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Production Report: "Among the Shadows," "Broken English," "Dismal," "OperaWorks," and "Sellin' Helen

By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire September 5, 2006 at 6:43AM

[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 September's edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films that are in various stages of production. This month's group includes Kevin Hicks' "Among The Shadows," Zoe Cassavetes' "Broken English," Raymond L. Brown's "Dismal," Ann Baltz's "OperaWorks" and Jeff Rude's "Sellin' Helen."

"Among The Shadows"

Following a bitter divorce and hectic work schedule, Sylvia (Georgina Cates) heads to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York for a much deserved vacation. But when strange things start happening, she wonders if the stress is getting to her or if the place is haunted.

Directed by Kevin Hicks ("Waiting on Alphie") and written by his wife Vickie, he compares this suspense thriller to others in the genre that keeps the audience guessing like "What Lies Beneath" and "Dragonfly." "What I want to do is capture the character riding the edge of their sanity," says Hicks. "How even the way the camera moves or the way a scene is colored it's like the emotion bleeds into what we're seeing around them."

Getting money came easy as Hicks found private investors in January of last year. Then he spent the next couple of months looking for a cast and found recognizable names to sign on like Loren Dean ("Mumford"), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TV's "Grey's Anatomy"), Francis Sternhagen and Randall Duk Kim. "Because nobody behind the camera are known in the business we had to find some to be on camera," he says. "It's really the material that's drawing the names."

Produced by Juan Reinoso, it's currently in pre-production with principal photography set to begin in Syracuse this month for 23 days. Budgeted at $1.5 million, the film will be shot on HD by Bill Winters and edited by Hicks.

[For more information, please visit their website.]


"Broken English"

Following in the footsteps of siblings Nick ("The Notebook") and Xan ("Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession"), Zoe Cassavetes, the youngest daughter of indie maverick John Cassavetes, has completed her debut feature which stars Parker Posey as a thritysomething struggling to find love.

Shot around New York City this past summer, the film follows Nora (Posey) whose bad luck with men and constant nagging from her best friend (Drea de Matteo) and mother (Gena Rowlands) to settle down has caused her to believe she'll never find the right guy. But after meeting a quirky Frenchman (Melvil Poupaud) she realizes what she's been looking for.

Financed through HDNet Films and Japanese-based Phantom Film, producer Andrew Fierberg ("Secretary") describes the film as "a comedy that gives women a voice." Loosely based on Cassavetes' life, the film explores the ruined relationships Nora goes through. There's the charming older man (Griffin Dunne) who picks her up at a party only to get busted by his pregnant wife. One date (Josh Hamilton) bumps into his ex and causes a scene in the middle of a theatre lobby. And while having a fling with an actor (Justin Theroux), Nora learns he has a girlfriend after seeing the couple on an entertainment show. "Every time she meets a guy it turns bad," Fierberg explains.

But with only 20 days to shoot (five in Paris), tension was high and there was no margin for error. Fortunately being an actor's director, Cassavetes helped keep things light on set. "The actors understood what she wanted but then she let them get there on their own," says Fierberg. "She made all the actors incredibly comfortable."

Currently in post, the film's produced by Fierberg and HDNet's Jason Kliot and Joana Vicente. Shot on HD, the DP is John Pirozzi and Andrew Weisblum is editing. Executive producers are 2929 Entertainment's Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner. Magnolia Pictures will release the film in 2007.


"Dismal"

"Deliverance" meets "Misery" in this thriller by Raymond L. Brown which spotlights Virginia's Great Dismal Swamp.

Fascinated by the swamp since moving near it three years ago, Brown hired screenwriting friend David O'Donnell to come up with a story about two friends (William Gregory Lee, Scott Miles) who canoe in the swamp and stumble upon a convict on the lam (Richard Riehle). Financed through local investors, the film was shot in July. "A lot of people asked why pick July to go in the middle of a swamp to shoot," Brown recalls. "But because the swamp plays a major role it's most alive in July."

Now a National Wildlife Refuge, the Great Dismal Swamp's deep dark forests have a lot of history, including being an essential location for the Underground Railroad and a century later the mob used it as a hideout. Unfortunately, Brown wasn't able to use much of the swamp as heads of the refuge allowed him only to shoot aerials. This led him to shoot in neighboring wetlands, which was still hazardous as mosquitoes, wasps, poison ivy and snakes were factors throughout the shoot. "We all swore the next movie we make is going to be in a mall," says Brown with a chuckle.

The city of Suffolk was a little more welcoming as they let the production use their visitor center for offices and even gave them a city bus to shuttle everyone to locations. In exchange, Brown says the city is welcome to any footage that doesn't have principal actors for use in tourist videos.

Shot on HD by Jean Guy Bureau, editor Andrew Monument is currently cutting with hopes to be complete by the fall. The film is produced by O'Donnell and Dennis "Dink" Adams, executive producers are Brown and W. Jeffery Frizzell under their company 1944 Films.

[For more information, please visit their website.]

A scene from Ann Baltz's "OperaWorks." Image courtesy of the filmmaker.

"OperaWorks"

Known for its unique teaching style, "OperaWorks" is one of the premiere programs for aspiring opera singers. Marking its 20th anniversary this year, OperaWorks director Ann Baltz invited filmmaker Brad Mays to film the intense work that goes into singing opera.

"They don't teach people to stand there like statues and sing, they encourage total body involvement," Mays explains. "They do yoga, visualization techniques; the stuff we filmed is astonishing."

Located in Northridge, CA, the program is split into a two or four week course and along with testing your singing against some of the greatest music ever written, what sets Baltz's program apart from others is she teaches the students to improvise arias. "They just open their minds, open their spirits and this stuff comes out," says Mays. "They've even performed entire improvised operas."

Filming the growth of the students, who vary in age from teenagers to people in their thirties, Mays compares it -- though reluctantly -- to watching contestants on "American Idol." "There's going to be people you are going to be rooting for from the beginning and then there are others who get up there and start singing so defensive." The defensive moments lead to some diva outburst toward Mays and his crew, but he took it in stride. "When they hit the wall the camera might be running," he says. "You can understand but I have a moral obligation not to turn the camera away." Mays hopes the doc doesn't only appeal to the opera enthusiast but also intrigues a broader audience, as "Spellbound" did with spelling bees.

Mays is currently editing. Shot on DV by Mays and his wife Lorenda Starfelt (who's also co-producing), the executive producer is Ann Baltz.

[For more information, please visit their website.]


"Sellin' Helen"

Fed up with his marriage, Scott decides to pawn off his wife to his best buddy Dan so he can take back the life he lost so long ago. But with Scott's newfound freedom he realizes the best part of his life was with his wife. Now he's got to find a way to get her back.

"It's the justification of a man trying to find that passion that he put on the back burner," says director Jeff Rude who co-wrote the script with producer Jeff McDaniel. Comparing the story's style to movies like, "She's The One" and "I (Heart) Huckabees," Rude and McDaniel, who came together two years ago to create the comedy through their company Wild Line Films, originally planned to begin shooting three months ago, but when they passed around the script they realized it needed more work. "We got some mixed input and realized we strayed a lot from the original seed that we had talked about," says Rude.

The two went back to the basics and took inspiration from the comedies they admire. "I love to see movies that highlight the odd situations that people can get themselves into," says McDaniel. "Life is funny and if told well it can be embellished and enlarged and not lose its reality."

Currently finishing funding and seeking key cast and crew members, the pair hopes to begin shooting by the end of the year in Seattle.

[For more information, please visit their website.]

This article is related to: In The Works







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