The Triumphant Return of Good Machine

Yes, it is true.  Good Machine is back.  But in a new and improved form.  Perhaps we should have done a press release, but I thought I should do it here instead.  Press releases are so yesterday.

If you went to Sundance, perhaps you noticed the secret stealth return of our so-called 90's powerhouse.  Or if you were at the Golden Globes, it must have caught your eye.  Hell, even if you just watched the Golden Globes.  If you missed all that, certainly by perusing the Oscar noms, something should have caused a bit of stir.  I've been waiting for some sharp newshound to break with the story, but nope.  So here's the real buzz...

The Good Machinists seem to have now taken over indie film.  The only difference between back then and now is that like any good thing, Good Machine the company achieved its own obsolescence.  The Good Machinists each have their own shop.  Call it, the decentralized approach. But look at what Good Machine achieved just this month.

My former assistant and partner, former head of production, Anthony Bregman, nabbed the biggest sale (I think) at Sundance for his production MY IDIOT BROTHER.  I haven't checked, but also think he's giving Mr. Rudin chase for the title of Most Prolific Producer (when I asked Ant his secret, he replied "Have four children, and you don't have a choice: you have to produce!").  His credit list also includes recent collaborations with many former Good Machine directors, including Nicole Holofcener and Bob Pulcini & Shari Springer Berman.

Good Machine's 2nd initial hire, and the first employee to enter the producer ranks, Mary Jane Skalski, had one of the best received films of the Sundance fest in her 3rd collaboration with Tom McCarthy, WIN WIN.  But why stop there?  She was also in the elite club of Sundance twofers, with the fest opener and competition stand out PARIAH, which Mary Jane Executive Produced -- and Focus just announced that they picked up.  No rest for the weary, eh?

The whole time Anthony was a partner at This is that, and even some of the time he was at Good Machine, he had one assistant, and a remarkable one at that.  With Bregman's new company, Likely Story, Stefanie Azpiazu has taken on Executive Producer duties (what are those exactly, btw?).  She holds that credit on Jesse Peretz's MY IDIOT BROTHER, as well as several others, including last year's Sundance opener, PLEASE GIVE (and this year's WGA nominee).

Another former assistant of mine, now the head of hottest international sales company in the entire universe (aka FilmNation), Glen Basner, recently decided to expand his company's portfolio into the specialized arena.  Awhile back he told me he had found something that should spark.  But I think 12 Oscar nominations for THE KING'S SPEECH is an outright bonfire.

Of course, my fellow Good Machine founder, the legendary erudite Mr. James Schamus, is always expected to do well, and last year -- back before Sundance returned as a sales market -- , he picked up a nice little title in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, and now has four Oscar noms for his label.

The founder of Good Machine International, David Linde, could well have decided to take some time off after running a studio, but as long as there's great movies to make, I don't think David will be taking a break.  Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu may be the most gifted filmmaker out there, but his films are challenges, thankfully.  But that means they will never be easy to get made, but luckily he has a Lava Bear on his side.  David EP'd this year's entry to my top ten list, BIUTIFUL and yes, as a result has some more Oscar noms to his credit.

Anne Carey, my partner at This is that, did not go to Sundance this year.  But that did not stop The Hollywood Reporter from naming her on their Indie Hit List the hottest producer there:

THE PRODUCER

Then: Lawrence Bender
On team Tarantino since Reservoir Dogs, he has also handled Oscar-winning pics like Good Will Hunting and An Inconvenient Truth.

Now: Anne Carey
The former WMA agent toiled at Good Machine before partnering with Ted Hope on pics including Adventureland and The American.

And why not, her tenacity and genius, did yield the "coolest" film of the year in THE AMERICAN, which happened to enjoy the distinction of being the only This is that production to grace the top of the box office charts.  (PS.  Hey Anne: that wiki needs some updating!  And: Hey HRptr: she wasn't an agent, she just worked there!)

Unfortunately, Good Machine can't take credit for WINTER'S BONE, but that won't stop me from trying.  After all, Ang Lee's fantastic RIDE WITH THE DEVIL might have been Good Machine's biggest financial flop (despite being a great movie), but it was the first film to be adapted by WINTER BONE's novelist Daniel Woddrell.  Okay, it's a stretch but certainly it speaks a tad of our mutual fine taste for the man's prose and stories (even if Ms. Granik has turned down our efforts to work with her!).

Okay, so this does leaves some Good Machinists still unaccounted for, but after winning some Globes last year, Ross Katz is entitled to some time off.   Interestingly enough, Ross should take the reigns on a film Bregman is producing and Basner is arranging the financing on; the film, by title only is a mash up of several of our former projects, THE AMATEUR AMERICAN.  One of Mr. Schamus' former assistants, Jawal Nga, has been active on the producing front, with last year's Sundance hit HOWL and prior Grand Jury Winner FORTY SHADES OF BLUE to his credit.  And of course there's a squad of GMers doing great things behind the scenes too, some that will no doubt start some bonfires of benevolence in short order.

Me?  Well I already told you how I spent my Sundance non-vaction a few days ago (I've put a few updates into it if you want to check back) and how inspiring it was for me this year.

All in all, though, I must admit it is pretty swell to see the trees those seeds have sprouted.

It's Always A Question Of Character: Harvey Pekar & Henry Harrison

Today's Guest Post is by writer/director, Shari Springer Berman.  I got to work with Shari and her partner Bob Pulcini on AMERICAN SPLENDOR, and recently had the pleasure of screening their new film THE EXTRA MAN, opening this weekend. When Ted approached me to write something about THE EXTRA MAN for his very cool website, I was honored but also at a loss. As I am pretty old school, I don’t have much experience with blogging and tweeting. I thought maybe I could use that to my advantage and write something about the golden age of indie film – a time when filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Todd Haynes and David Lynch were inspiring me to study cinema. I would examine how way back in the 80’s and early 90’s, alternative film folks would physically gather in places like the art house cinema, whereas now this community finds each other on websites like Truly Free. But what did this line of thought have to do with my new film? So I nixed that idea and then considered writing about the compromises, frustrations and joys of making a fairly ambitious film on a tiny budget. Unfortunately, we have all read that article before. I was stumped... Then Harvey Pekar sadly passed away last week and I found my inspiration. Of course, it wasn’t the first time I found inspiration from Harvey, and judging from the outpouring of love, condolences and abundant press I was not the only person who felt that way.

Bob and I first met Harvey in 2000 after being asked to do a film adaptation of his landmark comic book series AMERICAN SPLENDOR by none other than Ted Hope himself.  We were intrigued by the idea and loved the material, but Ted warned us we had to meet Harvey first before agreeing to do the film; Harvey was brilliant and fascinating but also a handful. So Bob and I flew out to Cleveland and stayed at the strangest hotel I have ever visited. It was Harvey’s recommendation. Once stately but now shabby, the hotel had peeling paint, bad mattresses and tons of character. It was also mostly populated with cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy at the Cleveland Clinic. The lobby was crowded with people pushing IV stands. Harvey later told us that Cole Porter wrote NIGHT AND DAY in the ballroom that was sitting unused on the top floor.  As we soon discovered, the hotel was quintessential Harvey – strange, depressing, magnificent, genuine and all accompanied by a great soundtrack.

Of course, we totally connected with Harvey on that trip. He was the very definition of a working class intellectual and was one of the smartest people I have ever met, not to mention a true artist. Although he might have seemed incredibly down to earth, the truth is he desperately craved recognition.  In spite of his everyman persona, Harvey longed for his work to gain broad appeal, and he was very excited about being the subject of a feature film. He was also very into getting paid lots of “bread.” He still spoke beatnik. During our hectic 24 day shoot, he would show up to the set every day around lunch for free food, good conversation and a nap. There was one insane meta-moment when Harvey actually fell asleep on the prop couch in his set apartment as the electrics were lighting around him. Everyone loved his visits. He inspired us all to do our best work even under the craziest conditions.

Traveling to Sundance, Cannes and the Academy Awards with Harvey, Joyce and Danielle were some of the most memorable experiences of my life. He was captivating in front of any crowd and could go from kvetching to charming in a split second.  He was more impressed with the laundering services in his Cannes hotel than he was with the red carpet on the Croisette.  He was totally bored at the Oscars and was proud to announce that his tuxedo was courtesy of Tuxedo Junction in Cleveland.  During the blackout of 2003 (which apocalyptically happened on SPLENDOR’S opening night in 4 of the 5 cities we were playing in), Harvey was trapped in a midtown Manhattan hotel room.  He obsessively wanted to get back to Cleveland but instead wrote a brilliant comic about his blackout experience that we used as a NEW YORK TIMES ad the following week.

We last saw Harvey for lunch a few months ago and he looked fantastic. He was busy working on lots of new projects and was in great spirits. When he asked what we were working on, we told him about THE EXTRA MAN. It turned out he had read the book (of course) and loved it. And that got me to thinking that Harvey Pekar is a lot like Henry Harrison, the character Jonathan Ames created that Kevin Kline plays in our most recent film. On the surface they are very different, as Henry is an escort to elderly society ladies in New York and Harvey escorted the likes of Toby Radloff around Cleveland.  But they really do have a lot in common. They are philosophers, outsiders and true originals. They are complicated and crabby and authentic and captivating all at the same time.  Henry is as deeply flawed as Harvey and thus, so much more human and real. Neither is always likeable or sympathetic in the Hollywood sense, but one could never argue that they aren’t interesting.  And this is perhaps the very essence of independent cinema. In AMERICAN SPLENDOR, Harvey says, “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Why shouldn’t movies be the same?

Shari Springer Berman is the Oscar-nominated co-screenwriter / co-filmmaker of the critically acclaimed film, American Splendor. In 2007, Berman and Pulcini adapted and directed the international best-seller THE NANNY DIARIES, staring Scarlett Johansson.  Their third narrative feature, THE EXTRA MAN, starring Kevin Kline, Paul Dano and Katie Holmes will be released this summer.  They are currently in production on their latest film, CINEMA VERITE.