[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 October's edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month's group includes Cameron Hickey's "The Delegates," Michael and Mark Polish's "Manure" and "Stay Cool," Cary Fukunaga's "Sin Nombre," Nicole Holofcener's Untitled Project and Robinson Devor's "You Can't Win."
Highlighting the Democratic National Convention, Cameron Hickey's documentary promises to give a behind-the-scenes look at how the delegates experience the convention, while critiquing our democratic process.
Having focused on human rights and social injustices in past films ("Garlic and Watermelons," "The Alphabet Book") with producing partner/wife, Lauren Feeney, the thought of doing a film on politics had never been of interest for the two until podcasting earlier in the year at the New Hampshire primaries for DoubleSpeak, an online radio show created by political insiders Matthew and Peter Slutsky. "We knew we were going to the convention and it occurred to me I wanted to do something that had a little more staying power than something that was just going to be interesting on that day," says Hickey a few weeks before heading to Denver for the convention.
To find their subjects they sent out an e-mail blast to ten percent of the just under 5,000 delegates going to the convention. Hickey says they heard back from 55 interested delegates, including Hilary Clinton supporters who converted over to Barack Obama (some begrudgingly) during the convention, the mother of a solider killed in Iraq, a transgender delegate, a gay Unitarian Universalist Minster and a Iraq/Afghanistan war vet.
Though Hickey is aware of the historical significance of this convention, he says that isn't what motivated him to make the film. "We want to make something that is a bit different from what you're going to get out of the news media," he says. "I would love to be filming one of our subjects and have Obama in the background because we're not focusing on him while everyone else is."
Financed through online donations, the film was shot on three HD cameras by Hickey, Feeney and D.P. Jason Martin. Hickey is realistic of his film's distribution possibilities and hopes to build an audience through the Internet and self-distribute the film. It's co-produced by DoubleSpeak and Hickey/Feeney's company Pattern Films.
[For more information, please visit www.thedelegates.net]
Michael and Mark Polish ("The Astronaut Farmer") conclude a hectic summer where they shot two features - a period drama about manure salesmen starring Billy Bob Thornton and a '80s-inspired dramady starring Winona Ryder.
"We were working on a bigger studio project when we learned the strike was going to push everything back," says Michael, who does the directing and co-writes with his brother Mark who also stars in the films. "We always have one or two scripts tucked away so we decided to make both films over the summer."
With Billy Bob Thornton already attached to the "Manure" project they filmed it first. In the film, Thornton leads a team of five who go ranch to ranch to sell manure. The film also stars Tea Leoni, Ed Helms and Kyle MacLachlan. Wrapped in June, the two then switched to the '80s themed "Stay Cool" which stars Mark as an author who returns to his hometown to give a commencement speech at his high school and in the process comes across childhood friends and foes leading to a nostalgic reunion. Filming wrapped in August. Ryder plays Mark's love interest, Sean Astin, Chevy Chase, Josh Holloway, Jon Cryer and Frances Conroy also star (Conroy also stars in "Manure"). "You wouldn't think they came from the same filmmakers," says Michael about the projects. "'Manure' is in the vain of 'Tin Men' while 'Stay Cool' is contemporary but has the feel of the late '80s. People thought we were nuts when we decided to do this."
Michael admits the process was grueling, but because both films were different it kept things fresh. "'Manure' was on a soundstage while for 'Stay Cool' we shot in every location we could be in, so that was neat. And we edited 'Manure' on weekends when we were shooting 'Stay Cool' so it felt like we were watching a movie on the weekends."
Filmed in Santa Clarita, CA, the brothers created their own company, Prohibition Pictures, to make the films and found financing through private investors. The same crew was used for both films. Films were produced by the Polish brothers, Ken Wayne Johnson and Jonathan Sheldon, D.P. David Mullen shot on the Red camera for both films and the editors were Cary Gries ("Stay Cool") and J.D. Smyth ("Manure").
With both films scheduled to be locked by November, Michael says he'd really like to see both play as a double feature at next year's Sundance. "Last year I was a juror at the festival and told them about the idea," he says. "It would fit well because next year will be ten years since we premiered 'Twin Falls Idaho' there."
Award-winning short filmmaker Cary Fukunaga ("Victoria Para Chino") steps into features with a thriller that highlights the dangerous journey Central American immigrants take to make it to the U.S.
In "Sin Nombre" (which means nameless in English) we follow a young hood who while on the run from the gang he's disbanded finds himself helping a young girl trying to get to the U.S. border by hiding on top of a moving train.
Financed by Focus Features, Fukunaga plucked the story from the binder full of research he had from making the short "Victoria Para Chino," which put him on the map after winning awards at Sundance, Gen Art and a Student Academy Award in 2005. "Everyone kept asking me at Sundance what I was doing next," he recalls. "I had this wealth of research so I pumped out a really simple feature script and I sent it to the Sundance Lab. They told me to keep working on it."
For most that means returning to the laptop for rewrites, for Fukunaga it meant heading to Guatemala. There he interviewed police, gang members, hung out in immigrant shelters and train yards, then finally built up the nerve to ride on top of a freight train. "The day I chose it was raining and I was sick, the train yard was packed with immigrants and the train came at two in the morning," he recalls. "I was traveling with10-15 immigrants and two hours into the trip the train stops and there are gunshots and later on I was told that bandits had jumped on and killed someone."
Fukunaga returned home and wrote a draft in two weeks. It was accepted in the Lab and was then bought by Focus soon after, the first Spanish-language produced film by the company. "It was a good year," he says with a chuckle.
But was it necessary to ride the train? "There was no way I could have written it without doing it," he answers. "My crew was amazing but I couldn't rely on my ADs to create the atmosphere unless I knew exactly what it looked like. And just experiencing the attack and the comradery with these people was an enriching experience. This is not my story, this is not my background, so I felt unless I shared some of that I was potentially making money off of someone else's misery." To create the look of immigrants hiding above a speeding train without anyone getting hurt, the crew created the fright cars on top of flatbed tractor trailers.
Currently in post, the film was shot in Mexico City in 35 days last September on 35mm anamorphic. Produced by Amy Kaufman, the D.P. is Adriano Goldman and Luis Carballar is editing. Film is executive produced by Gerardo Barrera's Creando Films and Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna's Canana Films. Focus will release in '09.
Untitled Nicole Holofcener Film
Nicole Holofcener's ("Friends With Money") New York City-set drama about the lives of two residents in an apartment complex is the first time the writer-director has filmed in the Big Apple since her debut, "Walking and Talking," twelve years ago.
"Inherently different things will come out of me and will be explored in the movies because of a different location," says Holofcener. "I felt the New York co-op situation is very unique to that city and I couldn't picture this story taking place anywhere else."
In the film, Oliver Platt and Holofcener regular Catherine Keener star as a couple who have bought the apartment next door to them so they can expand their place but have to wait patiently for the old lady currently living there (played by Ann Guilbert) to pass on before they can move forward with their plans. In the process the neighbors and their families (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall play the old ladies' granddaughters) lives interchange causing the situation to become more complicated.
Holofcener says the story - which she began writing after finishing the "Friends with Money" DVD - was inspired from a similar situation that happened to her friend. "She did exactly that. She bought the apartment next door and waited for this woman to die," Holofcener says. "She ended up befriending the woman and sobbed at her funeral. I thought that would be an interesting story to tell."
Shot mostly in the Chelsea area of New York, Holofcener says the film isn't location heavy and wouldn't describe it as a "New York film." But that didn't mean there weren't any New York moments on set. "Amanda Peet and I got in someone's face because she wouldn't get out of the shot. Those things just don't happen in L.A., it's just different on the streets of New York."
Filming over the summer for 24 days, it was shot on Super 16mm by Yaron Orbach and edited by Rob Frazen. Produced by Anthony Bregman, Sony Classics ponyed up the $3 million budget and will distribute in '09.
"You Can't Win"
Robinson Devor ("Zoo") adapts Jack Black's gripping look into the 1920s hobo underworld for his latest project.
Known as the book that inspired William S. Burroughs to write "Junkie," Black's best-selling 1926 autobiography, "You Can't Win," recounts his vagabond life filled with freight hoping, stints in and out of prison and getting hooked on opium to name just a few.
For over two years producer Zachariah Sebastian has owned the rights to the book, which he first discovered while working at New York City's East Village Books eight years ago, and has been searching, along with his producing partner Robert Scarff, for a way to make the film. Sebastian's first break was finding a kindred spirit in author-screenwriter Barry Gifford ("Wild at Heart," "Lost Highway") who agreed to write the first draft of the script. "I approached him and he said, 'In the '70s Burroughs talked about trying to make this into a movie but nothing came of it.' So once he got involved we got a lot of momentum and he introduced me to a lot of his friends in the business." Then after seeing "Zoo," Sebastian was enticed by Devor's ability and became convinced he was right for the project after seeing his first film, an adaptation of Charles Willeford's offbeat noir "The Woman Chaser." "Seeing he was a fan of '50s pulpy fiction and I found out he was a fan of Burroughs work, I thought he would be a good fit."
Currently casting, Devor and writing partner Charles Mudede are completing a final draft of the script and Sebastian hopes for a late '08 start date shooting in and around Portland.