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Production Report: “A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian,” “Intervention,” “Shall Not Want,” “The Unseen

Production Report: "A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian," "Intervention," "Shall Not Want," "The Unseen

Production Report: “A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian,” “Intervention,” “Shall Not Want,” “The Unseen” and “Love & Suicide”

by Jason Guerrasio

Gale Harold in a scene from Lisa France’s “The Unseen.” Image provided by the filmmakers.

[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 a Nutshell: A Portrait of Elizabeth Tashjian”

While making a documentary about strange roadside museums, Don Bernier came across Elizabeth Tashjian’s 18-room Victorian home in Old Lyme, Connecticut. From the outside it looked like the other homes in the neighborhood, but once inside Bernier realized it was anything but normal. “It was filled with paintings of nuts. Nut masks. Elizabeth would basically educate you on nuts and where they were from,” he says.

Elizabeth Tashjian is better known in up-state Connecticut as “The Nut Lady.” For years she’s given guided tours of her home, which is filled with a wide array of nut artwork. Intrigued by Tashjian’s obsessive hobby, Bernier ditched the roadside museum doc and began one on her. But before he could start she collapsed in her home and was in a coma for close to two months. She awoke to learn that the government had taken over her home and destroyed most of her art (the work that survived is currently at Connecticut College). “When she came out of the coma, essentially she was pissed,” says Bernier. “So the state threw a lot of physiatrists and therapists to declare she was mentally incapable [to live on her own] and now she’s been moved to a nursing home. Everything got taken away from her.” Bernier’s documentary follows Tashjian, who’s still wacky about nuts, as she tries to pick up the pieces of her Nut Lady legacy.

Shooting on and off since 2001, Bernier is currently finishing post with hopes to have a final cut by the end of the year. Budgeted at under $200,000 and shot on DV, he has recently received a Jerome Foundation grant to finish it. Though he will submit it into festivals, Bernier believes the ideal outlet for the doc is television.

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Leopold De Angeli is a talented playwright, but like many scribes he fancies the drink a little too much. In the hopes of saving Leopold’s life, his theater friends come together to stage an intervention for him. Based on the real-life intervention of an avant-garde playwright 12 years ago, screenwriter Jo Ann Tedesco, who was present at the intervention, adapts the play she wrote of the event.

Director Peter Masterson (“The Trip to Bountiful”) has assembled a cast and crew that are veterans of the stage and screen, including Gary Swanson as Leopold. In doing so Masterson hopes to create a setting that will give the audience a feeling of being at the intervention. “Peter wanted it like ’12 Angry Men.’ He wanted to heighten the drama,” says Tedesco. “But because they are all show business types it’s also funny because they are all dramatic and they all have wit, the piece is amusing leading into heightened drama.”

Currently finishing the 12-day shoot in Manhattan, for many in the cast coming to the set is a daily family reunion. Masterson’s son, Paul Masterson, Jr. is the DP, his daughter Mary Stuart Masterson stars along with his wife Carlin Glynn. Olympia Dukakis also stars along with daughter Christina Zorich.

Shot on 35mm, it’s being produced by Pompeian Pictures and budgeted at under $1 million. Ron Curtis, Jr., J. Clayton and Gary Swanson are the producers. Other cast includes Lainie Kazan (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), Robert Walden, David Margulies, Mario Macaluso, and Hazelle Goodman.

“Shall Not Want”

Thrown in jail as a junkie at 16, Sherry Swanson has been released from prison a grown woman and is hoping for a second chance at life. Confronted with unemployment, parole restrictions and halfway houses, Sherry’s only desire is to reconnect with her daughter. She soon learns that may never happen as her brother Bobby and his wife want to raise her on their own.

“It’s based on the life of a woman I grew up with,” says writer/director Laurie Collyer. “I wrote it ten years ago and then put it away until 2000 when I polished it and sent it to the Sundance lab.” She got in and interest in the lead role increased. “She’s got to experience life in all these different environments,” Collyer explains about the lead. “She’s very streetwise, she’s got to play someone who’s a mother alienated from her daughter, she has to hit all these emotional notes.” While at the lab she met Naomi Foner, who suggested that Collyer she send the script to her daughter Maggie Gyllenhaal. Collyer did so and with Gyllenhaal on board, she was able to find financing through Lemore Syvan‘s Elevation FilmWorks and Marc Turteltaub‘s Deep River Productions.

Currently in post, it was shot on Super 16 by DP Russell Lee Fine. Shot in 25 days last July in Mountainside, NJ, it’s budgeted at $1.5 million. It also stars Brad Hanke as Bobby, Sam Bottoms, and Giancario Esposito. The film is repped by John Sloss.

“The Unseen” and “Love & Suicide”

For filmmakers, inspiration can come in unlikely ways. In the case of writer/director Lisa France (known for her debut film, “Anne B. Real,” which was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards), it happened through a chance meeting with Hollywood stylist Phillip Bloch. “He had this movie idea,” France recalls. “So we talked about a couple of plots and I got along great with him and the film came along through that.”

The two came together on an idea loosely based on the racially charged 1965 film “A Patch of Blue” in which Sidney Poitier befriends a blind white girl played by Shelley Winters. Intrigued in telling a story about “someone who’s blind and knows about racism but has never seen it,” says France, “The Unseen” follows Roy (Steve Harris from TV’s “The Practice”) and Harold (Gale Harold from TV’s “Queer as Folk”), two interracial friends who reconnect after having not spoken for years (Bloch, who’s also on board as producer, plays Roy’s blind younger brother). Set in Atlanta, Georgia, France knew from the beginning she wanted to place the story in the south. “I think the location is a character as racism is not only born but at least in the south still alive, so doing it in Georgia was important.”

Shot in 20 days last June, DP Jim Hunter shot the film on HD and it was cut by editor Noel Dowd. Composer Dean Parker is currently finishing the score. The film also stars Catherine Dent (TV’s “The Shield”) and Judah Friedlander (“American Splendor”). France plans to submit the film to Sundance.

But that’s not all she’s submitting. The winter before shooting began on “The Unseen,” France, with a crew of six, went to Cuba to shoot “Love & Suicide.” How did an American crew shoot a feature in Cuba? Easy, she submitted “Anne B. Real” into the Havana International Film Festival. “We went down there for the festival, totally legal,” France recalls. “We walked in with a camera, we couldn’t have a boom out because that would be obvious. We shot in hotels and in bars and in the streets. We just couldn’t shoot any government officials. We literally had to hide the camera.”

The film follows a man’s (Kamar De Los Reyes) journey to Cuba to commit suicide. Using a Panasonic 24p camera, France and company, thought by the festival to be the cast and crew of “Anne B. Real,” ran around Havana for ten days shooting the film. “The day the festival was over we were gone,” she says.

Demian Lichtenstein, who shares producing credit with Luis Moro on both films, shot “Love & Suicide.” Duane Wandles executive produced both films.

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