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.
“Robot & Frank”
Director: Jake Schreier
Writer: Christopher D. Ford
Executive Producers: White Hat/TBB
Producers: Galt Niederhoffer, Sam Bisbee, Jackie Kelman Bisbee, Lance Acord
Director of Photography: Matt Lloyd
Cast: Frank Langella, Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Liv Tyler, Jeremy Strong, the voice of Liev Schreiber
Jake Schreier’s feature directorial debut is also the debut of a new production company. Jackie Kelman Bisbee and Lance Acord’s short-form production company Park Pictures is joining forces with Galt Niederhoffer and Sam Bisbee to create Park Pictures Features.
Their first film, “Robot & Frank,” comes from Schreier, who worked with Park Pictures for five years, mostly on music videos. He says the project began when he was at NYU.
“The short version was written by Christopher D. Ford,” he said. “He and I were friends in school, and I produced the short. When we were looking for projects to develop, something that had a hook and could be produced on an independent film, I remembered this concept.”
In the short, an old man lived in a rural house with a caretaker robot. According to Schreier, “in this case, the short didn’t beget the feature. This was really just a small thing we made in film school and we thought it might make an interesting feature.”
In the feature version, Frank Langella stars as the old man, who lives a lonely life save for spare interactions with the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) and his son (James Marsden). “We figured out a few things to add to the concept to make it into a feature — we made it into a bit of a heist film,” said Schreier. “The old man is a former jewel thief.”
To help his dad stay busy, his son buys him a companion robot and the two develop a friendship. “A lot of people read the script and see it as science fiction,” Schrier said. “The robot in the film is a bit futuristic, but these things do exist. There’s a lot of different kinds of robots out there — robots that look like pretty girls, greeters for stores. Companion robots tend to look like little space men. We wanted to make the robot somewhat faceless. A lot of what we do is project our emotion on robots, so less was more in the design.”
The team used Alterian, the same company that made the robots for Spike Jonze’s “I’m Here” short and design costumes for Daft Punk. “They’ve been doing some development of actual prototypes for robot caretakers,” said Schrier. “They had perspectives because they’re working on this.”
And how about that all-star cast? “I don’t know how properly put I am to say that how impressed I am that actors of this caliber were interested in this story,” Schreier said. “I had a great chance to get to know Langella while we were casting. He was part of the rewriting process. He did research and during the rewrites, he talked about the people with Alzheimer’s that he met.”
The future for Park Pictures Features is also bright. In the works is an adaptation of Sam Lipsyte’s novel “The Ask,” to be directed by Steven Shainberg, and an adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s short story “Little Expressionless Animals.”
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