Producer Galt Niederhoffer talks to Jeremy Kay about Robot & Frank, starring Frank Langella and Liv Tyler, the first feature to come out of new venture Park Pictures Features.

When Park Pictures, the respected New York commercials house run by Jackie Kelman Bisbee and renowned cinematographer Lance Acord (Being John Malkovich, Lost In Translation, Adaptation), teamed up with indie producer and former Plum Pictures partner Galt Niederhoffer and Sam Bisbee to form Park Pictures Features, it set tongues wagging.

Production is underway in New York and surrounding locales on the venture’s first film, the sub-$10m family tale Robot & Frank, which would appear to be a natural fit for Sundance 2012. The piece stars Frank Langella, Liv Tyler, Susan Sarandon and Liev Schreiber, who provides vocal duties for the robot of the piece. Niederhoffer, a Sundance favourite who served as executive producer on The Kids Are All Right and produced Lonesome Jim and Grace Is Gone, among others, talks to Jeremy Kay.

So what’s Robot & Frank about?

To me it’s a very familiar and simple story about a family under strain that comes together again. It begins with an ageing father who has become difficult to take care of. It’s set five years in the future and the writer [Christopher Ford] imagines that Baby Boomers don’t send their parents to retirement communities; they have the option of installing a caretaker robot in their home. A relationship ensues between the grumpy hero and his new best friend. They become partners in crime because this man has a bit of history of recreational thievery.

A robot caretaker? Intriguing. Tell us more.

Aha. You’ll have to wait and see the film for yourself.

What’s so special about this new young feature director Jake Schreier?

He’s a really talented young director who’s represented by Park Pictures and is a New York Film School grad, so he’s been obsessing over film and making commercials for Park for a while. He’s incredibly competent and sure-footed. I’ve made several movies with first-time directors so it’s a learning curve I’ve witnessed before. He’s hit the ground running on this and his level of composure is higher than that of most first-time filmmakers.

What was it about Jackie and Lance that made you want to be their business partner?

My producing partner Sam Bisbee and I joined Jackie and Lance at Park Pictures a year ago [that said, the features company was only announced recently]. Lance is an artist and his repertoire is staggering, while Jackie is the same to me as a businessperson: she’s a totally self-made woman. Sam is fabulous and a really intelligent guy. I’m thrilled to start this new chapter in my career. We have the benefit of a group of financial partners who are very much behind Park Pictures Features.

What type of production mandate and aesthetic style can we expect from Park Pictures Features?

The aim is to make two pictures a year. We want to make films that are smart and funny and commercial. Scripts with a voice, but nothing terribly obscure or dark. We’re interested in great writers and directors and people who have an unusual view of the world. Through the commercials division we have access to a great pool of talented directors and we’re in a position to build something very special here in New York.

Sounds exciting. What’s in the pipeline for the company?

We’re in talks with a great UK commercials director called Ringan Ledwidge to make his next film. It’s called Magnetism As It Occurs In The Human Form and is about a man who literally repels everything he wants, including women. We want to make Lance’s first movie and we’ve optioned Sam Lipsyte’s novel The Ask. We’re also lining up a short story by the late David Foster Wallace called Little Expressionless Animals.