Typical Sundance Film Festival serendipity was already at play yesterday at JFK airport, in hour one of our journey west, when we met Nicholas Levis and Christopher Kikis, two of five producers for the Manhattan-based Ovie Entertainment. They’re best known for having produced Darkon, the documentary about live-action role-players that won the Audience Award at South by Southwest in 2006. They were headed to Sundance in order to announce the details of a long-gestating feature film called Promiscuous Stories, based on seven of the seventeen short stories available for appropriation on the Internet as part of Jonathan Lethem’s “The Promiscuous Materials Project.”
The project began several years ago, after Lethem wrote an ode to plagiarism and intellectual theft for Harper’s magazine. Soon, he’d made good on his word, taking a page from the Open Source community and offering up the rights to seventeen of his short stories for the price of $1 apiece. Lethem will have movies made of his novels — Ed Norton is adapting Motherless Brooklyn, which he’ll star in and direct, and both The Fortress of Solitude and his early cult novel, Gun, With Occasional Music, have been optioned — but only a handful of his 60 or 70 short stories have ever been optioned.
Several short films and plays, even some songs, have resulted from the “Promiscuous” project, but Ovie Entertainment is the first company to create a feature film from it. Their take involves stitching the stories together via a framework written by Ovie’s Cherise Wolas and director Dominic J. DeJoseph. The main story is a trip into the mind of a mad writer, and, says Wolas, “takes place in the future, where things like writer’s block can be fixed in a futuristic, creative laboratory.” The stories — which range from a noir detective thriller about a murderous joke teller to the tale of a writer named Jonathan Lethem interviewing a giant, talking crab — are fits of this man’s twisted imagination. A different, emerging director will helm each of the seven segments, with DeJoseph likely directing the overarching feature film, as well as the noir short, “The One About the Green Detective.”
Team Ovie hopes to drum up financing while at Sundance, but the film already has some backers, with production scheduled to begin this summer in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle (five of the seven filmmakers live in Manhattan and Brooklyn). So far, Dermot Mulroney is confirmed to play Lethem in “Interview With the Crab,” directed by Matthew Buzzell. Chris Parnell, who also has signed on, will likely play the “crab” — a sad man from an eighties TV show in a big puffy crab suit. Diedrich Bader will play the Major Domo of the crab’s house. Michael Badalucco plays one of the brothers in DeJosephs’s detective thriller. Norman Reedus, a music-video director and character actor who has a son with Helena Christensen, is directing a short about a party in which all the guests are holograms, and some turn into cartoons. And Amy Seimetz, who’s acted in a number of mumblecore movies, is directing a quirky, postapocalyptic story called “Sleepy People.” Ovie is still searching for an actor to play Trevor Lithium, the mad writer who brings it all together.