[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 December edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio takes a closer look at five new films that are in production: Rehana Mirza's "Hiding Divya," Jennifer Westfeldt's "Ira & Abby: A Divorce Comedy," Lee Hang-Pae's "Monopoly," Ed Radtke's "Superheroes" andLeah Mahan's ""Turkey Creek."
Writer-director Rehana Mirza tackles the issue of mental illness in her feature debut, which follows three generations of Indian-American women struggling to cope with the illness in their family.
In the film Linny (Pooja Kumar) and her rebellious daughter Jia (Madelaine Massey) return to Linny's hometown for her uncle's funeral where Linny learns she's entitled to an inheritance. Not able to receive it for two weeks, the two stay at Linny's mother's (Madhur Jaffrey) house. Never on good terms with her mother, feelings change when she shows signs of bipolar disorder, causing the women to put their differences aside.
Spending four years talking to psychologists, support groups and families going through the illness, Mirza realized the story wouldn't be centered on the illness but the relationships within the family. In preproduction Mirza showed films like "Pieces of April," "Thirteen" and "Garden State," so her actresses would know what she was looking for. "While the script could easily be played for the mental illness aspect I wanted to make sure that [the actresses knew] it was just underneath the surface at all times," she says.
Mirza was also selective on what mental illness she wanted to examine. "I saw a lot of [films about] schizophrenia and it was often displayed within a brilliant or artistic mind," she says. "There wasn't a film that I saw about bipolar disorder so I thought well this is something that is very common amongst the people that I was talking to."
Currently in postproduction, the 22-day shoot was filmed around New York and New Jersey last summer. Produced by Mirza's sister, Rohi Mirza Pandya, it was shot on DV and 16 mm by Renato Falcao and edited by Rich Song. Executive producers are Gitesh Pandya and Deep Katdare.
For more information, please visit the film's website.
"Ira & Abby: A Divorce Comedy"
The latest project from actress-writer Jennifer Westfeldt ("Kissing Jessica Stein"), this romantic comedy takes a look at modern-day marriage and asks if saying "I do" really is the path to life-long happiness. Directed by Robert Cary ("Anything But Love") filming wraps in New York City in mid-December.
The film revolves around Ira (Chris Messina) and Abby (Westfeldt) who decide to get married after knowing each other for less than a day. Spanning their first year of marriage, we find the newlyweds and their families in emotional chaos leading to affairs, divorces and lots of therapy.
Cary, who's known Westfeldt since their college days at Yale, came on board in March and immediately fell in sync with Westfeldt's story. "We come from the same neighborhood and in our long relationship we've shared some of the same experiences," Cary says. "So part of it is a wonderful way to share the world we live in with the rest of the world."
Though pegged as a romantic comedy, Cary says the film isn't a wacky laugh fest; it does take a serious look at relationships. "I think with a romantic comedy you have to believe in the characters so there's a reality to it," he says. "It's not a movie that judges its characters, it lets the audience do that, and that naturally means darker moments."
Produced through Brad Zions' Breakout Pictures ("Kissing Jessica Stein"), it's shot on 35 mm by Harlan Bosmajian ("Lovely & Amazing"), cut by Philip J. Bartell and executive produced by Jennifer Todd, Ilana Levine and Westfeldt. The film also stars Fred Willard, Frances Conroy, Jason Alexander and Darrell Hammond.
Inspired by the true-life incident of a computer hacker successfully penetrating Korea's main bank server, this modern-day noir follows two men undertaking the perfect crime to become part of the elite 1% who control the country.
Written and directed by Lee Hang-Pae, computer whiz Kyung Ho (Dong-Keun Yang) befriends John (Sung-Soo Kim), a suave socialite who plans on controlling the country with the other members of his 1% club. But when one of the members double cross the group and takes most of their money, John enlists Kyung Ho to break into Korea's bank server. But was he a pawn in John's game all along?
Production is currently underway in Seoul, Korea. Hang-Pae and producer Jonathan Kim spent two years getting the project off the ground through Kim's Hanmac Films and the film's domestic distributor Lotte Entertainment. But they weren't out of the woods financially when shooting began, as Kim explains via e-mail from the set: "We had rented a Ferrari for the film and while we were shooting some completely drunk person ran into it and made a hole in the left fender. The owner wanted me to buy it. So I had to. Now I'm trying to sell it. Anyone want to buy a Ferrari? Very cheap!"
Budgeted at $3.2 million, it's shot on 35 mm by Young Chul Kwon, and edited by Hyun Mi Lee. Slated for release in spring 2006, Kim says they hope to later find U.S. distribution.
Combining filmmaking and philanthropy, writer-director Ed Radtke ("The Dream Catcher") has spent the last four years using his script about troubled teens in New York City as a tool for his media-making workshop while making it into a film.
"Superheroes" (working title) follows Sammer, a 13-year-old orphan and thief, who roams the streets of NYC stealing video cameras from tourists and retreating to the footage to escape his turbulent life. "I've made a couple other narratives and they've been pretty intense and pretty straight forward dramas and I wanted this to have a slightly magical quality to it," Radtke says.
To create that magical quality Radtke involved his non-profit organization The Lift Project in the summer of 2004. A media-making workshop for at-risk youths, the group read the script while in its developmental stage and made shorts from what they interpreted the story to be. (The Lift Project shorts have screened at New York City's Lincoln Center the last two years.)
"I'm a 40-year-old filmmaker trying to tell a story about 13-year-old New Yorkers," Radtke says. "I don't know that world so it became a really enriching experience. As well for the youths who got to make media, read a script and collaborate with the filmmakers." Including segments of The Lift Project shorts in the film, Radtke and D.P. Learan Kahanov use a bevy of formats to tell the story including HD, DV and 8 mm.
Currently in post production, the film is produced by Ira Deutchman and Solaris Entertainment's Greg O'Connor along with Kindred Media Group. The film stars Jeremy Allen White, Peter Appel, Gil Rodgers and Ed Seamon.
Since 2001 Leah Mahan ("Sweet Old Song") has chronicled one Mississippi community's struggle to keep their land safe from commercial developers. But when Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast last August, Mahan's little documentary became larger then she ever imagined.
Settled by emancipated slaves after the Civil War, Turkey Creek - a neighborhood in Gulfport, Mississippi - is a poor community populated by decedents of the families that first bought land there. In the last ten years Gulfport has gown rapidly thanks to legalized gambling leaving Turkey Creek one of the last undeveloped pieces of property in the area. Determined to keep the land that's been in their families for centuries, the residents have rejected every offer given to them to sell the land.
After years of filming the town's struggle, Mahan believed she had her story and began fundraising for post when Hurricane Katrina hit land. "On a personal level it's thrown my life into crisis," Mahan says, but admits with more attention on the Gulf Coast than ever before the film has an audience. "Everybody can relate to the idea of the place they grew up changing in ways that they might not like," she says. "But now there are a number of points I don't need to make so in that way I think the story is going to be that much more powerful."
Mahan is currently filming the Katrina aftermath, including following the film's main subject Derrick Evans who's become one of the coast's loudest voices in the rebuilding process. "Derrick just testified in front of a congressional sub-committee about historical preservation on the coast," Mahan says. "He's been on CNN and in the L.A. Times, the things he's been talking about on a local level now there are a lot more people listening."
Shot on DV by Mahan and field producers Paula Gonzalez, ReMale James and Sara Nesson; Mahan is currently seeking funding to continue production.
For more information, please visit the film's website.