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Los Angeles Film Festival: How Rookie Kimberly Levin Made Indie Farm Drama 'Runoff'

Festivals
by Anne Thompson
June 13, 2014 1:27 PM
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"Runoff."

More and more these days, getting a movie made is about a tenacious filmmaker making it happen. Theater and television writer/director Kimberly Levin didn't wait for CAA to raise financing. She forged ahead with the drama "Runoff," filmed near her hometown Louisville, Kentucky. The film made its world premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival Thursday night, and buyers are circling. Here's Variety's rave review.

Levin, who is trained as a biochemist, is a member of the Kentucky Film Board. She raised equity financing in her home state, where friends and family are offering locations. With help from executive producer Julia Chasman ("25th Hour," "Quills"), who discovered the script while judging the Nicholls screenwriting contest, Levin is making the film under both DGA and SAG Ultra Low Budget agreements (which gets actors $100 a day plus commission against an eventual sale of the film), which make it possible to film the story locally with scale and scope for less than $1 million.

Set in a rural farming community, 'The Runoff" tells the story of Betty ("Warehouse 13"'s Joanne Kelly), a homemaker struggling to save her family's farm-supply business as factory farming transforms and threatens her family's way of life. Her teenage son Finley ("Win Win"'s Alex Shaffer) can't abide what is happening to his world as Betty fights to keep him from leaving home.

"Runoff" is produced by Kurt Pitzer, executive produced by Chasman and Will Battersby ("Trumbo"), and co-produced by Sarah Spearing and Guillermo Escalona. Spanish cinematographer Hermes Marco shot the film; Cindi Rush is casting in New York while Marty Cherrix is handling regional casting.

After graduating from NYU Grad Film School with a short in hand ("Between Baronofskys"), Levin partnered with Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil on "Carthage," a TV pilot for an hour-long drama based on her documentary work on mountaintop coal mining in Appalachia. With Tribeca Films, Levin is currently co-producing an upcoming HBO Films adaptation of "Eating With The Enemy," about a mob-affiliated New Jersey restaurant owner (James Gandalfini) who inserts himself into the high-stakes relationship between the US and North Korea. Levin is also shopping a feature comedy script about "sex, death and letting go."

Here's a bit of Women in Hollywood's Q & A with Levin about the film (full interview here).

Please give us your description of the film.

Runoff is a slow-burning thriller that we shot in rural Kentucky. This is a place where on the surface there's a pastoral beauty: it's harvest time, the kids are getting ready for Halloween. But just beneath is the brutal reality of a farming town. The protagonist, Betty, discovers a crisis threatening her family. Every choice she has leads to somebody getting hurt, and she has to decide whom to sacrifice.

What made you write this story?

The seeds of the story are based on something that happened to me when I was working as a field biochemist in Kentucky. It led me to obsess about this idea that as human beings we make decisions in a temporal way. We have the ability to problem-solve and to judge how our choices will play out over time, which is specific to humans as far as I know. Am I choosing what's best for right at this moment? Ten minutes or a year from now? Or further in the future? Am I choosing for myself, my family, my neighbors? How wide do I draw the circle around me?

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

We shot on working farms, so there were many times when the talent was interacting with animals. Our male lead was bitten by a hog in the middle of a scene. We had to figure out how to mike a scene with thousands of squawking turkeys that were pecking through our audio cables. Our lead actress fractured her knuckle while throwing a sack of grain into a pickup truck. We smelled funky (an understatement). We choreographed a series of shots with a biplane that held less than an hour of fuel.

This is my first feature and now, when I see any film onscreen, I think of it as a series of small victories. Every acting moment, every bit of light coming into a shot in the right way, every foleyed sound is an important part of the final picture. There are creative challenges, production challenges, financial challenges, and you have to meet them and be ready to do it again the next day and the next, until the film is finished.

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