"Dorfman in Love" features Jonathan Chase, left, and Elliott… (Roy Matlen / fluke fotography )
Former film and television producer Leonard Hill was having lunch at Church & State bistro, on the ground floor of the Biscuit Company Lofts, when he spotted an old colleague.
Screenwriter Wendy Kout, who had worked with Hill years before, was visiting a friend who had moved into a loft in the arts district in downtown Los Angeles. Kout had created the ABC show "Anything But Love," starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis. After its four-season run ended in 1992, she became a playwright.
Hill, a former independent television producer and vice president of movies for ABC, gave Kout a tour of the lofts and a run-down area along Industrial Street that he and his partner had redeveloped.
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Kout, who lives in Sherman Oaks, was struck by the theme of transformation, both of a downtown she never knew existed and of Hill's own post-Hollywood career.
When Hill suggested they might work together again, a light went on in her head.
"I said, 'Here we are two repurposed people looking at this repurposed downtown,'" Kout said. "I said, 'Wouldn't that be a great idea for a film?' He said, 'You write it and I'll produce it.' And that's what we did."
The result is the independent feature "Dorfman in Love," a romantic comedy about a young suburbanite (played by Sara Rue, of the ABC comedy "Malibu Country") whose life is transformed when she leaves a dreary existence taking care of her father in the San Fernando Valley and moves into a downtown loft to cat-sit for a friend.
Along with the 2009 indie hit "500 Days of Summer," "Dorfman in Love" is one of the few films to spotlight the changing face of downtown L.A., which has attracted thousands of new residents over the last decade, many of them moving into new lofts and injecting new life into a city not known for having a vibrant downtown.
The film, which was directed by Brad Leong and co-stars Elliott Gould, will be released nationwide March 22 by Brainstorm Media in a limited number of theaters, including at Laemmle Theatres, and will also be made available on the same day on video-on-demand through Direct TV.
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"Dorfman in Love" was filmed over 20 days in the Toy Factory Lofts (using Hill's office as a location) and various downtown sites, including the Central Library, the Los Angeles Flower Market, Little Tokyo, Santee Alley, Pershing Square, Angels Flight Railway, Chinatown, Union Station and a subway line.
"We were really trying to give L.A. its due," said Hill, who became a real estate developer after a long career in the film and TV business. He began as a writer on the very L.A.-centric TV series "Adam-12."
He produced more than 50 network television movies and dramatic series, but after struggling to make it as an independent television producer he embarked on a radical career change.
In 2001, Hill and a partner acquired a former toy factory on Industrial Street and converted it into lofts. After the units were sold, they did the same to a former Nabisco bakery building across the street.
But seeing Kout again rekindled his desire to get back in the film game.
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"The truth is, old producers die hard," Hill said. "Making movies is more fun than making buildings. I really missed the creative aspect of the business."
Hill served as the film's producer, location manager and also worked with Kout on the idea for the script. He initially pitched Kout on a story called "The Loft," inspired by the classic Billy Wilder film "The Apartment."
Instead, Kout suggested an original story, partly based on her own impressions of growing up in the Valley.
For inspiration, she spent a week in Hill's loft at the Toy Factory building to soak up the neighborhood and visit downtown sites.
"I was a bit like Alice in Wonderland," Kout said. "I discovered all these places that I never knew about, like the Central Public Library, L.A. Flower Market and Angels Flight Railway."
Without glossing over the edgier side of downtown, the film attempts to highlight less familiar aspects of downtown life, such as the public transit system and the diversity of residents, Kout said.
"I was living in the San Fernando Valley, and I came to a place that was magical," she said. "I fell in love with downtown."
Where the cameras roll: Sample of neighborhoods with permitted TV, film and commercial shoots scheduled this week. Permits are subject to last-minute changes. Sources: FilmL.A. Inc., cities of Beverly Hills, Pasadena and Santa Clarita. Thomas Suh Lauder / Los Angeles Times
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