For Cholodenko, below-the-line talent is critical

Even in an actor-driven film like helmer Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right,” below-the-line talent is critical to telling the story.

The pic opened the Los Angeles Film Festival in downtown L.A. on Thursday just as throngs of testosterone-fueled Los Angeles Lakers fans filled Staples Center to watch the final showdown between their team and the Boston Celtics.

“The Lakers were our opening act,” said Cholodenko, who attended the premiere at nearby L.A. Live Regal Cinemas, where a decidedly different kind of crowd gathered to see the tale of identity, family and relationships centered on a lesbian couple, their two kids and the kids’ sperm-donor dad.

It’s hard to imagine a movie deriving more of its strength from performances than “Kids,” which casts Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo in memorable roles. But Cholodenko and producer Jeffrey Levy-Hinte knew that the film also required strong support from a crew that understood its subtleties and culture.

To assemble that group they called several below-the-line agents and “set up shop to conduct back-to-back interviews,” said the helmer. “Almost everyone was a cold call.”

The result: a hand-picked crew that shared the filmmakers’ approach to the subject matter.

Gut reactions were important. “Jeff and I immediately felt connected to (production designer) Julie Berghoff,” Cholodenko said. “She had gone way beyond the call to prepare her presentation. I felt that if this woman is so motivated to get this job that she’s put this much energy into it, she’s going to be wonderful. And she was.”

Costume designer Mary Claire Hannan also stood out in the interviews. Her earlier work for “Into the Wild” was suffused with the naturalism the filmmakers wanted for “Kids.”

D.p. Igor Jadue-Lillo was recommended to Cholodenko by fellow helmer Rodrigo Garcia, who shot “Passengers” with him (and who, coincidentally, had cast Bening on “Mother and Child”). “When I met Igor we had a great communication about the script,” recalled Cholodenko. “I thought that this guy is really interested in the story and what it needs visually.”

Cholodenko, who had worked as an assistant editor on studio films before going to film school and emerging as a director, took a new direction with her editor for “Kids.” She hired Jeffrey Werner instead of her earlier collaborator, Amy Duddleston. “I loved working with Amy, but I had been kind of underground for a while and felt it would probably be a good time to renew energy and see what it would mean to my filmmaking to work with somebody else. Jeff added sensitivity to the characters.”

Cholodenko adds that everyone she hired “had something very specific to say about the story, the characters and the theme of the film.” They worked as a team despite the inherent difficulties of indie pics, which are often “not well paid, produced fast and under a lot of pressure.”

“Kids” was shot in the summer of 2009 on locations in Los Angeles’ Echo Park and Venice neighborhoods. The production budget was just shy of $4 million. Editing took place from September through February and was completed just in time to get the film to the Berlin Film Festival.

Bookings & Signings

Paradigm bookings: d.p.’s Ron García on CBS’ “Hawaii Five-O,” Rob Sweeney on HBO’s “Big Love,” Mark Doering-Powell on TBS’ “Glory Daze,” Rohn Schmidt on Fox’s “Ride Along,” Nathaniel Goodman on NBC’s “Love Bites,” Alan Caso on CBS’ “Defenders” and Christopher Faloona on TNT’s “Fallen Skies”; costume designers Abram Waterhouse on Fox’s “Lonestar” and Gersha Phillips on TNT’s “Fallen Skies”; editors Kevin D. Ross on ABC’s “My Generation,” Billy Fox on Craig Brewer’s “Footloose,” Raul Davalos on A&E’s “The Glaces,” Scott Gamzon on Fox’s “Human Target,” Henk Van Eeghen and Tirsa Hackshaw on ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” and Joe Hobeck on HBO’s “In Treatment”; and production designers Joseph Nemec III on Boaz Yakin’s “Safe,” Paul Peters on Fox’s “Lonestar,” Joseph Lucky on NBC’s “Outsourced,” Okowita on Cartoon Network movie “Lords of Bad Axe” and Patti Podesta on HBO’s “Cinema Verite.”

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