By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire June 8, 2006 at 2:00AM
[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 the June edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio takes a closer look at five new films that are in production: Michael McNamara's "100 Films and a Funeral", Melisa Wallack and Bernie Goldmann's "Bill", James Zahn's "Death Walks The Streets", Gorman Bechard's "Friends (With Benefits)", Karin Babinska's "Kisses".
"100 Films and a Funeral"
Inspired by Michael Kuhn's memoir of the same title, this feature documentary by Michael McNamara chronicles the rise and fall of the company that brought us "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "The Usual Suspects" and "Trainspotting."
In 1991, Kuhn headed the British-based PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, and quickly changed how Hollywood looked at films from across the pond. PFE won 14 Oscars, had numerous blockbusters and even more niche hits. But in 1999 the powers that be sold the company (its library later went to Universal), ending an era in British filmmaking and Kuhn's wild ride.
McNamara and producer Judy Holm bought the rights to the book quickly after it was published in 2001 and began production on the doc in April. The project interested McNamara because it examines "how a European studio tried to take on Hollywood by building a competitive studio from the ground up," he writes via e-mail from Amsterdam, where he's conducting interviews. "Telling this story will also allow us to look at the shape of the feature film industry in the '90s and what has followed today - particularly in the indie world."
Along with Kuhn, others interviewed for the doc include Jodie Foster, Alan Parker ("Angela's Ashes"), Stephan Elliott ("The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"), Gilles Jacob and Geoff Gilmore. McNamara intends the doc's style to have a lot of graphic and photo animation, "think 'The Kid Stays in the Picture' crossed with [Terry] Gilliam's [Monty] Python animation."
Spending the summer shooting the final key interviews, post will begin this month with hopes of being ready to submit to festivals by next January. The editor is Rod Deogrades. Budgeted at 1.4 million Canadian ($1.2 mil USD) through The Documentary Channel and Sundance Channel, the doc is being shot on HD by John Tran and produced by McNamara and Holm's Toronto-based Markham Street Films.
[For more information, please visit the Markham Street Films website.]
Screenwriter Melisa Wallack teams with her husband, producer Bernie Goldmann, to co-direct their debut feature which follows a husband whose life is in disarray.
Named by Variety last year as one of the 10 screenwriters to watch, Wallack is known for her scripts based on true stories like "The Dallas Buyers Club" about Texas AIDS activist Ron Woodruff, which is in the pipeline at Universal. But she switched gears with "Bill," a comedy starring Aaron Eckhart as the title character who unravels after realizing his wife (Elizabeth Banks) has been cheating on him and rebounds once he begins mentoring a disgruntled teen. Produced and financed by GreeneStreet Films, shooting began this week in St. Louis.
Wallack says the story came to her a year ago and with the help of her husband (who's produced "Taking Lives," "Land of the Dead") the project quickly got off the ground. "We've had tons of actors interested in doing it because the roles are so well written," says Goldmann. Because of the great interest in the script there was a wide array of actors to choose from for the part of Bill. But looking back on the process the filmmakers feel Eckhart had it hands down. "The thing about Bill is he goes through so many emotional changes in the movie," Goldmann says. "We realized [Eckhart] had a lot of the qualities that would make up the perfect Bill." The film also stars Timothy Olyphant and Jessica Alba.
Produced by Goldmann and GreeneStreet's John Penotti and Fisher Stevens, the film is set for a 33-day shoot and will be shot on 35 mm by Peter Collister. Thom Noble is the editor. Exec producers are Matthew Rowland and Tim Williams.
"Death Walks The Streets"
This gangster-horror hybrid by first timer James Zahn is the beginning of a potential trilogy that has sparked a following around the world, even though not one frame has been shot yet.
Set in a monster infested world filled with zombies, werewolves and vampires, we follow Michael (Christian Kane), who after getting out of prison is ready to live a crime-free life. Because of his deep ties with "The Organization," the only way out is to complete one last task. But when Michael comes in possession of an artifact that humans and monsters will do anything to have, his hopes to go on the straight and narrow get more complicated.
After finishing the first draft of the script with co-writer Ben Brezinski in 2004, Zahn's little horror movie became more ambitious after it was mentioned in horror geek bible, Fangoria. The buzz caught the attention of producer Daniel J. Heffner ("Saw" franchise), who came onboard as a co-producer, followed by meetings with Lionsgate and New Line. "A lot of companies have come at us but we opted not to sign with one," Zahn says. Instead they sealed distribution with Echelon Entertainment and are slated for an April '07 release.
The rabid interest has also brought talks of ancillary opportunities like a comic book series that would fill in the gaps between the trilogy and a video game. What's made Zahn most excited though is the fan base that's been created (he says they've sold merchandise to 17 countries). But he knows his "little empire" rests heavily on this film. "I have to make a damn good movie on many different levels because this is the movie that can make or break me." If all goes according to plan parts two and three will be shot back-to-back in the spring of 2007.
Budgeted at over $10 million, the seven week shoot begins in Chicago at the end of July. Zahn is currently casting and looking for a d.p. and editor. FX will be done by Precinct 13 Entertainment ("The Devil's Rejects," "Hostel") and John Roome from The Orb has signed on to do the original score. Matt Pletcher is producing.
[For more information, please visit the film's website.]
"Friends (With Benefits)"
Overworked and never finding time for a social life, two life-long friends decide the only way to ease their animal urges is to have no-strings-attached sex. But that leads to more trouble than they ever imagined.
Described by writer-director-novelist Gorman Bechard as "a thinking persons 'American Pie,'" the film follows Chloe and Owen, two Yale med school students who begin to have sex to make up for their lack of a social life. Soon their friends catch on and they all start doing it, causing friendships to be tested and secrets reveled.
Bechard cut his teeth in the business making films like "Galactic Gigolo" and "Cemetery High" in the '80s for Charles Band's horror factory Empire Pictures, then moved to novels in the '90s and recently returned to filmmaking with new vigor. Last year he made "You Are Alone" through his Connecticut-based What Were We Thinking Films with producer Frank Loftus. "'You Are Alone' to me was a test if I could do it my way and do it right," Bechard says. Proud of the response, he dusted off the seven-year-old "Friends (With Benefits)" script for his next feature. Though he doesn't recall where the inspiration for the script came from, he does admit he's no stranger to the more-than-friends relationship.
Currently in preproduction, Bechard says he's raised a third of his projected $360,000 budget and has cast Margaret Laney to play the part of Chloe (she's also co-producing). Shooting begins in New Haven in mid-September. Bechard and Loftus are producing.
[For more information, please visit the film's website.]
Three recent high school graduates are on the verge of losing their adolescent freedom as they prepare to be thrust into the real world. Dreading to start their full-time jobs, the three women decide to go on one last road trip before growing up.
Directed by Czech filmmaker Karin Babinska, who co-wrote the script with Petra Uselova, the two have been working on the story for five years developing, what Babinska describes via e-mail, a film that will "demolish taboos and show the girl's world as it really is." Securing a grant from the State Foundation of the Czech Republic, the film will be co-produced by Cineart TV and has domestic distribution through Hollywood Classic Entertainment. Principal photography begins this week in the Bohemia countryside for 32 days.
In the film the three girls reluctantly find jobs after learning they haven't gotten into college. But having some free time before they start their jobs, they decide to hit the road in a trip filled with laughs, tears and of course boys.
While trying to get the film off the ground, Babinska looked at close to 700 actresses for the three main roles. But when Marie Dolezalova (Iska), Sandra Novakova (Karolina) and Petra Petra Nesvacilova (Vendula) auditioned Babinska knew she had her lead girls. "The girls perfectly fit my picture," she says. "Sometimes I have a feeling that they really are the characters."
Budgeted at $700,000, the film will be shot on HD by Martin Douba and will be edited by Marek Opatrny. Viktor Schwarcz is producing. The film opens in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in early '07, the film is seeking US distribution.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Jason Guerrasio writes the Production Report column for indieWIRE and contributes regularly to Premiere, Filmmaker Magazine, MovieMaker and Time Out.