Updated Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 07:40 PM
It’s a cold, rainy morning in West Seattle, and two Oscar-nominated actors are trying to break into a house. Toni Collette (“The Sixth Sense”), in leather jacket and jeans, rattles a basement window; Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”) tries turning the doorknob. It’s open. She’s chagrined.
This is Scene 72 of the romantic comedy “Lucky Them,” shooting in Seattle at various locations throughout the month — and it’s been in the making for many years, with a family tree that includes the late Paul Newman. Local filmmaker Megan Griffiths, known for “Eden” (which received several honors at last year’s Seattle International Film Festival) and “The Off Hours” (SIFF and Sundance, 2011), is its director. The cast also includes Oliver Platt, Ryan Eggold and Ahna O’Reilly.
Collette stars as a rock journalist who returns to Seattle to stalk a musician ex-boyfriend; Church is a documentary-filmmaker wannabe who accompanies her. Locals make up most of the crew and much of the remaining cast — including Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton (“Your Sister’s Sister”), here playing a small role.
The road “Lucky Them” followed to Seattle was a long one; beginning 10 years ago when actor/writer Emily Wachtel began working on a screenplay based loosely on her own experiences. “I was dating a lot of rock musicians then,” she said, watching the action on set last week, shaking her head in disbelief at finally seeing her story before the cameras.
Eventually, Wachtel showed a completed draft to her godfather, Paul Newman, who liked what he saw and became her mentor for the project. After Newman’s death in 2008, his widow, Joanne Woodward, became an executive producer for the potential film, which at one point had Alec Baldwin, Marisa Tomei and Allison Janney, as well as Church (who’s been attached to “Lucky Them” for six years), reported to be in the cast. Time went by, windows of opportunity closed, and it looked possible that “Lucky Them,” like so many movie projects, might never happen.
But things finally began to coalesce in mid-2012, with the arrival of Griffiths and co-producer Lacey Leavitt (also a Seattleite). It was one of those serendipitous connections, said Leavitt last week: Wachtel had approached Colin Trevorrow, director of last year’s made-in-Seattle comedy “Safety Not Guaranteed” (which Leavitt co-produced), about directing “Lucky Them”; he wasn’t available, but suggested the producers check out Griffiths’ work.
With a director finally on board, “Lucky Them” began to come together: Collette signed on for the lead role, and Griffiths and Leavitt reassembled most of the crew from “Eden” and “The Off Hours.” Shooting in Seattle began on what would have been Newman’s 87th birthday, Jan. 26, and has taken place in a number of locations including Alki Beach, Capitol Hill (The Comet, Vermillion), Sodo and Belltown (The Crocodile, Rob Roy, Marrakesh).
After the Seattle shoot wraps this week, postproduction will begin in New York with editor Meg Reticker (“30 Rock”). Leavitt said that the tentative plan is to complete the film in time for submission to the Toronto International Film Festival, which takes place in September. Ideally, a distribution deal might follow, as would increased national recognition for Griffiths.
Meanwhile, back in West Seattle, the crew gathers around a monitor, watching as Collette and Church, outside the basement door, play out Scene 72 several times. The living room of the house (which plays the role of the ex-boyfriend’s childhood home) is filled with crew members dressed for the day’s frigid weather; cardboard protects the floors, furniture is pushed to the side. The first assistant director, who functions like a theater production’s stage manager, calls for quiet. Finally, Griffiths is satisfied and calls “and, cut.” And the journey of “Lucky Them” goes on.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or email@example.com
Toni Collette is featured in the film
Thomas Haden Church co-stars in movie
Director Megan Griffiths on the set of the movie "Lucky Them," which is shooting in Seattle this month. Director of photography Ben Kutchins is in the background.