Producers make most of micro-budgets

Nominees have know-how, resources to get pix made

The Independent Feature Project/West’s 2002 Motorola Producers Award — which bestows a grant of $20,000 to the winner — cites as a criterion the overcoming of “highly limited resources.” But what is perhaps truest about the nominees up for this fifth annual honor is that when it comes to getting quality films made nowadays, they may be the only resource an indie movie needs. Here’s an update on the nominated producers:

Rene Bastian & Linda Moran

Belladonna Prods. partners Rene Bastian and Linda Moran knew that “L.I.E.” — the story of a disaffected Long Island youth’s friendship with a child molester — wasn’t exactly acquisition-friendly.

“We weren’t whipping out our calculators and trying to determine how big our target market would be,” jokes Bastian, who with Moran got the Michael Cuesta-directed drama made for $500,000.

Since its U.S. release — their first after a handful of international-only films — the pic has accumulated awards, acclaim and is near making a profit.

“I think that’s the big difference between studios and us,” says Bastian. “If we feel strongly about a script, we will ignore everybody telling us we shouldn’t do it.”

Moran believes their trademark is fairness with their crew. “When people are being asked to make sacrifices, they are willing to do that if they can trust whoever is at the helm.”

Next up, the New York-based pair has the comedy “Martin and Orloff,” and they’re fielding calls from minimajors and even studios.

“We will probably never be free again as we have been,” says Bastian, who hopes to move their films into the $1 million-$6 million budget range. “It’s going to be a tradeoff, but we want to maintain a culture of good, creative work.”

Adds Moran, “Growth is enormously enticing.”

Adrienne Gruben

For 33-year-old Adrienne Gruben, getting San Francisco’s Bay Bridge lights turned off at 6 a.m. for one of her directors summed up the thrill of her job. “I see myself as an executor of really bizarre visions,” she says.

Her films “Treasure Island,” a narratively experimental war story, and “Olympia,” the tale of an Olympic javelin hopeful in a border town, have earmarked the Texas-born producer as a champion of offbeat stories. (The former is now on DVD, and the latter can be seen on the Sundance Channel.) But Gruben’s job is not one to question her directors’ weird ideas, she believes. “You have to think nothing sounds outrageous to you. You have to have a sorority girl smile, ‘OK, great!’ ”

She believes being egoless is important when your projects aren’t commercial — “If you need to buy really cute shoes, then go make a movie that will let you do that,” Gruben quips — and she admits to feeling bad that sometimes the crew has to eat Taco Bell three days in a row.

“Don’t scrimp on taking care of your crew,” says Gruben, who recently took an associate producer credit on the Screen Gems film “The Mothman Prophecies” to expand her knowledge of filmmaking. “Nuts-and-bolts things like food, and rides to places, it’s part of the math. There’s a spirit that you’re taking care of them, and then they do better work.”

Jasmine Kosovic

Jasmine Kosovic, producer of the indie favorite “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole” and the sex comedy “Just One Time,” has had to remind herself over the years that everything is solvable. Whether it’s not getting the actor you initially wanted or starting a movie without all the financing lined up, she says, “it’s a lot of thinking outside the box because you don’t have money to throw around. (The solution) may even be better than what you thought.”

Kosovic started out as a CBS news researcher before becoming a production assistant on films, a job which she found invaluable because “nobody thinks you’re important so you’re a fly on the wall and you get to overhear things and see what everybody does.”Although both her features on which she was producer saw distribution, the up-and-down indie market has made it tougher for the 32-year-old Kosovic to get a third film — either the black comedy “The Giggle Factor” or a Texas story called “Miller” — off the ground. She’s recently turned to musicvideos and commercials to generate income.

“They’re short jobs, very intense, and the money is nice,” she says. But more important, they give her time to look for feature money. “It’s nothing compared to a movie. I just love producing.”

Nadia Leonelli

Directors may have the artistic visions, says “Acts of Worship” producer Nadia Leonelli, but what she does is “fundamental because (a producer) has a way of looking at a project, being able to figure out how to get it done, and can push things along.”

The story of a female drug addict and her relationship with an ex-user who tries to save her, “Acts of Worship” — currently without distribution but a Spirit Award nominee for best feature under $500,000 — was made in 4½ weeks and carried all the hallmarks of a microbudgeted film.

Leonelli’s New York apartment was the cast’s holding area, she made sandwiches for everyone, and her husband, co-producer Fredrik Sundwall, made coffee. Once while shooting on Harlem streets, the police were called.

“They thought (our star) was a real drug addict and we were taking advantage of her,” says Leonelli, laughing. “But some of the people (in our film) actually were real people that we met.”

As for advice to the hopeful, Leonelli, who got into the business through casting and went on to produce Morgan J. Freeman’s “Hurricane Streets” and the upcoming Lions Gate release “Perfume,” doesn’t recommend going it alone right away.

“Get employed by a mini-major. Work your way through, learn what you want, you get contacts inhouse, then go on your own. Then, when you’re an independent producer, you still know everybody.”

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