Production Report: "The Desirers," "The F Word," "Julian & Chalice," "Thank You For Smoking," "Turtles All The Way Down"
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 contact us.]
"Of course I wish I could have gone, my boys are over there, but I do believe in destiny and maybe I would have been a casualty and would have been a waste," said filmmaker and US Marine Corps veteran Danny Jiminian thinking back on the day when his friends were called to Iraq and he stayed home. Four days after Jiminian's service was up, President Bush passed the "stop loss" order, which extends the service of all armed forces during a time of war. For Jiminian it was a difficult time as most of the guys he served with packed their bags for the Middle East. "You get trained and conditioned for combat and as messed up as it sounds, combat is a rare experience and I wish I had experienced it," he said. While vacationing in the Dominican Republic that summer, his thoughts still on his friends overseas, Jiminian learned to cope by putting his thoughts down on paper. This would mold into a script for his first feature film, "The Desirers."
In the film Braulio (Lazaro Santos) comes home on a two-week leave from fighting in Iraq with hopes of reconnecting with his family. But he realizes that won't be easy as his father (Oscar J. Espaillat) has re-married a young girl, Larissa (Maureen Isern), and is preparing to leave the neighborhood. Things become more complicated when Braulio has feelings for Larissa.
Jiminian says the major inspirations for the film came from the Latino heritage that's prevalent in his hometown of New York's Washington Heights (where the film was shot), and Eugene O'Neil's play "Desire Under The Elms."
Shot in a "breakneck speed" of 10 days on a $25,000 budget, the film was shot on DV by executive producer Luis A. Lopez. Jiminian, who's also the producer, is currently editing the film and hopes to be completed by March. The film is produced through Lopez's New American Cinematic.
For more information about the film, please visit: http://www.thedesiresfilm.com
"The F Word"
As the government has tightened its grip on censorship issues since last year's Super Bowl, many artists have felt that their right to freedom of speech is being taken away. This issue, along with the differing views on politics, has intrigued filmmaker Jed Weintrob ("On_Line"), who along with his producing partners Nick Goldfarb, Christian Bruun and actor Josh Hamilton decided this past summer that The Republican National Convention would be the best place to shoot a film on the subject. Described by Weintrob as "a free speech extravaganza," the film follows radio shock jock Joe Pace (Hamilton) on his final day on the air, which incidentally is the last day of the RNC. With microphone in hand, Joe walks from the bottom of Manhattan up to the main protest at Madison Square Garden while on the way interacting with protesters (some actors, some real people) about why they're there.
"We'd find out about a protest event going on that sounds like a subject matter we wrote about and went there," said Weintrob who filmed at every major landmark in the city. Concerned that only his views would be expressed in the film if he wrote it, Weintrob enlisted 28 contributors, made up of journalists, novelists, screenwriters, playwrights and political friends to write different scenes. And Weintrob admitted there couldn't be a better time to shoot a film in New York City. "The cops cared much more about other things than these guys with a couple of digital video cameras." But he reported that U.S. Homeland Security did confiscate a day's worth of footage.
Budgeted at $6,000, the film is currently in the final stages of post. It was shot in nine days on DV by Christian Brunn and Heather Greer and edited by Philip Jackson. Along with Hamilton (who's also executive producing with Lawrence Mattis and Tanya Selvaratnam), the film stars Sam Rockwell, Zak Orth, and Catherine Kellner.
"Julian & Chalice"
Life can't get any better for Julian and Chalice. Celebrating their third anniversary, the two lovebirds are the envy of their friends. But things begin to unravel when Julian meets an older student in the class he teaches. Suddenly for the first time he questions his loyalty to Chalice. Wanting to be honest to his wife, he comes to the most logical conclusion: propose a threesome.
"I think that's something everyone can relate to, at least who has ever been in a serious relationship," said writer/director William Tyler Smith. "The whole issue of monogamy and what that in fact means. Is it a physical thing, is it a spiritual thing?"
Eight years in the making, Smith co-wrote the script with Julian Hoxter and found financing through childhood friend Morris Levy's M.E.G.A. Films (Foundation Entertainment later came on as co-producer), looking to finance a film along the lines of "Kissing Jessica Stein." "This is nothing like 'Kissing Jessica Stein'," Smith admitted, "but I gave it to him and he said, 'Yep, this is it, lets do it.'" M.E.G.A. Films is also developing a feature based on Smith's documentary "Imagine a School...Summerhill" about A.S. Neill's Summerhill School in England.
Budgeted at under $1 million, "Julian & Chalice" is currently in post with hopes of being finished by the spring. Shot mostly in Long Island, NY, the 22-day shoot was shot on Super 16 by d.p. Christopher LaVasseur and edited by Sam Wilson. It stars Jeremy London ("Mallrats") as Julian, Katheryn Winnick as Chalice, along with Darrell Hammond ("Saturday Night Live") and Elisa Donovan ("Clueless").
"Thank You For Smoking"
Based on the popular novel by Christopher Buckley, "Thank You For Smoking" takes a satiric look at the world of Big Tobacco. Nick Naylor, chief spokesman for the tobacco industry, travels the country as the face of cigarettes spending his days negotiating cigarette product placement in movies, hanging with the Marlboro Man, and later with his buddies, lobbyists for tobacco, guns and alcohol aptly named the M.O.D. squad (Merchants of Death), all while trying to remain a role model for his twelve-year-old son.
Since Mel Gibson's Icon Productions bought the book rights in the late 1990's an adaptation for the screen has been stagnant. But four years ago writer/director Jason Reitman (son of famous producer/director Ivan Reitman) voiced his interest in the project. "When I got an agent and he asked me what I wanted to do I said this, 'Thank You For Smoking'," Reitman recalled. "He said, 'Oh, it's going to be a little tricky, Icon has owned it for a while and I'm not sure if anything is happening on it anymore.'" But there was something happening. David Sacks' production company Room 9 Entertainment acquired the rights and last summer joined forces with Ed Pressman and John Schmidt's ContentFilm to co-finance and co-produce the film.
Getting Buckley's blessing to adapt the book before he started writing ("I left him a message saying, 'Hi, this is Jason Reitman, I'm the guy who's going to screw up your book.'"), Reitman admitted that writing the screenplay wasn't as strenuous as getting someone to make it. "I'm not trying to kiss the author's ass, but it's wall to wall funny and I would literally cut and paste the dialogue right out of the book," he said.
Shooting began on January 24 and will continue through early March in Los Angeles with a small stint in Washington D.C. Cinematographer James Whitaker ("The Cooler") will be shooting on 35 mm. The film stars Aaron Eckhart as Naylor, with Robert Duvall, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott, and William H. Macy.
"Turtles All The Way Down"
For filmmakers Nell Grey and Walker Errant the last year has been an eye-opening experience. After learning about a man who housed over 1,200 turtles in his Lower Manhattan penthouse, the two have been obsessed with finding what drives someone to do that. Like them, the answer may surprise you. "People would not have thought turtle and crisis could be in the same sentence," said Errant. "[But] turtles are one of the three main endangered species in the world right now."
Thanks in large part to China's growing appetite for turtles; studies have shown that turtles are literally being eaten out of existence. Grey and Errant's documentary explores Richard Ogust (the guy with the 1,200 turtles) as he, and others around the country, try to save turtles from extinction. Specifically by paying off the dealers to reroute the turtles bound for the food markets to the U.S. But don't expect some PBS or Discovery Channel wildlife documentary; Grey and Errant say you'll be leaving with more questions than answers. "I don't think in the end it's going to be a happy-go-lucky film that says, 'Oh, the problem is easy just follow X,Y,Z, and end up 20 years happy,'" said Grey. "But these people recognize that and struggle with it frequently."
Filmed in a vérité style, the two have been following Ogust for the last year and hope by the summer to film the China food markets. Shot on DV, the two have spent close to $15,000 on the film and hope to begin submitting it to festivals by the fall.
Though they admit it's been a grueling process, the encouragement from people like Albert Maysles make them push on. "He said, 'You must continue the film, looking at the turtle's faces felt like looking at creation.' We were very excited about that," said Errant.
For more information about the film, please visit: http://www.pigeonpostpictures.com