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In the Works: Visiting the Set of Ash Christian’s “Petunia”

In the Works: Visiting the Set of Ash Christian's "Petunia"

In this week’s edition of In the Works, indieWIRE visits the set of the new film from Ash Christian, “Petunia.” There’s also a documentary investigation of institutions behind urban gentrification and two fundraising campaigns from films featured in previous In the Works columns.


Visiting the “Petunia” set means traveling to Brooklyn’s Bushwick, a neighborhood lined with discount stores, pharmacies and fast food joints. The production itself, on a residential street littered with potholes, is in a three-story building rented from the city, which had been repossessed and is now rented for film and TV interior shoots. Said Christian, who shot his previous two features in Texas (“Fat Girls” and the just-finished “Mangus!”), “New York is surprisingly inviting to filmmakers.”

Christian describes “Petunia” as “‘American Beauty’ meets ‘Burlesque’ meets ‘Sister Act 2’ meets ‘Gone with the Wind.'” Suffice to say it’s difficult to sum up. It centers on a number of unorthodox, anxious and panicky characters, each working out their own place in their family, with their lovers or with the world. Christian wrote the script with Theresa Bennett, elaborating on and embellishing what began as a family story.

Ash Christian surrounded by paintings of vaginas on the set of “Petunia.” [Photo Credit: Bryce J. Renninger/indieWIRE]

The film’s central character is Charlie, played by Tobias Segal (Broadway’s “The Miracle Worker”), a young gay blogger who finds himself in the middle of a number of the film’s narratives of self-realization. He and his brothers must unlearn the personality quirks brought on by their psychonanalyst parents (Christine Lahti and David Rasche). He’s also thrust into the lives of his lover, the openly bisexual George, who in turn is in an open marriage with Robin (Brittany Snow). One brother, Michael (Eddie Kaye Thomas), is newly married to his newly pregnant wife, Vivian (Thora Birch); the other, Adrian (Jimmy Heck), is a sex addict who puts oil to canvas every time he sleeps with a new woman and has thus amassed a collection of painted vaginas that now adorn his apartment.

Birch, who also serves as one of the film’s producers, was one of the first to commit to the project in a role that Christian describes as a “wacky, deadpan” newlywed who sleeps around. Christian, who met Birch shortly after “Ghost World,” wrote the role for her. Referring to the director’s irreverent campy-queer voice, Birch said, “It’s a ‘very Ash’ film, but I think with ‘Petunia,’ Ash will blossom.” Finishing up her time in the hair and makeup chair with a swipe of her metallic lipstick, she laughed and got ready to head upstairs to the apartment set.

Working on a “very Ash” film means a certain freedom; on the set, Birch suggested a line about Vivian growing a third fallopian tube and handing it off to Charlie as a gift. The team giggled as they played with the joke, reveling in the absurdity. The light-hearted but focused mood on Christian’s set and the film’s unpredictable characters allowed them to turn anxiety and obsession into a laughing matter.

Other projects:

“The Domino Effect”

An image from “The Domino Effect.” [Image courtesy of the filmmakers]

Logline: “The Domino Effect” is a feature-length documentary that explores the process of real estate development in New York City and digs to uncover the complex networks of banks, developers, politicians and nonprofit organizations that shape our cities.

Production team: Producer: Megan Sperry; Producer/Cinematographer: Daniel Phelps; Producer/Writer: Brian Paul

About the film: “‘The Domino Effect’ was originally conceived as a smaller project about New York’s distinctive development politics and the City’s “Uniform Land Use Review Process.” However, after covering the process we found a stronger story in the effect that out-of-control real estate development has on a community and its longtime residents. As residents of NYC ourselves, we are constantly exposed to developments that are changing the landscape of our city. We were intrigued by the complexity of the process and the corruption and partnerships of “strange bedfellows” that comes along with it. Following the “New Domino” project —- the proposed conversion of the historic sugar factory on Brooklyn’s East River into 2,200 apartments and condos in towers up to 40 stories high — gave us an opportunity to tell the story about a development and its impact on a community from the beginning. Once we began going to the community board meetings and the public hearings we were able to identify our characters. Many community residents were interested in talking to us about their experiences. We soon realized that this kind of development is not just taking place in NYC, but in cities all around the country and we felt compelled to make a film that could help communities everywhere.” — Megan Sperry

Current status: The team is nearly three-quarters finished with principal photography. They hope to begin editing at the end of February.

For more information and to support the film: 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 (March 11).

“People Not Humans” (Revisited)

An image from Matthew Mercier’s “People Not Humans.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker]

Logline: “Alter your mind, alter your reality.”

Synopsis: Jack Logan is a normal guy. He’s sad and lonely, hates his childhood, has never been in a serious relationship, hates his job, and is generally dissatisfied with life. When he discovers a new, experimental treatment in genetic engineering, he volunteers to have his mind drastically altered so he can’t feel depression. In the weeks following, he’s happy, complacent. He now likes the job he hated before, has met a girl and has forgotten the painful memories of his childhood. He’s stuck repeating the routine of going to work and going home and going to work every day, but he doesn’t seem to mind or notice that anything’s wrong.

Production Team: Writer/Director/Producer/Editor: Matthew Mercier; Producer/Lead Actor: Jason C. Mac; Producers: Rhonda & Sharee Washington; Other cast: Shana Sorrels

Current Status: The film has shot a trailer and is currently looking to gain funding to continue the production process.

For more information and to support the film: IndieGoGo page. The team is seeking to raise $3,113 by the end of their campaign (April 13).

“Pervertigo” (Revisited)

An image from Jaron Henrie-McCrea’s “Pervertigo.” [Image courtesy of filmmaker]

Logline: Lloyd Gills, a lonely peeping tom, is propositioned to murder his landlord’s wife. Spooked, he runs for the hills. But with a badass debt collector hot on his tail, Lloyd has no choice but to agree to the murderous offer. Only problem is, Lloyd has fallen in love with the target.

Production Team: Writer/Director: Jaron Henrie-McCrea; Producer: Shrihari Sathe; Director of Photography: Chad Cooper; Line Producer: Matthew Hill; Unit Production Manager: George T. Kimmel IV

About the Project: “The idea came somewhere between Pennsylvania and Maryland. I was on a flight back to New York brainstorming ideas when it came to me, “What if a pervert goes snooping and finds a grisly proposition to murder?” It was enough to get the story-juices flowing and after a couple months I had a script about a peeping tom who agrees to murder his landlord’s wife for $100,000. I wanted to take a classic noir formula, a man who wants to kill his wife, and update it. I wanted to do a bit of a genre mash up, combining these noir elements with the darkly comic tales I love.” — Jaron Henrie-McCrea

Current Status: The team is currently in post-production.

For more information and to support the film: Kickstarter page. As with all Kickstarter projects, the filmmakers will only receive donated funds if they reach their target goal of $5,500 by the end of the campaign (March 13).

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