Home > Dan Mirvish, Entertainment, Film, Movies, Omaha, Writing > Crazy like a fox indie filmmaker Dan Mirvish makes going his own way work

Crazy like a fox indie filmmaker Dan Mirvish makes going his own way work

I love a good movie musical and for my money they don’t make enough of them today.  There are maybe more ways to go wrong with a musical than there are with other genre pics and that may be one reason why filmmakers and investors shy away from them.  Nothing’s quite so awful or painful as asong and dance numbers that drag or just plain don’t work.  All of which is why indie filmmaker Dan Mirvish accomplished a minor miracle with his music comedy about real estate, Open House, which just may be one of the most entertaining movies of the early 2000s. Some of you film geeks may know Mirvish as a founder of the Slamdance Film Festival, an alternative film fest that tweaks the nost of the mighty Sundance fest.  Some of you may know him as the writer-director of the cult favorite, Omaha (The Movie).  Some may recognize him as the man who challenged the holy of holies Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to consider Open House and other small indie musicals like his for the long dormant Best Original Musical category come Oscar voting time.  Or for the sublime prank that he and Eitan Gorlin played on the national media by inventing a John McCain advisor, Martin Eisenstadt, and watching in disbelief and horror as leading journalistic enterprises and reporters bought the ruse hook-line-and sinker.  The following story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) appeared upon the release of Open House on DVD.  You’ll find many more of my film stories on this blog.



Dan Mirvish Dan Mirvish My First Shoot



Crazy like a fox indie filmmaker Dan Mirvish makes going his own way work

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)


With the DVD release this week of his 2004 low budget film Open House, an all-digitally shot feature, cinema provocateur Dan Mirvish may finally net a wide audience for the iconoclastic screwball musical comedy he directed and co-wrote.

Mirvish is something of a hero in indie film circles. First, there’s the anything-goes sensibility of his previous feature, Omaha (the Movie), a 1998 pic he marketed into both a festival favorite and industry calling card. His co-founding the proletarian Slamdance Film Festival as an alternative showcase to the bourgeois Sundance fest, whose well-heeled, major-clouted officials consider him persona non grata, cemented his place as a nettlesome indie champion. Then, despite set-backs to get other projects of his before the camera, he did what a lot of first-time filmmakers never do, he made a second feature (Open House) that fulfilled the promise of his first. Finally, there’s the cheeky campaign he waged to get the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider House and other musical indie pics for the dormant Best Original Musical category, a move that so offended the hidebound Academy that it did away away with the category altogether.

Leave it to this wry filmmaker to make a musical comedy about the surreal residential real estate scene, whose ripe-for-satire rituals, code words, phony props, shady dealings, desperate buyers and sellers and competitive agents, he delights in sending-up. But as in his first feature, the played-for-farce story lines unfold alongside darker themes to create a by-turns whimsical and quixotic piece that is pure Mirvish, an Omaha mensch now living in L.A. whose whack sense of humor is part John Landis and part Alexander Payne.

The inspiration for Open House grew out of the house hunting experience of Mirvish and his wife.

“What fascinated me about going to open houses was that we were allowed to rummage through the house and property of complete and total strangers. These people would entrust their entire lives to the care of their frequently distracted real estate agents. I found it very interesting to piece together these lives from their collections of photos, diplomas and other artifacts. The challenge became deducing why it was these people were really selling their houses — and how each sale was usually part of a seismic shift in people’s lives. I was also intrigued by the incredibly competitive nature of real estate agents themselves, and the depths to which they will go to sell a house.”

In its early drafts, the film was a straight, nonmusical comedy. It remained that way through readings held at Omaha’s Blue Barn Theater and a short film adaptation of the story Mirvish made for the Seattle Fly Filmmaker series. It only became a musical after 9/11, when Mirvish got the idea.

As a veteran of the frontline indie wars, Mirvish well appreciates the miracle that any film, especially a small budget one, ever gets made. Open House survived the usual pitfalls that befall projects. No matter what disasters strike, a guerilla-style filmmaker like Mirvish finds a way. As Open House star Anthony Rapp, an original cast member of the Broadway hit Rent said, “working with Dan is like jumping off the cliff every day” Or, as fellow cast member Robert Peters said, “no matter what obstacles, the train keeps running.”

“My theory is that everything will drop out on you — cast, crew, camera, financing — but as long as it doesn’t all happen on the same day, you’re OK. And sure enough that’s exactly what happened. Every single element fell through on this one. The music director dropped out three weeks before shooting. The choreographer dropped out two weeks before. But, again, because it didn’t happen all at once, we never quite panicked,” he said.

Things began inauspiciously when on the first day’s shoot, he said, “the cops showed up and shut us down” for being short on the rental of a house serving as a prime location. A check was cut on the spot to make up the difference. Mirvish sums up the incident this way: “So it wasn’t a shut down — it was a shake down.”

To avoid similar hassles, Mirvish and company eschewed permits and stole shots at a later location, a mansion that drew passersby who saw the production’s fake “open house” signs out front and meandered in thinking an agent was showing the place.

“In the middle of shooting people would just kind of wander in thinking it was a real open house and the strange thing is not a single person so much as raised an eyebrow that there was an entire film crew shooting in the house…and there were were actors singing and dancing in the living room. It’s like, It’s L.A., well of course there’s people shooting here. Why wouldn’t there be?”

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