swimf@n

Production Notes

PRODUCTION STORY

“swimf@n” is the story an all-American high school couple whose world is turned upside down by the seductive new girl in town. Ben Cronin (Jesse Bradford), a championship swimmer with scholarship aspirations and Amy Miller (Shiri Appleby) are high school sweethearts whose blissful relationship is threatened when Madison Bell (Erika Christensen) arrives on the scene and sets her sights on the impressionable Ben.

“It was one of the first scripts I read at GreeneStreet that had honed moments of surprise,” said Tim Williams, Head of Production for GreeneStreet Films and an Executive Producer of the project. “It had twists and turns - - the rug was continually pulled out from under the characters. At the same time, the well-developed characters and the relationship triangle would be extremely attractive to actors and an audience.”

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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Allison Segan and Marcy Drogin of Furthur Films (Michael Douglas’s production company) brought the script to GreeneStreet’s Head of Development, Jamie Gordon, at the end of 1999. Although it was a larger project than normal for GreeneStreet, Gordon recognized both the creative and commercial potential of the project immediately. “I saw the opportunity to maintain our independent sensibility while targeting the teen audience,” says Gordon, who also serves as a co-producer on the film. The companies set out to use strong production values, maintaining an independent feel and budget, while always keeping an eye on the market the film was geared toward. “The idea was to make something that was accessible to the teen market, as well as the adult audience, while attracting a great cast,” said Williams.

GreeneStreet Partner and President John Penotti, who served as a producer on the film, continues by saying: “Basically we wanted to make a movie that didn’t condescend to our teenage audience.” The process of creating such a project included visiting a high school in Westchester over a weekend with 18 kids. Two hours were spent reading the script and then a questionnaire was passed around. After this, the producers and the director spent many hours talking about the movie with the group, finding and exploring both the positives and negatives of the script. “We also learned that teens sometimes go to these ‘teen movies’ even though they think they’re going to be dumb,” continues Penotti. “They were desperate to see a movie that challenged them and didn’t take them for granted. And, if you made something that did not ‘talk down’ to them, they would actually respond to it. At the same time, older people might actually find it intelligent enough to go see it, thus bringing in both the teen and adult audiences.”

After reading the script, GreeneStreet and Furthur began the long and involved process of finding the right director to make the project come alive. After meeting numerous potential directors, the producers finally found their director in John Polson, a young but accomplished Australian actor who had segued into directing. They loved Polson’s first film, “Siam Sunset,” and saw that he had a strong directorial hand. “He was obviously adept at working with actors, but also had a strong sense of pacing. In addition, the production value on his film was impressive, especially considering its shoestring budget,” says Gordon. During the first meeting, without prompting, Polson said “I want to make a movie that’s intelligent and different, but for a commercial American audience.” From the first day of shooting, he put everyone at ease, particularly the actors who appreciated his background as an actor on films including “Mission: Impossible II,” “The Sum of Us,” and “The Boys”.

CASTING

“Our cast came together in an amazingly varied way,” says GreeneStreet Partner and Executive Producer Fisher Stevens. “Because the project was in development for a while, the original list of people we came up with was obsolete after six months. By the time we were actually ready to cast the project, our original choices were too old, too big or unavailable. We also needed a strong enough cast to support the financing of a project this size - an important aspect of any type of independent financing. When it came down to it, the casting process was directly effected by when we shot, who seemed right at the time and who was of the right age. “

“Jesse Bradford is an actor we had watched and always kept in our mind,” says Penotti. “Fisher had worked with Jesse in “Hackers” and felt very strongly about his talent and ability to pull off a role like this.” While they considered other actors, Bradford was the first choice.

“I took this role because ‘Ben’ is a great character” says Bradford. “I kind of said to myself after I did my last movie that I wasn’t going to do another all-encompassing role because the hours were getting to me. I did two back to back, so it was four months of being on the set 14 hours a day. It can wear you down. But this particular role had a big enough arc that it was very appealing to be able to go through the emotional gauntlet that this character experiences. From having his life stripped from him, to being wrongfully accused, to all of these horrible things happening to him, I thought that it would be interesting to play. I was excited to work with Erika and Shiri, both of whom are very talented. And, the kicker was Polson because I saw “Siam Sunset” and I thought it was fantastic - - it was a really solid film with a lot of creative stuff in it. So, the combination of Erika, Shiri and Polson was a win-win for me.”

Erika Christensen was a lesser-known quantity at the time the casting process started, as “Traffic” had not yet been released. Christensen originally read for the role of ‘Amy,’ and Polson had liked her performance. When the director and producers saw her performance in “Traffic,” they were convinced she should play the role of ‘Madison.’

For Christensen, the role was a no brainer. Having come off of the four time Oscar winning “Traffic,” she was drawn to darker kind of characters. “I really like that she is in essence the bad guy, but at the same time, she’s got vulnerabilities. One can play a villain in different ways - - as completely evil through and through, or evil mixed with vulnerability. I think it is more interesting when there is more dimension to the character - - it makes it more fun for me to play.”

Not only were the characters fun for the actors, the set definitely had its share of pranks as well. For Bradford, the film marked his first on-screen sex scene. “We (Erika and I) had just started making out, and I guess Erika had convinced the sound guy before the scene to put on “Let’s Get It On,” so when we started making out and the song came on, I just lost it. I couldn’t handle it. It was too funny. It was just hilarious. Everybody got a good laugh out of that and it was a late night, so we needed a good laugh!” Christensen was nervous for the love scene as well. “I gave the Marvin Gaye CD to the sound department and said ‘Okay, at some point during the night, you have to play “Let’s Get It On.”’ And so, we’re in the middle of a take, making out and you hear that opening part, and we cracked up!”

For the role of ‘Amy,’ GreeneStreet suggested Shiri Appleby based on her work on “Roswell.” They brought her in to meet with Polson who liked her immediately. “Shiri was the perfect complement to Erika, and with Jesse as the male lead, the three of them created an exceptional ‘love’ triangle,” says Polson.

“My agents told me there was a great script running around town that Jesse Bradford was starring in with Erika Christensen,” says Appleby. “The two of them were both people whom I was really excited about, so I went and auditioned, met with Polson and then got the part a week later!”

Appleby identified the most with the character of ‘Amy.’ “She’s very much an open person, incredibly honest with how she feels and willing to apologize when things aren’t going her way, when she has done something wrong, and I think I have some of those traits,” she says. “But she’s more free and just a lot more creative that I am, which is a lot of fun to play.”

Appleby took intense scuba lessons to prepare for her role (since the production spent almost eight days shooting underwater) and Bradford worked with a swim coach and went on a strict diet to physically look like a championship swimmer. Bradford trained extensively, committing hours on end to lessons and training. “For the month before this movie started, I was literally swimming everyday. I took a lot of lessons and really worked at getting the right form” he says.

Dan Hedaya, who also met with Polson during the initial casting process, was the perfect actor to play “Coach Simkins,” Ben’s high school swim coach. Kate Burton (Broadway’s “Hedda Gabler”) followed, and her rapport with the director was instantaneous as well. She slid right into her role as ‘Carla Cronin,’ Jesse’s mother.

“These actors were the best. They did things that I never expected from any of them. With Erika, although I knew what she had in her from “Traffic,” I found her range inspiring. Jesse’s work from to “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries” all the way back to “King of the Hill” was so impressive,” says producer Joe Caracciolo. Polson completely agreed, “The best thing about the shoot was that they were always there, always ready to do anything, always willing to give what was needed to give, always willing to try something…just lovely people. There was no attitude. They were a great cast and we got very lucky.”

PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY

“swimf@n” was shot in and around the New York tri-state area - New Jersey suburbs, Westchester, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Long Island - during the summer of 2001. “I think the fact that this movie was shot all over New York, yet doesn’t feature New York City, makes it very unique, “says Williams. Although the original script was set in sunny Santa Barbara, GreeneStreet always intended to make it a very East Coast movie. “We had initially discussed principal photography beginning in the fall of 2000 carrying into the winter of 2001, because there would be no leaves on the trees which would make it easier to capture an eerie, stark feeling. But schedules conflicted during these months and caused production to be pushed to the spring of 2001,” says Caracciolo.

The shoot went extremely smoothly. “The biggest difficulty stemmed from the fact that, because we were shooting during an impending strike (the threatened WGA and SAG strikes during the summer of 2001) and “swimf@n” was one of the smaller movies in town, we had trouble getting available crews. However, it turned out to be a blessing, because we ended up with an excellent crew, who had just come off of larger films and went on to deliver great work,” says Williams.

Since “swimf@n” is about a high school swimmer, many days were spent shooting in and around the water. The underwater sequences were not only tough for the director and the director of photography (Giles Nuttgens), but for the actors as well. “Moviemakers and actors in general don’t spend a lot of time underwater,” says Williams, “so that sequence of filming was very difficult. There was a lot of pressure to get it right. But our DP made it worth it - - the underwater footage is incredible. Giles was a real coup.” Both Gordon and Williams saw Nuttgens’ film “The Deep End” at Sundance 2001, and were blown away by its beauty and style. In fact, Nuttgens won that year’s Cinematography Award at Sundance. “‘The Deep End’ was so visually unique I knew he would bring something different to our film,” says Gordon.

“We were worried that Giles wouldn’t respond to the material because it was a teen thriller. Once he heard Polson’s vision for the film, he was convinced,” says Caracciolo. After “The Deep End” Nuttgens had returned to his native England to shoot parts of the latest instalment of “Star Wars,” so he seemed a natural choice to deliver a combination of aesthetic and style. “He’s an artist, he’s a filmmaker, but he’s first a photographer so everything he shot has a beautiful artistry to it,” says Penotti.

Nuttgens used a new type of Kodak film, which added contrast, and then he manipulated the film even more - constantly pushing one to two stops. Says Caracciolo, “He wanted a great contrast and he achieved a visual, very present feel. He had a whole color scheme which, although admittedly fairly simple, worked tremendously well. He also used a “bleach bypass” process, which enhanced the storytelling and mood of the piece.”

“There’s one shot that blew me away. It was day two and they put Erika on a rotating dolly while she played the cello. She rotated one way while the camera went the other way - - it was right after an intensely dramatic moment in the story, and she comes around revealing she’s playing for a tea party of old ladies. She was beautiful; she looked like a porcelain doll from a 1955 movie. It just a gorgeous shot and Giles made it look highly engaging and ominous,” says Williams.

THE SOUNDTRACK

The composers (Jonathan Debny and Louis Febre) and Alex Steyermark, the Executive Music Producer, worked closely with Polson to create a soundtrack with excitement, pulse and suspense. The score will be significantly enhanced with a mix of hip, current songs, which is Steyermark’s strength (he did “I Know What you Did Last Summer,” “Urban Legends” and many of Spike Lee’s films including “Summer of Sam”).

 
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