It was expected to be a relatively uneventful day of filming “Landline,” the second film from “Obvious Child” writer/director Gillian Robespierre with the chaos limited to inside the car with the constantly bickering family at its center. Though the sisters played by Jenny Slate and Abby Quinn were hardly making things easy for their parents (John Turturro and Edie Falco) in the front seat, the shoot itself had been going smoothly as the car attached to a process trailer rolled around a park in upstate New York until a giant tree keeled over right in the middle of filming, literally blocking the production from moving forward.
“I remember that call where [Rachel Shane was] like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if we’re going to make the day,’” Gigi Pritzker, one of the film’s producers, recalled recently, upon hearing from her president of production at OddLot Entertainment. “And making the day is pretty critical on a small movie, so [Rachel] didn’t think it was so funny.”
“Not at the time, I didn’t,” Shane laughs now. “But in retrospect, it’s pretty funny.”
Although park rangers were physically called to come in to chop up the tree, it surely helped that Pritzker and Shane were there to clear the path as they had done for their filmmakers so many other times before at OddLot. Whether it was Pritzker accompanying Jon Stewart to the Middle East to film his feature debut “Rosewater” (“Anytime you’re in 100 degree weather in Jordan in the summer and your financier is standing right behind you by a kerosene generator, you know they’re involved,” the Daily Show host-turned-helmer once quipped) or pulling Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game” out of the purgatory of Warner Brothers turnaround process after a chance encounter with the the rights holder Lynn Hendee, the production company has shown both on the set and off a particular savvy for bringing complex films to the screen, with no obstacle too great to overcome.
“It’s really, ‘Do we care about the characters? Do we love the story?’ If so, then let’s figure out how we build the movie,” said Pritzker, who co-founded OddLot in 2005 with Deborah Del Prete.
Pritzker has built considerably more than just the individual films she’s made at OddLot, continually adding to an already strong reputation for finding the right mix of filmmakers and material to push each other in interesting new directions. As an heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, she has long had the ability to finance films, but more evident in OddLot productions is the love for the medium that she inherited from her father Jay, which led her to take the path less traveled by most with money who want to get into Hollywood — actually learning how to make movies from soup to nuts.
“I had a production company a long, long time ago and we did corporate films and commercials and public service announcements, so I was a physical producer for many years, and that’s where I grew up,” says Pritzker, who took documentary film courses in college and worked as a line producer well before launching OddLot. “I’m very comfortable on a set.”
An attention to detail has been a hallmark of OddLot’s productions, as is a willingness to take sturdy narratives and rethink their genre conventions with inventive auteurs, an approach that has birthed such films as John Cameron Mitchell’s tearjerker “Rabbit Hole,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s heist flick “Drive” and most recently, David Mackenzie’s modern western “Hell or High Water.” This is no doubt why the company’s Executive Vice President Stacy Keppler had been dispatched to Sundance in 2014 and “was the last person to leave,” according to Shane, ultimately raving in her report back about seeing “Landline” director Robespierre’s first film “Obvious Child.” Soon enough, Robespierre and her writing and producing partner Elisabeth Holm were in OddLot’s offices ready to pitch their follow-up.
“They had a one-line pitch, which was ‘Divorce in the ‘90s,’” recalls Shane. “We just jumped on it and developed it from scratch with Gillian and Liz.”
While nurturing Robespierre and Holm’s original voice, “Landline” does resemble other OddLot films in feeling pleasingly familiar at first and then slightly subversive, not only radiating the warmth of the relatively recent past but a versatile cast both clearly appreciative of each other and equally adept in comedy and drama that allows it to transcend description as either. Delving deep into the family dynamics of a clan that is caught between protecting the feelings of one another and being wildly inconsiderate when Slate’s Dana and Quinn’s Abby suspect their father is having an affair, Robespierre embarks on a film that’s more ambitious thematically and practically than her acclaimed debut, and was given the room to roam by the film’s producers, who enabled filming well before the actors arrived to give extra scale to the climax set during the annual West Village Halloween Parade and supported the filmmakers as the family story started to tilt more towards the relationship between the sisters in the editing suite.
Then again, OddLot’s elasticity in all respects has been one of the company’s great virtues. After all, it was four years almost to the day of “Landline”’s release this week and seemingly a world away at Comic-Con in San Diego where Pritzker first crossed paths with Shane, then an Executive Vice President at Douglas Wick and Lucy Fisher’s Red Wagon Entertainment, as they were touting their respective tentpoles, “Ender’s Game” and “Divergent.” Bonding over a shared taste for strong stories, big and small, Shane joined the company a few short months later and set about expanding OddLot’s reach, not only diversifying the film slate, but putting some extra elbow grease into a push into television, finding some places where the two sides could help each other.
“‘Genius,’ frankly, I had failed repeatedly to turn into a film and it wasn’t until Rachel came onboard and we rethought it as a limited series that’s how we got that to happen,” says Pritzker of the show that just concluded its first season on NatGeo with Geoffrey Rush as Albert Einstein and has already been renewed for a second revolving around Pablo Picasso. “She found [co-creator] Noah Pink and they found a way to rework the material.”
Recently, OddLot was restructured to encourage more of that kind of cross-pollination, with the company’s operations, which also includes a live stage arm Relevant Theatricals (producer of the Tony-nominated “Million Dollar Quartet”) and a virtual reality unit called Reality One, all brought under one roof.
“It’s great because we can as a group can be platform agnostic and really look at the material and the creative people around the material and shepherd it through whichever is the best way for that story or that piece of IP to get realized,” says Pritzker, who noted a recent book acquisition that is being developed for both the stage and screen.
Adds Shane, “Just from a creative place, to be on the ground floor of producing content, it’s been really freeing and incredibly enjoyable to know there are multiple arenas for the materials coming through our company and that Gigi has really invested in a lot of different mediums.”
Still, for now, the pair is focused on getting “Landline” out into the world, taking in the positive response so far as they’ve been feted in recent months as the opening night film of the San Francisco Film Festival (an experience Pritzker says had “an electricity that was tons of fun”) and a centerpiece at the BAMCinemafest.
“Being a true west coaster, I had never been to BAM before, [but] just having the response that we did at that screening was incredibly gratifying,” says Shane, having the tables turned for once as she, Pritzker and the rest of OddLot continues to take audiences where they haven’t been before.
“Landline” opens on July 21st in Los Angeles at the Arclight Hollywood and the Landmark and in New York at the Lincoln Square 13 and the Union Square 14. A full schedule of theaters and dates is here.