Who else but James Franco would cobble together his ongoing higher education, books of poetry, NYU graduate students, independent financing and fellow A-list actors to create not one, but two new feature films?
That’s just what the multihyphenate has done with “Tar” and “Black Dog, Red Dog,” two standalone narrative pics based on separate collections of poetry that were adapted by students in Franco’s filmmaking class. Each student directed a short based on an individual poem; their entries were later woven into a cohesive, feature-length narrative.
“Tar,” based on the 1983 book of poems by Pulitzer Prize winner C.K. Williams, has been fully financed by Victorino Noval and Franco’s Rabbit Bandini Productions. Ten NYU student directors helmed segments along with Franco, who also stars as Williams. Mila Kunis and Jessica Chastain also took roles.
“I went out to people that I knew, or who I thought would be open to this kind of thing,” Franco told Variety. “They all told me that they were so happy they did it … the students are still at a place where they’re pure, and they’re not jaded.”
Franco used a similar formula for “Black Dog, Red Dog,” a book of poems by Stephen Dobyns that was published in 1984. Still in post-production, “Black Dog” stars Franco, Olivia Wilde, Chloe Sevigny and Whoopi Goldberg.
Franco, who selected the 10 directors via a competition at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and Noval plan to take “Tar” to festivals in search of distribution, and will use any proceeds to fund future student endeavors. Producers include Miles Levy, Vince Jolivette and Edward Bass; Noval serves as an exec producer.
Jolivett said “Tar” has wrapped and could preem as soon as the Toronto Film Fest, while “Black Dog” was still being edited.
“After I graduated from NYU I proposed teaching a class,” Franco told Variety. “I wanted it to do a few things I hadn’t seen before — to work at a professional level, meaning we would get financing, we would find great actors, and even though it didn’t have a very big budget, we would make it so the production levels were really good.”
“When you start with poetry I think you start thinking about the shape of a film in a different way, and it opens up new approaches,” Franco said. “Our final film has a unique feel. It does tell a story and it does give you a look at a poet’s life.”