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Producers Berger and Yerxa Talk 'Ruby Sparks,' 'Nebraska,' 'Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman,' 'Louder than Bombs'

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood August 14, 2012 at 4:19PM

At a time when it has never been tougher to get a movie made, credit is due to indie producers Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, who have slowly but surely turned out quality indie pics ever since they hung their Bona Fide Productions shingle back in 1993. Their most recent film, romantic comedy "Ruby Sparks," marks the return to the screen of Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, the husband and wife team who directed sleeper hit "Little Miss Sunshine"
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"The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman"
"The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman"

They're in the process of casting for a spring start "Louder than Bombs," the first American film for Norwegian director Joachim Trier ("Reprise"). "We were conscious as we were piecing the cast together what it would mean for the budget, it's a tricky dance," says Berger. "Auteur directors are never casting toward the marketplace, it's about finding that sweet spot where artistically you are going after actors exciting to the director and at the same time you are financially allowed to make the movie you want and need to make."

Finally,  after Bona Fide sent the script to him seven years ago for him to possibly produce, Payne starts filming "Nebraska" on October 15 in his home state, with Will Forte and Bruce Dern. Paramount is backing the film. "He didn't want to do three road trip movies in a row," says Yerxa. "We had to wait for him to find his next movie and make it. We took a long break between 'Sideways' and 'The Descendants,' waiting for him to be ready to hit the road again."

"Only Living Boy in New York" is also a seven year project so far that has seen many twists and turns. Allen Loeb worked through several drafts, with various directors including Seth Gordon and Marc Webb, who is still attached.

"Low Down" is based on a memoir about a young girl growing up in LA with her father, a jazz piano player having hard times; John Hawkes is attached. "It has a 'Paper Moon" vibe set in jazz world," says Berger. The team is also developing Elmore Leonard's "Swag," among other projects. And like everyone else, they've turned to HBO, where Damon Lindelof is mapping out a pilot for Perotta's "The Leftovers."

One reason that "Ruby Sparks" got made was that it was inexpensive and recoupable at $8 million. The two leads, both up-and-comers, didn't cost much. "It wasn't a studio movie," says Berger. "We weren't looking to try and make the biggest version of this. This version was truest to itself."

Another was that the script combined the virtues of a studio comedic concept movie (without the usual tired familiarity) with "deeper concerns about relationships and who's in control, how the person in the relationship isn't in control, doesn't have the power," says Berger. "You feel empathy for that character. It was a fresh indie take in the terrain of more accessible entertainment."

The movie added a philosophical/metaphysical dimension to the boy-creates-girl-out-of-his-head idea which was tricky to pull off. "It was addressing metaphysical questions about what level of existence Zoe's character had," says Yerxa, "and also thematic issues. Different people take away different points of discussion from the film. There's a critique of men's controlling tendencies and lack of openness and generosity, either because of deep-down insecurity, or is it more that all people of both genders are self-deluded? They're thinking that they want a certain person or situation for themselves, but are ill-equipped to deal with it in actual life. Calvin really thinks he would embrace a certain kind of woman but when she appears in the flesh he can't deal with it."

Berger adds that one big challenge was the mix of tones. "It starts out comedic, and as the relationship gets muddled the script takes a turn to a drier tone." The filmmakers relied heaviily on Nick Urata's score to help navigate the story.

And Searchlight had to deploy its marketing finesse to sell a romantic comedy with both energy and serious ideas as a summer counter-programmer. The actors and directors went on a cross-country promo tour, but the film opened just OK and has been lagging at the late-summer box office. That's par for the course these days, as no one seems to know how to find that indie sweet spot. One thing we can count on: Berger and Yerxa will keep on trying.

This article is related to: Independents, Fox Searchlight, Fox Searchlight Pictures


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