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In the Works: William Friedkin’s Latest “Killer,” a Spooky Musical & More

In the Works: William Friedkin's Latest "Killer," a Spooky Musical & More

Mathhew McConaughey plays against type as a hitman in William Friedkin’s upcoming “Killer Joe,” opposite an impressive cast that includes Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gershon. The film marks producer Nicolas Chartier’s follow up to his Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker” and boasts a script by acclaimed playwright Tray Letts. indieWIRE spoke with executive producer Christopher Woodrow about the new project from the director of “The French Connection.”

New works from Kickstarter are also profiled in this weeks In the Works column include a high-energy piano genius from New Orleans; a sweaty documentary from Florida’s swamps; a horror musical; “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” meets “Sideways;” and a short where two high school friends see their lives diverge.

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.

“Killer Joe”
Director: William Friedkin
Writer: Tray Letts
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Juno Temple
Producers: Nicolas Chartier, Scott Einbinder
Executive Producers: Christopher Woodrow, Molly Conners, Vicki Cherkas, Zev Foreman
Cinematography: Caleb Deschanel

William Friedkin’s next project, “Killer Joe,” has been gaining traction since September, when international sales company, Voltage Pictures, closed several major foreign pre-sales on the black comedy.

It’s no wonder the film is buzz worthy. Produced by Nicolas Chartier, fresh off his victory at the Oscars for “The Hurt Locker,” “Killer Joe” marks Friedkin’s first film since his critically well received horror “Bug,” boasts a script by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts, and features a starry ensemble that includes Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church, and Gina Gerson. Heading the impressive cast is an against type Matthew McConaughey as a police detective turned hitman, who’s hired by two siblings to kill their mother for her life insurance policy.

“It was the whole package, more so than just the story,” Christopher Woodrow, CEO of Worldview Entertainment, said to indieWIRE, on why his company came on board as co-financers. “This project has so many tremendous elements. Right off the bat it was very exciting.”

Woodrow caught wind of the film in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Creative Artists Agency put him in touch with Chartier, who brought the company up to speed on the project.

The team began principal photography in November in Louisiana, and currently have six days left according to Woodrow. The filmmakers are working towards making the cuts starting in January to have the film ready for next year.

Woodrow, who visited the set last week, said he was “very impressed” with what he saw, and made special mention of the “phenomenal” acting on display.

“People are going to look at him in a different light,” Woodrow said of McConaughey’s performance. “His performance will surprise people who are used to seeing him in romantic comedies.

“We’re very excited for everyone to see it.”

More projects

“Bayou Maharajah”

An image from Lily Keber’s “Bayou Maharajah.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker.]

Logline: “Bayou Maharajah” is a portrait of James Booker, “the best black, gay, one-eyed, junkie piano genius to ever come outta New Orleans” and whose music been described as “Ray Charles on the level of Chopin.”

Production team: Director/Producer: Lily Keber; DP: David White; Sound: Eric Laws

About the film: “James Booker is undoubtedly one of America’s most gifted pianists, yet today his music is barely known outside a handful of devoted fans. I first heard his music on jukeboxes in New Orleans, and couldn’t believe that the incredible stories I heard about his life were the same man. He was hit by an ambulance and became a morphine addict from the age of 9. He played on Ringo Starr’s ‘Have You Seen My Baby’, then soon after got beat up so badly he lost one of his eyes. For the rest of his life, he’d say that Ringo’s thugs did it and even wore a star on his eyepatch in Ringo’s memory (I have yet to find definitive proof of this). But underneath these outrageous stories is the classic story of the Artist- a man whose fame never matched his talents, who never got recognition in his own hometown, and who was dogged by chronic loneliness and isolation.” — Lily Keber

Current status: The film team is finishing up production and heading into post-production, where they will need to choose what from the 100+ hours of live recordings they will put in the film.

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 $10,000 by the end of the campaign on December 31.

“Swamp Cabbage”

An image from Hayley Downs and Julie Kahn’s “Swamp Cabbage.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker.]

Logline: “Swamp Cabbage” is a dark and sweaty documentary about Hayley Downs, a half Cracker* stuck in Brooklyn who survives love and loss by reclaiming her bizarre backwoods-meets-suburbia Florida past.

*In Florida, “Cracker” is a term of pride referring to the descendants of pioneers known for their ability to survive in the treacherous Florida wilderness. It is often confused with but unrelated to the slur meaning ignorant bigot.

Production team: Directors/Producers/Writers/Directors of Photography: Hayley Downs and Julie Kahn; Sound Editor/Mixer: Marlan Barry

About the film: “‘Swamp Cabbage’ is very much a labor of love for both of us. As Directors, we are motivated by our shared Florida roots, our passion for weird, spooky, beautiful Florida, and our yearning to reclaim landscapes and cultures imperiled by sprawl. In 2000, we started making a film about Hayley’s dad, his Florida Cracker hunting buddies, and their annual hometown wild game feast. As is often the case with documentaries, “life happened”, and our story developed in strange and unexpected ways from there. Ten years later, Swamp Cabbage is Hayley’s tragicomic coming-of-age reckoning with her eccentric family, her checkered past, her inner Florida Cracker, and the Florida wilderness. Although the film is a very personal tale, we think its strength lies in its universality — loss, personal folly and the desire for redemption are all very human. Ultimately we hope the story will inspire audiences to take a second look — not only at the story of Florida but also at their own ‘wild’ places.” – Hayley Downs and Julie Kahn

Current status: The filmmakers hope to finish post-production on the film in Summer 2011 for release in early 2011.

For more information and to support the film: Visit the film’s Kickstarter page. The filmmakers reached their Kickstarter goal of $12,000 but welcome more donations before their campaign closes on December 20.

“The Dead Inside”

An image from Travis Betz’s “The Dead Inside.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker.]

Logline: “The Dead Inside” is a haunting musical about two lovers, Wes and Fi, engaged in a fight for their lives against an angry ghost.

Production Team: Writer/Director: Travis Betz; Producer: Galicia Bloom; Cinematographer: Shannon Hourigan; Original Music: Joel Van Vliet; Score: Michael Brake; Sound Editor: David Bewely; Editor: Travis Betz; Cast: Sarah Lassez, Dustin Fasching

About the film: “For two and a half years, Shannon Hourigan and myself had lost our muse. It had been years since we were able to get inspired about a new project and it was starting to depress us. We new that we wanted to make a feature film together but we had no idea what, along with no disposable income to even try. Eerily one night our muse returned in the most freaky of forms. I woke in the middle of the night to Shannon moaning in her sleep. She would take a breath in and then exhale a moan. A dark and creepy moan. I had never heard anything like it. It sounded like there was another being inside her that was trying to break free. Needles to say I went to sleep on the couch. This breathing pattern continued for a week, and I feared it would never end. Listening to it late at night was inviting my imagination to run wild. When the moaning finally stopped (and I did a little jig), Shannon and I discussed how scary it was. That’s when we got onto the topic of possession, and how it would play in the deterioration of a relationship. Not long after that I had found my story. I knew the nuts and bolts of the piece and the characters that would haunt them. The only thing I could not figure out is why I was not inspired to actually sit down and write it. I thought about it for weeks, but nothing made me budge. I really liked what I had…so what was the problem? Life to our ghost story came violently through the death of a dog. My friend, Sarah Lassez, had received some tragic news that her dog had died in a car accident. She was very distraught and needed to take her mind off things. A night of karaoke was organized and we all went in support. I was sipping on a whiskey drink at the bar, still lost in my own thoughts of why this film wasn’t coming together for me, when Sarah got up to sing. Suddenly, the two worlds collided in my head and I knew, with most feverish positivity, that this movie had to be told as a musical. After that the writing came easy. I was my old self again. I approached a musician I had befriended over the internet (Joel Van Vliet…we both run our own YouTube channels), and asked if he would write the music to the songs. He agreed and we immediately squished our minds together and out came ‘The Dead Inside.’ Shannon purchased the Canon 7D and immersed herself into the look of the film. Galicia Bloom hopped on to produce and Dustin Fasching was snatched up to play opposite Sarah. Our tiny and dedicated crew worked tirelessly for two and a half months on the weekends to craft a most unique piece of cinema. This movie was made out the the absolute need to create in order to feel whole, and ultimately that is what the movie is about. That and ghosts with a hint of zombie.” — Travis Betz

Current status: The film is finished and looking to recuperate costs. The team has submitted to a myriad of festivals, eager to play in 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 $10,000 by the end of the campaign on December 18.

“Between Us”

An image from Dan Mirvish’s “Between Us.” [Image courtesy of filmmakers]

Logline: “Between Us” is a dark comedy exploring the bittersweet friendships between two couples who meet as old friends and discover their lives are tarnished by money, success, sex and children. It brings to mind “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” but with more the tone and scope of “Sideways.”

Production team: Director/Co-Screenwriter: Dan Mirvish; Co-screenwriter: Joe Hortua; Producers: Hans Ritter, Barry Hennessey, Mike S. Ryan, Dana Altman; Casting Director: Alison Buck

About the film: “While [working a pitch on Broadway], I also said, “Hey, do you guys have any plays that might make good film adaptations?” and they handed me stacks of Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. “Between Us,” by Joe Hortua, was the one I most responded to…So I got together with Joe who dug my take on the adaptation, and we collaborated on the screenplay. Even though it’s based on a play, it is perhaps my most personal film I’ve worked on to date. The characters and their circumstances are very much like my own: dealing with marriage and young children, and the struggle between having an authentic artistic career and a job that pays the bills. In adapting the play, when I felt that the character Joel needed a visually cathartic moment to dramatize his emotional change, I needed to look no further than my own life: I’d recently fallen off a ladder and found myself in a wheelchair for 6 months with a severely broken leg and shoulder. I knew first-hand how that experience has the potential to change not only one’s own life, but also how it affects a marriage. My own disability further inspired the script: I’d just been to Park City for Slamdance in my wheelchair and while hosting our annual sled-off, I realized the visual image of a wheelchair in the snow was both striking and original. The challenge with adapting any play into film is how to make it more cinematic, and to use the conventions and tools of filmmaking to distinguish the piece from theater. There are three main things you can do in a movie that aren’t easily done in a play: Change locations, move the camera to direct the audience’s eye, and editing to re-alter the natural course of time. In doing the adaptation we’ve done all three, while still preserving the essential dialogue, themes, characters and story that made the original play so successful.” — Dan Mirvish

Current status: The team is in the process of casting now, with offers out to several actors.

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 $10,000 by the end of the campaign on December 16.

“Age of Reason”

An image from Jordan Harris & Andrew Schrader’s “Age of Reason.” [Image courtesy of filmmakers.]

Logline: A teen all-star baseball player and his sociopathic best friend rebel against their families and society during the summer after high school. Oz’s drunk father wants him to get a real job and forget about baseball, while Freddy goes steadily insane at the prospect of his friend leaving him.

Production team: Writer/Directors: Jordan Harris & Andrew Schrader; Producers: Philip Marlatt; Cinematography: Jordan Harris

About the film: This is going to be an interesting movie to shoot, not just because it’s another micro-budget movie, but because it’s an ensemble picture. Our first movie, “Fever Night,” was a psychedelic horror flick that was basically two guys in the woods. “The Age of Reason” follows three families… we actually started writing that a full year before we wrote “Fever Night.” The script for “The Age of Reason” has gone through about twenty rewrites in those four years, mainly because we wanted to play with the “family melodrama” teen rebellion movie conventions and characters — to see where it took us and how we could best tell its story.

Current status: The project is in pre-production, set to be shot in April 2011 in Austin, Texas on the RED camera.

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 $20,000 by the end of the campaign on January 2.

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