Twilight Saga: New Moon director Chris Weitz has traded vampires and werewolves for a small drama about an undocumented Mexican landscaper that was a struggle to finance.
Weitz starts shooting April in East Los Angeles. He has cast Demian Bichir—best known for Weeds and playing Castro in Che—for the title character, a man who drives from East L.A. to manicure the lawns of the upscale, while trying to keep his son away from gangs and immigration agents. Newcomer Jose Julian will play the teen.
Twilight-maker Summit acquired domestic distribution and began selling offshore territories at Berlin. Summit is only covering part of the $10 million budget in the WME-packaged film, though. I’m told Weitz put up some of his own money. The rest came from Lime Orchard, the monied production company formed by actress Jami Gertz and former ICM agent Stacey Lubliner.
They’ve become producers along with Christian McLaughlin and Paul Witt. Weitz, the grandson of agent Paul Kohner and Mexican-born 30s movie star Lupita Tovar, sparked to a film that is tiny by Twilight standards, and tackles cultural and immigration issues facing an ethnic group largely ignored by Hollywood.
“It’s about an undocumented immigrant who gets the chance to buy a truck and equipment to raise his family out of poverty, and how things go right and wrong from there,” Weitz told me. “It is an Italian neo-realist movie with a contemporary feel. I wanted to return to making films with no green screen required, not that there’s anything wrong with those.”
Gertz and Lubliner got involved after Weitz mentioned the script at the New Moon premiere. “I sat there weeping at the hair salon as I read it,” Gertz said. “Supporting a project like this is the kind of stuff we want to be doing, and we were glad to supply the money to get a stalled train moving.”
Insiders said Weitz won’t return for the Twilight finale, and that Summit is already taking aim at another high-end director. Weitz said he didn’t choose The Gardener over Twilight—the latter is still being written—but admits that New Moon totally removed the lingering bitter taste in his mouth from The Golden Compass.