‘Edgy’ producer Chris Hanley knows how to work biz angles

Chris Hanley made the scene at Cannes this year clad in khaki shorts and matching safari hat — with ear flaps — and a fire-engine red windbreaker. The flamboyant film producer and his wife and partner, Roberta, who head indie film outfit Muse Prods., held court at a table filled with the independent filmmakers and performers whose wares the Hanleys are getting into a theater near you.

Thesp Billy Zane and director Michael Oblowitz were on hand to help the Hanleys roll out Oblowitz’s Jim Thompson adaptation “This World, Then the Fireworks,” an Intl. Critics Week selection which opened in July. Zane also stars in the Muse production of “I Woke Up Early the Day I Died,” based on a long-lost script by the late cult filmmaker Ed Wood, and Aris Iliopolis, the director of the pic, which begins rolling in L.A. in late July, also was on hand.

How did Chris Hanley become the patron saint of low-budget, out-there, strange and controversial projects? The former New York music scenester-turned-indie angel is refreshingly unpretentious and lighthearted about his tough film savior status. “I hate to say it, but I have to: I am the edgiest guy in town!” And definitely one of the busiest.

In the past two years, Hanley has steered half a dozen projects into production, including James Toback’s upcoming “Two Girls and a Guy,” Matthew Bright’s “Freeway” and noted thesps’ helming debuts such as Steve Buscemi’s “Trees Lounge” and Vincent Gallo’s “Buffalo 66.”

By partnering with longtime indie operators like Edward Pressman and newer players like Cinepix, and by sharing exec producing chores with pros such as Oliver Stone and screenwriter Larry Gross, Hanley fills out his roster of $1.5 million-$5 million films with foreign sales outfits such as Storm and Cinequanon.

Hanley also is working on a project-by-project funding basis with Imperial Bank, in conjunction with pre-sales and negative pickup deals, while taking advantage of unusual co-funding opportunities such as subsidy financing through the Isle of Man.

Hanley describes the latter coin option as “similar to the Irish subsidies, where they take an equity position and guarantee aspects of the funding.” The Isle of Man co-venture is providing Roberta Hanley with the opportunity to launch her helming debut later this fall, “Woundings,” which is based on the sci-fi play by Jeff Noon.

Also on the current Muse roster is “Revenant,” a vampire pic helmed by Richard Elfman and scored by brother Danny, which just wrapped production, as well as “Maps to the Stars,” now completing the funding arrangements (and which Hanley says undoubtedly will get retitled due to current indie pic “Star Maps”). Then there’s a late fall shoot for Mary Harron’s follow-up to her critically acclaimed “I Shot Andy Warhol,” “American Psycho,” based on the firestorm-creating novel by Bret Easton Ellis. Hanley reports that they’re currently casting “Psycho,” and that “Miramax looks serious about picking up ‘Buffalo 66.’ ”

So is the bumper crop of projects and a Cannes fest anointing taking the edge off of Hanley? ” ‘Maps’ is unbelievably controversial,” Hanley says, before launching into a description of what he calls “a dream project” that he and Pressman have been trying to put together. “It’s called ‘The Vatican Connection,’ all about the Catholic church and all of the banking scandals that erupted around it several years ago. This is a huge indie project, probably about $40 million,” he says.

While some producers dream about getting big stars and conventional mainstream genre material to all but eliminate their anxiety, Hanley is storming into the millennium with a different tack: “For me, it’s all about taking risks and being on the edge.”

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