UPDATED with Deadline Tribeca Studio video.
EXCLUSIVE: The genre-blending short film Mildred and the Dying Parlor, from Blood Orange Pictures and Rooster Films, presents an intricate, unsettlingly fun look at the business of providing a high quality of life at the end of life. Directed by Alex Gayner from a script by Ilan Ulmer, it’s based on the short story Red by Andrea Heimer and follows Mildred, a young woman who lives with her parents in an old house from which they run a Dying Parlor, a unique business where people facing terminal illness or advanced old age live with the family during their last days. But when an unusual client shows up, the evening takes an unexpected turn, kicking off a sinister and quirky twist on an old fairy tale (you’ll be able to guess quickly which one).
Zosia Mamet stars in the title role, along with Jane Krakowski and Steve Buscemi as her parents, along with Evan Jonigkeit (X-Men: Days of Future Past). The film had its world premiere on Friday as part of the Tribeca Film Festival and that same day Mamet stopped by Deadline’s Tribeca Studio to talk about it. Watch that discussion above and further down, see our exclusive Mildred and the Dying Parlor trailer.
Shot over three days for next to nothing in April, 2015, Mildred and the Dying Parlor is the first in a slate of projects in development for Blood Orange Pictures, which primarily focuses on obscure, character-driven source material. It came together as Blood Orange was looking for a project to develop with Gayner, a veteran assistant director with credits ranging from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows and Godzilla to Grindhouse and Fat Albert. “We have a company focused almost entirely on development,’ says Blood Orange Pictures’ Samuel Goldberg. “It came out of us realizing there’s a bit of a void in this space coming out of the recession. Studios are doing a certain kind of movie, the indie companies are doing a certain kind of movie, but there are not a lot of people focused on – sometimes – the almost purgatorial exercise of creative development. Nurturing writers, looking for IP, scouting for stuff that isn’t a huge best seller.”
The Blood Orange team then randomly happened across the original short story. A painter and fine art teacher in Spokane, Washington, Red is the only fiction Heimer had put online, and when first approached by Blood Orange about optioning she was wholly unfamiliar with the business side of filmmaking. She has however been closely involved in its production since the story was optioned. “The piece had a very specific tone,” says Goldberg, and to capture it, “a lot of the art work in the movie, [Heimer] painted,” including prints of original paintings she made from before production began. “My hope is that this film helps make her career,” Goldberg added.
From there the cast came together almost serendipitously. The team met Jonigkeit in January of 2015, and he first recommended Mamet for the role of Mildred. Immediately onboard, she and Jonigkeit ended up co-producing Mildred through their Rooster Films banner and bringing Steve Buscemi into the mix. “Zosia said ‘I just worked with Steve, maybe we could get him’ and I was like ‘sure, call Steve Buscemi for our zero budget short film,” said Goldberg. But, Buscemi, it turned out, liked the idea and quickly joined the production. Finally, Krakowski as it happens was interested in doing a short (something she hadn’t done in a while) and agreed to appear almost as fast.
Similar to shorts like Alive in Joburg that went on to spawn the feature District 9, Mildred and the Dying Parlor may also end up spawning a larger project. Mamet was the first to suggest that it would make for great television, something Blood Orange and Rooster Film are now exploring as a possible anthology series with, says Goldberg, serious interest from several television production companies. The ease at which shorts can be distributed thanks to the Internet is a big part of why that may happen. “It’s fascinating. We live in this digital age now where the format and medium by which people consume their content no longer have to be in any specific package,” Goldberg told Deadline. “A ten minute short ten years ago it would have had to be a director’s reel. Now it’s not only a proof of concept for something larger, there are larger avenues to get this out in the world.”
Among Blood Orange’s other upcoming projects, the company recently optioned Noelle Hancock’s book My Year With Eleanor, and are co-developing it alongside Rooster with Mamet set to star. Mildred and the Dying Parlor debuted Friday and screens again on April 20 and 22 at the Regal Cinemas Battery Pari, and April 23 and 24 at Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea 6.