“Something Wicked,” a feature film produced by local businessmen Scott Chambers and Dan Giustina, will make its world premiere in Eugene today — a nod to the town where much of it was filmed back in 2009.
The R-rated psychological thriller, starring Brittany Murphy in her final role, will show multiple times today, including at 7:10 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. at Regal Cinemas at Valley River Center in Eugene, and continue through the week.
The story focuses on a young couple whose new marriage is “sabotaged by a manipulative, psychotic acquaintance,” according to US Magazine. Murphy plays a psychiatrist pulled into the dark, foreboding chain of events.
After talking with the 10 largest movie studios and failing to ink a distribution deal, Merchant Films agreed to an exclusive arrangement with Regal. “Something Wicked” will open in Eugene today, then spread to Regal screens in the Portland and Seattle areas, Alaska and Idaho.
“We’ll get a four-state test over a four- to five-week period, said Scott Chambers, partners with his wife, Kellie, and with Giustina, in Merchant Films — the executive producer of “Something Wicked.”
Merchant Films also partnered as executive producer with Jai Khanna, an executive with Los Angeles-based talent agency Brillstein Entertainment Partners.
“Depending on how it does in the Northwest, (Regal) can roll it out quickly to the rest of the country, so it’s important we do well here in Eugene,” Chambers said.
The film’s planned theatrical release reverses the usual order of how feature films reach the public. Traditionally, these movies opened in large cities, then branched out to smaller towns. Direct release through a theater operator, such as Regal, is a recent development, made possible only by technological advancements, Chambers said.
“The technology has changed to digital,” he said. “In this new distribution method, they don’t have to make prints and shuttle those prints around. They ship a small hard drive to theaters and the film is shown off of it. That just started in the last few weeks.”
The Eugene debut of “Something Wicked” also will be special because tonight’s screenings will have a film festival feel,” said Richard Herskowitz, a University of Oregon instructor and director of Cinema Pacific, a UO-based film festival focused on films and new media from countries bordering the Pacific, including the United States.
The fifth annual Cinema Pacific festival is scheduled for April 23-27.
“Even though (the debut of “Something Wicked”) is not part of our actual festival, we’re treating this like a special festival event,” Herskowitz said.
He said he will introduce the film’s producers at both of tonight’s screenings, and after the 7:10 p.m. showing, he will conduct a Q&A with Scott Chambers, an executive producer; Joe Colleran, writer and producer; and James Ivory, line producer.
Merchant Films will donate its opening night film proceeds to Cinema Pacific.
About a dozen UO student volunteers with Cinema Pacific received a private screening of “Something Wicked” and have been involved in promoting the film, Herskowitz said.
“They’ve been involved in spreading the word around the university and generating excitement about the release,” he said. They’ve done that “primarily through social media, but they’re also going around to fraternities and sororities with posters and handbills and are just talking about it,” Herskowitz said.
Herskowitz, who also attended the private screening, said, “I’m a big fan of the movie and really impressed with how it turned out.”
“I think the plot has really unexpected twists (and) the production values are really high,” he said. “Everyone in the class really felt the strongest element in the film is the very strong regional presence. It’s not a conventional Hollywood thriller. Their choice of locations I think is really, really smart and effective.”
Crews filmed for 40 days in 2009 at 29 Oregon locations — mostly in Lane County, or nearby, Chambers said.
Several hundred local extras appeared throughout the film, mostly in the UO campus and Crescent Village scenes, he said.
“The students (who previewed the film) really enjoyed seeing the UO locations, and there’s a reference you’ll see in the trailer to the lead character being accepted into Oregon University, which throws a big laugh,” Hershkowitz said.
Other scenes were shot at the Crescent Village housing and retail development in north Eugene, Sahalie Falls near the McKenzie River headwaters, and at the Hull-Oakes mill, one of the last steam-operated sawmills in the United States, in Monroe in Benton County.
Chambers called the mill “a spectacular location for us” that was authentic to old-time sawmilling and evocative of the Pacific Northwest.
Merchant Films was able to gain access to the nearly 75-year-old , family-owned mill through Giustina’s connections. Giustina is managing general partner of local wood products firm, Giustina Resources.
Hull-Oakes’ remote location in a Coast Range valley led to a challenging first day of filming, Chambers said.
The location scouting crew was so overwhelmed by the natural beauty of the site that they neglected to realize it had no cell coverage, he said.
Also, a helicopter sequence over Lookout Point Reservoir at Dexter appears near the beginning of the film, “so there’s definitely places people will see and recognize,” Chambers said.
But seeing familiar places on the big screen isn’t all the film offers, he said.
“We’re proud of the movie,” Chambers said. “People aren’t just going to see Eugene locations. They’re going to see a high quality film with a good story.”
That story took longer and more money to tell than originally anticipated, Chambers said.
The film is being released more than four years after shooting wrapped for several reasons, he said.
“The biggest was how to deal with the death of the lead actress Brittany Murphy,” Chambers said.
Murphy died Dec. 20, 2009, at the age of 32 from pneumonia, anemia and multiple drug intoxication, according to the L.A. Coroner’s autopsy report.
Murphy had starred in “Girl, Interrupted,” “8 Mile” and “Clueless,” among other films.
“In post production there’s voice over work to fix lines, special effects work. It was a complicated matter to handle that,” Chambers said. “Once all that was completed we were looking at every aspect of the film knowing it was her last to make sure we were spending the right amount of time on it. A lot of extr
a work was put into sound, quite a bit of work went into special effects to try to make this into a bigger movie than we frankly had budgeted. Being Brittany Murphy’s last picture just made it a bigger picture.”
The film’s budget, originally at about $3 million grew to almost $5 million, Chambers said.
At least 80 percent of the film’s budget was spent on the 40 days of filming, with labor being the largest cost, he said.
“The money goes out the door very quickly,” Chambers said.
The film’s owners financed the picture, rather than seeking outside financing, he said, adding, “you have more control when you do.”
“You have total control over cast; you have total control over crew hires and distribution decisions, and you aren’t obligated to maybe rush a movie out before it’s ready,” Chambers said. “You can take the time to do it right.”
“Something Wicked” received an Oregon Production Investment Fund rebate of $327,000, based on the money the production spent in Oregon, said Vince Porter, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Film & Television.
Porter is leaving the film office to work as a policy advisor to Governor John Kitzhaber on jobs and the economy. The Office of Film & Television has begun a search for a new director, Porter said.
The Oregon Production Investment Fund offers productions a 20 percent rebate on goods and services and a 10 percent rebate on labor expenses in Oregon, Porter said.
Oregon’s incentives are on the low side of those offered by 40 other states and Canada, he said.
“It’s really hard to finance and produce films,” Porter said. “I give the Chambers family credit for taking on and committing to do as many films locally as they can. They’ve always been great supporters of the film office and hopefully they’ll do more.”
“Something Wicked” was filmed entirely in Oregon, Chambers said. “All of the editing was done here at our studios (on Chad Drive), a majority of the sound design work was done here,” he said.
“We went to L.A. for some additional sound work,” Chambers said. “We went to L.A. and India for special effects.”
For example, crews filmed a sequence in Crabtree, east of Albany, of a freight train crashing into an SUV.
“We take that actual imagery and enhance it,” Chambers said.
The studio in India, which was very competitive in its bid for CGI (computer-generated imagery), did most of the CGI work, he said.
After the theatrical release of “Some
thing Wicked,” Merchant Films will negotiate with distributors to release the movie on DVD and other ways to reach the home market.
“This film will definitely have an after-market life, both domestically and internationally,” Chambers said, adding that most of a movie’s revenues come from the after-market income stream, not from box office sales.
Then, “if this film is successful, we’ll be looking for additional stories to tell,” he said.
Merchant Films also plans to take another look at “Arcadia Lost,” its 2010 feature film, shot in Greece, about two teenagers stranded after a car wreck who come across a vagabond ex-patriot American played by Nick Nolte, who becomes their guide. The movie has received a limited release in North America.
“We’ll do some editing that will make it more of a commercial film,” Chambers said. “It was a little too much of an art film,” he said, while acknowledging the talent of director Phedon Papamichael, who was director of photography on “Nebraska” and cinematographer on “Monuments Men.”
Merchant Films hasn’t scored a blockbuster with “Arcadia Lost,” or its 2009 film “Chamaco,” starring Martin Sheen, but Chambers said he wants to continue to make films because “distribution is improving.”
Under the old distribution model typically fewer than 20 percent of independent films were released in theaters, Chambers said.
“You have to have all the elements,” he said. “You have to have a story and cast that fits the target demographic that goes to theaters (generally age 18 to 35), and you have to have something that competes with studio films.”
Chambers said he and his partners also are “getting better at what we do, understanding the different elements.
“The industry is definitely relationship-driven,” he said. “The longer you’re in it and the more you do, the more relationships you develop.”