News

  • Jun27
    How the Writers’ Strike Inspired Adam Saunders to Make His Own Opportunities

    Actor-turned-producer Adam Saunders (“Shimmer Lake”) tells Backstage how he found the impetus to start his own production company, Footprint Features, after growing tired of waiting for others to cast him.

    A film’s producer is like a sports team’s general manager.
    “Think of a football team. The actors are the players everybody knows; the director is the head coach who’s involved in the day-to-day. When we’re actually shooting the movie, they’re working with the players and guiding the actual shoot, and then the producer is the general manager of the football team. We’re overseeing the whole process.”

    Acting experience helps him choose projects.
    “I started as an actor, and any time I’m reading a script, I’m reading it from that point of view. Do I feel like these are great roles for actors? Do I feel like these are parts that actors will resonate with? Do I feel like these are well-rounded, whole human beings who have emotional arcs? I’m always starting from the character.”

    There’s no such thing as a small part.
    “Even if it’s the smallest part, I’ll sit in the audition room or make sure I see the tape, because every role is critical in telling a story and making a film. I know how hard these actors work and how hard it is to be an actor, and so I know that getting cast in a film is not something they take lightly. As a producer, now that I’m on the other side of the table, it’s not something that I take lightly.”

    If there are no opportunities, make your own.
    “I moved to L.A. in 2007 and the writers immediately went on strike. I thought, Oh my gosh, I’m gonna be waiting tables until I’m 100 if I don’t figure out some other path. [I said], ‘Let’s just start a film company.’ I had no idea what that meant, but the idea was that we could produce our own movies and I would act in some of them and my friend would direct some of them and we would create this vehicle by which we could be the artists we wanted to be. That was the impetus: to create the work so I didn’t feel like I was always sitting around and waiting for other people to cast me.”

    Your behavior in the audition room is everything.
    “We want to make sure that the actor comes in [to audition] and has their own original take on it. Maybe they’re doing things in a way that we hadn’t ever conceived of. Are they smart? Do they take direction well? Are they open emotionally and willing to be brave and bold in their choices? All those things come across in the audition room. Their bravery and their kindness and their emotional depth and their intelligence, all those things play into what we’re looking for as the role dictates.”

    Producers can make a safe space for actors.
    “Because I am familiar with what these actors are going through and how nerve-wracking it can be, I try to create as actor-friendly a set as I can. When we’re scheduling and boarding out the film, I will say, ‘OK, let’s mark the emotional journey of our main actor,’ because I don’t want to open and on the first two or three days have them blowing out their most emotional scenes or something that should be a climactic moment. We’re building to help them get their sea legs. And, look, people we’re casting in these leading roles are pros and they’ve done this a million times and they can work under any circumstance, but that being said, I think they appreciate it when we create a safe space that allows them the room to do their best work.”

    Tell the industry who you are.
    “[As an early-career actor], you want to have a sense of how you want your career to go. You can say, ‘I am this, and those are the kind of roles I want to do,’ and you can be discerning in those roles. It’s that concept of knowing the kind of projects you want to be affiliated with, the kind of filmmakers you want to be working with, and the kind of roles you want to play, and then whatever role that is, bringing your whole humanity to it and your whole sympathetic self to it. I’m not saying you can’t play a bad person, but even if you’re playing a criminal or somebody bad, you’re bringing all of yourself to that and you’re making that person feel not like a caricature but like a real, whole person.”

  • Jun22
    Oscars: 13 Deserving Contenders From 2017 So Far

    As we rapidly approach 2017’s midway point, there are already a number of films that deserve to be remembered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences when Oscar ballots go out at the end of the year. Academy voters notoriously have short memories, though it’s hardly their fault alone; studios are so obsessed with back-loading the year with prestige product that in the rush, earlier gems are often forgotten.

    So we’re here to help. Perhaps members will take a moment to bear these contenders in mind before the awards season glut finally hits.

    NOTE: This list spotlights films theatrically released to the paying public. There have been festival standouts that won’t hit theaters until the coming months, and a number would bear mentioning. Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler are all fantastic in Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” for example. And David Lowery’s vision for “A Ghost Story” makes for one of the greatest motion pictures of the year. But we’ll stick to what will hit theaters as of June 30 for this piece’s purposes.

    Best Picture: “The Big Sick”
    Don’t dismiss it just because it’s the funniest movie of the year so far, it’s also the most heartfelt and intelligent. Willing to mix big issues with big laughs, the tone is held together perfectly by director Michael Showalter, the outstanding cast and an excellent script. (JR)
    Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”

    Best Director: Bong Joon Ho (“Okja”)
    Netflix’s Cannes entry is a whole lot of movie, and a whole lot of vision. Director Bong Joon Ho dazzles with his deft kinetic touch while also pulling an impressive performance out of young lead Seo-Hyun Ahn to anchor the zany satire. But as ever, Bong proves a master of balancing tonal shifts, ultimately crafting a moving piece of work. (KT)
    Other Standouts: Sofia Coppola (“The Beguiled”); Michael Showalter (“The Big Sick”); Jordan Peele (“Get Out”); Trey Edward Shults (“It Comes At Night”)

    Best Actor: Sam Elliott (“The Hero”)
    The role of an aging star who never realized his greatness fits Elliott like a glove. It’s also a reminder of how underutilized he has been on the big screen. (JR)
    Other Standouts: Richard Gere (“Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer”); Daniel Kaluuya (“Get Out”); James McAvoy (“Split”); Kumail Nanjiani (“The Big Sick”)

    Best Actress: Sally Hawkins (“Maudie”)
    Hawkins is always excellent and reliable, but she outdoes herself portraying Canadian painter Maud Lewis. Crippled by arthritis, married to a rough fisherman (a great Ethan Hawke), Hawkins allows Maud’s joy to shine through. (JR)
    Other Standouts: Jessica Chastain (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”); Anne Hathaway (“Colossal”); Salma Hayek (“Beatriz at Dinner”); Rachel Weisz (“My Cousin Rachel”)

    Best Supporting Actor: Patrick Stewart (“Logan”)
    Let’s be honest; take away the superhero element and this would be an Oscar slam-dunk. Stewart’s portrayal of Charles Xavier in waning health with a broken mind will break your heart. (JR)
    *Other Standouts: Sharlto Copley (“Free Fire”); Ethan Hawke (“Maudie”); LilRel Howery (“Get Out”); Ray Romano (“The Big Sick”)

    Best Supporting Actress: Betty Gabriel (“Get Out”)
    Jordan Peele’s impressive directorial debut deserves a shout-out in virtually every category, but hopefully no one snoozes on Betty Gabriel’s unsettling work as a housekeeper trapped in “the sunken place.” She etches that inner turmoil across her face with such aplomb you simply cannot look away. (KT)
    Other Standouts: Laura Dern (“Wilson”); Holly Hunter (“The Big Sick”); Dafne Keen (“Logan”); Terry Pheto (“A United Kingdom”)

    Best Screenplay: “Shimmer Lake”
    Technically ineligible for Oscars as it didn’t receive a theatrical run, that doesn’t stop this twisty thriller from earning our consideration. What sounds like a gimmick — a crime drama told backwards — proves absolutely essential to telling a fascinating story. (JR)
    Other Standouts: “The Big Sick”; “Get Out”; “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore”; Split”

    Best Cinematography: “Kong: Skull Island”
    Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ simian sequel was a bit of a tonal omelette, but one element that gave it an unexpected level of iconography was Larry Fong’s striking photography. Sunburnt vistas and heat-rippled frames sometimes call back to “Apocalypse Now,” but more often they give the film its own intriguing visual identity. (KT)
    Other Standouts: “Alien: Covenant”; “The Beguiled”; “The Lost City of Z”; “Song to Song”

    Best Costume Design: “Wonder Woman”
    Speaking of iconography, one of the eye-popping elements of Patty Jenkins’ landmark superhero entry is the iconic image actress Gal Gadot strikes as the eponymous Amazon. But beyond Diana Prince’s well-known threads, there’s a whole array of dazzling outfits on the screen, from the battle gear of Themyscira to 1920s fashion and World War I attire. (KT)
    Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “The Beguiled”; “The Great Wall”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”

    Best Film Editing: “LA92”
    Lest we forget, National Geographic’s Emmy-contending L.A riots documentary is also eligible for Oscar consideration this year. Last year “O.J.: Made in America” garnered some attention for its handling of tons of material, and hopefully reminded voters that documentary editing ought to be recognized. Reams of footage were assembled from countless sources to drive this particular version of the story, which was also covered elegantly by director John Ridley in “Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992.” (KT)
    Other Standouts: “Baby Driver”; “Get Out”; “Logan”; “Okja”

    Best Production Design: “Beauty and the Beast”
    It’s a tall order to match the stunning animation of the original film, but the “Beauty and the Beast” team pulled it off. Every ornate touch, from the Beast’s castle to the world of Belle’s village, was a visual feast. (JR)
    Other Standouts: “The Great Wall”; “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”; “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword”; “Wonder Woman”

    Best Sound Editing: “Baby Driver”
    Being something of a musical-slash-actioner, Edgar Wright’s latest owes everything to its soundtrack. But more than that, the precision with which sound is layered and cut to enhance the various tracks scattered throughout gives the film an innervating sense of propulsion. When there’s no sound, you’re desperate for it to scream back. (KT)
    Other Standouts: “Free Fire”; “John Wick: Chapter Two”; “Okja”; “Transformers: The Last Knight”

    Best Visual Effects: “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2
    It’s a pity we can’t throw “War for the Planet of the Apes” (July 14) in here, but more on that in due time. Marvel’s latest installment of the “Guardians” franchise doubles down on rendered environments. When you have a character who at times serves as the actual location (I guess you have to see the film to understand), the sky is the limit on VFX. (KT)
    Other Standouts: “Beauty and the Beast”; “Ghost in the Shell”; The Great Wall”; “Okja”

  • Jun15
    Netflix Original Movie Review: Shimmer Lake Is a Backwards Tour de Force

    Told backwards, Shimmer Lake is the kind of crime drama that very much revels in keeping it’s audience in the dark. There is no hand holding here. No re-explaining things that the audience might miss. This film, from first time director Oren Uziel, is the kind of calling card that has been used to launch careers, like that of Quentin Tarantino.

    In order to describe this film, the plot must be kept deceptively simple. First of all, telling this story backwards only serves to underscore what we are seeing on screen. By dint of the fact that we want to know why a scene is starting the way that it is, and the shock we feel when it ends abruptly, is palpable throughout this entire film. Not only is this story told backwards, it is is also told over the course of a week. It follows a local sheriff trying to figure out the moves of three local criminals as well as a bank heist that didn’t go as planned.

    On the face of it, Shimmer Lake sounds like your garden variety 2 Days in the Valley or Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead. However, the sheer irreverence of this film makes it better than those decades old offerings. Shimmer Lake honestly belongs in the company of Pulp Fiction. If you’re not quite ready to make that leap then it at least stands shoulder to shoulder with Reservoir Dogs. With a cast that includes Rainn Wilson, Ron Livingston, Benjamin Walker, Rob Corddry and Stephanie Sigman (among others), this movie really straddles the line between deadly serious and darkly comic.

    Then there are these motifs where characters are getting shot in every backward layered chunk of film. Sometimes, they even have the same person getting shot in different chunks. How about Oren Uziel’s casting of both Ron Livingston and Benjamin Walker. These two actors look like they could be brothers. Over the course of the film, that looks like it might be one of the biggest reveals? Two law officers and one of them is dirty…Or are they both dirty? Why does this matter? Well, as you spend the movie trying to be one step ahead, trying to figure out what is going on in each section, trying to make sense of the titles that attempt to explain each section, the merging of these characters becomes harder and harder to ignore. It is almost as if Oren Uziel is trying to say that nobody is innocent. We all commit crimes in some form or another.

    There is a harshness to the look and feel of Shimmer Lake. Some people might mistake this as unevenness on the part of a first time director. This truly doesn’t seem to be the case at all. In trying to keep us from figuring out this story, the director seems to have intentionally made the film’s presentation confusing.

    Ultimately, the viewer is left to interpret the almost Saw-like ending that Shimmer Lake poses. Are we watching a cautionary tale? A dark comedy? Both? Director Oren Uziel has weaved a lot of string for viewers to play with. And at the end of the film, depending on your preference, he either tied the whole thing up in a neat little bow or you just didn’t connect the dots. Either way, the story of Shimmer Lake is there. You just have to see it. And you can right now, as it is currently streaming as a Netflix original.

  • Jun15
    Netflix Mystery ‘Shimmer Lake’ Opens Up a Conversation About the New World of Film

    Prior to becoming CEO of Footprint Features, Adam Saunders was an actor. His performance roots are ingrained within Footprint’s ethos, which places an emphasis on character and actor. “We only make movies that are character driven, that by definition have great roles for actors,” explains Saunders. Shimmer Lake is Footprint’s third feature following Family Weekend and About Alex. It continues the themes of the trials of friendship and family that thread together Saunders’ body of work as producer, yet each film possessing a distinct narrative identity amidst his thematic inclinations.

    Writer-director Oren Uziel’s crime thriller Shimmer Lake tells the story of the fallout from a bank robbery gone awry in a small town. Told over the course of a week, the film reverses cause and effect, telling its story backwards.

    In conversation with PopMatters, Saunders spoke of how Uziel’s own film experiences influenced his choice to tell his crime thriller in reverse, the contrast of conflicting tones within the film, the uncertainty of the storytelling process and the actors as forces of revelation. Following its exclusive release on Netflix, Saunders also discussed the changing world of film production and distribution, and how tradition is giving way to modernity.

    Christopher Nolan and Sofia Coppola recently spoke out asking people to watch their films at the cinema, not on Netflix. There was a time when the movie theatre was the heart of film distribution, but online platforms have grown in popularity. What is the place of Netflix in the current distribution model, and is the alluring spell of the movie theater waning?

    It’s certainly something we spent a lot of time thinking about. At Footprint Features, we make character-driven movies that traditionally would be these independent releases—these type of platform releases back in the day. Christopher Nolan is a great example of somebody who started with those types of smaller movies before becoming a huge iconic director. But if you look at Memento and some of his smaller early films, those relied on the theatrical distribution models. For me personally, I lament that’s not a bigger part of the release strategy for these types of films.

    We just had our premiere for Shimmer Lake, and it was an amazing experience to be able to sit there with a couple of hundred other people in a room and to go through it with them—to hear them laugh at the jokes and to hear the gasps. I love that collective experience of seeing movies together, but that said, I’m realistic about how the world is changing. Studios are not making these types of movies anymore, as we are all well aware, and so places like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube Red are coming in and filling the void.

    On the one hand, I’m incredibly grateful because it allows us to get these movies out, but on the other hand, I just recognise that in the same way there were silent films, then there were talkies. Things constantly evolve and while I would love to always have theatrical releases, I recognise the world is changing, and that’s not the way it seems to be heading. There are also bigger theaters that are making the viewing experience part of it, whether they bring you food, the chair shakes, or they simulate the rain. But it feels like the traditional theatrical model is changing.

    Filmmaker David Fairhead remarked to me: “You know there’s a mountain in front of you to climb, and of course, you hope that you’re going to get up to the top of that mountain and I guess come back down again [laughs]. That’s the trickiest bit actually, getting back down. I suppose the coming back down when you are making a film is how do you deal with the distribution. You can make the film, but it’s difficult getting it out there to an audience.”

    It’s a faulty logic to assume that the democratisation of distribution through technology has made it easier to reach an audience because the market is now flooded with more competing voices. Technology and these distribution models create opportunity, but with opportunity comes new challenges.

    Yeah, I think that’s right. I feel to some extent Footprint lucked out, because when we started our company seven years ago, it was right at the beginning of the democratisation of these technologies. We shot our first movie on Red and it was relatively inexpensive, and as a result, we were able to get the movie made for under a million dollars. That was several years ago and we were able to get a good cast, and we were able to get people to see it.

    But fast forward seven years and a lot of people are making these types of movies for much less than we made that first movie. As a result, as you say, the competition is very steep. If you are making these types of films, whether it’s a piece of the cast or a director, it’s critical that there’s some element that separates it from the pack. It’s interesting, it’s almost like a new studio system because whereas five years ago you could just make a movie and sell it, you now need to have some outlet, whether it’s Netflix or Amazon, that’s going to buy it. This is an emergence of a different kind of studio system. I think film festivals are still a place for these films that don’t end up getting the big distribution to be seen, but in terms of having distribution where the world sees your film, I agree with you that the competition is incredibly steep.

    One of the immediate connections of Shimmer Lake would be to Christopher Nolan’s psychological reverse thriller Memento. Was there a reason for telling your story in reverse?

    If you were to ask Oren this question, he’d tell you that when he was a kid he used to watch movies on HBO, and he’d watch them at different parts—he would come in halfway through the movie, or he would watch it another time and only catch the first half. It would take him a while to watch the whole movie and he always thought it was such an interesting experience, and so he wanted to create a story that told it in parts, that you had to understand out of order.

    If you are looking at comparatives, like you say, there is Memento, there are also the John Dahl movies like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction, and then there are Blood Simple and Fargo, these bags of money thrillers where the people who are stealing the money aren’t particularly sophisticated. But in this particular one, going back in time is a critical component of the story—it’s not just a gimmick that Oren threw in there. If the story was told in order, it would be far less interesting. It’s only as we go back in time to reveal what actually happened the day of the bank robbery, that the story has its resonance.

    I remember being young and curious, asking questions about all matter of things. There’s the idea that as we age we lose that fervent sense of curiosity, yet Shimmer Lake is all about asking questions. It suggests that as adults we are still curious, which we channel through storytelling.

    Whenever I watched TV shows with my mom as a kid, because I would be interrupting every five seconds, she’d say: “Write all your questions down and I’ll answer them in the commercial break.” You’re right, we certainly don’t do that as adults. But to your point, films like Shimmer Lake require you to think, require you to pay attention. I tell some of my friends that I think have a little Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to pay attention at the beginning of the film, because if you are not paying attention, you are going to miss what’s going on.

    I think we do have a curiosity, and Oren has done such a good job of building in so many little tiny things, that if you are focussed and you think about it, you’ll go back the next day and you’ll have what we call refrigerator moments. There are a thousand of those things in Shimmer Lake and I think it does play to people’s curiosity.

    In as much as the film appeals to our curiosity, its charm should be credited to the comedy.

    Yeah, I think it’s a critical component of what makes a film work, and Oren obviously has a comedy background. He wrote 22 Jump Street and we cast a lot of comics: Rainn Wilson, Rob Corddry, Ron Livingston and Adam Pally. These are all people that have a comedic background, and even though the story at its core is a very serious subject, a thriller, in that way genre, it’s not by definition a comedy. It’s the other side of the coin. You can’t have one without having the other, and human existence is peppered with comedy—it’s a critical component of good storytelling.

    The comedy is the glue that holds Shimmer Lake together and hiring actors that understand that is at the base of why these performances work. It’s a small town and there are little quirky and weird things. When Zeke is talking to the FBI guys he says: “We all know each other. We all went to school together. We’ll let you take all the credit, but you just let us solve this problem.” They say: “That’ll work out just fine.” You have to have actors that understand the comedy of that situation to make it work. You could play it straight, but it wouldn’t be as good.

    Speaking with filmmaker Babak Anvari about Under the Shadow for FrightFest, he said: “Just a minor adjustment can really transform a scene and so those minor adjustments are how an actor can surprise the filmmaker. And that only comes if they truly understand the characters they are playing, but it needs to happen naturally.” In the filmmaking process is it sometimes the small things that offer the most significant transformation?

    Absolutely! Look I started as an actor, and so one of my favourite parts of the process is casting and finding the right actors to play these great characters. At Footprint we only make movies that are character driven, that by definition have great roles for actors. So it’s one of my favourite parts of the process, not only casting, but watching these great actors work, whether it’s Ben Walker and his stoicism, who talks about how Zeke is a man who doesn’t smile easily, or Mark Rendall who plays Chris, one of my favourite performances in the movie. You see Ben bring that seriousness with which Zeke takes his work as sheriff of the town to the table, and Mark just becomes this guy in what is a very difficult role to play.

    All these guys bring tiny little idiosyncrasies when they embody the characters—the way they walk; the way they talk; the way they look around. It’s a critical specificity and we don’t know who these people are until the actors embody them. Watching these guys work is a joy for me in putting these movies together.

    There’s a perspective amongst filmmakers that there are three versions of the script—the script that is written, the script that is shot and the script that is edited. Do you agree and is the process one of discovery leading up to the final cut?

    You don’t know. As I was once said, the best plans don’t survive the first day of battle, but you still have to have that plan. If you don’t, then you run out of time, you don’t know what you’re shooting and it’s chaos. You have to have all the shots shot-listed, everything thought through, and to have developed your script to the point that it’s on the page. They say: “If it’s not on the page, it will not be on the stage.”

    But still, the final version is going to be far different than the script, which is far different from the shoot, and then ultimately different to where it lands. Shimmer Lake is a great example of that. We had one of the best screenplays that I’ve ever read, and the director who wrote the screenplay was very respectful of his script, that is to say. that we shot most of the things he wrote. He was also willing and able to let things go that he didn’t think were working on the day, and then in the edit, we had a totally different ending to the one you’ve seen.

    When we tested it, the audience just didn’t like it and so we went back to the edit and made this new one, which is quite different from the screenplay. This is now what Shimmer Lake is and when we release it to the world that will make it their own, this different ending is the one they will know. So I think there are three versions and you can almost make a claim that now there is a fourth version because the audience is going to say what they want to say—we are going to see what happens once it is released into the wild.

    Speaking with Carol Morley about her film The Falling for Starburst Magazine, she explained: “You take it 90 percent of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it.” If the audience are the ones that complete it, does it follow that there is a transfer in ownership?

    Yeah, I think that’s right. Once you release it into the world, it does belong to the audience—it belongs to the world. People ask me what that means, but ultimately once a film is released, it’s what your experience was. I was asked the question: “Why did these things happen?” In the end, my answer is: “Why do you think this happened? You watched the movie and anything we didn’t explicitly say is up for your interpretation.” It’s up to the audience in that moment and we have to be okay with that, and I know I am.

    Interviewing filmmaker Christoph Behl for FrightFest he remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process?

    Certainly, as an artist or as a person doing a specific job, you have learned a lot of things, and you’ve become a different version. That’s true as both an actor and as a producer. When you get to the other end you’ve learned so many things. I’m a different producer after producing Shimmer Lake than I was starting. But your bigger question is: As a human, am I a different person having gone through this process? I think the answer is yes because it’s such an intense time period. You are using every ounce of energy to birth this story you believe deserves to be told, and so I think that process is life altering.

  • Jun11
    Shimmer Lake (2017) Review: Twisty thriller is a curious experiment with plenty of surprises

    Shimmer Lake is a 2017 crime drama about a small town bank heist gone wrong and the sheriff who tries to solve the mystery behind it.

    A good hook can make or break a film, with a clever narrative or visual device tripping up viewers to make for a unique experience that both challenges and entertains. Think of classics like Christopher Nolan‘s Memento or Quinten Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction, films that play with structure and timelines to create a disjointed story that keep audiences guessing while engaged. With Shimmer Lake, the latest thriller from Netflix, there are a couple of hooks in the works and both succeed in grabbing attention in a movie that is curious for certain, if not overly-ambitious.

    The first hook is the timeline. Told in reverse from Friday back a week, the story follows the investigation of three men, Ed (Wyatt Russell), Andy (Rainn Wilson), and Chris (Mark Rendall) suspected of robbing the local small town bank. After them is Sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), who is Andy’s brother and a friend from way back to Ed, the former high school football star quarterback. Joining the hunt for the men are two FBI agents Kyle (Ron Livingston) and Kurt (Rob Corddry), who are more than happy to let Zeke handle the legwork, which leads to the bank’s owner and town judge, Brad Dawkins (John Michael Higgins) and Ed’s distraught wife Steph (Stephanie Sigman), who is still reeling from the lose of their five-year-old son in an accident the year before out on, you guessed it, Shimmer Lake.

    Directed by Oren Uziel, in his feature debut, Shimmer Lake is a puzzler and if you’ve read the names of the cast in this drama, you might already have guessed the second hook, that being a thriller populated mostly by actors primarily known for their comedic work. This doesn’t mean the film has no humor because it actually does, though more in the vein of a Coen Brothers film than anything else. This is a dark film, and yet small moments get well-earned laughs, mostly at the expense of Deputy Sheriff Reed Ethington (Adam Pally), who finds himself literally in the backseat of it all, time and time again. Admittedly, the movie is dry – dusty barren out in the desert barren dry – led by Walker’s deadpan acerbic performance that is either going to convince you he is blisteringly sharp in the role or barely interested in this project. For me, it was the first, his unshakable disposition a mark of absolute stability in a world gone mad.

    The real fun though is in deciphering the film’s backward plotting, which, when it all ends – or rather begins – makes everything clear, even if you might want to play back a few steps to makes sure you got it all in the right order. That’s not a complaint but a testament to how well the story unfolds. You are genuinely curious and by the start of the second day, Thursday in the timeline, you’re paying much more attention to the details as themes repeat and clues are revealed. You might think you know what’s happening, but no, you don’t.

    While the film’s structure and Uziel’s camera are the real draw here (it would be a worthy experiment to play the movie’s days in the proper chronological order and see if it is as good), there are some very strong performances and plenty of solid drama, even if one nagging thread involving Andy’s daughter feels unresolved. If you’re up for a fun challenge and enjoy movies that work like puzzle pieces, Shimmer Lake will have lots to offer, a clever and well-written little gem that is worth adding to your queue.

  • Jun09
    ‘Shimmer Lake’ Rewinds The Scene Of A Crime | Film Review

    The slow burn of murder-mysteries have greatly faded in recent years, as have many of their noirish undertones. As theatergoers continue to drift into the lands of spandex and pixelated shenanigans, the intellectual whodunit finds itself in short supply. The downside to this development is the lack of thrillers in this vein, where the upside is that – every now and again – you find a diamond in the rough like Shimmer Lake.

    Shimmer Lake twists the conventional wisdom of storytelling on its ear by allowing the events of a small-town crime to unfold in reverse order. Working from Friday back to Tuesday, writer-director Oren Uziel constructs a story of despair as a local Sheriff, Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), works to bring to justice three criminals who robbed the town’s lone bank. Learning that one of them may just be his brother Andy (Rainn Wilson), Zeke sets off on a trail of lies and murder, all while the FBI is nipping at his heels (Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston). With a host of suspects, twists, and revelations, how will this path ultimately lead back to Shimmer Lake?

    The less said about the film the better, as the discovery is part of the journey. Beginning on Friday’s events, we slowly learn the outcome of this recent robbery. Uziel plots his film methodically, peppering names and situations from the past as a tease for a meal yet to come. Clues are scattered throughout as Uziel weaves us in-and-out of Zeke’s Fargo-esque community, informing us of characters such as estranged couple Ed and Steph Burton and the frigid Judge Hawkins long before we catch a glimpse of the actors wearing those hats (Wyatt Russell, Stephanie Sigman, and John Michael Higgins respectively). Shimmer Lake requires attention be paid, or prepare for a head-scratching conclusion as the pieces finally align for the story’s end game. Or maybe that’s the beginning game?

    It’s an audacious direction to stage a screenplay and, with the obvious exception of Memento, it rarely works. Knowing the structure ahead of time gave me pause, worried it would prove to be little more than a well-orchestrated gimmick. Yet once I sat through the final reveal, those concerns subsided and I knew I needed to plan on an immediate return trip. Even as I pieced together the outcome from both the nuggets of information Uziel feeds us, as well as far too many iterations of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes over the years, this film hits my sweet spot. It’s a winning combination of actors playing against type, a looming atmosphere that forebodes the trappings of this town as well as each character arc, and Oren Uziel’s quirky wit which engulfs every scene.

    I already can’t wait to head back to Shimmer Lake

  • Jun09
    A Celebration Of The Dark Comedy That Is Netflix’s Shimmer Lake

    Going into Shimmer Lake — which is about a bank heist gone wrong, leaving a trail of bodies in its wake — is a little odd. It’s a darkly-lit crime thriller told in reverse, just like Christopher Nolan’s 2000 Oscar-nominee, Memento. Anyone who’s watched the Guy Pierce-starrer can confirm there’s nothing funny about a film where a widower with amnesia attempts to track down the man who raped and murdered his wife. Yet, Shimmer Lake, which on paper sounds like a modern update on the classic, is filled with veteran comedians. There’s Dwight Schrute, I mean, Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally of Mindy Project and Happy Endings fame, Great News’ resident crotchety old man John Michael Higgins, and Ron Livingston, who’s best known at That Guy From Office Space.

    With all these funny people rounding out the cast, it sure seems like Shimmer Lake is supposed to be a comedy. And if you pay attention, the movie is wickedly funny in the same vein as Fargo, which also skewers small town life. The darkly humorous parts become obvious thanks to deputy sheriff Reed Ethington (Pally). In the first 10 minutes of the film, Reed walks to the police cruiser and expects to sit shotgun next to his partner, sheriff Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker). But a mailman of all people is in his seat. Instead of calmly hopping in the back, Reed walks a few years away to dramatically scream “Why!” in an alarming display of emotions.
    Soon enough it’s pretty clear why Reed is so emotional about a chair. Every time Zeke picks his partner up for patrol, someone new is riding shotgun. At one point, Zeke’s adorable front-seat sitting young niece Sally tells Reed, “Get in the back you fat fuckin’ bastard.” The deputy sheriff’s face of pure disbelief is priceless, as is Sally’s pleased smile to her uncle.

    The most grimly funny scene, however, happens to be the moment judge Brad Dawkins (Higgins) dies. It’s revealed the married family man is pulled into the complex bank heist because he’s hiding the fact he’s gay while preparing to run for the Senate. Amid all the criminal tension, Brad invites his young male lover named Billy (Matt Landry) to his home for sex. Billy loves meth and ends up rushing to the bathroom since the drugs “flushed him right out.” At that exact moment, fellow conspirator Andy (Wilson) shows up to collect the stolen money, which is in a duffle bag.

    As a gun-wielding Andy and Brad fight over the criminal cash, a completely naked, sweating Billy hides in the bathroom attempting to stop his extremely noisy bowel movement. The juxtaposition is ridiculous. Just when Andy and his loaded pistol are about to leave, Billy very loudly loses his battle with his intestines. Andy rips opens the bathroom door to finds a nude Billy screaming in his face. All together, the young man shrieks for about 15 full seconds as Brad and Andy fight over the gun. When the weapon goes off, leaving Brad the casualty, Billy promises not to say anything and darts out of the bedroom still totally naked — but not before carefully picking up each and every piece of his meth paraphernalia.

    You might come to Shimmer Lake to figure out this winding murder mystery, but you’ll stay for the unexpected flecks of humor.

  • Jun09
    Interview with Producer Adam Saunders | Shimmer Lake

    Shimmer Lake twists the conventional wisdom of storytelling on its ear by allowing the events of a small-town crime to unfold in reverse order. Working from Friday back to Tuesday, director Oren Uziel constructs a story of despair as a local Sheriff, Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker), works to bring to justice three criminals who robbed the local bank. Learning that one of them may just be his brother Andy (Rainn Wilson), Zeke sets off on a trail of lies and murder. With a host of suspects, twists, and revelations, how will this path ultimately lead back to Shimmer Lake?

    After graduating with a BA in Drama from Duke University and an MFA in Acting from the Yale School of Drama, Adam Saunders set his sights on a career in Hollywood. As the pursuit of his craft intensified, Adam found he also had a knack for both developing and producing projects. Often the unsung hero of film, a producer fields many behind-the-scenes responsibilities that directly contribute to our favorite films, from lining up capital and casting commitments to finalizing distribution deals.

    As the CEO of Footprint Features, Adam produced Shimmer Lake and explains why this was “one the best scripts I’ve ever read”. He also elaborates on the complexities of shooting a film in reverse order, assembling the all-star cast, and how their deal with Netflix ultimately came to fruition.

    Footprint Features has several exciting projects lined up, not the least of which is the newly released Shimmer Lake. Don’t miss this exclusive interview with producer, Adam Saunders.

    Shimmer Lake releases on Netflix June 9, 2017

  • Jun09
    Bianculli’s Best Bets: Shimmer Lake

    This is a somewhat unexpected surprise little treat – a made-for-Netflix movie that’s laced with lots of comedy and comic actors, yet works effectively as a mystery drama, and has an unusual story structure as well. Shimmer Lake begins a few days after a small-town bank robbery, investigated by local police and the visiting FBI, then works its way backwards, day by day. And each day the plot goes in reverse, the more we learn about not only the bank robbery, but the characters and their respective actions and motives. Benjamin Walker stars as the sheriff, with very canny support from Rainn Wilson, Rob Corddry, John Michael Higgins, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, and Stephanie Sigman. Orien Uziel, upgrading his resume substantially from the likes of 22 Jump Street and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth, writes and directs.

  • Jun08
    Shimmer Lake: Oren Uziel on the art (and pain) of writing a crime drama backwards

    Shimmer Lake isn’t your ordinary crime drama about a bank heist gone wrong. It’s a multilayered examination of revenge, loyalty and plain old bad luck. Oh, and did I mention the story is told in reverse?

    Writer/director Oren Uziel used to be a lawyer, but in his heart, he wanted to be a screenwriter, so he quit law to pursue his dream. Assuming anyone can write a screenplay, he decided to write a novel first and later adapt it to film. Because writing the script is the easy part, right?

    “It was a pretty dumb plan,” he admits.

    But through writing his novel, he learned how to write story, character and everything else a writer needs to know. Unless of course, you’re telling a story backwards.

    Writing in reverse

    “I don’t think I would do that [write a screenplay in reverse] again. It was really, really challenging to get my character arcs and story arcs, set-ups and pay-offs to work in reverse. It just has to be designed that way – you can’t take a normal screenplay and just chop it up and reverse it. It won’t make sense and it’ll be gimmicky and there won’t be any reason for it to be that way. Shimmer Lake was built that way but it just took it took a long time and a lot of trial and error.”

    He sent his first draft to friends and they told him it didn’t make sense. So, he went back and kept working on the story, trying to clarify it. At one point, he clarified it too much.

    “Suddenly, everything was too obvious. What I was trying to hide was no longer hidden and I would try it again and they would say, ‘Well, now it’s all happening but for no reason.’”

    Keeping just the right amount from the audience

    So, he kept working on it until everything was clear on the page and people reading it could understand the story. The process has taken him nine years.

    Why tell a story from the end to the beginning, especially if it takes so long to figure out how to do it? The idea came to Uziel as a kid. He grew up as an HBO junkie and would just watch whatever film was on, even if he tuned in halfway through the film.

    “I would sort of be thrown into the middle of the film and have to figure out how everyone was related to each other, and what their conflicts were – all as I was watching the scene that was happening in front of me.”

    Later in the week, he’d catch the film from the beginning and put the pieces together.

    “I’d think, ‘Oh this is going to explain why that guy hated that woman so much,’ and stuff like that. I just thought it was a really compelling way to watch movies. Because when I watched them from start to finish, it wasn’t nearly as good of an experience.”

    Audiences love to piece together the story

    It was the detective work that excited him.

    ‘I thought there must be a way to do that deliberately – to make a movie that has all that tension and all that intrigue. That was the goal.”

    The film takes place over four days. For Uziel, it was like creating four mini movies.

    “The first day asks a lot of questions. The second day answers those questions but presents new ones. And then you keep going and when you get to the end, things aren’t exactly as you thought they were.”

    But just because the reverse strategy works on the page, doesn’t mean it’s going to work on film.

    “Because the movie has a twist, it’s about withholding information and providing information. In the script there’s a scene where Zeke and Reed are talking about football, reliving their glory days and reconnecting. I had written it so Zeke wasn’t participating in the conversation, he wasn’t smiling, because he knows what he’s about to do. So when I put the scene together and cut back to Zeke not smiling, people watched the movie and were tipped off that Zeke was involved [in the crime].

    To fix the problem, Uziel used footage of the actor in between takes, where he was goofing around. “Just a few frames of Zeke smiling fixed it.”

    Advice on breaking in

    Uziel’s advice to writers is to break the rules. “I don’t believe in any of those page count rules. I’ve never learned them, and I’ve never followed them. I go on my gut and from watching movies and reading screenplays. But all movies, whether they’re told backwards or forwards, need to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You have to be able to follow and understand everything that’s happening on a character level and build it in.”

    Shimmer Lake, which stars Rainn Wilson, Ron Livingston and Rob Corddry, releases on Netflix June 9.

  • Jun08
    ‘Shimmer Lake’, Netflix: When Is it Available on Netflix?

    Netflix’s new crime thriller, Shimmer Lake, will be available for streaming on June 9. The film centers on local sheriff Zeke Sikes who’s on the hunt for three bank robbery suspects, and stars Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, and Wyatt Russell.

    The movie also marks the directorial debut of Oren Uziel, who wrote 22 Jump Street and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth.

    RELEASE DATE: Friday, June 9, 2017

    TIME AVAILABLE: 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT

    CAST:
    Benjamin Walker as Zeke Sikes
    Wyatt Russell as Ed Burton
    Rainn Wilson as Andy Sikes
    Ron Livingston as Kyle Walker
    Adam Pally as Reed Ethington
    Stephanie Sigman as Steph Burton
    John Michael Higgins as Brad Dawkins
    Rob Coddry as Kurt Biltmore

    According to Collider, the movie unfolds in reverse by beginning at the end. As the story unravels, audiences can put the pieces of the puzzle together to help find the names of the robbery suspects.

    The outlet recently spoke with Uziel about Shimmer Lake and his other recent projects. Asked how he went about writing the story, Uziel said, “I wrote it the way it is. I wrote the whole thing backwards. I never wrote it forwards and restructured it. I think it wouldn’t have worked that way. For me, it was a matter of starting with an end point. I just knew … As an exercise, it was interesting. It’s the first screenplay I wrote.”

    The story of Shimmer Lake is a tumultuous one. According to Variety, the script was optioned by Fox Atomic, but the company then went out of business. Recalling the experience to Variety, Uziel laughs, “It was my first introduction to Hollywood.” As the script was being read and optioned by a number of production companies, Uziel pursued other projects, like “22 Jump Street” and “Zombieland 2”. Asked why he decided to pursue these other projects while “Shimmer Lake” was still in the works, he tells Variety, “Originally, I didn’t know anything about filmmaking and had no experience… So I said, let’s baby step it, let’s learn how to be a screenwriter and learn how movies are made. I had told the last person who optioned it, ‘If you can get this movie made, I’m sure it’s going to be great. But if at the end of the first option period you haven’t made it, please give it back to me because I suspect I might be ready to direct it then.’ And he did.”

  • Jun07
    ‘Shimmer Lake’ Writer/Director Oren Uziel on His Reverse Crime Story, ‘God Particle’, & ’22 Jump Street’

    Making a directorial debut is hard, but making one with a story told in reverse is a specific kind of challenge. Just ask filmmaker Oren Uziel, whose directorial debut Shimmer Lake hits Netflix on Friday, June 9th. The film is one of the first scripts Uziel ever wrote, before he’d go on to work on movies like 22 Jump Street and the upcoming Cloververse movie formerly known as God Particle, and it’s a crime story told in unique fashion.

    The film stars Benjamin Walker as a local sheriff hunting down three bank robbery suspects, two of which are played by Rainn Wilson and Wyatt Russell. The story unfolds in reverse, beginning at the end, as the audience tries to put the pieces together for this crime that may be more than what it appears on the surface. Uziel fills the cast out with actors who have a solid comedic background like Adam Pally and Rob Corddry, and the result is a dark and moody drama that doesn’t feel overbearingly bleak. The performances are swell, and working with The Witch cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, Uziel carves out a foreboding aesthetic that adds to the tense atmosphere surrounding the story.

    I recently got the chance to speak with Uziel for an exclusive interview about the film. We discussed the process of writing a movie told in reverse, the impetus behind casting actors with comedic backgrounds, the surprising origin story behind the film, and working with Netflix. Given that Uziel is also busy writing other notable screenplays, we also discussed how God Particle turned into a Cloverfield movie, his take on the Mortal Kombat reboot, looking back on the genius that is 22 Jump Street, and his yet-to-be-made script for a Men in Black reboot.

    Check out the full interview below. Shimmer Lake will be available to stream on Netflix starting June 9th.

    shimmer-lake-benjamin-walker
    Image via Netflix
    I hate to ask such a boring question at the beginning, but this idea to tell a crime story backwards is fascinating to me. I genuinely am curious, where did this idea first come about for Shimmer Lake?

    OREN UZIEL: It’s funny because I have this story … I wrote the script eight years ago. I have referred to what the origin of it is a million times just in passing. I no longer know if it’s true or not, but I do think it’s true. I grew up watching HBO either at friends’ houses or my parents finally got it when HBO was just a channel that showed movies. It was the only place that showed movies uninterrupted, without commercials, and with nudity and cursing and violence. I would watch anything. I remember that I would flick over to HBO and it didn’t matter at what point of the movie it was on, I would just start watching. I have this memory of watching a lot of movies just completely out of order because I would watch something and then four days later I’d find it again and it would be half an hour earlier. I would say, “Oh! Oh shit, this happened before that other stuff. It’s going to explain why that fat guy hates that other guy so much.” I had no idea why he was so angry before. I found it really compelling. I realized that a lot of times when I finally watched that same movie from start to finish, it wasn’t a particularly good movie, it was just that the tension and the thrill of trying to figure out what leads to the thing I’d already seen, while also trying to keep in my head what’s happening right in front of me, was a really compelling way to tell a story. I thought if it works for that movie, why not construct a movie like that and be able to take advantage of that and laying set-ups and pay off as you go and take advantage of that structure. I really think that’s where it came from.

    That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought about that, cause that’s how I used to watch movies. Thinking about it now, it doesn’t … With DVR and on-demand and Netflix and everything, I don’t know if anyone’s watching movies like that anymore.

    UZIEL: Definitely not. It’s just not the experience. I watch things with my kids now, and they can’t even … If they can’t watch something right now, they cannot understand that concept. If you’re watching a TV show on network television. They’ve gotten into Survivor lately. Like, “Let’s just watch!” “You can’t watch. It’s not a thing yet.”

    Yeah. If it’s not on-demand yet, what’s going on?

    UZIEL: Yeah. I always thought it adds a component of active watching, if that makes sense. The goal was to, if you do it deliberately and you make sure the story you’re telling is not one that would function forward, then it becomes more than just a gimmick. If you watch Shimmer Lake forward, it’s not Memento where it would still be rewarding. You’d watch it forward, it’s a movie with no surprises.

    How did you go about writing the story? Did you plot the entire thing out forwards first and then write it backwards? Did you write it forwards and then restructure it?

    UZIEL: I wrote it the way it is. I wrote the whole thing backwards. I never wrote it forwards and restructured it. I think it wouldn’t have worked that way. For me, it was a matter of starting with an end point. I just knew … The first thing that popped into my head was this notion of this guy with a bag of money, and he’s tired, and you know he’s been through a lot. A car pulls up, and there’s someone that he knows is inside. Someone he’s been waiting for and trusts. But what happens from that moment forward, they betray him, but not what he expects to happen. It just felt like, all right, if that’s where I’m ending up, how did I get there? What is the story? I’m going to lead all those things to come to make sense. As an exercise, it was interesting. It’s the first screenplay I wrote.

    Oh, wow.

    shimmer-lake-cast
    Image via Netflix
    UZIEL: I think if I had written … I would not write this screenplay now, because I know how difficult it would be. Back then, I was just too naive to know what the challenges were. I remember when if first started giving it to my trusted friends and readers, it very quickly was like, “Oh, this doesn’t work. It’s way too clear what’s about to happen.” Or, “This doesn’t work. You didn’t make it remotely clear enough. It’s happening for no apparent reason.” Or, “It’s not following.” It took a lot of rewriting and making sure everything adds up and everything is happening for a reason and not just coming out of left field. That’s one of the biggest flaws with any movie in this genre, whether it’s told straight or backwards. You have to make sure that when the things finally happen, they’re not just happening because you want them to happen.

    Yeah, yeah. The film its self is quite serious, although not without its moments of humor. The cast is full of comedic actors. I’ve met Ben Walker and he’s hilarious. How did you go about casting this, and what was the impetus behind casting actors who had a comedic or improv background?

    UZIEL: I would say it was more comedic than improv, so it was important to me. Some of it is happenstance through casting an indie movie, I will say that for sure. In making Jump Street and making Kitchen Sink, which became Freaks of Nature, I’ve been working in comedy. I think comedic actors are amazing. I think they are capable. When comedic actors play things straight, I think there’s a certain pop to me that always hits me hard. I think that they have an ability that always blows me away. Ben Walker is, I won’t say secretly, because he had some of the comedy show in New York. He seems very straight, but he’s not. He’s a very funny guy, as well. I think all these guys, it’s fun for me to take Adam Pally and his impulses to go big and reign him in a little bit and get the genuine from him. I think he’s amazing. Rainn can be … You feel his pain so much more. I don’t know, cause I think you’re so used to seeing him being funny, it’s like, “Well, no. This is real.” It really had a lot of impact.

    For sure. This is also your first movie as a director. The visual aesthetic is very cloudy and moody, reflecting the more somber and sinister actions of the characters. It really gives the film a sense of foreboding. Even though Adam Pally is funny, and I know that he’s funny and he’s cracking some jokes, I feel like something bad is going to happen. Obviously, you see some bad stuff happen at the beginning. As a first time director, how did you go about deciding how you wanted to tell the story visually?

    UZIEL: A lot of it is a combination of things that we’re talking about. What you’re saying is kind of music to my ears because I wanted to have that look and feel of foreboding. I think that can help you if your cast … If you’re just looking at your cast, you’re gonna say, “Oh, this is a big, fat comedy.” I think if you’re going to cast a movie like that, you have to dispel that notion quickly or you’re going to be confusing the audience, and subverting their expectations in a bad way. You always want to do that in a good way. I think with a movie like this, you have to be really careful about tone. You have to make sure it’s consistent. To me, picking that visual style is about picking the tone that the movie really is going to live in. It is a move where bad things are going to happen and keep happening to these people. I think layering that level of gloom on top of it was a very specific choice and a helpful choice. Unquestionably a lot of that also comes from … I chose to work with Jarin Blaschke, who had just done The Witch. I don’t know if you saw The Witch but that is…

    Oh yeah, it’s incredible.

    UZIEL: That’s as scary and gloomy and creepy a feeling movie as you can get. Jarin is great and was a great partner in helping, through the lighting, to set that mood. Set that aesthetic feel to the whole film.

    shimmer-lake-rainn-wilson
    Image via Netflix
    Yeah, I saw The Witch at Sundance and went off the logline. It was the first screening, and I didn’t know it was a horror movie. I was just terrified out of my mind. I though it was this Colonial period drama, and I was blown away.

    UZIEL: I think that’s the best way to see that movie. I love it. It’s not really a horror movie. It’s like a movie of dread.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    UZIEL: You just sit there for however long it takes like, “Oh, God! Ew. Uh.” It’s great.

    I’m also curious, what’s the Netflix experience been like for you? If I’m not mistaken, you made the movie first and then sold it to Netflix.

    UZIEL: Yeah. We actually sold the movie kind of in the middle. It was a strange process. We were in production. We were on set. At some point, I put together a simple reel of the footage we already had. I think that reel, giving a sense of what the look was, combined with the cast and script, they jumped on board. It’s somewhere in the middle of a movie that they made with us and that we made and sold to them. It’s been great. It’s strange as a, probably any filmmaker, maybe moreso as a first time filmmaker, to have a movie at Netflix, because … First of all, it’s great to have an independent movie that’s making a profit very quickly. It takes a lot of the pressure off. To have a distribution set up right away. I knew people were going to see the movie. I knew how they would see the movie. That’s a huge burden lifted. The flip side is it’s weird. I don’t know what the experience of having a movie on Netflix is going to be yet. I know that people will see this movie, but I don’t know how that will feel from where I sit in my living room. It takes a lot of pressure off. I guess if you have an independent movie that eventually gets distribution in theaters, then you will live or die on that first week or two and that roll out. It could just crush you and then your movie goes away. I can’t imagine how that would feel, and I don’t have to. I’ll say that. That’s definitely great.

    Did knowing that it was going to be mostly seen on Netflix impact the editing process, or post-production process, at all? That it wasn’t going to be on a traditional theatrical roll out?

    UZIEL: No. No, it really didn’t. Other than knowing we had a partner who … I don’t know how to say this, but truthfully doesn’t give a shit. They’re not worried about anything that maybe someone else would. It’s like, “Just go for it. Do what you want to do.”

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about God Particle, or as it’s now known, the untitled Cloverfield movie. Did you write that just as an original Sci Fi film that then morphed into part of this Cloverfield universe? Was it always planned that it would be in step with something like 10 Cloverfield Lane?

    UZIEL: It was written before 10 Cloverfield Lane and the expanded Cloverfield universe even existed. It was another spec that I wrote probably a year or so after Shimmer Lake. It definitely existed as its own science fiction movie. After years of, you know how scripts kind of hang around? People like them, but for whatever reason, system hasn’t decided to make them yet. Suddenly, everything fell into place with JJ and Bad Robot and with Paramount. I don’t know exactly when it became a Cloverfield movie, but I suspect in this current market where it’s harder and harder to market an original movie of any kind, original science fiction movie probably in particular. I think everyone just knew if it fits, and it does, into that Cloverfield world, it should. It can only help the movie.

    Did you have to do much rewriting on that? Was that something that was adjusted during production?

    UZIEL: We rewrote during production. I’m not sure … With Cloverfield, Cloverfield is … I’m not sure what it means to be part of the expanded Cloverfield universe other than knowing what kind of quality and feel you’re going to get from something that’s coming out of Bad Robot and JJ. It helps getting an understanding of it. “Okay, I understand what type of movie it’s going to be.” As far as specifics, I don’t think there is one specific thread that makes it a Cloverfield movie, I guess.

    Which, I think is a really great way to do it. At heart, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a really terrific contained thriller. It has this tangential connection to Cloverfield that gives that audience recognition, but audiences go and they get to watch these powerhouse performances. The cast of God Particle is stacked. Is that how you approached it and everything? It seems like a really smart way to do it.

    UZIEL: Yeah. I think if you can get that off the ground, which they are close, it’s very smart, and also great for makers of science fiction. It relieves you of that burden of, “How are we gonna get people off their asses and into the movie theater to see something they’re not sure?” It’s not a guarantee. The cast is different. We don’t know exactly what we’re getting, but if that stamp of approval of it being part of the Cloverfield universe is enough, then yeah. That’s a huge win. So I’m all for it. If you turn on The Twilight Zone, that’s sort of the way I think about it. “I don’t know what this story is going to be, but I know it’s going to be a Twilight Zone story.”

    Exactly. It’s kind of like an anthology flavor.

    UZIEL: It’s like an anthology for those kinds of movies. I think if JJ … If what he’s doing, is positioning himself a little bit to be the Rod Sterling of JJ-type science fiction movies, more power to him.

    shimmer-lake-rob-corddry-ron-livingston
    Image via Netflix
    Absolutely. The premise its self is a contained sci-fi thriller about a group of astronauts fighting for survival, which is a premise that’s been tackled in a bunch of other sci-fi thrillers. When you’re writing of it, what were you hoping to achieve in setting this apart from other similarly plotted or similarly premised films?

    UZIEL: I guess for me, sometimes those movies tend to be more concerned with whatever the obstacle is. I’m more concerned with the characters relationships to each other and that obstacle, I guess. To me, when you’re making an astronaut movie, I’m just curious about what those astronauts are going through. What their experience and what the character story is. What, specifically, the threat is, is often less of a concern to me, I guess, is where it might differ.

    That’s definitely great to hear. I’m also curious, you were attached to this Mortal Kombat movie. What’s the status of that at this point?

    UZIEL: I don’t know. I wish I knew. I have a long history with that Mortal Kombat project. It was the first thing I ever got hired on. After Shimmer Lake went out and around the town, I took a lot of meetings. One of the first jobs I got, and then ended up didn’t getting, was to write Mortal Kombat for Warner Brothers. The guys who hired me exited the company before we even could complete the paperwork, so it was a job that existed and then disappeared. It was soul crushing. Kevin Tancharoen, who was also trying to direct that movie when everything went away, he had just directed the Fame remake. He’s a very cool young director. He called me and said, “Hey, would you be willing to write a short that I would shoot, cause I think there’s something here. I think we can convince one of those to do it.” I ended up writing a short for him that he shot. It became kind of a big thing. I know he used that to convince Machinima to make the digital series, which I didn’t have anything to do with. After a couple years of that, New Line came on board to actually make a feature version again. It was at that point that Kevin called and New Line called and they said, “Hey, you were there at the beginning, do you want to come back?”I said, “Sure,” so I wrote them a feature that has been the basis of what the Mortal Kombat movie will be, but it’s been kicking around for a little while now. I know, I’m forgetting off the top of my head, but somebody great just came on to produce. James Wan, right?

    Yeah that’s right.

    UZIEL: That, to me, was a good sign that maybe things were heating up again. But, beyond that I really don’t know the specifics.

    What was your take on it that kind of sets it apart?

    UZIEL: I don’t know what remains of this, but I know it was going to be … It’s been a while so it’s hard to sum up quickly. It’s almost like if you took The Avengers, of if you took a storyline like that, but set it in a hard R, over the top violence and hard-edged world of Mortal Kombat. It was a little bit like that. It was a little bit of that Wanted-type story that brought together a bunch of these characters and pulled zero punches. It had a tone that was still fun, but very dark.

    That’s a movie that I need to see.

    UZIEL: It’s a movie they need to make, but I don’t know what they’re doing with it right now.

    I get it. I also wanted to say that 22 Jump Street is one of the best comedy sequels ever made. Simply as a fan of that movie, I wanted to ask what it was like penning that script and working with Lord and Miller on that one? I think it’s this brilliant tightrope walk.

    channing-tatum-jonah-hill-22-jump-street
    Image via Sony Pictures
    UZIEL: Thanks. That makes me happy. Those things are so fuckin’ hard, sequels. I think sequels to comedies that are already knowing and meta, that’s made it particularly challenging. I can tell you that I came at it as a fan, as well. The first one came out when I was still living in Brooklyn. I remember I went to see the movie, and I just … My expectations were sort of low. I don’t think we knew exactly who Lord and Miller were yet. A lot of people walked out blown away like, “That was fucking great. Really fun. I love those guys. Love them together. I just laugh the whole time.” At some point, I’d been hired to write a new Men in Black for Sony. They needed help on Jump Street. They sent it to me. My experience working on it was Phil and Chris were off in Australia working on Lego. I think they were on the fence about whether they were going to do the second one. To me, I looked at where they were at with it, and as a fan, I thought, “Oh, no! These guys aren’t having fun together anymore.” The characters … Channing and Jonah, they were just being really mean to each other.

    Yeah.

    UZIEL: My take on it was, “If you’re gonna make a second one, and you want us to come along for the ride, the reason we’re gonna be there is because of how much we love these guys and how much we love them together.” It really was a love story between these two guys. If we can just tell the story again and find a way to make us care about them and how much they care about each other, then we’ll make sure its super funny on top of … If that was the the base layer, then lay it on top of that is all the stuff that makes it super funny, I think that’s what’s gonna make it work. I think, ultimately, that’s why it works, because those guys are so good and so fun to hang around with for two hours.

    Yeah, it’s brilliant. Is there any status update on that Men in Black movie that you wrote, or is that still in stasis?

    UZIEL: The Men in Black movie that I wrote was going to be a new Men in Black movie. A fresh start for that franchise. Before I even turned it in, I think the studio had gotten excited about the idea of smashing together the Jump Street series and the Men in Black series. That movie, the idea of that movie killed my movie. I don’t know the status of that movie right now. I would never call it dead, because nothing is ever dead. I’ve not heard anything lately. It’s not dead, but it’s quiet right now. It’s napping.

    Was that one more in the vein of Jump Street? It felt like an answer to the success of the Jump Street franchise. The one that you were writing.

    UZIEL: Yeah, I think it was gonna be … Yeah, it was. That thing’s dead as can be, but yes, it would have been much more … But, Men in Black II was kind of fun and light hearted. It was gonna be a little, I guess, harder … If you take Men in Black and hit it a little harder, then it veers more towards Jump Street. Yeah, it would be a little grittier, a little more real, a little less … The Men in Black series had gotten a little old. Tommy Lee had gotten old, obviously. He’s still awesome, but I don’t know. I don’t think there was a need to see those guys again, but it’s a great world, the Men in Black world. I think it’s super fun, so it would have been a little grittier. A little different setting, and maybe a little more Jump Street-ish.

    Shimmer Lake is available to stream on Netflix starting June 9th.

  • Jun06
    ‘Shimmer Lake’: Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, and Rob Corddry On Netflix’s Wild New Crime Thriller — Watch

    For his first time behind the camera, seasoned screenwriter Oren Uziel (who has penned scripts as diverse as “22 Jump Street” and the recently announced “Mortal Kombat” reboot) went for the chills, with an inventive twist.

    His new Netflix crime thriller, “Shimmer Lake,” follows a motley crew of small town citizens and one preternaturally calm local sheriff as they attempt to untangle the mystery of a bank robbery gone terribly wrong. Told backwards, with each day ticking back through a particularly eventful week to reveal not just whodunit, but whytheywould, the film packs some big twists and some well-earned reveals.

    In our star-packed exclusive featurette, stars like Rainn Wilson, Rob Corddry, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, John Michael Higgins, Wyatt Russell, Stephanie Sigman, and Benjamin Walker, along with director Uziel and producer Adam Saunders, talk about what makes “Shimmer Lake” so special…and so creepy.

    “Shimmer Lake” is produced by Footprint Features. The film will be available to stream on June 9 on Netflix.

    Check out our exclusive featurette below.

  • May28
    CRIME UNFOLDS BACKWARDS IN NETFLIX’S ‘SHIMMER LAKE’ TRAILER

    They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but I guess that depends on what you’re imitating, doesn’t it? Nobody thought that a television unknown named Noah Hawley would be able to adapt Fargo for the small screen with any kind of quality, but three years in, Fargo remains one of the best shows on television. And considering how much the first trailer for Netflix’s Shimmer Lake looks like an early bump for Fargo, it’s safe to say that the streaming giant has been taking notes. We need a new adage for the imitation of imitation being a somewhat less sincere form of flattery, I guess.

    That being said, judging by the film’s trailer, Shimmer Lake is going to make a lot of folks very happy. There’s nothing quite as much fun  —  in my book, anyways  —  as a movie about a group of small town idiots who stumble into a poorly conceived crime. From Fargo to A Simple Plan to countless others, the halls of movie Valhalla are lined with slow-burn indies with impressive casts and a few smart twists along the way. This certainly seems to fit the bill.

    Oh, and there’s one more trick up Shimmer Lake’s sleeve! According to the film’s website, the movie is actually told entirely in reverse, backing up days and weeks to tell the crime story from the very end all the way to the very beginning. It’s not a conceit we’ve seen too many times in film  —  outside of Christopher Nolan’s much-beloved Memento, of course  —  but if this approach is used as an important storytelling mechanic and not just as a hook to get people to watch, it’s an approach that could be a lot of fun. Memento meets Fargo? The perfect logline for studio executives, and hopefully, the perfect thriller for Netflix audiences at home.
    Here’s the brief plot synopsis for Shimmer Lake:

    An inventive crime thriller told backwards — reversing day by day through a week — following a local sheriff’s quest to unlock the mystery of three small town criminals and a bank heist gone wrong.

    Shimmer Lake’s impressive cast includes Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, Wyatt Russell, Rob Corddry, and Ron Livingston. The film will be available for streaming on June 9.

  • May25
    Oren Uziel Discusses Directorial Debut ‘Shimmer Lake,’ ‘God Particle’ Joining ‘Cloverfield’

    There’s death. Men on the run. Multiple betrayals. Then, a heist.

    So unfolds “Shimmer Lake,” the feature directorial debut from Oren Uziel, a stylish thriller that ups the ante by telling its story backwards. Available on Netflix beginning June 9, the film begins on the last day of the tale, then proceeds to go back and show what happened each day before, until the day of the robbery. And if it sounds like a gimmick, don’t be fooled: Uziel’s smart script only works when told in reverse, revealing secrets and confidences at just the right times. “The problem with a lot of these movies that don’t work is it’s just a gimmick,” Uziel concurs. “Here, there’s no movie if it’s not told this way.” The film is also bolstered by fantastic performances from a cast that includes Benjamin Walker as a small-town lawman and Wyatt Russell as the ringleader of the heist.

    If the name of the script rings a bell, it might be because it’s been a hot property in Hollywood for several years. Uziel was a lawyer who quit his day job in 2008 to write a novel, thinking that would be his way into screenwriting. Because chick lit was all the rage, publishers were trying to make “lad lit” happen — something that put Uziel at odds with his agent. “She wanted something sexier,” he recalls. “I finally said to myself, ‘If you want to be a screenwriter, just write a screenplay!’”

    Uziel learned the trade simply by watching movies and reading scripts, and “Shimmer Lake” was the first screenplay he ever wrote. “I had no idea what to do with it,” he admits. “So I put it in the mail to the Austin Film Festival screenwriting competition. And I started getting calls: ‘You’re a semifinalist, you’re a finalist!’” Uziel went on to win the fest’s Latitude Productions award.

    The script was quickly optioned by Fox Atomic. “Then, they immediately went out of business,” Uziel recalls with a laugh. “It was my first introduction to Hollywood.”

    Over the years, the script was optioned by various producers and set up at different studios and different directors expressing interest. In the meantime, Uziel was establishing himself as a screenwriter based on the strength of a script he couldn’t get made. He was brought on to work on “22 Jump Street” and a draft of “Zombieland 2,” and learning his way around a set. “Originally, I didn’t know anything about filmmaking and had no experience,” he says. “So I said, let’s baby step it, let’s learn how to be a screenwriter and learn how movies are made. I had told the last person who optioned it, ‘If you can get this movie made, I’m sure it’s going to be great. But if at the end of the first option period you haven’t made it, please give it back to me because I suspect I might be ready to direct it then.’ And he did.”

    Though it took until 2015 to roll the cameras, Uziel says things came together with surprisingly few hiccups once he was set to direct. Netflix had bought the streaming rights prior to shooting, and later purchased worldwide rights. While that means the film won’t be seen in theaters, Uziel knows the streaming platform can help it find a wide audience. “I know how I watch movies and how my friends watch. The movie’s going to be seen on Netflix,” he says. “You lose some things like a theatrical release, but it’s a give and take.”

    Uziel had originally spoken to Liev Schreiber about playing lawman Zeke Sikes, but when the actor went on to do his passion project “Chuck,” he met with Walker. “He’s was the first to sign on and he’s so good,” Uziel notes. “And casting him made everything go 10 years younger.”

    Rainn Wilson was cast against type as Zeke’s screw-up brother, who gets in over his head on the heist. “I just have so much faith in comic actors, I think they can do anything,” says Uziel. “So when you ask them to play tragic, they’re really good at it.” And Uziel was familiar with Russell, who appeared in “22 Jump Street.” He notes, “I wanted that guy to be someone you could feel for and wasn’t the stereotypical heavy.”

    Two fresh faces rounded out the cast: Stephanie Sigman plays Russell’s love interest, and Uziel had caught her in the Mexican thriller “Miss Bala.” And for the role of Chris, one of the robbers who suffered brain damage in a previous accident, Uziel cast unknown Mark Rendall. “One of the editors I was talking to has a clip of Mark on his reel and I said, ‘Who’s that guy?’” Uziel reveals. “And we tracked him down from that one scene.”

    The film was shot in 23 days and Uziel credits his cast with making his first time a smooth experience. “I love actors,” he enthuses. “I can’t do that, it’s insane. I respect how vulnerable they are and what a craft it is. Everybody understood what they were doing and the characters and the process. It was so indie they knew we didn’t have warm-up takes, we didn’t have time for take 12. They got it and they got it fast.”

    Asked if he ever got confused writing or shooting the film because of the nature of the timeline, Uziel quickly responds: “Always.” He adds that writing the script was a particularly delicate process. “Because it was my first screenplay, it’s the only reason I would be dumb enough to try and write something like that. The first bunch of drafts were a disaster. It’s a hard balance to make sure the audience isn’t ahead of you, but also confused. And to develop characters and set up payoffs in reverse is hard.”

    But in the end, Uziel has made an airtight film. “Hopefully it rewards rewatching, as opposed to demands rewatching,” he says.

    Up next, Uziel has a film due in October that already has the business buzzing: his script for the sci-fi film “God Particle” was produced by J.J. Abrams and has recently been revealed to be set in Abrams’ “Cloverfield” universe. The film is currently listed as “Cloverfield Movie” on IMDb.

    Though he wrote “God Particle” prior to the release of “10 Cloverfield Lane,” Uziel has no qualms about his script being part of this shared universe. “They are smart and savvy and know that the brand of J.J. and the brand of ‘Cloverfield’ are enormous,” he says. “It’s a smart way of being able to make original movies, but have them be a recognizable IP. I understand it and endorse that.”

    As for what he can reveal about the film, which stars David Oyelowo and Daniel Bruhl, Uziel pauses before saying, “It’s going to be very fun, I think.”

  • May25
    Official Trailer for Netflix’s ‘Shimmer Lake’ Film with Benjamin Walker

    “Once you open that door there’s no going back!” Netflix has unveiled an official trailer for a new film titled Shimmer Lake, the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Oren Uziel. This small-town crime mystery is told in reverse, going backwards day-by-day, telling the story of the local sheriff’s attempt to solve a bank robbery and find the criminals. Benjamin Walker (from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) stars as the sheriff, with an eclectic cast of indie actors including Rainn Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Rob Corddry, Wyatt Russell, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins. This seems like it’s riding the coattails of all the buzz about small-town crime TV shows and films, but I’m still curious to check it out.

    An inventive crime thriller told backwards — reversing day by day through a week — following a local sheriff’s (Benjamin Walker) quest to unlock the mystery of three small town criminals and a bank heist gone wrong. Shimmer Lake is written and directed by filmmaker Oren Uziel, making his directorial debut with this film without any other directing work before. Uziel is a screenwriter who worked on “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”, 22 Jump Street, and Freaks of Nature before jumping into directing. He’s also working on the screenplays for the new Cloverfield movie and the Mortal Kombat reboot. Netflix will release Uziel’s Shimmer Lake streaming exclusively starting on June 9th this summer. Anyone interested in seeing this?

  • May25
    Dark Comedy Thriller ‘Shimmer Lake’ Comes to Netflix June 9

    SHIMMER LAKE is a darkly comic crime thriller coming to Netflix. It follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother.

    It features a fantastic cast that includes Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Wyatt Russell, Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, Ron Livingston & John Michael Higgins

    The film is written and directed by Oren Uziel, produced by Adam Saunders (Footprint Features) and Britton Rizzio.

    Check out the trailer below then watch it on Netflix June 9th.

  • May25
    Netflix’s ‘Shimmer Lake’ Unfolds in Reverse (Trailer)

    Unfolding in reverse time, this darkly comic crime thriller follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother.

    Starring Rainn Wilson, best known as Dwight Schrute from “The Office” or to horror fans as “that dude who is turned into a fish” in Rob Zombie’s House of 1,000 Corpses, Netflix has released the trailer for Shimmer Lake, set for streaming on June 9th.

    The full cast is awesome, starring Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies) and Ron Livingston (Officie Space, The Conjuring) as two private investigators, not to mention the up-and-coming Wyatt Russell, which has been starring in all sorts of gems from 22 Jumps Street and “Black Mirror”, as well as genre films We Are What We Are and At the Devil’s Door. Adam Pally, who is awesome on “Making History”, also stars with Stephanie Sigman and John Michael Higgins in Oren Uziel‘s directorial debut.

  • May25
    ‘Shimmer Lake’ Trailer Reveals Twisty Netflix Original Crime Thriller Told in Reverse

    Netflix has unveiled the first trailer for the upcoming original crime drama film Shimmer Lake. Written and directed by Oren Uziel, the scribe behind the upcoming Cloverfield movie formerly known as God Particle and co-writer of 22 Jump Street, the film is a darkly comic crime thriller told in reverse—the opening scene is the end of the story, and each successive scene keeps going backwards, revealing new twists and turns in reverse. While that may sound a bit like Memento, this film has its own hook and is bolstered by a cast of comedic actors turning in fine dramatic work.

    Benjamin Walker plays a local sheriff hunting down three bank robbery suspects, two of which are played by Rainn Wilson and Wyatt Russell. This trailer basically showcases the darkly comic tone and complex narrative, giving a nice overview of the feel of this dark yet engaging thriller.

    Check out the trailer below, and look for my interview with Uziel about the film on Collider next week. The film also stars Stephanie Sigman, Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, Ron Livingston, and John Michael Higgins. Shimmer Lake premieres exclusively on Netflix on June 9th.

  • May24
    Shimmer Lake Official Trailer – Netflix

    Netflix has released an official trailer for its up coming dark comedy thriller feature film, Shimmer Lake. The film tells a story of a local sheriff hunting for three bank robber suspects one of whom is his brother. The movie is written by Oren Uziel(22 Jump Street, Freaks of Nature, Mortal Kombat:Rebirth) who is making his directorial debut. The cast includes Wyatt Russell(22 Jump Street), Rainn Wilson(The Office, Juno), Benjamin Walker(In The Heart of the Sea, Flags of Our Father), Adam Pally(Happy Endings, Dirty Grandpa, Iron Man 3), John Michael Higgins(Bad Teacher, The Ugly Truth), Ron Livingston(The Conjuring, Office Space), Stephanie Sigman(War on Everyone, Spectre) and Rob Corddry(Hot Tub Time Machine). Shimmer Lake is set to debut June 9th on Netflix. Check out the trailer below.

  • May24
    Shimmer Lake Trailer: Rainn Wilson Turns to Crime

    Netflix has revealed the trailer for Shimmer Lake, their new comedy thriller starring Rainn Wilson (The Office), Benjamin Walker (The Choice), Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street), Adam Pally (The Mindy Project), John Michael Higgins (Bad Teacher), Ron Livingston (The Conjuring), Stephanie Sigman (Narcos) and Rob Corddry (Office Christmas Party). Check out the Shimmer Lake trailer below!

    Unfolding in reverse time, this darkly comic crime thriller follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother.

    The film is the feature directorial debut of screenwriter Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street, Mortal Kombat: Rebirth), and is produced by Britton Rizzio and Adam Saunders.

    Shimmer Lake will debut on Netflix June 9.

  • May24
    Netflix’s Shimmer Lake Trailer Unravels a Backwards Mystery

    With just a few weeks until it debuts on the streaming service, Netflix has unveiled the first trailer for the upcoming indie Shimmer Lake, which is slated to arrive June 9. This dark comedy is set during the aftermath of a bank robbery in a small town, but nothing is as it seems, including the actual format of the movie itself. While we can’t exactly tell from the trailer, this movie is told in reverse time.

    Netflix debuted the trailer for this darkly comic crime thriller on YouTube today, which follows a local sheriff named Zeke Sikes (Benjamin Walker) hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother Andy (Rainn Wilson). From the trailer’s opening moments, we can tell that Zeke is a straight shooter, so to speak, telling his young niece Sally (Isabel Dove) that everyone in town thinks they can do whatever they want with no repercussions. When he ponders what’s the point of being the only clean person in a town that’s completely dirty, Sally says that her mom gives her a bath when she’s dirty. Zeke responds by saying he’s ready to give this whole town a bath.

    Zeke’s brother Andy, along with Ed (Wyatt Russell) and Chris (Mark Rendall), were responsible for robbing the bank, but we see in this trailer that Ed screwed over his partners, leaving them high and dry and taking the money for himself. We also see scenes with Andy and another woman named Steph (Stephanie Sigman), who Andy is seemingly planning to leave town with, once he gets a hold of the money Ed stole. There is also a strange scene with Andy confronting Brad (John Michael Higgins), who seems to be the bank manager, since he was seen leaving the bank earlier in the trailer, just before the robbery. Like seemingly everyone else in this town, Brad is hiding a secret, a young homosexual lover.

    The movie’s title refers to the place Andy wants to meet Steph at, after he has procured the money, but there will likely be twists and turns aplenty in this dark comedy. The cast also includes Adam Pally, Ron Livingston and Rob Corddry. Shimmer Lake marks the directorial debut of writer Oren Uziel, who wrote the hit short film Mortal Kombat: Rebirth that helped spawn the Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series. He went on to write the script for the hit comedy sequel 22 Jump Street, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, along with Freaks of Nature and the upcoming Cloverfield Movie, which was once entitled God Particle.

    When Shimmer Lake debuts on the Netflix streaming service in a few weeks, it will mark the end of a long road for this film, which started back in 2009. This original screenplay by Oren Uziel landed on the 2009 Black List, a year which included scripts such as The Social Network, Prisoners, The Voices and eventual Best Picture winner The King’s Speech, just to name a few. Take a look at the first trailer for Shimmer Lake below.

  • May24
    Rainn Wilson Turns to Crime in The Trailer For Netflix’s Shimmer Lake

    The official trailer for Netflix’s Shimmer Lake is here. The inventive, darkly comic crime thriller features an ensemble cast led by Rainn Wilson, best known as Dwight Schrute from The Office, as Andy Sikes, a man who gets entangled in a chain of events involving a heist gone bad. Benjamin Walker will play Andy’s brother Zeke, a local sheriff who attempts to untangle the crime and its many diverse participants.

    A story told in reverse involving many shady characters, the inventive Shimmer Lake ostensibly bills itself as a cross between Memento and Fargo. It marks the directorial debut of Oren Uziel, who wrote the screenplay of the new upcoming Mortal Kombat adaptation and also penned the script for 22 Jump Street. Now, the first trailer finally unveils Uziel’s complex creation.

    Netflix have released the official trailer for Shimmer Lake, which you can watch above. It focuses on the aforementioned Zeke and Andy, the two brothers who end up playing a game of cat-and-mouse with each other as Zeke dedicates himself to “giving this town a bath” while Andy gets in way too deep with the wrong people. There’s also a visual cue to the movie’s backward narrative, showing a cabin by the titular Shimmer Lake burning in reverse.

    The movie also stars Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston as a pair of (probably shady) private investigators, as well as Wyatt Russell, Stephanie Sigman and Adam Pally. The movie is produced by Footprint Features, a young company born out of theater that specializes in “character-driven” storytelling.

    The trailer for Shimmer Lake certainly teases a movie with loads of potential. It promises a uniquely structured story, a complex web of characters, and a chance to deliver plenty of darkly humorous thrills. Uziel showed his comedic chops with his script for 22 Jump Street, and the comedy experience of much of the cast has a good chance to breathe life into Shimmer Lake. Wilson, in particular, looks like he has the potential to deliver a memorable performance.

    Clearly it’s one of the most anticipated Netflix movies of the year for a reason. But there’s also plenty of uncertainty surrounding Uziel at the helm – directorial debuts always carry some risk. That said, he obviously pulled in plenty of talent to work with him and the narrative structure of Shimmer Lake shows that the young filmmaker has plenty of ambition.

    Shimmer Lake premieres June 9 on Netflix.

  • May24
    Crime Goes Backwards In Trailer For Netflix’s ‘Shimmer Lake’ Starring Rainn Wilson & Benjamin Walker

    Whichever side of the Netflix debate you’re on, there’s no arguing that sometimes they’re not the greatest advocates of their own original programming. Case in point: “Shimmer Lake.” The movie drops on the service in two weeks, and it’s only now getting a trailer, and something you might’ve only noticed if you were paying attention to YouTube.

    Rainn Wilson and Benjamin Walker star in the directorial debut of screenwriter Oren Uziel (“22 Jump Street“), which tells a crime story with a narrative twist. Here’s the lean synopsis from the streaming service:

    Unfolding in reverse time, this darkly comic crime thriller follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother.

    It’s certainly an interesting storytelling gambit, but we’ll see if the execution pays off. “Shimmer Lake” hits Netflix on June 9th.

  • May24
    SHIMMER LAKE MOVIE TRAILER

    Check out the first official trailer of Shimmer Lake, the upcoming drama thriller movie written and directed by Oren Uziel and starring Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Rob Corddry, Wyatt Russell, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins.

    SHIMMER LAKE
    Sometimes it is the smallest towns that have the biggest problems.

    Plot synopsis:
    “Unfolding in reverse time, this darkly comic crime thriller follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother.”
    Best quote from the trailer: “When I am dirty my mom gives me a bath.”

    The release date of the movie Shimmer Lake is set to June 9, 2017 on Netflix.

    Stay tuned with us for more details.

  • May24
    Shimmer Lake – Trailer

    Benjamin Walker, star of “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” plays a small-town sheriff who intends to give his dirty town a much-needed bath in the newly-released trailer for the offbeat crime thriller “Shimmer Lake.”

    Told in reverse chronological order, the Netflix original spins a darkly comic (Fargo-esque) yarn about a town that’s “completely dirty” where the “only clean person” is a straight-arrow sheriff (Walker) who finds himself investigating a strange bank robbery case that appears to involve his brother (played by Rainn Wilson).

    Written and directed by “22 Jump Street” and “Freaks of Nature” screenwriter Oren Uziel (it’s his directorial debut), “Shimmer Lake” also stars Stephanie Sigman, Rob Corddry, Wyatt Russell, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins.

    The film is set to premiere on June 9 only on Netflix.

    Synopsis: Unfolding in reverse time, this darkly comic crime thriller follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother.

    Directed by Oren Uziel
    Starring Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, Stephanie Sigman, Rob Corddry, Wyatt Russell, Ron Livingston, Adam Pally, John Michael Higgins

    Release date June 9, 2017 (on Netflix)

  • May24
    Trailer: Rainn Wilson In Netflix’s “Shimmer Lake”

    Netflix has premiered the trailer for their new comedy thriller original feature “Shimmer Lake” starring Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, Wyatt Russell, Adam Pally, John Michael Higgins, Ron Livingston, Stephanie Sigman and Rob Corddry.

    Unfolding in reverse time, this darkly comic crime thriller follows a local sheriff hunting three bank robbery suspects, one of whom is his brother. Scribe Oren Uziel makes his feature directorial debut on the film which goes up on the service on June 9th.

  • May16
    Rainn Wilson gets foul-mouthed in exclusive clip from crime film Shimmer Lake

    The new Netflix crime thriller Shimmer Lake has an impressive cast, which includes Benjamin Walker, Rainn Wilson, Adam Pally, Stephanie Sigman, Wyatt Russell, Rob Corddry, Ron Livingston, and John Michael Higgins. Plus? One doozy of a twist.

    “It’s a movie about a crime in a small town and a sheriff’s attempts to get to the bottom of what happened,” says the film’s writer and first-time director, Oren Uziel. “It is told in reverse chronological order, so it starts three days after the crime, and slowly works its way backwards to two days after, one day after, to the actual day of the event. Ben Walker, who is phenomenal, plays Zeke, the town sheriff; Adam Pally plays Reed, who is the extremely lovable deputy; Rainn Wilson is Zeke’s brother Andy, who’s sort of gotten in over his head; Stephanie Sigman plays Ed’s wife; and Rob Corddry and Ron Livingston play a couple of FBI agents.”

    Uziel, whose previous writing credits include 22 Jump Street, says seeing movies on HBO as a kid helped inspire his film’s unusual structure. “I loved watching anything that was on there,” he says. “It didn’t matter what part of the movie was on, I would watch from that point on. I would end up watching movies out of order, because I would just catch whatever piece was on. Eventually I would watch the whole movie the way it was intended and it would never be as good as it was the way I watched it. It just added a level of tension and mystery.”

    Shimmer Lake producer Adam Saunders compares the tone of the film to Fargo and Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. “It’s in the bag-of-money thriller genre, but it’s also comedic,” he says. “I think Oren’s done a really great job of combining those two elements into a cohesive tone.”

    In addition to Shimmer Lanke, Uziel also had a hand in writing the J.J. Abrams-produced, super-secret, and currently untitled 2017 Cloverfield movie, which will be released Oct. 27. What can he tell us about that?

    “I know that it’s going to be part of — I don’t know how you say it exactly— but the expanded Cloverfield universe,” says Uziel. “It is, uh, in space. People should be very excited for it. I mean, I don’t know. I’m in fear of saying too much!”

  • Feb23
    Adam DeVine & Alexandra Daddario Kick Off ‘When We First Met’ Filming, Robbie Amell Joins Cast

    Adam DeVine walks alongside co-star Alexandra Daddario as they get to work on their new film When We First Met on Monday (July 18) in New Orleans, La.

    The duo star in the upcoming film alongside Robbie Amell, who just joined the cast, according to Variety.

    When We First Met follows Noah (DeVine), “who spends the perfect first night with the girl of his dreams (Daddario) but gets relegated to the friend zone.”

    “He spends the next three years wondering what went wrong — until he gets the unexpected chance to travel back in time and alter that night, and his fate, over and over again.”

  • Sep25
    Netflix picks up backwards-moving crime drama

    Movies that progress linearly have been pretty standard for a while, with even big names like The Shawshank Redemption or The Godfather having scenes occur in a chronological fashion (give or take a flashback here and there). However, despite there being an entire Seinfeld episode based around arbitrarily telling a story in reverse, the idea of a movie having its narrative unfold backwards hasn’t really caught on in a meaningful way. According to Variety, though, Netflix is going to give it a try with an original film called Shimmer Lake, a “crime thriller” that happens in reverse.

    Variety says it’s about a “local sheriff’s quest to unlock the mystery of three small-town criminals and a bank heist gone wrong.” The movie will show each day of the investigation in reverse, presumably culminating in the heist itself so the viewer can see how it actually went down. Shimmer Lake will be the directorial debut of screen Oren Uziel, and it stars Rainn Wilson, Benjamin Walker, Stephanie Sigman, and Wyatt Russell.

  • Sep23
    Netflix Acquires Rights to Oren Uziel’s ‘Shimmer Lake’ Starring Benjamin Walker

    Netflix has acquired the worldwide rights to “God Particle” screenwriter Oren Uziel’s directorial debut, “Shimmer Lake,” sources tell Variety.

    The film stars Benjamin Walker, “Spectre” actress Stephanie Sigman, Wyatt Russell, and Rainn Wilson. Uziel wrote and directed the film.

    The movie is a crime thriller told backward — reversing day by day through a week — following a local sheriff’s quest to unlock the mystery of three small-town criminals and a bank heist gone wrong.

    With his compassion for his characters and his precise blend of words and images, writer-director Kenneth Lonergan take his place as one of American cinema’s most vital voices.Sponsored by Amazon Studios

    Britton Rizzio and Adam Saunders produced the pic. Production is currently wrapped on the project.

    Uziel, who’s repped by WME and Writ Large, is a rising filmmaker. His highly anticipated “God Particle,” starring David Oyelowo and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and produced by J.J. Abrams, bows next February.

    He is also currently developing a handful of projects, including Sony’s “Intern’s Notebook” that Neil Moritz is producing and “Overnight” at Disney. His past credits include penning the scripts to “22 Jump Street” and “Freaks of Nature.”

  • Jul18
    ‘The DUFF’ Actor Robbie Amell to Co-Star with Adam Devine in ‘When We First Met’

    Robbie Amell is set to co-star opposite Adam Devine and Alexandra Daddario in the comedy “When We First Met.”

    Amell will reteam with “The D.U.F.F.” helmer Ari Sandel who is directing the project. Devine is also co-writing the pic with John Whittington.

    Footprint Features, MXN and Wonderland Sound and Vision will produce the pic.

    Devine stars as Noah, who spends the perfect first night with the girl of his dreams (Daddario) but gets relegated to the friend zone. He spends the next three years wondering what went wrong — until he gets the unexpected chance to travel back in time and alter that night, and his fate, over and over again.

    Production is currently under way in New Orleans.

    After breaking out as the character Deathstorm in CW’s “The Flash,” Amell’s film career has begun to pick up with lead roles in New Line’s “Max” and “The D.U.F.F.”

    Amell has busy year still ahead of him with “Nine Lives” bowing on August 5 and McG’s “The Babysitter.”

    He is repped by WME, Protege Entertainment and Felker, Toczek Suddleson and Abramson.

  • May06
    Adam Devine & Alexandra Daddario Will Reminisce About ‘When We First Met’

    Devine stars as Noah, who spends the perfect first night with the girl of his dreams (Daddario) but gets relegated to the friend zone. He spends the next three years wondering what went wrong — until he gets the unexpected chance to travel back in time and alter that night, and his fate, over and over again.

    Devine — who wrote When We First Met with John Whittington & Scotty Landes — stars on Workaholics, recurs on Modern Family and voices Pizza Steve on Uncle Grandpa. His big-screen credits include The Intern and the Pitch Perfect films, and next will be seen in Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates. Repped by WME, Avalon and Morris Yorn, he also is set to topline New Line’s comedy Paternity Leave. Daddario starred in San Andreas and has appeared on True Detective, American Horror Story, Parenthood and White Collar. Her upcoming films include The Layover and Baywatch. She is with UTA and Untitled.

    Adam Saunders of Footprint Features, Mason Novick of MXN and Mary Viola and McG of Wonderland Sound and Vision will produce. Devine, Michelle Knudsen, Steve Eddy and James McGough will exec produce. WME will handle domestic rights for the film.

    Sandel is repped by WME and Principato Young, Whittington by Verve and MXN and Landes by CAA and attorney Lev Ginsburg.

  • Oct25
    Benjamin Walker Toplines Thriller ‘Shimmer Lake’; Oren Uziel Directs From His Black List Script

    The film from Footprint Features and Writ Large starts production late this month in Toronto. Britton Rizzio and Adam Saunders are producing Shimmer Lake, with Dan Bekerman, Steve Eddy and Youmi N. Ma as exec producers. The Exchange will be selling international rights at AFM next month.

    Uziel, repped by WME and Writ Large, also penned the horror comedy Freaks Of Nature, which Sony opens October 30, and has Overnight in the works at Disney and the J.J. Abrams-produced God Particle at Paramount. Walker, who starred as the Great Emancipator in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, next appears in Ron Howard’s period drama In The Heart Of The Sea. He is with WME and Inspire Entertainment.

  • Oct17
    “So What Exactly Does a Producer Do?”

    The role of a producer has always been kind of opaque to me. I just fundamentally get what directors do, cinematographers do, writers, etc., but “Producer” is such a broad term and encompasses so many things. For that reasons, I’ve tended to shie away from talking to them, because I just didn’t really get it. But I got the chance to talk to producer Adam Saunders, CEO of Footprint Features, and I got a bit more of a glimpse into the day-to-day work of what is really a crucial role on set.

    So that was pretty cool. And talking to him was cool in general. He’s a fast-talker and ridiculously enthusiastic, both of which are pretty good traits for a producer to have.

    It’s worth noting that this interview was actually conducted a little while ago, during the media blitz for the release of Footprint’s most recent film, About Alex. The content of the interview itself is not particularly time sensitive, though, so what he said then certainly still applies now.

    Let’s get to it!

    Your site is open for people who want to submit a script. Do you have a quota of filling one of your two or three movies from there vs some from traditional agencies, or are you really looking for whoever seems best at the time?

    The general rule in all this stuff is that the talent wins the day. The best idea wins. Always. If all the ideas come from one agent and those are the best scripts we’ve gotten that year, then we’ll make those. If the best idea came through our website, fine. We’re just trying to make the very best movies we can make.

    What kind of movies, genre-wise, are you looking for? You have said you’re looking for “Character-driven” films, but that’s not really a genre.

    Fair point. Our natural attraction or predilection or whatever is for comedies and dramas and thrillers. Those are the three genres that we most respond to. I mean, of those three comedies and thrillers are easier to sell, but dramas often time attract big casts and then we can sell with casts. I love all three kinds.

    If someone came to you with a character-driven script for an action movie or a horror movie, would you be open to that?

    We’re trying to establish a brand, so that people know the kind of movies we make. If you brought me script for The Sixth Sense, which is considered to be a horror movie, would we make it? Sure, if we could afford it. It’s a great script. But in general, we’re trying to stay on message. Movies like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, The Way Way Back, and 50/50 are in the Footprint wheelhouse, and that’s what we want people to know a Footprint movie is. With an exceptional script in another genre, sure, but most likely that script would go to another company that tends to make those kinds of movies anyway.

    How do you define success, financially, critically, commercially, etc.?

    Each thing is compared to its own standards. For investors, you want to get them a return on their investment. From an artistic standpoint, we want to have a movie that we’re proud of, so with the director and me feeling that it’s the movie we set out to make, and from an audience standpoint, in a perfect world people would like it. You don’t want to base your definition of success on what other people say, but we’re in the business of entertaining people, so the more people that respond to the film the better, just by definition.

    How hands on are you during pre-production and production?

    Very. From the moment we acquire the script to the moment the film comes out in theaters, we are very, very hands on. In terms of pre-production, when we’re putting together the cast and crew, those are decisions made between the me and the director. When we’re in production, I’m there every day on set. Every time we shoot a scene I’m sitting right there. I’m very hands on. As for the script, it depends. If it’s fully formed, there’s a short development time and I don’t do much. Other times it takes much longer and I give lots of script notes. It varies from project to project.

    How do you choose directors and other parts of the crew?

    Each project is different. With directors, we look to see that their body of work fits. You really want to find someone that’s passionate about the project, and if you feel like they have a vision for it and you want to hear that and see what they’re looking for. That’s the process for that. For the crew, the director will obviously be a huge part of that. The Director of Photography is the director’s choice, and the designer is largely chosen by the director as well, because they have to execute that vision on screen.

    What is your role between the delivery and official release?

    Well it’s interesting, because my role is kind of the same throughout. I always play the role of the general manager of the football team. I’m overseeing the process and making sure everything’s on track and putting out fires as they go. But hopefully if things are on track then I’m just overseeing and not doing a lot. But I step in if there’s a problem.

    Once it’s finished and it’s been sold to a distributor, I’m in contact with the distributor, talking about the marketing materials, talking about the trailer and the press opportunites and which cities it comes out in. Just sort of making sure that everything is fine from our end. Even as they prepare the marketing and the release strategy.

    Long term, would you team up with other production companies to make things that are more expensive than the $8 million films you work on now?

    Sure, absolutely. We’re actually already partnering with companies. We’re open to that and working with bigger budget ranges for sure. That’s definitely something we want to do.

    Was the $4-$8 million limit arbitrary? Where did you get from?

    We want to make movies that feel like movies and have production value of a certain quality. At the same time, based on revenue streams and various comparable films, we want to be profitable. It depends, but there’s a market for a $1 million film and a $3-5 million film, and a $7-10 million film. Those three ranges are the areas that we work in. That’s what we get ad that’s the money our business model has dictated.

    I know you were involved in theater for a long time. What do you see as the most benefit of film as opposed to theater?

    Wider reach. We make a trailer and it gets a million page views. A million people. You go to a play, and I’ve got a friend who is an incredible broadway producer, but to get a million people to see a broadway show would take years. It’s harder to reach so many people, and that reach matters.

    Speaking of reach, your most recent film, About Alex, released theatrically and on VOD simultaneously. Is that the future of distribution?

    To some extent, we’re really figuring out how it’s all gonna go. My hope is that the theatrical release of About Alex will drive awareness and people will see it there, but by having it on VOD, you can get it into 85 million homes or something with access to it. I think there’s a value for having that many eyeballs, but I think there’s something really powerful about the screen experience. I would like for us to have our movies come out in theaters and then on all the ancillary streams. That’s the ideal scenario, but I’m aware that the world is changing. We have to make sure that we can get the best return.

    Makes sense. Any last thoughts?

    What we really want is for people to know what we are and what we do. We make these movies under $10 million, they’re character driven comedies, dramas, and thrillers. If we’re clear about that, we’ll get really good material and we have been getting really good material. It’s like going to a restaurant for me. If I go to a restaurant that’s selling pizza and egg rolls, I don’t eat there. I think “I don’t know what these guys are doing.” If I go somewhere that claims to have the best spaghetti in town, I eat there, because I know that that’s what they do. We want be that with Footprint. We want to be a specific brand that people know, and we want to do a really good job of making these kinds of movies so that people will be excited. We don’t want to be anything other than that.

    Awesome! Thanks so much for talking to me.

    Thank you!

  • Aug08
    “A Strikingly Warm Exploration of Friendship”

    A riff on the 1983 classic The Big Chill, this ensemble drama’s reunion of old friends differs because Alex’s suicide fails this time. It’s also, of course, filtered through a very different cultural landscape, with characters born at about the time the earlier film was released. This is a strikingly warm exploration of friendship, with light comedy and very dark emotions along the way. And even if it sometimes feels a little sloppy about its big themes, it has a lot to say.

    After Alex (Jason Ritter) attempts suicide, his best pal Ben (Nate Parker) calls the old gang and asks them to come to Upstate New York and offer some support. Ben brings his girlfriend Siri (Maggie Grace), who’s also part of the group. But they’re grappling with some big issues in their relationship, since he’s a blocked writer and she has just had a job offer in Los Angeles. The cynical Josh (Max Greenfield) arrives at the same time as the charmer Sarah (Aubrey Plaza), and they can barely conceal the waves of loathing and lust between them. Finally, Isaac (Max Minghella) brings his younger girlfriend Kate (Jane Levy). As these people reconnect, the awkwardness is made even more intense by the question of how they can help Alex.

    It’s intriguing to see a movie made about 30-ish characters by 28-year-old Jesse Zwick, son of filmmaker Edward, who made the seminal TV series Thirtysomething. The film refreshingly avoids stereotypes, populating scenes with realistic people who are still hung up on the same issues they faced while in university, including quite a lot of soapy “he likes her but she likes him” melodrama. But as the weekend progresses, the thoughtful conversations lead to revelations and confessions, spurred on by some pot-smoking, game-playing, dancing and noisy sex. All of which gives the actors plenty to play with.

    Plaza is the standout, as usual, with her bracingly complex performance as a young woman who can’t help but seduce every man she meets. Also notable are Greenfield’s abrasive grump and Levy’s outspoken outsider, while Ritter has the most emotionally resonant role as a guy who knows the depths of his own disappointment. Even so, the script never quite addresses the whole suicide issue, apart from a general air of guilt and discomfort. So the connections between the characters are packed with other pungent themes, including lingering feelings, regrets and rivalries. While the revived camaraderie and running jokes keep us thoroughly entertained, the film is more of a gentle portrait than a provocative exploration. And in its ultimate observation (“What happened to us?” “We got serious”) the film reveals its own immaturity. Because these people are a long way from arriving at any real understanding about their lives.

  • Aug07
    “The Secret of Success”

    CEO of Footprint Features Adam Saunders is living proof of the Napoleon Hill adage, “Do not wait: the time will never be ‘just right.’”

    Like a modern take on those filmmakers of old who had only a dream, Saunders originally moved from NYC to Hollywood in 2007 to act – only to face the long, ongoing writer’s strike.

    Undeterred and not “wanting to wait tables until I was 80,” Saunders immediately started up an independent production company called Footprint Features with a few buddies. Now he is the sole producer of the film “About Alex.” Executive produced by Oscar-winning producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, the film was written and directed by Jesse Zwick. It stars Maggie Grace, Jason Ritter and Max Minghella – not bad for the company’s second feature.

    Luckily, Saunders’ background prepared him well for both the Hollywood move and setting up the company – he was the co-founder and artistic director of the critically acclaimed theater company, Footprint on the Sun (1999-2005) and also an accomplished actor in plays, television shows and films.

    Moviehole sat down with Saunders to see what the secret of his success is – and how others might find the secret too.

    Moviehole: How did you get started in the entertainment business?
    Adam Saunders: I started as an actor, I went to grad school (Yale School of Drama) for acting and I did things in New York City. When I moved out here to L.A. to act in 2007, the writers (Writers Guild) went on strike; I had run a theater company before, called Footprint on the Sun and it was the impetus for me in 2007. I got a few guys together and started a company called Footprints Features – they say that “all you need to be successful is ignorance and confidence.”
    We (Footprint) wanted to create opportunities for Ben (founding member Benjamin Epps) to direct and for me to act, and it opened up a whole world of producing – I found I loved it and I felt doors were really opening. I also got connected to Ed Zwick and got Jesse’s (Zwick) script of “About Alex.”

    Moviehole: What are you hoping the company will accomplish, project-wise?
    AS: I want the company to really grow like Scott Rudin’s or Castle Rock with great character-driving films that reach a wide audience – we are increasing budgets with our films. I grew up on “When Harry Met Sally” and “A Few Good Men” type of films – these films may not be made in that way today as the studios are making superhero films. The audience still wants these kinds of films, as seen with the success of “The Fault in Our Stars,” or like “The Way, Way Back” or “The Spectacular Now.”

    Moviehole: Who are your idols and why?
    AS: From a character standpoint, it would be Phillip Seymour Hoffman for actor projects – as to producers, it would be Harvey Weinstein, Scott Rudin and Brian Grazer – they have a great ability to get films out there and to reach people with them. I watched Joe Roth (producer) do a talk, which was really inspiring – I look to them. Then working with Ed and Marshall, those guys are legends and they created great films which are incredible.

    Moviehole: What have been some of your toughest challenges in the industry and how did you overcome them?
    AS: Well, I think for independent producers, the challenges would be in acquiring material and money, and getting good actors to be in films – with all three of those things, you can have a good career. In terms of raising money, it gets easier as you go and now we have a track record of doing that. The agents are also wonderful gatekeepers of good materials – we are getting great relationships with agents and managers and getting great material.
    The last thing is getting the cast, so now we are off and running. I also think there is a benefit to knowing screenplay structure – it’s harder to find good scripts from random submissions, we do read scripts sent to us but it’s harder to find diamonds in the rough.
    Because I started out as an actor, I’m always reading for dialogue and character in the movies (scripts) we are sent – we don’t do genre or big explosion movies, we do movies with a lot of heart. Jerry Bruckheimer once said “you should make the films you love to see.”

    Moviehole: What sets your production company apart from others?
    AS: When we first started and created a fancy website which we showed to a book publisher, he said it’s great, now you have to do it. If we option something, we make it – we do what we say we’re going to do and don’t overextend. It’s also about relationships and when I sit down with a writer/director and say we are going to make your movie, I feel I have to honor it.
    We also have the ability to finance, if you don’t finance the film it doesn’t go – and we partially or fully finance a film. I was talking to Jesse about a cast member who had dropped out of “About Alex,” and I said we are going to make this movie no matter what. We can’t afford to be in development for five years and not have the movie go, and it does set us apart from a big company who says we’ll option this and that and see how it goes. I do think in general, people (other companies) option a lot of things, while we want to make two or three films a year.

    Moviehole: What’s the most important thing to remember when producing a film?
    AS: Every problem has a solution – the one thing about producing is “to leap and the net will appear” – I think that’s something a lot of people are afraid to do. If you wait for everything to be on the exact timeline for everything to go, you’ll be waiting forever. The last two films, things came together at the last moment.
    What happened was, we had picked a house and tried to talk ourselves into liking it and the DP (director of photography) was worried about not enough space and feeling really cramped. We talked to Steve Eddy, our production adviser from Summit pictures about it too – by searching for a whole new house it would set us back, but I just felt like we had to leap and the net would appear.
    We hired a location scout and told him we had two days to find a house, and we found it out of several others and signed the deal the next day. That willingness to just jump out of the airplane is so critical, that you have to trust that you will land on your feet.

    Moviehole: You’ve taught at UCLA – what kinds of things do you teach in your course and what do you wish for in a great student?
    AS: They do a series of guest lectures, and every term they bring in amazing guests – I taught a class about independent film, where I walked them (students) through steps on how to get a movie off the ground, acquiring the movie and getting the cast.
    I think the people who do well in the class are the people who take initiative and ask to take me to lunch and have questions. There’s a saying, “If you ask Hollywood for something, Hollywood will tell you no – but if you tell Hollywood you’re doing something, Hollywood will say ‘how can I join?’” The same goes for producers, you just have to create something and if you create something that’s good, people will take notice.
    The people who have done well like Harvey Weinstein – he is a movie guy and has extraordinary taste, like Brian Grazer – they know movies. Mike Medavoy wrote a book (“You’re Only as Good as Your Next One”) where he says if I had one talent, it’s knowing who is talented. Also being able to identify what is a good performance, there’s a baseline of being able to recognize great talent and having the ability to convince them to work with you.

    Moviehole: I know some millennials who are struggling to get their foot in the door. What would you advise them?
    AS: I would say, just try to surround yourself with the best people that you can, to do the work you want to do – even if you have to start as an assistant or intern, to build relationships with people who are doing the work you want to do. Also be clear on what work you want to do, like an actor, producer or writer – be clear in your head as to what you want to do, then go do it.

    Moviehole: What are your future projects with names of stars? What is your ten year goal?
    AS: I’m working on a film called “When We First Met,” and another project I can’t name – we’re trying to do two films a year for a few years, then three after that.

    Moviehole: What advice do you have for Moviehole readers?
    AS: Keep reading and staying in the know.

  • Aug07
    Jesse Zwick’s Feature Debut, ‘About Alex,’ Is a Bold Start to a Promising Career

    Borrowing shamelessly from Lawrence Kasdan’s 1983 hit The Big Chill, writer-director Jesse Zwick’s debut feature, About Alex, gathers an ensemble of talented unknowns (some second-generation offspring of famous fathers) in a reunion necessitated this time not by a suicide and a funeral, but by an old chum (Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter, in the title role) who survives a suicide attempt and needs some tea and sympathy—or, as this group of 30-something cynics might put it, vodka and vitriol. Despite the efforts of a uniformly charismatic cast, the lack of originality dampens the good intentions considerably. I liked it anyway, and the intelligence and unhackneyed humor of the believable, unself-conscious screenplay by fledgling director Mr. Zwick (son of veteran director Edward Zwick) deserves special praise. It never hits a false note.

    The film opens with smart, still youthful-looking, all-American Alex trying to end his own life in the bathtub and dropping his mobile phone into the bloody water. Who was he trying to call? Out of the woodwork come his estranged friends to find out. The dysfunctional gang of characters assembled here are seven old chums who entered the adult world after college as idealistic non-conformists and found disillusion everywhere. Suddenly and unexpectedly, they are drawn together by the only member of their coterie with the courage to admit failure and throw in the towel on his disappointing life. The discussions that result during the weekend, spiced by the intriguing sexual tensions from earlier days that linger in the form of unfulfilled longings, are familiar but charged with humor and insight. Once they’ve made their way to Alex’s remote house in the country, they eventually unravel with the aid of modest kitchen skills, amateurish crisis counseling, clumsy efforts to bolster their host’s embarrassment and misery, and a seemingly never-ending supply of liquor.

    Sarah (Aubrey Plaza) insists the mentally compromised Alex cannot be left alone. Longtime couple Ben and Siri (Nate Parker and Maggie Grace) come close to breaking up. Good-looking academic Josh (Max Greenfield) thinks tough love is the only way to get to the bottom of Alex’s depression. Isaac (Max Minghella, son of the great director Anthony Minghella) brings along his 22-year-old girlfriend (Jane Levy) whose candor pries them all violently from their comfortable masquerades. Wine, risotto and marijuana take effect as jealousy, unrequited love, political differences and the disparate detours their lives have taken conspire to rupture relationships and bring out the worst in everybody. Some of the issues that plague them may never be resolved, but in the end seven people come to know each other better than they thought they did in the past. About Alex welcomes a new director worth keeping an eye on. I, for one, am anxious to see what he does next.

  • Aug05
    “Origin of Footprint and Beyond”

    How did Footprint Features come about?

    Footprint Features, originally started out as a theater company, Footprint on the Sun, I started with a bunch of friends of mine from college. We had run a theater company in college and then we came out to L.A. after college. The idea was accomplishing the impossible, that’s what the logo Footprint on the Sun means. But anyways, in 2007, I had just graduated from graduate school as an actor and came out here and the writers immediately went on strike and I thought, “oh my gosh I’m going to be waiting tables till I’m 100 years old.” In the same way we created the theater company, because I knew I wanted to work in film, so it was that whole, it was Mark Twain that said, “All you need to be successful is ignorance and confidence.” We had a lot of ignorance and we had a lot of confidence. I got a job at Spyglass and took producing school at night at UCLA in their producing program, where I now teach. We kind of by hook and by crook, we kind of just started putting it together. We went about asking a lot of questions. We were able to acquire our first script and then we started the long process of raising money, which took several years for that first movie. Then we hired a casting director and had to cast the film. It took a long time, but eventually we made that movie, “Family Weekend” and it came out last year. Then from there a lot of things happened, we made About Alex and now we’re going into production of our new one and another one, and now things are really starting to pick up, but that first stage was a long one.

    What was producing school like, because you had also gone to graduate school at Yale?

    They’re totally different. Yale was an immersive three-year program. It’s funny because I had a friend who went to Wharton School of Business, got out of school and then had massively successful job and they’re only in school for 2 years. And you go to Yale, which is a three-year program, 6 days a week, you’re basically working on Saturdays, you only have one day off and then you don’t have a job. The UCLA program was basically the exact opposite. It was at night, so you could hold a job during the day, which I did, I was working at Spyglass [Entertainment]. It was totally focused toward getting you practical knowledge on how to get a job, how to work as a producer. And, honestly, the best thing I learned, I learned a ton in that program, but really I was introduced to so many amazing, I mean they had the most amazing people come in there, incredible people talk to you. I met a guy, Todd Williams, a producer who became incredibly helpful to me. It was just a lot of people that I met through that program, our lawyer to this day, Lisa Callif. I just met a ton of people there that really helped me get started. So it was really the relationships that made it valuable.

    How did you receive the first script for Family Weekend, the first film you produced?

    It came to us, we did an exhaustive search. But what you find, when you’re first starting a film company and you don’t have any credits is that you can call all the agencies, which we did, but because they don’t know you, if they send you anything, sometimes they don’t, but if they do, they send you the scripts that have sort of been sitting on their desk for years, that nobody wants to make. So you don’t get any of the really good stuff until you have a proven track record. At that stage of the process before anybody knew us, it was a lot about personal relationships, we were asking writers that we knew, and sort of through a friend of a friend, actually somebody that had been in our theater company, we got hold of a script, which at that time was called Kidnapped. And, ultimately, through many, many rewrites became Family Weekend. But it was through a relationship, we just had personal relationship that we then were able to develop it. Oh and this brings back to UCLA, one of the people there who had taught a class on development helped us with developing that script. It was all kind of it takes a village at that stage. Everybody we knew, tv writers, anybody that we knew helped us get that script ready. Ultimately I met Ed Zwick, who helped a lot as well. A lot of things that got us to the starting line with that script.

    So after Family Weekend, with that new reputation, did it help you get About Alex?

    So Ed Zwick, he is obviously an incredibly well known and respected filmmaker, and his company, Bedford Falls, helped us produce Family Weekend. I met him just through personal contacts and he was incredibly helpful and generous, both with his time, his experience, and expertise helped us get that film off the ground. And I think we developed a really great relationship, personally. About Alex was written by his son. So Ed sent me the script and asked me what I thought of it and I said I love it, you have to let me produce it and he said, “Whoa, whoa let me first of all its Jesse’s and Jesse needs to do his due diligence.” So Jesse went onto a lot of producers, many of whom made offers on the script but. I was really fortunate that the Zwicks believed in me, both Ed and Jesse and took a shot on me. Because I said to them listen we’re a small company and if I option your movie, I’m going to make your movie. I don’t have a ton of things in development, if I option it, I’m going to make it. They took me up on that and we optioned it and we made it.

    What did you see in those scripts that made you want to produce them?

    I started as an actor so I read these things from a character point of view, from an actor’s point of view. I read them to see are they great roles for actors, is the dialogue great, does the character have an emotional arc, does it feel like something actors want to seek their teeth into? Because that is the bread and butter of what we do. We started as a theater company, our mandate is character driven, accessible to the mainstream. So everything we do has to fit those two sort of qualifications. In About Alex, the characters were amazing, the dialogue was so crisp and real, Jesse has such a gift, such an ear for dialogue. Every word he writes just feels real, he doesn’t have a false note in his body. So the characters struck me, the dialogue struck me, but I think thematically what really appealed to me About Alex, was I never read anything that sort of captured this moment in our social media. It’s talking about how we think we know each other, but we don’t. We follow each other on Facebook, we follow each other on Twitter, and Instagram, and we think oh yeah I know everything that’s going on in my friend’s life but you really actually don’t have any clue. And just by following social media, people can still feel incredibly alone even if they’re connected every day on these social mediums. I thought that really captured this moment of what it’s like to be a friend in today’s society when we’re trying to stay connected but we’re not actually seeing each other in person.

    I know there have been folks that refer it to The Big Chill, but this is for our generation now where social media is such a big presence in our lives.

    The Big Chill is very much of its time, had such a great soundtrack, very much of its time. I think that while thematically this does resonate and obviously there’s many similarities, with the construct of the story, I definitely feel this is very timely and very specific to now.

    Production companies tend to stick to specific genres. About Alex deals with a dramatic premise, but it has its lighter moments. And I know you mentioned character driven material, but is comedy something your production company leans toward?

    Yeah, I think you’re right. The genres we generally look for is comedy for sure. When We First Met, the movie we’re doing next, is a romantic comedy. Family Weekend was a family comedy. About Alex is a drama with comedic elements, it definitely has its very funny moments. I think comedy for sure. We’re also interested in character driven dramas if we think we can get a good cast. Dramas can sometimes be very difficult to sell but I think with the right cast you can definitely bridge that gap. And then thrillers, we’re interested in a project that’s a thriller, and we look at sort of psychological thrillers and things that are about people, but I think those are three genres are where we focus. Comedy, dramas, and thrillers, we’re not so interested in genre movies or action, those kinds of things, sci-fi, that’s what not what we really do. But comedies, dramas, and thrillers I think right in that centerpiece, that’s what we look for.

    Speaking of cast, with About Alex you have a lot of recognizable names in that ensemble. Did you approach them or did they read this script, like how you connected with it, and think, “I have to do this”?

    I think it’s a little bit of both. It was sort of a three-part attack with how we got that great cast. First of all, we had a great script, Jesse just wrote a great a script. People read it, they fell in love with it. We got a lot of buzz at the agencies, you got a lot of buzz around town. People loved his script. That’s a testament to Jesse and to the great writing. Second, we had great casting director, Linda Lowy and Will Stewart Emmy Award winning amazing casting directors. And they brought in extraordinary cast to come and read for the parts or just to talk about meeting with us or meeting on the project, so that was great. And then finally, we had Ed and Marshall [Herskovitz], who were great executive producers, who were able to lend their credibility to the project and say this is going to be a top, first class production. And obviously they endorsed me, endorsed Footprint, and endorsed everything by just having their involvement and their company attached, so I think those three things allowed the cast to take a shot on us and to be excited about us. And take on a shot on Jesse, who was a first time director, who absolutely crushed it and did an incredible job.

    Even though you’re still a new production company, you’re certainly building a great reputation.

    I feel like I have a responsibility to this cast because when you get somebody like an Aubrey Plaza who’s so well known from Parks and Rec, Max Greenfield, Maggie Grace, or Nate Parker. You have all these great actors. They’re coming up to the middle of nowhere, middle of New York, where their cell phones don’t work, and it’s raining everyday. I have a responsibility to those people. They’re taking a huge chance on me and our company, on Jesse, on this script, and you want to do right by these people and it always felt like it was very important to create a first class environment for them, that we create an incredibly professional environment, and even though it’s a small movie it felt to them hopefully like they were totally taken care of. I think the fact that they’re all willing to do press for us now and get out there and push the film I think is a testament to that relationship. And I take that very seriously.

    How do you approach producing as an actor or vice versa?

    Because I started as an actor, because I’ve acted in a lot of independent films, I know what that is like. I know being on the side of actors. I know how stressful that is, I know how much pressure is on the actors. I know that it’s their face on the movie poster, I know that it’s their job to when we say action, they have to be emotionally available and ready and do their job. Everybody says oh they’re professional, they know how to do it, and that’s true but we also have to create the environment to allow them to do their best work. And you can either do that or not do that. And I want us to be an incredibly actor friendly production company, so we try to shoot the script as close as we can to continuity order. We try to make sure they have their own private space in the dressing areas, we try to make sure the food is good, we try to make sure they have a nice place, or as nice as we can, to stay. We try to take care of them in a way that says hey listen we don’t have $100 million, nobody’s got all the amenities you’re going to have on a big studio film, but you are going to be taken care of in a way that you can do your best work, because the movie rides on you, especially in a character driven movie. The movie rides on their performances, so we take their performances seriously, and we want to protect them.

    Is there something you don’t want to see in a script?

    If it opens with volcano, or airplane crashes, or under the sea, or some sort of massive action sequence that I know we’re not going to be able to afford it. So if I immediately open it, it says they’re trudging through snow of Greenland, I’m like okay close the script. If they can limit the number of locations, limit the number of characters in the movie, those two things they make it production friendly. So if any writers out there that are thinking how do I get a movie made, limit the number of locations, limit the number of characters necessary because those things are incredibly costly, a lot of location moves are logistically difficult, and every time you have to hire an actor it’s expensive and it’s a time consuming part of the process. But you can limit those two things, I think you make it more produce-able and then for me if it’s accessible, it has commercial appeal. Footprint’s not necessarily into making things that are only relegated to the very small subsections of the festival scene market, we want these things to go wide, we want them to go mainstream, we want reach a wider audience. I’m looking for things that feel commercial, that feel like people would go and see on a Friday night, people would go and take on a date on a Saturday afternoon to the movies. That’s what we’re looking for and as I mentioned great characters and great dialogue.

    What are you working on next?

    I’m doing a movie next, When We First Met, which is going to be directed by Jamie Travis, who directed a movie For a Good Time, Call… sold to Focus. He’s a great director, he’s really done a ton of stuff. He’s got a new show on MTV, we’re really excited about him. And this is a comedy like (500) Days of Summer meets Groundhog Day. A guy tries to pick up a girl, fails miserably, figures a way to go back in time and relive the pick up over and over and over again. And we’re really putting together an exciting cast, and we’re planning to shoot this fall in Vancouver. I’m producing that with Mason Novick, who produced (500) Days of Summer and Juno and I think it’s going to be a really, really great film.

    Because you are gaining momentum and more of a reputation, are you getting a lot a more scripts submitted to you or directors?

    It’s amazing, I recognize that this is a business of you’re only good as your next one. To quote that [Mike] Medavoy book, which is a great book on producing by the way, You’re Only as Good as Your Next One. It’s true. You want to just keep churning them out, keep quality movies, keep trying to do your best work, keep working. And work begets work as they tell actors, and I think it’s very much true for producers and for production companies. If you make their movie, they’re more likely to let you to option their material because they say okay we’re not taking such a huge risk. When Matt Turner optioned Family Weekend to us, he was taking a huge risk, we had never produced a movie, now we’ve two that come out, two that we have sold worldwide, a third one we’re about to make. So now people it’s less of a leap for them. So yeah, we’re getting a lot more submissions from agencies, we’re getting a lot of submissions from our website, we’re getting a lot more and it’s great that means we’re finding even better scripts and I feel like we’ve had great scripts so far, and we’re continuing to find great scripts.

    How can someone submit to Footprint Features?

    You can do it through our website. They can go to our website Footprintfeatures.com and there’s a button that says, “I’ve got a script.” We’re happy to, they have to fill out a few submission forms just for legal reasons, but if it our fits our mandate and it feels like a log line we’d be interested in and a budget range we can produce, we’ll definitely read scripts that are unsolicited.

  • Aug05
    Adam on Bloomberg

  • Apr23
    “An Absolute Dream”

    TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: Large ensembles have the opportunity to say different things from different characters. Before screening at Tribeca, many were calling this “our generation’s” Big Chill from 1984, which was directed by Lawrence Kasdan and nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture. While there are obvious similarities in the number of people who are present, and themes surrounding love and death, newcomer Jesse Zwick, son of producer/director Edward Zwick, pours his heart and soul into each frame and reinvents a masterful motion picture. About Alex is a raw and beautiful morality piece about where the late twenty-somethings are presently. I loved nearly every second.

    About Alex tells the story of seven friends who reunite over a three-day weekend after one of them attempts suicide. As the friends take shifts to watch their unpredictable old friend Alex, past and new feelings come to the surface.

    An all-star is assembled that includes Aubrey Plaza (NBC’s “Park and Recreation”), Maggie Grace (Taken), Max Minghella (The Social Network), Nate Parker (Arbitrage), Jason Ritter (Freddy vs. Jason), Max Greenfield (FOX’s “New Girl”), and Jane Levy (ABC’s “Suburgatory”). Each one of the actor’s know their parts, actions, motivations, and completely immerse themselves in the characters. In particular, the standouts include Greenfield, who continues to steal every frame, from every show or film he’s in, and Plaza, who takes on a new departure for herself and succeeds.

    Jesse Zwick, for his first writing and directorial feature, shows much promise of what could be an elaborate career. He handles his scenes with firm hands and a watchful eye of what he chooses to show and not show the viewer. He allows the surroundings, both inside and outside, become two new characters for the audience to embrace. Everything put together in About Alex is simply impressive.

    There are some technical hiccups that the film suffers from. Choices made by the film’s editor doesn’t smoothly transition from one scene to the other. As independent films go, the film stands tall on its own merits but I would have liked a more polished final product.

    All in all, About Alex is an absolute dream. Full of laughs and tears, the film raises the bar for this type of genre. It’s a thoughtful piece that will have admirers for years to come. It’s the best cast ensemble seen this year and of the Tribeca Film Festival.

  • Apr23
    “A Moving and Darkly Funny Movie”

    For better or worse, the Tribeca Film Festival has earned a reputation for selecting star-stuffed films that guarantee flashy red carpets and robust ticket sales. This makes a cast tightly packed with notable names a bit of red flag at the fest. But the ensemble of About Alex, which includes Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Jason Ritter (Parenthood), Max Minghella (The Mindy Project), Nate Parker (Non-Stop), Maggie Grace (Californication), Jane Levy (Suburgatory) and Max Greenfield (New Girl), proves to the dramedy’s strongest asset.

    About Alex is being described by the fest as “a Big Chill for our current social media moment.” The referenced 1983 movie memorably centered on what happens one weekend when a bunch of old college friends reunite, spending time fighting and forgiving following the funeral of the eighth member of their group, who killed himself. About Alex wears this comparison like a heart on its sleeve, name dropping The Bil Chill‘s Jeff Goldblum, saying aloud “this is like one of those ’80s movies,” and setting up a very similar plot. However, instead of The Big Chill‘s Alex succeeding in his suicide attempt, this Alex (Ritter) survives. And is subsequently surrounded by his old college chums, who offer support while demanding to understand why he’d do such a thing to begin with.

    It’s a setup that served The Big Chill well, but there’s something especially endearing in that About Alex‘s suicidal friend has the chance to speak for himself rather than be some ghost everyone feels beholden to. It’s a complicated array of emotions one feels when confronted with the suicide (or suicide attempt) of a close friend, ranging from panic, to guilt, to anger and regret. The script by first-time writer-director Jesse Zwick, handles these turns with an admirable emotional honesty, edged with the self-preserving sarcasm that so many twenty/thirty-somethings lean on.

    His dialogue is smart and deftly weaves in mentions of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram without feeling like it’s trying to sound contemporary. Of course these friends use these social media platforms to keep in touch. But–as the film’s resident blowhard intellectual Josh (Greenfield) points out–these tweets and shares aren’t a proper substitute for actually talking with your friends. They are just brief windows into their lives, and ones carefully selected to reflect what the sharer chooses, being oblique or aspirational but not a thorough reflection of their lives.

    “Pseudo-psycho babble” aside, About Alex is about how friends can fail each other, and how to move on afterwards. The narrative stirs up professional and romantic jealousies, failed ambitions, previously unspoken attractions, and other hard truths in a way that feels rich with possibilities and often organic. But as the weekend moves along, the plot begins to buckle under too many threads, and character choices between to feel more convenient than earned. Still, the ensemble cast clicks and helps tug About Alex over these bumps.

    Much of the work of the movie is done by shrewd casting. Grace perfectly looks the part of the dream girl every guy in the group has pined over at some point. Parker with his good looks and effortless air of confidence, stands firm as the group’s rock star, a writer whose been published in The New Yorker and seems to be living his dream. Levy’s a scene-stealer as a newcomer to the group, a girlfriend whose struggles to fit in make for one of the movie’s funniest moments. Minghella is sweet but a bit forgettable as the group’s nice guy Isaac. He shows up mainly to remind their snarky Sarah (Plaza of course) what a warped love-hate relationship she has forged with her first love, the aforementioned insensitive intellectual played by Greenfield, a role that is just hairs away from New Girl‘s Schmidt.

    Of course Greenfield nails his role, sizzling with that same spontaneous energy that makes him so much fun to watch on television. It might have been interesting to see him offered a less expected part, but you can’t argue that he doesn’t make this work. Surprisingly, Plaza is asked to shoulder much of the film’s biggest dramatic moments, but she doesn’t quite land them. Having seen her play the snarky girl with a heart of gold again and again, this slight deviation, which demands a twinge of constant anxiety, rings false. (She doesn’t read as anxious, but thankfully Sarah keeps telling us she is.)

    Lastly, Ritter is positively heartbreaking as Alex. With a dopey grin and big bandages around his wrists that beg you to take them in, he seems just glad to see his friends. His lack of apparent depression is rattling to them, but soon enough this jittery façade of joy falls away, and About Alex and its title character dig deep.

    It was a bold move to essentially remake a movie as iconic as The Big Chill, but About Alex doesn’t play as if it’s trying to usurp the beloved ’80s dramedy. Instead, it seems to want to add its portrait of adulthood to the ages. Because it so clearly invites the comparison, it’s hard not to consider which of the two works better. It’s Big Chill. But About Alex is a moving and darkly funny movie that offers familiar characters stumbling through a journey that is relatable and engaging. It’s far from flawless, but is a promising first feature with lots of charm.

  • Mar29
    “Frequently Delightful”

    The frequently delightful “Family Weekend” opens strongly, as picture-perfect Emily (Olesya Rulin) charges around the family mansion leaving Post-its about her big event, the regional speed jump-rope finals.

    No one shows. So Emily takes the logical next step. She drugs her parents — feckless artist Duncan (Matthew Modine) and sarcastic, type-A Samantha (Kristin Chenoweth) — and ties them up for a little course in parenting.

    Emily’s siblings are, as they say, acting out. Jackson (Eddie Hassell) films his muscles and wants to be called Thor; Lucy (Joey King) re-enacts films she shouldn’t be allowed to watch; the Asperger’s-ish youngest son (Robbie Tucker) zones out on nature shows.

    They unite behind Emily, joined later by hippie grandma Shirley Jones (welcome back, Mrs. Partridge). But people keep dropping by unannounced, and it’s hard to hide two adults duct-taped to swivel chairs.

    For a long while, director Benjamin Epps goes for breakneck farce; at its best, this is a batty mixture of family-values editorial and teen spoof. At times, the characters feel more like a set of colliding oddballs than an ensemble. It’s Rulin’s performance that centers the movie, her big-eyed face registering stony determination or bewildered hurt with equal ease.

    This satire has a soft center that threatens to become gooey when Duncan and Samantha must grasp the idea that happy families don’t produce hostage situations. But Rulin’s Emily, doing her tightly wound best, earns some sort of happy ending.

  • Mar29
    “Family Weekend & Footprint Features”

    dam Saunders is an accomplished film and television actor, who is making the transition to film producer with his latest feature Family Weekend, starring Matthew Modine and Kristin Chenoweth. But this isn’t Saunders’ first time acting as producer – he’s been producing for years now – and as CEO of Footprint Features, he’s ready to tackle bigger projects. With Family Weekend – in which he co-stars – opening today, March 29, 2013 in select cities across America, Saunders was happy to share insights on this hybrid producer/actor role with Working Author.

     

    Working Author: How long have you been acting? Do you still enjoy it?

    Adam Saunders: I’ve been acting my whole life. When I was 7-years-old I went to a performing arts summer camp; when I was 11 I played the kid roles in the local community college musicals. I acted in high school and college too, and then went to Yale for Acting grad school. It’s always been a part of my life. I still love it, absolutely. When I’m actually acting, doing the work, there’s nothing better. But the problem is – I hate the actor’s life – waiting for other people to pick me, hoping I’ll get the opportunity, that I’ll have enough credits, or the right look, or the right response from the right person at the right time. There are too many areas out of my control to be truly happy just acting. Producing changes that.

    WA: Why did you decide to become a producer? Is this a transition away from acting, or will producing be a concurrent role?

    AS: My hope is that is a concurrent one. I love producing, and I’ve found that it is really a natural fit for me and for my skillsets. And I’ve actually been doing it now for a lot of years – mostly in the old ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ kind of way – to create my own acting work. I co-ran a theater company in college, then after college called Footprint on the Sun which means “accomplishing the impossible”, and obviously now with Footprint Features. I love picking the projects that are near and dear to my heart, that have messages that I find to be both entertaining and socially relevant. I love building a team of intelligent, talented, folks. I love putting it all together to make it work. And I really do love the nitty gritty of producing – the fundraising, the negotiating, the marketing – these things excite me, and inspire me and make me happy to wake up and get after it every day.

    WA: Which role do you prefer: producer or actor? Why?

    AS: I really prefer the combination. I can put all of my day to day energy into producing – spend the bulk of my time putting the project together and all the work that takes – and then when it comes time for the acting – trust that I’ve put in all that time to learn my craft, and allow myself to do my work and just let go and release into the role. In some ways producing makes me better as an actor, because it allows me to be freer. When I was just acting, I think sometimes I had a tendency to work too hard, to make it harder than it needed to be. With the combination, I can put all of that effort into the producing, and then just relax when it’s time to act.

    WA: What’s the hardest part about being a producer?

    AS: Just never, never, never giving up. There are so many times when it would be easy to just say – OK, that’s good enough. But it’s not. And some part of you knows it. And you have to keep going. I had a teacher at drama school who said “Everybody knows the difference between good and bad, but few are willing to do the work to get from good to great.” The struggle to try to get to great is the hard part, that’s the part that takes all the work. But as a producer, you know first hand how many people have taken a chance on your project – from the investors, to the cast, to the crew, to the distributors – and they’re all at the end of the day really taking a chance on YOU – since that’s where the buck stops. So if you stop before you’ve done everything in your power to make it great, well, to me, I just can’t do that. I have to go until I know that I’ve done absolutely everything in my power to make it the very best version of itself.

    WA: Did producing give you any insight into filmmaking you didn’t have before?

    AS: Sure, a million things. But the main thing is just remembering how collaborative of a process it is. Bill Clinton once said that he makes his decisions by surrounding himself with the smartest people he can find, listening to their advice, and then just trusting himself to make the right decision. I think that’s right. As a producer you have to trust those around you, really trust them, really listen to them, but then at the end of the day to trust yourself to do what you feel is in the best interest of the picture. Because when all is said and done, the final picture is all that really matters.

    WA: What was it about Family Weekend that made you want to produce it?

    AS: It’s about family, about the importance of family about showing up for your kids, being there for them. I was lucky enough to have just about the most supportive mom and dad and sister in history – my mom came to every extracurricular activity I ever did, and my dad would help me with my homework, coach my baseball team, etc…and my sister is my best friend. They still to this day are intimately involved and supportive of everything I do. Those relationships have shaped me, and to a large extent helped to give me the courage to go after my dreams head-first. I wish everyone could have that. And this film is about that—about the importance of family – even in this modern world of cell phones and texting and emails and everything else – taking the time for family is still critically important.

    WA: Why should people watch it?

    AS: Because it’s funny! And entertaining, and the acting from Olesya Rulin and Joey King and Matthew Modine and of course Kristin Chenoweth is awesome. And it ultimately has a really good message. But really, it’s just a fun movie. This movie was made for the public, for families, for the people. It’s not your typical arthouse type of fare – it was made with a mainstream audience in mind from the beginning.

    WA: How can people watch it?

    AS: It comes out in theaters in NY, LA, Dallas, Detroit and Chicago on Friday 3/29 – and is available on VOD on Time Warner, Comcast, Dish, DirecTv, etc. Hopefully if enough people will go see it, we can continue to expand! Go to www.familyweekendmovie.com to see if your cable provider has it!

    WA: Anything else you’d like to add?

    AS: Go tell all your friends to see Family Weekend! If we can sell 250 seats a day we can expand to more cities!