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Production Report: “American Gothic, “Manhattan, Kansas,” “One Last Thing,” “South of Heave”, “Unkno

Production Report: "American Gothic, "Manhattan, Kansas," "One Last Thing," "South of Heave", "Unkno

Production Report: “American Gothic, “Manhattan, Kansas,” “One Last Thing,” “South of Heave”, “Unknown”

by Jason Guerrasio

A scene from “American Gothic.” 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. ]

“American Gothic”

For the past ten years Peter has tried to forget his turbulent childhood. Focusing on his career and marriage, he believes the worst is finally over. But when his two brothers, Rick and Norman want to meet, Peter must confront the memories he buried a long time ago.

Described by writer-director Paul Kampf as “a real honest look at the relationship between men,” Kampf originally wrote the story five years ago for his theatre group in Chicago, the Breadline Theatre Group. After a successful stage run in 2000 he decided to adapt it for the screen. “Writing for the stage is very focused because you only have so many options,” Kampf says. “So I found it liberating in some ways to be able to extrapolate from a very strict form.”

Within a year, Kampf found financing (a majority through executive producer Robert Last) and a talented cast which includes, Patrick Wilson (“Angels in America,” “The Phantom of the Opera”) as Peter, Neal McDonough (“Band of Brothers”) as Rick, Scott Michael Campbell as Norman, and John Heard as the father.

Budgeted between $1 and $2 million, the 24-day shoot wrapped last April in and around Salt Lake City, UT. Shot on 35mm by D.P. Henryk Tzvi Cymmerman, its currently being edited by Edgar Burcksen. The producer is Robert Schwartz. Kampf hopes to have a final cut by mid-summer.

On a sad note, Kampf learned after filming that the building where his theater group has been for the last eight years will been torn down and made into a condo when their lease is up. While cutting his film is a major priority, Kampf realizes he wouldn’t have a film if it weren’t for the theatre group. “It’s an interesting conundrum,” he says sullenly. “I want to bring what I’ve learned on stage to the film world. But hopefully a year from now we can find a consortium who would be interested in buying a space for us.”

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“Manhattan, Kansas”

With a population of only 65 people, Manhattan, Kansas is a far cry from the Manhattan Tara Wray is currently living in. “The little apple,” as the locals call it, is the setting of Wray’s first documentary, which explores her turbulent relationship with her mother and captures the first time she’s seen her in five years.

After suffering a breakdown where she contemplated suicide and spoke of killing, Tara Wray, then 19-years-old, left her home and now lives in New York City. Expressing her feelings towards her mother in short stories and an attempted novel, Wray thought a documentary about their relationship would be the most therapeutic. “I sent her an e-mail and said I’d like to come to Kansas and make a film about you,” says Wray who began filming in 2003. “She wrote back and her e-mail was just a hundred of the smiley face emoticons. So I took that as a yes.”

Her mother’s behavior has baffled Wray her whole life. She describes her as “the kind of person who when she goes to the grocery store she’ll be talking to the vegetables.” Along with showing what her mom does in her daily life, Wray also puts the camera on herself to comment on the good and bad sides of her mom. Though she admits not all is forgiven, Wray has learned how to deal with her mother. “She’s not going to change,” she says, “so I guess I just have to accept the fact that she’s nuts and she always will be.” Wray will go back to film an epilogue in August.

Shot on DV and Super 8 mm, the $100,000 budget comes mostly out of Wray’s pocket (she also received a grant from the Anthony Radziwill Documentary Fund). She’s currently looking for an editor. Co-producers are Michel Negroponte and Randy Bell. Alan Oxman is producing.

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“One Last Thing…”

While struggling to deal with her son’s terminal illness, Carol gets a call from a television show that grants wishes to dying children and wants her son, Dylan, to come on the show. As Dylan waits for his wish to be fulfilled, Carol cherishes the time left with her son and copes with the harsh reality that she’ll lose him someday.

Directed by Alex Steyermark (“Prey for Rock and Roll”) and written by good friend Barry Stringfellow, the two stayed in close contact through the development of the script. “Barry and I have known each other since we were 12-years-old and we’ve always wanted to do something together,” says Steyermark. “In the early stages Barry would always show me drafts of the script and it was turning into such a funny and poignant story, all along we thought it would be a good indie film.”

Once they were ready the two brought the project to Jason Kilot and Joanna Vincente‘s HDNet Films who jumped on board as producers. Susan Stover is also producing. They were also able to attach former “Sex and the City” star Cythia Nixon to play the grieving Carol, and Michael Angarano (“Almost Famous,” “Seabiscuit”) as Dylan. 2929 Entertainment‘s Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban are executive producing the “under $2 million” project.

Currently filming in New York City and near the Delaware River, shooting is set to wrap on May 13. Shot on Hi-Def by Chris Norr, producers hope for a picture lock by mid-summer. Michael Berenbaum is editing (“Before Night Falls”). Cast also included Gina Gershon and Wyclef Jean.

“South of Heaven”

Talking to Jonathan Vara about his debut feature is like leafing through a movie encyclopedia: “I really wanted to mix spaghetti western and film noir,” he says from the Jacksonville, FL set. “It starts off like a straight forward film noir — there’s some of Robert Aldridge‘s “Kiss Me Deadly,” Sam Fuller‘s “The Naked Kiss,” Nicholas Ray‘s “They Live By Night” — and then moves into a spaghetti western, there’s definitely a “Once Upon a Time in the West” feel.”

But, more specifically “South of Heaven” follows Roy (Adam Nee) who comes home from the Navy looking forward to reconnect with his brother Dale (Aaron Nee). But Dale is nowhere to be found. He then goes on a journey to find his brother that leads him to a mysterious woman and hardened criminals.

Vara came up with the story while he was a student at the American Film Institute in 2004 where he made four short films including “David and Dee.” After graduation he co-founded Blue Maria Productions with producing partner Jason Polstein. This is their first feature. Currently in the second week of shooting, production will wrap in Jacksonville on May 15th.

Along with the usual mishaps that every first time filmmaker goes through, Vara has had to deal with a Hollywood blockbuster filming in the same town. “Travolta’s film is definitely fucking us,” says Vara of John Travolta‘s new film “Lonely Hearts.” “They’ve taken some of our crew. It’s just hard to compete with the big movie budgets.”

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Described as “Memento” meets “Reservoir Dogs,” “Unknown” opens with five men waking up in a chemical warehouse and realizing they don’t know who they are and how they got there. But through time they deduct that some of them are hostages and some are kidnappers. The men now must figure out who is who as they’ve learned the lead kidnapper is on his way and plans to kill the hostages.

“It’s a thriller in the classic sense,” says producer Darby Parker, who optioned Matt Waynee‘s script with fellow producer Rick Lashbrook in 2003 after it found no takers at the studios. “Everybody passed but I thought it was the wrong execution of the right idea,” Parker says. “We didn’t get any passes when we sent out the rewrite.”

The cast includes Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Joe Pantoliano, Jeremy Sisto, and Barry Pepper as the men in the warehouse. Along with Bridget Moynahan and Peter Stormare (“Fargo,” “8mm”) as “Snake Skin Boots,” the kidnapper driving to the warehouse. “What attracted the cast were the themes of right and wrong, good and evil,” says Parker. “And if you aren’t the person you used to be can you every really escape the consequences of your past?” Music video director Simon Brand is directing.

Budgeted at under $10 million, shooting recently wrapped in Los Angeles. Shot on 35 mm by D.P. Steve Yedlin (“Brick,” “May”), editing will be done by Luis Carballar (“Amores Perros”). John S. Schwartz is also producing and Frederick Levy is executive producing.

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