As Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime meets a mixed response at Venice, Telluride, Toronto and the NYFF (see IndieWIRE's critics poll), the two women who raised the funding for the $5-million movie are sitting on tenterhooks hoping to score a distribution deal that has not materialized.
Lifelong Minneapolis chums Christine Walker and Elizabeth Redleaf combined forces a year ago in the production company Werc Werk Works: Life During Wartime, a follow-up to Happiness, is their first production. They started the firm on the assumption that at their budget level—no movie over $5 million—there would be a market for their pictures. That assumption is being tested. "We had the ability to make films," says Redleaf, "as the world of independent film was collapsing."
A lifelong film buff, critic and arts patron, Redleaf is putting her money where her passion is. (Redleaf also maintains a home in Telluride, where she is a major Film Fest sponsor, along with her Minneapolis pal Bill Pohlad.) Walker is a veteran producer of such films as Factotum, American Splendor and Rob Perez's just-opening Nobody, which shot in Minneapolis.
Redleaf bonded with Solondz when she booked Palindromes at the new Walker Arts Center theater. Several years later, he handed the script for Life During Wartime to her at Cannes. "I knew I wanted to be involved," she says. "This kind of material doesn't frighten us, though it is a very risky business right now. The subject matter is less commercially viable." Cinetic Media is selling North America, while Fortissimo has sold some foreign territories.
[Photo: Christine K. Walker and Elizabeth Redleaf; Howl stars James Franco as Allen Ginsberg.]
"He was one of the filmmakers we talked about wanting to work with," says Walker. "He hadn't worked in five years. We wanted to bring resources to support filmmakers like this."
The producers are keeping things small with a staff of seven. Werc Werks' next project coming up is Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Howl, starring James Franco as Allen Ginsberg, a reenactment (with animation) of his obscenity trial, which also stars Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm and David Straithairn. It wrapped in January. Also in the WW works is a European co-production of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse, based on a story about philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. "Don't mess with the Bela," says Walker, who had booked retrospectives of his films at the Walker Art Center. Ramping up for a start in 2010 is their fourth project, Jill and Karen Sprecher's The Convincer, which follows a midwest salesman tracking a rare violin. WWW are also developing the late Budd Schulberg's last script, set in Florida.
"We keep a clear-headed approach to the business," says Redleaf, who sees an opportunity to take advantage of all the available quality material going begging right now. "We're grounded. The studios are going to be cautious. But they still need movies."