Production Report: "Bittersweet PL," "Boxers and Ballerinas," "Formosa," "Not a Love Story," "Transamerica"
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Set in Huntington Station, Long Island, "Bittersweet PL" follows the Schaffer family as they deal with their individual problems and also cope with the news that their father (played by Seymour Cassel) is diagnosed with a fatal illness. Paulie (Elizabeth Moss, "Virgin"), the youngest in the family, is manic-depressive and spends her free time with her dead-beat husband, Joey (Michael Esper). The older daughter, Susannah (Jen Albano, "Down to You," "200 Cigarettes"), is the responsible sibling, who tries to keep the family together and in doing so ignores her own needs.
Co-written by director Alexandra Brodsky and Jen Albano, this is Brodsky's feature debut after spending years screening her shorts in festivals. "Like a lot of filmmakers I made a couple of short films that did really well in the festival circuit and trying to get my first feature made," she says. Coming up with the story in 2000, her producer on the film, Evan Cohen ("Series 7"), passed it along to fellow Open City Films alum, Susan Leber ("Margarita Happy Hour") who took interest. "It really hit home with me," says Leber. "It is poignant without being saccharine and also deals with issues that are very universal and I can relate to."
Budgeted at under $200,00, the film was shot in HD by Dave Tumblety in an exhausting 18 days (Brodsky: "It was grueling. I wouldn't want to do it again.") Currently in post (shooting wrapped in late June), the filmmakers hope to be done in time for the Sundance submission deadline.
"Boxers and Ballerinas"
Chronicling the lives of four Cuban boxers and ballerinas, two living in Havana and two in Miami, this documentary highlights the triumphs, failures, and overall struggle for four young people united by their cultural heritage and divided by 90 miles of water and more than 40 years of political conflict.
Describing the doc as "a film about young people by young people," filmmakers Mike Cahill, 24, and Brit Marling, 21, delve into their subject's daily lives, which mainly revolve around their sports. For the two in Havana, their talent keeps them immune to the struggle in Cuba and gives them the freedom to travel; something the filmmakers learned is rare for Cubans. "Few people get the right to travel," says Cahill. "So athletes and artists are people who don't have to take that raft trip, they get the opportunity to leave or return to their country."
Finding a boxer and ballerina in Miami was only a phone call away; "We looked them up in the phone book," says Marling. But in Cuba they had to work with the Cuban government to find their subjects. As the government was happy to give them their best and brightest, ballerina Annia, and boxer Yordenis, they weren't pleased to learn the filmmakers uncovered their dilapidated living arrangements. "They didn't want us to show that their number-one boxer lived in poverty so there were talks of them taking our tapes," says Cahill. "So we had our producer (Nicholas Shumaker) fake a death in the family and he immediately left with all the tapes packed in his socks."
Spending the last two years shooting in Havana and Miami, the filmmakers are finishing the editing and working on a score with composer Craig Wedren ("School of Rock"). Shot on DV, it's budgeted at under $100,000 and being repped by Andrew Hurwitz ("The Anniversary Party," "Roger Dodger"). Learn more at www.boxersandballerinas.com.
Profiting on the clean-cut culture of the 1950s, a group of New Mexico filmmakers are making huge revenue from their social guidance films. But suddenly they learn the films are losing their effect on the youth and the group must find a way to reach the kids again. Confident their troubles are over after hiring a method actor from New York, they soon find things only get worse.
Wanting to shoot "Formosa" in a 1950s look, writer/director Noah Kadner found it to be too expensive to shoot on 35mm with a budget of only $200,000 and impossible to get the look he wanted with DV. Or so he thought. Through contacts at Panasonic, Kadner learned about a new camera the company had recently finished. "This new camera was high-end and more suited to a feature but still not anywhere near approaching what you'd be spending on 35," says Kadner. The SDX900 24p camera was exactly what Kadner was looking for and Panasonic let him use it, making "Formosa" one of the first films to be shot with the model. (Getting companies to lend a hand with his films isn't new for Kadner. For his 2000 short film, "Today's Life," he got special effects shop, Foundation Imaging, to create $300,000 worth of visual effects for his 14-minute short without charging him a dime.)
Once he found the right camera, it was time to research social guidance films. Kadner found everything from driver's ed lessons to how to act on a first date at www.archive.org. "We watched quite a few before shooting," he says. "Then we incorporated some of them into the script as a homage." They even shot some of their own. "In post we added scratches and dust so it looked as if they were shot on 16mm in the '50s," he said.
Produced by Kadner's Highroad Productions, the film was shot by DP Tyler Oliver last November in 20 days and is currently being mixed by Patrick Hogan (sound editor on TV's "Nip/Tuck"). Kadner hopes to have it play in festivals in the fall. Learn more at www.formosamovie.com.
"Not A Love Story"
Struggling for years to beak into the German film industry, Brooklyn-born filmmaker Aaron Allred hit the jackpot when one of Germany's top producers, Doris Kirch, agreed to make his first feature, "Not A Love Story."
"It was difficult for him to get it off the ground and I was really intrigued by the story," writes Kirch via e-mail from Germany. "So I took the risk, got financing, and the actors were only available within a short time frame so we started shooting within a month."
Financed by Kirch's production company Blue Angel Films, "Not a Love Story" was shot entirely in Berlin on Super 16. In the film, a young American comes to Berlin to solve the mystery behind his father's sudden death. Interweaved with flashbacks of his father's love affair with a jazz singer in the 1960s, we soon learn the son may suffer the same fate his father did decades before when he gets involved with a young German girl.
Budgeted at around 2 million Euros ($2.4 million U.S.), filming wrapped in mid-June with hopes of a picture lock in August. According to Kirch, along with being in talks with Germany distributors, several distributors in America are interested because the feature is English-language and directed by an American. The cast includes German stars Hannelore Elsner ("No Place to Go"), Katinka Haerte, Patrick Pinheiro, Sissi Perlinger, and Birol Ünel (Berlinale Golden Bear winner for "Head On"). Lean more at www.blue-angel-films.com.
On an unseasonably hot Sunday in May, the Bronx House of Detention was taken over by the cast and crew of Duncan Tucker's debut feature, "Transamerica." The film follows Bree, a biologically male transsexual (played by Felicity Huffman), who's in the final step of fully becoming a female when his/her 17-year-old son (Kevin Zegers) calls from jail. Bree goes to bail him out and the two embark on a life changing (perhaps gender changing) cross-country trip.
indieWIRE had a chance to visit the set and observe the filmmaking in action. Sitting on a bench deep in thought, Zegers prepares for another take on a scene that's been giving him trouble all morning. "Monotone, monotone," director Duncan Tucker says softly to his star as he walks back over to do the scene. Zegers' character, Toby, is in jail and calling his father to bail him out. To his surprise, a woman picks up the phone and quickly hangs up on him when he inquires about the whereabouts of his father. Trying to display the right amount of hopelessness in the current situation and frustration over the phone call, Zegers realizes Tucker has gotten what he wants after a short pause and the first AD shouts, "lunch."
Tucker wrote the film after realizing one of his best friends was once a man. "She said, 'Lets have a drink I have to tell you something,'" Tucker recalls. "I poured us each a finger of scotch and she said, 'OK, you ready?' I said yeah. She goes, 'I got a dick.' I was like, 'Wow.' I had no idea."
Produced by Rene Bastian and Linda Moran's Balladonna Productions ("L.I.E.," "Bringing Rain," "Jailbait") the film ends its two-month shooting schedule when they hit Arizona in early July. Shot on Super 16 by DP Steve Kazmierski ("You Can Count on Me"), and edited by Pam Wise ("Secretary"), the film will be submitted to festivals in September.