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LIFE OF HOLLYWOOD

Fairy-tale ending

Three pals crack the biz -- there's a moral to the 'Hoodwinked' story.

January 14, 2006|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

THEY look younger than they are, so it is tempting to turn them into another youthful overnight success story: two brothers and their longtime friend, wannabe filmmakers since childhood, splash onto the scene with "Hoodwinked," the first computer-generated offering from the newly formed Weinstein Co.

But Cory and Todd Edwards and Tony Leech, who share directing and writing credits on the film, don't know from "overnight." Just as "Hoodwinked" is a flip, hip retelling of the time-honored fable "Little Red Riding Hood," their story is a more realistic version of Hollywood mythology.

Tony and Cory are both 37; Todd is 34. Like pretty much everyone who gets a big "break," they've been in the business for years -- just because none of their movies got made doesn't mean they weren't doing the work. Seven years ago, "Chillicothe," a film Todd wrote and directed and in which all three starred, made it to Sundance where it got a lot of buzz. For a minute or two they thought they were launched. Instead, they learned that "buzz" is mostly just a lot of noise signifying nothing; the film never got distribution.

But "Hoodwinked" is the real deal; made for less than $20 million, it is smart and fun and doesn't have to open huge this weekend to be a big success. (The film screened for a week in December to qualify for Academy Award consideration.)

More important, it has the formidable support of the brothers Weinstein, who found it when it was still unfinished and brought to it the talents of Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close and Chazz Palminteri.

"Yes," says Cory, "life changed when the Weinstein machine began kicking some serious marketing ass. In a very family-friendly way."

Sitting at a table on Larchmont Avenue, the three friends provide punch lines for one another's deadpan setups with the slouchy ease of men who have shared postcollegiate housing. On the brink of what they hope is their big moment, they talk about the business like war veterans, reminiscing about the perils of festivals -- "At Sundance, everyone was 'We love your movie,' " says Todd. " 'Absolutely love your movie. But we can't, you know, distribute it.' " About childhoods filled with filmmaking -- "You may not know this, but Todd shot the first version of 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,' " Cory says, adding as an aside to his brother: "I talked to Mom and she says she's bringing a copy out with her; we can talk about screenings later." About what it was like then -- "I did a lot of client stuff when I first came out to L.A.," says Tony. "PSAs for the Natural History Museum, commercials with George Wendt" -- and what it's like now -- "Doors are definitely opening," says Todd. "Next time you see us," says Cory, "we'll be wearing solid gold diapers."

That's an image right out of the old Merrie Melodies cartoons that are, among other things, subtly referenced in "Hoodwinked." But there is irony in the remark as well -- although they interrupt each other in an eager rush to explain how much the characters of Red and the Wolf and Granny have come to mean to them, none of the filmmakers ever dreamed of clearing a path for Computer Generated Indies, or immersing themselves in fairy tale satire. "Chillicothe," for example, is a story of a group of male friends trying to survive the transition from college to real life -- much more Nick Hornby than Mother Goose.

"Originally," says Todd, "we were going more the Coen [brothers] route. But when that wasn't working, we decided we should try something else."

"Something else" appeared in the form of Maurice Kanbar, a San Francisco-based inventor (of Skyy Vodka among other things) and an entrepreneur who has invested in small films off and on for more than 30 years. He was one of the folks at Sundance who liked "Chillicothe," just not enough to buy it. Still, he kept in touch with Cory and Todd, and when they came to him with the script for an original feature-length fantasy film, he passed again but said he would finance an animated fairy tale with a modern twist.

"We really wanted to make a movie so we thought of 'Pinocchio' and 'Snow White,' " Cory says, "but they seemed done. 'Little Red Riding Hood' was fresh and familiar, and we thought, well, we do a 'Rashomon' thing -- tell the story from all different points of view. That's when we got excited."

Excited and proceeding with the strange mixture of pragmatism and naivete necessary to survive in Hollywood.

"We made this movie so we could make other movies," says Todd. Then he adds what is, essentially, the bottom line of every creative process: "If we had known at the time how much time it would take and how hard it would be, I am sure we would have all bailed."

Playing the parts

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