|Jessica Sanders (right) and crew filming After Innocence.
This past summer, Filmmaker selected 10 new feature projects to participate in its annual Fast Track program. A joint project of Filmmaker and the IFP Los Angeles Film Festival, Fast Track was created to highlight and support strong work by alumni of the Los Angeles Film Festival and the IFP/LA Filmmaker Labs.
Jessica Sanders’s non-fiction feature After Innocence has become the first film from Fast Track to be acquired for distribution. Showtime will air the film under their newly created Sho Exposure banner in 2005. The film tells the story of “the exonerated,” people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and then freed by DNA evidence after spending decades in prison.
Sanders’s producing partner, Marc Simon, submitted the project blindly to Showtime in New York. Included in his submission were a treatment and an eight-minute excerpt from the film. After viewing the materials and meeting with the filmmakers, the channel immediately came on board with major financing to complete production and postproduction.
Says Sanders, “We were at the point where we had basically run out of money — my producer and I were pretty much in debt — so the money coming in really allowed us to finish the film.”
Anne Foley, executive vice president of programming at Showtime, was already familiar with the subject matter through the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and from viewing dramatizations of the topic in plays like Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s The Exonerated. “I think that one of the things that captures us here [at Showtime] a lot are stories of the disenfranchised,” says Foley, “and certainly these people have had their lives changed, actually ruptured, in an almost unimaginable way. And dealing with the question of how you put a life back together that’s been so inexorably altered, I think, is a really compelling one.”
Key elements in getting Showtime’s support included both the short reel of footage and letters from some of the film’s subjects. “You couldn’t not pay attention to this material,” says Foley. “The heartfelt nature of the letters and the truly capturing video demanded attention. It was one of the easier decisions we made this year.”
The film was a perfect fit for the new Sho Exposure banner, which will feature acquired documentaries such as Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, as well as new films that Showtime will have a hand in producing. Titles to air in 2005 include Henry Corra’s Same Sex America and Victor Buhler’s Rikers High.
Sanders and Simon are still hoping for a theatrical release for After Innocence before its broadcast premiere. Showtime is supportive of this plan and hopes that significant exposure at film festivals will lead to some sort of distribution deal.
The past six months have also been productive for several other Fast Track participants. Producer Janet Yang (The Weight of Water, The People vs. Larry Flynt, The Joy Luck Club) has signed on to executive produce Mora Stephens’s Georgia Heat, the story of a 1968 Korean G.I. wife living in Georgia. Josh Welsh, the IFP/LA Labs administrator, first introduced Stephens and Yang at the beginning of the Directors Lab. “After our paths crossed again,” said Stephens, “we began a dialogue and she came on board. We’re focusing on casting right now.”
Anna Kang has also found help with producing and casting. CAA is now packaging her coming-of-age tale The Lost Tribe of Long Island. Additionally, Kang is thrilled to have just attached New York–based producer Karin Chien to the project. Chien’s recent projects include Greg Pak’s Robot Stories and Michael Kang’s The Motel.
Paxton Winters’s Iraqi Freedom received casting help in the form of casting director Sheila Jaffe, and Tom Putnam’s dark comedy Where the Hell Is Bill? has attached a new leading man after losing Colin Hanks to the wilds of New Zealand to shoot King Kong. Macaulay Culkin has signed on to play the title role, and Putnam and his co-writers/producers Jeff Malmberg and Michael Harbour are now looking for their female lead.
Writer-director Deborah Kampmeier’s Hounddog has made a giant leap forward by securing financing and services for their entire postproduction budget from New York–based optical house Cineric. “They will be coming on as co-producers and have guaranteed that entire portion of the budget,” says Kampmeier. “We are moving towards a June 2005 shoot date with all of our extraordinary actors [Robin Wright Penn, Lynn Redgrave, David Morse, Delroy Lindo] still attached.”
Producer Dana Jackson and writer-director Kurt Voelker have been busy filling many of the key positions for their character-driven Park, about the lives of 11 disaffected Los Angelenos. Their roster now includes casting director Jason Wood, d.p. Alex Buono (The Yank, The Orphan King), line producer Franny Baldwin Benullo, music supervisor Maissa Dauriac of Syncope Entertainment and music editor Mike Baber. Most of their attachments came from film school or previous work connections. Working with Benullo, they’ve completed a first draft of the budget and schedule and are now refining it.
Says Jackson, “Being part of Fast Track really helped tremendously as far as lighting a fire under out butts, adding excitement and energy. It’s helped us with credibility because it raises us one notch above the rest of the millions of indie scripts that are out there. It’s been valuable as far as a marketing tool.”