[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 March'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 Renji Philip's "Antique," Ricardo Scipio's "Finder of Lost Children," Johnny Asuncion's "Float," Tim Sternberg's "Salim Baba" and Helen Hunt's "Then She Found Me."
Set in L.A.'s Echo Park, nine different stories intersect around a young girl who after befriending a homeless man learns the only way to improve her life is to leave the people who have been holding her back.
Written and directed by Renji Philip, developing the story has been a long process with lots of personal reflection. Before moving to L.A. thirteen years ago, Philip lived in New York City and during that time had befriended a homeless man. The man, who liked to be called Homeless Man, has stayed in Philip's thoughts and within the last few years he built up the nerve to write a script around this relationship.
With the help of his agent at CAA, Philip's script got in the hands of fellow CAA clients William H. Macy and Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars") who signed on to play the homeless man and the young girl, Claire, respectively. With name actors attached, Philip was able to build the ensemble that includes Claire's self-destructive best friend, Samantha (Rachael Leigh Cook); Claire's alcoholic mother (Lolita Davidovich); her drug dealing boyfriend, Danny (Kevin Zeegers, "Transamerica") and Danny's grieving mom (Anne Archer) to name a few.
"It's like a young version of 'Magnolia' or 'Crash,'" Philip says. "It's very translatable to everyday life where everyone wears certain disguises to cover up their vulnerabilities. They're all completely different on the outside but completely the same on the inside. They are all searching for love."
Currently in preproduction, shooting begins in Echo Park next month. Budgeted under $5 million, the film will be shot on 35mm by DP Matt Irving and will be edited by Matt Rundell. Philip shares producing duties with Elisabeth Fry.
[For more information, please visit www.axispacificfilmworks.com]
"Finder of Lost Children"
Loosely based on his own experience, writer-director Ricardo Scipio ("Watershed") examines the lives of two young girls (Angie da Costa, Maye Richardson) who learn they're half-sisters and embark on a road trip to find answers about their deceased father.
Scipio was inspired to tell the story after going through a similar situation. For most of his life Scipio has known that his father had children with women other than is mother--ten kids with five different women to be exact. So four years ago he went on his own road trip to track down his brothers and sisters. He also reconnected with his father, who he hadn't seen in 19 years. While living with him for two months Scipio decided to write a script. "That was my answer to it," Scipio says from Vancouver, B.C., where he will begin shooting later this month. "About being estranged from my half brothers and sisters, having an irresponsible father and wanting to find a family and sort of resurrect one out of the ashes."
The Trinidad-born director says the "lost children" phenomenon is something that's very common in third-world countries. "When you're poor and you're a man one of the only ways to demonstrate your machismo in the neighborhood is by how many children you have," he says. "My father grew up poor in Trinidad and was in the army and for bragging rights that's what he did." Since getting the project off the ground, Scipio has heard many stories similar to his own. So a companion book to the film is being created that will chronicle all their stories. "I want to encourage people to be finders of lost children, to not be afraid, to go out there and break out of that isolation," Scipio says.
After three years searching for financing, Scipio decided to self-finance the film. Budgeted at C$14,000 (US$11,900), Scipio has been rehearsing with his novice cast for the past five weeks in preparations for the film. DP Paul Ellington will be shooting on HD, editing will be done by William Shand.
[For more information, please visit www.finderoflostchildrenmovie.com]
In writer-director Johnny Asuncion's debut feature, a middle-aged man attempts to give two guys in their twenties some guidance while trying to work out the struggles in his own life.
Set in Glendale, CA, "Float" follows ice cream shop owner Ray (Gregory Itzin) who finds himself in a mid-life crisis when his wife of 30 years leaves him. Ray shacks up at the ice cream shop until two of his twentysomething employees (Hrach Titizian and Asuncion) find him sleeping there and invites him to live with them. But soon the bachelor lifestyle gets old and Ray realizes he must get his family back. At the same time his roommates come to the harsh reality that they can't be young and stupid forever.
Ascuncion came up with the story over a year ago and based the Ray character on a friend in an acting class who was going through a similar situation. "The guy was 60-years-old and his wife left him and he was in shock and went through this whole phase where he got a tattoo and an ear ring, I guess things he wasn't able to do because he got married so young, and I found that interesting," commented Asuncion. After convincing his acting teacher, Itzin, to play the lead, the project took a serendipitous turn when Itzin got an Emmy nomination for his performance in "24." Asuncion says this helped greatly in getting financing.
Shooting in Glendale was also an advantage as the heavily Armenian community supported the project by letting them shoot in their stores and came out in droves to play extras. In fact, the Armenian ties helped Ascuncion get Borat's sidekick, Ken Davitian, to come on for a small role. "Ken Davitian is a family friend of Titizian's and liked the script," Ascuncion says. "It was right before the Golden Globes [where Sacha Baron Cohen recalled an uncomfortable scene with Davitian that had the crowd in stitches] and we got really lucky because apparently since then he's been booked solid."
Currently in post, the film had a 20-day shoot in January. Shot on HD by Matt Egan, the editor is Aaron Toaso. The producer is Peter Paul Basler.
[For more information, please visit www.floatmovie.com]
For most of his life Salim Muhammad has been a modern-day Pied Piper in Kolkata, India as he entertains his fellow townspeople with an antic projector, film scraps and a clever portable movie theater he calls "the cinema car." Director-editor-producer Tim Sternberg went to India to find Muhammad and document his fascinating job.
After reading about Muhammad, 55, on the BBC website a few years ago, Sternberg began cold calling people at the BBC until he found a way to contact Muhammad about filming him. Sternberg then flew with producer/editor/DP Francisco Bello to Kolkata and saw their subject's popularity the first night they got there. "We went to his house and he wasn't there but by word-of-mouth and the kids in the neighborhood they lead us to where he was--a half mile away on a street corner. Everyone knows who he is," Sternberg says.
The documentary highlights Muhammad and his four sons as they push the cinema car around their village. The portable theater consists of a 100-year-old projector that was handed down to Muhammad by his father, film (mostly scraps of Bollywood films) that they splice together to make trailers and a small push cart with a black curtain hanging over one side where the kids look under to see the film which is projected on a piece of white paper.
Sternberg is close to completing a 14-minute short that he plans to submit to festivals but he's not giving up on a feature-length version. "People are really being supportive," he says, "but right now we're just gauging the response. I think it's a film lover's movie but it's also a simple story of fathers and sons, about someone surviving."
Shot on HD in five days, the film's produced by Bello's Ropa Vieja Films.
[For more information, please visit www.rv-films.com]
"Then She Found Me"
Helen Hunt's decade-long struggle to get Elinor Lipman's novel to the screen is nearly complete. Marking her directorial debut, Hunt also wrote the screenplay and stars along with Bette Midler, Colin Firth and Matthew Broderick.
Currently in post, the story of a schoolteacher (Hunt) who is found by her obnoxious talk show host birth mother (Midler) has fascinated Hunt since she optioned the book soon after winning the Best Actress Oscar for "As Good As It Gets" in 1997. After bouncing from studio to studio with the project, Hunt brought it to Killer Films two years ago and the team of Pamela Koffler, Katie Roumel and Christine Vachon found financing and got the project rolling this past September in Brooklyn. "We were interested in making [Hunt's] first film but it's just a really interesting [project]," says Koffler. "It looks at the way one woman pursues happiness and fulfillment and what that means to her."
Koffler also adds that with Hunt's involvement people like Salman Rushdie and Lynn Cohen ("Sex and the City") jumped to the chance to have cameos. "Helen was a magnet to interesting talent," she says. "She was fantastic with them in the auditioning process and obviously as an actress is really sensitive to that dynamic so it was a fun casting process."
Shot in 28 days on 35mm by Peter Donahue ("Junebug"), the film is being edited by Pam Wise ("Transamerica"). Along with Killer Films, Connie Tavel is also producing. John Wells, Walter Josten and Blue Rider Pictures' Jeff Geoffray are executive producing.