Here’s your daily dose of an indie film in progress; every Friday, we spotlight a bigger project, usually from an established filmmaker or affiliated with a bigger production company.
Untitled Jeff Buckley Project
Director: Jake Scott
Writer: Ryan Jaffe
Executive Producer: Mary Guibert
Producers: Michelle Sy, Orian Williams
Associate Producer: Alison Raykovich
Cast: Reeve Carney
As indieWIRE reported in June, two films are currently in pre-production based on the much-loved, gone-too-soon singer-guitarist Jeff Buckley. One of those films, “Greetings from Tim Buckley,” has cast Penn Badgley, of “Gossip Girl” and “Easy A” fame, as Jeff Buckley. This week, the as-yet untitled Jeff Buckley project found its Jeff in Broadway’s Spider-Man: Reeve Carney.
Unlike “Greetings,” this project has the express approval of the Jeff Buckley estate. As several screenwriters came to his mother, estate manager Mary Guibert, she felt none of them captured his life story. Her lawyer recommended she speak with producer Michelle Sy, who has a history adapting life stories; she tackled “Peter Pan” creator J.M. Barrie for the Oscar-nominated “Finding Neverland.”
“I wasn’t an uber fan of Jeff Buckley,” Sy said. “I remember when he passed, and I knew his version of ‘Hallelujah.’ After [Guibert received] so many pitches, she knew that if a film was going to be made, she needed to be more directly involved. She wanted to be able to work with someone she trusted. She saw ‘Finding Neverland,’ and knew that you could do a biopic with artistic license and do the life story justice. As a producer, I was looking for a good story to turn into a movie. Her stories about Jeff proved it would be a great film about music and what it means to people.”
After Sy and Guibert met in 2005, they worked to assemble a team. They had another writer-director (“Steel City” director Brian Jun) attached for some time, but that script fell through. Sy brought on Orian Williams after admiring his work producing “Control,” about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division. Eventually Sy, Guibert, and Williams came to put their faith in a script by a friend of Sy’s, Ryan Jaffe.
“He kept telling me he would love to write the Jeff Buckley film, and I kept asking him, ‘What’s your take?’ Well, eventually, after one of Jeff’s songs came up when his iPod was on shuffle, he had an epiphany. I introduced him to Mary, who loved his take and we decided that we wanted to work with him. What he originally pitched us is not the script that we now have, but he realized that Jeff’s story, in chronological order was so compelling, that that was the way to tell it.” Once the script was finished, the team chose Jake Scott (“Welcome to the Ripleys”) to direct.
The film will follow Buckley to New York and Memphis as he tries to make a name for himself in the music industry. “A lot of music films tell you about the person and the drama behind the persona, but this is really about the music,” Sy said. “Jeff didn’t want to be a singer; he wanted to be a guitarist and he knew he wanted to get to New York from southern California. He got to New York and he was doing cover songs and was signed to Sony before they heard anything original. He went on to write the ‘Grace’ album after falling in love. He went on tour and he lost his creative way, so he went to Memphis to get back on track, going incognito and reconnecting with the audience.”
The project intends to use Carney’s voice on the Buckley tracks. “Reeve’s a true discovery,” Sy said. “Even though he’s noted for ‘Spiderman,’ he hasn’t done a lot of films, and we think that will add to the authenticity of the performance, that people don’t recognize him. ‘Who will play Jeff?’ is the question everyone has been asking from day one, and Reeve’s audition really blew us all away — from his music to his acting to his sensitivity as an individual. Mary was over the moon. We all were.”