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Top talent moves behind camera on indie projects

Spacey, Tucci, Glover join producers' ranks

Big-time acting talent popping up in the producing credits of studio pics is nothing new, but now more than ever indie productions are attracting these multi-hyphenate thesps.

Over the past few years, well-known actors have been taking a more active role in getting low- to mid-budget projects off the ground by signing on as producers and exec producers. They’re lining up investors, drumming up attention on the festival circuit and lending their star power to encourage sales and healthy returns at the box office.

In addition to recent theatrical releases such as the indie blockbuster “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (produced by Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson) and smaller success stories such as “Roger Dodger” (executive produced by star Campbell Scott), a number of high-profile titles at this year’s Sundance film fest had marquee names attached as producers or exec producers.

Consider: “The United States of Leland” (Kevin Spacey), “The Mudge Boy” (Stanley Tucci), “Good Fences” (Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg), “The Secret Lives of Dentists” (Scott), “Prey for Rock and Roll” (Gina Gershon) and “The Shape of Things” (Rachel Weisz).

Other stars who have expanded their repertoire to producing include Christina Ricci (“Pumpkin,” “Prozac Nation,” “Speed Queen,” “Adrenalynn”), Hilary Swank (“11:14”), Charlize Theron (“Monster”) and Jon Favreau (“Made,” “The Big Empty”).

Passion projects

The current trend certainly has a lot to do with the less-than- rosy financing and distribution landscape in the specialty sector. And, for the most part, it’s passion projects that are getting actors to fight for these pics at every step of the way — be it raising money, calling up name actor friends and persuading them to work for scale, or going the extra mile on publicity opportunities.

“As an actor you do have a certain amount of power. It’s something that makes it easier to take a project that you see a lot of potential in to the next level,” says Theron from the Florida set of “Monster,” the true tale of a prostitute who goes on a killing spree. “”This film is a celebration of all that is great in indie films, everyone is here because they truly believed in the material.”

Theron, who founded her producing shingle Denver & Delilah three years ago, is both an actor and a producer on the pic. Among the other indie projects Theron has on her plate is John Duigan’s “Head in the Clouds,” which she is exec producing.

Tucci, who co-produced and directed 1996’s “Big Night” with Scott and who executive produced (but did not act in) Sundance competish pic “The Mudge Boy,” acknowledges that, in today’s market, small films can benefit greatly from a well-known helping hand.

“I hoped that my name might legitimize ‘The Mudge Boy’ within the industry,” says Tucci. “(Writer-director) Michael Burke’s was one of the most beautiful scripts I’d read in a long time, and I just wanted to help get it going. But it was not easy, believe me.”

Scott tells a similar tale. “In the world I exist, films need a lot of nurturing, love and attention, because they are challenging work,” says the multihyphenate, who in addition to producing “Roger Dodger” and “Secret Lives of Dentists” recently completed producing and directing “Off the Map,” with Joan Allen and Sam Elliot.

Scott put writer-director Dylan Kidd in touch with financiers Holedigger Films and was instrumental in attracting marquee names for supporting roles, such as friends Jennifer Beals and Isabella Rossellini.

“Having recognizable talent working in a producing capacity is definitely not going to hurt the release,” says Patrick Gunn, exec VP at Artisan, which distribbed “Roger Dodger” domestically. “We had every expectation that Campbell would go the extra mile promoting it, and that turned out to be the case. That’s especially helpful in the current theatrical marketplace, which is very crowded.”

Mark Damon, prexy of MDP Worldwide, the sales company behind “Leland,” “11:14” and “Monster,” says actor-producers also have the ability to lower a film’s budget by taking pay cuts and getting the cast to follow suit. “If (Spacey) wasn’t a producer on ‘Leland,’ it would have been a $20 million movie, but because he was involved we got it done for well under $10 million.”

And in the indie world, cutting a budget in half, not to mention getting free publicity from an Oscar-winning star, is not something anyone takes lightly.