Despite the twin stigmas of a first-time director and a difficult narrative - women's lives - producer Jon Avnet attracted an impressive ensemble cast to Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her. John Hazelton looks at the making of the film, directed by Rodrigo Marquez, a cinematographer and screenwriter, who is also the son of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Cinematographer Rodrigo Garcia is invited to the Sundance Film Institute's Writers' Lab to hone a script he has been writing for two years about the loosely-interwoven love lives of a group of Los Angeles women. Working with experienced screenwriters "changed the script dramatically," says Garcia, "and it gave me a much-needed boost of confidence."
Garcia returns to Sundance to attend the Institute's Directors Lab, where he meets producer-director Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes, Up Close And Personal, Inspector Gadget) and the film's eventual co-star Kathy Baker. Avnet, who is acting as a mentor at the Lab, is impressed by Garcia's script and his way with actors and offers to help finance the project. At the time another producer is already involved, but a few months later Garcia calls Avnet to tell him that the project is available and Avnet enthusiastically agrees to produce.
Bringing his contacts and experience into play, Avnet sets about the difficult task of attracting name actresses to a project from a first-time director. After a meeting with Avnet and Garcia, Glenn Close comes on board first, basically agreeing to work for SAG (Screen Actors Guild) minimum pay. Close's involvement "put us on a great path", says Avnet. "Her participation told everybody exactly what kind of movie this was going to be." Holly Hunter signs on next, and with the script doing the rounds, Avnet gets a call from Calista Flockhart's agent. The Ally McBeal star joins the cast with Cameron Diaz, Kathy Baker and Amy Brenneman. After a long search, Mexican-born actress Elpidia Carrillo (Mi Familia) is picked for the silent role that links the film's five stories.
At the Sundance Film Festival, Garcia's screenplay wins the Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award, which brings with it a Japanese TV rights deal.
A number of companies are approached about backing the film. (Avnet, whose Jon Avnet Company initially bankrolled the project, declines to reveal the budget but describes the film as "very inexpensive".) Franchise Pictures agrees to buy international rights.
The film begins shooting - under a low-budget production contract with the IATSE union - on locations in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The 28-day schedule sets a difficult task for both director and producer. "To get all these actresses and make all their schedules work was one of the most complicated juggling acts I've ever done," says Avnet. Using hand-held cameras and relatively few close- ups, Garcia and Sleepy Hollow cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki - for whom Garcia had previously worked as a camera operator - aim to achieve what the director describes as "realism and a feeling of voyeurism. The story is about private lives and private moments, the way people live behind closed doors. So we tried to incorporate some of that voyeurism into the shooting style." The film is edited on an Avid in the Los Angeles offices of the Jon Avnet Company. Thanks to an arrangement tied to an album deal with Sony, Edward Shearmur (Wings Of The Dove) is secured to compose the score.
In its first acquisition since being re-launched as the specialised arm of MGM, United Artists pays a reported $5m for North American rights.
Franchise introduces the film to international buyers at Mifed. By April, most international territories have been licensed.
The film has a well-received world premiere out of competition at the Sundance Film Festival. MGM/United Artists plans a US release sometime this summer. Says Avnet: "It may turn out to be a commercial movie in the States, I don't know yet. But if it does it will not be because it panders to an audience. It will be because it challenges an audience."
Prod co: Jon Avnet Company. Backers: Franchise Pictures, Jon Avnet Int'l sales: Franchise Pictures (1) 323 822 0730. Exec prods: Elie Samaha, Andrew Stevens. Prods: Jon Avnet, Lisa Lindstrom, Marsha Oglesby. Dir/scr: Rodrigo Garcia. Main cast: Glenn Close, Cameron Diaz, Calista Flockhart, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Holly Hunter.
Territories sold: Arg/Uruguay/Paraguay/Chile (Orler), Aus/NZ (Roadshow), Braz (Consrcio), Central America (Warner), Col (Warner), Europe (Intertainment), Indonesia (Mongkol), Israel (United King), Jap (NHK/Gaga), Malaysia (Roadshow), Mexico (Duplitek), M East (Eagle), N America (MGM), S Africa (Nu Metro), S Korea (IMK), Taiwan (ERA), Turkey (Associated), Venezuela (Blanco).
Director Rodrigo Garcia
The son of Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Garcia was born in Mexico City and after training at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles started working as cinematographer, shooting such films as Danzon, Mi Vida Loca and Gia. He wrote the screenplay for this film, his directorial debut, over two and a half years, while shooting films for other directors.