2.2.98

Call: 11 AM It's Groundhog Day.

Making Cherry
a romantic comedy starring Shalom Harlow
"You can't talk to me that way. I'm not sleeping with you."
--Overheard response to Joe Sevey after he told someone to be quiet
You've Got Questions? Cherry Has Answers
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Locations:
Muffin Shop

Weather: Cloudy Hi 44

Principals:
Leila, Customer, Red, Jack
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The Making of "Julian Po"

Or, How We Got Here.


ON THE SET OF JULIAN PO
Dierdre (script supervisor), Joseph, Jon (chin), Alan Wade (director),
Jim LaClair (1st AD), Bernd Heinl (DP) & forgotten crew member

"Making Cherry" is growing by leaps and bounds. By that I mean the site is starting to attract more and wider attention. The hits per day numbers do not yet threaten, oh, say, my other boss, ESPN Sportszone, but every week they've gotten bigger and I get more nice mail, so I think we're doing okay.

I hope you agree. If you don't, write me by clicking on my name at the end of this column. I'd also like to announce some improvements around here. We should soon be distributed by Pointcast, which is why our content is now rated by RSAC. Which means you'll be able to subscribe and each day "Making Cherry" will be sent to your machine directly.

And we'll soon be adding a search service to the site, which means if you want to track down references to your favorite actors or crew members, you'll be able to search all the reports from all the days and bring back their pages.   If it works.

In any case, as our audience grows I thought this might be a good time to tell some backstory. I was talking with Jon last Thursday, about the production and whatnot, and most specifically about the ongoing scheduling challenges, and he said, "Well, the thing is, no matter what, we're going to do it right. That's been the goal and that hasn't changed."

Which was similar to something Jon said that I quoted in the first week of these "Making Cherry" reports, and which got me to thinking about Julian Po, the movie Cypress Films made before Cherry.  In the telling of that story, call it "Making Julian Po," there is a lot of explanation for why things are being done the way they are on the Cherry shoot.

What follows is the short version, to illustrate the point rather than to tromp over all the history. And as such, it goes gentle on the names of many of those involved. This here story isn't about rancor or contention, though what actually happened is laced with these things, but is rather about the learning process involved in making feature films. It is in many ways a typical independent film story, which doesn't mean you've heard it before.

The Tears of Julian Po was a script written by Alan Wade. Alan had never before had a feature produced from a script he had written, and he had not directed any feature films, before he met Jon and Joseph and they decided to make his script.

Their plan was for a low-budget, self-financed indie. They talked of bringing a bunch of us to some small town (the movie is set in a backwards little town that time and economic improvement have forgot) and of making the movie on the cheap. The idea was to be very hands on and very gritty, and then to see what happened.

And, they agreed to Alan Wade's condition that he direct his own script. For a man with a dream it must have been a heady moment. For the Cypress team, including Peggy Glascoe, Rachel Talbot and Matt Schwartz, it was a calculated risk and a chance to do it themselves.

Their previous movies were made for television (TNT, Showtime, PBS), and had been made with co-production partners. It is intended as no slight to those partners to say that Cypress wanted more control.

But a small company with no history making features doesn't always get access to the best scripts, so after a goodly bit of digging they felt fortunate to come up with a provocative story such as Po, as it quickly became known around the office. They also thought that whatever limitations Alan proved to have as a director could be compensated for. After all, they were to be working very closely together.

Jon and Alan began a long series of rewrites as a production team was put into place. There was a goodly amount of back and forth. And there was a growing disagreement about the final form the script should take.

Po's story is of a young man who is headed to the sea on vacation when his car breaks down. He happens into a small town nearby, takes a room and creates a ruckus. Seems that this town doesn't get many strangers visiting.

Under pressure from the townspeople, who harass him while trying to figure out why he's there (dealing drugs, to rob people, whatever), Po tells them he has come to kill himself. Immediately their attitudes change. It seems that Po has unwittingly touched that part in each of them that has a bit of despair, or longing, and he evokes their empathy.

They make something of a hero of Po, and he comes to fall in love with one of the town's lost souls who has fallen in love with him. But that doesn't last. And after a while the townspeople decide that it's time for him to live up to his promise. They don't care if he shoots himself, or jumps off the bridge, they don't care what method he chooses, so long as he does what he said he'd do.

As you might have guessed, the movie is a comedy, with a dark dark side. Which meant it had a future as a noble independent effort and a marketing challenge. If it had been made on a very small budget with no name actors and a skeleton crew. But instead, something else happened.

The story that ensued, in broad strokes: Uma Thurman read the script, liked it and thought she might like to play the love interest. That got other actors interested, one of whom, Christian Slater, decided he'd like to play the lead. Slater came to the production with his own producers who would become executive producers and partners on this project with Cypress. Uma dropped out, but Fine Line signed on to become the distributor of the film. The budget got much bigger.

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The Tears of Jonny & Joe

And Cypress's role got much smaller. Which doesn't mean that Joseph and Jon didn't apprise their new partners of their reservations about the director, whose lack of experience promised to became much more of a problem on a star vehicle than it would have been on the low budget version. There were other problems, too, all related to new executive producers taking over a project while understanding very little about it.

The new executive producers' approach seemed to suggest that the whole deal in filmmaking was to attract a star and keep him or her happy. And after that the film would take care of itself. But it didn't. That's a studio approach. And so the story problems didn't get fixed, and the visual tone of the story was never developed.

There are a million details to this story, there were a million arguments. I wasn't there for much of it; suffice it to say that the truly frightening thing is that every party no doubt had their reasons. When the shooting was done and Alan Wade turned in the director's cut, New Line decided to fire Alan and shelve the film.

At that point Jon and Joseph made a proposal to Fine Line: "Either take our names off the film and we'll chalk the whole thing up to experience, or fire your friends, the executive producers, bring all the footage back to New York, give us a new editor and we'll recut the film for you.  If you let us take a crack at it, we promise we can make a releasable film out of the existing footage."   Surprisingly, the studio fired everyone else and let Jon and Joseph finish the film with a new editor, Jeff Wolff.

Fine Line paid for post production and scoring, Cypress took over and saw to it that the film was completed, and the retitled Julian Po was released in September 1997.

I'll say that the film is problematic, but it has some real rewards. It is genuinely funny, and sets up its premise quite wonderfully. If the ending doesn't completely cohere, it is open-ended enough to be intriguing. The movie respects a viewer's intelligence. And it represents a remarkable editing room save. Which shouldn't affect a reviewer, but which does impress someone who saw what was and what it became.

It is hard not to think that it might have found a niche audience, the same audience it would have had if it was made as a low-budget indie, if it hadn't been sold as a flat-out Christian Slater vehicle. But it was.

The movie was marketed as some kind of Hollywood Christian Slater romantic comedy, as if fans of Broken Arrow would follow him anywhere. But they didn't. In spite of decent reviews, which ranged from luke warm to truly ecstatic, the film did no business. It is coming out about now on video.

Which is what can happen in the movie business, where the needs of the picture are forgotten, replaced by other needs. In this case, what New Line needed was different than what was best for Po, and so the movie was sacrificed. Which is the lesson Jon and Joseph bring with them to the making of Cherry.

"We're doing it our way," Joseph has said to me. "This is our chance to make the film we want to make."

"The lesson of Po, " Jon chimed in, "was that we should make a movie the right way. Every aspect of this production is colored by the things that happened on Po. We're doing this the best way we know how to do it. That's the only way we'll know what we've got."

   Peter Kreutzer

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