Thursday, September 15, 2011

Producer Steven Tabakin Flies South with A BIRD OF THE AIR

Who knew when we accepted the invitation to be a part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent film, that we'd be juggling schedules and scrambling to get ready to open the film commercially in New York City at the exact same time. A BIRD OF THE AIR, which is based upon the novel "The Loop" by Joe Coomer, a wonderful novelist out of Forth Worth, Texas, always felt like a perfect fit for audiences who might not have an art house cinema within driving distance, but for whom this work -- the film as well as the novel -- was always intended. It's an extraordinary story about ordinary people (and animals), and we've always felt that it's a universal story that can play anywhere. We were really thrilled and lucky that the film wound up in the hands of Mark Urman and Amanda Sherwin at Paladin. When it looked like the film was moving toward being released in late September we realized that the schedule would be a train wreck, but we decided the we had to forge ahead and we loved the idea of playing Gainesville, Manteo, Madison, Orangeburg, and Hapeville a few days before hitting New York City. We're right in the middle of an amazing tour and we've had to divide up the duties. Margaret Whitton, who directed the film and is my producing partner at Tashtego Films, was needed in in New York to do some media appearances and to present the film at a few screenings, so I packed my bag to represent A BIRD OF THE AIR in Gainesville and Manteo -- and now Raine Hall who worked on the film as a producer and a locations manager is on the road for the last leg.


In this space I'll share a few reflections on my experience presenting the film on the Southern Circuit Tour. For more info about the film you can go to http://www.abirdoftheair.com or find us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/abirdoftheair -- but first a few basic facts: A BIRD OF THE AIR marks Margaret Whitton’s directing debut. Filmgoers will remember Margaret as an actress who appeared in The Secret to My Succe$$, Major League, Nine and 1/2 Weeks, and many others. She also has a long last of credits onstage and we got to know each other when she was a directing a play that I was responsible for at The Public Theater where I worked for many years. Our film feature two breakout performances by two young stars on the rise -- Rachel Nichols (Conan the Barbarian, GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, Alias) and Jackson Hurst (Drop Dead Diva) -- who were introduced to us by casting directors Amanda Mackey and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond. Coomer's novel was adapted by Roger Towne (The Natural) and we filmed in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico with a team that included Academy Award-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, costume designer Joseph G. Aulisi, production designer Mark Alan Duran. editor Sabine Hoffman, composer by David Majzlin. You might recognize some of those names, but if not you should look them up. It's an amazing team to have assembled for a small independent film. Ultimately, everyone who was involved in the process was drawn in by the story, from the most experienced veterans (and we had a few) to the student interns from on the first feature film. Okay, back to the Tour... In the middle of a busy week that included everything involved in getting a movie open, I packed my bag on got on a flight to Atlanta. The first screening was in Gainesville, Georgia at the Arts Council, presented in association with Gainesville State Colllege. I had spent some time in North East Georgia, and in fact my wife Jessamyn and I were married on Clarkesville, not too far from Gainesville 10 years ago, so I had been through town quickly -- but when I arrived, I was immediately impressed with the gorgeous building that had been converted from an old railroad depot. Several people were already gathering outside and it take didn't take long to spot Executive Director Gladys Wyant. With steam tables full of veggie lasagne, bowls of fresh salad, plates of cookies, and pitchers of iced tea, I already knew that this would be a different kind of experience. I sat down to eat with a bunch of students from Gainesville Tech and met Dr. Jeff Marker, a professor in the Media Studies department who has a very impressive background in film studies and English literature, who would conduct the interview following the screening. I also met Jeff Smith, also on the faculty at Gainesville State, who had a crew of students checking the audio and projection and setting up cameras for the post-show Q&A. It was a very welcoming environment and I had a good feeling about this audience. Precisely at 7pm, Gladys had everyone seated in the auditorium and made her introduction. Though I've obviously seen the film countless times, I decided that I'd screen the film with this audience. It's always interesting to get a sense of how the story is playing and it was very gratifying to hear the laughs, the gasps, the ooohs and aaahs at the right places. Clearly the film was very warmly received and soon as it was over I had a line of people coming up to shake hands and offer congratulations and ask questions. We had a quick break and I figured that we'd lose most of the crowd, but was pleased that by the time they had me wired for sound that almost everyone stuck around.