Thursday, June 6, 2013

'Kings' ruled Greater Cleveland last summer

Certainly the constant and perceptible buzz emanating from downtown's Tower City Center one early April evening were helped along by a satisfying little comedy, "The Kings of Summer," opening the 37th annual Cleveland International Film Festival.
However, the hushed sounds of delight generated by a sold-out crowd at Cleveland Cinemas mostly came from proud northeast Ohioans watching the film and actually recognizing familiar sights in their own communities, where homeboy producer Tyler Davidson's crew shot the coming-of-age story in 26 days last summer.
"We were constantly on the move," the Chagrin Falls native recalled during an interview the day after the film's successful debut here. "It was South Russell, Bainbridge, Moreland Hills and the Chagrin Valley. Then we were in Parma, North Royalton, Berea, Willoughby, Lyndhurst, Solon. We were just everywhere."
"Kings," renamed from "Toy's Story" after it already was a Sundance Film festival hit, opens wide here and in most of the country on Friday. It tells the tale of  three teens (played by Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias) who run away to a woodsy area, build a house and live off the land. Of course, parents and relatives (the likes of Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally and Alison Brie) are not too thrilled with any of it.
 Tyler Davidson (right) with screenwriter Galletta and director Vogt-Roberts.
The screenplay (by former "Late Night with David Letterman" writer Chris Galletta) came to Davidson by way of a company called Big Beach, which produced the award-winning "Little Miss Sunshine" and was looking for a partner. He remembered reading it for the first time in 2011 at the Toronto International Film Festival (where he was showing off his "Take Shelter," which also was shot primarily in northeastern Ohio).
Davidson recalled: "I was sitting at a Starbucks there and laughing uproariously, to the point where I thought I might get thrown out of the place. Right away I wanted to be a part of it, and I immediately saw an opportunity to bring the film to Cleveland, even though the screenplay was originally written for Staten Island.
"I really relate to the experience of the kids in the story," Davidson added. "For one thing, they were living out their fantasy in places where I grew up exploring as a kid, mostly in and around the Chagrin Valley. Other than the house, most of our woodsy stuff was set in the Metroparks there."
Ah, yes, that "house." It really needs to be seen to be believed, and not only because no one would ever guess it was "built" in the middle of a North Royalton neighborhood. Davidson's Low Spark Films company caught a break since the property is owned by the brother-in-law of a co-producer.
"It's funny," said Davidson, "obviously the priority was finding that spot when we were location scouting the first time (director) Jordan Vogt-Roberts came here. Because of the family connection, that was the first spot we looked at and it worked out.
"All the locations here were perfect for it and, much in the same way that John Hughes films are set in suburban Chicago, I felt that there's something universally relatable about this Midwest environment and I think it translates really well."
Vogt-Roberts, making his feature directorial debut after success with short films and a Comedy Central cable-TV show called "Mash Up," obviously agrees.
"I'm from Detroit and just love the Midwest," he said in a separate interview. "There's just basic friendliness here that you'd never find in L.A. Even if you passed someone on the street at 3 o'clock in the morning, you'd get a genuine, 'Hey, man, how ya doin'?'
"Then there's the level of nature and the level of character in each of these locations. I don't even think people know Ohio looks like it does. I don't know where else we would have found all these gifts."
Both Vogt-Roberts and Davidson said they were blown away by the reception they got all over Greater Cleveland.
"Take the parade scene in Berea," the latter explained. "It became just a very convenient and practical thing for us, since Berea is one of the few towns where the Fourth of July parade is not held on July 4, and it's very difficult to mobilize a movie cast and crew on a national holiday.
"That let us take advantage of an off-day there, and that parade scene was the very, very first thing we shot. Then, of course, we came back to Berea and they were just so wonderful to us and even shut down that terrific cross-section of town where that bridge is with the railroad tracks. It, too, became this great last shot and one of the signature shots of the film.
"It was a definitely a 10 out of 10 experience," Davidson concluded.
Now, he's hoping reviews of his movie will be so good.
(Look for John M. Urbancich's review of "The Kings of Summer" at Sun News.)

No comments: