In Features, Issues

PRODUCTION UPDATE
Compiled and edited by FILMMAKER Contributing Editor, Mary Glucksman.


Good Machine brings another hot young talent's first feature to the screen with Hannah Weyer's Arresting Gena, a rite-of-passage drama about two girls in crisis which quickly turns into a thriller when one of them disappears. Sixteen-year-old Gena's world is rocked when her mom is hospitalized in a coma, and she's more than ready for a dangerous diversion when she meets Jane, a charismatic runaway. Gena has a motto - "When you can't find a way out, find a way through" - and she throws herself into Jane's life until a cavalier plan to infiltrate Jane's brother Sonny's mysterious world spins wildly out of control. "(Gena's) trying to find herself, but she's on an uneven playing ground," says Weyer. "When she meets Jane she's fascinated, but we don't know if Jane's to be trusted."

Weyer burst onto the indie scene with her edgy NYU MFA thesis film, The Salesman and Other Adventures, which won the Best Short prize at the Sundance festival in 1995. Originally from Seattle, Weyer came to New York to enter NYU's Ph.D. program in film theory, but after taking a hands-on filmmaking workshop she realized that she would rather make films than deconstruct them. Gena was workshopped at the Sundance Filmmakers' Lab in June '95. Weyer and producer Margot Bridger then hooked up with Good Machine's Ted Hope to move ahead with the production. The film slotted into Good Machine's "Good Fear" series, a group of five arthouse horror films financed by a joint venture between Good Machine and Kardana Films.

Gena rolled June 4 in New Jersey, with Salesman cinematographer Elliot Rockett shooting 35mm color. Like Salesman, Gena's set in a faded city without reference to a specific time. Weyer spent two months seeing girls for Gena and had opened her search to video submissions from other states before she spotted newcomer Aesha Waks in an NYU short, The Money Shot. The filmmakers expect a print by mid-November; rights are available.

Cast: Aesha Waks, Summer Phoenix, Paul Lazar, J. Smith Cameron, Sam Rockwell, Brendan Sexton, Jr., Heather Matarazzo, Kirk Acevedo. Crew: Producers, Margot Bridger, Ted Hope; Executive Producers, Tom Caruso, John Hart, James Schamus; Screenwriter/ Director, Hannah Weyer; Cinematographer, Elliot Rockett; Production Designer, Susan Block; Casting, Laura Rosenthal; Editor, Meg Reticker. Contact: Mary Jane Skalski, Good Machine, 526 West 25th Street, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 229-1046, Fax: (212) 255-4308.

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Chriss Williams takes on Hollywood's stereotyped notions of black kids and gun culture in Asbury Park, a tense drama which pits a sensitive black teen against the thug who killed his parents. The film starts out in Asbury Park, a seedy former beach resort on the Jersey shore, when Miles Jenkins realizes that Domino, the man he testified against and put in jail, is paroled and after him. Events take a chilling turn when Miles steals his cop uncle's gun for self-protection and ends up using it on Domino. Haunted by remorse, the boy makes a run for his eccentric Uncle Tucker's remote cabin in New Jersey's isolated Pine Barrens, where he finds a drastically different black culture driven by connections to nature and ancient folklore. "I've seen too many movies where black kids kill someone and go have lunch," says Williams. "This kid has killed accidentally, but he still feels guilty. His trip from Asbury Park to rural New Jersey is a physical journey to a moral authority - and a psychic escape from the pathology that insists young men internalize the "hood."

Williams, 29, grew up in Hackensack, New Jersey and got the filmmaking bug early when a songwriter uncle, Jackson Five scribe Freddie Perren, became a producer on Saturday Night Fever. He has an MFA from NYU's graduate film program, where his '93 thesis film, Bloods on the Moon, won top honors. Williams was Spike Lee's teaching assistant at NYU in 1993 and also worked for him on Crooklyn. "Spike told me 'Don't expect any handouts from anybody,'" he says. "So I took out a student loan and played the stock market." In the end, Williams says, he got Asbury Park in the can for a spare six figures; all cast and crew salaries were deferred. Albert S., star of Geoff Fletcher's hit Sundance short Magic Markers, stars as Miles, and seasoned Broadway actor Arthur French is Uncle Tucker.

At press time Williams was raising the final $25,000 he needs for final sound work, an optical shoot, and a 35mm blowup. The film's soundtrack includes contemporary hip hop, James Brown, and Mississippi delta blues - "I want it to feel almost as if Miles is moving back in time as the film progresses," says Williams. All rights are available.

Cast: Albert S., Arthur French, MoniquÈ Porter, Charles Dumas, Dion Graham, Jerome Edwards, Freddie Williams, Jen Ritchkoff, Tim Macht. Crew: Producer/Screen-writer/Director, Chriss Williams; Executive Producer, Laurie Durber; Line Producer, Arabella Hutter; Director of Photography, Ly Bolia; Production Designer, Anne Cole; Editor, Leon Martin. Contact: Chriss Williams, Hackensack Films, 16 Forest Street #305, Montclair, NJ 07042. Tel/Fax: (201) 783-1724.

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Rebecca Feig's bye-bye Babushka blends improv with archival footage for a rare uncensored look inside the former Soviet Union. Feig's "babushkas" - Russian for "grandmothers" - were born under Lenin, grew up under Stalin, and now must struggle to assimilate within a new kind of Soviet life. Babushka cycles through individual portraits, topical commentary, street interviews, and performance art-like improvs describing milestones like joining the Young Communists League. "It's about what happens when there's a hierarchy for how things work and then you just erase it," says Feig. "The Soviet woman as traditionally defined became an extinct species nearly overnight, and you could call this film a subjective archive of lives gone by."

Feig's babushkas come from distant villages as well as Moscow, and she says her film is the first that's been shot by a foreigner in tiny central Russian Tamala, whose mayor provided carte blanche access when the filmmakers arrived accompanied by a returning exiled dissident they'd met en route.

Feig made her first shorts in the film program at SUNY Purchase and traveled the festival circuit with her 1990 senior project, The Waiting. By chance the 1991 coup found her in Siberia shooting documentary footage of Lake Baikal for an environmental group. "I spent four days crossing Russia by train with a cameraman," she says. "Every time we stopped, there were little women who seemed to be about 150 years old trying to sell us bread and telling everyone what to do. I was fascinated."

By 1993, Feig had moved to Paris to start formulating plans for a film that would become Babushka. She got hired to organize DISCOP, a Warsaw film-and-t.v. market geared towards creating opportunities for new broadcasters in Eastern Europe. She and partner Mitchell Rosenbaum ultimately mobilized some 40 newly privatized Russian broadcasters and brokered a three-way contract between them, French t.v. channel TF1, and sponsor Coca-Cola to bring Western programming like Moonlighting to the east. Proceeds from the company they formed, Prolink, financed Babushka in the low six-figure range. At press time they were back in New York, moving towards picture lock on the AVID system and wrestling with Babushka's subtitling. All rights remain available.

Crew: Producers, Mitchell Rosenbaum, Rebecca Feig; Associate Producers, Ekaterina Skorik, Jessica Cohen; Director, Feig; Cinematographer, Rosenbaum; Editor, Daisy Wright; Translator, Skorik; Still Photographer, Tony Pemberton; Contact: Mitchell Rosen-baum or Rebecca Feig, Persistence of Vision, 233 Broadway, Suite 3508, New York, NY 10279. Tel: (212) 799-8438, Fax: (212) 501-0553.

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Twenty-five-year-old Josh Evans follows his Inside the Gold Mine with the genre-busting Glam, a parable about a dreamer from the Midwest who takes Hollywood by storm until he goes for a mobster's girl. Evans says he set out to skewer conventional perceptions of glamour, art, fame, and power. Billy McNamara - Copy Cat's baby-faced killer - plays Sonny Day, an elusive writer and possible prophet who may actually be scripting the movie we're watching. "He says nothing and he does nothing but it's clear he has some answers, and everyone falls over themselves trying to get them," says Evans. Tony Danza's the mob thug, Natasha Wagner's the girl, and Frank Whaley's Sonny's desperate cousin. Glam's cast also includes Valerie Kaprisky, Jon Cryer, and Ali MacGraw, Evans' mother (his father is producer Robert Evans).

Evans grew up in L.A. and side-stepped into filmmaking as an actor, most notably as Tom Cruise's hippie kid brother in Born on the Fourth of July and John Lithgow's psycho sidekick in Ricochet. He made Goldmine on the cheap with Cineville, the six-year-old indie production company best known for Gas Food Lodging, and the film did well enough at the Seattle and Montreal festivals for the company to back Glam to the tune of a reported seven figures. Glam producer Zachary Matz, whose association with Cineville began with its first film, Delusion, and who most recently produced the company's French Exit, says Glam was financed by banking Storm Entertainment's foreign presale contracts (based on cast commitment) for most Cineville projects. "It's a cookie-cutter arrangement where we can do ten films a year," Matz says. "What Storm brings to the party is turn-key collateral with relatively little hassle through Michael Heuser's relationships in overseas markets; Cineville adds value through cast to what would otherwise be 'risky' projects because we have a good track record with first- and second-time directors."

The 35mm Glam shot all over L.A. for five weeks in May and June. Evans locked picture in July and flew to Europe to work on Glam's score with German techno/ambient music artists Mouse on Mars; Matz says a soundtrack deal with a major independent record label is already in place. Although Cineville recently established a domestic distribution arm scheduled to kick off this fall with French Exit and Cafe Society, Matz says Glam's domestic rights will be offered on the festival circuit; Storm is handling foreign sales.

Cast: William McNamara, Frank Whaley, Natasha Wagner, Valerie Kaprisky, Tony Danza, Jon Cryer, Ali MacGraw. Crew: Producers, Zachary Matz, Carl Colpaert, Josh Evans; Executive Producers, H. Michael Heuser, Tom Garvin; Screenwriters, Evans and Uri Zighelboim; Director, Evans; Cinematographer, Fernando Arguelles; Production Designer, Karin Haase. Contact: Zachary Matz, Filmsmith, c/o Cineville, Inc., 225 Santa Monica Blvd., 7th floor, Santa Monica, California 90401. Tel: (310) 260-8866, Fax: (310) 260-8867.

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Genevieve Bujold is Parker Posey's mother in The House of Yes, Dan Waters' adaptation of Wendy MacLeod's play about a uniquely screwed-up Washington, D.C. family catering to a delusional daughter obsessed with Jackie Kennedy and the Kennedy assassination. As a child, Jackie-O (Posey) made her twin brother Marty (Josh Hamilton) shoot Super-8 films of her reprising the former First Lady's White House Tour. When Marty arrives for Thanksgiving with the first girlfriend he's dared introduce to the household (Tori Spelling), Jackie-O marshals her forces, including a younger brother played by Freddie Prinze Jr., to eradicate the intruder. "It's an outsider's view of the pathology behind the dream of the American upper class," says Waters.

Waters, 31, grew up in Indiana and came east to study theatre arts at the University of Pennsylvania. He logged six years as a stage actor and director in Philadelphia and San Francisco before moving to L.A. as an American Film Institute directing fellow. By this time, brother Dan had made his mark in film by writing Heathers. Waters got his M.F.A. from AFI in 1994, made three shorts, and got the rights to House. He also met Beau Flynn, a recovering Scott Rudin aide who'd formed Bandeira Entertainment with AFI grad Stefan Simchowitz to make low-budget indies. The partners' first produced effort, johns, starred Lukas Haas and David Arquette as teenage L.A. street hustlers and sold to First Look within days of its Sundance '96 premiere. Flynn says Bandeira was poised to greenlight House with private financing when Tori Spelling was cast as Marty's girlfriend and Spelling Entertainment came on board as sole financier for a pricetag "under $2 million." The 35mm House shot for 24 days in L.A., beginning June 21, with an indie Dream Team including cinematographer Mike Spiller (Walking and Talking), editor Pam Martin (Spanking the Monkey), and composer Jeff Taylor (Flirt). Flynn will rep House rights on behalf of Spelling.

Cast: Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze, Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Genevieve Bujold. Crew: Producers, Beau Flynn, Stefan Simchowitz; Coproducers, Ron Wechsler, Jeffrey L. Davidson; Executive Producer, Robert Berger; Screenwriter/ Director, Mark Waters; Cinematographer, Mike Spiller; Production Designer, Patrick Sherman; Costumes, Edi Giguere; Casting, Mary Vernieu; Contact: Beau Flynn, Bandeira Entertainment, 176 North Swall Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90211. Tel: (310) 657-1444, Fax: (310) 657-0345.

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Welcome to the Dollhouse scene-stealer Brendan Sexton, Jr. stars in Morgan Freeman's Hurricane, a high-impact drama about a summer of first love and final options for a 15-year-old East Village kid. (Freeman's not the accomplished actor with whom he's invariably confused but a 26-year-old NYU grad film dude out of California.) He landed the white-hot Sexton for the actor's first leading role after performing second a.d. chores on Dollhouse and wrote Hurricane for him.

Hurricane hero Marcus Frederick and his four best friends travel the city by BMX bikes, shoplift, and hang out at their bomb-shelter headquarters. But when Marcus discovers a skeleton in his own closet and a dirty secret behind his new girlfriend's door, he has to take a stand. "We go on a journey with a cocksure kid whose identity and path are suddenly destroyed, crushed - and we see him struggle to piece together a new self," says Freeman.

Freeman had five shorts to his credit by the time he finished NYU this spring and was planning to shoot Hurricane for pocket change when he submitted his thesis film, Boom, to CineBLAST, the short film compilation quarterly edited by Gil Holland. Then working as festival coordinator for the French Film Office in New York, Holland was looking to segue into producing and liked Boom enough to ask Freeman if he had a feature script. "A week after reading it I locked in the shooting budget," says Holland, who cites a single private investor in the solid six-figure range. Holland ended up making the 35mm Hurricane back-to-back with Myth America, producing partner Galt Niederhoffer's directorial debut. Holland also happened on a still of screenwriter LM Kit Carson while surfing the Web and after checking out his performance as a last-chance radical in Running on Empty, Freeman convinced him to play a similar character in Hurricane. Carson also came on as executive producer.

Hurricane's five-week shoot kicked off July 23, with Brooklyn's Williamsburg section standing in for the East Village (easier to control). Holland saved costume department outlays on the kids' trendy clothes through product placements like Polo/Ralph Lauren, Cottonmouth, and Adidas and got their bikes from Diamond Back - but he says the project's biggest coup was scoring a free Winnebago. He expects to have a rough cut this fall; rights are available.

Cast: Brendan Sexton, Jr., LM Kit Carson, Jared Harris, Lynn Cohen, Edie Falco, Heather Mattarazzo. Crew: Producers, Gill Holland, Galt Niederhoffer; Executive Producer, LM Kit Carson; Line Producer, Nadia Leonelli; Screenwriter/ Director, Morgan J. Freeman; Cinmatographer, Enrique Chediak; Production Designer, Petra Barchi; Costumes, Nancy Brous; Casting, Susan Shopmaker. Contact: Gill Holland, Posthorn Pictures, 51 Wooster Street, New York, NY 10013. Tel: (212) 965-0684, Fax: (212) 965-0485.

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Playwright and theater director Neil LaBute makes his film debut with In the Company of Men, a chilling noir comedy of manners. The film uses a love triangle deliberately created by two business partners for the most byzantine of purposes to cast a long shadow over the cat-and-mouse games of power and control typical of today's maneuvers in bed and boardroom. "The character pulling the strings is almost sociopathic - he does something because he can get away with it," says LaBute. "The '90s have been very confessional and there's a sense that as long as we talk about our behavior, we're restored to grace. I don't think the gesture's enough."

LaBute, 33, grew up in Detroit and Spokane and has seen his plays produced extensively in regional theatre; he has an M.F.A. from NYU's dramatic writing program. His first foray into film came when his play Rounder was workshopped at the Sundance Playwrights' Lab in 1991 and Good Machine commissioned him to adapt it for the screen; now called Whacked, that project is slated for a '97 shoot with Beth B (Two Small Bodies) directing.

LaBute says he decided to direct Men himself after the L.A. producers who'd optioned his adaptation of another play, Lepers, left him "high and dry." He'd moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana by then to teach in nearby Chicago and hooked up with local commercial producer Mark Archer. They raised Men's budget through investments in a limited partnership Archer says totals "well below the million mark." Men shot in Fort Wayne for three weeks in June with a mostly local crew; LaBute cast his principals, including Hal Hartley regular Matt Malloy, in New York and L.A. and his supporting roles in Chicago. The filmmakers say they scoured the country for a rate break on the 16mm black-and-white stock LaBute thought best served his story's sensibility but found their best deal on 100,000 feet of discontinued 35mm color Agfa in an Atlanta lab and opted to process that to black-and-white.

Locations included Fort Wayne's new airport - complete with a jet donated by U.S. Air - a children's zoo with an African Veldt ride Archer calls "a miniature Jurassic Park" and Lincoln Tower, an ornate reduced-scale ringer for the Empire State Building. "The production value it added was enormous - we couldn't have built sets like that for 100 times our budget," says Archer. Men should be finished by year's end. All rights are available.

Cast: Aaron Eckhart, Matt Malloy, Stacy Edwards, Mark Rector, Chris Hayes, Emily Cline. Crew: Producers, Neil LaBute, Mark Archer; Executive Producers, Mark Hart, Toby Gaff; Screenwriter/Director, LaBute; Cinematographer, Anthony Hettinger; Production Designer, Julia Henkel. Production Coordinator, Lisa Bartels. Contact: Mark Archer, Atlantis Ent., 810 East Coliseum Blvd., Suite 107, Fort Wayne, IN 46805-1234. Tel: (219) 749-9853, Fax: (219) 749-4141.

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Howard Posner's The Offering takes St. Paul's story and couches it in the contemporary pathos of a rebellious suburban teen whose family is a waking nightmare - his mom's replaced his abusive dad with a young man he can't stand, and his dad's started stalking the family. The film's Paul finds his only refuge in drugs, and when a Christ-like figure nobody else seems to see starts making appearances at his home and school, his visions are variously interpreted as repressed rage, drug psychosis, and surfacing mental illness. "There's an ambiguity throughout the film as to whether Paul is hallucinating or whether a deeply metaphysical event is occurring," says Posner.

Posner, 36, grew up in Chicago and spent six years in an Oregon monastery before returning to college at University of Massachusetts and starting to make films. He got his MFA in film from Boston University in 1993 and spent the next year making a pair of hour-long documentaries about Boston painters Jason Berger and James Kenway, screening both at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the local PBS affiliate. The super 16mm Offering was financed through private investments totalling "significantly under $100,000."

The Offering shot in Long Island towns Dix Hills, Westbury, and Glen Cove for 30 days, beginning last December. Posner couldn't afford to dress sets extravagantly, so he worked with the Suffolk County film commission to find houses whose interiors reflected the kind of opulent look he wanted. "[The film is] designed to reflect the iconography of the Catholic church," he says. Because the film is set in autumn, the production was plagued by January's incessant snows; Posner was organizing a trip to the Carolinas for final pick-up shots by the time the last of the snow melted in February. At press time he was working on The Offering's soundtrack, described as a fusion of African and western classical music, and preparing for a blowup to 35mm. The Offering gets its first public screening September 12 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston; all rights are available.

Cast: Jason Parkhurst, Michael Ann Rowe, Roy Innocenti, Dave Conelli, Orran Farmer, Jacqueline Torres, Vishnu Seesahai. Crew: Producer/Screenwriter/Director/Editor, Howard Posner; Associate Producers, Dave Conelli and Pamela Deichman; Executive Producer, Carmen Posner; Line Producer, Tim Lies; Assistant Director, Joe Richards; Cinematographer, Brendan Flynt; Sound, Najja Noon; Music, Quentin Chiapetta, Beo Morales. Contact: Howard Posner, Scorpio Films, Inc., 853 Broadway, Suite 1516, New York, NY 10003. Tel/Fax: (212) 677-1924.

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Patrick Keegan says he named his Brooklyn coming-of-age comedy The Regulars after the Replacements song and that if he can get the rights he'll use that as the title track. The film takes off as a group of drinking buddies and lifelong best friends get ready for their one escapee's annual return. He's their mirage, returning once each year to drag them to the city to meet girls - but this year's different: They're about to find out he's been completely misrepresenting himself and his circumstances. Keegan, 28, calls The Regulars a thinly veiled roman a clef about people he knew growing up, and the mostly nonprofessional actors include several of them playing themselves. Other Keegan friends on the cast list include singer Carole King and 29th Street's Frank Pesce.

A Brooklyn native who fled a lifetime of Catholic education for L.A. after high school, Keegan spent five years trying to establish an acting career, working mostly as an extra in films like The Doors and Thelma and Louise. Returning east in 1993, he put himself through film school at the The School of Visual Arts and financed The Regulars by working as a Park Avenue doorman. Keegan says his L.A. years paid off when screenwriter John Bennett (The Last Fair Deal) agreed to produce the microbudget Regulars and brought actor Stephen Baldwin, one of his old friends, on as executive producer.

The Regulars shot through the night on eight consecutive weekends in February and March - Keegan's only option since most of his actors had full-time day jobs they couldn't afford to quit. Bennett had done an Irish indie, Brothers in Arms, in Dublin last year and was able to parlay connections made there into a better deal on an AVID suite than the filmmakers could have managed in New York. At press time the Regulars team was still in Ireland pushing towards a finished film by late fall; all rights are available.

Cast: Joe Farley, K.C. Landis, Kevin Lynch, Tommy Molloy, Jamie Farley, John Wedlock, Aidan Rice, Frank Pesce, Carole King. Crew: Producers, John Bennett, Patrick Keegan; Executive Producers, Joe Farley, Stephen Baldwin; Screenwriter/Director, Keegan; Cinematographer, Curtis Mackowe; Sound, Tony Liford; Lighting, Tommy Roache; Post Production Supervisor, Paul Holmes; Editor, Stephen O'Connell. Contact Filmmaker Magazine for the producers' current address.

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Chris Chan Lee's Yellow starts out with eight Asian Los Angeles teens counting down to high school graduation. Then grad night comes, and Sin Lee's held up while minding his parents' store. If his parents find out, he may end up staying home to work for them instead of heading off for college, so the kids spread out to raise a replacement $1,500 by sunrise any way they can by scouring the city's streets, beaches, and bars and making a disastrous attempt to sell one relative's car. When it's clear this scavenger hunt is only eating time, Sin gets desperate, and he and his friend Alex cross a line that will change their lives.

"It's about the juxtaposition of growing up in America and having immigrant parents so you've got a cultural gap as well as a generational gap," says Lee. "Even now, Asian kids are forced to identify with other subcultures because there isn't anything that directly reflects their experience."

Lee, 27, was born in San Francisco the year after his parents arrived from Korea. "My parents had the archetypical Korean experience of opening a grocery store, and they had that business for 20 years, until they moved to Long Beach," he says. He graduated from USC's film program in 1992 and has since served as cinematographer on West Coast indie features Crispy Crackers and Beans (IFFM 1996) and Spaceman. He met producer David Yang (Broken Words) through CAPE (the Coalition of Asian Pacific Entertainers), a film-dominated group that fosters networking, and says they spent a year struggling to finance Yellow. "We started off approaching studios and worked our way down the list," he says. "Finally we started with seed money from one family friend and my credit cards." The Super 16mm Yellow had already been shooting for a week before a long-pursued Japanese investor stepped up to the plate. Yellow shot throughout L.A. neighborhoods like Redondo Beach, San Gabriel, and Koreatown for three weeks beginning July 15. Lee credits word-of-mouth within the Asian filmmaking community with attracting a pool of talented young actors and an accomplished crew, including soundman Curtis Choy, who regularly works with Wayne Wang. All signed on for deferred salaries. Lee's already planning a 35mm blowup and says he should have a rough cut by fall. All rights save Japan are available.

Cast: Soon Teck Oh, Amy Hill, Michael Chung, Mia Suh, Emily Kuroda, Angie Suh, Lela Lee, Jason Tobin, Mary Chen, John Cho. Crew: Producers, Chris Chan Lee, David Yang, Rita Yoon; Executive Producers, Taka Arai, Theodore Kim; Screenwriter/Director, Chris Chan Lee; Cinematographer, Ted Cohen; Production Designer, Jeanne Yang; Sound, Curtis Choy. Contact: Chris Chan Lee, Public Works Films, 8306 Wilshire Blvd., #1804, Beverly Hills, Ca 90211. Tel: (213) 969-4919.



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