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Fairy-tale ending for horror movie

Weinstein Co. scoops up `Mandy Lane,' made by L.A. first-timers. `It couldn't have been more dreamlike than this,' says a producer.

September 15, 2006|Jason Chow | Special to The Times

Toronto — Rarely do wide-eyed rookies go from Hollywood wannabes to players on their first try, but sometimes the buzz at a film festival can vault them into overnight success.

It's already happened this week at the Toronto International Film festival: A band of first-time L.A. producers along with their first-time director went to Toronto for the first time in their short careers to present their horror film, "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane." And within four hours after the credits rolled, the neophytes had made a deal with the Weinstein Co.

"It couldn't have been more dreamlike than this," said 28-year-old Felipe Marino, one of the film's producers and one of the founders of Occupant Films, the upstart L.A.-based production company that made the movie on a six-figure budget and sold it for a reported $3 million to $4 million. "It's still a shock. We've never done this before, and we know that this doesn't normally happen."

The movie is being touted as the kind of innovative film that critics will pay attention to and one that also will appeal to a broader audience than most horror movies.

Reviewers here have said "Mandy Lane" is to the horror genre what "Brick" was to film noir: set in the realm of high-school social politics with strongly developed characters, but still firmly rooted in the genre it takes on.

Reminiscent of 1980s teen-slashers, the movie is centered on the title character, an all-achieving popular girl who is a track star and the crush of every boy at school. Mandy heads off to a weekend of debauchery at a ranch with a group of friends, and soon it all goes wrong and the killing begins.

"It's got depth in the characters and it's based in the reality of high school," said director Jonathan Levine.

The movie, which was shot in Texas in four weeks, is the first produced by Occupant Films and Marino, who until two years ago was a student in the Peter Stark Program at USC's School of Cinema-Television.

Until Toronto, the movie had never been shown to the public, but it had been gaining a lot of buzz in the lead up to its Saturday-night screening, thanks in part to a glowing review in the festival catalog by the programmer who chose to include it. Lines went around the block for rush tickets to the screening.

"We didn't know what to expect," said Marino. "There was a lot of buzz, but we really didn't know how that buzz was generated. But the audience was great. They got all the jokes and the scare."

"Mandy Lane" is the first feature for Levine, a 30-year-old who finished the American Film Institute's graduate program two years ago. Before making the movie, his directorial credits were limited to his thesis film and a promotional movie for German carmaker Audi. He says he's still awestruck by the attention he's received. When told after the screening that Harvey Weinstein was interested in the film, Levine initially thought he was being punked by his colleagues.

"After the screening, I was outside, hanging with my folks, and one of the people from our sales team grabbed me and whispered that Harvey Weinstein wanted to speak to me. I said no way. I thought they were joking and trying to lure me back to get a piece of cake. But it was Harvey and his team. It was a waking dream."

Weinstein and his executives were enthralled with the movie at the midnight screening. According to Glen Basner, president, international, at the Weinstein studio, the feeling was unanimous that the studio had to make a play to buy the film.

"It's a clever take on the teen horror genre, and it's the first time in a while where we could see everyday teenagers acting like teens in a horror movie," Basner said.

"It'll appeal to genre-film fans but, really, anybody between 10 and 35," he added. "And it skews just as steady to females as it does to males."

According to Marino, there were groups of distributors huddled in their separate corners after the screening, but Weinstein was the most aggressive. After four hours of negotiations, a deal was struck at 6 a.m. Sunday morning.

"They were really eager to take the film off the table," Marino said. "They really got the film and embraced it for what it truly was."

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