This week in indieWIRE’s production column, iW takes a look at the film adaptation of Wendy Mass’ 2006 children’s novel “Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life,” starring Academy Award-winner Mira Sorvino. Also in the spotlight: a DIY filmmaker dukes it out with a Hollywood production crew in “How to Make Movies at Home;” a scientist clones himself to escape himself in “The Proxy;” the world of designer board games gets explored in the documentary “Going Cardboard;” and a construction worker finds himself caught in a love triangle in “The Sleeping Bear.”
“Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life”
Director Tamar Halpern (“Shelf Life”) and her crew had it rough last summer, filming the indie “Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life” during the hottest August on record in Manhattan in mostly un-airconditioned locations. Lucky for them, the film is a family geared tale centered around two 12-year old children. “What’s great about shooting with kids is that they don’t sweat at all,” Halpern told indieWIRE. “They’re not like us gross grownups. They don’t complain.”
Adapted from Wendy Mass’ beloved 2006 children’s novel of the same name, “Fink” is a coming of age tale about a boy, Jeremy, on the cusp of his 13th birthday, struggling to move on from the loss of his father who passed away when he was eight. When a mysterious locked box from his late father appears, Jeremy embarks on a quest with his best friend Lizzy to find the missing keys to the box and learn what secrets lie inside.
“It’s about moving beyond sorrow and enjoying what today presents,” Halpern said. “That’s the message of this film.”
Halpern, who also penned the script, came across the novel through her entertainment lawyer Steven C. Beer, now an executive producer on the project. “I read it immediately and fell in love with it,” she said. “I’ve already raised a kid that’s now 23. And so writing about 12-year-olds was just a really exciting age for me to explore.”
Beer brought distribution company Phase 4 Films into the fold, getting them on board before principal photography. He also passed along an early draft of the script to Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino for the role of Jeremy’s mother.
“In my original adaptation the mother’s role wasn’t that important,” Halpern said. “When Sorvino expressed interest, she said ‘You’ve got to give me something better.’ In a way she handed me this gift by saying, ‘Do your best as a writer. You’re a mother, you raised a son. Dig deep and find those moments.’ Based on my rewrite she signed on.”
With Sorvino attached, Halpern rounded out her cast with a slew of established talent including Joe Pantoliano (“Memento”), Marian Seldes (“The Visitor”), Betsy Brandt (AMC’s “Breaking Bad”) and Michael Urie (“Ugly Betty”) and child actress Ryan Simpkins (“A Single Man”), along with newcomer Maxwell Beer in the title role.
The film wrapped last fall and is currently in post-production.
“How to Make Movies at Home”
Logline: A DIY filmmaker and her friends lock horns with a Hollywood production that intends to use their small Maine town as it’s new location, but the bigger threat may be that her best friend is falling in love with the big-shot producer’s girlfriend. All this coupled with practical lessons on DIY filmmaking.
Production team: Director/editor: Morgan Nichols; producer: Amy Palmo (“Jesus Freak”); lead actress: Laura Lee Bahr; DP: David Danesh.
About the film: “We are so dearly overdue for a New Wave in cinema. All the infrastructure is there- tiny HD cameras and home editing suites are in millions of hands. Two ingredients are missing to make things really explode: basic cinema craft needs to be disseminated as widely as those tools and audiences need a frame of reverence for what a DIY film is supposed to look like. Reality TV, TMZ and YouTube tell us that high production values are no longer necessary to attract audiences; all we need is a flagship to show that fictional narrative can be just as moving without all the Hollywood gloss.”
“We envision a future where 50k-100k films are seen by millions of eyes and we think we’re just one movie away making that happen. ‘How To Make Movies At Home’ will pave the way for a DIY revolution by declaring the New Wave is on, inspiring everyone to get involved and most importantly, showing you where to put that key light.” — Morgan Nichols.
Current status: Fundraising for a shoot later this year.
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 $25,000 by the end of the campaign (May 1).
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Logline: “The Proxy” explores what happens when a broken man – a cutting-edge scientist – desperate to escape his own life, clones himself.
Production team: Director/editor: Dan Bush (“A Day in the Life”); writers: Conal Byrne, Dan Bush; cast: Conal Byrne, Amy Seimetz, Adam Fristoe, Melissa McBride, AJ Bowen; producers: Aimee Shieh, Clay Floren, Alex Motlagh, Linds Burns; cinematographer: Jon Swindall.
About the film: “William Blakely tried to escape his own life by cloning himself. As the lead scientist at Next Corporation, a government-contracted genetics lab, he knew exactly how to do this. But ‘The Proxy’ isn’t only about cloning. It’s a love story and a thriller cloaked in science fiction. When William Blakely wakes from a deep sleep with fragmented memories, he must learn who he is from his mysterious twin brother, Edward. But the closer he gets to Jules, his estranged wife, the more he realizes that his memories are not his own; that his identity is not his own.”
“‘The Proxy’ is about two competing forces in the world – fear and love. On the one hand we see the story through Edward’s eyes as he transforms from a clone, desperate for a sense of belonging, to a deranged murderer out for revenge. On the other hand, we see the story from William’s perspective, an innocent who, mesmerized by the enigmatic and beautiful Jules, has fallen in love and will do anything to save her. This is a story about belonging, identity and fate. It asks the basic question: Has our idea of fate been replaced by genetics? And then: If we are defined by our DNA, then what does it mean to be a human being?” — Dan Bush
Current status: The film wrapped principle photography in January, with a few pick-up days of shooting left for February. Editing on the feature has begun.
Logline: “Going Cardboard” is a documentary about the world of designer board games, a genre of game long popular in Germany and much of Europe, now starting to explode in the United States.
Production team: Director/producer: Lorien Green; editing: Jason Scott; music: Tony Longworth; graphics and animation: Kerry Hutton.
About the film: “Over a number of years, I’d noticed the explosion of independent documentary, and enjoyed many films covering many subjects (particularly pop culture sub-genres). At the same time, I was noticing another explosion going on, that of my husband’s designer board game collection in our basement. The board gaming culture in Germany had been going strong for years, but with The Settlers of Catan, people in the U.S. were starting to take notice. I admired the beauty of designer board games, and the variety and the way they bring people together of all ages and from all walks of life. This subject needed a documentary. I knew a news editor who covered this hobby and he helped me start contacting key designers, publishers and other members of the industry. Things unfolded organically from there. The designer gaming industry is interesting because it lends itself so well to the indie movement and a first-time designer can go on to win Game of the Year. People will come away from this film either wanting to play designer board games, or wanting to design them. Or both.” — Lorien Green.
Current status: The project is in late post-production. The rough cut of the narrative will be ready within the next month, along with bonus sequences. The purpose of the Kickstarter campaign is to fund the final editing and DVD production costs to launch the film.
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 $4,500 by the end of the campaign (April 23).
“The Sleeping Bear”
Logline: Uninspired, 20-something construction worker, Michael Bradley Jr., finds himself caught in a love triangle between his only friend and a pastor’s daughter after accepting her offer to escape Detroit and take a trip to their cottage in breathtaking Northern Michigan.
Production team: Producer/director/co-writer: Richard Cameron White; co-producer, co-writer; lead actor: Ryan Bradley; cinematographer: Ryan Hase; editor: Nick Ruff
About the film: “‘The Sleeping Bear’ was something I really felt I needed to make to prove myself as a professional filmmaker. We wrote the script around some epic locations I knew in Northern Michigan that haven’t been seen on film for three specific, unknown but talented actors Ryan Bradley, Jay Janocko, and Chris Smith. Our amazing lead actress was discovered through hundreds of online video auditions. Our script received 42/42 thumbs up, but not being a horror movie and being untested filmmakers, we couldn’t find interested donors/ investors, so I pinched pennies for a year and somehow self-funded the movie. To say this is a passion project and a true indie movie would be the understatement of my life. Our cast and crew flew to Michigan on their dime to work 16 hour days for free for a month, there are over 30 people involved, all working on pure passion for the project, over 100 hundred people in Northern Michigan came out to help and numerous locations were donated across the area. We prepped 7 days a week for a month and a half and then shot 6 days a week for a month. 5am calls, three company moves a day, working in freezing cold water or rain, 16 hour days and walking miles to location with gear on our backs was a daily occurrence.
“It’s been two and a half years in the making with at least another year to go and I can honestly say I’ve never attempted anything so difficult in my entire life, and I’m incredibly proud that we’ve pulled it off. At the end of the day, the audience has no idea about the trials of making the movie, they don’t care and they shouldn’t have to- and that was something we reminded ourselves of every single day. The only thing that matters, is what ends up on the screen.
Current status: In post production, which is off to a slow start due to lack of funds.
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 (April 8).
Bryce J. Renninger contributed to this article.