Industry eyes are turning to Glendale as new production companies open their doors.
By Michael YEGHIAYAN
Fans of the Johnny Carson era of “The Tonight Show” may remember the studio’s host city of Burbank as a perennial target of Carson’s nightly quips. Yet, through the laughs, Burbank grew in its own right to become an indispensable institution of the filmmaking industry.
If the Glendale based production company Prospect House Entertainment has its way, the eye of the industry may soon be fixed on the Jewel City.
Collaboration between Prospect House president Tegan Summer and Michael Altman, son of legendary director Robert Altman, has opened the door to a wave of projects being produced in Glendale.
The duo and Prospect House are currently in pre-production of “American Songwriters,” the follow-up to the award winning documentary about Danny Darst and the genre of Americana music entitled “American Songwriter.” Also in pre-production is the feature film “The Knights of Mary Phagan,” a drama based on the real-life 1913 Memorial Day murder of a 13-year-old girl in Atlanta and the profound historical consequences of the ensuing trial.
The production of “The Knights of Mary Phagan” will have a special significance because the project marks the working reunion of the Altman family for the first time since Robert Altman’s 2006 passing. Director Michael Altman will be joined by his brothers Stephen Altman, an Academy Award nominated production designer, and cinematographer Robert Reed Altman.
Also joining the cast are actors John Savage and Elliott Gould.
With a long history of working in Hollywood on films under his father’s direction, Michael Altman spoke of the so-called “Robert Altman School of Filmmaking” as the source of his filmmaking influences.
“My whole life has been looking at frames of film running at 24 frames per second,” said the professed film buff and student of the medium. “I only learned what I learned through observation and participating in those projects.”
Altman likened his directorial style to that of a shepherd, creating an environment that gives actors a creative freedom partnered with a “hands-off” method of filmmaking.
This method will thrust the plot of “The Knights of Mary Phagan” to the forefront of the film, centering the focus on the intrigue of a story that is strongly reminiscent of the Harper Lee classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Altman aims to present the film as organically as possible while maintaining a politically neutral narrative.
“Our intention is to tell the story through the eyes of a child,” explained Altman. “The relevance to our culture and our society is what it is; the audience needs to draw those conclusions. It makes for a powerful emotional human saga.”
In addition to “Mary Phagan,” Prospect House and Altman have begun development on “American Songwriters,” a documentary that continues the journey began by its predecessor into the under-chronicled genre of Americana music. The sequel to the 2012 film “American Songwriter” will feature interviews with a number of Grammy Award winning artists within the genre and explore the musical roots of a style of music most typically experienced through a battered old guitar while sitting around a campfire.
The first of the two films was culminated after Altman spent 18 months traveling with Americana musician and storyteller Darst.
“He is a fascinating, genuine American folk hero,” explained Altman. “The fact that he is unknown has nothing to do with who and what he is. He is the real deal, a fascinating man with a fascinating history.”
Both “The Knights of Mary Phagan” and “American Songwriters” are currently in development. The release date for “American Songwriters” in December 2013, and “The Knights of Mary Phagan” is slated for May 2014.
Prospect House and its president have a long and established history in Glendale. Summer is a 13 year resident of the city and a board member of Glendale Arts. The production company has maintained a long history with the Alex Theatre, most recently including a James Bond themed film series at the historic venue.
Summer described his observation of a gradual shift of industry opinions toward Glendale, with fewer considering it in the “corner of the universe” after a series of successful projects has helped the city emerge in its own right. While the presence of Disney and Dreamworks initially turned some heads, Summer described the independent production growth as examples of smaller houses “adding to the tapestry individually.”
If past success is an indication of future growth, Summer is ready to lead the way.
“We are going to make a big splash in Glendale, right here.”