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Two Local Filmmakers Agree: Make Your Mistakes on Student/ Short Films

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After "Pi," his black and white no-budget debut film (actual cost: $60,000), won myriad awards—including the coveted Best Director Award at Sundance—Brooklyn-born Darren Aronofsky decided to beat the dreaded sophomore slump. He revived his own dream of adapting Hubert ("Last Exit to Brooklyn") Selby's "Requiem for a Dream," for the relatively miniscule cost of $4.5 million. The cult-novelist's dark depictions of the boroughs fascinated Aronofsky as a Harvard undergrad, even before his MFA in Directing from the American Film Institute in 1994. "Selby is a major reason why I'm a writer," Aronofsky reveals, "his work taught me that you can write from what you hear."

At Harvard, he adapted Selby's short story "Fortune Cookie," about a door-to-door salesman addicted to the fortunes, featuring Sean Gullette, star of "Pi." "It's a pleasure working with such good actors, it's the best thing we do." Gullette and "Pi" co-stars Mark Margolis and Samia Shoab all have cameos in "...Dream," which stars Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. Burstyn is already being touted for an Oscar nomination for her no-holds-barred portrayal of Sara Goldfarb, a 67-year old widow, strung out by her addictions to pills and TV. "I'm glad I lived to see the film," said 72-year old co-writer Selby, currently living in L.A.

According to Selby, America's leading disease is addiction—to drugs, candy, television, diet pills—"anything that we use to escape our realities." Over 100 digital shots were designed to enhance the story's horror film quality, and cameras were strapped to various actors' bodies (including Burstyn) for truly grotesque close-ups. "I grew up in Coney Island," Aronofsky remarks, "and riding the Cyclone [a rollercoaster] taught me that the action has to keep coming at you." His own addiction to action, and his low-budget successes, have fueled rumors that he may direct the fifth installment of Warner Bros.' "Batman" franchise. In any case, he is working on a "Batman" screenplay with D.C.'s Batman comic book writer, Frank Miller.

As we spoke briefly after the National Board of Review screening of "...Dream," the filmmaker clutched his airline tickets, ready to embark on a multi-city press tour. He did, however, find time to impart this sage bit of advice to new directors: "Be as original as you possibly can—that's what people respond to. I got to make a lot of mistakes on my student films, until I learned to do it right." When the film opened on October 6, Aronofsky also opted to go without a rating, rather than settle for a prohibitive NC-17.

One new feature director is Dave Gebroe, the former head writer of Real.com's film synopses. "But I got laid off," he laughs, "so I guess I'm just another dot.com horror story." His own film synopsis: " 'The Homeboy' is a comedy about an average white rap star named MC, whose life goes down the drain when his sink repairman joins his posse." He talked to "Backlot Buzz" about his first Independent Feature Project Market (IFPM) experience. "I like to think I used the market as it should be used, entering 'The Homeboy' as a 'Work in Progress,' because we were still ironing out some technical problems. I think the IFPM helped foster interest in the film."

Gebroe says, "It's a buddy movie about the perils of hero worship, involving a one-hit wonder white rapper [played by Dave McCrea/'Nash Bridges'], straddling the cusp of obscurity, and this seminal rapper [David Wallace/'a totally fresh face'], a no-hit loser from the '70s and '80s. Benjamin Cain ('The Temptations') came on to play their producer, and we also scored Downtown Julie Brown for a leading role. We like to think of it as the first hip-hop movie created by people who know absolutely nothing about hip-hop, and the only one shot in the suburbs of New Jersey.

"Since only 20% of movies find distribution," Gebroe feels "your first feature can either be a calling card or you can try to sell it." Armed with a late week IFPM screening, a poster, a trailer, and an original marketing idea, Gebroe wanted to sell "The Homeboy." "A week before the market," he explains, "we went up to the Toronto Film Festival and distributed 800 press packs, to mostly domestic buyers, so by the time they hit the market, they already knew who we were." His plan included a full screening after the IFPM, but not in one of the usual smaller screening rooms such as Tribeca or Magno. Instead, he rented one of the regular Chelsea Clearview Cinema theatres on W. 23 St., (costing about five times as much) and screened the film for an audience of about 275, including several distributors.

He does agree with Aronofsky, "I learned from all the mistakes I made on about a dozen shorts. This film was financed through private investors, because I'd maxed out the credit cards before and that's really not a good way. Advice: Think budget when you write. The most important cost cutter, I've found, is to write backwards from what I already have in terms of props, costumes, and locations. It pays off in the end. And don't overshoot. If I sound like a producer, it's because I produced all my own shorts—it's a way to have more control as the director. I've coupled the creative writing and directing with the tense nail biting of producing. Sometimes, I'm sorry I'm such a good producer. 'The Homeboy' only cost about a million," says director/producer Gebroe, "and all rights are currently available."

Currently Filming

(As always, casting directors request all contact be made only by mail. Do not phone or visit their offices unless specifically instructed to do so.)

As we head into November's elections, here are some unfuzzy numbers on October's New York film and television production: six films shooting, plus 10 wraps, and one on hiatus; nine series still in production, with one about to wrap. Some more numbers to contemplate: our November 11 "Six in the City" panel on the current state of television in New York. Be sure to check the ActorFest ad for time, location, and a partial list of participants. And DON'T FORGET TO VOTE on Nov. 7!

The new date that Drew Barrymore stops Riding in Cars with Boys for Penny Marshall is Nov. 30. But you still can catch her co-stars, Adam Garcia (on the big screen in Bootmen), Lorraine Bracco, and Sara Gilbert (on the small screen in "The Sopranos" and "Welcome to New York"). No further principal casting, but background by Grant Wilfley Casting (60 Madison Ave., #1027, NYC 10010).

Tony-winning Broadway and cabaret diva Betty Buckley's doing double cameo duty in two separate indies, both shooting into November. Cut and Dry (formerly titled No Expectations), is an East vs. West Coast lifestyle comedy, from director Gerald Wenner, also featuring Talia Balsam, Marilyn Sokol, Peggy Shaw, and Doris Belack. Then La Buckley goes right into Jay Lee's conspiracy theory thriller, Noon Blue Apples, along with indie faves Lauren Fox (Pi) and Thomas J. Ryan (Henry Fool), plus cameos by Montel Williams and rapper Kool Moe Dee, and a v/o from "Star Trek" 's own Mr. Sulu, George Takei. No further casting on either film.

Magic Adobo is a Filipino-American Big Chill-style dramedy set in NY, featuring Cherry Pie Picache, Paolo Montalban, Lydia Gaston, and Ricky Davao, with Wayne Maughns as the latter's Anglo lover. The film shoots through October 28, under the special SAG Affirmative Action Low Budget (AALB) contract. Both principal and background casting by Keith Gunthrope (452 W. 15 St., #602, NYC 10011).

Woody Allen's Fall Project, for Dreamworks, keeps right on shooting through Thanksgiving, so stars Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, Dan Akroyd, and Elizabeth Berkley have much to be thankful for. Principals: Juliet Taylor (140 W. 57 St., #4B, NYC 10019); background: Kee Casting (234 Fifth Ave., NYC 10001).

Ben Stiller's Meet the Parents opened with a $29.1 million box office two weeks ago. Not only the largest October opening ever, but also the best opening for any Robert DeNiro film. So, through Nov. 8, the dark haired Stiller remains Paramount's fair haired boy as he directs, co-produces, and co-stars in his (co-written) Zoolander, with Milla Jovanovich, "SNL" 's Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, and dad, Jerry. Principals: Kathleen Chopin (c/o Delaware Blue Steel, Inc., 110 Leroy St., NYC 10014); background: Sylvia Fay (71 Park Ave., NYC 10016).

Dave Gebroe (see column above) didn't have the rapper problems that plagued writer-producer-director Ralph Richardson (no relation to the late British Knight) on his fully cast action/thriller, When Tyson Met Tyra (about neither Mike nor Banks). Seems one of his stars, Ghostface Killah, a platinum award-winning member of the mega-successful Wu-Tang Clan, had to finish some recording, and the film, originally due to wrap on Oct. 15, is currently on hiatus until Nov. 5.

Wrapped Or Wrapping

Oct. 6—A duet of wraps: At the End of the Day, Nevil Dwek's parallel universe flick (also check out a local *parallel universe TV shoot below), plus Columbia Pix All That Glitters, which was only in town for an 11 day location shoot. Director Vondie Curtis-Hall's Toronto-based film co-stars Mariah Carey, but the studio is mum on more particulars.

Oct. 8—Whilst portraying Tallulah Bankhead nightly, Tovah Feldshuh daylighted in Kissing Jessica Stein, along with Scott Cohen, to become the second Tony-winning Broadway/cabaret diva to appear in two indie films in October. Next, she cameoed in The End of the Bar (not to be confused with Nevil Dwek's similarly titled film—see above), which wrapped on Oct. 15. This irreverent comedy is about a guy (Corey Parker) and his guardian angel (Beth Ostrowsky), with other cameos by the likes of Abe Vigoda, Valerie Perrine, and Tony-winner Karen Ziemba.

Oct. 11—was the final wrap date on Rachid Bouchareb's Little Senegal's re-shoots.

Oct. 16—for Wall Streeter-turned-director Tom Halikias, who retitled his 'insider' drama, The Trade (formerly Intrinsic Value).

Oct. 20—A multi-culti quartet of wraps: the romantic comedy The Perfect You, co-starring Jenny McCarthy and Chris Eigeman, marked the film directing debut of Matthew Miller, creator of UPN's "The Grown-Ups." Former choreographer Franc. Reyes takes his SAG/AALB actioner Empire, co-starring John Leguizamo and Sonia Braga, down to Miami for a few location shots, while Paid in Full, a Toronto-based drama set in Harlem in the early '80s, brought its stars Wood Harris, Mekhi Phifer, and rapper Cam'ron to our town for a four day location shoot. And Russian emigré writer-director-editor Dimitry Torgovitsky will also be editing his digital shoot of Vince and the Barnacles.

Upcoming in November

(No casting info currently available)

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman will spend Thanksgiving in the Big Apple. He's in Paramount's Vanilla Sky, Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous follow-up, co-starring Cameron Diaz and top woman, Penelope Cruz—and she's set to star in Jane Campion's New York stalker flick, In the Cut. Also skedded, two romance dramas: Just Lovers, directed by Doug Bollinger, and Gordon Gavin's Don't Explain, plus a musical comedy called The Baroness, scripted by Robert Aitro, and Robert Monticello's 2 Blind Mice (postponed from Oct.).

TV Series

(All shows listed are SAG, except for AFTRA's "100 Centre Street")

This week, we add ABC to our regular list, and last week, NBC's "Third Rock from the Sun" paid NY a visit. They were here to shoot a special one hour 'parallel universe episode,'* skedded for the November Sweeps. Kristen Johnson plays a "Sex in the City"-type sex columnist, John Lithgow's a high-profile lawyer, French Stewart plays the prexy of NBC (as if!), and young Joseph Gordon-Levitt is "SNL" 's head writer.

*And a final TV reminder: David Black, co-executive producer of A & E's "100 Centre Street" and casting directors Todd Thaler (NBC's "Ed"), Mark Saks (CBS' "Welcome to New York") and Julie Tucker (NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victim's Unit") have all confirmed their attendance at our "Six in the City" panel on Nov. 11 (schedules permitting).

NBC: Deadline will be here through Jan. 1, 2001. Principals: Lynn Kressel (Pier 62, Rm. 304, W. 23 St. & Hudson River, NYC 10011); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (60 Madison Ave., #1027, NYC 10010).

Ed, NBC's first number one debut show, is currently shooting until Dec. 20. Principals: Todd Thaler (130 W. 57 St., #10-A, NYC 10019); background: Sylvia Fay (see above).

Law & Order continues to April 1, 2001. Principals: Lynn Kressel; background: Sylvia Fay (see above for both).

Law & Order: S.V.U ends on Dec. 18. Principals: Lynn Kressel; background: Grant Wilfley Casting (see above for both).

Third Watch films until May 3, 200l. Principals: Jeff Block (1325 Ave. of the Americas, 32nd Fl., NYC 10019; background: Grant Wilfley Casting (see above).

ABC: Madigan Men exec. producer and (Tony-nominated) star, Gabriel Byrne, plays the son of his Moon for the Misbegotten/Tony-winning co-star, Roy Dotrice, through Dec. 8. Principals: Bonnie Finnegan (12 W. 27 St., 11th Fl., NYC 10001); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (see above).

The Untitled Leary Show, a mid-season replacement, exec produced and starring Denis Leary as a cynical, chain smoking cop, finishes taping on Oct. 25 for now. Principals: Avy Kaufman (180 Varick St., NYC 10014); background: Kristine Bulakowski (PO Box 616, Prince St. Station, NYC 10012).

CBS: Welcome to New York wraps on Nov. 30. Principals: Mark Saks (c/o Warner Bros. Television, 1325 Ave. of the Americas, NYC 10019); background: Kee Casting (234 Fifth Ave., NYC 10001).

FOX: The Street films up to Dec. 18. Principals: Jennifer McNamara (Pier 62, W. 23 St. & West Side Hwy., Ste. 307, NYC 10011); background: Sylvia Fay (see above).

HBO: The Sopranos shoots through Feb. 15, 2001. Principals: Georgianne Walken ("Sopranos" Casting, 1600 Broadway, Ste. 406, NYC 10036); background: Grant Wilfley Casting (see above).

A&E: 100 Centre Street remains through mid-Dec. Principals: Lou DiGiaimo (214 Sullivan St., Ste. 2C, NYC 10012); background: Tuffy Questell (c/o T.E.C. Casting, Kaufman Astoria Studios, 34-12 36th St., Astoria, NY 11106).

Local Film Fests and Screenings

Oct. 19-22—CMJ Film Fest New York at the DGA Theater (110 W. 57 St.) celebrates music in movies, with a revival of "A Hard Day's Night," and previews of such new films as "Shadow Boxers," Katya Bankowsky's docu-peek into the real 'girlfight' world; "Pigeonholed," the late Justin Pierce's last film, co-starring Rosanna Arquette and Chris Noth; and exquisite Fest closer, Maggie Greenwald's "Songcatcher," starring 1999 Oscar nominee Janet McTeer. (Be sure to read our interview with Greenwald in the November "Backlot Buzz.") Call (646) 485-6596 for general info, or go to www.cmj.com/marathon for complete descriptions and schedules.

Oct.19-26—Frame by Frame, an HBO Documentary Film Series at The Screening Room, 54 Varick Street, features "Half Past Autumn," that marvelous film on Gordon Parks we mentioned last ish, plus a wide variety of docus, including two by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato ("The Eyes of Tammy Faye" and "101 Rent Boys"); one by Mira Nair ("The Laughing Club of India"); "Nuyorican Dream," exec produced by John Leguizamo and Jellybean Benitez; and the shocking "Paragraph 175," detailing the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, along with more than a dozen others. For ticket info and schedules call (212) 512-7660.

Oct. 22-29—New York Festival of Russian Films offers both recent and older films by Russia's top filmmakers, both young and established. A full schedule and description of each film can be found at www.NFRFilm.com, or call (212) 619-3033.

Thru Oct. 29—The American Museum of the Moving Image (AMMI) presents The Films of Lon Chaney, including his fabled "Phantom of the Opera," and his only talkie, "The Unholy Three," released just weeks before his death in 1930. Then, from Nov. 3-Dec. 4, AMMI will offer Visions of New York: Films from the 1960s Underground, with a program of Jack Smith films, including "Flaming Creatures," and another on the Kuchar Brothers, featuring "Sins of the Fleshapoids," plus films by Robert Downey, Sr., and Paul Bartel, and a visit from avant-garde pioneer, Jonas Mekas! For program and travel info, call (718) 784-0077, or go to www.ammi.org.

Oct. 27-Nov. 30—The British New Wave: From Angry Young Men to Swinging London at the Film Forum (209 Houston St.) is a perfect companion to AMMI's Visions NY series (above). It's overflowing with baby-faced 1960s visions of Albert Finney, Julie Christie, Richard Harris, Lynn Redgrave, 1999 Oscar-winner Michael Caine, and Alan Bates (currently on stage in "The Unexpected Man"), to mention only a few. For complete program, call (212) 727-8110, or go to www.filmforum.com.

Oct 21-Nov. 17—The YWCA Cine-Club (at E. 53 St. and Lexington Ave.) celebrates the work of Rainier Werner Fassbinder every weekend. Call (212) 735-9717 for exact titles and times.

Nov. 5/12/19—The Silent Clown Film Series will screen Buster Keaton/Fatty Arbuckle/"Forgotten Clowns" at the New York Historical Society. Call (212) 969-0968 for info, or visit www.silentclowns.com.

Nov. 8-11—The New York Comedy Film Festival at Anthology Archives (32 Second Ave. at Second St.) is chaired this year by Janeane Garofolo. Check their website at www.NYCFF.com, early in November.

Nov. 16-19—The 34th New York Expo of Short Film and Video at Brooklyn's BAM Rose Cinemas offers 66 films from 17 countries, all under 60 minutes. Call (212) 505-7742, or check at www.yrd.com/nyexpo.

Deadlines

Nov. 8—Slamdance Film Festival (Jan.20-27, 200l) seeks film and video in all lengths. For formats, and to download an application, go to www.slamdance.com, or contact Peter Baxter at (323) 466-1786.

Nov. 15—Taos Talking Picture Festival (April 5-8) is calling for entries. To check requirements and download the entry PDF file, go to www.ttpix.org, or call (505) 751-0637.

Dec. 1—New York Underground Film Festival (March 7-13, 200l), all lengths and genres—entry fee. Contact (212) 675-1137, or e-mail the Festival at www.nyuff.com.

Ongoing—The Knitting Factory seeks VHS films under 30 minutes to screen online and live. Contact Cat Del Buono, c/o Knit Media (74 Leonard St.), or call (212) 219-3006.

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