Academy Award-winning film editor, Chris Innis, (The Hurt Locker), says she is “one of the ladies who would like to make it into that precious 5% of working directors who are women.” She is crossing the line as producer-writer-director of It Must Be Nice – a short psychodrama based on the story I’m Better than You by the late Henry Slesar who wrote for Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Innis tracked down Slesar’s widow and agent in Zurich, Switzerland and secured the rights to one of the writer’s many short stories that never made it to the screen.
The story, which has a Hollywood setting, explores how far two women are willing to go to in a competition to get the same thing. Originally set in the theater, Innis adapted the story to the filmmaking world that was a familiar milieu to her. The production has finished shooting principal photography and is currently in postproduction.
“Everybody keeps asking when will I be done, but since I’m still doing everything myself – even the film’s accounting and tax filing – it’s taking much longer than I anticipated,” reveals Innis. “When you work on a studio or even an independent film, there is money to hire lots of assistants and people, but on a project like this, at this point it’s all in my hands. I used to get mad about directors being indecisive, but now I’m that person. I think if you leave a director/editor on their own they will take the right amount of time to make something perfect.”
Innis’ industry contacts helped her put together a professional crew, including people that she had worked with in the past, such as costume designer Alexis Scott. They had worked together on a couple films and stayed friends. Scott had great indie film credits, including Buffalo 66, a film Innis really liked. “Alexis also helped me find an Oscar gown at the last minute, which we were kindly lent by fashion designer Sue Wong,” shares Innis. “Alexis is quirky and fun to work with. Whenever I have a fashion design issue I go to her.” Alexis worked with the actors, picking pieces from their own wardrobes that would be suitable for the characters they were playing.
Innis wanted to shoot film. Co-producer, Brian Smith, suggested she try commercial or music video DPs, but that didn’t work out. Innis was a big fan of cinematographer Peter Deming‘s work, especially on David Lynch‘s films, and got in touch with him through director Sam Raimi who she had worked with on The Gift, Spiderman and the cult TV show American Gothic. Deming recommended several up-and-coming DPs, who had either done 2nd unit or camera operated for him. That was how she met cinematographer, Paul Hughen and tapped him to lens the film. Paul had been a 2nd unit DP on major films as well as operating on Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway.
“He was very familiar with the look of film that I like,” comments Innis. “Paul brought on his camera crew – many worked with him on other shows, such as our amazing steadicam operator, Michael Alba and Lisa Ferguson our first A.C., who also worked a lot with David Lynch. We didn’t have all the money and bells and whistles that Paul and his team usually get on a big-budget feature, but Paul and his crew did an amazing job giving us great lighting with our scrappy budget.” Hughen also helped arrange a great deal through Lori Killam at Panavision Woodland Hills to use their super-16mm Arri cameras and Panavision lenses.
The production was shot on super-16mm Fuji film, which was developed and telecined at Fotokem, a deal Innis got through another contact, Peter Santoro, who was also the DP that shot Gone with the Pope, one of the cult films distributed through Grindhouse Releasing. The dailies colorist was Willie Lawton who transferred the film M.O.S. Innis served as her own assistant editor, syncing the dailies on an Avid Media Composer v.5 system set up at her home.
The super-16mm will be blown-up to 35mm at E-film/Deluxe through a DI process, similar to the one used on The Hurt Locker. “I’m thrilled to be working with my good friend Devon Miller, who will be conforming our negative, and Josh Haynie and David Hayes who are producing the DI. Devon is probably my oldest friend in the film industry! We started working together in the Bay Area on the first films that I assistant edited on.”
Lighting was secured from Paskal Lighting thanks to Hughen and gaffer, Jenifer Galvez, and from Bearcat Production Services thanks to crane operator, Robert Preston, who also rented a crane to the company. “We had the support of so many kind crew members and vendors, all pulling great deals for us,” says Innis.
Innis found production mixer, Paul Vik Marshall, through a dubbing mixer friend, Marti Humphrey, who works at The Dub Stage in Burbank. Humphrey is mixing the film with another friend, Chris M. Jacobson, who is also supervising post sound and cutting sound effects. “I’m thrilled with Paul Vik’s work, especially since he used green solar-powered sound on location, even when he didn’t have to,” explains Innis. “That is a system he developed. I think it is going to be really helpful for shooting in places that are hard to get power, such as deserts and foreign countries.”
Innis’ sister, Cynthia Ona Innis and her friend Heidi Pieh, did the set dressing and props. “So it’s a lot of good old friends, some family and some friends-of-friends who all came highly recommended.” Innis added, “I’m excited that I’ll be working with famed title designer, Richard Morrison, and his partner Mo Henry. They have a spanking new title company, MBH. Mo and I got to hang out at the HPA Awards last year. She mentioned that she was moving out of negative cutting and into title design, partnering with Richard who has done a lot of major title sequences. I put two and two together and asked, since they were just starting up their company, if they would like to help me out with titles for my film. They agreed.”
Other below-the-line crew include key grip Paul Schmidt, first assistant director Jeff Fuller, script supervisor Melinda Labita, makeup and hair designer, Marco Campos, and composer Christopher Young. The film stars Rebecca Lawrence (The Kids are all Right, The Romantics), Amanda Fuller (Red White & Blue, Creature), Palme D’or winning actor-director Clu Gulager (The Last Picture Show, The Killers), Academy Award nominee Karen Black (Five Easy Pieces, Easy Rider), Carl Gabriel Yorke (Cannibal Holocaust, Apollo 13). It introduces Alexandra Aristy and features John La Zar (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Alice Jacobs is Dead).
“When you make a short film, money is tight. Whatever you budget always ends up costing double, even when you get favors and deals. It’s like when you have a fix-it project at your house. It all adds up. So calling in favors from good friends and having energetic young film student volunteers – it’s all necessary to get it done. I was really fortunate that I had the good will of so many of the cast and crew after our successful Hurt Locker awards season. That was the momentum I needed to shoot this, my first short film production since my film school days at CalArts.” Innis concludes, “I’m really blessed that I’ve made friends with so many talented crew members throughout the years and they have all been extremely supportive of this project.”