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PRODUCTION REPORT: "Jack," "Liquor Store," "Rescuers," "Strings," "Whispers"

By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire March 23, 2009 at 2:50AM

In the March edition of indieWIRE’s production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month’s group includes Philip Seymour Hoffman's “Jack Goes Boating," Eugene Kim's “Liquor Store Cactus,” Michael King's “The Rescuers: Heroes of the Holocaust,” Ben Foster and Mark Dennis' "Strings," and Luis Moro's "Whispers Like Thunder."
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In the March edition of indieWIRE’s production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month’s group includes Philip Seymour Hoffman's “Jack Goes Boating," Eugene Kim's “Liquor Store Cactus,” Michael King's “The Rescuers: Heroes of the Holocaust,” Ben Foster and Mark Dennis' "Strings," and Luis Moro's "Whispers Like Thunder."

“Jack Goes Boating”

Marking the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman, this New York tale follows Jack, a burnt out limousine driver, who with the help of his friend tries to find a girlfriend.

Written for the screen by Bob Glaudini from his popular off-Broadway play of the same title, Hoffman will also reprise the role of Jack from the play, as well as John Ortiz as Jack’s friend Clyde. Amy Ryan has been cast to play Jack’s potential girlfriend Connie. This is the first work out of the well-respected New York-based theater company, LAByrinth Theater Company (which Hoffman and Ortiz are co-artistic directors of), to be made into a film. “This is the first piece that felt like a natural film adaptation,” says producer Emily Ziff from the set. “It had certain qualities that really set it apart, and these are amazing characters that you want to get inside their lives in a way that the theater doesn’t always fully provide.”

Ziff says Hoffman’s interest in directing the film version came naturally due to his familiarity with the work and his experience in directing theater. But Peter Saraf of Big Beach (“Sunshine Cleaning”), which is also producing, is most impressed by Hoffman’s preparation. “He did a long rehearsal process,” Saraf says. “The core four actors, including himself, and some of the smaller roles worked together and he also incorporated the director of photography, the script supervisor and the first AD into the rehearsal process, so along with working on story structure they were also working on blocking and camera position. I think that’s making the task of acting and directing really possible for him.”

Currently shooting around New York City, the film is produced by Ziff and Hoffman’s Cooper’s Town Productions (“Capote”), Big Beach’s Saraf and Marc Turtletaub and Beth O’Neil of Olfactory Productions. Hoffman and Ortiz are executive producing. Overture Films is co-financing with Big Beach and will distribute.

“Liquor Store Cactus”

Recently having wrapped shooting, writer-director Eugene Kim captures the everyday lives of a group of San Francisco Bay-area teens during the late ‘90s/early 2000s for his debut feature.

In the film, Kohl (Brandon Roos) and his other skateboarding slacker buddies hang out and get into mischief, mostly at the behest of the group’s antagonist Toby (Ikenna Okoye), but when Kohl falls for straight-A Asian beauty, Sarah Kim (Katie Soo), he learns there’s more to life than hanging out with the guys.

Inspired by films like “Kids,” “The Wackness” and “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints,” Kim wanted to express the reality of teen life in the Bay area, but also incorporate social issues and issues surrounding Asian traditions.

“I made the leads interracial because where I went to high school I’d say the Asian population was ten percent if even that so I dated a lot of Caucasians and seeing how Asian families are, they are still scared of interracial relationships so I’m trying to open their eyes.” With the support of the large Asian community in the Bay area, Kim is confident that his film has a market.

Shot on HD by Nicholas H. Martin, the film was shot in 35 days in San Jose, San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Editing is currently being done by Jeremy Castillo. Producers are Edward Martin, along with Kim and Matt Falkenthal through their Dirty Shoe Productions. Executive producer is Ned Kopp.

[For more information, please visit www.liquorstorecactus.com]

“The Rescuers: Heroes of the Holocaust”

Emmy-winning doc filmmaker Michael King (“Bangin”) looks at the brave non-Jewish diplomats, also known as “the Righteous Among the Nations,” who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by going against the orders of their superiors and providing them visas out of areas that were occupied by the Germans in World War II.

King was inspired to make the film after hearing about an Ellis Island photo exhibit on the subject last April. He sought out the creator of the exhibit but couldn’t find him. “I remember my uncle telling me when I was a kid, ‘One monkey doesn’t stop the circus,’” he jokes. So he got on the Internet and came across the work of author Sir Martin Gilbert, who along with being Winston Churchill’s official biographer has done extensive research on the diplomats and has written the book, “The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust.” “We talked and decided that I would follow his research of a new book, this time on the survivors,” King says.

King will travel with many of the living survivors by train back to their hometowns and retrace their history. King will also highlight the journey through the eyes of Gilbert’s assistant Stephanie Nyombayire, a Rwandan who is also an anti-genocide activist. King says he uses her to connect the atrocities of the past with those of the present.

Currently on a 35 day shoot done on HD by Sander Snoep, King plans to film around the globe in the locations where the survivors currently live before going to their hometowns. The film is produced by King and executive produced by Joyce D. Mandell. He hopes to have picture lock by 2010.

“Strings”

When Billy, a struggling pianist, leaves his family to join an experimental therapy group called Strings, he quickly realizes he’s made a mistake and wants his old life back. But as the group makes it impossible to leave, the only way Billy can return home is to have facial reconstructive surgery, which leads to a dangerous cat and mouse for not only him but his family as well.

This thriller is the debut feature by Austin co-directors Ben Foster and Mark Dennis, from a script by Dennis. Shot from last March to late December and filming in over 50 locations in and around Austin, Foster admits looking back on the project that there were a lot of things he would change.

After making the short film, “The Alternate,” in the end of 2007, Dennis approached Foster with the script for “Strings” which they immediately wanted to begin making. “We really hit the ground running and kind of put ‘The Alternate’ to the side,” Foster says. ”We never submitted it to a festival; we played it in the ‘Strings’ audition waiting room.”

At first the two thought of making “Strings” their “practice film” into making a real feature, but soon realized that would be an expensive endeavor. “We see this as our film school, practice and real thing into one.” Foster says the biggest challenge was not having a locked script when shooting started. Tweaking and rewriting the story while casting (Billy Harvey plays the Billy character before the facial surgery and Chris Potter plays him postop) and then also while filming; it made for a lot of frustration and many pick ups. “For our next film we’re going to lock a script before making the movie and we’re not going to compromise on anything,” says Foster, who adds that though they had many growing pains, their film shows there are filmmakers in Austin who want to tell stories other than about twentysomething relationships.

Financed through credit cards and the help of the Austin community, Foster says the film is close to being locked and will be submitted into festivals soon. Shot on HD by Mike Simpson, the film is produced by Foster, Dennis and Gretchen Upshaw and is edited by the directors.

“Whispers Like Thunder”

Producer Luis Moro (“Anne B. Real”) shares screenwriting credit in this look at one of the lesser-known moments in Native American history, the fight for the Huron Indian Cemetery. It’s a story Moro has been trying to get on the screen for ten years and recently Sir Ben Kingsley announced he will star and produce.

In 1906 Congress authorized the Secretary of Interior to sell the Huron Cemetery in Kansas City, Kansas. The three Conley sisters of the Wyandot Tribe had ancestors buried there, including their mother, and vowed to defend the burial ground. For decades they fought off construction workers, police, the mob, corrupt businessmen and U.S. Troops who all tried to get them off the land. The Conleys also took their fight to the courts as Lyda Conley became the first Native American attorney and the first Native American woman admitted to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Though she would lose her case the Conleys’ efforts made it possible for Senator Charles Curtis to introduce a bill that precluded the sale of the land and made it a national monument.

“It’s as strong as a women’s film can get,” Moro says. “For this film not to get made… I don’t know what women’s film would get made if this one can’t.”

Moro co-wrote the screenplay with friend Trip Brooks, who then took the script to the Wyandot Tribe for their approval. Though the Tribe has been offered to support the telling of this story for years, they’ve never grated support until now. Moro believes they recognized “that we were going to keep the integrity of the story in place.”

The good fortune continued last November, when Kingsley announced that he would take on the role of Senator Curtis as well as produce through his company SBK Pictures. Moro says teaming with Kingsley came from their wives’ friendship.

Currently looking for financing, Moro has calls out to many of the A-list talent in Hollywood as well as looking for the key crew, including director. He hopes to begin shooting by late 2009. Says Moro: “This is my plea to all the A-list women in Hollywood – call Ben Kingsley.”

[For more information, please visit www.whisperslikethunderthemovie.com]

This article is related to: In The Works