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September 22, 1998 2:00 AM
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Siblings and "Pi" Producers Launch Rob Schmidt's "Saturn"

by Anthony Kaufman




Rob Schmidt's directorial debut "Saturn" wrapped a blistering 24-day
summer shoot last week in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Although four of the
principle players behind Darren Aronofsky's metaphysical "Pi" are
involved with producing "Saturn" and a geodesic dome and mathematical
equations dominate one of the soundstages, writer-director Rob Schmidt
is conceiving a very different, highly emotional drama for his first
feature film.


"Saturn," adapted from a short film Schmidt shot at the American Film
Institute, examines a son's complicated relationship with his dying
father. Living in the machine shop/warehouse where his father -- an
engineer and inventor of alternative power -- works, the young man,
Drew, must deal with the overwhelming burden of caring for a father with
Alzeimer's. Playing Drew is Scott Caan ("Bongwater"), son of actor
James Caan, while veteran character actor, Leo Burmester ("Lone Star,"
"Broadcast News" and John Sayles' upcoming "Limbo") is playing the
father. Mia Kirshner ("Exotica") also stars as a young rich girl who
seduces Drew away from his father and into a New York thrill-seeking
underworld.


The film is being financed independently by novice producer, Palmer West
and his Sibling Productions. Formed by West and his sister from a
percentage ownership in their father's investment company SEI
Investments
, Sibling's first production is "Saturn." Said West, "I
didn't really feel comfortable going out and asking other people for
money to get my first start, so I just did it myself."


Shooting in a Waste and Textile warehouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn,
rented for $2000/month, the production had four weeks to transform the
5th floor loft from a rat-infested sweatshop to a fully functional
soundstage. When indieWIRE stopped by the set, not a single rat (live
or dead) was in sight, although crew assured me they were still
lingering. Executive Producer Jonah Smith (who was Co-Executive
Producer on "Pi") guided me through the labyrinth of rooms, revealing a
convincing dilapidated hotel room and the central workshop set, complete
with the aforementioned geodesic dome, a red motorcycle, and several
metal parts littering the sepia-toned room.


Along with Smith, other reuniting "Pi" veterans include Executive
Producer Eric Watson (Producer of "Pi"), Director of Photography Matthew
Libatique, and Line Producer Lora Zuckerman, (A.D. on "Pi"). While at
the AFI, Schmidt became acquainted with Watson, Aronofsky and Kirshner,
who committed to the project years before. Schmidt's roommate also
happens to be filmmaker Mark Waters ("House of Yes"). Although Schmidt
doesn't think highly of AFI now, he does concede it gave him friends and
collaborators for a lifetime.


But the real link between the "Pi" team and director Schmidt is Loeb and
Loeb attorney Jeremy Barber, who represents most of the production's key
figures. The day indieWIRE visited, Barber had flown in from LA to give
the set a little morality boost and even some advice on the publicity
machine at Sundance. Barber is thinking ahead. But with Sundance's
October deadline swiftly approaching, Barber's crew will have to work
fast.


"It's alchemy," said Barber about the package he brought together to
make "Saturn." "Making movies is about social alchemy. And what you do
is try to bring people together and that's an instinct." Barber found a
"perfect symbiosis" in West and Schmidt, with West gaining necessary
production experience and Schmidt's "very mellow presence" fitting well
with the first-time producer's care and enthusiasm for the project.


For Schmidt, who has been busy making music videos, "Saturn" has been a
project close to his heart for four years now. "It comes from when my
Dad was dying," Schmidt said, exhausted in a phone call, in between
watching dailies.


As a short film, "Saturn" got the attention of director Hal Hartley, who
in his teaching days at SUNY Purchase, used Schmidt's short to teach his
students. In press materials, Hartley is quoted as saying, "Rob Schmidt
has a great future in this business. His sensitivity is a wonder to
behold." Schmidt explained his reason for expanding "Saturn" into a
feature as both a function of bringing the themes to a larger audience
("only so many people get to see a short film") and the depth that a
full-length can bring to a story ("the short is very compressed and I
don't think you can get that sort of complicated relationship and the
forces that create that relationship -- they're really not suitable to a
20-minute film.")


Even Christine Vachon ("Happiness," "Velvet Goldmine") was attracted to
the project, but couldn't find the financing for it. (Schmidt's next
film, "Crime and Punishment in High School" will be produced by Vachon's
Killer Films along with MGM.) Schmidt reasons the difficulty to raise
money for "Saturn" initially was because, "It's easy to see it as a
movie about a fucked up a kid and his father, when really," Schmidt
reveals, "it's basically a movie about love, the harder parts of love"
-- a theme which Schmidt feels has been lost in contemporary movies. "I
think what's been missing a lot from movies lately is heart and love.
And I think there's all these issues about sex and violence. It's not
that films shouldn't have those things, it's that films should be about
humanity."


After shooting, Schmidt expects a bout of postpartum depression. "What
I've heard from people is you get that for a couple weeks, buy a lot of
CD's and stay in bed." As for the future of "Saturn," Schmidt admitted,
"I want it to have a life. That's my ultimate hope for it. It's
certainly not a movie for everybody and I hope the people that want to
see it will get a chance to see it."


Barber thinks they will. "We have not yet seen a movie that dealt
honestly with the effects of a ravaging disease on a father and son
relationship," Barber told indieWIRE. "It makes the film tough, but
will also help the film find a broader audience and cross over. . . and
give it a twist and an edge that will help it find critics, audience,
distribution."

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