Many twists, turns led to years of 'Chaos'
Empty"Chaos" conversation: Living in a world where we're spread so thin that every minute matters, being able to add 10 minutes to our day could certainly make a big difference.
In the new romantic comedy "Chaos Theory" from Castle Rock Entertainment and Lone Star Film Group, however, the very valuable 10 minutes in question is mistakenly subtracted rather than added to the day, resulting in the chaotic unraveling of what had been one man's perfectly ordered life.
Directed by Marcos Siega ("Pretty Persuasion") and written by Daniel Taplitz ("Breakin' All the Rules"), "Chaos" was produced by Frederic Golchan ("Kimberly") and Erica Westheimer ("The Savages") and executive produced by Fred Westheimer ("The Savages"). Starring are Ryan Reynolds, Emily Mortimer, Stuart Townsend, Sarah Chalke and Mike Erwin. "Chaos" opens Friday in platform release via Warner Bros. in 10 top markets, including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Dallas, Toronto and Bethesda, Md.
The film's story revolves around the problems created when best-selling author and efficiency expert Frank Allen (Reynolds) finds himself 10 minutes behind schedule after his wife Susan (Mortimer) inadvertently sets his clock backward rather than forward while trying to help him out by putting an extra 10 minutes in his daily routine. Allen's best-seller is called "The Five Minute Efficiency Trainer" and, not surprisingly, he's a man who lives by to-do lists and doesn't believe in spontaneity. After he suddenly finds his life turned upside down by Susan's clock setting mix-up, Frank finds himself starting to live entirely in the moment, defying conventions that once defined him.
Asked how "Chaos" reached the screen, Golchan told me, "I must say for me this has been a particularly exciting project because it's a spec script that I found more than 10 years ago. It was sent to me by the (screenwriter's) agent. I had met the writer, Daniel Taplitz, socially and liked what he had written before. This came to me as a spec script and it's one of the few times in my career where I read something that I thought was just perfect and (that) made me laugh, cry. At the time I felt this movie is one of those screenplays that's very tight and a script that for me was pretty unusual because I'm a producer that has made a career more of adapting material from scratch and, especially, European properties. So this was a big exception to the rule. I would love to do more of those, but they're hard to come by."
What was it about Taplitz's screenplay that attracted his interest and made him want to do it? "I felt this was one of the screenplays that just had so much humor, so much unpredictability and so much emotion and that mix I thought was so unique that when I read it I was laughing and crying at the same time," he replied. "I was laughing hard in a sense that there were very funny moments, but yet there were emotional moments. I just thought that this was so unique and grabbed me so much. I love comedy and I love comedies that have a lot of depth and are about something -- and this was the case. It's a bit of a comedy out of despair, I guess, but it is a great comedy."
When he first read the screenplay Golchan didn't have anyone in mind to direct it: "There were a couple of directors at the time that were my neighbors, actually, and that I talked to shortly after we acquired it -- and one, in particular, who fell head over heels for the project, as well. Obviously, I was looking for a director, which is hard, (who) can really play comedy and emotions. As you know, there are a lot of great directors who play comedy and there's a lot of directors who play emotions, but the mix of the two is not that easy."
At that time, Golchan was at Columbia, where in 1988 he'd entered into a first-look producing deal. "I gave it to my executive at Columbia Pictures, Rob Fried. It was an exciting time (when) I really started becoming a producer. It was my first deal as a producer. It was a time at Columbia when Dawn Steel, Tom Rothman, Amy Pascal, Rob Fried and Michael Nathanson were all there and I was dealing with everybody. But Rob was my main executive. I gave it to Rob and Rob liked it very much. He wasn't able to make an offer and wanted to see first how I could get the support of all his colleagues, but (he) really was very supportive. He just didn't acquire it right away. And then I gave it to Bruce Berman at Warner and Bruce said, 'You know, this is an interesting piece and I think we could attract some interesting talent here. I'm willing to take a shot.' That was (around) 15 years ago."
Berman, who was then heading production at Warner Brothers, acquired the property and soon thereafter, Golchan said, "We brought (on board) a director who was on the lot called Glenn Caron (Glenn Gordon Caron's credits include writing and producing numerous episodes of the hit 1980's series 'Moonlighting' and directing such features as 'Clean and Sober' with Michael Keaton and 'Picture Perfect' with Jennifer Aniston). Glenn was attached to it for a number of years. We did some polish (work on the screenplay) with Glenn and the writer and we tried to make that movie with Glenn for a few years."
The problem was, he continued, that, "We never could get the right cast. We were trying to make it as a bigger movie and we never got the right cast. It was just one of those things where we always got close. Glenn was a director that they liked. He was a hot director, but yet he was also a director that needed to prove himself a little bit. So it wasn't like they would just go (ahead) on the basis of his name and an up-and-coming actor. So we needed an established actor and we never got that, actually."
After that, more work was done on the screenplay, but the green light Golchan was looking for was still not to be seen. "What happened is that my friends at Castle Rock, (production head) Liz Glotzer and (founding partner) Martin Shafer, always loved this project," Golchan recalled, "and always said that they would be interested in making it if Warner wouldn't make it. Eventually, it went to Castle Rock and then we worked at Castle Rock for a little while (with director) Peter Chelsom. He was doing a movie at the time with Warren Beatty (the 2001 comedy "Town & Country," directed by Chelsom and starring Beatty and Diane Keaton), which he was pretty busy with. We were trying to cast it with him. And that also kind of fell apart, which I must say was quite disappointing because we were very close to it (happening).
"We were close to making it a few times. And then, frankly, I think they also got a little discouraged and I started to consider doing it independently. Steve Spira, the head of business affairs (at Warner Bros.), was very supportive and told me that he would help me make a (turnaround) deal so that (I'd be able to) do it independently. I worked on the project with a few people as an independent and we got close, but it was also very hard to make it as an independent movie because it wasn't a cheap movie either. While I was trying to set up the project independently, I worked on (it) for a year with Tony Kaye ('American History X') as a director and Kearie Peak (an executive producer of 'American History X') as a co-producer. (Kaye) was very passionate about the project, but we did not succeed (in obtaining) the financing."
More time passed and then, he said, former Miramax marketing head Mark Gill joined Warner Bros. to run its specialized label Warner Independent Pictures: "I gave it to Mark and (he) really responded to the material and decided to reacquire it just a few years ago. And he's the one who eventually green lit the picture. Obviously, I did this movie with him at the time (when) he was at Warner Independent. He left after (that to go into independent production). We chose the director with him and we brought in our partners on the project, (Lone Star Film Group heads) Fred and Erica Westheimer.
"Marcus was someone that Mark Gill had met and (in January 2005 he'd seen his) movie at Sundance called 'Pretty Persuasion' (starring Evan Rachel Wood, James Woods and Ron Livingston). He liked his movie very much and then encouraged me and Liz Glotzer to see the movie. Castle Rock got involved again with us when I brought it back to Mark Gill because we wanted to do more work on the screenplay and Castle Rock helped us. So Castle Rock came back into the project."
By then Castle Rock had become a unit of Warner Bros. "I went back to Martin (Shafer) because I knew he always liked the project and I said, 'Listen, we need a little more help.' Frankly, we needed to do more work on the screenplay. Warner Independent is more of a production entity so they couldn't do any development and Martin helped with further development and we did a rewrite there."
Golchan added that he appreciates the fact that Alan Horn, who's now Warner Bros.' president and chief operating officer, "was a big supporter of the project from the time it was at Castle Rock (where he'd been a founding partner)."
Asked about casting "Chaos," Golchan told me, "We went to a number of actors who were bigger actors at the time. One very big actor, who I liked very much, was very close to saying yes and eventually didn't. And then I gave the screenplay to Shani Rosenzweig, an agent at UTA. I must say she deserves a lot of credit because she liked the screenplay very much and she gave it to Ryan Reynolds' agent. She said to me, 'Will you make it with Ryan?' I said, 'I don't know.' He wasn't a name, you know, at the time that the studio really was interested in. But I said, 'Why don't you find out if he's interested.' She gave it to (his) agent and (Reynolds) read it really very quickly after they gave it to him and said, 'I love this.'
"At that point, the director and I called Mark Gill and said, 'We would like to make this movie (with Reynolds).' And, frankly, at first Mark was not sure that he could really green light the picture with Ryan Reynolds. But eventually he trusted us and felt that, obviously, there was an actor here that had a lot of potential. It was before 'Just Friends' came out (the 2005 romantic comedy directed by Roger Kumble in which Reynolds starred with Amy Smart, Anna Faris and Chris Klein) so he wasn't a big success yet. He had done 'Van Wilder' (2002) and 'Amityville Horror' (2005), but he wasn't yet a very established actor. And finally Mark agreed and said, 'OK, we'll do it with Ryan Reynolds.' (That was) a big step for us and certainly a big show of support because he wasn't an obvious kind of name that could support this kind of movie at first glance. But, obviously, when 'Just Friends' came out that made us feel better because (it) was a pretty successful movie that wasn't made for that much money either."
It was in the summer of 2005 that Golchan finally got the green light for "Chaos" from Gill: "Then he brought (in) the Westheimers' Lone Star Entertainment, who became our financial and producer partners. And then we had a lot of dealings to decide on the (lead) actress and obviously selected Emily Mortimer (to play Reynolds' wife in the film), a great actress who we felt gave a lot of substance to the piece because she's such an interesting actress and has so much depth and is such an interesting beautiful woman."
Budgeting followed, he explained, and they "figured out a way to make this movie for a price in Canada at the time. I don't know if that's the case any more, but at the time Canada was still a very good place in terms of exchange rates and tax credits. The budget was about $12 million (which bought a lot more in Canada then). And then we got Stuart Townsend, who was obviously a big part of the cast, as well. We started shooting in January 2006. We were supposed to shoot for 40 days and we ended up shooting 38 days. We finished early. A very efficient director."
In production, Golchan said, he's "very much a hands on producer. What's nice is that basically the studio gave me a lot of trust and let us do the picture. Obviously, they supervised (it) very closely and we had a very good line producer, Barbara Kelly ('Things We Lost in the Fire'). We were able to do this picture without any interference from the studio because they were very pleased. I was on the set every morning. I tried to make it (so that I was) the first one in the morning and the last one in the evening. I sometimes missed out on the last one in the evening. Marcos and certainly the grip people were the last."
Looking back at production, he told me, "The challenges of the piece were really the fact that Ryan Reynolds plays three different ages. He starts as a young man of 23, then we see him as an adult and a father of about 35 and then we see him at the end playing a 50 or 55-year-old man. So that was challenging in terms of making those scenes and the make-up and all of that credible. Probably the biggest challenge of the piece, in my opinion, was making those things work because we have bookends (to the film) where he tells the story to his future son in law (on the boy's wedding day)."
How was shooting in Canada? "I did love Vancouver and I do think it's a beautiful place, but I have never seen so much rain in my life," Golchan replied. "Every day I was thinking that maybe it wasn't going to rain and it ended up raining, which after a while gets to you a little bit. But certainly the sets went very well. I tried to give it as much of a nice atmosphere as possible. I think it's always important to give a bit of a family kind of atmosphere (during production) and I like to always celebrate with champagne. One of my traditions is to pop champagne with a sword, but unfortunately there were no swords there that I could get. I had found a knife from a bayonet, which unfortunately was a disaster.
"So the big gift that I got at the end on the last day of shooting was (that) the director offered me a special sword, which is a sword actually for the popping of the champagne (by cutting the neck of the bottle just below the cork). I was very nervous because everybody had heard about my talents of popping the champagne and I didn't know if that was going to work and I got this beautiful sword after the last day and now I am put to (the) task. I had this minute of like big worry of whether this was going to work or not -- and it did. I've never seen so many people jump up with excitement (because of) the champagne popping and finishing the movie, of course."
When I observed that this is certainly a skill that not everyone has, Golchan, who was born in Paris, explained, "It's a skill that I got in boarding school and that I use to my advantage whenever I can."
Clearly, Golchan's delighted to finally see "Chaos" a reality that's about to go into theaters. "We did a couple of market tests and now we are going on a limited release," he explained. "I'm just hoping that we get a chance to show this movie on a wide scale. I think it's one of those movies that's a challenge because it's not necessarily a huge commercial movie and it's not (a small) artistic movie, but it's a movie that plays well. It's a question of finding that audience who can build word of mouth and help it grow in the marketplace."
Filmmaker flashbacks: From Jan. 11, 1991's column: "Writers may not have as much power and glory in Hollywood as they'd like, but these still aren't bad times for those who take pen in hand or pound computer keyboards.
"'I think these are better times for writers -- prices are up,' Ron Mardigian, senior vp of William Morris and head of its motion picture literary department, told me...
"'There are more opportunities for writers to break in. It might be hard for the middle-area writer who's been around for a while and not succeeded. It might be harder for that person, but I think opportunities are greater now than they've ever been.'
"One reason Mardigian's bullish about writers is that their marketplace has expanded: 'In addition to the regular motion picture market, you've got a number of cable markets that are new, plus the basic television market that's always been there. You've got new players coming in from all over the world with new money, who are looking to make other than the mainstream kind of pictures. So opportunities are all around us and the writers are in at the beginning of that. The demand for material is enormous.'
"Are writers destined only to make money, or do they also stand to exert more control in Hollywood? 'Alas, I think they are destined to make more money,' he replies with a knowing laugh. 'The control only comes in the hyphenate areas if they become directors or producers. And (even) then, producer control is sometimes illusory. The control still lies with the money and with the director...'
"High prices for spec scripts were fueled last year by auctions, a way of selling that Mardigian sees continuing. 'That's all part of the spec script hype business, where you try to play one (buyer) against another,' he explains. 'certain things lend themselves to that and others don't. It's a matter of supply and demand. In a very competitive market if you have that good script or if it's for a particular kind of actor or director (auctions make sense)...'"
Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel www.UpdateHollywood.com.