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Production Report: "Day Zero," "Gracie," "In the Footsteps of Orpheus," "Running Funny," "The Savage

By Jason Guerrasio | Indiewire July 2, 2006 at 5:55AM

[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 the July edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio takes a closer look at five new films that are in production: Bryan Gunnar Cole's "Day Zero," Davis Guggenheim's "Gracie," Hugo Perez's "In the Footsteps of Orpheus," Anthony Grippa's "Running Funny," and Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages."

"Day Zero"

Set in the near future where the state of global terrorism has forced the military to reinstate the draft, Bryan Gunnar Cole's debut feature follows three friends who've received their induction notice and have 30 days to report for duty.

Written by Rob Malkani, the film stars Elijah Wood, Chris Klein and Jon Bernthal as the drafted friends who must battle their political views and thoughts on war before making a decision that will change their lives forever. "The question of service, duty, honor and friendship all comes out," says Cole while taking a break from editing.

Directing stage plays and making documentaries for most of his career, Cole joined the project after producer Anthony Moody optioned Malkani's script last summer and asked Cole to direct. After a few months of reworking the script, they sent it out to agents, and along with catching the eyes of Wood, Klein and Bernthal, also nabbed Ginnifer Goodwin, Elisabeth Moss and Ally Sheedy.

Shot in 25 days on HD around New York City's Lower East Side, Cole brought a loose style to the shoot as he and his longtime DP, Matthew Clark, often shot handheld, encouraging the actors to move freely in the scenes. "There was a lot of freedom for both myself and the actors to do what they do and that's something I promised them at the very beginning," Cole says.

Cole hopes the film's topic sparks as much interesting discussions among audiences as it did on set. "You'd be hanging out and realize that you had completely opposite politics from the person next to you," he says. "So everybody brought their own ideology and that was exciting."

Produced by Moody's Indalo Productions, Malkani is executive producer.

[For more information, please visit www.indalo.biz]

"Gracie"

Loosely based on the childhood of actress Elisabeth Shue, a young girl attempts to try out for the boys' varsity soccer team and in the process wins the hearts of the townspeople and inspires a future generation of women athletes.

Raised in a soccer family, Elisabeth, along with her brother Andrew and her husband Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") decided three years ago to make a movie on the sport they love. But getting the project off the ground has been as challenging as Gracie making the team.

After hiring Lisa Marie Petersen and Karen Janszen to write the script, years of on-again-off-again start dates made the prospects of the film being made become less likely. But after Elevation Filmworks' Lemore Syvan read the script things changed for the Shues. "I was really inspired [by the story]," Syvan says. "The family's motivation and their passion for it was a big motivator for me to get into it." Their good fortune continued after Gatorade signed on as a marketing sponsor, and recently Picturehouse announced it will release the film domestically (they're eyeing the release to coincide with the Women's World Cup in spring '07).

The next step was finding the right girl to play Gracie. After months of auditions, Carly Schroeder ("Mean Creek") beat over a thousand girls to get the role. Syvan admits Schroeder isn't the best soccer player, but that wasn't what they were looking for. "We focused more on getting a really good actor," she says. "She's training now for the part and we feel great about her turning into this girl."

Currently in pre-production, shooting begins in New Jersey in late August for seven weeks. Currently hiring key crew members, Syvan and the Shues are producing along with Guggenheim, who's also directing. Executive Producer Graham King's Initial Entertainment Group has international distribution rights.

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

"In the Footsteps of Orpheus"

Spotlighting the work of Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti, documentary filmmaker Hugo Perez retraces the final heart wrenching months of Radnoti's life as he creates his most moving poetry while in a concentration camp.

At 35, Radnoti's poetry had begun to gain a following in his country when he was thrown into a Nazi salve labor camp in 1944. After three months at the camp, he marched to Abda in Hungary where he was killed after he was too weak to continue. Two years later his body was found in a mass grave and inside his coat pocket were poems that documented his final months. Today school children are required to memorize Radnoti's poems.

Perez learned about Radnoti's work in the '90s after doing a series of shows on poets and writers. After being approached by the Carr Foundation to do a doc, he jumped on the opportunity to tell Radnoti's story.

In the last two years Perez has made numerous trips to Hungary to film where Radnoti lived, the labor camp in Serbia and his final resting place. But in telling his life story Perez will focus on his poetry. "The trick for us is he's dead -- he can't tell us what his life was like," he says. "But we have his poems, so we're weaving the poems into the narrative of his life."

Along with remembering his life and work, Perez hopes the doc will bring a fan base Radnoti could never have imagined. "Every time I walk into a book store I go to the poetry section and look at the R section and Radnoti is not there," he says. "If I can achieve one thing with this film it's to have the work of Radnoti available here."

Currently in post, the film's produced by Perez and executive produced by Greg Carr and Noble Smith. Shot on DV by Chuck Moss, the film is edited by Francisco Bello.

[For more information, please visit www.m30afilms.com]

"Running Funny"

Recent college graduates Michael and Eddie rent an "apartment garage" from Stan, a blind war veteran, and undergo separate transformations as they try to adapt to living in the real world. Written and direct by first timer Anthony Grippa, the story is based on the play by his uncle, award-winning writer Charles Evered.

Always fond of the play as a kid (when it ran in 1988 a then unknown Paul Giamatti starred in it), Grippa read it again after graduating from Rutgers University and found more meaning. "I was really drawn to the characters immediately because their transition sort of mirrored my own as I was entering the real world for the first time," he says.

Itching to start his filmmaking career, the New Jersey native asked his uncle if he could adapt it for the screen. Evered gave his blessings and Grippa went off to write the script last year with the hopes to find financing from an indie shingle. But when the rejection letters began to pile up he decided to make it on his own. "I said screw it, I'm just going to raise the money and shoot this by myself because I just didn't want to wait for some production company to give me permission," he says.

Through the kindness of friends and family Grippa has enough for a two week shoot in September. He even found a garage that they'll make into a makeshift apartment in his hometown of Upper Saddle River.

Grippa hopes to cast the two main leads by next month and has attached Louis Zorich to play Stan. He's currently hiring key crew members.

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

"The Savages"

After a seven-year hiatus from making features, Tamara Jenkins ("The Slums of Beverly Hills") returns with a story that follows two estranged siblings who are forced to reconnect to help their aging father. The film stars Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the siblings and is executive produced by Jenkins' husband Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne.

Spending her time away from features "writing scripts and doing other weird artistic pursuits," Jenkins began work last year on a feature-length script for Focus. Looking back on her notes that have piled over the years, she came across a scene about a brother and sister who must interrupt their self-absorbed lives to help their father (played by stage vet Philip Bosco) get into a nursing home.

Writing the script, which she describes as a comic drama, Jenkins found herself with a 200 page first draft. "It was very descriptive, which helped when I got stuck," she remembers. "Then I spent a year trying to make it a size that was producible. But I still have a crush on the 200 page one." Though Focus loved the script; Jenkins says they had to part ways over casting which lead her to Fox Searchlight.

Shot in Buffalo, New York City and Arizona from the end of March to the beginning of May, Jenkins says it was almost comical how the weather changed drastically at every location. "It was a strange shoot because the movie takes place in the winter but we went through so many different seasons," she says. "It was like we went through a year but it was only 30 days."

Currently in post, it was shot on 35 mm by Mott Hupfel ("The Notorious Bettie Page"), edited by Brian Kates ("Shortbus") and produced by Ted Hope's This is That Productions and Fred Westheimer's Lone Star Film Group. Searchlight has no release date set.

[Jason Guerrasio writes the Production Report column for indieWIRE and contributes regularly to Premiere, Filmmaker Magazine, MovieMaker and Time Out.]

This article is related to: In The Works