FRANKIE LATINA. PHOTO BY NICOLE JOHNSON.
Frankie Latina's Modus Operandi is a trip. A fuzzed out ode to B-gangster films, '60s political paranoia thrillers, '80s late-night Skinemax, and raunchy underground cinema (think a Quinn Martin production directed by John Waters from a script by Jean-Pierre Melville), the picture is the 30-year-old Milwaukee writer-director's debut, an act of will shot on Super 8 (with bits of video) over the course of four years. "A traditional film gets a budget, they buy the film and they get a production schedule," Latina says. "I didn't have that luxury."
Latina, who has worked as everything from a clerk at Blockbuster to, currently, a teacher of film production to twelfth graders in the Milwaukee public school system, would buy film whenever he had the cash, purchase and paint his own sets and props and assemble whatever crew he could round up on the weekends. Things got better as he assembled a team of producers, starting with a local woman, Janet Beasley, and later, a production company, Special Entertainment. Latina cites as a seminal influence Waters and his film Female Trouble. "When I saw Female Trouble in my friend's parents' living room, not only did I understand that I can make a movie, I understood that I would make a movie."
The plot? Oh, yeah. Latina's Web site calls it "a revenge tale about a desperate CIA agent on a mission to find the man who murdered his wife." And while Latina says, "I had the whole story written out — beginning, middle and end, Syd-Field paradigm," he also admits, "I'm more a visual person. I got weird French magazines and Helmut Newton books and put them in my notebook and wrote notes underneath. The script was really a long storyboard, and then I'd go through my notebook and Scotch-tape in pictures, so it wasn't like a traditional screenplay."
The finished film, which premiered at CineVegas this year and was quickly signed for representation by Josh Braun at Submarine, exuberantly displays its many influences yet is certainly not defined by any of them. "Cassavettes, A Clockwork Orange, Apocalypse Now, Jean-Pierre Melville, Tarantino, Wes Anderson," Latina rattles off. "Stanley Cache, the guy in my movie — he's like a poor man's Alain Delon." In fact, the film's embrace of a poverty aesthetic as it hop-skips from CIA headquarters to Japan (for real) and back is what makes it work. "It's not so much that I wanted it to look like it does, but it's the charm of the film," Latina explains. "I can pretend to tell people that it's some artistic statement whenever it changes from B&W to color, but I just ran out of money those weeks and could only afford B&W." — S.M.
LENA DUNHAM. PHOTO BY RICHARD KOEK.
"I read this quote somewhere," says Lena Dunham. "It said something like, 'Start your attempts to tell stories close to home; the better you get at it the farther you can move away.'" Just 23, Dunham is living in what will one day be her "early work." Born to artist parents in downtown New York City, Dunham's creative output was carefully monitored from an early age. She made her first feature during her junior year at college while recovering from an utterly frustrating non-love affair. It is about a college girl played by Dunham going through the same thing.
The movie, Creative Nonfiction, played at SXSW this year around the same time that her Web series, Delusional Downtown Divas, premiered at APF Lab gallery and on indexmagazine.com. D.D.D. chronicles the strivings of three ridiculous art brats trying to break into the scene through careful planning of outrageous outfits. Episode 4: "AgNess's odyssey leads her to a job at the studio of Jaren Dansen, the world's greatest living penis painter. But can a high-powered business woman check her ego at the door?" The parody apparently struck a chord with the art-world establishment: The Guggenheim has commissioned several shorts and a live performance for their first annual Art Awards this fall. In one short, the divas will enter the museum, pitch a tent and move in. A month later they will deliriously emerge "with sunburns, for some reason."
The next film she plans to direct is about postcollege and the funny-painful hilarity that ensues when you move back home and enter the working world. She'll make it on the cheap with her friends and family. "Creative Nonfiction is something I made mostly for me, and I feel like that's such a good playing field. I feel like I have another mostly for-me story that I have to make before I bust out with a [bigger project]."
"In an ideal universe I would like to support myself by writing movies and TV shows," she says on the eve of finishing up a screenplay with Ry Russo-Young (You Wont Miss Me) that Russo-Young plans to direct. She writes for Interview, Hammertonail.com and many other publications. She also has several big romantic comedy scripts under her belt. "I'm unabashedly enthusiastic about formulaic comedies starring Sandra Bullock as someone clumsy and lovelorn. Something I love about romantic comedies and sitcoms is that they're not made for the filmmaker to have catharsis; they're made to entertain the audience," says Dunham. "Maybe because growing up I never saw one that looked remotely like my life, I find that format truly magical." — A.V.C.
"I like to look at the conflicts and the similarities between philosophy and mathematics," says Austin-based filmmaker Geoff Marslett as he explains his ideas about animation. Marslett, who majored in both at St. John's College, notes that other animators, like Mike Judge, have a background in both fields too. "Part of what you're doing as an animator is smoke and mirrors — tricking people to see things. The best thing, then, is to understand what they should see. And if you're going to make a movie, you should have ideas, something to say. My education may not have given me many employment opportunities, but it has fed me stuff to think about."
Marslett currently teaches animation at UT Austin, and some of his former students have worked on what is something of an epic production in that thriving Texas film scene. Mars is Marslett's debut feature, and while it's an animated romantic comedy about astronauts headed to the red planet, the director chooses to call it "a fiction film about science" rather than science fiction. "I worked hard so that everything we put in about going to Mars is scientifically accurate," Marslett says, a verisimilitude that extends to the emotional experience of space travel as well. "Why would you go to Mars, and what would it be like? Would it be exciting and thrilling, or would it be like being locked in a little cabin eating protein shakes?" And while the film poses Big Questions — "It's a big allegory for Earth's relationship to Mars," Marslett says — it's also got "scientists and robots and astronauts falling in love."
Mars, which blends live actors (Paul Gordon, Mark Duplass and Zoe Simpson) shot in front of green screen which is then blended with 3-D animated environments, is the latest product of what is almost an accidental animation hothouse in Austin. "As far as its mechanics it's halfway between Waking Life and something like Sin City," Marslett explains. "If you look at Scanner [Darkly] there is a weird flux and shimmering. I wanted something more anchored, like an old photograph or epic novel. Colors still have a drift, but the line work is really static, and we did that the old-fashioned way, by tracing each image. So rather than treating [all the imagery], I processed the colors and traced the line work."
Marslett is currently in post on Mars and plans to debut it on the festival circuit in the coming months. — S.M.
ROONEY MARA. PHOTO BY THOMAS WHITESIDE.
The careers of actors and actresses are possessed of their own internal logic. An actor's breakout in a critically acclaimed starring role is usually the culmination of a process that's been witnessed by producers, directors and casting directors for years before. So when we surveyed people in the industry about acting talent for this year's list, one not-yet-household name kept coming up: Rooney Mara. Said a casting director: "She's got great presence and wit, and she can do both comedy and drama." "Women love, guys love her," one producer said to me. "We cast forever for her character, and she just came in and nailed it." Audiences will have a chance to discover Mara's talents because she has supporting roles in three independent or specialty films coming out this year. First she's opposite Sam Rockwell in the Sundance pickup The Winning Season, she co-stars in Adam Salky's Sundance Competition pic Dare, and she's also in Miguel Arteta's upcoming Youth in Revolt with Michael Cera.
The New York-born, L.A.-based Mara says she was inspired to act by "watching musical theater and old movies that my mom would throw on, like Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, and Bringing Up Baby." Of her acting inspirations — current ones, at least — she cites Gena Rowlands: "I am just mesmerized and inspired by her. I've been watching A Woman Under the Influence and Opening Night over and over. That would be a dream — to work with a filmmaker like [John Cassavetes]." And then there's what she's shooting now: Samuel Bayer's remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, in which Mara has the starring role of Nancy. "The character Nancy in our version of Nightmare is completely different from the original," Mara e-mails from the set. "Sam likes to call her 'the loneliest girl in the world,' and I don't think he is far off in saying that. Nancy is very disturbed by her childhood and as a result of that she has closed herself off to the world and to people. But throughout the film though you see her getting stronger, coming out of her shell, and by the end she gets to face herself and see what she's really made of."
Mara's other project is an ongoing one: Faces of Kibera, a non-profit that helps orphans in Kibera, Kenya — Africa's largest slum — by providing housing, food, medical and psychological care. Mara founded the organization after traveling to Africa to do volunteer work. "I fell in love with a bunch of the kids there, one little girl in particular and I just knew that I could and needed to do something more to help them. I am planning on going back for a month or two once I wrap Nightmare. It's hard to balance both worlds because they are so completely opposite. I love acting, but you spend enough time imitating life and getting wrapped up in this industry you tend to forget about the real world. I am happy I get to do both." — S.M.
Contact: Chris Highland at Gersh: (212) 634-8195
Steve Caserta at Sanders Armstrong Caserta Management: (310) 315-2100
JODY LEE LIPES. PHOTO BY JOE ANDERSON.
Jody Lee Lipes
Having quickly established himself as one of the more intriguing cinematographers to emerge in the past few years, Doylestown, Pa., native Jody Lee Lipes is now on the way to making a name for himself as a director too. As the 27-year-old filmmaker is quick to point out, it's hard not to become enamored with filmmaking when your father is as much of a cinephile as his dad is. "He's really into Kurosawa and Bergman and stuff," Lipes says. "I remember watching their films, multiple times, before I could even read," he said.
Equally influenced by the Hollywood cinema of the '80s (he cites The Karate Kid as an early favorite), Lipes went on to be the star video student at his Quaker high school before finding his way to NYU's undergraduate film program in the early part of the decade. He went on to shoot some of the better short films to emerge from the program during that time, such as Katie Stern's Blue Dress and Poull Brien's Prom Date, before embarking on the Gotham and Spirit Award-nominated Afterschool for Antonio Campos. He has quickly amassed an impressive list of credits in the music video, cable television and low-budget film worlds, having shot the acclaimed doc Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, and all 20 episodes of IFC's The Whitest Kids U Know. He is currently making the American festival rounds with his portrait of a Brooklyn-based conceptual artist, Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same.
That film, which premiered at South By Southwest and recently played at BAMcinemaFEST, is a jarring hybrid of esoteric narrative style and documentary content. It follows Enright as he travels to rural California to erect the components for a show at New York City's Perry Rubenstein Gallery. In the process, he alienates his girlfriend and his artistic benefactors. But Enright never eschews from an often frightening and self-destructive artistic vision. "I met Brock because my ex-girlfriend from high school started dating him when she moved to New York," Lipes says. "When he started doing this show [at the Rubenstein Gallery] he asked me to shoot the film that he was making for the show. I thought it would be a good way to start telling the story of his life."
Lipes, who names cinematographers Gordon Willis and Harris Savides as his primary influences behind the camera, recently completed shooting a feature in Mississippi and is soon to start work on NY Export: Opus Jazz, The Film, a filmed version of Jerome Robbins's ballet to be shot on the streets of New York City. It will air on PBS toward the end of the year. — B.H.