Production Report: "5up 2down," "The Gates," "Me And You And Everyone We Know," "Reel Paradise," "Zzyzx"
by Jason Guerrasio
[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 email email@example.com.]
Best friends, Hunter and Santo, live the excesses of New York City: late night clubbing, women, and drugs. But after a heavy night Santo begins to have flashbacks from the 1800s. Are these visions real, or was it just due to the hard night of partying?
Steve Soto, Brady Hart, and Steven Kessler came together two years ago to collectively write "5up 2down" in hopes of making a short film, but while shooting they realized the story needed to be told as a feature length film. Using various areas of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, the film, as co-writer/producer Soto puts it, is "a story about the transformation of the human spirit." In the film Hunter, a painter and more accomplished of the two, is preparing for his first big exhibit (all the art in the film was created by Brady Hart) while Santo, the local playboy/drug dealer, looks for the next hustle. But after Santo starts seeing visions he changes his ways and with Hunter tries to figure out its meaning. "It's based on reincarnation, and debts that haven't been resolved in past lives and keep carrying until they get resolved," says Soto.
Directed by Steven Kessler, the month long shoot ended in June and is currently in post. Budgeted at under $500,000, it was shot on Super 35mm by d.p. Til Neumann and executive produced by Ruben Cobia. The film stars Isaach de Bankole ("Coffee & Cigarettes," "Ghost Dog") as Hunter, Kirk Acedvedo ("Oz" and "Band of Brothers") as Santo, with Paz de la Huerta ("Cider House Rules"), Andre Royo ("The Wire"), and Fred Norris from "The Howard Stern Show."
For legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, "The Gates" marks the end of a project that began more than 20 years ago. Since the early 1980's Maysles has chronicled renowned environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude as they struggle to convince New York City officials to let them display their temporary art exhibit, "The Gates," in Central Park. In January 2003, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was giving permission for the art to be shown. Set to be unveiled in February 2005, 7,500 gates, all with free hanging saffron colored fabric panels suspended from the top, will cover 23 miles of footpaths in Central Park for 16 days.
Having made five films about Christo and Jeanne-Claude's previous projects ("Christo's Valley Curtain," "Running Fence," "Islands," "Christo in Paris," and "Umbrellas"), Maysles believes this documentary is unlike the others as it's a "double-dose of art." "As people respond to the art, there will be thousands who will see the gates, and millions who will see the film, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude see it that's all part of the project," he says.
Along with showing how the artists create "The Gates," the documentary will also have footage showing the evolution of the project over the past 20 years. Produced by Antonio Ferrera, Maysles is shooting the doc on 16mm and DV with a budget between $850,000 and $1 million. Production will wrap when the gates come down in February. Maysles is currently in talks with distributors for a theatrical release.
But that's not all. Maysles is also working on "The Jew on Trial," which he's a third of the way through. It explores the 1913 trial of Medel Beilis, a Jew who was falsely accused. Then in December he'll be in China to continue a doc that's a collection of short stories about people traveling on long-distant trains. For all six stories he randomly finds someone on a train and follows them from the train to wherever their destination is, during which he learns about them and why they're taking the trip.
[Find out more about "The Gates" project at: http://www.christojeanneclaude.com.]
"Me And You And Everyone We Know"
Known for her performance art, short films, and non-fiction writings, Miranda July can now put feature film to her long list of accomplishments. Currently shooting "Me And You And Everyone We Know" in Los Angeles, July's debut (which she also stars in) takes a semi-autobiographical look at a father's (John Hawkes from TV's "Deadwood") unsuccessful attempts to draw his family closer.
Thinking of making a feature for the past few years, July got serious about the project last summer when her script was accepted to the Sundance Screenwriting and Directing Lab. There she strengthened the story and with producer Gina Kwon (co-producer of "The Good Girl") and found financing through Britain's FilmFour and IFC Films, the company will also release the film in the U.S.
Going into the project July wasn't intimidated by the magnitude of making a feature film, but her abilities as an actor concerned her. "I don't know basic things that the kids in the movie know, I joke about it sometimes," says July. "It's better just to say you don't know what you're doing in a scene than just walking your way through. The things that matter I've done for years so hopefully that'll show."
Shot on HD by Chuy Chavez ("Chuck & Buck"), the production, budgeted at under $1 million, wraps in early August and will be passed on to editor Andrew Dickler with hopes of having it ready in time for the Sundance festival deadline. Holly Becker and Iliana Nikolic are on as exec. producers. As of press time IFC has not set a release date.
In the summer of 2002 former producer's rep John Pierson packed up his family (wife Janet and two kids, Georgia and Wyatt) and moved to an island in Fiji for a year to show free movies at the most remote theater in the world, the 180 Meridian Cinema. At first you may think Pierson's seen "The Mosquito Coast" too many times, but the idea spawned from his show, Split Screen. In an episode from the 2000 season, Pierson and Donal Lardner Ward traveled to the broken down theater to show films to the Fijians. Pierson loved the experience so much he wanted to go back, but this time wanted to bring his family along.
While screening his latest documentary, "Stevie," at Sundance, Steve James received a proposition from Pierson.""He e-mailed me and said there's a chance that Kevin Smith is going to be able to secure money to do a film on what he's [Pierson] doing over there and if I were interested [in directing it]," says James. "The notion [that] someone so involved in media culture in America would uproot his family and go to Fiji to live for a year while they ran a movie theater was pretty intriguing."
Smith's View Askew financed the documentary (through its deal with Miramax) budgeted at $450,000. James, with a crew of three (d.p. P.H. O'Brien, sound Rich Pooler, and line producer Geeda Sete), flew to the island of Taveuni to capture the Pierson's hilarious, but often tumultuous, final month in Fiji. Shot on DigiBeta, it's exec. produced by John and Janet Pierson, Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier. James (who's also a producer) is currently editing the film.
[Find out more about the Pierson's adventures in Fiji at: http://www.grainypictures.com.]
"I was driving in the desert and I saw somebody walking down the road and I said, 'You know what, I could kill this person if I really wanted to get away with it.'" This sick and twisted epiphany came to Richard Halpern while he was driving in the desert outside of Las Vegas two years ago. Luckily for the person walking, Halpern didn't go through with his thought. Instead he wrote a script.
A fan of the cat and mouse films of the '60s and '70s, writer/director Halpern says, "I always wanted to make a little movie that's intriguing and has a couple of actors using their wits to out duel each other. In the film, Lou and Ryan are heading to Las Vegas when they decide to take a quick detour on Zzyzx Road (a real road off Highway 15 in San Bernardino County) to find out if the urban legend that the road is haunted by extra-terrestrials is true. On Zzyzx they accidentally hit someone walking on the road and the two must find a way to dispose of the body. The plot thickens when the man's wife, Sarah, shows up.
Financed through Halpern's Yarble.com, LLC, he co-wrote and is co-producing the film with Art D'Alessandro. They are set to begin the 12-week shoot in early September around San Bernardino and Las Vergas. Budgeted at under $500,000, Halpern and d.p. Jean Senelier are currently deciding the format that they will shoot on. Robyn Cohen (Sarah) and Ryan Fox (Ryan) have signed on and Halpern is currently working on finding the rest of the cast and crew. Philip Halpern is the exec. producer.
[To learn more go to: http://www.yarble.com.]