N.Y. tax incentive works for 'Day' job

Financial breaks lead to location switch in script, film

New York may not seem like an affordable place to shoot indie movies, but thanks to its tax incentives filmmakers are crunching and liking the numbers.

Consider: Ambush Entertainment's "Every Day," written and directed by Richard Levine ("Nip/Tuck"), starring Helen Hunt, Live Schreiber, Brian Dennehy, Eddie Izzard and Carla Gugino.

Produced by Miranda Bailey and Matt Leutwyler, "Day" world premieres April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival where distributors will get their first look at it. Last year at Tribeca Ambush premiered "Wonderful World," starring Matthew Broderick.

In October 2008 when Ambush set out to finance "Day," Bailey told me, "It was just before the crash of the economy and we knew either we're going to make it and take the risk or it's not going to get made right now."

Levine's feature directorial debut is about a television writer (Schreiber) working on an outrageous TV series for an ultra-demanding showrunner (Izzard). His life turns upside down when his wife's (Hunt) sick and embittered father (Dennehy) moves in with them and the family starts facing way too many challenges.

"We were trying to find partners, but everybody was running for the hills at that point."

So Ambush stepped up to the plate alone.

"We make low-budget movies that look like they're made for a lot more because we don't take exorbitant producer fees. We pay people mostly through the back-end."

To make it work they had to shoot in a state with great tax incentives.

"It was originally written for Los Angeles," Bailey explained. "We budgeted it for here, New Mexico, Louisiana and New York. The only place we could really do it and keep the integrity of the film was New York because it's about a television writer."

But isn't New York so expensive?

"It is. However, with 35% tax back if you use a stage, it makes a lot of sense for an indie film."

Filming took place in October 2008 for a quick 25 days, shooting mostly at Steiner Studios, the Hollywood-style lot on 15 acres of the old Brooklyn Navy Yard.

"We were able to use a stage because it's actually written into the script."

Moving "Day" out of L.A. helped in other ways: "When it was in Los Angeles it read a bit Hollywood inside even though it wasn't a story about Hollywood.

"The second we changed it to New York we all looked at it like, 'Wow, you can really focus on the story now, which is about this family.' We got lucky that we were put in this financial challenge."

Working with a first-time director was routine for Bailey, a recent rookie director, herself. Her doc comedy "Greenlit," which she's showing now to distributors, premiered in Austin at South by Southwest and then headed to festivals in Vail and Dallas.

Bailey knew Levine's work on "Nip/Tuck" and jokes that his script for "Day" is "lightly based on his experiences there.

Shooting "Day" was a collaborative process: "I was there on set with him and we talked about every shot and every take."

Meanwhile, Bailey was working weekends editing "Greenlit," which she shot in Portland the previous August as Ambush was filming "The River Why," starring William Hurt.
In "Greenlit" she explores how moviemaking damages our environment and shows that, as Kermit the Frog said, "it's not easy being green."

On her "Day" job Bailey faced some tough casting challenges. There weren't many good choices for Hunt's difficult dad. Alan Arkin, unfortunately, had just played a similar role in "Little Miss Sunshine" and everyone was wondering who the new old guy could be.

Fortunately, I had a relationship with Brian. I've known him since I was eight-years-old. He's the one who got me into the movie business."

Dennehy loved the script, she laughs, but told her, "Miranda, this is a great, great movie. You really should get a better actor for this role than me."

They were just four days away from shooting and still needed to cast Hunt and Schreiber's gay teenage son.

"One of the things I loved about the script was that it wasn't a stereotypically gay son, which we see in all these TV shows. It was a real person who just happened to be a homosexual and a teenager."

Ezra Miller ("Californication") was truly a last-minute find.

"We'd flown in people for call-backs and there was one kid in the waiting room we hadn't seen yet. It happened to be Ezra. I looked at him and I was like, 'No, he doesn't seem like the right type.' He comes in and just blew us out of the water."

Izzard posed a different challenge.

"We always wanted Eddie. We just couldn't get a hold of him or his people. We had this offer out to Eddie forever and we were like, 'We have about a week before we start shooting and we're going to have to pull the plug on the Eddie thing and find somebody else.' "

With maybe four hours left, Bailey said, "Eddie's people called and said, 'Oh, he read it. He loves it.' "

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.
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