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Life Itself VI: Links to twenty years of stories about big screen and small screen subjects


Life Itself VI

Links to twenty years of stories about big screen and small screen subjects

 

A preview of Nebraska Screen Heritage Project content

Interviews-profiles with Oscar and Emmy winners, working professionals, newbies and veterans 

All from Nebraska or intersecting with Nebraska

 

Brought to you by Leo Adam Biga, Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

Follow my Hot Movie Takes at: https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga

 
 
(stories roughly organized from most recent to most distant)
 
 
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Director Alexander PayneGRANT SLATER/KPCC
 
Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest
Alexander Payne’s Homecoming
The Dundee and “Downsizing”
“Downsizing” Home Cameos
Dundee Theater: Return engagement for the ages
John Knicely: A life in television five decades strong
The Tail-Gunner’s Grandson: Ben Drickey revisits World War II experiences on foot and film
In their own words – The Greatest Generation on World War II
My recap of Julianne Moore in conversation with Alexander Payne
Three generations of Omaha film directors – Joan Micklin Silver, Alexander Payne, Nik Fackler
“The  Incredible Shrinking Man” and “Downsizing” speak to each other and to us 60 years apart
1950s Cinema: 
An under-appreciated decade of film and ferment
Film Noir, Donald Trump and art imitating life (or is it the other way around?)
Film is both a heart and a head thing for Diana Martinez
Dope actress Yolonda Ross nothing but versatile – from “The Get Down” to cinema cannibals to dog-eat-dog politics
Nebraska’s own Lynn Stalmaster gets long overdue Oscar 
Stanley Kubrick and Alexander Payne – 
An unexpected congruence
Cautionary tales of cinema, the culture war and Donald Trump
Atticus Finch-Barack Obama give way to Bob Ewell-Donald Trump in this post-“To Kill a Mockingbird” world
Ann Schatz on her own terms – Veteran sportscaster broke the mold in Omaha
KETV president-general manager Ariel Roblin leads effort to make historic Burlington Station the ABC affiliate’s new home
Veteran Omaha TV meteorologist Jim Flowers weathers the storm 
Gabrielle Union wedding beauty

Gabrielle Union: A force in front of and away from the camera
John Beasley: Living his dream
Master of many mediums Jason Fischer
Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” starring Matt Damon
Lew Hunter’s small town Nebraska boy made good in Hollywood story is a doozy
Old Hollywood hand living in Omaha comes out of the shadows: Screenwriter John Kaye scripted “American Hot Wax” and more
Down and out but not done in Omaha:
Documentary surveys the poverty landscape
Tribute to educator who fired my passions for writing and film
“A Thousand Clowns” and other ’60s films begat golden age of ’70s cinema
Cinemateca series trains lens on diverse films and themes
Payne’s “Downsizing” may be next big thing on world cinema landscape
“Downsizing” may elevate filmmaker to new heights
Some thoughts on HBO documentary “My Fight” about Terence Crawford
Do any Alexander Payne films rate among 100 greatest American films ever made?

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film

Through Through a lens starkly: Alexander Payne films Nebraska
EXCERPTS FROM ALEXANDER PAYNE: HIS JOURNEY IN FILM
In Memoriam: 
Filmmaker Gail Levin followed her passion
Omaha Film Festival adds spotlight on Nebraska films
Tim Christian: Changing the face of film in Nebraska
For Omaha Film Festival guru Marc Longbrake, cinema is no passing fancy
10th Annual Omaha Film Festival a showcase for indie writer-directors; Patty Dillon documentary about executioners among films to check out
Matinee Matinee Marriage: 
Omaha couple Mauro and Christine Fiore forge a union based on film and family
Gabrielle Union having it all between her own series, new film, producing, marriage and family
What do Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne and WBO world boxing champion Terence “Bud” Crawford have in common?
Nebraska Film Currents
Masters David O. Russell and Alexander Payne matched wits at Film Streams Feature VI event
Nebraska Coast Connection: Networking group ties Nebraskans in Hollywood
Struggles of single moms subject of film and discussion; Local women can relate to living paycheck to paycheck
Omaha native goes where his film passion leads: James Duff and filmmaker wife Julia Morrison shot debut feature “Hank and Asha” on two continents
Filmmaker explores Latina whose story defies all conventions; Maria Agui Carter to speak after El Museo Latino screening of her film “Rebel”
Omaha Film Festival turns nine
Ex-Gonzo  journalist-turned-filmmaker James Marshall Crotty resolved to celebrate debate in new films “Crotty’s Kids” and “Master Debaters”
Alexander Payne’s new film “Nebraska” features senior cast and aging themes in story sure to resonate with many viewers
Casting director John Jackson helps build Alexander Payne’s film worlds
Alexander Payne’s local color: Payne and Co. mine prairie poetry of his home state in new American gothic film “Nebraska”
New film “Growing Cities” takes road trip look at urban farmers cultivating a healthy, sustainable food culture
Nebraska Coast Connection Salon Q&A with Alexander Payne: Filmmaker speaks candidly about “Nebraska,” casting, screenwriting and craft
Making the cut: Music video editor Taylor Tracy
Paul Williams: Alive and well, sober and serene, making memorable music again
New American cinema auteurs, colleagues and friends David O. Russell and Alexander Payne to headline Feature VI
Considering Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”
Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood star to appear at Omaha screening of “Carousel”
Anti-Drug War manifesto documentary frames discussion: Cost of criminalizing nonviolent offenders comes home
Gabrielle Union takes serious turn in BET drama “Being Mary Jane” and PBS documentary “Half the Sky”

John Beasley has it all going on with new TV series, feature film in development, plans for new Theater and possible New York Stage debut; Co-stars with Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash in TVLand’s “The Soul Man”
When a film becomes a film: The shaping of Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska”
Dan Mirvish strikes again: Indie filmmaker back with new feature “Between Us”
Documentary shines light on civil rights powerbroker Whitney Young: Producer Bonnie Boswell to discuss film and Young  
Omaha Film Festival features strong lineup, including “The Sapphires” and “Breaking Night”
Yolonda Ross adds writer-director to actress credits; In new movies by Mamet and Sayles as her own “Breaking Night” makes festival circuit

Payne’s “Nebraska” blend of old and new as he brings Indiewood back to the state and reconnects with crew on his first black and white film
Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” comes home to roost: State’s cinema prodigal son back filming on home turf after long absence
Cindy Williams Interview: Film-television star to appear at Omaha revival screening of “American Graffiti”
Bruce Crawford’s unexpected movie-movie life: Omahan salutes classic Hollywood with panache
Michael Beasley follows his pops John Beasley as film-TV Actor: Son’s on a roll with string of small and big screen projects, including “Steel Magnolias” 
Omowale Akintunde film “Wigger” deconstructs what race means in a faux post-racial world
Altman on Altman: A look at the late American auteur Robert Altman through the eyes of his grandson, indie Omaha filmmaker Dana Altman, and other cinephiles 
When Omaha independent filmmaking took a new turn or did it?
Film Streams at Five: Art cinema contributes to transformed Omaha through community focus on film and discussion
Alexander Payne talks cinema with kindred spirit Jane Fonda at Film Streams Feature Event in Omaha
Film Connections: How a 1968 convergence of future cinema greats in Ogallala, Nebraska resulted in multiple films and enduring relationships
Movie maven Crawford celebrates 20 years of classic film revivals bringing Hollywood to Omaha: Special guest Pat Boone to appear at screening of “Journey to the Center of the Earth”
Tempting fate: Patrick Coyle film “Into Temptation” delivers gritty tale of working girl and idealistic priest in search of redemption
Talking screenwriting with Hollywood heavyweight Hawk Ostby: Omaha Film Festival panelist counts “Children of Men” and “Iron Man” among credits
Model-turned-actress Jaime King comes home for screening of film she wrote and directed, “Latch Key,” at Omaha Film Festival
Nebraska Legislature once again wrestles with film tax incentives question: Alexander Payne and John Beasley press the case home
SkyVu Entertainment pushes “Battle Bears” brand to sky’s-the-limit vision of mobile games, TV, film, toys …
Joan Micklin Silver’s Classic “Hester Street” Included in National Film Registry 
Omaha Film Festival celebrates seven years of growing the local film culture
Journeyman actor John Beasley discusses life in film-television-theater and striving for in-the-moment believability
Living the dream: 
Cinema maven Rachel Jacobson – the woman behind Film Streams  

Hail, hail “The Descendants” – Alexander Payne’s first feature since “Sideways” a hit with critics, and the George Clooney-starring comedy-drama is sure to be awards contender
Oscar-winner Alexander Payne, George Clooney and Co. find love, pain and the whole damn thing shooting “The Descendants” in Hawaii 
Alexander Payne and Kaui Hart Hemmings on the symbiosis behind his film and her novel “The Descendants” and how she helped get Hawaii right
Drive-by delight: House forever tied to Alexander Payne’s “About Schmidt” just home to residents
“Out of Omaha” aka “California Dreaming” project adds to area’s evolving indie filmmaking scene
Cuba’s “Illogical Temple” the subject of student Academy Award-winning film by UNL students
A degenerate’s work is never done: New film examines mob informant Henry Hill, whose story informed the book “Wiseguy” and the film “Goodfellas”
The Cut Man: Oscar-winning film editor Mike Hill 
Vincent Alston’s indie film debut, “For Love of Amy,” is black and white and love all over

Omaha’s film reckoning arrives in form of Film Streams, the city’s first full-fledged art cinema
John Sorensen’s decades-long magnificent obsession with the Abbott sisters bears fruit in slew of new works, Including “The Quilted Conscience” documentary at Film Streams
John Sorensen and his Abbott Sisters Project: One man’s magnificent obsession shines light on extraordinary Nebraska women
Women’s and indie feature film pioneer Joan Micklin Silver’s journey in cinema
The Film Dude, Nik Fackler, goes his own way again, this time to Nepal and Gabon 
Omowale Akintunde’s in-your-face race film for the new millennium, “Wigger,” introduces America to new cinema voice
Charles Fairbanks, aka the One-Eyed Cat, makes Lucha Libre a way of life and a favorite film subject
The Soderbergh Experience: 
Director Steven Soderbergh to talk shop at Film Streams Feature Event
“Lovely, Still,” that rare film depicting seniors in all their humanity, earns writer-director Nik Fackler Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best First Screenplay
Finding Forefathers: 
Lincoln Motion Picture Company Film Festival gives nod to past and offers glimpse of future
Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and classic film “Singin’ in the Rain” to be saluted
Master of light, Mauro Fiore, Oscar-winning director of photography for “Avatar”
Joan Micklin Silver: 
Maverick filmmaker helped shape American independent film scene and opened doors for women directors

Martin Landau and Nik Fackler discuss working together on “Lovely, Still” and why they believe so strongly in each other and in their new film
A funny thing happened on the way to the toga party: Filmmaker John Landis waxes nostalgic on “Animal House,” breaking in and his journey in film 
A filming we will go: Gail Levin follows her passion
Forever Marilyn: Gail Levin’s new film frames the “Monroe doctrine”
Nik Fackler, The Film Dude. establishes himself a major new cinema figure with “Lovely, Still”
Kooky Swoosie: Actress Swoosie Kurtz conquers Broadway, film, television

 
When Boys Town became the center of the film world
Filmmaker Nik Fackler’s magic realism reaches the big screen in “Lovely, Still”
Promising writer-director Nik Fackler embraces his first feature film experience
Ben Kuroki: A distinguished military career by a most honorable man chronicled in new film
John Huston, an appreciation 
When cinema first seduced me – “On the Waterfront’
“It’s a Wonderful Life” speaks to our troubled times – calling us to be agents of change and hope
In a Western state of mind II
Stephanie Kurtzuba: From bowling alley to Broadway and back
Omaha cinema culture provides diverse screen landscape
Laura Dern and Alexander Payne: An actor-director marriage made in heaven
Missing Jack Nicholson: A Reflection
John Beasley and sons make acting a family thing
Robert Duvall Interview
Shirley Knight Interview
Carol Kane Interview
Crazy like a fox indie fimmaker Dan Mirvish makes going his own way work
Thy kingdom come: Richard Dooling’s TV teaming with Stephen King
Documentary considers Omaha’s changing face since World War II
James Caan Interview
Jill Scott Interview

Ron Hansen’s masterful outlaw blues novel about Jesse James and Robert Ford faithfully interpreted on screen
Jane Fonda comes home
Actor Kelcey Watson fills tole of a lifetime on short notice in Blue Barn production of “Six Degrees of Separation”
Playwright-screenwriter John Guare talks shop on Omaha visit celebrating his acclaimed “Six Degrees of Separation” 
Q&A with Edward Albee: His thoughts on the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Jo Ann McDowell, Omaha and preparing a new generation of playwrights   
Author humorist, folklorist Roger Welsch tells the stories of the American soul and soil
For love of art and cinema, Danny Lee Ladely follows his muse
Dick Cavett’s desk jockey déjà vu
Dena Krupinsky makes Hollywood dreams reality as Turner Classic Movies producer
Bill Cosby on his own terms: Backstage with comedy legend and old friend Bob Boozer
Bill Cosby talks about his life’s turning point  
Entertainment attorney Ira Epstein: 
Counsel to the stars
“The Bagel: An Immigrant’s Story” – Joan Micklin Silver and Matthew Goodman team up for new documentary
Alexander Payne delivers graceful Oscar tributes – Winner for Best Adapted Screenplay recognizes Clooney, Hemmings and his mom
Alexander Payne achieves new heights in “The Descendants”
Two-time Oscar-winner Alexander Payne delivers another screen gem with “The Descendants” and further enhances his cinema standing
Activist actor Danny Glover takes creative control
Bringing back classic movies and the old-time ballyhoo: Bruce Crawford shows “King Kong” the red carpet treatment
Screenwriting adventures of Nebraska native Jon Bokenkamp, author of the scripts “Perfect Stranger” and “Taking Lives'” 
Phedon Papamichael, Jim Burke and Shailene Woodley discuss working with Alexander Payne on “The Descendants” and Kaui Hart Hemmings comments on the adaptation of her novel
When Laura met Alex: Laura Dern & Alexander Payne get deep about collaborating on “Citizen Ruth” and their shared cinema sensibilities
Jim Taylor, the other half of Hollywood’s top screenwriting team, talks about working with Alexander Payne
Size matters: The return of Alexander Payne, not that he was ever gone
“Every day I’m not directing, I feel like I die a little,” – Alexander Payne: after a period largely producing-writing other people’s projects, the filmmaker sets his sights on his next feature

Paul Giamatti as Miles, left, and Thomas Haden Church as Jack in "Sideways," a film often cited by critics as the best of 2004.

Alexander Payne’s post-“Sideways” blues
Exclusive interview with Alexander Payne following the success of “Sideways” 
A road trip “Sideways” – Alexander Payne’s circuitous journey to his California wine country film comedy
Hollywood dispatch from the set of Alexander Payne’s “Sideways” – Rare, intimate, inside look at Payne and his filmmaking process
Home boy Nicholas D’Agosto makes good on the start “Election” gave him: Nails small but showy part in new indie flick “Dirty Girl”
“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere
John Beasley and sons make acting a family thing
Song girl Ann Ronell
Conquering Cannes – Alexander Payne’s triumphant Cannes Film Festival debut with “About Schmidt”
About “About Schmidt”: The shoot, editing, working with Jack and the film After the cutting room floor
Alexander Payne discusses “About Schmidt” starring Jack Nicholson, working with the iconic actor, past projects and future plans
About Payne – Alexander Payne on “About Schmidt,” Jack Nicholson and the comedy of deep focus 
Alexander Payne on working with Jack Nicholson

Nebraskan lives his cinema dream: Darren Brandl produces “The Man Who Shook the Hand of Vicente Fernandez” starring Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine
Lit Fest brings author Carleen Brice back home flush with success of first novel, “Orange Mint and Honey”
Actress Yolonda Ross is a talent to watch
Daring actress Yolonda Ross takes it to the limit
Kevyn Morrow’s homecoming
Anthony Chisholm is in the house at the John Beasley Theater in Omaha
Actor Peter Riegert makes fine feature directorial debut with “King of the Corner”
Academy Award-nominated documentary “A Time for Burning” captured church and community struggle with racism
Novel’s mother-daughter thing makes it to the screen
Freedom riders: A get on the bus inauguration diary
Being Dick Cavett 
Homecoming always sweet for Dick Cavett, the entertainment legend whose dreams of show biz success were fired in Nebraska
Dissecting Jesse James
The Celluloid West
Beware the Singularity, singing the retribution blues: New works by Rick Dooling
Cinema iconoclast and vagabond Jon Jost 
Exposed Gail Levin and Steve Brodner prick the body politic
Gail Levin takes on American master James Dean

Imagemaking celebrated at Joslyn Art Museum: 
“The Misfits” and Magnum Cinema
Unforgettable Patricia Neal
Monty Ross talks about making history with Spike Lee
The Gabrielle Union chronicles 
Gabrielle Union: A Star is Born
Click Westin, back in the screenwriting game again at age 83
Ron Hull reviews his remarkable life in public television in new memoir
Ron Hull’s magical mystery journey through life, history and public television 
Extremities As seen on TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” – Mary Thompson takes her life back one piece at a time
Dream catcher Lew Hunter: Screenwriting guru of the Great Plains
Bruce Crawford: Omaha’s very own movie mogul
John Beasley: Making his stand
Joan Micklin Silver: Shattering cinema’s glass ceiling
John and Pegge Hlavacek’s globe-trotting adventures as foreign correspondents
Howard Rosenberg’s much-traveled news career


Alexander Payne: Portrait of a young filmmaker
Filmmaker Steve Lustgarten proves he can come home again
Former Omaha television photojournalist Don Chapman’s adventures in imagemaking keep him on the move
Minister makes no concession to retirement, plans busy travel, filmmaking schedule
“Casablanca” – Film classic still enchants as time goes by
“The Searchers,” a John Ford-John Wayne masterwork
Through a lens darkly: Western masterpiece looks past the fog of myth to find the truth
Movie classic “It’s a Wonderful Life” not just holiday season staple, but work of art for all time
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Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest

March 27, 2018 Leave a comment

Prodigal filmmaker comes home again to screen new picture at Omaha Film Fest

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The 13th Omaha Film Festival projects March 6-11 at Village Pointe Cinema with its eclectic mix of indie fare from around the world. But a film by Omaha native Dan Mirvish brings things home for area cineastes.

The fest’s opening and closing night films are prestige feature-length studio releases with big name stars: Borg McEnroe at 6 p.m. on March 6 and Beirut at 5:30 p.m. on March 11. The March 10 OFF Conference includes guest panels on Documentary Filmmaking, Writing for Pixar and Filmmaking in Nebraska. The March 11 Writers Theatre showcases live readings of scripts.

Mirvish, an L.A.-based director, will be at a 3:30 p.m. March 10 screening of his new narrative feature Bernard and Huey, whose script is by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jules Feiffer. The presence of indie veteran Mirvish, who co-founded Slamdance, is an important gesture for the local filmmaking community. He’s not only “one of our own” bringing back a well-reviewed new work with serious pedigree, but he’s emblematic of the inventive, resilient spirit that animates the indie industry.

The resourceful Mirvish is the author of The Cheerful Subversive’s Guide to Independent Filmmaking, an irreverent yet practical compendium of lessons learned over his 25-year filmmaking career.

Every Mirvish film – Omaha – The Movie (1995), Open House (2004), Between Us (2012) and now Bernard and Huey (2017) – has been an object lesson in opportunity meets accident meets persistence meets imagination. He cobbles together micro budget projects financed by friends and family, doubling locations and stealing shots in guerilla-style fashion.

How he came to make his latest took things to new extremes. The original script went unproduced when Feiffer wrote it decades ago. Then it vanished. Mirvish long admired his work as a cartoonist and scenarist. Feiffer’s adult cartoons in The Village Voice, The New Yorker and Playboy were hipster reads, Also a respected playwright (Little Murders), he adapted an unproduced play for what became the acclaimed Mike Nichols’ film Carnal Knowledge. He adapted Murders for Alan Arkin. He penned Popeye for Robert Altman.

Mirvish went to some lengths to track down the elusive script inspired by an old Feiffer cartoon series. The protagonists are similar to the lifelong male buddies in Carnal Knowledge, only these misogynists navigate a post sexual revolution-feminist age.

Just finding a copy of the script proved daunting as most players involved in trying to get it made decades earlier were dead. Upon rediscovering and reading it, Mirvish fell in love with the material.

“I thought it was a great satire on masculinity and men behaving badly. Kind of timeless characters and even more so now a timely theme,” Mirvish said. “I thought it was very funny and similar to my sense of humor.”

Even after securing the property and Feiffer’s blessing to develop it, lawyers had to clear rights. All this took time. Meanwhile, Feiffer was anxious to see a film finally realized from the script and was in no mood for delays or misfires this go-round.

“Once we got the rights cleared away jules was like I’m 87, let’s make this thing already.”

Mirvish detailed the whole backstory on the project’s Kickstarter campaign Web page.

He knows things could have gone wrong to sabotage the project but he never lost faith it would work out and, more importantly, he never let the process defeat him.

“I have fun with the process and that’s kind of what I say in the book. Look, if you’re not having fun doing all the stages of the game then you shouldn’t play because, you know, making films is not an intrinsically fun process all the time. It’s studded by long bouts of boredom, anxiety, stress and failure, so if you’re not finding the joy in that somewhere along the way, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

“When it comes to casting, for example, other filmmakers may complain, ‘Oh, it’s a Hollywood game these agents are playing.’ Yeah, it’s a game and you should have fun playing it, too, and you just have to play it better than they do, and that’s kind of how you have to look at the whole process. Yeah, there’s going to be challenges and downsides to everything but as long as you’re having fun during the other moments. it’s worth doing. That’s my attitude.”

Mirvish also takes satisfaction in having “hung in there” to do what it took to get it made.

“When we were able to finally sign all the paperwork, then it really was off to the races. We had our Kickstarter campaign up within two months and were casting and financing and getting the film together. From that point it was actually a fairly quick process.”

His old producing partner and fellow Omaha native, Dana Altman, executive produced.

“Dana remembered Feiffer on the set of Popeye because Dana worked on that movie (for his grandfather Robert Altman), so there was that connection.”

Only minimal script changes were made.

Mirvish has a knack for attracting name talent to his little films and he did it again by getting two hot comedic actors: Jim Rash (Community) as Bernard and David Koechner (Anchorman) as Huey. Mirvish enjoyed having two leads with strong improv backgrounds: Koechner with Second City and SNL and Rash with The Groundlings. Rash is also a writer.

“It was just great having them around in rehearsal and then on set. We did four days dedicated to rehearsal, which is pretty rare even on a studio film.”

Flashbacks glimpse Bernard and Huey as young men and Mirvish found two actors, Jake O’Connor and Jay Renshaw, who make uncanny matches.

“Once we cast David and Jim, we had to look for younger versions of them, so we had an open casting call and we found these two terrific actors. The young guys really shadowed the older guys. That was a great experience for all four of them. They really developed this kind of big sibling-little sibling relationship and kind of picked up each other’s little quirks and things.

“Jules and I talked about how it wasn’t about the physical look of these characters. They didn’t have to look like the cartoon. We met with many actors who didn’t. Ironically, Rash and Koechner look almost exactly like the cartoon characters – next to each other especially. In the end credits you see some original Feiffer cartoons. It’s nice to see what these guys are supposed to look like and they really kind of do. I mean, to the point when Feiffer first saw Rash he was like, ‘He’s great, but couldn’t you find someone more handsome?’ because Bernard was always an autobiographical dopple-ganger for Feiffer himself.”

Mirvish grew fond of the eternally clever and young Feiffer. He’s pleased that “Jules really liked the movie and was very happy with the casting.” Feiffer remains prolific at 89. He just finished a new graphic novel and had a new musical open. “For a man of any age, he’s hard to keep up with. It’s a lot of fun whenever I see him because he’s always got these amazing stories.”

Character actor Richard Kind (Gotham), who personally knows Feiffer, has scene-stealing moments as Huey’s older brother Marty.

The women playing the female foils are receiving high praise for their performances: Mae Whitman (Parenthood) as Zelda; Sasha Alexander (Rizzoli & Isles) as Roz; Nancy Travis (Last Man Standing) as Mona; and Bellamy Young (Scandal) as Aggie.

Mirvish shot interiors in L.A. and exteriors in New York.

The film has a domestic distribution deal and awaits a foreign sales deal.

Mirvish hopes to return with the movie in the spring at the Dundee Theater – his neighborhood cinema growing up.

For complete OFF details, visit omahafilmfestival.org.

‘Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film’ book signing meet and greet @ Our Bookstore

November 7, 2017 Leave a comment

“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

Book signing meet and greet

@Our Bookstore, Old Market Passageway

Monday, Nov. 13

5-7 p.m.

 

 

 

This Fall is a cinema showcase to remember in Nebraska: 

•Omaha’s own Alexander Payne will be back in December with his new movie, “Downsizing.” The sci-fi satire shot a few days in Omaha with stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig.  
 
•The Oscar-winner’s film will premiere at Omaha’s last remaining neighborhood movie house, the historic Dundee Theater, where his silver screen dreams were stirred and his first feature, “Citizen Ruth,” played. 
•The renovated landmark is beginning a new life under the management of Film Streams. Check out my New Horizons cover story about this return engagement for the ages in the Nov. issue.
 
•Through my work as an Omaha film journalist, I’ve created a book celebrating the writer-director’s creative process: “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film.” The new edition features expanded content.
 
•Join me for a book signing meet & greet @ Our Bookstore: Monday, Nov. 13, Old Market Passageway, 5-7 p.m.. Hor dourves and refreshments will be served.
•The $25.95 book makes a great gift for film lovers. 
 
Hope to see you there.
 
 

Hot Movie Takes Friday – Indie Film: UPDATED-EXPANDED

March 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Hot Movie Takes Friday

Indie Film

UPDATED-EXPANDED

©by Leo Adam Biga

Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

 

There’s a common misconception that indie films are something that only came into being in the last half-century when in fact indie filmmaking has been around in one form or another since the dawn of movies.

Several Nebraskans have demonstrated the indie spirit at the highest levels of cinema.

The very people who invented the motion picture industry were, by definition, independents. Granted, most of them were not filmmakers, but these maverick entrepreneurs took great personal risk to put their faith and money in a new medium. They were visionaries who saw the future and the artists working for them perfected a moving image film language that proved addictive. The original Hollywood czars and moguls were the greatest pop culture pushers who ever lived. Under their reign, the narrative motion picture was invented and it’s hooked every generation that’s followed. The Hollywood studio system became the model and center of film production. The genres that define the Hollywood movie, then and now, came out of that system and one of the great moguls of the Golden Age, Nebraska native Darryl F. Zanuck, was as responsible as anyone for shaping what the movies became by the projects he greenlighted and the ones he deep-sixed. The tastes and temperaments of these autocrats got reflected in the pictures their studios made but the best of these kingpins made exceptions to their rules and largely left the great filmmakers alone, which is to say they didn’t interfere with their work. If they did, the filmmakers by and large wouldn’t stand for it. After raising hell, the filmmakers usually got their way.

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Zanuck made his bones in Hollywood but as the old studio system with its longterm contracts and consolidated power began to wane and a more open system emerged, even Zanuck became an independent producer.

The fat-cat dream-making factories are from the whole Hollywood story. From the time the major studios came into existence to all the shakeups and permutations that have followed right on through today, small independent studios, production companies and indie filmmakers have variously worked alongside, for and in competition with the established studios.

Among the first titans of the fledgling American cinema were independent-minded artists such as D.W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin and Douglas Faribanks, who eventually formed their own studio, United Artists. Within the studio system itself, figures like Griffith, Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Cecil B. De Mille, Frank Capra and John Ford were virtually unassailable figures who fought for and gained as near to total creative control as filmmakers have ever enjoyed. Those and others like Howard Hawks, William Wyler and Alfred Hitchcock pretty much got to do whatever they wanted on their A pictures. Then there were the B movie masters who could often get away with even more creatively and dramatically speaking than their A picture counterparts because of the smaller budgets and loosened controls on their projects. That’s why post-World War II filmmakers like Sam Fuller, Joseph E. Lewis, Nicholas Ray, Budd Boetticher and Phil Carlson could inject their films with all sorts of provocative material amidst the conventions of genre pictures and thereby effectively circumvent the production code.

Maverick indie producers such as David O. Selznick, Sam Spiegel and Joseph E. Levine packaged together projects of distinction that the studios wouldn’t or couldn’t initiate themselves. Several actors teamed with producers and agents to form production companies that made projects outside the strictures of Hollywood. Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster were among the biggest name actors to follow this trend. Eventually, it became more and more common for actors to take on producing, even directing chores for select personal projects, to where if not the norm it certainly doesn’t take anyone by surprise anymore.

A Nebraskan by the name of Lynn Stalmaster put aside his acting career to become a casting direct when he saw an opportunity in the changing dynamics of Hollywood. Casting used to be a function within the old studio system. As the studios’ contracted employee rosters began to shrink and as television became a huge new production center, Stalmaster saw the future and an opportunity. He knew just as films needed someone to guide the casting, the explosion of dramatic television shows needed casting expertise as well and so he practically invented the independent casting director. He formed his own agency and pretty much had the new field to himself through the 1950s, when he mostly did TV, on through the ’60s, ’70s’ and even the ’80s, when more of his work was in features. He became the go-to casting director for many of top filmmakers, even for some indie artists. His pioneering role and his work casting countless TV shows, made for TV movies and feature films, including many then unknowns who became stars, earned him a well deserved honorary Oscar at the 2017 Academy Awards – the first Oscar awarded for casting.

 

Lynn Stalmaster

Lynn Stalmaster

Photo By Lance Dawes, Courtesy of AMPAS

 

In the ’50 and ’60s Stanley Kubrick pushed artistic freedom and daring thematic content to new limits as an independent commercial filmmaker tied to a studio. Roger Corman staked out ground as an indie producer-director whose low budget exploitation picks gave many film actors and filmmakers their start in the industry. In the ’70s Woody Allen got an unprecedented lifetime deal from two producers who gave him carte blanche to make his introspective comedies.

John Cassavetes helped usher in the indie filmmaker we identify today with his idiosyncratic takes on relationships that made his movies stand out from Hollywood fare.

Perhaps the purest form of indie filmmaking is the work done by underground and experimental filmmakers who have been around since cinema’s start. Of course, at the very start of motion pictures, all filmmkaers were by definition experimental because the medium was in the process of being invented and codified. Once film got established as a thing and eventually as a commerical industry, people far outside or on the fringes of that industry, many of them artists in other disciplines, boldly pushed cinema in new aesthetic and technical directions. The work of most of these filmmakers then or now doesn’t find a large audience but does make its way into art houses and festivals and is sometimes very influential across a wide spectrum of artists and filmmakers seeking new ways of seeing and doing things.  A few of these experimenters do find some relative mass exposure. Andy Warhol was an example. A more recent example is Godfrey Reggio, whose visionary documentary trilogy “Koyaanisqatsi,” “Powaqqatsi” and “Naqoyqatsi” have found receptive audiences the world over. Other filmmakers, like David Lynch and Jim McBride, have crossed over into more mainstream filmmaking without ever quite leaving behind their experimental or underground roots.

Nebraska native Harold “Doc” Edgerton made history for innovations he developed with the high speed camera, the multiflash, the stroboscope, nighttime photography, shadow photography and time lapse photography and other techniques for capturing images in new ways or acquiring images never before captured on film. He was an engineer and educator who combined science with art to create an entire new niche with his work.

Filmmakers like Philip Kaufman, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese and many others found their distinctive voices as indie artists. Their early work represented formal and informal atttempts at discovering who they are as

Several filmmakers made breakthroughs into mainstream filmmaking on the success of indie projects, including George Romero, Jonathan Kaplan, Jonathan Demme, Omaha’s own Joan Micklin Silver, Spike Lee and Quentin Taratino.

If you don’t know the name of Joan Micklin Silver, you should. She mentored under veteran studio director Mark Robson on a picture (“Limbo”) he made of her screenplay about the wives of American airmen held in Vietnamese prisoner of war camps. Joan, a Central High graduate whose family owned Micklin Lumber, then wrote an original screenplay about the life of Jewish immigrants on New York’s Lower East Side in the early 20th century. She called it “Hester Street” and she shopped it around to all the studios in Hollywood as a property she would direct herself. They all rejected the project and her stipulation that she direct. Every studio had its reasons. The material was too ethnic, too obscure, it contained no action, it had no sex. Oh, and she insisted on making it in black and white,which is always a handy excuse to pass on a script. What the studios really objected to though was investing in a woman who would be making her feature film directing debut. Too risky.  As late as the late 1970s and through much of the 1980s there were only a handful of American women directing feature and made for TV movies. It was a position they were not entrusted with or encouraged to pursue. Women had a long track record as writers, editors, art directors,  wardrobe and makeup artists but outside of some late silent and early sound directors and then Ida Lapino in the ’50s. women were essentially shut out of directing. That’s what Joan faced but she wasn’t going to let it stop her.

 

Joan Micklin Silver

 

Long story short, Joan and her late husband Raphael financed the film’s production and post themselves and made an evocative period piece that they then tried to get a studio to pick up, but to no avail. That’s when the couple distributed the picture on their own and to their delight and the industry’s surprise the little movie found an audience theater by theater, city by city, until it became one of the big indie hits of that era. The film’s then-unknown lead, Carol Kane, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress. The film’s success helped Joan get her next few projects made (“Between the Lines,” “Chilly Scenes of Winter”) and she went on to make some popular movies, including “Loverboy,” and a companion piece to “Hester Street” called “Crossing Delancey” that updated the story of Jewish life on the Lower East Side to the late 20th century. Joan later went on to direct several made for cable films. But “Hester Street” will always remain her legacy because it helped women break the glass ceiling in Hollywood in directing. Its historic place in the annals of cinema is recognized by its inclusion in the U.S. Library of Congress collection. She’s now penning a book about the making of that landmark film. It’s important she document this herself, as only she knows the real story of what obstacles she had to contend with to get the film made and seen. She and Raphael persisted against all odds and their efforts not only paid off for them but in the doors it opened for women to work behind the camera.

The lines between true independent filmmakers and studio-bound filmmakers have increasingly blurred. Another Omahan, Alexander Payne, is one of the leaders of the Indiewood movement that encompasses most of the best filmmakers in America. Payne and his peers maintain strict creative control in developing, shooting and editing their films but depend on Hollywood financing to get them made and distributed. In this sense, Payne and Co. are really no different than those old Hollywood masters, only filmmakers in the past were studio contracted employees whereas contemporary filmmakers are decidedly not. But don’t assume that just because a filmmaker was under contract he or she had less freedom than today’s filmmakers. Believe me, nobody told Capra, Ford, Hitchcock, Wyler, or for that matter Huston of Kazan, what to do. They called the shots. And if you were a producer or executive who tried to impose things on them, you’d invariably lose the fight. Most of the really good filmmakers then and now stand so fiercely behind their convictions that few even dare to challenge them.

But also don’t assume that just because an indie filmmaker works outside the big studios he or she gets everything they want. The indies ultimately answer to somebody. There’s always a monied interest who can, if push comes to shove, force compromise or even take the picture out of the filmmaker’s hands. Almost by definition indie artists work on low budgets and the persons controlling those budgets can be real cheapskates who favor efficiency over aesthetics.

 

  • Director Alexander Payne grew up in Nebraska.
©Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

 

Payne is the rarest of the rare among contemporary American filmmakers in developing a body of work with a true auteurist sensibility that doesn’t pander to formulaic conventions or pat endings. His comedies play like dramas and they’re resolutely based in intimate human relationships between rather mundane people in very ordinary settings. Payne avoids all the trappings of Hollywood gloss but still makes his movies engaging, entertaining and enduring. Just think of the protagonists and plotlines of his movies and it’s a wonder he’s gotten any of them made:

Citizen Ruth–When a paint sealer inhalant addict with a penchant for having kids she can’t take care of gets pregnant again, she becomes the unlikely and unwilling pivot figure in the abortion debate.

Election–A frustrated high school teacher develops such a hate complex for a scheming student prepared to do anything to get ahead that he rigs a student election against her.

About Schmidt–Hen-pecked Warren Schmidt no sooner retires from the job that defined him than his wife dies and he discovers she cheated on him with his best friend. He hits the road to find himself. Suppressed feelings of anger, regret and loneliness surface in the most unexpected moments.

Sideways–A philandering groom to be and a loser teacher who’s a failed writer go on a wine country spree that turns disaster. Cheating Jack gets the scare of his life. Depressed Miles learns he can find love again.

The Descendants–As Matt King deals with the burden of a historic land trust whose future is in his hands, he learns from his oldest daughter that his comatose wife cheated on him. With his two girls in tow, Matt goes in search of answers and revenge and instead rediscovers his family.

Nebraska–An addled father bound and determined to collect a phantom sweepstakes prize revisits his painful past on a road trip his son David takes him on.

Downsizing–With planet Earth in peril, a means to miniaturize humans is found and Paul takes the leap into this new world only to find it’s no panacea or paradise.

Payne has the cache to make the films he wants to make and he responsibly delivers what he promises. His films are not huge box office hits but they generally recoup their costs and then some and garner prestige for their studios in the way of critical acclaim and award nominations. Payne has yet to stumble through six completed films. Even though “Downsizing” represents new territory for him as a sci-fi visual effects movie set in diverse locales and dealing with global issues, it’s still about relationships and the only question to be answered is how well Payne combines the scale with the intimacy.

Then there are filmmakers given the keys to the kingdom who, through a combination of their own egomania and studio neglect, bring near ruin to their projects and studios. I’m thinking of Orson Welles on “The Magnificent Ambersons,” Francis Ford Coppola on “One from the Heart”, Michael Cimino on “Heaven’s Gate,” Elaine May on “Ishtar” and Kevin Costner on “Thw Postman” and “Waterworld.” For all his maverick genius, Welles left behind several unfinished projects because he was persona non grata in Hollywood, where he was considered too great a risk, and thus he cobbled together financing in a haphazard on the fly manner that also caused him to interrupt the filming and sometimes move the principal location from one site to another, over a period of time, and then try to match the visual and audio components. Ironically, the last studio picture he directed, “Touch of Evil,” came in on budget and on time but Universal didn’t understand or opposed how he wanted it cut and they took it out of his hands. At that point in his career, he was a hired gun only given the job of helming the picture at the insistence of star Charlton Heston and so Welles didn’t enjoy anything like the final cut privileges he held on “Citizen Kane” at the beginning of his career.

Other mavericks had their work compromised and sometimes taken from them. Sam Peckinpah fought a lot of battles. He won some but he ended up losing more and by the end his own demons more than studio interference did him in.

The lesson here is that being an independent isn’t always a bed of roses.

Then again, every now and then a filmmaker comes out of nowhere to do something special. Keeping it local, another Omahan did that very thing when a script he originally wrote as a teenager eventually ended up in the hands of two Oscar-winning actors who both agreed to star in his directorial debut. The filmmaker is Nik Fackler, the actors are Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn and the film is “Lovely, Still.” It’s a good film. It didn’t do much business however and Fackler’s follow up film,” Sick Birds Die Easy,” though interesting, made even less traction. His film career is pretty much in limbo after he walked away from the medium to pursue his music. The word is he’s back focusing on film again.

 

Photobucket

 

Other contemporary Nebraskans making splashes with their independent feature work include actor John Beasley, actress Yolonda Ross and writer-directors Dan Mirvish, Patrick Coyle, Charles Hood and James E. Duff.

These folks do really good work and once in a while magic happens, as with the Robert Duvall film “The Apostle” that Beasley co-starred in. It went on to be an indie hit and received great critical acclaim and major award recognition. Beasley is now producing a well-budgeted indie pic about fellow Omahan Marlin Briscoe. Omahan Timothy Christian is financing and producing indie pics with name stars through his own Night Fox Entertainment company. Most of the films these individuals make don’t achieve the kind of notoriety “The Apostle” did but that doesn’t mean the work isn’t good. For example, Ross co-starred in a film, “Go for Sisters,” by that great indie writer-director John Sayles and I’m sure very few of you reading this have heard of it and even fewer have seen it but it’s a really good film. Hood’s comedy “Night Owls” stands right up there with Payne’s early films. Same for Duff’s “Hank and Asha.”

Indie feature filmmaking on any budget isn’t for the faint of heart or easily dissuaded. It takes guts and smarts and lucky breaks. The financial rewards can be small and the recognition scant. But it’s all about a passion for the work and for telling stories that engage people.

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