Timing everything for ‘I-See-You.com’
Eric Steven Stahl hasn’t had much need of a comedian’s timing. An advertising and marketing executive by day, Stahl’s ventures into filmmaking – “Safe House” and “Final Approach,” which he directed and co-wrote – were both sci-fi thrillers.But for his latest project, “I-See-You.com,” which has its world premiere today (1 p.m., Isis Theater) in Aspen as part of the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival’s Film Discovery Program, Stahl could have used sharper timing.Way back in 1999, Stahl bounced a comedic idea off his writing partner, Sean McLain. “‘I can see a day,” Stahl said to McLain all those years ago, “‘when they’re going to artificially create on TV situations that are completely manufactured.'””It was a comedic spoof, a satire of how people will, for their 15 minutes of fame, cut off their left arm,” Stahl said. “I was thinking of ‘Rollerball,’ of satirizing the insanity of what people will do for money.”Stahl and McLain pitched the idea to Fox Family. The network passed, not because it didn’t like the idea, but because the vision had become too biting for a family-oriented station. The pair shopped their idea to a series of networks but were consistently shot down. The concept was unrealistic; TV had not entered its so-called reality phase yet.”People said it’s ridiculous. TV’s never going to go like that,” Stahl said.After a year of pitching, Stahl finally decided to make the film on his own. The script was finished in 2000, and he eyed production in 2001. Once again, the timing was wrong: The threatened writers and actors strikes had put all of Hollywood on expedited schedules, and a small-time filmmaker like Stahl found it impossible to put a crew together, or even rent necessary equipment. “I-See-You.com” went on the shelf. He returned to his ad gig, and a big contract with Boeing took his mind off the film idea.In late 2002 Stahl got the itch again. By then, however, “Survivor,” “Fear Factor” and “Joe Millionaire” had become not just a part of the cultural landscape, but a cliché.”I saw reality TV exploding,” Stahl said. “I turned to Sean and said, ‘Is this possible?’ I thought the timing was right.”The networks disagreed. What had once been too farfetched had become too commonplace. “We were told that the time had come and gone; it’s going to be passé.”So, basically, there’s no time for an original story.”Stahl opted to tell the story anyway. “I-See-You.com” is set in 2000 – on the cusp of reality TV, on the brink of the technology stock crash, just before the Internet became the ubiquitous presence it is now. Beau Bridges and Rosanna Arquette are a married Los Angeles couple: He’s just been fired from his sales job, she’s day-trading at home and watching her savings – from her former job as a Playmate – vanish into the ether.To the rescue comes their 17-year-old son Colby (Matthew Botuchis), who wires the house with Web cams. With attractions like his hot stepsister Randi (Shiri Appleby) and the family’s money woes, i-see-you.com becomes a hit – and a financial savior. When the rest of the family finds how their lives have become fodder for the public, they are torn between outrage and opportunism. “I-See-You.com” examines how far people really will go for fame and fortune.Stahl believes the time is right for a look back at the false expectations of the not-so-long-ago era.”There’s a nostalgic aspect to that time, of the explosion of the Internet and day trading,” he said. “It’s people putting on the face, living in homes they can’t afford, this whole manufactured reality. We thought people would understand the absurdity of our lives.”‘Shut Up and Sing’Also having its world premiere today is “Shut Up and Sing.”Reminiscent of “The Big Chill,” Bruce Leddy’s film looks at a reunion in the Hamptons of six friends who had been members of a college a cappella group. Told in highly theatrical style, “Shut Up and Sing” becomes an examination of fading love and the disappointments of married life.”I-See-You.com” shows at 1 p.m. today and 2:45 p.m. Saturday. “Shut Up and Sing” shows at 3:45 p.m. today and 12:15 p.m. Saturday. All screenings are at the Isis Theater.Other highlights of today’s Film Discovery Program include the Romanian tragicomedy “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” (at 10 a.m. today); the documentary “Souvenir of Canada,” starring Douglas Coupland (at 3:15 p.m. today and 3:15 p.m. Friday); “Festival,” set around the Edinburgh Film Festival (at 3:30 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Friday); and “Keeping Mum,” a British film starring Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas and Patrick Swayze (at 12:45 p.m. today and 3:45 p.m. Friday).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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