[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 December's edition of indieWIRE's production column, Jason Guerrasio profiles five new films in various stages of production. This month's group includes Ari Taub's "The Arrangement," Phillip Guzman's "Desdemona: A Love Story," Kevin Willmott's "The Only Good Indian," Gordon Quinn's "Prisoner of Her Past," and Lee Daniels' "Push."
Director Ari Taub begins prep on a dark comedy that's been sitting on the shelf for close to thirty years.
Having released his latest film "The Fallen" in the last year, Taub decided his next film would be a project he hoped to make out of college. (According to Taub, the delay to make this film is simple: "We got money for ['The Fallen'] first and it took about six years to make.") The film follows a law student who, in his haste to pay his student loan, gets into fixed horse races. But when a sure thing drops dead on the track, he's left with a debt with the mob that will be hard to repay.
"It's the kind of comedy like 'Raising Arizona' or 'The Big Lebowski,'" Taub says. "Films that are really funny but the situations are serious."
Taub has begun casting the film and is confident that due to the writer's strike he has a chance to attract some higher-end talent. "The unions are at a standstill, people are not working but actors want to work so there's an opportunity here," he says. "I'm going to try to get people that otherwise normally would not have been interested."
Originally penned by Mario Radosta, Chuck McMahon came on recently to help rework the script and give it more of a modern tone. Taub hopes for a spring shoot and will more than likely use 35 mm. The film will be produced through Taub's Hit & Run Productions.
"Desdemona: A Love Story"
Inspired by a horribly smelling flower and the loss of a good friend, Texas-based filmmaker Phillip Guzman recently wrapped post on his second film.
Following two brothers (Denton Blane Everett, Jorge Jimenez) who kidnap the wife (Cindy Vela) of a wealthy man hoping for a big ransom, things get complicated when one of the brothers reveal the alterative motives around why this woman was the target.
"It's kind of a funny story," says Guzman about the inspiration behind the film. "I saw a beautiful flower and when I went to smell it the flower had a horrible odder. I learned it was a corpse flower, a flower that gives off a decaying smell to help pollinate insects. I thought, what if there's a woman like this, one that attracts others to her through death, that's how the story came about."
Along with the flower, Guzman says things that have happened recently to him and a cast member inspired the tone of the script. At the time he was writing it a friend of his who's stationed in the Middle East died when his helicopter was shot down, and one of his leads was dealing with the death of his father.
Using a group of friends in front and behind the camera, along with some equipment they own, Guzman found financing for the ultra-low-budget drama through James LaMarr who was impressed by his first film, "The Lawless." Currently in post, Guzman plans to have a final cut by the beginning of December.
Lensed on HD in 26 days, the film was shot in Austin, San Antonio, Dallas, Maypearl and Mexico. The DP is Philip Roy, who's also a producer on the film with Guzman as well as the editor. Executive producer is LaMarr.
[For more information, please visit www.desdemonamovie.com]
"The Only Good Indian"
In the late 1800s a government policy was created forcing Native American children to attend boarding schools where they were to assimilate into white culture. The schools and its motto: "Kill The Indian, Save The Man," began a traumatizing affect that harmed Native Americans for the next century. Kevin Willmott ("CSA: Confederate States of America") has taken this egregious moment in American history as the subject for his latest feature.
Penned by Thomas L. Carmody, the film follows a teenage student who escapes a boarding school in Kansas and tries to return to his family on the Kickapoo reservation, though a Cherokee bounty hunter (Wes Studi, "Last of the Mohicans") is on his heels.
"[Kevin] and I felt that not nearly enough has been done to examine that period and these boarding schools," Willmott says. "We also tried to do that with 'CSA,' the whole notion of taking negative imagery and flipping it on its head and recapturing it and reclaiming it."
Filmed around Lawrence and Wichita, Kansas, Willmott also shot on the Potawatomi and Kickapoo reservations. Getting full support from both tribes, he also got the Native American students in the film from the tribes.
Willmott admits for this film (and his upcoming drama "Bunker Hill") he stayed away from the usual avenues of financing and turned instead to local private investors. "We're really trying to cultivate financing in this area," adds Willmott who says it took less than a year to get the financing for "The Only Good Indian." "We're trying to do projects that have connections with our region but that also have national and an international impact (he's currently putting together a project about Wilt Chamberlain, who went to college at the University of Kansas), so I think that has made it a little easier to find money."
Currently in post, the film has a budget of around $1 million. The five week shoot was shot on 35 mm by Matthew Jacobson. The editor is Sean Blake and producers are Willmott, Carmody, Rick Cowan, Matt Cullen, Greg Hurd and Scott Richardson. Executive producer is James McDaniel.
[For more information, please visit www.theonlygoodindian.com]
"Prisoner of Her Past"
Documentary filmmaker Gordon Quinn examines the Post-Traumatic Stress Chicago Tribune jazz critic Howard Reich's mother has suffered for the past seven years, as memories from her youth in Nazi-occupied Poland has affected her later years.
After writing a reveling piece about his mother's condition a few years ago in the Tribune, Reich approached Quinn's Chicago-based Kartemquin Films ("Hoop Dreams," "The New Americans") to see if his mother's story could be delved deeper through a documentary. "The original newspaper article was very powerful and this thing of caring to the elderly is what drew me in," says Quinn who decided to take the directing reigns.
Quinn and Reich (who is a producer on the film) headed to Skokie, Illinois, where Reich's mother (who's now in her late 70s) lives and began to piece together her condition. The first time Reich learned something was wrong was in 2001 when his mother was found by the police on the streets of Skokie in the middle of the night screaming that people were trying to "put a bullet in her brain." "That line is the only thing that she ever told Howard about the war," Quinn says.
They also travel to where she grew up in Poland (now the Ukraine) during World War II. Reich's mother, then 10-years-old, fled the Nazi's after her parents were killed and lived in the wilderness for a year. "[Howard] never really was able to reconstruct what happened to her during that year, but when she was found she was covered in lice, she was living a semi-feral existence. But she never talked about it." Doctors believe that's what caused the rare form of Post-Traumatic Stress she has.
Currently seeking finishing funds, Quinn still hasn't decided if this would work better for television or a feature-length film but regardless what platform he plans to use the film as some form of outreach. "People are already using the demo to talk about some of these issues," he says. "But what we've learned through this is something like this needs to be addressed when you're a child. That's where the healing needs to take place."
The film was shot on DV Cam by Quinn, who's also the executive producer. Reich and Joanna Rudnick are producing and Jerry Blumenthal is the editor.
[For more information, please visit www.prisonerofherpast.com]
Lee Daniels continues to explore issues most filmmakers won't touch with his second directing effort, "Push," a cautionary tale about an overweight, African-American teen's journey to learn to read, based on the best-selling novel from author Sapphire (Ramona Lofton).
Set in Harlem during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, Daniels -- who's known for producing controversial material like "Monster's Ball" and "The Woodsman" -- was moved by the book's frank talk and pursued the rights (which was also on the radar of Harvey Weinstein and Oprah) before making his directorial debut, "Shadowboxer." Though Sapphire turned down Daniels' request, she reconsidered after seeing "Shadowboxer." "She just responded to ['Shadowboxer']," says Daniels while talking to indieWIRE on the set. "I was blown away that she was interested in me doing the film."
Daniels describes the book as X-rated, with the physical, mental and emotional abuse on the main character, Clareece, too graphic for the screen. So screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher created a fantasy world that Clareece takes herself to while she's abused. "[Fletcher] did an incredible adaptation," Daniels says, "It's a tough film because it's mostly voiceovers and fantasy. She pretends she's this beautiful blond haired white girl every time she's abused. It's very fantasy."
Cast in the lead role is Gabbie Sidibe, who Daniels plucked from a 300 person audition process. Having no prior acting experience, Daniels says he was blown away by the rawness of her audition and is impressed by her stamina throughout the experience. "I don't know how stars are discovered, but I've worked with more seasoned actors that are just as talented," Daniels says of Sidibe. "She's really excited about the job."
Nearing the end of a 37-day shoot, Daniels says one of the biggest headaches is shooting in New York, which he's never done before. "We got shut down by the cops the second day of shooting," he says with a chuckle. "I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. I don't know how people shoot here, it's so expensive."
Produced through Lee Daniels Entertainment and Smokewood Entertainment, the film is being shot on 35 mm by Darren Lew and the editor is Cindy Mollo. Produced by Daniels, the executive producers are Sarah Siegel-Magness, Gary Magness, Lisa Cortes and Tom Heller. Film also stars Mo'Nique and Lenny Kravitz.