As the old century wrapped, so did a lot of New York filming, although most television series came back right after their year-end hiatus. And after this cold snap, we should be seeing more local filmmaking as well. So, without further ado, here's the first "Backlot Buzz" column of the new century.
A Map of Scott Elliott
With "A Map of the World" Scott Elliott joins the ranks of 1999's award-winning debutant theatre-cum-film directors Sam Mendes ("American Beauty") and Julie Taymor ("Titus"). At last week's National Board of Review Gala, Elliott sat with his film's Golden Globe nominee, Sigourney Weaver, as her co-star Julianne Moore picked up NBR's Best Supporting Award for her 1999 body of work, including "Map." Elliott's critically acclaimed film reopened Jan. 21, after a one-week Oscar-eligibility run in December.
Based on the "Oprah-pick" novel by Jane Hamilton, "Map" tells the story of personal and public tragedy in the lives a school nurse (Weaver) and her best friend (Moore).
"It's been a weird journey," says Elliott, describing a year of post-production and travel to premieres and various world festivals (Toronto, San Sebastian, and Sarasota). "I took a few film courses at New York University, but I got right into theatre, so it's mind-blowing! I never thought I'd ever make a movie, much less win an award for it." Elliott is artistic director of Off-Broadway's New Group theatre company, and several "Map" cast members have worked with him onstage-Arliss Howard ("The Monogamist"), David Strathairn ("Three Sisters"), and Chloe Sevigny ("Hazelwood High"). Both of his famous female co-stars took giant pay cuts to work on the medium-budget film. (Elliott will admit to "over five million, but under 10.") For Weaver, "It was the most challenging role I've ever had; I'm not offered "normal' roles too often." And Moore reveals that she immediately wanted to play her character when she first read the book several years ago.
"With a small film like this," Elliott observes, "the only thing you have to offer is the work itself." As for his own plans, he laughs, "I know it sounds clich d, but I never thought much about my career until I had one. I just kept doing the work. I honestly don't know what's next. The New Group is a dream come true, a hotbed of talent; and making this film was like a working vacation. But I've been going for four years without a break, so I guess I need a bit of decompressing."
After Sundance, Where?
Every January, the media touts all those award-winning indie films at Sundance, but as the year progresses, the public never sees the vast majority. For every "Blair Witch Project" that finds a distributor at Park City, there are many more that go distributorless, even as they continue on the yearly festival circuit.
Some, like Jimmy Smallhorne's "2 x 4"-winner of the 1999 Sundance Cinematography Award for Declan Quinn ("Leaving Las Vegas")-can only manage a two-week run at an art house, despite good reviews. Two new independent film series that offer possible solutions are The Shooting Gallery Film Series (at various Loew's Cineplex theatres nationwide) and American Independent Visions, at NYC's Walter Reade (co-sponsored by the Independent Feature Project and The Film Society of Lincoln Center in association with Time Warner Cable and The Sundance Channel).
As Michelle Byrd executive director of the Independent Feature Project (IFP), explains, the Visions series offers an opportunity to fill "the widening niche between a successful festival life and self-distribution." The New York-based Visions kicks off Feb. 25-March 5 with Lodge ("Clean Shaven") Kerrigan's sophomore film, "Claire Dolan," which preemed at Cannes last year. The film's showing will switch the focus of IFP's long-running Independents Night Series to the under-screened world of documentaries. The Shooting Gallery Film Series also launches on Feb. 25, with a national approach. Brainchild of Shooting Gallery honcho Larry Meistrich (producer of such famed indies as "Laws of Gravity," and "Sling Blade"), the series will run through May 14 in 17 major cities, including New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco, and Seattle. A fall series is already planned, as well.
The SGFS opening film is Eric Mendelsohn's much-acclaimed "Judy Berlin," a perfect example of the orphaned indie award-winner with no distributor. In 1999, it won the Sundance Best Directing Award, Best Film/Best Score at the Hamptons Film Festival, was the opening film at MOMA's New Directors, and screened at Cannes and Toronto. "Judy Berlin" is also nominated for this year's IFP Spirit Best First Feature Award. But it didn't win a distributor. Indie film credentials don't get much better-but, as Mendelsohn learned, "You'd better enjoy the process of writing, casting, and directing your film, because there are no assurances of anything beyond the making of it. It's not intentional on the part of the festivals; it's just the nature of the beast. I certainly respect the concept of Sundance, but when it comes to getting indies to the public, Larry Meistrich is putting his money where everybody else's mouth is!"
Filmmakers currently without distribution should check "New Indie Outlets" in the "Deadlines" section below.
Evan Dexter Parke's Rules
"Lion King" ensemble member (and Mufasa/Scar understudy) Evan Dexter Parke sits backstage between Wednesday shows, juggling this interview with Back Stage, a visit from a friend, and his dinner. It was his first day back after a month's leave for a continuing role on "As the World Turns," and he still hadn't had time to see his own big-screen debut in "Cider House Rules."
Parke plays Jack, the angry member of an apple-picking crew, who explodes in a highly memorable scene opposite co-star Delroy Lindo. Not bad for a former corporate sales rep. But it may just be his business background that helps this New York-based actor balance his burgeoning career in theatre, film, and television.
"I didn't really consider acting until the second semester of my senior year at Cornell, and I spent three years in the corporate world before actually making the switch. But I always checked Back Stage, even while I was working, and I acted with a couple of community groups plus the National Black Theatre. I've always believed in getting the best possible preparation, so I studied with Chuck Patterson and Frances Foster at the Negro Ensemble Company.
"But I was still fascinated with business and I was even thinking about law school or an MBA, when I applied to Yale Drama School. I figured if I didn't get into YDS, it would be God's will."
Obviously the Lord favored Parke's creative side. In 1997, his first post-Yale graduation job was a recurring role on "All My Children," followed by several regional productions, including "The Old Settler," opposite Mary Alice at Seattle's Intiman Theatre. This year, in addition to "Cider House" and "Lion King," he's also worked on NBC's new John Wells pilot "The Adversaries," starring Keith David and Lou Diamond Phillips. "If I just concentrate on my career, I might be successful, but as a black actor, I want to combine the creative and business sides to really build something, maybe as a producer. You can't ever get too comfortable or think you've totally "got it.' "
As always, casting directors request all contact be made by mail only. Do not phone or visit their offices unless specifically instructed to do so.
Shooting begins Jan. 25 on video-meister Bob ("Beat It") Giraldi's debut feature, Dinner Rush, a drama starring Danny Aiello, Vivian Wu, Mike McGlone, Sandra Bernhard, and John Corbett (whose years on "Northern Exposure" were great practice for our recent arctic temps). Principals: Stephanie Corsalini (214 Sullivan St., Ste. 2C, NYC 10012); background casting: TBA.
Jay Roach, of "Austin Powers" fame, will be in town until Feb. 4, lensing his latest all-star comedy Meet the Parents, featuring Robert De Niro, Ben Stiller, Blythe Danner, and Owen Wilson-consider the possibilities! Principals are all cast; background: Grant Wilfley Casting (60 Madison Ave., #1027, NYC 10010).
Wall Street loomed large in a couple of films that finished shooting last month. Universal's Family Man, directed by Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour") and co-starring Nicolas Cage, Tea Leoni, and Don Cheadle, is a romantic comedy about a Wall Street broker who gets a glimpse of what life might have been like if he'd chosen love over money. License to Steal, Lance Lane's dramatic feature about three Brooklyn pals who travel to Wall Street to make their fortunes, showcases Billy MacNamara ("Beggars and Choosers"), Billy Gallo ("Copy Cat"), and Timothy Gibbs ("One Life to Live"), plus David Keith ("Major League").
Robert Adetuyi finished his three-day New York segment of Ghetto Superstar and Dan Minahan's Untitled Project also wrapped in December.
January's wraps so far: The Opponent, starring "Baywatch" actress Erika Eleniak as a female boxer, Roberto Monticello's thriller Behind Bars; and John Singleton's actioner, Shaft Returns, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale, Vanessa Williams, and Philip Bosco plus the original Shaft himself, Richard Roundtree.
Films expected to shoot in February include In the Boom Boom Room, Barbara Kopple's long-awaited screen version of the David Rabe play, starring Patricia Arquette; Above Ground, a new action thriller with John Heard and Keith David; and producer-director-screenwriter Chris Gambino's family drama, Gambino, My Only Son. (No casting info yet available.)
Watch Back Stage for "On Location" reports from the sets of such new series as "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "Third Watch," and "Now and Again."
In town for just a few days of exterior shooting, CBS' mid-season Falcone, based on the real-life story of undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone (the show's associate producer), which also inspired the film "Donnie Brasco." Jason Gedrick plays Pistone.
The Sopranos (HBO), officially wrapped principal shooting on Dec. 23, although some pickup scenes were scheduled for January.
The Beat (UPN), wraps Jan. 25, with Barry Levinson directing the premiere episode of producer-writer Tom ("OZ") Fontana's mid-season drama. Principals: Brett Goldstein (448 W. 16th St., 6th Fl., NYC 10011); background: Sylvia Fay (71 Park Ave., NYC 10016).
Law & Order (NBC), films through May 3. Principals: Lynn Kressel Casting, Suzanne Ryan (Pier 62 and Hudson River at W. 23rd St., Rm. 304, NYC 10011); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (address above).
Law & Order: SVU (NBC), shoots until early March. Principals: Lynn Kressel Casting (address above); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (address above).
Now and Again (CBS), is currently lensing through early spring. Principals: Bonnie Finnegan (12 W. 27th St., NYC 10001); background: Sylvia Fay (address above).
Spin City (ABC), continues filming until March 7, despite Michael J. Fox's announcement that he is leaving the series. Principals: Bonnie Finnegan (address above); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (address above).
Talk to Me (ABC), a mid-season sitcom, films through mid-Feb. Kyra Sedgwick plays a NY "shock-jock," and her co-stars include Beverly D'Angelo and Nicole Sullivan. Principals: Gabby Leff (Hostage Productions, c/o Kaufman Astoria Studios, 34-12 36th St., Astoria, NY 11106); background: Kee Casting (350 Third Ave., Ste. PMB #371, NYC 10010).
Third Watch (NBC), shoots until April. Principals: Jeff Block (1325 6th Ave., 32nd Fl., NYC 10019); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (address above).
Wonderland (ABC), wraps Feb. 4. Co-stars are Ted Levine, Martin Donovan, and Michael Jai White, while directors on the Peter Berg ("Chicago Hope") series include New York's Adam Bernstein and L.A.'s Oz Scott. Principals: Todd Thaler (130 W. 57th St., NYC 10019); background: Kee Casting (address above).
Festivals, Calls for Submis-sion, Awards, Grants, etc.
Jan. 28: The Roy W. Dean Grant 2000 for films "that are unique and make a contribution to society." Grant package is worth over $50,000 in products and services. For guidelines and applications, contact (212) 977-0330, or www.sftweb.com .
Jan. 31: 6th Annual Los Angeles Independent Film Fest (June 7-11) seeks features, shorts, docs, and music videos. Contact (323) 951-7090, or www.laiff.com .
Feb. 1: 38th Annual Ann Arbor Film Fest (March 14-19), considers all genres of 16mm film. Contact (734) 995-5356, or www.aafilmfest.org .
Feb. 15: 5th Annual Gen Art Film Fest (April 26-May 2), invites features, docs, and shorts. Contact Dominick Balletta at (212) 290-0312, or www.genart.org .
New Indie Outlets
Always Independent Films (www.alwaysif.com) offers a new way to showcase indie features.
Sam Sokolow and Rob Lobl, whose film "The Definite Maybe" was featured in this column (Aug. 1998), are currently selling it on cassette via Amazon.com (for details visit www.amazon.com/advantage).
The websites studioNEXT.com and Atomfilms.com specialize in shorts online.
Got a great story about your indie film or NY-based TV series? Any follow-ups to festivals and contests you saw here first? So tell us already! Contact "Backlot Buzz," c/o Back Stage, 1515 Broadway, 14th floor, NYC 10036, or Email LHOBANB @aol.com