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When screenwriter Eric Eason completed the draft for the drama ‘A Better Life’, the team behind the oscar-nominated movie were set on finding the best choice for a director.
Recalls producer Christian McLaughlin, “I immediately thought of my friend, Chris Weitz. Long before he directed New Moon, we made a pact to make a quality studio movie together, to do something with our friends that we really loved. In addition to being a really great story, Eric’s screenplay had all these elements that I felt would appeal to Chris. There’s the father-son theme that he loves, he recently became a father, and his Mexican heritage was this part of himself that he’d never really explored.”
“I was seduced by its sheer quality,” Weitz says. “It was the best thing that I had ever read. It’s a great story of a father and son and the lengths to which a father will go to try to make a better life for his son, for his family. It’s about hard work and decency and how an honest man can face tremendous difficulties in life.
And yet it’s redemptive because this man and his son, who are essentially stranded from one another emotionally, learn to appreciate each other. It is at once simple but full of all kinds of unexpected complexity. I instantly knew that I wanted to make the movie.”
It also had personal resonance for Weitz. “The majority of my family is Hispanic. My wife is half Cuban and half Mexican. My grandmother, who is Mexican, was a very famous actress in Mexico and a silent film star here. My mother speaks fluent Spanish. Most of my family speaks Spanish, but I didn’t learn the language until just before I started shooting the film, so this was an opportunity to get in touch with my roots, really,” Weitz comments.
Although it was clear A Better Life would not be big budget tentpole movie, Weitz was not interested in making a film that was “super indie.” “We wanted the lushness that film means, to be able to get the sizes of crowds we wanted, to shoot in the appropriate locations, and to work with top notch talent, both in front of and behind the camera,” Weitz says.
Fortunately, several factors coalesced to make Weitz’s vision possible – notably, a little movie about teenage angst, vampires and werewolves and two producers who were passionate about the project.
“Fate and Summit intervened – the studio was willing, after I did a good job for them on New Moon, to take a risk on this. Then, Stacey Lubliner and Jami Gertz also fell in love with the script and put up the remaining funding that we needed to make the movie we had envisioned,” Weitz says.
Stacey Lubliner has known Weitz for years – her husband David is his longtime agent. Lubliner, a onetime agent herself, had recently formed a formed a production company, Lime Orchard Productions, with actress Jami Gertz. Because of Lubliner’s experience as an agent, she had close relationships with the production executives at Summit. Coupled with her longstanding relationship with Weitz, she became a natural liaison between the studio and the production.
“A Better Life is absolutely the kind of project we are interested in, as a company and, of course, I knew about it because of David. Chris had given us the script to read before it was clear that Summit was going to be involved and we loved it. We also loved his passion for it – after New Moon, the reality is that he could have done any movie he wanted and this was the one he chose. The script’s characters and themes really spoke to us and we felt like we could also bring something to it,” Lubliner says.
Lime Orchard provided the last chunk of financing the movie required but beyond that, Lubliner and Gertz brought personal strengths that aided the movie in more nuanced ways. Because of their backgrounds, they describe themselves as “macro” and “micro;” Lubliner is most comfortable with budget, big story points and marketing, while Gertz hones in on performance and character development.
“I think 25 years as an actor is helpful,” Gertz allows. “I have a feeling about things – what sounds right, what looks right. To know (innately) when we have it – that’s something … I thought that could be useful.
My attitude about movies in general and performing, specifically, is that it is a huge team effort and the goal, for me as a producer, is to facilitate that spirit of collaboration and camaraderie in any way I can; to help everyone shine and to do the best work that they can in a safe and supportive atmosphere,” Gertz says.
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