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The Los Angeles Film Festival and Filmmaker launch the 2005 Fast Track program with nine new projects.


In 2003 the Los Angeles Film Festival and Filmmaker created Fast Track, a support program for LAFF alumni embarking on new features. The festival provides networking and support services to Fast Track members, and the magazine tracks their progress over a one-year period as they try to finance and make their features. Filmmaker hopes these stories lead our industry readers to projects which we feel are worthy of support as well as prove instructional to those trying to get their own movies off the ground.

Check back in future issues for news about these features, and visit the blog on our Web site ( for updates on previous years’ Fast Track projects.


producer, 5 Lives

Producer Mark Borman is proof that no matter how many projects you’ve done, making films independently never gets any easier. His producing credits include Rudi Liden and David Kebo’s Mojave, which played at the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival; Neo Ned, starring Jeremy Renner and Gabrielle Union; and And God Spoke, which played at multiple festivals and was distributed theatrically by LIVE Entertainment.

So why does someone with an established track record need Fast Track? Explains Borman, “Fast Track gives us an opportunity to meet the new companies that are financing movies. The business of independent film financing has a high turnover.”

Borman is hoping to meet interested financiers, distributors and foreign sales agents to make 5 Lives, writer-director Liden’s Rashômon-esque psychological thriller about five friends who go to a remote cabin to bury the body of a loved one. Borman compared the tone of the film to that of The Usual Suspects and Identity.

One of the most appealing — and challenging — elements of the project is its visual style. Says Borman, “The story is done in a non-linear way, so depending on which character is telling the story, there’s going to be a distinctive visual style to match his interpretation of what happened. One particular character might be all handheld, we’re going to change film stocks for certain characters, and we’re even going to change the paint in the room.”

Lending a helping hand in this area will be Scott Ross, co-founder of Digital Domain. Michelle Gertz (Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Honey, Donnie Darko) is casting the film. The team is currently meeting with agencies to package the film, and Borman said the only way that 5 Lives will get made is if they have a cast with name recognition. “The economics will support the aesthetic,” he explained. “The agencies are through-themoon excited, and we’ve got a lot of interesting possibilities.”

CONTACT: (323) 512-0200 (310) 766-2767,


writer-director, Amreeka

Award-winning short filmmaker Cherien Dabis hopes to make her feature debut with the cross-cultural dramedy Amreeka, the story of a Jordanian single mom who immigrates to the United States to escape her unhappy domestic circumstances, only to discover that the American Dream isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The story was inspired by the real-life journey of Dabis’s aunt, who came to the U.S. in 1997.

“I think it’s a fresh, new immigrant story told from a completely different perspective,” says the Palestinian-American Dabis, who grew up in both Jordan and Ohio. She participated in FIND’s Directors Lab and Project: Involve, and premiered her short film Little Black Boot at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Most recently she was hired as a staff writer on Showtime’s hit series The L Word.

An unusual aspect of the film is Dabis’s decision to cast it entirely with non-actors from the Arab-American community. She came to this conclusion after several successful test shoots in the Directors Lab in which she cast her aunt in the starring role. Says Dabis, “My aunt Hala Naffa is incredibly natural. She just so is the character that I can’t imagine casting anyone else.”

She anticipates the transition from shorts to features will be relatively easy...except for the financing. Says Dabis, “It’s finding $20,000 vs. finding $2 million. Therefore I’m looking for an experienced producing partner who can make this film happen.”

Because the first 20 pages of the script take place in Jordan, one scenario Dabis is exploring is seeking a portion of her budget from abroad. While she could fake locations in the U.S., Dabis says, “I’m trying to make this film as authentic as possible.”

CONTACT: (917) 922-3605,



writer-director, Lupita

“We never know who we’re really speaking to. Many times we have an idea of who people are, but maybe in reality they are completely different,” says Chilean filmmaker Gonzalo Justiniano about the underlying theme of

Lupita. His absurdist comedy follows the adventures of a young Mexican girl who escapes from a mental hospital in order to prove to the world that she’s not truly insane. After crossing the border, she winds up in Los Angeles, where she is accidentally discovered as the next big thing.

Justiniano’s goal is to enable audiences to get inside Lupita’s head and see the world from her unique point of view. “The idea is to travel with Lupita,” he says, “to have the complicity of the spectator be with her. I think people will laugh a lot because Lupita is a very simple, lucid and innocent person who invites us to think about the world in a different way.” Like Being There and the cult classic King of Hearts, the film asks its audience to the reconsider its definition of normal behavior.

Justiniano’s feature B-Happy played in the 2004 Los Angeles Film Festival. He studied in Paris at the Université de Paris VII and at the Louis Lumiere Film School. He has made eight feature films, including the award-winning Amnesia, which played at the Berlin, Sundance and Venice film festivals, among others.

Lupita will be the filmmaker’s first project made in the United States, and he says that while he has an English version of the script, it is currently written in “Spanglish.” Justiniano is currently meeting with agencies regarding casting for the project, and is looking for both investors and a production company with which to partner.

CONTACT: +011 56 2 2092877,


writer-director, Cult Figure

“This is like Camp on acid!” exclaims Todd Graff after watching Hell House, the 2001 documentary about a church-sponsored haunted house built to scare Dallas kids out of committing “sinful acts.” The film inspired the idea for Cult Figure, which puts a black-comedic spin on religion, cults and teenage love.

When 15-year-old Anna moves to the desert to live with her father, she finds herself caught up in the feud between the local church group and the town cult. Says Graff, “She sneaks off to be a cast member in the church group’s Hell House and gets cast as Satan, for which she feels she should do a Southern accent. It just gets sort of sicker and darker and hopefully funnier from there.”

Graff was intrigued by the contrast between the severe content of the documentary’s Hell House with the happy-go-lucky “hey kids, let’s put on a show” attitude of its organizers. Says Graff, “They tell you that gay people and women who want the right to choose what happens to their own reproductive lives should go to hell. It’s just such a bizarro world to me! But still, they had to rehearse, they had to cast, they had to have costumes. I found that very up my alley.”

Graff’s first film, Camp, was released theatrically by IFC Films in 2003 after a successful festival run. His screenwriting credits include Used People, Angie and The Preacher’s Wife. He began his career as an actor, appearing on Broadway and in numerous films.

Killer Films is producing Cult Figure, and right now Graff is on the hunt for money and an inexpensive desert shooting location. While he’d ideally like a budget of $8 million, the most important thing to him is creative freedom and actually getting the film made. “People have to see it and respond to it,” says Graff. “Otherwise you’re somebody that talks about making movies, not someone who actually makes movies.”

CONTACT: (323) 465-6505,


director-co-writer, Up River

Up River is Stand by Me meets Raising Victor Vargas — that’s our little Hollywoodism for the film,” jokes Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The director of the award-winning documentary OT: Our Town continues more seriously, “There’s something classic and something surprising about it. A lot of my favorite films have had those elements.”

Kennedy’s urban adventure takes place in Compton on Christmas Day. A group of inner-city youth journey up the L.A. River in order to return a stolen ring and end up discovering a bit more about themselves in the process. Kennedy came up with the story idea during his daily drives to Compton’s Dominguez High School while shooting OT. His route took him by the L.A. River, usually just a trickle of water on concrete. During the rainy season, though, the river suddenly swells to full size. Inspired by the unexpected geography and charmed by the stories of the students he was meeting, Kennedy decided to create an adventure movie set in Compton that would provide an alternative to the cinematic clichés often presented about inner-city communities.

Prior to OT, Kennedy established himself as a director of music videos, commercials and promos for clients including Tony Bennett, CBS and Mattel. His experiences include directing second unit on several Showtime movies, and directing television features for Roger Corman. In addition to Up River, he is currently working on a new feature-length documentary, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty), about the struggle of farmers in South Central Los Angeles to keep their 14-acre community garden.

At press time, Kennedy was in the process of signing with an agency and beginning the hunt for a producer. “HBO, Lions Gate, Alfonso Cuarón…it would be incredible to have someone like that who is making great films and looking to work with younger filmmakers.” “We’re also looking for cash,” he adds with a laugh. “Preferably unmarked bills.” CONTACT: (323) 660-8702,


Producer, Four Sheets to the Wind

“When I read the script Four Sheets to the Wind, what made me jump was that, like Whale Rider, it’s about a very specific place, a very specific culture, yet there are universal themes and a universal subject everybody can relate to,” says Ted Kroeber.

Producer Kroeber hooked up with Four Sheets writer-director Sterlin Harjo through mutual friends at the Sundance Institute, where Harjo had developed the project at the Filmmaker Labs. Featuring an almost entirely Native American cast, the story follows 23-year-old Oklahoma Indian Cufe Smallhill, whose father’s unexpected suicide shell-shocks him into a succession of firsts: he moves to the city to live with his sister, falls in love and begins to examine his life and his choices. Kroeber was recently awarded the Sundance Institute’s Mark Silverman Fellowship for 2005 to support the project, and Harjo received the Annenberg Fellowship in 2004.

After graduation from Loyola Marymount University’s film program in 1999, Kroeber volunteered for two years in the Inner City Teaching Corps in Chicago. Since returning to Los Angeles, he’s produced numerous shorts and has interned on big-budget features. Most recently, he worked with Forest Whitaker and his Spirit Dance Entertainment to produce the independent feature American Gun. The film premiered at Sundance in 2005 and is being released by IFC.

Four Sheets appealed to Kroeber’s desire to work with marginalized groups and to make films that deal with social justice. Says Kroeber, “The through line I’m trying to make with all the stories I tell is that there’s an aspect of importance to the subject, or to the story that’s being told. The filmmakers that I admire are people with distinct points of view.”

The team for Four Sheets currently includes casting director Rene Haynes (Skins, The New World) and editor Tom McArdle (The Station Agent). Kroeber says that he knows finding money for Four Sheets will be a challenge because of the belief many financiers hold about a lack of audiences for Native American stories. He is determined to prove them wrong, however, and is exploring both traditional and alternative financing routes.

CONTACT: (310) 384-0966,


writer-director, Pontiac Days

Pontiac Days is a film about what happens to kids in the aftermath of divorce, and what parents overlook when they are so overwhelmedthemselves,” says writer-director Mary Ann Marino. In her adventurous coming-of-age drama, two 12-year-old girls decide to take control of their destiny and escape from their parents by sailing across the Long Island Sound. Along the way they navigate the waters between childhood and adulthood. “It’s really about the period in a little girl’s life,” says Marino, “where she identifies herself as a kid to the point where she identifies herself as a young woman. It’s a time that really fascinates me.”

The film will be Marino’s feature directing debut. She got her start working with the producers of classic indie fare such as My Own Private Idaho and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, and in 1995 she became senior vice president of production at Tim Burton Productions. She later directed the short films Platform Six and Intent.

Declan Baldwin (Far From Heaven, The Laramie Project) is attached to Pontiac Days as a producer, and he and Marino are now looking for potential financiers and the right cast.“Declan is a wonderful producer,” says Marino, “highly respected in the New York indie scene — but he is still new at the ‘putting together financing’ aspect of producing and would be thrilled to partner up with someone who can do that.” One scenario they would find appealing, she added, is teaming up with an actor or a director who is interested in executive producing, such as Drew Barrymore (Donnie Darko) or Alexander Payne (The Assassination of Richard Nixon).

CONTACT: (213) 400-2974,


writer-director, Kabluey

When Scott Prendergast went to live with his sister-in-law and her kids in Portland, Ore., to assist them while his brother was in Iraq with the National Guard, he didn’t just help out his family — he also got the idea for his feature film debut.

Kabluey is a dark comedic retelling of that situation,” says Prendergast. “A guy comes to help his sister-in-law take care of her kids. The kids do not like this uncle, and they try and kill him. On top of that, the only job he can get is as a mascot. From inside the big blue costume, he gets anonymously involved in his sister-in-law’s life and ends up saving his brother’s family.”

Prendergast has directed several short films, two of which — Anna Is Being Stalked and The Delicious — played in the Los Angeles Film Festival. He trained as a comedy writer and improviser at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles and created a one-man improvisational comedy show, UNman, which ran for two years in New York City.

Prendergast plans to draw on his improv background while shooting, especially when working with the kids. He also plans to star in the film. Right now he’s looking for a producer who’s savvy with both finance and production, as well as a casting director to help cast the sister-in-law and a few cameos.

Despite being a first-time feature filmmaker, Prendergast is confident he’ll find financing for the project. “I think it’s very timely. During this war all these National Guard families were bankrupted, everyone lost their jobs and the families lost their health insurance. I actually lived through that — I was there, it’s my real story.” Also, he says with a laugh, “we’re going to do the film for an incredibly small amount of money, and it’s going to be really, really good.”

CONTACT: (917) 539-9241,


writer-director, Lost Dog

A fondness for the character-driven thriller and an innate love of animals led Garrett Williams to write Lost Dog, which follows a jaded animal-control officer and his naive trainee as they follow the twisted trail of a serial dog abuser and killer. The idea for the story was sparked by the tales Williams heard from a friend who spent 10 years working the night shift as an animal-control officer.

Says Williams, “I think there’s something really compelling about animals onscreen. People have a very visceral reaction, particularly when animals are in jeopardy or are funny.” He compares Lost Dog to a cop drama set in the world of animal patrol, where the officers are not allowed to carry guns but still have to enforce the laws.

He attended the Sundance June Filmmakers Lab with the feature script for Spark, which eventually premiered at Sundance and also played Berlin and Urbanworld, where he won the Best Director award.

Williams participated in the FIND Writers and Directors Labs, where he developed the final script for Lost Dog and then workshopped a number of scenes. He’s now trying to find financing and a producer, and then begin the casting process. Ideally, he’d like to shoot the film in his hometown of Minneapolis.

“What I’m hoping to find ultimately,” he says, “is a producer who I cannotjust work with on Lost Dog, but somebody that I can hopefully make a number of movies with. So I’m looking for somebody who understands story and who I can connect with on a creative level, and somebody who’s going to be good at finding financing.”

CONTACT: (323) 913-9147,


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