene from Alex Gibney's "The Magic Bus." Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

[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 David Kaplan's "7 to the Palace," Stuart Hazeldine's "Exam," Zak Forsman's "Heart of Now," Alex Gibney's "The Magic Bus," and concept creator Emmanuel Benbihy's "New York, I Love You."

"7 to the Palace"

"The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" correspondent Aasif Mandvi co-writes and stars in this comedy about family and food.

Directed by David Kaplan ("Year of the Fish"), Mandvi plays Samir, an aspiring French chef who must put his dreams on hold when he has to return home to Jackson Heights to run his father's dingy Indian restaurant. "I just had a palpable emotional reaction to [the script]," says Kaplan on the eve of the first day of shooting. "It's got a very mythic fairytale kind of feel and that of course has a connection to not only my last film but a lot of short films I've done."

Mandvi and co-writer Jonathan Bines (who was a former writer for "The Daily Show" and now writes for "Jimmy Kimmel Live!") had shopped the script around for seven years before finding financing within the last year. But they also had to search for a director who understood the culture and neighborhood aspect of the script. "'Year of the Fish' (which opens later this year) was set in Chinatown," says Kaplan, who they approached a few months ago. "And I think they thought if I could do Chinatown I could do Jackson Heights. The neighborhood will be a character and the sense of family being a unique sort of pressure plays very much in the story."

Kaplan admits coming on board with a script already developed and financing in place was a luxury he has never had previously, but he was also surprised to find that Mandvi's script wasn't as self-indulgent as most writer-actor projects are. "Often the actor who has developed the project for themselves isn't talented enough to get starring roles, but I was thrilled to find the script beautifully written and Aasif is an extraordinary actor."

Currently shooting in Jackson Heights and neighboring areas of New York, the film is shot on Super 16 by David Tumblety ("Sweet Land") and produced by Lillian LaSalle's Sweet 180 and Nimitt Mankad's Inimitable Pictures. The editor is Chris Houghton. The film also stars Jess Weixler ("Teeth"), Kevin Corrigan ("Superbad"), Ajay Naidu ("Office Space"), Dean Winters ("P.S. I Love You") and legendary Indian actor Naseerudin Shah.


"Exam"

"12 Angry Men" meets "Cube" in this psychological thriller by Brit co-writer-director Stuart Hazeldine.

In his debut feature, eight ambitious candidates vying for a top position at a multinational corporation face a final test to decide who gets the job. But when the eight hopefuls realize the company has devised an unconventional method to find the ideal person, they have only 80 minutes to figure out what exactly it is they need to do the get the job.

Originally conceived by co-writer Simon Garrity in 2006 as a short film set at a school, Hazeldine switched it to the job selection concept because, as Hazeldine says on set via e-mail, "I wanted to up the stakes. I had done a short with child actors, I wanted to write meaty parts for adult actors." The story is set entirely in one room and being filmed in chronological order to give it a real time feel. "Shooting it this way we think will help the actors build their emotional arcs through the film," Hazeldine explains.

Produced by Gareth Unwin's Bedlam Productions and Hazeldine's Hazeldine Films, the four week shoot recently wrapped at Elstree Studios in North London. The site is best known for housing the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" trilogies, and that fact hasn't been lost on Hazeldine. "Apparently we're shooting on the set that was Yoda's house in 'Empire.'" The film was shot on 35mm by Tim Wooster and edited by Mark Talbot-Butler. The film stars John Lloyd Fillingham, Gemma Chan, Adar Beck and Pollyanna McIntosh.

[For more information, please visit www.bedlamproductions.co.uk]

A scene from Zak Forsman's "Heart of Now." Image courtesy of the filmmaker.


"Heart of Now"

"A point has to come where the writer-director has to transfer ownership of the characters to the actors and trust them to follow the intentions of the story," says writer-director Zak Forsman about his feature film "Heart of Now." "We can throw the dialogue away because I want them to know the characters even more than I do."

This collaborative philosophy is the genesis behind Forsman and childhood buddy Kevin K. Shah's company Sabi Pictures. Having created a handful of shorts (with the "Film By" credited to Sabi instead of an individual director) the two have now moved into features with the mindset that everyone on set has an equal part in the creation of the project.

So with the heavily improvised "Heart of Now," a story about a girl's attempt to reconnect with her past after realizing she's pregnant, Forsman worked closely with his lead actress Marion Kerr to find her character. "I didn't want to write dialogue," Forsman admits. "But after talking to Marion she convinced me that even if we didn't want to use the dialogue, it would be helpful to her to figure out the character. But I'm fortunate to work with very talented people and I have a certain confidence that when we shoot I'm going to get more truthful and natural stuff [from them] than anything I would have conjured on my own."

Shot in 24 days around L.A., the film is currently in post and is a sister project to Shah's recently completed film "White Knuckles," which is also under the Sabi banner. "The original idea was the events of these stories were happening concurrently," Forsman says. "But when we shot 'Heart of Now' we had this new understanding and figured 'White Knuckles' happens a few months after the events in 'Heart of Now.'" Forsman says he also hopes to use non-traditional means of distribution to release the films (currently his short, "I F*cking Hate You," is playing on the From Here To Awesome festival.) "We want to retain ownership [of our films] so we're intent on being a part of the emerging online distribution models."

"Heart of Now" is shot on HD by Forsman who is producing along with Shah. The editor is Jamie Cobb.

[For more information, please visit www.sabipictures.com]


"The Magic Bus"

Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney has moved from Gonzo journalism to hanging with the Merry Pranksters for his next documentary which highlights Ken Kesey and friends as they take a bus trip from La Honda, Calif., to New York's World's Fair in 1964.

Tentatively titled "The Magic Bus," Gibney has acquired from the Kesey estate the 40 hours of 16mm footage shot by the Pranksters during the trip to create what he calls "a feeling like you're on the bus." He first learned about the footage while reading a piece about the trip by Robert Stone in The New Yorker in 2004. He was taken aback by the description of a 1939 school bus transformed into a psychedelic on wheels christened "Further" with Neal Cassady, the model for Jack Kerouac's Dean Moriarty in "On the Road," at the wheel.

Julie Christie and Shia LaBeouf in a scene from, "New York, I Love You." Image courtesy of NYILY

"Kesey was flush with money from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,'" says Gibney, "and paid for all the film and rental of the cameras. They had two or three, and they had a huge sound system and were playing music on top of the bus. They thought they were making an organic movie. I thought, wouldn't it be fun to explore that trip in detail, but the key was having this footage."

After negotiating for years, Gibney finally made a deal for the footage, and though he says not all of it is synchable to the original sound, there's enough that it won't all be montages and will have scenes of people talking on the bus and discussing issues. Along with the trip, Gibney wants to focus on Kesey's life at that time through interviewing people who were there as well as the state of America, which he defines through the music at the time. "We haven't gotten to 'Purple Haze' yet," he says. "You've got Coaltrane, and you've also got Roger Miller singing 'King of the Road,' The Beatles are just coming to America. Things haven't blown up yet. It's the fuse not the explosion."

Currently researching, Gibney admits he has no timetable for when he will complete the film stating, "It will be ready when it's ready, but the bus is rolling."

Financed by private investors, A&E IndieFilms and UK distrib Optimum Releasing, Gibney is producing. Maryse Alberti is DP. (they are currently doing camera tests) and Alison Ellwood is the editor, both have worked on numerous Gibney films. The film's sales agent is Fortissimo Films.


"New York, I Love You"

A sequel of sorts to 2006's "Paris, je t'aime," concept creator Emmanuel Benbihy now assembles the world's top-flight filmmakers to New York City for twelve shorts surrounding the theme of love in The Big Apple.

Talent involved in this omnibus include (just to name a few) directors Allen Hughes, Brett Ratner, Joshua Marston, Fatih Akin and Mira Nair and actors Olivia Thirlby, Hayden Christensen, John Hurt, Christina Ricci, Orland Bloom, Kevin Bacon, Anton Yelchin, Ethan Hawke and taking a first stab at directing, Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman (who started in "Paris, je t'aime"). "If it wasn't for 'Paris, je t'aime' none of the agents would have taken a listen," says veteran New York producer Rose Ganguzza who met Benbihy through a mutual friend last year and agreed to come onboard as an executive producer. Helping Benbihy in preproduction, she says the first break was getting William Morris Independent interested, as they brought on clients Johansson, Marston, Hughes and Rachel Bilson. "This is important when you are trying to do a film like this that breaks the mold and is creatively challenging," Ganguzza explains.

Prep for the filmmakers was similar to what the directors of "Paris, je t'aime" went through. One designated New York-based crew did every short and the filmmakers brought along their head creatives. Directors came to New York for location scouting and did story development via e-mail and phone. Then they came back to New York for a two-day shoot (the project was 40-days total). Ganguzza champions the experience of the crew. "You want to tell everyone at the beginning to leave their egos at the door but that's easier said than done," Ganguzza says. "It's the question of a really good production team and I would venture to say we had a much more cohesive and experienced production team on this."

Having seen a rough cut, Ganguzza says the short she personally enjoys is the one Shekhar Kapur took over for Anthony Minghella, who died before filming began. "It stars Shia LaBeouf and Julie Christie, its period and is hauntingly beautiful," she says. "That being said, I think each film has its own unique quality and reflects the individual directors' vision."

Filmed last March and April, directors shot on 35mm or on the HD Genesis. Slated for a release on Valentines Day '09 through Palm Pictures, the producers are Benbihy and Marina Grasic. Along with Ganguzza, executive producers are Steffen Aumueller, Michael Benaroya, Susanne Bohnet, Pamela Hirsh, Taylor Kephart, Jan Koerbelin, Celine Rattray and Bradford W. Smith.

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6 Comments

  • cypcz@sbcglobal.net | August 22, 2008 3:56 AMReply

    So interested to see this one from Sabi Pictures. They are an amazingly talented and focused group of professionals.

  • film crewe | August 10, 2008 2:55 AMReply

    Can't wait to see Heart of Now. I love hearing about this type of production. Thanks for covering it.

  • arron | August 8, 2008 11:34 AMReply

    these look like some exciting quality indie productions. I like the blending of worlds and naturalistic approach mentioned in the Heart of Now/White Knuckles blurb. Forsman's dedication to the creation and determination towards staying independent is highly comendable.

  • arron | August 8, 2008 11:33 AMReply

    these look like some exciting quality indie productions. I like the blending of worlds and naturalistic approach mentioned in the Heart of Now/White Knuckles blurb. Forsman's dedication to the createion and determination towards staying independent is highly comendable.

  • alex_79 | August 8, 2008 7:35 AMReply

    Keeping ownership of your films? Hell yeah! Sounds like Forsman's got the right idea. Online distribution is really the way of the future for indie filmmakers. Not so much festivals anymore. And I'm curious to see how this improv style ends up working out for a feature. Could be interesting.

  • seddrick | August 8, 2008 4:41 AMReply

    Well I agree, Heart of now does look promising. The idea of Actors knowing the characters, to the extent of the director trusting their feelings is a very important one. Especially for a movie that is heavily improvised. I checked out the preview teaser, and it looks breathtaking. Simple but it carried a lot energy.



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