'Feast' limited release is really limited

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"Feast" focus: When we talk about films going into limited release, what's typically "limited" are the number of screens and markets not the number of days or performances a movie will be in theaters.

In the case of Dimension Films' horror thriller "Feast," however, its limited opening will really be limited since it's opening at theaters in about 200 cities -- but only for late night or midnight screenings this Friday and Saturday. "Feast," a Dimension presentation in association with Maloof Motion Pictures in association with Neo Art and Logic, is a Live Planet production. Directed by John Gulager, its screenplay is by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan.

The R-rated film will go into DVD release via Genius Products on Oct. 17, only about three weeks after its theatrical launch. Genius is 70% owned by the Dimension label's corporate parent, The Weinstein Company.

"Feast" is the third feature to be produced as part of the "Project Greenlight" television series created by Bob and Harvey Weinstein in their Miramax days. Produced by Mike Leahy and Joel Soisson, it was executive produced by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore and Wes Craven and Bob and Harvey Weinstein and Gavin, Joe, Phil, George, Adrienne and Colleen Maloof.


Among the film's stars are Navi Rawat, Krista Allen, Balthazar Getty, Judah Friedlander, Jenny Wade, Duane Whitaker, Josh Zuckerman, Eileen Ryan, Clu Gulager, Diane Goldner. Clu Gulager, of course, is John Gulager's legendary actor father. They worked together on Sage Stallone's excellent short film "Vic," which I focused on here last week, in which Clu starred and John was the DP. Diane Goldner, John's wife, also was seen in "Vic" and has appeared in such films as the 2003 thriller "Adam's Apocalypse" and the TV crime drama series "The Shield."

Given "Feast's" unusual release pattern, I was interested in exploring its origins with Gulager, for whom it marks his feature directorial debut. "When I was growing up, I would go see midnight movies at the Nuart Theater here in Los Angeles," Gulager told me. "On Friday nights, they would show 'Eraserhead' and on Saturday nights it would be 'Pink Flamingoes' and at a certain point there was the original 'Chainsaw.' I loved those movies. Our movie 'Feast' is going to be playing at midnight (although) at some places around the country, it will just be the 'late show.'

"But at theaters in the big cities, it will basically be a midnight screening. Two nights only -- so far. I had a theater from Denver call me and they're playing it. I said, 'Look, if you hold it over a second weekend I will drive out there and come to your theater and appear.' So they said, 'Oh, that sounds great.' I'm going to do that."

Asked how he got to direct "Feast," Gulager explained, "It's a pretty strange story in that it was an Internet contest for the reality TV show 'Project Greenlight' with Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore. It was their project to try to find filmmakers and screenwriters to give them a shot at doing something. The contest part is not necessarily (talked about) on the TV show. You send in some pieces and they whittle you down to a certain number and then they give you some assignments. One is to make a bio. Another one is they send everybody a nonsensical sort of script with non-sequitur dialogue and you have to make something out of it.

"Everybody gets the same script basically and, of course, every piece that comes in is completely different. They choose three and then they choose one in two categories -- one for screenwriters and one for directors. They put those together and in this case the screenwriting winners were my friends Patrick and Marcus (who) wrote 'Feast' and then I directed it."

Recalling how the "Greenlight" competition worked, Gulager explained, "There were just thousands and thousands of scripts (submitted) and someone had to read them all. At first, I believe, it was a peer sort of competition where everybody that submits reads everybody else's script and it gets whittled down to some sort of manageable number. And then the people from Live Planet and Dimension read the rest and then eventually it goes to Matt and Ben and Wes Craven and (other) people that were involved in reading the scripts. And it gets (cut down) to three and then to one, which was 'Feast.'"

The contest winners were chosen in July 2004. "Our last day of shooting was the day before Thanksgiving 2004," he said. "As we were editing, the Weinsteins left Disney and Miramax. So there was a little upheaval right in the middle of our whole post-production and we sort of went on hold. But now we've completed the film and it's coming out."

Previous "Greenlight" films received traditional limited theatrical releases. "In the back of my mind," Gulager confided, "I'm still hoping that ('Feast's' release may be extended). There's actually a bit of a groundswell that's happening right now. I mean, the fact that you're even interviewing me is probably testament to that. We've shown the film for a couple of weeks to a few critics and papers and magazines and the reviews have come back pretty positive. That makes me feel good and makes Mark and Patrick and the producers feel really good because it has been a bit of an uphill struggle.

"The 'Greenlight' movies in the past have had what, I guess, would be a (conventional) limited release. They played in a few cities for a couple of weeks. We're playing in about 200 cities for a couple of nights. It kind of evens out in a way. We're playing all across the country. Here in Los Angeles, it's going to be at (Laemmle's) Sunset 5, the Laemmle Playhouse in Pasadena and, hopefully, at the Vista Theater in Silver Lake.

"I live there and like this theater a lot. I met Diane here (in Silver Lake) in the '70s. (At that time the Vista) used to be a gay porno theater! Then it became a second run theater. And then it became this great first-run theater with great projection and sound. I believe there are pieces of the set from (D.W. Griffith's classic) 'Intolerance' built into the theater. 'Intolerance' was (shot) where the (Silver Lake supermarket) Vons is at Hillhurst and Sunset."

Gulager hopes theaters that do well with "Feast" this weekend will want to show it on additional nights. "What I'm trying to do (is work things out so that) if people want to run it again they would be able to," he said. "I think it's a swell Midnight movie. I think the whole idea of playing at Midnight is kind of cool, but at the same time I think every filmmaker wants to have his film be able to be seen as much as possible at a regular theater. I love the theatrical experience. I go to movies on opening night. I like to sit in the front row and I like the sound to blast me."

When "Greenlight" gave Gulager the green light to make "Feast" what kind of budget went with it? "The contest says (a director will have) a minimum of a million dollars," he replied. "For the first two years it was a coming of age film. This year it was monsters and explosions. They set out to make a movie that would be a little bit more commercial. Picking a genre script, a horror script in particular, was -- they said right on the show -- a conscious effort to make a movie that wouldn't necessarily lose money. I think in that respect, 'Feast' is a success because I feel that even if it just comes out in DVD it will make scads of money."

Originally, he pointed out, "Feast" was not written to be an inexpensive production: "Everybody submitted films that (had) really low budgets. The original script for 'Feast' is about a $40 million movie. It was huge. Mark and Patrick told me that they just decided to go ahead and shoot the works and not necessarily make a low budget script and submit it like most people did. They submitted this (screenplay) that had car chases and flying monsters and everything. Well, because of our budget constraints a lot of the material in the script basically had to be cut down and it became a little bit more character driven, but it still had monsters and explosions and walls breaking so the budget for our movie, I would say, was larger than (it was for) the movies previously (in the series). I don't really know their budgets, but I know they all eventually (went) up a little bit higher than the million dollar thing (which) is basically a minimum.

"So ours went up a little bit, too, because of the monsters and explosions -- because it takes time and that's the biggest factor in causing a budget to go up. The (key thing) in shooting is manpower and the crews and hours (it takes to get filming done). I think in that respect that's what caused our budget to be a little bit larger than maybe some of the other films. It just takes longer to set a wall to blow up or have a monster come through the floor."

Making the movie, he noted, "was for me a completely new experience because I'd just worked on projects of my own or with my friends. I shot a short for Sage Stallone called 'Vic.' The most involved person for the Weinsteins (when 'Feast' was in production) was Nick Phillips. He was basically their representative and was a producer there. He's since moved on to another company. The second person (involved) was Andrew Rona and, again, during the big split-up and break-up he moved on to (head Focus Features' Rogue Pictures label). Those were the people who were most involved and they were representatives of Dimension, which at that time was part of Miramax. They were very involved and keeping an eye on things. They would be the ones we would ask for money and they would have notes (to give us).

"The whole idea of people having interaction with you about the script and how you would shoot it was kind of new to me because I had only done things for myself and for friends. But as far as working in a studio environment, it was a little trying (with all) the tinkering because I'm a little resistant to some of that. Sometimes you give in and sometimes people see your point of view. I think it's actually taken this whole two years (until) people finally saw the film to see some of the places I was coming from. When I would talk about things they would sound kind of nutty, but (they make sense) now that people have seen the film. We premiered it the other night in Las Vegas at The Palms (the popular Maloof-owned casino resort) and a lot of people ended up coming over and saying, 'Oh, man, now I see.' So that's good. I felt really good when (that happened)."

Shooting was done in Sylmar, north of Los Angeles: "We shot at some stages in Sylmar, where the great Sylmar earthquake occurred. The stages actually aren't there anymore. The people that owned them just couldn't keep them going. So I guess I've killed TV shows and I've killed soundstages so far! We had a couple of days (of shooting) out in the desert in Lancaster. Just recently Marcus and I and some folks went out and shot some extra stuff to put into the film. We drove out to Lancaster and made a little title sequence and some different things.

"We shot for five weeks. We were only scheduled for four weeks, but that was kind of tough. You know, I'm new and (considering) the type of movie it was I just couldn't see that four weeks was going to be enough. I was just kind of going a little crazy over that. An interesting thing happened that was actually chronicled on the TV show. Mike Leahy, one of the producers, was listening to the radio and they were interviewing the owners of the Sacramento Kings, the Maloof brothers. And they happened to say, 'Well, we might like to get into movies.' So he pulled over and called them up on the radio. He goes, 'You know, I'm working on this film --' and the radio show hung up on him."

Happily, he added, "some of the guys at Live Planet had a relationship with the Maloofs and so we got a little meeting together and they put in money for a fifth week of shooting, which was great for me. That's why we went to the Palms and had the premiere there. Like I said, time is the biggest factor in this type of film. Also, it's an ensemble cast piece so you have 10 actors in a room. Instead of just covering one person and their thought process, you're covering basically 10, so it takes a little more time."

What were the biggest challenges Gulager faced in production? "Well, other than the fact that there were four camera crews (for the TV show) on us all the time," he laughed. "If you had a situation with anybody -- an actor or a producer -- that was being filmed and then you would be questioned about it later. And sometimes the questioning, of course, makes you think about what happened and you could get upset all over again. But I think the biggest thing I had to come to terms with was just the size of the production. To me, it was huge. I imagine to seasoned filmmakers in the studio system it may not be that big, but to me once production started it was just like a train hitting you and taking off. You just would hold on. Through the whole production it's like a bunch of little heartbreaks because you don't necessarily get everything you want and yet it's just the greatest thing that's happening to you ever. You just hold on for dear life and go from moment to moment.

"You do so much work in pre-production. Our pre-production wasn't very long because, again, for the TV show things had to move along at a pretty swift pace. There was a schedule for the TV show to come on and to be released. At that time, the idea was that (when) the movie premiered that (would be) the last episode of the TV show. Once the split-up (between Miramax and the Weinsteins happened) everything went off the TV schedule and there's basically no ending to the show. If anyone saw it, that would be why. But just the size of the production and the hectic nature and, also, the interaction with everybody else's input and the politics involved with getting in people's faces and them getting into your face -- sometimes I was kind of shocked. In the end, you just keep trying to get your thing in there."

Reflecting on the experience of having shot his first feature, Gulager observed, "I know there are so many people who work on a film and as the director you end up getting a lot of credit for other people's hard work and you get a lot of the blame for other people's hard work. But I do believe that as a director you filter all this work and information through your sensibilities and that's the only thing that would give the film an identity. You start with a script, but basically it's like that thing where you whisper something in someone's ear and it comes out completely different down the line.

"You filter the project through your sensibilities and it becomes the Fellini film or the Cocteau film or the Bergman film. Those guys could all shoot the same script, but they'd be completely different (movies). I hope that some day someone will be able to look at a film that I worked on and be able to say, 'Oh, yes, that's John's film.'"

Filmmaker flashbacks: From Mar. 4, 1988's column: "One of the best aspects of covering an event like ShoWest is that it brings together at one time the top brass of various studios and provides a unique opportunity to get some insights from them.

"It was, therefore, a pleasure for me to be able to catch up...with three key Warner Bros .players -- chairman Robert Daly, president Terry Semel and distribution president D. Barry Reardon -- after their ShoWest luncheon and product reel presentation...

"Exhibitors on hand at Warner's luncheon gave a very enthusiastic reception to its half-hour product reel focused on nearly 20 of its upcoming films. Not every company participating in ShoWest took the time or spent the money to make such a product reel. I asked Terry Semel why Warner did.

"'Basically this is what we've done for the last 10 years,' Semel told me. 'We see our coming to this convention as rather than saying hello and seeing old friends (as being a time) to come and show our product. We feel it's the only time during the year when we can make a presentation and show the theater owners of America and other countries around the world what's coming from Warner Bros. So our purpose is not necessarily just to entertain them and give them a good show. We always thought Las Vegas could really do that without us. Why we come is to show our product and help our sales crews introduce what's coming from Warner Bros. for the following year.'

"In his remarks prior to the luncheon, Semel emphasized the importance to Warner of continuity of management over the last 10 to 15 years. 'I think it's like running a good ball club,' he explained when we spoke. 'If you're the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Yankees or the Boston Celtics, if you have a similar management with a good philosophy and with a constant team, you're bound to be up there on top most of the time. You may need a new third baseman or a new back court man, but basically you have rhythm and basically you have an understanding of what's required and what you need.

"'If each team started off every year with a new ball club it would take them two or three years to learn each other's moves and figure out how to play together. By the time they were ready and there with a good production team, if they changed again -- Lord knows! So we have the advantage of longevity. The things that we developed five years ago are the movies we made two years ago and (will make) two years from now. So it's a constant flow of development. It's a constant philosophy, similar players and a team that has played together.'"

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.updatehollywood.com.
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