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by Jason Guerrasio
November 1, 2005 10:29 AM
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Production Report: "Astronaut Farmer," "Date Number One," "Mind Games," "Quid Pro Quo," "Trap"

A scene from James Bonner's "Trap." Photo courtesy of the filmmaker.

[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 November edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio takes a closer look at five new films that are in production: Michael and Mark Polish's "The Astronaut Farmer," Sujewa Ekanayake's "Date Number One," Alex Shuper's "Mind Games: The Art of Video Games," Carlos Brooks' "Quid Pro Quo" and James Bonner's "Trap."

"The Astronaut Farmer"

When Charles Farmer is forced to give up his NASA training to save the family farm it looks like his dream of going into space is over. But his desire never waivers as he secretly begins work in his barn on a way to make it into space on his own.

The latest project penned by Michael Polish and Mark Polish ("Northfork"), the filmmaking duo compare the struggle to make a film to their main character's (played by Billy Bob Thornton) 15-year journey to build his own space rocket. "In the way that in independent filmmaking you can just go out and do it if you have the will, this kind of parallels the sensibility in that to build a rocket you have to buckle down and figure it out," says Michael, who does the directing while brother Mark acts in the film. In the film, Farmer collects NASA's abandoned equipment to make his replica, and in doing so attracts the attention of the government who try to stop him.

After the two finished the script and found financing through Warner Independent Pictures earlier this year, they went to find out if their rocket really could fly. "We decided before we got into the technical aspects to see what an astronaut would say about it," Michael says during a break from filming in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "David Scott, who landed on the moon, read the script and said, 'this is completely doable; this guy could do it.'"

The six-week shoot wrapped in late October and is slated for a summer '06 release. Shot on 35 mm by David Mullen ("Northfork"), editing will be done by James Haygood ("Fight Club"). Paula Weinstein, Len Amato and the Polish brothers are producing. Also starring are Virginia Madsen, Bruce Dern and Tim Blake Nelson.


"Date Number One"

Using Washington, D.C. as the backdrop, writer-director Sujewa Ekanayake explores the always unpredictable first date in his comedy "Date Number One."

Split into five different stories that delve into everything from a ninja (played by '80s punk singer John Stabb Schroeder) trying to find love to two people's unorthodox use of the French language, Ekanayake used films like Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth" and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's "Amelie" to find the pace and tone for his film. What he leaned most from them was to keep the stories simple. "All the drama, all the ups and downs that happen inside each of the stories would happen in real life within a couple of hours so it's not necessary to bring about factors unrelated to the moment," says Ekanayake.

Another advantage with shooting multiple stories was Ekanayake and his crew didn't feel pressured to finish the film at a certain time. Starting in the summer of 2004, he would halt production for months at a time to acquire extra money to complete production. Filming was completed last summer and is currently in post.

Shot on DV for under $10,000, Ekanayake, who shot, edited and produced, will self-distribute the film starting spring '06. Executive producers are Stephen Jenner and Tim Nelson.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Mind Games: The Art of Video Games"

As video games continue to grow in popularity and scope, Alex Shuper's documentary examines the history and future of a technology he calls "the most dominant medium of our time."

"We're presenting video games as not only a new art form but also as a new form of communication," says Shuper, who has been interviewing some of the early trailblazers of gaming. "Just like the birth of cinema is a great story, I think the birth of video games has an interesting story."

One of the stories he'll investigate is the controversy behind the game Pong, considered by most to be the first video game to hit the mainstream. Atari creator Nolan Bushnell gets most of the credit for Pong's success, but engineer Ralph Baer also came up with his own Pong game around the same time. Due to Atari's larger and more popular marketing campaign, Baer's version of Pong didn't last long. "That central battle between Baer and Bushnell is sort of a microcosm for the entire future of games," Shuper says. "You have the corporate versus the indie, the vying for credibility in the marketplace, all these things continue right up to this very day."

The doc will also delve into pro gamers, game designers, celebrity gamers, and the fastest growing group of new game players: senior citizens. "In an age where we put so many of out senior citizens away in homes they join this online community where their respected and looked up to."

Produced through Toronto-based Travesty Productions, which will do a small theatrical release along with making it available to download, Shuper hopes to have the film finished by late 2006. Budgeted at under $1 million, it's being shot on HD by Robert Armstrong with editing by Kerry Davie and Frank Guidoccio. S. Wyeth Clarkson and Phillip Daniels are the producers.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]


"Quid Pro Quo"

The eye-opening sub culture of "wannabes" -- able-bodied people who'd rather live their lives paralyzed -- is revealed in writer-director Carlos Brooks' debut feature.

In the film Isaac (Nick Stahl), a wheelchair-using public radio journalist, is assigned to cover the wannabes phenomenon. During his time with them he meets Fiona (Vera Farmiga), who may or may not have played a part in a life-changing incident in his past.

Describing the film as a mix between a comedy and psychological thrill, Brooks came up with the idea of a wheelchair-using character as the central figure in a film three years ago, but explains it was a struggle to create a compelling story. "The problem was I was making an assumption that I was more comfortable with disability than I truthfully am," he says. But after discovering wannabes during a late night internet surf he knew he had found his movie. "In order to feel better they believe they need to be injured. I just found that so compelling," Brooks says. "In effect I think I had to become a wannabe in order to write truthfully the life of somebody who uses a chair."

Fully aware of the film's controversial subject matter, Brooks hopes the film causes discussion. "All I want is for the audience to be incredibly engaged by the story and I'd love it if they were debating it among themselves hotly as they walk out of the theater," he says. "I'd love that it provokes a stimulating conversation, a different way at looking at things."

Financed through HDNet Films at under $2 million, filming wrapped in New York in the end of October. Midge Sanford and Sarah Pillsbury ("Desperately Seeking Susan," "River's Edge") are producing. Shot on HD by Michael McDonough, it will be cut by editor Charles Ireland ("Me And You And Everyone We Know"). Exec producers are Jason Kilot, Joana Vicente, Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban.


"Trap"

Trapped in an abusive marriage, Nicole's (Amanda Lamberti) only chance for survival is to kill her husband before he does her in first. Or that's what her online friend Amy (Heather Kozlakowski) tells her. Taking the advice of her cyberspace pen pal, Nicole does the deed and flees to Amy's home. What she doesn't realize is Amy has her own marital problems.

The feature debut of writer-director James Bonner, the Michigan native has been crafting his style of filmmaking since he saw "The Evil Dead" when he was 13-years-old. "If you're from Michigan it's all about Sam Raimi," Bonner explains. "The opening of 'The Evil Dead' was shot five minutes from my house so I was growing up right around all this and from a very early age I wanted to be that guy." But having seen many of "The Evil Dead" knockoffs that have come along since, Bonner wasn't in a rush to shoot his film. While attending Michigan Sate University he came up with the story of "Trap" and then spent the next 16 years reshaping it. "When I was a college student it was about college students, when I got married it was about married people, when the internet got popular the internet got entered, so the whole story shifted over the years."

Finally content on a story, Bonner and producer Diane Cheklich started fundraising and generated enough cash to build a set for a month long shoot in Ann Arbor, Michigan last summer. Currently in post, it was shot on DV by Nickolas A. Gilbert (who's also producing), and edited by Bonner and Checklich. Also producing is Marty Shea and executive producer is Haranath Policherla.

[For more information, please visit the film's website.]

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