Sunday, June 02, 2002

$1.6 million 'Artworks' wraps shooting today




By Margaret A. McGurk mmcgurk@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jim Amatulli figured he was fully prepared to direct his first feature film after 30-odd years of creating commercials and industrial films. But once shooting began on Artworks, due to wrap up today, he was surprised to find himself in a state of total immersion.

        “It's an intense, 24-hour shooting schedule, there is no escape,” he said. “You are with everybody every day, all day.”

        With a budget of $1.6 million, Artworks is the most expensive by far of the many local independent features to be made in recent years. The cast includes familiar faces Virginia Madsen (The Haunting, The Rainmaker), Rick Rossovich (E.R., Roxanne) and Daniel Von Bargen (O Brother Where Art Thou, Malcolm in the Middle).

        Mr. Amatulli, who wrote his own script about love and theft in the art world, fully expects the movie to find a place in the commercial market — a goal most independent filmmakers share but few realize.

        Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the movie business, but from the director's chair, it seems: So far, so good.

        “I am totally shocked that we are on schedule,” he said during a short break on the set in a West End apartment, one of 16 filming locations (homes, art galleries, restaurants) around town.

        “We were in Indiana yesterday, filming Italy,” said key production assistant Claire Cappel of Kenwood. “We were at a vineyard. It looked amazing.”

        Sticking to the schedule was particularly tough when rain intruded on outdoor scenes. “We offended the weather gods,” joked cinematographer Jeff Barklage of Milford.

        Mr. Amatulli counts a skilled crew, including Mr. Barklage, for keeping the wheels turning.

        Most important, he said, have been the contributions of first assistant director Roger Bobb and second assistant James McKinney. “Without him,” Mr. Amatulli said, pointing at Mr. Bobb, “this doesn't happen. I've told him I will never make another movie without him.”

        Both men came from Brooklyn; another half dozen of the 50 crew members were hired from out of state.

        For most of the crew, Mr. Amatulli relied on local veterans, including Mr. Barklage, line producer Alan Forbes, location manager Deirdre Costa, sound mixer Goeff Maxwell, associate producer Ted Hutton and casting specialists D. Lynn Meyers and Gwen Gordon. Mr. Amatulli's sister and son also are working on the project.

        Staffing — and the movie's million-dollar-plus budget — attracted the attention of unions representing trade crafts after shooting was under way. Union representatives wanted the entire crew covered by agreements that govern small productions with budgets of $1 million to $3 million.

        Anxiety ran high for a while. “There's a world of difference between a $1.6 million movie and a $3 million movie,” producer Andy Pepper said. The issue was hammered out in a 14-hour negotiating session, and work continued on schedule.

        Mr. Von Bargen, a Reading native who moved back to the Cincinnati area in December, said he ended up in the Artworks cast by happy coincidence.

        “I had decided to do what you'd call a sabbatical, take some time off, relax, and spend time with family. And then my agent called and said, "How would you like to do a small movie out there?' ”

        On set, he said, “basically what I noticed was the pleasantness of not having all that Hollywood egotism and hype laced through it all. ... It was making a living instead of making a killing, which is the way it should be.

        “It's nice to see — not that I was surprised — that there are (film professionals) here who know what they're doing,” he said. “It's just like being in a set in Hollywood, except not in Hollywood.”

        Mr. Amatulli said he has paid a lot of attention to attitudes on the set. “The things that bother me are the same things that bother me in everyday life. I want people to be a part of this and share everything, and if for some reason they don't feel that way, that bothers me. I'm not into competing and one-upmanship.

        “I've been doing this kind of work for so long. The people, the process, the materials are the same kind. It's just a bigger process,” he said, then laughed. “There are more things to go wrong.”

       



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