IN MAY 2003, FILMMAKERS LORI SILVERBUSH AND MICHAEL SKOLNIK, LONGTIME FRIENDS FROM WESTCHESTER, N.Y., finally decided to motivate each other on making a movie together. Inspired by their experience doing volunteer work and film projects in poor urban neighborhoods (and a shared passion for hip-hop), they decided to combine Skolnik’s documentary background with Silverbush’s experience directing fiction shorts to create a naturalistic story about a subject they both knew well: women in the inner city. “When you see films about the ghetto, it’s almost always this commercialized, hustler, male version of what happens there,” says Silverbush. “We wanted to focus on what happens to the women.”
Less than a year later the pair had completed On the Outs, a gritty digital feature about three young women and their struggle to survive in the slums of Jersey City. “We just found kids in Jersey City and asked them if they wanted to be in a movie,” says Skolnik of his cast of professional and nonprofessional actors. “What these young people gave to the film were their deepest and darkest fears, and it was an absolute blessing.” After premiering to rave reviews at the 2004 Toronto Film Festival, the film went on to play at Berlin and scored nominations at both the Gotham and Independent Spirit Awards. It premiered at New York’s Film Forum on July 13.
Recently the two filmmakers have each gotten involved in several high-profile solo projects. Silverbush is attached to direct Bluesman, a novel by Andre Dubus, for producers Vincent Newman and Aaron Ryder (Memento), and is also writing and directing Higher Ground, a story about Mexican-American border crossings. Skolnik, whose most recent doc is Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius Hook Mitchell, is developing a fiction feature about Haiti for Imagine Entertainment and producer Brian Grazer while also completing work on non-fiction films about rap legends Wyclef Jean and Russell Simmons. — M.R.
Contact: Silverbush: Sandra Lucchesi and Lee Keel at the Gersh Agency: (310) 274-6611; Skolnick: Phil Raskind at Endeavor: (310) 248-4000
“ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF EVERY AGONY SITS SOME OBSERVANT FELLOW WHO POINTS,” Virginia Woolf once wrote. For writer-director Joby Harold, he had his own six hours of pain before he could write his dark psychological thriller Awake.
“I had a kidney stone,” Harold explains, “and I was in extreme amounts of pain. The morphine wasn’t helping, so in my mind I looked for a happy place to hang out until the pain went away.” It was during that day in the hospital that Harold hatched the ingenious high concept for Awake, a thriller played out in the mind of a man undergoing open heart surgery, whose failed anesthetic leaves him completely alert, but paralyzed and unable to tell his doctors. If you think you’ve heard that log line before, it’s probably because the film has had its own share of painful fits and starts. After getting set up with a New York–based all-star team of Open City Films, GreeneStreet Films and the Weinstein Company, it was announced as being on the verge of preproduction last year with Jared Leto and Kate Bosworth starring. Later Katie Holmes became attached when Bosworth dropped out to do Superman Returns, but now Harold is recasting again. “Katie Holmes is rearranging her life, and we didn’t want to wait and see if we were part of her rearrangement,” Harold says diplomatically.
Born in England, Harold moved to the states to attend UCLA Film School. After graduating, he stayed in L.A., scored an agent and manager but in 1999 decided to move to New York. “What I sacrifice by not being able to take a meeting in five minutes I get back in the writing,” he says. Now he writes his “early Polanski”–inspired scripts from midnight to seven in the morning each day. “It’s easier for me to get away from the phone, and the stuff I’m writing is fairly dark,” he explains. “And when my wife wakes up, I’m there waiting with a big smile on my face; she leaves, and I go to sleep.” — S.M.
Contact: Jay Baker at CAA: (310) 288-4545, Shawn Hopkins at Anonymous Content: (310) 558-3667
“MY FAVORITE DIRECTORS ARE THOSE WHO ARE PROMISCUOUS IN GENRE, PEOPLE LIKE MICHAEL WINTERBOTTOM, DANNY BOYLE AND STANLEY KUBRICK,” says 30-year-old filmmaker Chase Palmer. “The first thing that I think about when I’m putting an idea together is whether it’s going to be visually compelling. I want to tell stories as visually as I possibly can, where you can get what’s happening just by looking at what’s onscreen.” With his first two award-winning shorts, the genre homage whodunit Neo Noir (2002) and the Fox Searchlab–commissioned Baghdad-set Shock and Awe (2004), Palmer has lived up his own mandate, creating two works that are completely distinct in tone and content, yet linked by an assured, meticulous command of camera and editing. He hopes to continue developing his craft with his feature-length debut, The Young Hitchcockians, which he describes as “a portrait of young Hitchcock framed within a Hitchcockian thriller.” The film already has partial financing from Radioaktive Films, and Palmer hopes to shoot this winter.
After graduating from college, Palmer worked briefly at IFP/New York and as a p.a. on indie film shoots before taking a job working for his father, a hotel developer, while continuing to write scripts on the side. “I kind of look at that three-year period [in the hotel business] as my film school, says the 30-year-old Palmer, “because all the skills I learned as a director and producer — the ability to organize a project and supervise a large group of people — I learned on a construction site.” For the past two years Palmer has also served as executive director of the Nantucket Screenwriters Colony, of which he is an alum. — M.R.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org, Geoff Morely at UTA: (310) 273-6700, Lindsey Williams at The Gotham Group: (310) 285-0001
IN 1994 MARSHALL CURRY GOT A JOB AT A NEW MEDIA COMPANY. “We thought CD-ROMs were going to be the future,” he remembers of the gig that had him producing interactive docs for museums and corporate clients. “I got into it because I liked telling stories with pictures and words. But after a few years, he says, “I missed telling linear stories with characters you watch and care about.”
Looking for such a tale, Curry came across the 2002 Newark, N.J., mayoral campaign. “I had worked in Newark during college and had set up a literacy program there,” Curry explains. “My brother is a Democratic fundraiser, and through him I met [candidate] Cory Booker. He represented a dynamic playing out around the country — this new generation of African-American politicians born after the civil rights movement, people like Harold Ford and Barack Obama.”
Financing out of his own pocket, Curry bought a DV camera and two days later began lensing a doc which would follow Booker as he attempted to unseat incumbent Sharpe James, whom critics accused of being in bed with corporate interests. “I started shooting,” he says, “and then this whole ‘underbelly of democracy thing’ kicked in.” The riveting drama contained in Curry’s film, Streetfight, comes not just from Sharpe’s outrageous attacks on Booker — at one point he claims (incorrectly) that Booker is actually white — but from his attacks on Curry himself. The filmmaker is harassed and thrown out of public events, and his real indignation gives the film a personal jolt. “I am somebody who resents people who abuse their authority, whether they are mayor of a city or my principal in junior high school,” he says.
Streetfight, which appears on POV this summer, has been hailed as the best American political doc since The War Room and has won Audience Awards at Tribeca, Silver Docs and Hot Docs. But despite the success, Curry is now starting another doc on his own dime, the story of a family that adopted six kids, all of different races. — S.M.
Contact: email@example.com, (917) 658-0470
|PHOTO: HENNY GARFUNKEL.|
AT 15, THE HALIFAX-BORN ELLEN PAGE HAD BEEN ACTING FOR A FEW YEARS WHEN SHE SUDDENLY DISCOVERED WHAT FOR HER IS THE ESSENCE OF THE CRAFT. “I was used to playing young girls, memorizing my lines and saying them enthusiastically,” she recalls. “And it always worked.” But when she was cast in the 2002 drama Marion Bridge opposite Molly Parker, something changed.
“I can remember the scene,” she says. “It was the end of the movie, we’re in a car, and I’m asking Molly if she is my mother. And all of a sudden I felt a connection with her — I remember losing my breath, and I thought that was cool. For the first time I had to alter my emotions, and [from then on] I wanted that feeling again and again.”
Now 18, Page is due to breakout with two upcoming films. She stars in director Alison Murray’s Mouth to Mouth as a teenager who runs away from home to join a cult, a journey that becomes increasingly filled with conflict when her mother tracks her down and joins the cult as well. First in the theaters will be David Slade’s Sundance sensation Hard Candy, in which she plays a 14-year-old girl who violently turns the table on an older male Internet predator. Page delivers a frighteningly complex performance in a two-hander in which she’s on screen for practically the entire film. For her the key to the role was resisting the temptation to turn her character into a teen Terminator.
“You never want to play a character that’s 2D,” she says. “And I didn’t want [Haley] to be the bad guy, the evil little bitch. I wanted her to be a passionate, intelligent young lady.”
Since Sundance Page has been getting piles of scripts, and now there are Hollywood blockbusters mixed in with the indies. “It’s surreal,” she says of the attention, “but I just want to do parts I can get passionate about.” — S.M.
Contact: Gaby Morgerman at William Morris: (310) 859-4000