Friday, July 11, 2014

I'm Going To Get In Trouble For This...

I’m going to do something I shouldn’t. I’m going to wade into some very murky waters to address something that is a hot-button topic, which I’m sure to get me into trouble… because I’m going to write things that some of you may disagree with or even find offensive - not all of you, but some. 

The topic? Gender bias in the film industry - specifically related to directors, but also to the industry as a whole. And let me be clear, there is a bias, to be sure… but not in the way some think.

I’m going to write (cautiously) about this topic because I can’t stand to read another article about it framed, as it often is, by this ridiculous stance that women aren’t hired because they’re women, and I should note that this exact phrase was written to me on Twitter by journalist Melissa  Silverstein, who writes for Indiewire, after I saw her article and responded.




The title of Ms. (Mrs.?) Silverstein’s article on her blog Women And Hollywood, is: “Male Privilege Watch: Man With No Directing Experience to Direct Film With Robert Redford and Cate Blanchett.” (*)
To say that the title of Silverstein’s article seemed inflammatory would be an understatement… and her need to push an agenda seemingly without consideration of research or, it would seem, an understanding of the business beyond the fringe, actually bothered me.
When I read that heading, I immediately clicked through to the link, which I suppose is what Silverstein wanted - more hits for the site… I was, as one might imagine, expecting to find an article about some late-20s first-time writer somehow getting the proverbial Golden Ticket and being allowed to direct his first ever screenplay… or worse, some nephew of a studio head or well-established producer simply being handed an opportunity… but it only took me to the second paragraph before I laughed and clicked away… Why? Because all of Silverstein’s credibility was lost for me. 
The person who was going to direct this Redford/Blanchett film… this person who was, according to Silverstein, merely a result of “Male Privilege,” wasn’t a newbie at all. He wasn’t some kid with zero experience on a set and no credits to his name, no, no… director is James Vanderbilt, and he also wrote it.
If you don’t follow screenwriters, let me give you a bit of background on Vanderbilt. Family heritage aside, he graduated the film program at USC in 1999 and, only two years later, began his professional screenwriting/producing career when his script BASIC was turned into a film starring John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson and Connie Nielsen (directed by John McTiernan). 



After selling BASIC, he  briefly became the “new hotness” in town and was quickly sought after. He wrote the successful Universal action-comedy THE RUNDOWN (directed by Pete Berg).  After THE RUNDOWN, he had a bit of a lull (as often happens) before finally joining up with David Fincher and adapting the non-fiction novel Zodiac by Robert Graysmith. After ZODIAC   (which he also produced), he had some heat again. 
Next up, he wrote Warner Bros.’s THE LOSERS, followed by THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, then WHITE HOUSE DOWN (again, producing as well), and, finally, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, which brings us up to date.     

Now, one would have to be pretty uninformed to believe that a writer on a massive tent-pole studio film these days (like either of Sony’s SPIDER-MAN films or WHITE HOUSE DOWN) isn’t sitting in a Star Waggon (yes, they spell it with two ‘g’’s) somewhere in basecamp, frantically re-writing the very scene that 347 people are waiting to shoot just a van ride away… This isn’t 1944, after all, and while writers these days rarely get the respect of some of the other crafts, they’re not entirely pushed away from set either - especially when they’re also producers on a project. Because of that, Silverstein’s assertion that Vanderbilt is a man with “no directing experience,” is absurd. He may not have actually stood on set and called, "Action," but he absolutely has experience.

In her article, Silverstein mentioned that this new film Vanderbilt would be directing is based on a novel by “former CBS producer Mary Mapes,” and goes on to pose the question, “would a female writer be given this kind of opportunity?”

Well, Ms. Silverstein, as Twitter’s 140 character limit was not sufficient for me to give a detailed response, allow me to answer here: Yes, under certain circumstances, a female writer would be given the opportunity.

As with almost anything, it all comes down to demand. Who wants the material, what are they willing to pay for it and what, if any, concessions are they willing to make in order to acquire it?

From the Deadline article (**) that Ms. Silverstein refers to in her piece, along with a quick check of IMDb, we are able to learn several things about the project.

1). As previously mentioned, the script will be based on the non-fiction novel Truth And Duty: The Press, The President, And The Privilege Of Power by Mary Mapes. (Huh. “Privilege.” I see what you did there, Melissa).
2). Vanderbilt will not only direct, but write and produce as well.
The second item is the important one here. In the Deadline article, it states that Mr. Vanderbilt optioned the rights to the book, along with his partners, via their company Mythology Entertainment and that he will be adapting the book (most likely with the intention of directing it).

This is not a new idea for a writer to control the material so as to move him or herself into a new role.Heck, even actors have made this play… Think back to ROCKY. In 1975, everyone wanted the script by the unknown writer about the underdog who simply wouldn’t quit, and they were willing to pay Stallone as much as $300,000 dollars for his screenplay (an even more extraordinary sum at that time than it is now), but Stallone (who was, as the story goes, literally sleeping in his friend’s closet in New York) refused to sell the script unless he would be guaranteed the lead role. In the end, MGM wanted it bad enough and John G. Avildsen signed off on it. The film went on to be nominated for 7 Academy Awards and, by the time MGM commissioned a sequel, Stallone was already positioning himself to direct the film.
How about Damon and Affleck with GOOD WILL HUNTING. Billy Bob Thornton with SLING BLADE. 
So. Knowing this, could one make the assumption that a writer (or actor) with a script that people want, leverage that desire into a job in the directors chair? Could, say, Kelly Marcel, coming off her BAFTA Nominated work on SAVING MR. BANKS, leverage her next script as an opportunity to direct? Yes. I’d say that she could.
Let’s talk about some other (female) directors…
What about the excellent Nicole Holofcener? Holofcener had written and directed four films - all of them modestly budgeted - that found an audience. They weren’t blockbusters, but their investors (one assumes) recouped. 

During the two years between PLEASE GIVE and ENOUGH SAID, she went back into television (where she’d been working steadily as a director on shows like Six Feet Under for HBO and Enlightened for Showtime). ENOUGH SAID was, again, a modestly budgeted film, but this one connected on a level her other films hadn’t. The film was unique and funny (and also, sadly, benefitted from being one of James Gandolfini’s last performances). It grossed an impressive $25 million worldwide. Since then, she’s gone back to tv again, working on the hit series Parks and Rec for NBC. 

How about Susannah Grant? Back in 2001, she was an Oscar and BAFTA Nominee for ERIN BROCKOVICH. She went on to write IN HER SHOES for Curtis Hanson and, in 2006, wrote and directed CATCH AND RELEASE. Since then, she’s gone on to write films like CHARLOTTE’S WEB and THE SOLOIST and, like Holofcener, is now working in television… 

Why isn’t she directing now? My guess is because, like any director, when you film tanks (CATCH AND RELEASE made on $16.1 million worldwide on a reported $25 million dollar budget), you go to “director jail” for a while. Sometimes you get out for good behavior (Joseph Kosinski), and sometimes you literally go to jail and try to make a comeback later like the aforementioned John McTiernan. As an aside, he was jailed for his involvement in a wire-tapping scandal, not for ROLLERBALL, despite maybe deserving prison for that film, too.

I should probably mention at this point that I am a huge fan of a number of female directors… but the fact that they’re women has, literally, nothing to do with my fandom. I, like most people I know, judge a filmmaker on the quality of their work, not on their gender… and that goes for the casual film viewer in me as well as the producer who might be considering potential director candidates for a project.

Of the three films I’ve produced, all have been directed by men - however, two of the three have been shot by the same woman, and the reason the directors were male was because, in two of the cases, the director was also the screenwriter and in the other, my Co-Producer had optioned the material specifically so that he could direct it. I wasn’t, as a producer, not hiring a female director because I don’t like women or don’t feel a woman would be up to the task… it was that the projects were generated by men, and those men controlled the material. 

On my second film even our Key Grip was a woman (talk about a rarity!). DP, female (another rarity). Costume Designer, female. Script Supervisor, female. Co-Producer. Another Co-Producer. All female. 

On my third film? Two female producers, (excellent) female Co-Writer, (the same, badass) female DP (still a rarity) and her two female AC’s. We had the same (genius) female Costume Designer, a (smart, meticulous) female Script Super., and our Production Designer was another (brilliant) woman. We even had a (phenomenal) female Prop Master. Hell, our Travel Coordinators were both women! I mean, I could go on and on. 

Did I hire these people because I specifically didn’t want to hire men? Did I hire them because I thought the fact that they were women somehow gave them a better sense of the material? No. That’s an absurd idea. They were hired, all of them, because they were A).Talented and B). If I’m being candid, they were willing to work on the film within the given budget constraints.

Could women have directed any of my three feature films? Sure. Each film I’ve done could’ve been directed by a man or a woman and gender would have had nothing to do with the outcome. Story is story is story, and if women had written the films, they likely would have been directed by women.

Hopefully this illustrates that I, personally, prefer a set with women around… as long as they tend to be those with a calming presence and not the, sort of, (here’s where I get in trouble) shall we say, overcompensating presence… and I’m referring to those women who, in order to compete in this (admittedly) male dominated business, feel they need to yell a lot or… assert themselves lest they be perceived as weak. And don’t get me wrong - I don’t want to deal with men like that either!

Looking again at Silverstein’s statement that women can’t get hired simply because they’re women, let’s dig deeper. First, some (sad) stats just to show that I’m not ignorant of the numbers:

(Courtesy NY Film Academy)

   

Clearly, there is an imbalance… but I honestly don’t believe it’s simply that women can’t be hired as directors. Look at television, which is in the midst of a new “golden age.” TV in the last few years has seen an enormous influx of women directors… from feature directors like Jodie Foster (who received an Emmy nomination this week for her work on Orange Is The New Black) and Lena Dunham, to Lynn Shelton and the aforementioned Nicole Holofcener. 

Then there’s Michelle McLaren who has proven more than capable at handling shows that might be perceived (and rightly so) as coming from a rather masculine point of view, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. Is she being asked to do features? I don’t know, you’d have to ask her. Would I ask her to direct a feature? You’re damned right I would. She strikes me as capable of working in any genre and is on par with, say, Kathryn Bigelow.

Since I mentioned Bigelow, I want to point out a comment she made right after her film BLUE STEEL opened. She had already done the violently brilliant NEAR DARK, and BLUE STEEL was, once again being pointed out for being very violent and intense “despite having been directed by a woman.” She was asked if she found it difficult, as a woman, to get films made. She replied, “If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies.”

Clearly, Bigelow has done just that. While not all of her films have been successful and she’s had to occasionally get bailed out of director jail (hello, K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER, I’m talking to you), she has always come back, and her recent work (THE HURT LOCKER, ZERO DARK THIRTY) has been her best yet…

Now, Bigelow doesn’t write her films (she has partner Mark Boal for that), but if you look at the majority of the examples I’ve made, you’ll find that most of the successful (female) filmmakers have written the films they direct - including Nancy Meyers who years ago surpassed Penny Marshall as the highest grossing (female) director.  Look at this little collection of names below:



Of the names in that little cloud, only five of the nineteen names listed are not writer/directors. Five.

And I didn’t even include Nicole Holofcener (writer/director), or Susannah Grant  (writer/director) there because I already mentioned them above. That makes five out of twenty-one names who are not writers.

And then we get to Dee Rees. 

I met the extremely talented, extremely intelligent Dee Rees at the Mill Valley Film Festival (back in, 2011 I think it was), when my film GIRLFRIEND tied with her film PARIAH for Best U.S. Feature. 

You want to talk about industry bias? How about being female, black and gay. Funny how that hasn’t seemed to stop her, Ms. Silverstein. 
Dee picked up a host of awards (from Breakthrough Director at the Gotham Awards, to a GLAAD Media Award for outstanding film), and is currently working in television. 

I also didn’t include Ava DuVernay in the little cloud of names. DuVernay is currently directing SELMA about Martin Luther King, Jr., which was long tied to (male) director Lee Daniels. She’s also credited as a writer on the film. 

DuVernay was the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance (for her second feature MIDDLE OF NOWHERE), and in regard to SELMA, even Melissa Silverstein herself (in another article) pointed out that, “movies about epic male historical figures are usually reserved for [male directors]”.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t call attention to Haiffa Al-Mansour, who is the perhaps the most intriguing person in this blog. She is the first ever (female) director from Saudi Arabia. Her film, WADJDA is also the first film to lens entirely in Saudi Arabia, as well… and to direct the film, she often had to hide in a van so as not to be seen giving instruction to male cast and crew members. I mean… really, ladies of the U.S. film industry… do ya really have that much to complain about? I know it’s a rough, male dominated, sexist industry… but would you have to direct from a fu*king van in order to avoid being… I don’t know… stoned in the street?

So, what am I saying here? I guess I’m saying that if we want more women directors, we ought to be cultivating more women screenwriters… because, though they may appear to have limited power, a phenomenal screenplay in this town is gold. Solid, f*cking gold… and if you have it and they want it, they’re going to let you direct it.

So stop complaining about inequality. You cannot compare yourself to anyone else. You are on your journey, whatever that is. It does no more good than me saying, “I can’t greenlight a movie because my father isn’t Larry Ellison and I didn’t get a blank check to start my company.” Is that true? Sure. If I had been given a blank check by my dad, would I have had an even shot at some Oscar nods by now? I gotta think, “yes.” I have a good sense of story and I would seek out filmmakers (male or female) the way Megan Ellison did. But, for now, I can’t do that… and holding myself up to Megan Ellison or her brother or even Lawrence Bender or Chis Moore isn’t going to help me.

You simply have to focus. Stop making excuses and make art. Create. Write a goddamned script and then go and direct it. If it’s good, the door will open for you. At least for a few seconds. Then you can slip through. I’m still working on getting it open myself and moving up to that next  level.
Two more quick things: 

1). Lynn Shelton agrees. #GetWriting 

2). My extremely talented (male) director (also a Gotham Award winner) has been unable to work outside of his own projects despite the fact that he’s repped by WME and is an incredible talent…  Perhaps “they” don’t like Jewish/Quaker/Sicilian men… I think it’s some kind of… religious… gender… racial bias, but if you’re not opposed to hiring a man for your tv series, you could do a lot worse.

Now. How much trouble am I in?


Shaun O’Banion is an independent film producer and member of the Producers Guild of America. He has produced three films: DAKOTA SKYE, Gotham Award-winner GIRLFRIEND, and THE AUTOMATIC HATE (due in late 2014/early 2015). 







Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Re: Lawsuits and Nudity (NSFW?)

DISCLAIMER - THERE ARE PICTURES OF NAKED ACTORS IN THIS POST.
DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE SAID ACTORS
IN VARIOUS STATES OF UNDRESS.

You may not know this, but there's a battle being waged right now between an actress named Anne Green and the producers of a show called Femme Fatales that, somewhere along the line, was meant for Cinemax (aka worldwide as "Skin-emax")... 

The crux of the suit is this: Ms. Green alleges that she was coerced ("bullied" or forced) into simulated sex scenes and nudity during the production of the show. Incredibly, or perhaps not so incredibly depending on your stance, the companies named in the suit are counter suing for breach of contract. 




I recently blogged on this murky topic for the site Stage32, which is a sort of Facebook for film creatives, and what follows is a (slightly modified) version of that blog. It's murky because I've been on a set or two (not mine) in which I could see how an actor might be pressured into going a bit further than he or she otherwise might be comfortable. I also know all too well, what it's like to be a producer as the minutes tick away (along with the money) while a director creates new blocking on the fly to accommodate an actor who is... less than agreeable about all those little deal points he or she initially agreed to.

So, here's my take on the dueling "Nudity Rider" lawsuits: 

I have produced a number of projects featuring nudity - everything from shorts to features to music videos. It should first be said that the shooting of any scene in which any actor needs to be nude (or simulate sexual situations) is a very strategic process, and the filmmakers (and crew) must all take into account the uncomfortable nature of such scenes - it is, therefore, the job of the filmmakers to make the set as comfortable as possible for those performers during the shoot. 

Actors and actresses are, particularly in this day and age, used to the process - the cast members of Game of Thrones or True Blood, for example, are damn near experts by now - but the parameters by which any scene is put on film (or digital) is very specific, and no two sex scenes are exactly alike in the handling. 

Game of Thrones (HBO)

True Blood (HBO)


Nudity Riders are brought up, by honest filmmakers, at the beginning of any initial conversations with cast. Like, in the meeting phase. I actually point out sex scenes or nude scenes in a script when I first talk to reps. Conversely, reps tend to know which of the actors (male or female) at their agency are amenable to scenes like this, which makes the process mercifully easier in the negotiation phase. 

Nonetheless, one must always be aware that, in the internet age, whatever these young men or women do onscreen, will live forever on the web... and that's a hard pill to swallow... especially for young actresses who are asked (far more than their male counterparts) to lose their clothes in a scene. This is also why you see, more often than not these days, sex scenes in which nobody actually gets naked. Still, there are actors of every age, weight, race... whatever... who have no qualms about nudity (Kate Winslet, Michael Fassbender and Marisa Tomei come to mind) and there are those who will just never do it. 

Black Swan (Fox Searchlight/Cross Creek)

I've had negotiations so detailed that deal points come down to not only which body part/s will be shown but, literally, the amount of frames in any one shot that will be shown in the Final Cut of the film. Frames! [Note: One frame is 1/24 of a second.] Of course, I don't begrudge any actor (or their teams) for this kind of specificity. I completely understand why they'd want to know what's going in the picture and for how long.

Where things get tricky (and I assume this happens more in indie film), is when an actor shows up on the day, having signed the Nudity Rider weeks or even months earlier, knowing full-well the content of the screenplay, only to have second thoughts or... to protest in some fashion as to force the filmmaker to re-conceive the scene. This, too, has happened to me as well as a number of directors and producers I know.

9 1/2 Weeks (MGM)

So, wait... Why couldn't you just show the actor the contract they signed and compel him or her to do the scene as written? Well, this is littered with complication: How many shooting days are left? Does this actor or actress work the majority of the remaining days? Will there be animosity between the talent and the director? How much of a delay will fighting over this issue cause? Is this a situation where we'll have to call their reps?


     Last Tango in Paris (UA)

So, what do you do? The truth of the matter is this: On an indie film, you generally don't have time to waste trying to get agents or managers on the phone. You also can't afford to have your actors working against your director for the rest of the shoot, not to mention that, if scheduled later in the shoot, it'll be too late to "make a change" in cast and consequently, the scenes usually get rewritten or reimagined. 
Here's where you're thinking, "but it's a contract, right? Why would it be tricky?" Well. It's tricky because actors KNOW that you most likely have limited time and probably no money... They know that if you're further into your shoot schedule, you'll be locked in and so, (perhaps not so surprisingly) an unscrupulous actor will agree to everything in advance, knowing full-well that when it comes to the shoot day, he or she can find any number of reasons to explain why the nudity no longer works in the context of the scene for him or her... or any other myriad excuses... and so: OMIT.

Blue Is The Warmest Color (Wild Bunch)

In the past, I'd always tried to be a nice person and have asked my AD's to schedule nudity or simulated sex scenes for later in the schedule so that the actors have time to become comfortable - not only with one another, but also with the crew - but I've been burnt... so now, I ask my AD's to front-load those scenes if possible - even on Day One... this way, if the actor has agreed and the Rider has been signed (and provided the director isn't trying to add shots which weren't agreed upon per the contract), on the day, if the actor resists, you still have a shot at re-casting if the director feels compromised... the flip side is that, if the filmmaker determines they can live without the nudity, you move on accordingly.

Ultimately, there are ways to avoid this issue prior to your standing on the set and preparing the shot, and again, the goal is to make everyone feel comfortable "on the day." 

For me, personally, I wouldn't want to hire a woman to play a stripper in a film who wasn't willing to be nude. I also hate the 'L' shaped covers in a film. I mean, really, who does this?




(This, of course, is a joke... right?)

Obviously, I don't have the full details of this particular case, but in my mind, when you sign a contract, you've made a deal, and as a producer in the indie spectrum, I'll be very curious to see how this plays out.

My advice to actors..? If you don't want to be naked in a film, you PrObAbLy shouldn't take a role which requires nudity. And filmmakers? Be honest. Be upfront. Then stick to the terms of the Rider. Whatever is agreed upon in advance, is what will be: 4 frames of full frontal nudity? Fine. Side-boob (with visible nipple)? That's it. That's all you get. No inventing stuff on set.

If you want to have a look at the article about the case, you can find it here: The Hollywood Reporter


Oh, and those stories of Paul Verhoeven sneaking the shot of Sharon Stone's... nether region... into BASIC INSTINCT? Don't believe it for a second.

S




POST PRODUCTION and THE SAG FOUNDATION

I was recently offered the opportunity to speak at the SAG FOUNDATION on the topic of Post Production. I dragged my good friend (and editor of my last three films) Jeff Castelluccio along and, though he hadn't intended to be a panelist, he ended up on stage with producer Sebastian Dungan and myself. Sebastian has produced a number of films - from the festival hit TRANSAMERICA, to the scathing documentary INEQUALITY FOR ALL. The program was moderated by Kelly Thomas of Juntobox Films

You can check out the full Q&A here:


I want to thank Dennis Baker of the SAG Foundation for the opportunity to speak with the members of my union and I hope to do more in the future.

By way of information, The SAG Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 1985 that "provides vital assistance and educational programming to the professionals of SAG-AFTRA while serving the public at large though its signature children's literacy programs." They are separate from SAG-AFTRA, and rely solely on support from grants, corporate sponsorship and individual donations in order to maintain its programs and create new ones.

I've had the privilege, for several years now, to read to children in "at-risk" schools in my area through the SAG Foundation's BOOK PALS program (you DON'T need to be a Screen Actors Guild member to volunteer!) and I've loved every minute of it.

All of this is to say that there are some very valuable and rewarding programs offered to both members and non-members alike and, if you can, I highly recommend making a contribution to the Foundation.

More updates soon.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Regarding Sarah Jones

This is a reposting of a blog I wrote for Stage32.com

If you've been following the news lately, you've likely heard about Sarah Jones, a 2nd AC who was struck and killed by a train while working on the new Allman Brothers biopic, MIDNIGHT RIDER.
Over the past few days, more and more information has been coming to light, and I wanted to weigh in as a producer...
I should mention that there is little concrete information out of Georgia at this point, but this is what is known: "The crew, including director Randall Miller, had been warned to expect two trains on the local bridge, one in each direction, and waited until after those two trains had passed to set up their shot, which involved placing a bed on the tracks. The railroad had also told the production that if any additional trains came, they’d hear a whistle about a minute before the train would reach the bridge.

Sarah Jones
A third train did arrive unexpectedly, blowing its whistle while the crew was on the bridge and the bed was on the track. Crew members ran toward their base camp, which was on land at one end of the bridge, using a plank walkway on the side of the trestle bridge. However in doing so they ran toward the bed. That proved disastrous.
Miller, who also directed the 2008 film “Bottle Shock,” and a still photographer rushed to get the bed off the tracks. Miller fell onto the tracks but the still photographer pulled him off, according to the witness, saving his life. The train was unable to stop and crossed the bridge while the crew was still on the walkway and the bed was still on the tracks.
The bed was hit by the train and shattered, sending debris flying. One large piece of debris hit Jones as she was running and knocked her onto the tracks. She was then struck by the train and killed. Debris also hit and injured several other people, including one who was seriously injured and airlifted to Savannah’s Memorial Health University Medical Center." – Source: Variety.
Sarah Jones
I have produced three feature films at this point in my career, but this is my 20th year in the industry, and what I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, is that there are several people who should be held criminally liable for the tragic death of Sarah Jones if, in fact, the information we currently have proves true.
One of the first jobs I ever had on a feature film, was as a set P.A. on Katherine Bigelow's film STRANGE DAYS. In the film, there is a sequence in which a woman flees a murder scene and runs across a series of train tracks as she's chased by a pair of dirty cops (played by Vincent D'Onofrio and William Fichtner).
My job for that night, was to be driven in a van more than three and a half miles down the track in City of Industry, where I would wait trackside with a military style repeater walkie. My ONLY job that night was to announce over the radio if I saw a train coming at me, at which point the First AD. Steve Danton would clear the track.
In truth, my job that night was redundant - a rep from Southern Pacific was already with the AD's on set and monitoring their own walkie channels in case any unscheduled trains may have made their way toward "the set." 
In my roughly 14 hours in my lock-up, there were (maybe) two trains. Both were scheduled, and in both cases the AD's were given advance warning by the rep for Southern Pacific and by me. Nobody was hurt.
This crew had ABSOLUTELY NO REASON to be on that track. Plain and simple. They should NEVER have been there. And now a bright, beautiful young woman is dead.
On a recent project, I had the distinct pleasure of watching our First A.D. make a judgement call which took to mind the SAFETY of the crew BEFORE any other obligation to the story or filmmaker, and that's EXACTLY as it should be.
When the below the line crew show up for work each day, it is their belief that the grown-ups on the set (Above the line crew), and the 1st A.D., other A.D.'s and location reps have done their diligence and have assured the safety of the unit. It should never be the concern of the rank and file crew to ask for the permit or to inquire as to their own safety. That safety is implicit, and simply by their showing up at call, there should be NO REASON to question the preparedness of the production.
Regardless, of anything, Sarah Jones died because the Producers, locations people and A.D.'s failed her. And that fact is sickening.
If you are a producer or an A.D., let the senseless death of this woman with such a bright future be your wake-up call. There is no such thing as "cinematic immunity." YOU are responsible for the safety of your crew.
Sarah Jones was let down by her producers, locations reps and A.D.'s, and for that... for trusting and not questioning (as most crew often do and SHOULD BE ABLE TO), she lost her life.
As a producer, I will always and ONLY work with A.D.'s who place the safety of the cast and crew at the top of their list - A.D.'s like Scott Kirkley, Seth Edelstein, Carey Dietrich and their teams. A.D.'s who will stand their ground and say "no," when it matters. To me, they'll only need to say it once.
RIP, Sarah. May your death prevent others dying in the future.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Finishing...

After producing a short film for director Soichiro Watanabe, and casting a young actor named Jerad Anderson in a small role, I was approached by Jerad about a project he and his wife were in the beginning stages of creating. He asked if I'd read the script of a young writer-director named Justin Lerner they had met at Sundance. Jerad and Kristina had recently created a production company and were looking for guidance on how to start the process of making a feature film. I was in the fortunate position of having one indie feature under my belt (and years of big-budget experience), and I was about to be the recipient of an amazing gift.

I had no idea to what extent my life was about to change... nor of the long journey I would be embarking on.

The script, of course, was GIRLFRIEND, and I was intrigued. I then watched Justin's short film and my mind was blown. You can watch it here and I'm sure you'll see why I became immediately interested.

At it's best, I thought, GIRLFRIEND would be an impressive and challenging film. At worst, it would be merely controversial. Either way, I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

I had a lot of questions and insisted that I would only be interested in coming aboard if I could be involved from a creative aspect. Jerad and Kristina listened to my notes and suggestions and agreed with most, if not all of them. The next step was to meet Justin.

We met in April of 2009. I liked him from the start and knew we'd work well together. My energy tends to be low-level calm, while Justin has a high-level, excited rate at which her operates (no doubt due to the gallons of caffeine he consumes each day). He had (and still has) an extreme passion for film and an innate knowledge of story, character, theme and tension. His cinematic style (as evidenced by his short), was incredibly well-honed, and I knew there would be a great collaboration between all of us.

Once I had spoken with Justin's attorney and been vetted by his agent at WME, I officially signed on and, for all intents and purposes, Pre-Production began.

The process was fairly simple at first. Jerad, Kristina and I submitted notes. Justin began polishing the script. I began to budget and create preliminary drafts of the schedule. We started the process with the Screen Actors Guild, engaged the talents of the excellent Brad Gilmore (our Casting Director), and started to look for talent.

By this point, we knew we had two actors - Jerad's friend and bandmate Jackson Rathbone, and Evan Sneider, who would be making his feature debut.

That's how it all began. Less than a month later, we had key crew members in Massachusetts scouting locations and four months after that, we were shooting thanks to Jerad and Kristina's ardent work locking down financing.

About a year after we began shooting, we made our debut at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival to rave reviews.

We went on to play the 2011 Festroia Int'l Film Festival, 2011 Moscow International Film Festival, The Galway Film Fleadh (in Ireland), 2011 Woods Hole Film Fest, White Sands Int'l, 2011 Mill Valley Film Fest, 2011 Flanders Int'l Film Fest (Ghent), 2011 Sao Paulo Film Festival, 2012 San Francisco Indie Fest and the 2012 Sonoma Int'l Film Fest.

Among the awards we picked up were the Audience Award at the 2011 IFP Gothsm Independent Film Awards, the Jury Prize for "Best Narrative Feature" at Woods Hole, the Audience Award for "Best of the Fest" at Woods Hole, the Grand Jury Prize at White Sands as well as Best Director, the "Fabulous Feature" Award at Hell's Half Mile and the Audience Award for "Best U.S. Feature Film" at Mill Valley.

Now, three years after this journey began for me, we are finally finished.

Last weekend, Justin and I attended the 15th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival.

This was, as far as we know, our last opportunity to see the film projected on a big screen. The audiences there were great, the Q and A's full of intelligent questions and the parties were overflowing with great wine and good food.

It was a fitting close to the process of carrying the film through it's creation and out into the world where it was meant to live... and now, on August 7th of this year, we'll be waiting to hear from all of the people who've supported us along the way - many of whom have yet to see the film, but who have remained steadfast and oh so kind - trumpeting our adventures to their friends and families and lifting our spirits when the walls placed before us seemed insurmountable.

And so, while there is a sadness in me that this particular journey is over, there is also a great satisfaction... and a sense of pride for what we (the filmmakers) have been able to accomplish... All along the way, we were operating on the edge, constantly facing peril; whether it was having our initial investors leave the project, or handling scheduling conflicts with talent, or avoiding impending weather that might have shut us down had it not come only hours later - and yet, we made it.

In closing, I'd just like to thank everyone who got us here (you know who you are)...

The list would be far too long to name all of you, but in particular, I simply must thank:

Jerad and Kristina Anderson for bringing me onto the film.
Justin Lerner for writing such a beautiful and moving screenplay and for having such a dynamic vision as a filmmaker.
Evan Sneider for his immense talent as an actor.
Scott Kirkley and Mike Whitecar for their particular skill and commitment.
Quyen Tran and her team (Alex Cason, Tom Clancy, Dagmar Weaver-Madsen, Alex DeMille, Matt Tomko et. al.) for their intense and wide-ranging talents and their incredible collective "eye."
Eric Bautista for giving his all and because his all is just so damned good.
To June for being the adorable, talented pixie that she is and making the characters come to life through that talent.
To my brother and friend Jeff Castelluccio for his art, focus, heart, rhythm and patience.
To my wife for her unending support of me in this crazy business and for her willingness to leap off the edge with me no matter what.

And last, but certainly not least, to all of my family members, friends and followers both here and on Facebook and Twitter... To all of those named above and everyone else who made the film possible, I thank you.

GIRLFRIEND will be released August 7th, 2012 by Strand Releasing and will be available via all major online retailers, such as Amazon and on VOD via sites like Netflix.

What's next?!














Friday, December 2, 2011

Adventures in Gotham aka "HOLY SH*T, WE WON!"



As most of you know by now, our film GIRLFRIEND, (after a successful run of collecting Audience Awards at various festivals in the US and abroad), became eligible for the Festival Genius Award at the 2011 Gotham Independent Film Awards...

In case you don't follow me on Twitter, here's how it works: After selecting 29 films, the IFP website opened the first round of voting. From those 29 films, the nominees were cut down to the top 5.

After making the first cut, we were officially invited, as nominees, to attend the show at New York's famed Cipriani Restaurant and the after-party at Andaz.

Our competition was pretty fierce... BEING ELMO, THE FIRST GRADERBUCK and WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE were all extremely well-liked films.

To be quite honest, despite the groundswell of support from the Twitterverse, fans of 100 Monkeys, fans of Shannon Woodward (even a tweet of support by Katy Perry, herself, Shannon's good friend)... even after all of that, I still didn't think we'd win. Or perhaps that was just my way of tempering expectations.

Well. We won.


I'll back up just a bit now. Justin and I met up in Brooklyn an hour or two before the event.

We were almost headed out when Justin's wonderful girlfriend Sarah realized that his slacks didn't exactly match his sport-coat (I'm not ratting him out here, he admitted this to an interviewer from Style on the red carpet). Fortunately, he had the correct pair.

Sarah snapped this pic of us before we headed out:


Evan and Kristina would be arriving separately and so Justin and I headed for Wall Street. The event coordinators had told us to allow for significant delays due to the Occupy Movement nearby.

This was actually my first time in the financial district. The area was packed. People everywhere. We ended up there a bit early and decided to walk around for a while. Justin wanted to check out Zuccotti Park to see how packed it was. The idea made me a little nervous because, well, frankly, we were in costume as the 1% that night - no matter how far from it we actually are as indie filmmakers.

In the end, we didn't end up finding the park and we had to get back to Cipriani to meet our new Publicist Sarah (taking over for the fabulous Corie Chu who is out of the country).

We quickly met up with Sarah, Evan, Kristina and her father who Kristina kindly brought as her +1 since her hubby (producer/actor/composer) Jerad Anderson is touring Europe with the 100 Monkeys.

Sarah had all of our invitations and, before we knew it, it was time to head to the red carpet.

This, boys and girls, is truly an insane experience. Here's how it worked: Sarah walks first, ahead of Justin and Evan. She holds up two sheets of paper which read: "Justin Lerner, Nominee, Audience Award, Writer/Director, 'Girlfriend'" and "Evan Sneider, Nominee, Audience Award, Lead Actor, 'Girlfriend.'" As soon as she passes, the guys start their walk and the flash bulbs begin to go off. I had always joked with my wife that if I was afforded the opportunity to be one of the people who the papp's wanted a photo of, I'd probably have to wear sunglasses to avoid having a migraine... or worse, some sort of seizure. On this night, I realized, I needn't worry.

Kristina and I went next. Sarah did the info paper thing for us and, just as with Justin and Evan, we were blinded by a strobe of lights - "Over here! Shaun, Kristina! Look over here, please!" "Kristina! Right here! Look here in the middle!" "This way, guys, this way!"

It's pretty wild. These videos don't begin to do it justice... it's a bit of sensory overload, in reality... but have a look:

video 


video

We were followed up the carpet by Evan Glodell, director of BELLFLOWER and a very attractive young woman who, I believe, is one of his cast members from the film. Behind them was Beau Bridges who, along with the lovely and talented Shailene Woodley and the great Robert Forster, was there to represent THE DESCENDANTS with filmmaker Alexander Payne.



Near the end of the red carpet, Justin was interviewed by the IFP... In the background, you can see me shooting (with my iPhone) the videos above.

video


Once we had made our way through the phalanx of reporters and photogs, Sarah guided is to the bar. From there, we wandered the room saying hello to people and talking with other filmmakers for about 40 minutes. The room had giant tv screens at either end as well as in the upper lounge area, and every so often, you'd hear the volume level rise to a fever pitch, look up at the screen and see Charlize Theron or Tilda Swinton... pretty cool.

Finally, they made the announcement that everyone should find their seats.

  HOUSE LEFT SIDE - CIPRIANI

I started the evening at a different table than the GIRLFRIEND crew and was seated with my friend at table 41 with the good people from RBC Bank, a co-sponsor of the event.

This is the view from my seat:

RIGHT IN THE CENTER OF IT ALL.
EVAN, PRE-SHOW.


DURING THE SHOW.

My friend, who I was seated with, is a well-known and extremely well-respected filmmaker, in addition to being a former Gotham Award nominee himself (not to mention Oscar© nominee!)  He was, most assuredly the reason I had such a great seat. In fact, he had served on one of the Jury's for the awards that very night. As actors Oliver Platt and Edie Falco began the festivities, he was feeling quite confident that the award would be ours. As I mentioned, I wasn't. Still, I was enjoying it all.

As it turns out, ours was the first award of the night! I actually hadn't looked at the program for the evening, so I had no idea that it would happen so fast!

When Zachary Quinto (who I'm a huge fan of) and Sarah Paulson (also a big fan of) took to the stage to introduce the nominated films and the short clip package, well... I got nervous. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to win. My friend put his hand on my shoulder. "You guys are going to win it. I can feel it," he said.

I should mention at this point that my friend had no access to results other than in his own category (Ensemble), so he really was just being hopeful and supportive...

We watched the clip reel with that amazing audience and fellow nominees. Finally, the moment arrived...

"...the Audience Award goes to... 'GIRLFRIEND'!"

I couldn't believe it! I looked at my friend who had let out a huge roar when they said "Girlfriend"... He smiled a huge smile and said, "Get up there, man! Get your coat and get up there!"

I could kind of hear Zachary Quinto calling out names... I know I heard Justin's, but that was it. Only later did I find out that he said all of the producers names as well.

I stood up, shaking my head in disbelief as I put on my coat. What you can't tell from the live feed is that there were more than 800 guests at the event slotted into gigantic round tables of 8 people each. I scanned the crowd toward Table 8, where Justin, Evan and Kristina were seated and watched as they made their way through the crowd with the same stunned expression I had on.

We reached the stage. Here's how it looked as it happened.

 
As we walked off, I shook Zachary's hand and Sarah Paulson's, thanking them. I was still in shock, but I did find a moment to be amused that I had just done what I had seen so many other winners do on various award shows - look around after the speech and be confused as to which way to walk off-stage!!!

I realized that I had left my phone at the table and was SO BUMMED because we got taken immediately upstairs to the press room for the post-win interviews which meant that I wouldn't be able to take the calls that I knew were practically blowing up my phone just then.

A funny thing happened on the way to the press room - our IFP chaperone was leading us upstairs when a very large Secret Service type tried to block our entry! Our chaperone assured the man that we had won and, after a moment of consideration, he finally allowed us to pass.

We took photos backstage with a couple of gorgeous Russian girls who were repping Standard Vodka - another of the evening's sponsors - while Evan signed some autographs and took some pictures. Justin got whisked away to do an interview with Filmmaker Magazine and then, while we waited, we helped ourselves to some more drinks and snacks - Being the first award, we were missing dinner!

Once we had completed our interviews, we headed back to our seats. A short time later, I joined the team at Table 8, where I was introduced to the very gracious producers of the other nominated films in our category.

The rest of the night was pretty great, I gotta tell ya. We talked with the other filmmakers, watched as Gary Oldman and Charlize Theron got their tribute awards... laughed at Patton Oswalt's hilarious conversation with her - she made him stay on stage with her while she gave her speech - and generally just enjoyed the night.

When the event came to a close, we milled about for a while talking to various celebs - Felicity Jones (winner for Breakthrough Performance for LIKE CRAZY and the one serious upset of the night), John Hawkes, Alexander Payne, Jim Jarmusch, David Cronenberg, Elizabeth Olsen...

Evan had his eye on two or three people he really wanted to speak with though, and he got them both:

Evan and Christopher Plummer.

Evan and Stanley Tucci (Sorry it's hard to see!)

I walked over as Evan was wrapping up (what I'm told was about) a 10 minute conversation with Mr. Tucci - the man was soooo nice and so kind.

Finally, we made our way over to Andaz for the after-party.

No pictures from that. What happens at Andaz stays at Andaz. : )

In all seriousness, it was amazing. We got to talk to a ton of celebs, including an actor who gave one of my favorite supporting performances this year (and who got nominated for a Spirit Award the next morning!). It was an amazing night!

Evan headed out as things began to wind down and Justin and I headed for SoHo to an after-after-party.

That night, when I arrived at my friends' home in Brooklyn (where I was staying), I found signs his kids had drawn tacked to the front door - "Congratulations!" "Winner!" - and the next morning, woke up to a flurry of articles about our win... a few of which even mentioned my name!

Here are a few of them:

(When you've been reading the Hollywood Reporter since about age 11, seeing your name in that thing is quite a win!)

Love what they say about Evan here.


So that's basically it. My adventure at the 2011 Gotham Independent Film Awards!

I'll close with this... (posted to my Facebook status after I got home from the parties that night):


"Tonight, we won a Gotham Award... but we were only able to stand up there on that stage because of YOU: Our cast, crew, family and friends. Your unwavering support of us and our film has been nothing short of extraordinary, and your votes made it happen... so thank you. You made our day/night/week/month/year. You rock." - Shaun O'Banion