A contemporary fable, New Suit takes inspiration from the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes and transforms it into a wry, romantic story about truth and lies in Hollywood. The film is directed by François Velle (Comme des Rois) from the screenplay by Craig Sherman, and is produced by Laurent and Christina Zilber.
Producers Laurent Zilber and Christina Zilber of Trillion Entertainment, Inc. and the company's Senior Vice President, Kathryn Tyus-Adair, discovered the screenplay for New Suit while searching for a new project to shoot digitally. The Zilbers had previously executive produced a film called The Item by director Dan Clark that was shot in DigiBeta.
"I was so impressed by what you could do with the camera," says Laurent, "that it gave me the desire to go forward and do more movies digitally. " Excited by the versatility of making films with new digital technology, the Zilbers started a company called Unbridled Entertainment in 2001, to search for projects to shoot digitally. They began searching in earnest for a screenplay that matched their sensibilities.
Laurent met director François Velle, a native Frenchman like himself, at a screening of Velle's film Comme des Rois ("Kings for a Day") at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles, the location of Trillion's production offices. Laurent loved the film, and the two men began discussing the possibility of working on a film project together. When Laurent presented Velle with a copy of New Suit to read, they decided to collaborate on the project, with a 20 day schedule on a very small budget.
Says Laurent, "It is a witty, funny script and we were immediately interested. " Surprisingly, it was Craig Sherman's very first screenplay.
The screenplay tells the tale of Kevin Taylor, a young man who moves to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a successful screenwriter, but ends up instead taking a job as much-abused assistant to a washed-up producer and his development executives. Quickly, Kevin becomes jaded with the industry, and decides to play a little trick on his assistant friends by inventing a hot new spec script by a fictitious screenwriter. He tells them about this new, visionary screenplay. His friends are too embarrassed to admit ignorance, and too ambitious to let a good script pass through their fingers. Soon the rumor of a hot new spec script has set Hollywood on its ear, and suddenly every agent and development executive in town is fighting over the screenplay that doesn't exist. Only Kevin knows the truth-that the script is as invisible as the Emperor's New Clothes.
Velle was drawn to the fable-like qualities of the story. He describes the appeal of Kevin: "Kevin is an innocent, and though he works in Hollywood, he does not seem like a Hollywood insider. Through him the audience can have a peek of what goes on behind the scenes in Hollywood, but since he's an outsider, the audience is still on his side. " Trillion sent the script out to casting directors, and were fortunate to meet Nancy Nayor, the film's casting director. Jordan Bridges came in to read for the part and Velle was instantly impressed. At the time, Bridges was in a play in Santa Monica, California with his famous father, Beau Bridges. "I think Jordan brought great qualities to the character of Kevin," says Velle. "Jordan can play the wheeler-dealer, but at the beginning of the film, Kevin's character must be a very credible, innocent guy just coming into Hollywood. Jordan has that innocence that is really, really interesting, especially for someone who has been around the business for such a long time with his family," says Velle, referring to Bridges' famous family. "At the end of the film," Velle continues, "Kevin has to be 'the player,' and he pulls it off. Jordan can play both an innocent and a player. " Says Bridges about his character, Kevin, "At his core, he's an optimist. He believes that people can be better than they are. He wants to bring out what is good in people and he challenges them to see the truth.
"I love the way this story is told. I think Craig Sherman has done a great job. And I love the ambiguity in my character. There's a lot of dynamic there. He's not the typical hero. He has a dark side, there's a part of the film in which I'm not sure whether you're supposed to like him, and he does things that are not heroic. It's not just cut and dry, and I think that's true with the whole script. Craig didn't take the easy way out. He demands the audience to think a little bit, which I think is important. "
Bridges continues, "I think New Suit is about blind faith and what happens when we accept something as true without validating the facts. It deals with issues of hypocrisy. Kevin comes to Hollywood with optimism and idealism about how it works. He has a lot of big dreams about what he wants to do. After spending some time here he gets a little jaded and he starts to see the ugliness that lies underneath the system. "A lot of films that investigate Hollywood deal with the filmmaking process. Our film is really about what's going on behind the scenes. Hollywood is the context, but it's not really a film about Hollywood, per se. I think it's important to make that distinction. That's just the place we're set, but it actually has broader themes we're addressing. " Bridges says he appreciated Velle's ability to find humor in a dramatic moment and drama in a humorous moment as well: "I don't think he's interested in making a straight broad comedy or a tearjerker film. He's very interested in emulating life and in showing that sometimes the most humorous and funny moments happen in really tragic times. " Before casting the role of Marianne Roxbury, the tenacious talent agent, Velle and the Zilbers decided to expand her role. With the help of screenwriter Craig Sherman, they changed the script to further develop the character of Marianne, creating a relationship between her and Kevin. In the original version of the screenplay, the aggressive dealmaker Marianne did not appear until mid-way through the story. Christina Zilber explains that they expanded the role to make the relationship "a little more spicy and interesting. "
Velle admits to not being familiar with Marisa Coughlan's work in films like Pumpkin and Super Troopers prior to her auditioning for the role. Nevertheless, after her reading, Velle was amazed. "She nailed it," says Velle. "Because of the way she plays it, the character of Marianne rings true. She was able to be both deceitful and really nice. Her performance has such nuances and subtleties that she can do things on the edge of legitimacy, and you still root for her because she's so sweet. "
Heather Donohue read for the part of Molly, the development executive for whom Kevin is the assistant. Says Velle, "She's a natural, a born actress, and she's really terrific. She brings an incandescence to her roles. You don't know what to expect in her performance. " Coughlan dove right into her character, Marianne, the determined talent agent with an agenda for success: "I fell in love with this character because she's very ambitious, very smart and very tenacious. She's not going to give up and throw in the towel at all, but she's also got a certain vulnerability about her. Thankfully Craig Sherman wrote a lot of those nuances in. "To me that's the most fun character in the world to play," Coughlan continues, "someone who is strong and assertive and a go-getter, but vulnerable. There's a scene in the movie before a big meeting where I'm just slamming my head against the steering wheel thinking what have I gotten myself into? and then two seconds later I'm striding in there and shaking hands, and ready to go. " Coughlan said that above all, she appreciates the tone of New Suit in differentiation from other films about Hollywood: "In my opinion, the thing that sets this movie apart from other Hollywood movies is that those other movies have been comedies as well, but there's a cynical, sinister aspect to them, which this film has in the sense that you see an ugly side of things. But this film has lightness and buoyancy. " Bridges says of Coughlan, "Marisa is a doll. She's great. She's kind of rare in that she's gorgeous, but she's also got a great funny bone, and she's a delight to work with. "
Conversely, Donahue describes her almost totally joyless character Molly, the development executive: "Molly is a very driven development executive who I suspect has very little pleasure in her life. She's all about being successful and ambitious and succeeding rising in the ranks of Muster Productions. She's fun to play, she's borderline psychotic, I think, but all characters I play end up somehow going in that direction. I'm not sure she was that way on the page, but she is now. The main thing that drives Molly is playing the game-I don't think she even likes movies. I think she likes her pain. She stays as much as Muster berates her and abuses her. "
Molly's counterpart in Muster's office is Smokey, played by Mark Setlock in his feature debut. Donahue calls him, "a very gifted actor. He came from stage and you can tell those things. Mark has a tremendous range and a wonderful presence. He's just a gifted and talented actor. " Velle and the Zilbers jumped at the chance to get veteran character actor Dan Hedaya to play Muster Hansau, a monster of a producer with a foul temper and no patience. Says Laurent, "Hedaya has such a presence. "
The entire cast and crew were excited to work with Hedaya. Says Bridges, "Dan Hedaya is an absolute pro, and he's hilarious. I've already learned a hell of a lot from just watching him go. "
Donahue agrees: "Dan Hedaya is just one of those guys who's in everything and I always see him and I'm always impressed and I think, wow, how amazing to have a career that you never have to become just one thing, that you get to do all these different things and keep it fresh and varied for yourself and keep yourself loving what you're doing, which is ideal. I think I'm more of a character actor than anything else and those are the careers that I respect and the actors that I like to work with. It has been a total pleasure working with Dan Hedaya. "
Other cast include Benito Martinez as "Juan," who was also shooting the pilot for "The Shield" while shooting New Suit; Mark Setlock as "Smokey," in his feature film debut; and some well-known actors including Paul McCrane ("E. R. "), Charles Rocket (Murder at 1600, Dumb and Dumber), and Jere Burns ("Good Morning, Miami"). Says Laurent, "All those talents came into the film really on the basis of the script. Craig Sherman came up with such great dialogue. "
Having never shot digitally before, Velle was initially nervous when Laurent said he wanted to make the film in 24P, using the Sony HDW-F900 camera, but he was won over very quickly. Says Velle, "After a few tests, and after talking with M. David Mullen, director of photography, I was convinced. It's like in painting you can use oils, watercolor, or drawings. 24P is another tool that we can use as filmmakers, and if you have the right project, it really makes sense to use it. David Mullen is a terrific DP; he's such an artist and at the same time he's such a technician-which really helps with 24p. "
Velle continues, discussing the importance of a hand picked crew: "I was very picky on the team that were involved in the creative process… Alix Friedberg, the costume designer; Nava, the production designer; David Mullen the cinematographer; and Kris Cole, the editor. I said to Laurent that we really need to find the right people, many of whom weren't used to working with such small budgets, but they all loved the script, and were in tuned with the vision I had of it. " Working in 24P turned out to be essential to the economics of the film. Says Laurent, "The 24P camera is a very interesting camera. You can save a lot of money on the set, when you don't have a big budget. You can take six, seven, or even ten takes with the actor without even stopping the camera. Shooting in 24P was great because we would try lots of different approaches to scenes. "
Together with Mullen's expertise-he has worked in both 35mm (Twin Falls, Idaho) and digitally (Northfork)-and the talents of his costume designer, production designer, and editor, Velle and Laurent were able to create a film that looked much richer and more vibrant than might normally be expected for a film with a limited budget, even on a shooting schedule as tight as theirs was-a mere 20 days. Says Mullen in an article in the August 2001 issue of HighDef. org Magazine, "Since New Suit is a comedy, the overall look of the project is rich and colorful, but not garish. François wanted the image to have the overall warm tones of a film like Chinatown, so we carefully pushed the art direction, costumes, and lighting in that direction. We will also be printing the final transfer to 35mm onto Vision Premier print stock, which will keep the rich colors and blacks that one would see in digital projection or on a HighDef monitor. "During our 20-day production, because we were shooting tape instead of film, François discovered that he was able to get more takes of performances we ended up shooting the equivalent of 250,000' of 35mm negative, when most low-budget features generally can only afford to shoot 100,000'. We also saved a little time due to the limited number of camera reloads, since each HDCAM tape holds 50 minutes at 24P. "