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In the Works: Sexy, Sultry James Dean, Bullying, Liars Fires & Bears, Sheep Ranching, and Spam

In the Works: Sexy, Sultry James Dean, Bullying, Liars Fires & Bears, Sheep Ranching, and Spam

From this week’s in-production column, comes a feature film that goes through the complicated task of piecing together the life of America’s screen darling James Dean. Looking for funding on IndieGogo is “The Bully Project,” a doc about the trend of bullying in America’s youth. Three projects from Kickstarter wrap up this week’s column: a cross-generational friendship, a sheep ranching doc, and a short about an old woman responding to a spam email message.

EDITORS NOTE: “In the Works” is a weekly column taking a look at upcoming films, in addition to projects in production. It spotlights films in development, as well completed films that are taking creative paths towards distribution and occasionally ventures away from films to look at other types of projects, such as interesting new film distribution, funding, or exhibition mechanisms.

“Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean”

A little over a month ago, Matthew Mishory released a trailer for his in-production James Dean biopic. The trailer received a lot of attention from the blogosphere and caused a bit of a splash from audiences excited to see a raw portrayal of one of America’s most beloved actors.

So what drew Mishory to tell this story? To a certain extent, he says, he was interested in lifting the veil on Dean to understand better who he was, to wade through the biographies that whitewash his story in the name of the American Myth. “To outsiders like me, he always represented something else, something darker, imperfect, and real,” he said in the director’s statement for the film. Speaking to indieWIRE, he continued, “He’s seen by many people as a shiny, squeaky image of heterosexual, white, male Hollywood. The film says a lot about the way America approaches sex and sexuality.”

The kernel for the film was planted in Paris, where Mishory was on a break between film festivals taking his short film on the childhood of Derek Jarman, “Delphinium,” across Europe, and started writing the script in a cafe. The screenplay was smoothed over in Iceland, where Mishory was invited to be a part of the Transatlantic Talent Laboratory at last year’s Reykjavik International Film Festival. “It’s incredibly bleak and incredibly beautiful at the same time. The only other place like that is the Mojave Desert in California. It correlated very well to the Mojave, where James Dean had visited a few times. It’s probably not an accident that my next feature, I’m going to shoot in Iceland.” From there, Mishory assembled a crew that includes cinematographer Michael Marius Pessah and a cast that is led by James Preston, who, while on set, got cast as a werewolf in ABC’s “The Gates.” “So there was this interesting organic process where Preston’s career was coming together at the same time as he was portraying this character who only got the opportunity to just begin his career.”

Mishory noted, “My introduction to James Dean was as an eight or nine year old child. My father showed me ‘East of Eden,” and from there, the interest was born. I think the reason James Dean continues to intrigue today is that he changed the art of acting. He changed a lot in only three films, and those three films are still vibrant and alive today…This film is as much about historiography as it is about history. There’s virtually no footage of him when he’s not acting. There was a PSA interview about not speeding where he’s clearly acting. All the history pieces, the biographies of him, and the autobiographies of other people from the time are really contradictory. That challenge is something we were really up to.”

Though he’s been reluctant to talk plot points, Mishory did offer a bit on his process. “I did a lot of research, and found sources that were interesting to me. I stepped back and found the elements that inspired me. I found a few literary texts that framed the world and framed the story that inspired James Dean, and I sat down and constructed the story. It meshes fact with fictionalized elements, elements of history constructed by autobiographies, with the film’s adaptation of ‘Hamlet.’ Its influences are diverse, but it comes together nicely as a piece.”

The film is currently in production and will head into post-production soon with hopes to be finished early next year.

More projects:

“The Bully Project”

An image from Lee Hirsch’s “The Bully Project.” [Image courtesy of the filmmakers.]

Logline: This year, over 18 million American kids will be bullied at school, online, on the bus, at home, through their phones and on the streets of their towns, making it the most common form of violence young people in this country experience. The Bully Project is the first feature documentary film exploring how we’ve all been touched by bullying, whether we’ve been a target, a bully, or stood in silent witness.

Production team: Director/Producer/Cinematographer: Lee Hirsch; Producer: Cynthia Lowen; Editor: Lindsay Utz; Supervising Editor: Enat Sidi; Executive Producer: Cindy Waitt

About the film: “‘The Bully Project’ is a deeply personal film for me: I was bullied throughout middle school and much of my childhood. In many ways, those experiences and struggles helped shape my world-view and the types of films I’ve endeavored to make. So, you could say, the idea for this project has been gestating since the 7th grade! My producer and I began planning for production in earnest in April of 2009, when, within just a few days of each other, two eleven year olds who had been relentlessly bullied took their own lives, Carl Walker Hoover and Jaheem Herrera. The response to these tragic suicides in the media, on message boards, on Facebook and Myspace and Youtube, and in communities across the country was absolutely overwhelming and left no doubt of the need for an honest, gutsy character driven film to give voice to the kids who deal with such torments on a daily basis.

“Around this time both Ellen Degeneres and Oprah both did programs on the topic of bullying and the suicides of these young people, and again, we were shocked by number of comments that came into the shows’ websites, literally thousands of parents, grandparents and kids themselves, sharing their stories of the bullying they or their children were enduring, desperately seeking help. We were very fortunate to be able to get in touch with several families who had written in to either Ellen’s or Oprah’s sites with stories that literally made our jaws drop, a few of whom became part of The Bully Project. From there, we were lucky to be introduced to the Sioux City Community School District, where, with the support of a brave and forward-looking superintendent, Dr. Paul Gausman, we presented the film project to the school board, who gave us access to film inside the school district throughout the 2009/2010 school year, so that we might explore what bullying looks like from all angles – for the kids who are experiencing it, for the teachers and principles and counselors who are trying to deal with it, for the youth mentors who are intervening to protect their peers, and for parents – in the hopes that we might document the many challenges and some of the successes when it comes to bullying. Finally, we found a few kids through video testimonies on Youtube, or through stories that were in local or national news. Tragically, there where far too many suicides of teens as young as 9 years old who committed suicide last year, we spent time with 4 of those families as they struggled through their grief, but also decided to take a stand and fight! In the end, what I’m hoping to accomplish with The Bully Project’s unflinching look, is to hopefully improve our collective response to this crisis, show the many kids out there who are being bullied that they are not alone, and to empower individuals to step up, intervene and provide a platform for schools and communities to come at this issue from a proactive place, rather than out of a of crisis, or in the wake of a tragedy, which is all too often where the conversation begins.” — Lee Hirsch

Current status: The filmmaking team is currently three months into post-production and are working around the clock, hoping to have the film done for the winter.

For more information and to contribute: Visit the film’s IndieGogo page. The film hopes to raise $25,000 in the next three months. The BeCause Foundation is matching all contributions dollar for dollar up to $50,000.

“Liars Fires and Bears”

An image from Jeremy Cloe’s “Liars Fires and Bears.” [Image courtesy of filmmakers]

Logline: “Liars Fires and Bears” is the poignant drama about nine-year old Eve, a troubled child, wise-beyond-her-years, who crosses paths with an unlikely savior, Dave, a man-child whose life is headed for ruin until he is given the task of rescuing Eve. Together, they set out on an unlikely journey that transforms their lives, giving each of them a second chance at a better future.

Production team: Co-Writer/Director: Jeremy Cloe; Co-Writer/Lead Actor: Lundon Boyd; Producer: Constanza Castro; Executive Producers: David Schmoeller and May May Luong; Cinematographer: Brett Walters

About the film: “The idea for the movie started from a simple idea I pitched to my writing partner, Lundon Boyd. It was about a little girl driving a car in a dangerous situation. That was it. He took that idea and turned it into something much bigger and I really loved it. We made that idea into a successful short film called ‘Sad Story,’ which won numerous awards. We had a ton of ideas that wouldn’t fit into that short, so, we decided to put them into a feature. The heart of the story is really about a little girl who is unable to allow herself to just be a kid. She meets a man who behaves more childish than adult-like. The recent events in her life have molded a very tough little girl who does not trust anyone. I think seeing this little girl, so jaded after only 9 years of life, allows for situations that are both humorous as well as heartbreaking. It was incredibly compelling to me. It’s something I can’t wait to explore and and put on film.” — Jeremy Cloe

Current status: The filmmakers are currently in pre-production, scheduled to begin principal photography in January of 2011.

For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $12,000 by the end of the campaign in a month and a week.

The Hollywood Reporter has the story.

A publicity image from Yuri Chicovsky’s “Fortification.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker]

Logline: The Movie that will Change the Way You Look at Sheep, Men with Moustaches, and Guts. or A documentary about the art of sheep ranching in the American West.

Production Team:Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Recordist/Editor/You-Name-It: Yuri Chicovsky

About the film: “About 15 years ago I met a wonderful sheep ranching family while bowhunting for elk in Colorado. Over the years I’ve photographed their work extensively, and I wrote a play in college about them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that a film would be completely lovely. I’m not trained as a filmmaker, but about a year ago I realized there was a window of opportunity to make the film and I jumped at the chance. I moved out to a rural town in the Fortification Valley and started studying filmmaking.” — Yuri Chicovsky

Current Status: The filmmaker is getting ready to head into production on the project, ready to start filming in a month, when the sheep get loaded up in a truck and head for the Utah border to their range.

For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $11,111 by the end of the campaign today. The filmmaker recently reached his goal.

“The Gran’ Scam of Things”

A scene from “The Gran’ Scam of Things.” [Image courtesy of filmmakers]

Logline: An elderly woman opens an email that leads her into the welcoming arms of an international crime ring.

Production Team: Director/Writer/Producer: Leor Baum; Producers: Michael Schindler & Ryan Thomas; Cinematographer: Sebastien Hameline; Editor: Attila Adam

About the film: “‘The Gran Scam of Things’ originated from an actual piece of spam mail. It was flagged down by my DP (Sebastien Hameline), who found it so entertaining that he printed it to show to me. After we had a good laugh, I started to imagine how fun it would be to bring it to life. So I started working on a character who would give a spam message equal opportunity. It was the kind of story that came at the right time. Con jobs and get rich schemes are more prevalent now than ever. I find it interesting how scams change shape from one generation to the next. It’s easy to relate to and I think people are going to get a real kick out of it.” — Leor Baum

Current Status: The film has been shot and edited, and the team is currently in the final stages of post-production.

For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $3,500 by the end of the week.

Also in the works:

Deadline has a screen test from “Dear John” and “We Are Marshall” writer Jamie Linden’s new script “Ten Year.” The test, which has been released, is based on a script about a ten-year relationship and features Channing Tatum, Kate Mara, Brian Geraghty, and Haylie Duff.

HBO has greenlit a series from “Blink” author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell will join Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson as executive producers. The producers have partnered with screenwriter Charles Randolph to write the series about Cold War-era Berlin. The Hollywood Reporter has the details.

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