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Next Wave Provides Finishing Touches

January 25, 1998|Kevin Baxter | Kevin Baxter is a Times staff writer

Independent filmmaker Zac Baldwin has been working on his running-themed feature film "To Touch the Wind" for 14 years. Yet after spending years on a screenplay and the equivalent of $65,000 to get a rough cut of the movie on tape, Baldwin seems resigned to the fact that his project may never make it to a theater.

"There's a Catch-22," he says. "While there was interest for the finished product, I couldn't get anyone to give me the money to finish it. To get it into the festivals, you've got to get it finished. But to get the interest, you've got to get it into the festivals."

It's a plight common to low-budget filmmakers like Baldwin, who manage to beg, borrow, maybe even steal--they aren't saying for sure--enough money to get a rough cut of their movie on videotape. But then they can't come up with the finishing funds to get the film in shape for a public screening. So for every Robert Rodriguez ("El Mariachi") or Kevin Smith ("Clerks")--low-budget filmmakers whose features won wide critical acclaim--there are thousands like Baldwin who may never get a chance to prove that they, too, may have what it takes to make movies.

Which is where Peter Broderick comes in. A former public defender, freelance writer, independent producer and, most important, longtime lover of low-budget films, Broderick has spent nine months setting up Next Wave Films, a loose-knit group of directors, producers and film-industry professionals dedicated to providing finishing funds for exceptional low-budget feature films. Founded with seed money from the Independent Film Channel, Next Wave Films will supply up to $100,000 each to as many as four films a year. The group will also serve as a producer's rep for those features, helping the filmmakers implement a festival strategy, secure distribution and find financing for subsequent features.

"We want to give more people an opportunity to make movies and demonstrate what talent they have," Broderick says. "Because beyond helping individual filmmakers launch their careers, which is the primary [goal], the secondary goal is to support all the low-budget filmmaking in general. And to the extent that we can help create some kind of infrastructure for that, we'd like to do that."

The first film to earn Next Wave's support is an ultra-low-budget project titled "Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane," which Broderick describes as a unique black comedy. It made its festival debut last week at Sundance Film Festival.

Joe Carnahan, the producer, director and writer as well as a principal actor on the project, was able to get the film on video for just $7,300. But even that rough cut was good enough for Broderick to call him "a terrific talent."

"It's extremely well-written, well-directed and well-acted," he said. "From our perspective, it's a perfect first film."

The price tag was appealing too. "You don't have to have the right connections. You don't have to be rich," Broderick said. "You can actually go out and make a movie. This is a way to get your foot in the door."

Next Wave Films, which operates out of a small Westside office, is as humble and unpretentious as the projects it supports. An assortment of children's toys litters the dying grass in front of the aging sky-blue building, leaving visitors with an obstacle course to negotiate on their way to the tiny second-floor room. Inside, Broderick and staff members Tara Veneruso and Mark Stolaroff busy themselves logging submissions into a detailed database, viewing films on a decidedly low-tech VCR or encouraging the filmmakers who bother to call in.

That last service, says one filmmaker, may be the most valuable one Broderick provides.

"He takes the time to speak to filmmakers, and this is the kind of thing that no studio does," says Larry Fessenden, director of the successful low-budget film "Habit." "It's just one man's point of view, but the fact that he's paying attention and justifying his feelings about something, that's invaluable."

New Wave's mission is to find and support films with strong theatrical potential and filmmakers it believes will develop into major talents. "The key thing is the originality of the idea, the script, the acting," says Broderick. "But it's not just originality or uniqueness. If the filmmaker has some passion for the material, if it grows out of his or her life, there's a real connection."

To be eligible for financial support, films must have budgets of $200,000 or less and the principal photography must be completed. Next Wave's assistance will pay for things such as sound and score, editing and a negative cut--production elements that can frequently cost twice as much as it did to shoot the film. But in addition, Next Wave will offer technicaladvice industry contacts and other kinds of intangible--and invaluable--help.

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