In Features, Issues

IN FOCUS
Five new films in postproduction.

BY MARY GLUCKSMAN

1/9.PHOTO: SEBASTIAN PIRAS.

1/9

“Because of mass communication and mass transportation, the world is getting smaller, but we’re not necessarily getting closer or making more meaningful connections as a result,” says Alfredo De Villa (Washington Heights) of his third feature, 1/9, a New York ensemble drama about people with little in common besides a subway line who form unexpected and life-changing bonds. The film weaves three intersecting tales about a young photographer (Victor Rasuk), a couple estranged after the loss of a child (Heather Graham and William Baldwin) and a doorman, also an artist, who may be going blind (The Sopranos’ Dominic Chianese). “They are all blatantly unaware of their internal conflicts until they experience personal crises and the disruption of their habits leads to epiphanies,” says De Villa. “I wanted to make a movie where plot was secondary, never imposed on the characters, and where powerful emotions were explored in the ellipses. You get a sense as the movie ends that the real dramatic climax is a few days later.” He wrote 1/9 with Nat Moss, his co-screenwriter on Heights and 2000 Sundance Lab project Angel.

De Villa, 34, grew up in Mexico and says he knew at the age of seven that he wanted to make movies. He moved to the U.S. at 17 to attend the University of Miami and holds an MFA from Columbia’s grad film program, where he made prizewinning shorts Neto’s Run and Joe’s Egg. Heights launched a 50-stop fest tour at the 2002 Tribeca Film Festival, and its prizes included the Los Angeles Film Festival’s Audience Award. In 2004 De Villa took 1/9 to Tribeca All Access, the festival’s production market. He ultimately secured financing in the several-million-dollar range from L.A.-based Hannibal Pictures, for whom he directed the romantic scorcher Yellow last year. Hannibal’s Steven J. Brown produced 1/9 with Washington Square Films principals Joshua Blum (Old Joy) and Amy Hobby (Secretary). The 16mm 1/9 shot throughout Manhattan and Queens for 18 days in January and February, with John Foster (Keane) as cinematographer. “We avoided the obvious shots and obvious locations and created a very strict visual language,” says De Villa. “We wanted it to feel like B&W without being B&W, so we removed color through production design and wardrobe and avoided sun by shooting in winter. It’s very monochromatic, and we’ll accentuate that through color correction.” Also in the film are Elizabeth Peña (Transamerica) and Erika Michaels (The Midnight Hour). De Villa is editing the film in Los Angeles, where he is now based.

Contact: Joshua Blum at jblum@wsfilms.com

SOUTH OF PICO.

SOUTH OF PICO

“A friend told me about a story he’d seen on the news about a group of bystanders to a car crash who pulled the driver out and beat him to death,” says Ernst Gossner about the inspiration for his first feature, South of Pico. The film brings together the stories of four witnesses to the hit-and-run death of an 11-year-old child in Los Angeles who go after the Mexican driver, who they initially assume was drunk. “It’s not about race whatsoever, but [the characters] are representative of the diversity of L.A.,” says Gossner, whose characters include a prominent African-American cancer doctor and a disaffected young white limo driver. Gossner was born and raised in Austria and graduated from business school there at 25 before a series of odd jobs and further studies led him to theater writing, directing and acting. While onstage in over 50 plays in Europe in the ’90s, he made his first short films, including Flucht, an early Internet cult success that got him accepted at the American Film Institute. The five films he made at AFI before graduating in 2002 won multiple awards and screened at dozens of festivals worldwide. Pico went to the 2005 Berlin festival ScriptLAB, and Gossner is producing with Eric Presley (Volare) and AFI classmate Richard Marcus, his cinematographer on shorts Bar Time and Otto+Anna as well as Pico. The filmmakers financed the project through private equity.

Pico stars Kip Pardue (Thirteen), Gina Torres (Firefly), Henry Simmons (NYPD Blue) and Soren Fulton (Thunderbirds). Ten-year-old Firewall star Jimmy Bennett has a supporting role. The Super 16mm production shot in Los Angeles in November and December, and the filmmakers expect to complete Pico this summer.

Contact:Ernst Gossner at ernst@ventproductions.com

SUFFERING MAN’S CHARITY.

SUFFERING MAN’S CHARITY

Five years after directing his first feature The Anniversary Party with co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh, actor Alan Cumming (X2) got back behind the camera solo for Suffering Man’s Charity. The wickedly dark comedy is about a cellist (Cumming) who accidentally kills the young writer he’s been helping out and publishes his novel as his own, only to end up haunted by the author’s ghost when the book turns out to be a huge success. David Boreanaz (Angel) plays the writer and Anne Heche, Carrie Fisher and Henry Thomas co-star; the script is screenwriter Thomas Gallagher’s first produced work. “It’s really hard to find scripts that surprise you, and [this one] completely confounded all of my expectations — it’s a crazy collection of genres and moods and constantly takes you to places you aren’t expecting to go,” says Cumming. “I basically tried to augment every aspect, so when it’s scary it’s really scary and when it’s moving it’s almost too much and when it’s funny it’s that awful kind of funny where you really oughtn’t to be laughing.”

Now 41, Cumming calls himself a Renaissance man. In the 20 years since graduating from drama school in his native Scotland, he’s racked up a formidable list of credits onstage — most famously as Cabaret’s Emcee on Broadway but also many times in England as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company and onstage at the National Theatre in London — and onscreen. He recorded several albums as half of musical duo Victor and Barry, published a novel, Tommy’s Tale, and served as guest art critic for Britain’s Modern Painters. He’s currently on TV as an L Word recurring character and host of the Sundance Channel film series Midnight Snack. Charity was produced D.J. Paul (Melvin Goes to Dinner), an old friend of Gallagher’s who had been involved with a previous incarnation of the project and has several other screenplays of his under option. “The story owes quite a lot to The Telltale Heart, but its comedic aspects work as a foil for the supernatural element, and Alan’s sensibility turned it into something that’s not like anything else I’ve ever seen,” says Paul. The film was financed with an equity package put together by producers Craig Snider (Feel) and Donald Zuckerman (Hooligans).

The HD Charity shot in L.A. for three weeks in December with Alexander Vendler (Very Mean Men) as cinematographer. “Alan’s character plays the cello, and he didn’t want to cut around that, so he took lessons from a concert musician and he can actually play now,” says Paul. Cumming edited the film in New York with Keith Reamer (Stephanie Daley) this winter while prepping his March return to Broadway in The Threepenny Opera. Scoring Charity is singer-songwriter Michael Penn, whose work as film score composer includes Boogie Nights and The Anniversary Party.

Contact:DJ Paul at ocelotfilm@mindspring.com

NICK CANNON IN ADAM BHALA LOUGH’S WEAPONS.

WEAPONS

“It’s about American youth and their preoccupation with violence as a way of settling disputes,” says Adam Bhala Lough (Bomb the System) about his sophomore feature, Weapons. “When you see violence in films or on TV, it’s usually exploited or glossed over as inconsequential. Having grown up witnessing gun violence, it was something I’d wanted to approach as if it’s a party of unglamorized, everyday life. It’s dramatized through two groups of teenagers between 13 and 19.” Prominent in Weapons’ large ensemble cast are Bomb star Mark Webber (Storytelling) and Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine.)

Now 26, Lough grew up in Washington, D.C., and made his first shorts at 15; by the time he completed NYU’s undergrad film program in 2001 he was directing music videos for the likes of rapper MF Doom. He rocketed out of obscurity with the no-budget graffiti drama Bomb the System, an ’03 Tribeca premiere based on his prizewinning NYU thesis short that got its first press when producer Sol Tryon was arrested for publicity efforts involving tagging city sidewalks. Bomb went on to win some half dozen fest awards and sell to Palm Pictures. Sundance took notice and invited Lough to its January ’05 Screenwriters Lab with another project. Meanwhile, Collateral producer Rob Fried got a copy of his earlier script Weapons and called Lough. “He said it was the best script he’d read since American History X, and I flew to L.A. on my own dime and slept on a friend’s floor for eight days to meet with him,” says the director. Fried put together financing for a Super 16mm shoot and joined Tryon in producing. “It’s been more fun than any other film I can recall making,” says Fried, a former Columbia Pictures exec who plans to get behind several other risky indies after completing Barry Levinson’s Man of the Year. Weapons shot over 18 days last November and December with Danish d.p. Manuel Alberto Claro (Reconstruction). “Much of it is handheld with a zoom lens, and it looks and feels like nonfiction,” says Lough. The film was originally set for a New Orleans–area shoot, and Lough had spent the summer scouting locations and was days away from opening local production offices when Katrina hit. A major scramble later, Weapons relocated to working-class suburbs east of L.A. Lough is now posting the film with Bomb editor Jay Rabinowitz, and is working on a soundtrack inspired by and including the late DJ Screw.

Contact: Rob Fried at rob@friedfilms.com

WHERE GOD LEFT HIS SHOES. PHOTO: MICHAEL CALDWELL

WHERE GOD LEFT HIS SHOES

“I always wanted to do a father-and-son film over Christmastime in New York City,” says Sal Stabile (Gravesend) about his second feature, Where God Left His Shoes. “My dad lost his job when I was a kid, and we bonded when I went with him after school to look for work. I think family is the most important thing in anyone’s life, and that’s what this movie is ultimately about.” The film stars John Leguizamo as a washed-up boxer struggling to move his family out of a homeless shelter on Christmas Eve. In order to get a promised apartment, he has to land a job by the end of the day. “The premise is very Hollywood in a sense, but the third act makes it really original, sad and funny,” says Stabile. “It’s a real Christmas fable, and especially after Katrina I think there’s a social relevance to it.”

Stabile, 30, was big news 10 years ago when he burst onto the film scene as a teenage NYU dropout with a $5,000 handheld guerilla feature about four Brooklyn teens and their dead friend. Oliver Stone agreed to “present” the film, and Steven Spielberg called it one of the year’s best debuts, later signing Stabile to a two-picture deal at the nascent DreamWorks. Though the film got only a small Palm Pictures release, the New Yorker profiled the boy director, and he subsequently wrote a series pilot for Jersey Television and a famous episode of The Sopranos before working on TV series like Rescue Me and Fastlane. God reteams Stabile with producer Dan Edelman, who helped find finishing funds for Gravesend and secured the new project’s financing from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Productions (Hard Candy). Vulcan’s Richard Hutton and Michael Caldwell also produce. “All of the writing he’s done over the years really honed Sal’s talent, and this was the right script at the right time,” says Edelman. “When it takes this long, the result is sometimes something better.”

The Super 16mm God shot in New York for five weeks beginning in November to get locations like Rockefeller Center dressed for Christmas. Vanja Cernjul (Wristcutters: A Love Story) was the d.p. “This time I felt like I actually knew what I was doing,” says Stabile. “I looked at my first film as ‘Hollywood, notice me,’ but it wasn’t until years later that I understood how to use story to move an audience. When you see this family, they’re going to break your heart.” Stabile is editing the film in L.A.

Contact: Dan Edelman at shoeless.production@gmail.com

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