News from February 20, 2001

We sadly begin today’s report with news of the passing of two Hollywood visionaries.

Stanley Kramer was at his best when tackling stories of social injustice. Kramer was behind the camera for such films as “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner,” “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “Inherit The Wind,” “The Defiant Ones” and “The Wild Ones,” as well as the classic comedy “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Mr. Kramer was 87.

Howard Koch started at Fox in 1935, moving up from film librarian to assistant direct, eventually becoming one of Hollywood’s top producers. Amongst the film Koch participated in include “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Alfie,” “The Odd Couple,” “Airplane!” and “Ghost.” Mr. Koch also served as head of production at Paramount during the mid 1960s and was the president of AMPAS from 1977 to 1979. He was 84.

In October 1997, two men had a dream. Armed with $100M worth of bond issues, Steve Stabler and Brent Baum opened Destination Films as a new indie boutique, with a hip Santa Monica address and a plan to release 12 to 15 movies a year.

In February 2001, Destination Films is no more, forced to shutter its doors Friday after the cash dried up and the company could no longer meet payroll. What did $100M buy Destination Filmsr “Bats.” “Beautiful.” “Drowning Mona.” “Eye Of The Beholder.” “Thomas And The Magic Railroad.” “Whipped.”

Oh, and “The Wedding Planner”.

But they had to sell that one, despite having grenlit and cast the film with Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey, to Columbia because they could no longer afford the production.

Where does this leave Destination’s remaining filmsr It’s too early to tell. It’s possible Columbia, with whom Destination had a home video deal, will pick “Buying The Cow” (with Jerry O’Connell), “Ring of Fire” (Keifer Sutherland) and “Slackers” (Devon Sawa). We could see the sort of fire sale that so many other late indie distributors had to resort to, where the films eventually go straight to video and/or cable with no fanfare. Or they could languish on the shelves forever.

Having seen some of Destination’s other product, this final option might not be so bad after all.

“Freaks and Geeks” co-creator Paul Feig is gearing for an April start to his feature directing debut, “The Mansion.” Now, “The Mansion” is of course Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion, and the story revolves around four 14 year old Little League players whose motivation for getting to the championship game in Los Angeles is not glory on the playing field, but to try to attend a party at The Mansion. Now, “The Toxic Avenger 4” shot at The Mansion recently, and Scott Caan sold his screenplay “Chasing The Party: Or How Hugh Hefner Changed My Life,” about two guys who will do anything to get into a Playboy Mansion party, to Jerry Bruckhemier. Does it matter that the Little League championship game has been played in Williamsport, PA every year since the league’s inception in 1939r Or that Little League is for 9-12 year oldsr

Newman/Tooley Films is financing the six week shoot, which Feig says will likely be R rated. Great!

Chinese director Chen Kaige wrapped production of his English language debut, “Killing Me Softly,” Friday in England. The thriller, starring Joseph Fiennes, Ian Hart and Heather Graham, is based on Nicci French’s novel about a London based researcher who forms an obsessive bond with a mountaineer. MGM is scheduled to release the film in the fall.

As is typical with John Sayles, news is slowly trickling out about his latest film. One of the few true independent filmmakers, Mr. Sayles is gearing up for an April start of “Gold Coast,” which presents the story of a close knit Florida island community who are forced to deal with resort developers. Having already signed Edie Falco and Angela Basset, who has worked with Sayles previously on “City Of Hope” and “Passion Fish,” longtime Sayles producer Maggie Renzi is in talks with Timothy Hutton to costar.

Now, when one thinks of a project directed by Ron Shelton from an original James Ellroy screenplay starring Kurt Russell, they probably wouldn’t think of independent filmmaking. Yet that is what is happening with “The Plague Season,” Ellroy’s first original story for the screen. Taking place during the week leading up to the LA Riots of 1992 after the acquittal of four cops in the beating of Rodney King. Intermedia and Alphaville have teamed to get the project off the ground for shooting next month, before the impending actors strike, without studio assistance.

This is bad news for Beacon Communications, who was working overtime to get the Shelton/Kevin Costner “Two Guys On The Job” reteam up and running before the strike. Beacon will now have to either find a new director or wait until after the strike issue is resolved.

Another team you wouldn’t think of as indie film players, author John Grisham and “First Wives Club” director Hugh Wilson, are financing the baseball themed “Mickey” themselves. The film is about a recently widowed man (to be played by Harry Connick Jr.) and his sports gifted son on the run from the IRS. But what we find interesting is how the project came about.

Both Grisham and Wilson relocated to Virginia during the 1990s, and became friends through their children. Grisham showed Wilson his original screenplay for “Mickey,” and Wilson convinced Grisham they could find the financing the film locally and totally outside the industry. Sure enough, the two were able to find locals who were interested in becoming a part of the film.

Filming is expected to begin April 18th in Las Vegas and Richmond, Va. One possible location might include the Little League baseball diamond Grisham, a self defined baseball fanatic, had built in this community… and can be seen cutting the grass of himself from time to time.

John Hughes is back.

Joe Roth’s Revolution Studios has given the former king of teen movies the go ahead to start shooting “Chambermaid,” the first film the prolific writer/producer has directed since 1991’s “Curly Sue.” The film, to star Hillary Swank from Hughes’ screenplay, is the Cinderella-esque about a Chicago chambermaid who falls in love with a British gentleman. Lensing begins sometime in the spring.

Benecio Del Toro picked up another acting award this weekend, when he won the Berlin Film Festival’s Best Actor award for his work in “Traffic.” The festival’s Golden Lion award for Best Picture went to Queen Margot director Patrice Chereau’s new English language drama “Intimacy,” which details the life of a young man whose purely sexual relationship with an amateur actress becomes an obsession when she fails to show for their weekly encounters. “Finding Forrester,” “Bamboozled” and Mike Nichols’ adaptation of “Wit” were also in competition.

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