as "Jake" in ORPHAN.
and Robert Wahlberg go at it during shooting
Rick Moos has a formula for
success, but it's so simple he recently tossed it
off as a casual comment. However, that formula paid
off in a telephone call last Christmas when Renee
Missel, organizing force behind the Santa Barbara
Film Festival, called to tell Moos that his first
movie as a director, ORPHAN, was in.
"Movies are pushed by studios
and agents, it's really hard to rise above the din
these days. But she was surprised and impressed and
we were more than grateful," Moos said.
The impressive part? ORPHAN
was shot for $25,000 but looks like a million.
On a recent iFILMS segment
Missel said, "I selected ORPHAN because it was an
attempt with so little money, and the Irish actors
are extraordinary. The girl was extraordinary, the
guy was extraordinary. For $25,000 cash it was quite
ORPHAN stars Belfast-born
actor Marty Maguire, Charis Michelson (WONDER BOYS,
BRINGING OUT THE DEAD) and Robert Wahlberg. The script
was penned by WGA member Thomas Murtagh, who conceived
a funny pitch line for a mafia movie: Touched by a
Maguire's hit man kills a
mark, almost gets whacked himself and has a near death
experience instead. He sees his last victim, and the
dead man tells the hit man he has to go back to life
and watch over his orphaned daughter. Maguire watches
over Michelson's orphan protectively while she vows
to take revenge on the man who killed her father.
The two finally meet in a bar, a scene shot in Mulligan's
Tavern, a watering hole in Somerville's Ball Square.
The plot shifts away from
the standard mafia movie, defying the genre formula
yet working within its conventions. The emotional
content, though, is what attracted Moos to the script.
Actor Marty Maguire
and Director Richard Moos
discuss a scene.
Wahlberg in ORPHAN.
"This is about unconditional
loving self-sacrifice. The whole movie builds to a
moment of pure selfless love between them. That's
what I responded to, it's the heart."
He added, "Even if it's the
crappiest looking movie people will still respond
to it if the story is compelling."
Moving about his one-room
office in the CTV building Moos said recently, "One
thing leads to another," and his journey toward his
present success began a long time ago. That's when
he married Shawna, his wife of 14 years, who produced
ORPHAN and a son, Terrence, now 14 months old. She
was just 17 when they married, but like her husband,
Shawna has a calming influence and a supportive presence.
She even remembers the first step that led to ORPHAN.
"We went to college together,
and we were trying to figure out what to do with our
lives. Then one day Rick said, 'I think I want to
make films,'" Shawna recalled.
The two left their Northwestern
roots and moved to Beantown. Moos attended the Mass.
School of Art while his wife went to Boston University.
Before long they were living on the third floor of
a triple-decker, Robert Patton-Spruill and his wife
living on the floor below. The two couples collaborated
on SQUEEZE, a groundbreaking work for all involved
and the Boston film community at large.
"Timmy" in ORPHAN.
works out a shot with
actress Charis Michelsen.
Moos was the cinematographer
and film editor. That experience also lead him toward
his present success. But the Moos's learned financial
lessons from SQUEEZE and other projects and decided
to set up a limited liability corporation called,
fittingly, The Orphanage. All the principal participants
in the making of the film took deferrals instead of
cash payments and received equal treatment.
Most often cash investors
are repaid first after the release of a movie and
continue to make money from additional receipts. Ceative
participants, on the other hand, are paid a deferred
percentage of what remains, which often turns out
to be nothing.
"We treated everyone's involvement
as a cash investment in the movie. They got the same
points as if they'd invested cash," Shawna Moos explained.
The simplified financial formula
helped attract top talent and off-screen crew for
a shoot that lasted 18 days. An indication of the
skill of the cast and crew was that the production
was shut down only once before the shooting schedule
was completed. On the last day of production the keys
to an electrical truck got lost.
In a very tight financial
box, post-production on the movie didn't start for
a year after shooting wrapped in March 1999.
(right) gives instructions
to Producer/A.D. Jay Frasco and Coordinator
on how to stay on schedule
and under budget.
a shot with Actress Charis Michelsen.
"We found a lab in Toronto
that would take our negative, process it - we didn't
want it to degrade - and hold it until we could pay
them. Then they allowed us to make payments for the
video transfer. That's where films like ours bog down,
in the editing. Producers can't pay for the edit,"
Shawna Moos said.
Moos edited the film himself,
during late nights and on weekends while working for
Bravo, WGBH and 20/20. His own company, Ca_thar_tic
Films, housed in a single room on the second floor
of Cambridge Television, owns an Avid where the film
was edited. The Avid, another element in Moos' success,
was put in place by Wilson Chao.
"I was working at an educational
video start-up and wasn't happy, and Wilson Chao said,
"If you had the space and an Avid, could you do something
with it?' That was the start. Wilson was the angel
and the benefactor," Moos explained.
There was still that box,
that tight budget. But with the cast and crew working
on deferrals and Moos' own experience as editor and
director, the production looks much pricier.
"It could have fallen into
the CLERKS and SLACKERS kind of movies, that don't
look so good ... But nobody will know we shot it for
$25,000 unless someone tells them. It looks like a
million dollars," Moos said.
In his one room production
company, his wife and child tramping in and out the
door, when he said it Moos didn't place special emphasis
on his formula for success. He said casually, "One
thing leads to the next."
The formula, like Moos himself,
is simple yet effective. The world premier of ORPHAN
proves the formula, the first film already leading
to the next release, DIRT BOY, a movie enjoying a
world premier in June at the Toronto Film Festival.
by Erick Levinson