“I think Jennifer captured lightning in a bottle on this one.”– producer Joey McFarland, on his writer, director and star
Less than two years removed from the founding of Red Granite Pictures alongside business partner Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland still wages battle with come-and-go bouts of disbelief. But with this weekend’s nationwide release of his company’s very first feature, the Louisville-native and private equity veteran turned newly minted movie producer says it’s a culmination of a childhood dream more than anything. An ensemble romantic comedy from the team of real-life couple Jon Hamm (AMC’s “Mad Men”, “Bridesmaids”) and Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed), “Friends with Kids” mashes together heart and often raucous hilarity as it explores relationships, parenthood and the all-too-relatable spaces between.
Successful New Yorkers Jason and Julie (Adam Scott of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and Jennifer Westfeldt) are the last uncoupled holdouts amidst a tight-knit group of friends that includes the already paired-off Ben and Missy (Jon Hamm and SNL alum Kristen Wiig) on one side, with Alex and Leslie (Chris O’Dowd from “Bridesmaids” and Maya Rudolph of NBC’s “Up All Night”) on the other. Both inspired and informed by the couples close at hand, the two as-of-yet singles have a strong desire for the joys of parenthood but a battlefield-level awareness of just how straining children can be. Caught in a strange limbo of ‘we’re not getting any younger’ meets ‘It’s too soon to settle’, the pair opt instead for a deviously simple middle path. Jason and Julie decide to have a kid, but just as friends.
“Everyone just rolled up their sleeves and worked. And they gave so much good stuff.”
Still in the process of fully organizing their freshly hatched production company, McFarland admits that he and Aziz may have picked up “Friends with Kids” a bit prematurely. But that they instantly recognized the project as something that couldn’t be passed up. “Every film is a living, breathing thing with its own heart,” said McFarland, “and we couldn’t have been more impressed with the team of Jennifer and Jon at the center of this.” Themselves together for fifteen years, this latest project is a third foray into independent film for Westfeldt (after 2001’s “Kissing Jessica Stein” and 2006’s “Ira and Abby”) and an obvious passion project for her and romantic partner Jon Hamm. Marking Westfeldt’s first turn in the director’s chair (yes, in addition to everything else), a New York Times article made light of her frenzied movement about the set, asserting that she, “stood still [just] long enough to apologize for being in a state of perpetual motion.”
“Friends with Kids” boasts a heavyweight ensemble with some hard-earned comedic chops. Not only is everyone involved proven in his or her own right, but as a follow-up to multiple shared projects and an on-screen coming-together of off-screen friendships galore, the chemistry is undeniably natural. First among this “big family” was Adam Scott, a longtime compatriot of Westfeldt and Hamm, not to mention a possible plot inspiration, having been one of the earliest among their group of friends to “drop off the map” and have kids. Next came Wiig and Rudolph (both of “Saturday Night Live”), who Hamm knew from multiple stints on “SNL”, in addition to the then recently completed soon-to-be hit “Bridesmaids”, of which Hamm, Wiig, Rudolph and Chris O’Dowd were all a part. Throw in “Tranformers” heroine Megan Fox and Edward Burns just for fun and the table was set. McFarland revealed that O’Dowd and Scott were particularly hilarious in person and added that, “Adam [Scott] was as dedicated and professional as anyone I’ve ever worked with.”
Filmed over twenty-six days in what was one of the coldest New York City winters in recent memory, McFarland credits the tireless efforts of an “exceeding passionate” on-set crew with delivering a final product that was, “above and beyond expectation.” Among these he highlighted producers Kathryn Dean (2010’s “Winter’s Bone”) and Joshua Astrachan (“Gosford Park” and “A Prairie Home Companion”) for, “dealing with countless hurdles”, as well as Jake Kasdan (director of 2011’s “Bad Teacher”), who also chipped-in as a producer and proved to be an invaluable resource for, “helping Jenn along her first directing experience.” McFarland reiterated of Red Granite’s first project, “I couldn’t be more proud of it,” and declared of Westfeldt in particular that, “she may not be a household name yet, but Jennifer is on fire.” Asked if the recent NYC premiere boasted any more agreeable weather, he laughed, “of course not!” But that the dreariness outside had made for an all-the-more appropriate night of film-going.
“I’m a hometown boy. I want to follow in the footsteps of Clooney, Depp and Hunter S. Thompson.”
A graduate of the University of Louisville and Desales High School, Joey McFarland is an entrepreneur who had been successfully dabbling in finance, private equity, commodities and even some entertainment properties for years. And yet his movie-making dreams wouldn’t be fully realized until Riza Aziz (a Malaysian-born investment banker by way of London) approached him with the idea of creating Red Granite Pictures. “I’d always had this love of film and passion for production,” said McFarland, who ascribes his well-rounded appreciation for cinema to the twofold influence of his father, who would take him to see action/adventure flicks like “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and his mother, who home-schooled with a broad curriculum of spaghetti westerns and “the classics”. Aziz likewise wields a deep connection to filmmaking, with the two producers even restoring old cameras in their spare time and attributing Red Granite’s continued success to this mutual foundation in “what makes movies great”, in addition to an ability to, “recognize talent on the page.”
“This is a baby step in the direction we hope to go.”
“Friends with Kids” opened nationwide on March 9th, was produced for just under $10 million and is being distributed domestically by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. Red Granite Pictures is moving forward with four to five upcoming projects in various stages of pre-production, while McFarland promises that the company’s second tent-pole piece “The Wolf of Wall Street” will go to cameras later in 2012. Based on Jordan Belfort’s 2008 memoir, the film represents a partnership with Appian Way Productions and will star Leonardo DiCaprio with the possibility of Martin Scorsese directing. McFarland offered one last tease, sharing a hope to one day film in the Bluegrass.
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