Work with indie budgets, forge industry alliances

In 2006, a trio of twentysomething producers bet that a tale of a drug-addicted teacher could give them a niche hit and establish them as players in the tough indie world.

Nabbing an Oscar nom for star Ryan Gosling, “Half Nelson” grossed more than $4 million worldwide. Last year, the trio’s followup, “Blue Valentine,” again with Gosling, earned co-star Michelle Williams a nod from the Academy.

This year, Silverwood Films’ Lynette Howell, Hunting Lane Films’ Jamie Patricof and Verisimilitude’s Alex Orlovsky reunited with Gosling for “The Place Beyond the Pines,” a film they see as their biggest and most commercial indie project yet.

It follows pro motorcycle rider-turned-bank robber Luke Glanton (Gosling), who finds himself in a showdown with rookie cop-turned-politician Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). Eva Mendes plays the mother of Glanton’s son, Rose Byrne plays Cross’ wife and Ray Liotta plays a corrupt cop.

“(Lynette, Jamie and Alex) are great creative allies, and you can trust them. They have very highly attuned bullshit meters,” Gosling says. “The films I’ve made with them are so different from any others I’ve made — they’ve been getting bigger, yet have very small budgets compared to most movies. ”

(None of the principals would reveal the pic’s budget — an ever important factor in bidding among spendthrift distribs. “Half Nelson’s” was a reported $700,000; Blue Valentine’s $4 million.)

“Pines,” now shooting in Schenectady, N.Y., also marks two other reunions: Gosling with his “Lars and the Real Girl” producer Sidney Kimmel (who solely financed the project) and his “Valentine” writer/director Derek Cianfrance.

The new film is a big stretch from that largely improvised romantic drama, but according to Gosling, this reunion between actor and director came from an almost psychic connection.

“I’ve been having this fantasy for a long time about robbing banks, a way to do it and get away with it” he explains. “I told Derek, if I was ever going to rob a bank, I would have a U-Haul truck parked in an alley nearby, ride up on a motorcycle, run in with my helmet on, rob the place, ride up into the back of the U-Haul and drive away. Derek said, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me — I just wrote a script about that.”

While it may sound too bizarre to be true, Gosling notes that an often successful Israeli bank robber used the same method. “It’s a great idea that was out there, and we all tuned into it,” he says. Given Gosling’s rising star and the genre aspects of the script (co-written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio and Darius Marder), the project was easier to finance than “Valentine,” which had funding and locations disappear and change numerous times over its 12-year odyssey to the screen.

“People who are less crazy would’ve given up,” says Gosling of the producing trio.

“During the filming of ‘Blue Valentine,’ Derek said, ‘I want you three to produce (“Pines”),'” Howell recalls. “We’re all very hands-on, with very similar tastes, but we have no problem arguing or disagreeing with each other. Alex is a very calm, levelheaded guy, and Jamie — I say this in the most wonderful way — in some ways is like a bull in a china shop. He’s fiercely passionate about doing whatever it takes and has no fear, and a lot of that has rubbed off on me over the years.”

Howell and Patricof tend to concentrate on financing and casting, and Orlovsky often focuses on post.

After WME and CAA packaged and repped the new project with Gosling attached, and WME Global head Graham Taylor shopped it to financiers, the filmmakers felt most at home with Kimmel and his one-stop production shop.

“SKE functions like a mini-studio even though it doesn’t distribute films — you have a creative exec, a production exec, a chain of command,” Howell says.

Another source of comfort was SKE’s deal with Nick Meyer’s international sales outfit Sierra/Affinity.

After shedding its marketing and distribution advisory divisions three years ago, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment is making a comeback of sorts with a trio of features (co-financed with Lakeshore Entertainment) that appear far more commercial than its previous fare. This is its first solo financing effort since the company’s change in direction, notes exec producer and SKE prexy Jim Tauber.

“We had some concerns because our company is moving in the direction of more wide-release, commercially leaning movies and away from more platform-oriented releases,” explains exec producer and SKE production prexy Matt Berenson. “But we saw (“Pines”) was a multigenerational crime drama much more ambitious in scope than ‘Blue Valentine,’ and when Derek talked about it in the context of ‘The Deer Hunter,’ we knew he understood it was more the wide-release, elevated-action film we’re trying to make.”

Yet the film is clearly targeted at adults, Berenson says. SKE worked with the producers and Cianfrance to further develop the characters’ motivations and enhance moments when they’re in jeopardy.

Orlovsky cites the 46-day shoot and cast as a testament to its commerciality.

“It’s a big film,” adds Patricof. “It’s got a big cast, action, bank robberies, shootouts, car chases, as well as a great story as a foundation. That pretty much describes what studio movie gets made these days.”

Less commercial may be Gosling’s bleach blond page boy haircut. “I’m a little nervous to take credit for that, but that’s my funeral,” he says with a laugh. A picture of it has already appeared all over the internet, sometimes as part of the “Hey Girl” meme that adds silly captions to his photos. It’s definitely the most commercial venture for Howell, Patricof and Orlovsky (with the possible exception of Howell’s upcoming “Shark Night 3D,” the sole departure from their otherwise highbrow filmography), and just the latest in what all three hope will be a series of partnerships. (Patricof and Orlovsky were partners in Hunting Lane, until Patricof’s desire to relocate to Los Angeles a few years ago led Orlovsky to join Tyler Brodie and Hunter Gray’s Verisimilitude).

“On our joint projects, it helps that Jamie and Lynette are there to have access to the agencies and a side of the industry I’m not as involved in,” notes Orlovsky.

Howell teamed with Orlovsky on Azazel Jacobs’ just-released “Terri,” and she has a thriller and a true-life drama in the works with Patricof. In addition to more studio projects, Gosling plans to star in his directorial debut, a remake of Taylor Hackford’s musical drama “The Idolmaker.”

Their shared rise and trials seem to have bonded the producers and star — Patricof says he often trades advice with Gosling on their prospective projects.

“The three of them just complement each other really well,” Gosling says. “They’re like Neapolitan ice cream, and their flavor changes depending on how far behind schedule we are.” And where does Gosling fit in to the mix? “I guess I’m the soggy box that holds the ice cream together.”

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