|Eva Amurri and director Tony Shalhoub. Photo by Richard E. Aaron.|
IF IT WERENT FOR the blustery February winds that had just begun to stir the treetops in Hancock Park or the dozens of cables running down the front hall, youd be tempted to believe that an informal Thanksgiving dinner was in full swing over at Brooke and Tonys house. The dining-room table teems with food, more than enough to feed the healthy assortment of family and friends spread out through the spacious first floor of the couples large, rambling Craftsman, and teenaged kids are jumping on a trampoline in the side yard, cutting the darkness of the early evening with peals of winded laughter.
Hancock Park a large, lush residential neighborhood just south of Hollywood was L.A.s original Beverly Hills. Today this still financially exclusive community, where enormous houses are nestled tightly together along wide, tree-lined streets, remains prime real estate for folks from the film business more interested in hardwood floors and plenty of room for their kids than a view of the smog from some fashionably cramped crevice in the Hollywood Hills. These are homes, not houses, and it's a distinction that Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub - spouses, actors, longtime homemakers and first-time digital filmmakers never let you forget: "Just wander around and have look," says Adams with a welcoming smile. "Grab some dinner and take a look around the house. Tonys in the living room with the kids shooting the E.P.K. for the movie, but hell be done in a minute."
"Electronic press kit," that is, and Thanksgiving dinner this isnt. Tonight Adams and Shalhoubs home is doing double duty as one of the sets for Made Up, a comedy about good looks, bad makeovers, intrusive filmmakers and extended families that will mark Shalhoubs directing debut. Video monitors and lighting gear line hallways hung with eccentric artwork, and if you follow the scampering, diaper-clad toddler and the family dog into the kitchen, the first thing that catches your eye is the intricately inlayed floor, a complex checkerboard of wooden "tiles," some of them painted fire-engine red, that stretch beyond the cooking area and into a breakfast nook where, quietly chatting, sit a couple of Brooke and Tonys oldest friends Susan Sarandon and Gary Sinise.
Tony Shalhoub a veteran stage, television and film actor perhaps most fondly remembered as the volatile chef in Campbell Scott and Stanley Tuccis Big Night is, like almost everyone and everything in the project, working double-time to get Made Up in the can: directing, co-starring and making sure his kids dont stumble over a lighting cord. The whole thing is very much a family affair: top-billed Brookes sister, Lynne Adams, is Made Ups producer and co-star, and she wrote or rather, expanded the film from her own one-woman theater piece, Two-Faced, which Tony produced and Brooke directed in L.A. nearly a decade ago. "We were originally set to make a very different version of this movie five years ago, on a budget of about $5 million," recalls the Boston-based Adams. "Everythings changed now [the films being shot in PAL DV for about $250,000], but I feel much better about doing it this way. I like keeping it all in the family."
"It is like a big home movie," agrees Michael Matzdorff, Made Ups editor and Shalhoubs nephew. "Tony and I are going to cut the film in my apartment on my G3 laptop using Final Cut Pro. Im even planning on producing the titles on the computer, so hopefully we wont have to go out of house for much of anything." (A few weeks later, with a close-to-final cut assembled, Shalhoub and Matzdorff realize that the film will need some expensive ADR work, nearly doubling the films budget. "But thats still nothing," Shalhoub points out, "compared to Big Night, which cost $4.5 million, and we thought that was cheap.")
A satire about vanity and video, Made Up is largely about the relationship between Elizabeth (Brookes character), an ex-actress turned homemaker long since separated from husband and well-known novelist Duncan (Gary Sinise), and her teenaged daughter, Sarah (Eva Amurri, Susan Sarandons 15-year-old daughter). Elizabeth is worried that Sarah, who dreams of becoming a cosmetologist, is developing anorexia and that her daughter's obsession with appearance has something to do with her fathers relationship with his younger and quite fetching girlfriend, a video artist named Molly (played by newcomer Light Eternity). Sarah is convinced that a make over would restore her mothers faded self-esteem, and Elizabeth reluctantly agrees to try it if Sara will in turn agree to see a therapist about her eating disorder.
Watching all this from the sidelines is Elizabeths sister Kate (Lynne Adams), whose initially casual enrollment in videomaking class inspires her to document and secretly "direct" the sequence of events that unfold. "The idea is that there wont be a shot in the film that isnt justified by one of the characters cameras," Shalhoub explains. "Lynnes character, Kate, brings this whole video crew into her sisters life because she thinks shes found a situation that she can turn into a documentary about Americas obsession with beauty and aging. She does basically what were doing here: bringing cameras into our own houses and turning everything upside down. But I dont think we could have made this movie any other way," Shalhoub concludes, "or that I would have ended up directing a film this soon under other circumstances, even though its something Ive wanted to do for a while. And when somebody on this show asks me a question like Whats my motivation?, I tell them the same thing I tell my kids: To shut up and respect your elders."