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‘Uprising’ crew works for free to tell story

GOOD MORNING: Producing partners Jordan Kerner and Jon Avnet will take no salaries for “The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” a feature about the heroism of 200 Polish 16-year-olds who defied 100,000 German SS troops for seven months in 1943. The producing duo originally planned to make the uprising story based on Leon Uris’ “Mila 18” but Kerner says they will now make it based on the stories they have gotten from survivors plus history’s records. “Unlike other stories of WWII which depict the Jews as passive victims, this will show a group which valiantly fought unspeakable odds and horror.” Kerner and Avnet have researched the story and visited “all the camps.” Avnet will also direct (for a token DGA fee). “How can we ask a cast to work (on this project) for less than their ordinary salaries if we do not as well?” Paul Brickman is scripting. They anticipate a February start, with two studios in talks to finance/distrib … Kerner and Avnet are teamed on another personal, emotionally involved project, Alex Haley’s “Mama Flora’s Family” for Hallmark-CBS. Kerner and Avnet had loving black nannies in their infancy, reports Kerner — he in L.A., Avnet in N.Y. Their stories, teamed with the writing of the incomparable Haley, resulted in this mini starring Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood, Mario Van Peebles and Queen Latifah, now shooting in Atlanta.

WITH THE TEMPERATURE well into the 90-degree neighborhood Monday, I visited the Park Plaza Hotel, where the Disney/Avnet-Kerner/Caravan “Inspector Gadget” was filming under the eyes of producer Kerner and director David Kellogg. The spectacular ballroom of the 1925-built Plaza was packed with 400 black-tied/evening-gowned players “celebrating” the arrival of Inspector Gadget (played by Matthew Broderick) and his creator, the gorgeous Joely Fisher, whose flaming red hair dancing about her face as Broderick whirled her about the floor. “Saturday Night Live’s” Cheri Oteri, playing the Mayor of Riverton, welcomed the Inspector under a banner proclaiming “Riverton Police Department, Keeping Safety Now and Forever”; the police chief (played by Dabney Coleman) beamed as he was backed by dozens of grim, gum-chewing cops. Giant electric fans and enormous auxiliary air-conditioner machinery pumped in cool air to the vintage ballroom of the hotel, which is undergoing a $10 million, two-three year renovation. It’s a favorite location of filmmakers, doubling for international as well as U.S. sites. Kerner said he and Avnet have filmed there several times, including using its breathtaking staircase for “Less Than Zero.” Director Kellogg told me he’d filmed musicvideos there as well. Fisher recalled she and sister Tricia Leigh had sung in some musicvideos in the hotel when they were young teenagers. Kellogg has made the switch (temporarily) from commercials (like those for Seinfeld and AmEx). It was his work in the blurbs that attracted Avnet/Kerner to hire him for their $92 million “Gadget.” “He is amazing with color,” added Kerner. Adam Greenberg, Oscar-nominated for “Terminator 2,” is director of photography. They were using two cameras for the scene when I visited. But they employ as many as six — which will probably be used when they shoot a rooftop helicopter battle, which will location in the former Marineland site near Palos Verdes: The Pacific Ocean will be masked out by computers, and the city superimposed. Dreamquest will do the movie magic, as it did for Disney’s “Armageddon,” “Mighty Joe Young” and Avnet/ Kerner’s “George of the Jungle.” The film’s also doing location work in Pittsburgh … “SNL’s” Oteri commutes between the TV’er in N.Y. and the movie in L.A. … When Broderick completes “Inspector,” he returns home to N.Y. and the stage (Tony Randall’s Actors Theater) to star in “Night Must Fall,” he says, “to show I can act without help” from special effects. But he’s now enjoying the magic in the film, which is 25% f/x. It differs, Broderick says, from “Godzilla”: in the latter, the effects were added after he completed his acting. In “Gadget” he often acts within effects, and in some scenes he acts opposite himself with a second, evil-created “Robo-Gadget.” Fisher has the same challenge acting with her Robo-duplicate. “It’s like RuPaul meets Jessica Rabbit meets Barbie,” she laughed. Broderick says hundreds of fotos were taken of him, including digital pix of his face, for the Stan Winston-created double heads. “It was very creepy,” he admits. While I sat with him in the makeup trailer, Shane Mahan and Barbara Lorenz were creating and applying an ear — which can detach from his head and travel to listen to other conversations! Fisher said she had to pose for a double of her back that will be used in a scene. She had it made while working in “Ellen” and when that troupe saw her posing for the fake back, they told her, “Call us when they’re doing your front!” She has two pilots in the works; one may be a midseason replacement. She and sister Tricia are also co-writing songs … Fisher says her “Gadget” contract contains a clause for future “Gadget” pix, indicating Disney’s confidence in this one, a 1999 summer pic. Fisher wondered what the sequel be called: “Baby Gadget”? Meanwhile, the “Inspector Gadget” animated series continues to air regularly on Nickelodeon.

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