Forbes: 6 Directors Who Should Be Hired for Pilot Season 2018

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Below is a truncated excerpt of an article written by Merrill Barr, posted by Forbes here.

In the coming weeks, networks across television will be deciding what pilots they want to greenlight for series contention in the coming year… and those pilots need directors.

While there’s likely going to be a mad dash for big name, headline-grabbing feature hires like there always is, these six directors are more than up for the task of pilot direction and, if stars align, long-term staffing as well.

 TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images

Ami Canaan Mann

Most recent credit: Cloak & Dagger and Power

Since 2015, Mann has maintained a very active career jumping from show to show serving as a gun for hire on the likes of Sneaky Pete, The Blacklist, Shots Fired and most recently, Marvel's Cloak & Dagger.

She’s proven herself enough times to be granted a shot at a new show during pilot season that, like so many on this list, she can help shape from day one. Additionally, like the rest, Mann seems the kind of director likely to stay attached to a project long-term if given the opportunity.

Indie Wire: Jessica Chastain and Sarah Jessica Parker Speak Out About Making Hollywood Sets More Inclusive

by Jenna Marotta. Original post.

This weekend at the PGA’s Produced By: New York — the very same conference where Anthony Bourdain criticized longtime Harvey Weinstein collaborator Quentin Tarantino for his “life of complicity and shame and compromise” — women’s-rights champion Jessica Chastain called her former self “complicit” in another Hollywood epidemic: systematically denying women equal pay, screen time, and ownership of their work.

Seated alongside fellow actress-producer Sarah Jessica Parker, their producing partners Alison Benson and Kelly Carmichael, and PGA president Lori McCreary, the two-time Oscar nominee explained that she founded Freckle Films in February 2016 “because I was realizing that being part of the industry meant that I was a part of the problem.” She added that “we don’t acknowledge the fact that we’re complicit in our inaction — and that goes across many areas.”

Even if she didn’t explicitly mention them, Chastain had Weinstein’s alleged victims on her mind. Following “The Power to Shake It Up,” she endorsed the list of 82 Weinstein accusers shared by actress-director Asia Argento — Bourdain’s girlfriend, who claims Weinstein raped her during the 1997 Cannes Film Festival — with a retweet and the hashtag “#ibeliveyou.”

There are more women than this. They are afraid. #ibelieveyou https://t.co/V01S5zmYtP

— Jessica Chastain (@jes_chastain) October 28, 2017

Yet the purpose of the Deadline-sponsored panel was to offer tangible solutions to what has been dubbed the entertainment business’ “inclusion crisis.” Moderator Dr. Stacy L. Smith, founder and director of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative at USC Annenberg, first clarified that while on one hand “it feels like women are ascendant in power” — citing the Women’s Marches in January, last month’s Emmy victories for “Big Little Lies” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and the multitude of newly public sexual-harassment and -assault allegations — they made up less than 30 percent of all roles in the 100 top-grossing films of 2016, a statistic that’s held since the late ’40s. Additionally, women represented just 40 percent of last year’s speaking characters and series regulars on television.

Pretty Matches Productions founder Parker responded first, sounding apologetic that six white women had been assembled to discuss this topic. “There are more solutions beyond this panel, and many of them are women of color who I think have important stories to tell and need to continue to be encouraged to contribute to these stories that I think that we all want to hear, I think that are necessary and vital and dynamic and incredible,” she said.

They proceeded to discuss their companies’ strategies for helping women achieve better representation. Those include hiring female interns and steering women toward departments they hadn’t previously considered and putting more women than men in crowd scenes and fighting for production credits commensurate with the actual tasks women performed.

The challenge is not only increasing the number of women in production roles, but also creating opportunities for foreign women on American projects, and helping women have more mobility between film and television, plus comedies and dramas. Surprisingly, Parker, who produces and stars in “Divorce” for conference-backer HBO, said, “I’m always begging for a smaller budget, to be totally honest,” since larger budgets can feel like a “terrifying burden” where she’s forced to give up control. In its second season, premiering this January, “Divorce” will boast more female than male directors.

Meanwhile, Chastain practices “a rule for myself that I work with a female filmmaker every year,” even if that means squeezing in a short film when her schedule is particularly jam-packed. Her collaborations with female directors constitute 25 percent of her narrative-feature filmography and include “Texas Killing Fields” (Ami Canaan Mann), “Miss Julie” (Liv Ullmann), and “The Zookeeper’s Wife” (Niki Caro). Still, she’s observed that when she has joined a project “primarily because of the female filmmaker…there’s [then] been difficulty [with] whether or not they can close the deal,” as new, male directors are suddenly suggested.

Since agency-provided director and writer lists typically consist of “all men,” Chastain continued, “We need to go beyond what the agents submit and find the artists because they are out there.” Once she’s tasked with actually choosing roles, Chastain “always want[s] to move away from a stereotype of an old-fashioned idea of what a woman is. A lot of people were saying to me, ‘You’re always such strong women,’ and I find that the most obnoxious thing to say to a person, because basically it’s implicating that women aren’t normally strong,” a myth she blames the media for perpetuating.

She also rejects physical qualifiers typically tied to female characters: “If you read the script you have an idea of who the woman is, you don’t need to know that she’s 34 years and weighs 110 pounds, and is blonde.”

The other panelists shared some of their own experiences with industry sexism. Carmichael, Freckle Films’ president of production and development, said she’s been asked whether she can handle certain assignments because she’s a mother. McCreary — an executive producer on “Madame Secretary” who also co-founded Revelations Entertainment with Morgan Freeman in 1996 — has been mistaken for Freeman’s assistant as recently as a decade ago.

When it comes to her “Divorce” character, Frances, Parker says that during season one she was “stunned” by “how many people kept asking me was I concerned that she wasn’t likable” — many objected to her extramarital affair. “But Tony Soprano was a murderer, and we loved him!” Parker exclaimed. “I liked that she was unlikable, by the way, sometimes. I was really drawn to her prickly, withholding, exacting nature.”

On the subject of casting, Parker admitted a “strange thing”: “I love not getting jobs sometimes,” because “the process of wanting something, seeking, working toward, and not getting it…sort of adds up more.” She likened it to a very un-Carrie Bradshaw-like sentiment: “A girl gets her heart broken, I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s fantastic! Years from now, that’s going to be some experience that’s going to be really good.'”

Chastain ended the panel by reminding the audience that inclusivity means more than giving women jobs. “This is an industry that encourages actors to stay closeted, and I would suggest that we break free from that and start casting people not based on their sexual preference,” she said. “Allow someone who is openly homosexual, lesbian, whatever, to play someone who’s not. And I think the more we start to do that, the more inclusive we’ll be.”

Women and Hollywood: Plenty of Qualified Women Directors Are Ready to Fill the Ranks

by Rachel Feldman. Original post.

If asked to imagine a film or TV director, most people conjure the image of a man. Sadly, this is true for those who work in the film and television industry as well. In fact, research from USC Annenberg’s Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative confirms that zero percent of Hollywood executives have any women director’s names at the top of their minds. Of course, those in the know have lists that include Kathryn Bigelow, Patty Jenkins, or Ava DuVernay in features and Lesli Linka Glatter or Reed Morano in television — but there are also hundreds, if not thousands, of highly skilled women directors who have been invisible for way too long.

The statistics for women directing stagnates at four percent in feature films and at 17 percent in television, and although the 17 percent in TV may initially sound like forward momentum, when statistically analyzed it proves to be an illusory number because it doesn’t represent the number of women directing, only the number of episodes directed by women. In other words, it is often the same few women doing all the work. But the fact is that there are over 1,300 experienced women directors in the Directors Guild of America (DGA), many with decades of experience in high-quality broadcast and cable television. So why do only about 50 of these directors appear and re-appear on network hiring lists?

Last week NBC announced a new “Female Forward” program that will train 10 new women directors a year through a shadowing program. NBC President Jennifer Salke says that the pool of available directors is “too small” and she’s excited about the idea of having 30 new directors in three years. Of course it’s fantastic that NBC is going to create a program in support of women directors, but it would be a mistake not to correct an insidious false assumption that continues to undermine real progress.

Salke is by no means alone in her thinking: it is a predominate belief throughout the entire industry that one of the reasons why gender employment statistics are so low is because there just aren’t enough qualified women directors to fill the ranks. But this is patently untrue.

The fact is that NBC could have 100 highly skilled directors tomorrow. If our industry truly wants swift, equitable gender equity in the director ranks, the answer is not simply to train new directors and hope for the future. We need to find and hire the large pool of already trained, highly accomplished women directors who have been toiling in the trenches for decades. We need to make the change now.

The employment mechanism for hiring directors is, no doubt, complex. There are many levels of executives, all who need to vet a director. That’s why directors with hot credits and repped by top agents are easy to notice — and those who may not have a recent credit, or who are not represented by a high-profile agent or manager, become invisible.

Women’s careers also look different from their male counterparts’. Women often step away from thriving careers to raise children and care for family members. Add in the gender bias that makes each and every job a Sisyphean hurdle and it’s simple to see how women lose their reps and fall off rosters. But these women are indomitable. Many have thriving careers in allied fields as writers, producers, editors, ADs, or teachers. Some make independent features. All of them are eager to be making an honorable living, with goldstar health insurance, using the masterful skills they have taken a lifetime to hone.

In life, and certainly in the movie business, we are taught that we will be rewarded for tenacity and determination, but so far this has not proven true for an army of women directors.

Meryl Streep sponsors a program for mid-career women writers through New York Women in Film & Television, the Writers Guild of America has made enormous strides supporting the careers of their experienced female members with a variety of initiatives and programs, and The Ravenal Foundation and The Jerome Foundation have long supported mid-career female feature directors. But in the television director landscape the continued focus on new, untrained directors as the sole way to ameliorate a widespread problem is both an unimaginative solution and an enormous injustice to women who have already been injured by decades of gender exclusion.

DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey, and Ryan Murphy are trendsetting new formulas in hiring television directors. They understand that the status quo is not serving directors who are not white men and they are hiring both veteran directors who’ve fallen off hiring lists as well as promising talent. But a handful of progressive thinkers is not enough. The entire industry — networks, studios, producers, and agencies — must create avenues of opportunity for mid-career women directors. It may require a bit of work to discover this gold mine of talent but just below the surface are literally hundreds of brilliant women directors who deserve a break.

This past presidential election was a disgraceful example of how accomplished, highly experienced women can be disregarded. Hiding behind excuses of: “It’s our [pick one] first/second/third season,” or “We have [pick one] stunts/VFX/finicky actors/cross-boarding/a tricky tone…” is as misogynistic/patriarchal as men who think they can grab women wherever they want. We must continue to ask why men are regarded with great potential and women are seen as needing to have a continuing education. Mid-career women directors are trained to figure out what they need to tell a story and it’s high time for the film and TV machine to support and nurture this valuable resource.

Create your own programs and initiatives or search for us at The Director List and the DGA.

And here is a just-a-tip-of-the-iceberg list of experienced television directors — not intended to be exhaustive or comprehensive — to illustrate the bounty to be discovered. There are also hundreds more accomplished women in the independent world:

Victoria Hochberg, Gloria Muzio, Neema Barnette, Debbie Reinisch, Hanelle Culpepper, Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Tanya Hamilton, Tessa Blake, Kat Candler, Shannon McCormack Flynn, Ellen Pressman, Leslie Libman, Vicky Jenson, Stacy Title, Linda Feferman, Matia Karrell, Maggie Greenwald, Deborah Kampmeier, Debra Granik, Darnell Martin, Anna Foerster, Heather Cappiello, Nicole Rubio, Leslie Libman, Beth Spitalny, Daisy Von Scherler Mayer, Jan Eliasberg, Elodie Keene, Diana Valentine, Jessica Landaw, Julie Hebert, Julie Anne Robinson, Katherine Brooks, Martha Mitchell, Nicole Kassell, Nzingha Stewart, Rachel Talalay, Rose Troche, Stacey Black, Alexis Korycinski, Allison Anders, Ami Canaan Mann, Amy Redford, Anna Mastro, Anne Renton, Catherine Jelski, Claudia Weill, Dee Rees, Helen Hunt, Jessica Yu, Donna Deitch, Kasi Lemmons, Lily Mariye, So Yong Kim, Tina Mabry, Tanya Hamilton, Rachel Feldman…

New York Times: In ‘Jackie & Ryan,’ a Handsome Drifter Guides the Way

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by Stephen Holden. Original post.

Ogden, a small city in northern Utah at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, is
the bleak, snowy setting of Ami Canaan Mann’s third feature, “Jackie & Ryan.”
Ogden is the hometown of Jackie Laurel (Katherine Heigl), a struggling country-folk
singer who finds herself at a personal crossroads. Years ago, she fled Ogden,
determined never to return. In her one shot at a big-time music career, she made
enough money to buy a condominium in New York City, but it is her only asset.

In the throes of a bitter divorce, her career in eclipse, she has moved back to
Ogden with her daughter, Lia (Emily Alyn Lind), to live with her dour, tight-lipped
mother, Miriam (Sheryl Lee) while she figures out what to do next. A minor accident
in which she is struck by a pickup truck while absent-mindedly texting is witnessed
by Ryan Brenner (Ben Barnes), an itinerant busker with no fixed abode who has just
arrived in town on the back of a freight train. He insists on accompanying her home,
where he dresses her wound.

Financial anxiety weighs on all the characters in the movie, which compares the
hardships of everyday Americans in the post-recession era with the plight of
homeless migrants during the Great Depression. It uses a terrific score of bluegrass
and old-timey songs, many of them written by Nick Hans, to underscore the
connection and to evoke a fundamental American spirit epitomized by traveling
musicians with banjos, fiddles and guitars.

Initially invited to to stay for dinner, Ryan, who is bound for a recording session
in Portland, Ore., lingers for several days while he repairs a leaky porch roof and
attends an acoustic music festival with Jackie, who performs there. They soon slip
into a sweet affair with no strings attached. Because, in most films, drifters like Ryan
end up settling down or, if not, breaking hearts, you anticipate a cheap, sentimental
ending. But it is not to be, and the movie is much the better for it. Ms. Heigl
comfortably holds her own.

But Ryan is the soul of the film and its most developed character. A wary nomad
who hops trains, hitchhikes and travels light, he is an archetypal wanderer whose
folk-blues twang evokes a quintessential Americana. To some, he is a public
nuisance, shooed out of stores and off street corners. But, as the film makes clear, he
belongs to a free-spirited tribe of musicians whose members recognize one another
wherever they congregate, and spread joy when they play together.

Ryan’s philosophy boils down to a question that Jackie takes to heart and that
changes her life: “Where am I going next, and how am I going to get there?”

LA Times: Jackie & Ryan a strong duet of searching musical souls

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by Gary Goldstein. Original post.

The heartland drama "Jackie & Ryan" may prove too low-key and deliberately paced for less patient viewers, but distinct pleasures are to be had from this compactly shot film's easy rhythms, affecting tone and nicely modulated performances.

Writer-director Ami Canaan Mann ("Texas Killing Fields") takes a gentle, lyrical approach to her intimate story of a struggling single mother, Jackie (Katherine Heigl), who enjoys several wintry, romantic days with rail-riding busker Ryan (Ben Barnes) when he passes through her hometown of Ogden, Utah.

If not quite lost souls, Jackie and Ryan both need a jump-start. For one-time recording artist Jackie, it's about summoning the strength — emotionally and financially — to battle her estranged husband for custody of their young daughter, Lia (Emily Alyn Lind). Meanwhile, Ryan, a talented guitarist and folk singer, is searching for the confidence to write his own songs and prove his worth as an authentic artist.

Jackie and Ryan are at first drawn together by their mutual love of music. It gives way to a kind of port-in-a-storm physical attraction that's handled here with credibility and grace. A stirring third act effectively eschews Hollywood tropes.

Heigl is warmer and more equitable than usual; Barnes, soulful and sexy. They both do justice to performing the movie's array of folk songs, most of which are either pre-1930s standards or originals written by Mann, the film's composer, Nick Hans, or both. Folk rocker Fergus Daly provided three fine new tunes as well.

Clea DuVall as the wife of Ryan's elusive music cohort and Sheryl Lee as Jackie's wary mom are also strong, though Lee, just 12 years Heigl's senior, feels a bit young for the part.

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"Jackie & Ryan"

MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, suggestive material.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

Deadline: Ami Canaan Mann on Jackie & Ryan

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by Mike Fleming, Jr. Original post.

Since she is the daughter of iconic filmmaker Michael Mann, it seems surprising that director Ami Canaan Mann’s first screenplay would focus on a modern-day train-jumper musician who sneaks onto freight cars, armed with guitar and Sterno to cook and make coffee as he heads from city to city to busk on the streets and stay true to a century-old music and lifestyle.

That is the subject of Jackie & Ryan, a collision between the singer (Ben Barnes) and a married woman and former singer (Katherine Heigl) who is nearly broke after fleeing with her daughter from a loveless marriage in New York to go home to Portland with her litigious husband in hot pursuit.

This is Mann’s third film as a director, the most recent being the gritty thriller Texas Killing Fields. From the Coppolas on down, there have been enough cross-generational director success stories to make you wonder if there is something in the genes. Before her film premiered tonight in Venice, Mann spent some time with Deadline.

DEADLINE: Some of the shots you took of the landscapes as this musician traveled the trains from city to city, there was a certain visual artistry in the presentation of industrial architecture that reminded of a certain film director. If only I could put my finger on it.
MANN: Yeah. That’s funny.

DEADLINE: It this a genetic trait or something?
MANN: You know, I guess there must be, because I grew up in Indiana with my mother. Maybe it’s in the DNA; my sisters take photographs, too. I started out as a still photographer and was obsessed with construction sites, and buildings under construction, and train yards, and train tracks. My sisters, they do construction-oriented stuff too. So, I don’t know.

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DEADLINE: There is honesty to this depiction of a musician’s life without trappings, and the exhilaration and financial pressures that come from what you might call the hobo life. What sparked you to write this?
MANN: I came up with the story when I was in Austin, where I was invited to speak on a panel after my last film at South by Southwest. I was walking down the street, and heard this band play. The music reminded me of the sounds I heard when I was a kid growing up in Indiana. There’s a fiddler’s gathering there, which is something you see in the movie. I introduced myself to the banjo player, asked him a couple questions and then said, ‘I got to get your email because I’m going to write a story about you.’ He thought I was crazy, and then it took me a time before I eventually won his trust and could learn more about this traveler lifestyle that he and his band mates were living. He’s now a composer and a consultant in the movie. His name is Nick Hans. He inspired the main character. What struck me was that there was this group of people who were so tremendously dedicated to becoming better craftsmen at what they love doing. I respected that, and their lack of interest in being famous or being discovered or even being recorded. They supported themselves as best they could, but their objective was to just get better at the thing that they love to do.

DEADLINE: How do you plug yourself into a world that is so foreign to what most people understand?
MANN: I like a lot of research. It feels like, if I’m going into a world, I’m going to respect it and bring as much authenticity as I can. I spent time with Nick in Portland and Seattle, and eventually convinced him to take me train hopping because, as I told him, I didn’t want to be a liar. I wanted to have done it so I could know what it was. I’m glad that I did it.

 

DEADLINE: How good of a train hopper were you?
MANN: Nick said I’m not that bad. You basically just have to run and jump, and then you have to hide as the train pulls out so you don’t get arrested, because it’s illegal. He wouldn’t take me on the really dangerous route, so we went to a relatively easy route in Maine. There’s something neat about sleeping on a freight train in the middle of the night. I’m not sure I could have shot the film the way I did had I not had that pretty specific experience.

DEADLINE: You cooked and heated your coffee with the Sterno, like in the movie?
MANN: No, I did not eat out of a Sterno can, mostly you’re using that to make coffee. I didn’t get caught; I’m pretty tiny and can just tuck into these little spaces you hide in until you get out of the train yard, and then you’re good. I wanted to be sure the details felt genuine. What made me feel good was, when we shot the opening scene, Nick said it felt real to him.

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DEADLINE: The revelation here is Ben Barnes, who I thought was a singing star who took a movie role. Turns out he’s the kid from The Chronicles Of Narnia. He’s got that sympathetic vibe to him, but a growling voice that stands up to that style of music. Where’d you find him?
MANN: Amazing, right? I had the greatest time working with him. It’s a tricky role. I needed somebody with the physicality and the physical demeanor of men from the 1930s even. There’s a rugged, lean kind of manliness that reflects a way you live, and how you have to use your body. I needed someone with a heart of gold, it had to be clear from his face that he’s a good person or you don’t believe the story. And then that voice? He didn’t know how to play the guitar before we started, but I knew he had such a high bar he’d commit to getting to place on the guitar where we could reasonably sell he was playing on that level. He’s brilliant. That’s him singing and for several songs, him playing the guitar.

DEADLINE: How did you draw Katherine Heigl? She plays a vulnerable role that’s a welcome change from the studio romcoms.
MANN: Katherine’s mother had seen Texas Killing Fields and really liked it. We were going to do another film a year ago, but it didn’t come together. I sent her this script on a Friday and by Monday she said, ‘I’m in.’

DEADLINE: There is an appeal to the songs that reminded me of Inside Llewyn Davis. It would be great to come out of Venice with distribution, but what are you most proud of about Jackie & Ryan as you premiere it?
MANN: I love that we shot it in 20 days and for under $2 million, and now we’re here at Venice. There was a do-or-die sensibility, which was the theme of the movie itself. I wouldn’t have made the movie for any more money if I had it. It needed to be tough to make. Having Nick write some of the songs, and Katie and Ben sing their songs…maybe this is my bias but it all felt authentic from a musical standpoint, the way we captured that early American blues/folk sound.

Variety: Jackie & Ryan Venice Review

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by Guy Lodge. Original post.

There was a time when a major studio might have made “Jackie & Ryan,” a wholesome, female-skewing heartland romance, with a Sandra Bullock in the lead and reaped the profits; today, it’s a wing-and-a-prayer festival film that marks Katherine Heigl’s introduction to independent cinema. That’s more of a knock on the shifting biases of mainstream audiences than it is on the ample cornball charms of Ami Canaan Mann’s third feature, which casts Heigl as a hard-up single mother and former country star who’s brought out of her shell by dreamy, drifting busker Ben Barnes. Mellow, digestibly sweet and embellished with lovely folk tunes, this modest bit of Americana reveals pleasing new sides of both leads, and merits a carefully targeted release from a nurturing distributor. 

The Venice Lido is a curious place to unveil a not-especially-arty film this cozily American in flavor and focus. Everything about “Jackie & Ryan” (filmed under the initial title “Your Right Mind”) seems geared more toward a Sundance berth, right down to its picturesque setting in the snow-dusted hills of Utah. Then again, the British-born Mann (daughter of Michael) has a friendly relationship with the Mostra, having premiered her sophomore feature, “Texas Killing Fields,” in the 2011 competition — widely deemed a premature honor for a genre pic of no great distinction. Bowing in the lower-pressure Horizons strand, the new film fortunately represents a significant improvement on “Fields”: Shooting at its most ambitious for the honest humanism of Martin Ritt, and at its least for the fuzzy comforts of Forest Whitaker’s “Hope Floats,” it’s an unpretentious work that at least seems comfortable with its frequent dips into cliche.

Some cliches, after all, are classics, as with the film’s introduction of lightning-fingered guitarist and singer Ryan Brenner (Barnes) as a cloth-capped train-hopper on the northbound cross-country line, carrying his dreams and little else in a battered guitar case. The spirit of manifest destiny, it would appear, is alive and well in tangle-haired folksters wishing to spread their music into the country’s farthest reaches. Ryan puts his roving on pause, however, to touch down in the Christmas-card town of Ogden, Utah, the home of a former collaborator — who, as the man’s patient wife (Clea DuVall, underused but affecting) informs him, has recently decided to go wandering himself. One can practically hear the film sighing over musicians: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, but they sure as heck can’t live with you.

Another case study for that theory is Jackie Laurel (Heigl), a one-time recording sensation whose life of limos and New York condos has recently downshifted to one of maxed-out credit cards, desperate job-hunting and a room in her mother’s house. Ogden, she tells her unconvinced, uprooted daughter Lia (Emily Alyn Lynd) is “a nice place to be from” — which may sound like cold comfort, but it’s a sentiment typical of the film’s rustic optimism. Quite how or why Jackie’s career has tumbled so drastically is never made explicit in Mann’s script, though it would appear that an expensive impending divorce and toxic custody battle for Lia has much to do with it. It’s not exactly the best time to fall hard for a homeless singer-songwriter on his way to Portland, but she’s powerless to resist Ryan’s sculpted almond eyes and warm, whiskeyed croon when she spots him strumming on the street. A meet-cute mishap culminates in her taking him home for dinner; against the advice of her mother Miriam (a tart Sheryl Lee), he stays the night, and then another, and then another.

Nothing of great surprise or consequence happens in “Jackie & Ryan,” which doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that the two title characters — attractive and appealingly matched as they are — are necessarily soul mates. Rather, they appear to offer each other the company they need at simultaneously vulnerable points in their lives. In this and several other respects, Mann’s film recalls John Carney’s pair of marvelous muso romances, “Once” and this year’s “Begin Again,” though it lacks their bittersweet resonance. Nor does it employ its songs (several of them wood-smoked folk standards) to quite such deft, revealing narrative effect, pleasant as they are to hear. The film’s climactic musical number, however, is an original: Written by Ryan (and, in the real world, by the film’s composer Nick Hans) to reflect both his and Jackie’s trajectories, it’s a gruffly sentimental piece that delivers the required emotional finish.

Barnes and Heigl, who last shared screen space in the execrable romantic comedy “The Big Wedding,” make for a happier union here, striking enough sparks off each other to sustain a gentle, PG-rated chemistry. Heigl’s natural flintiness has come off as rigid or even chilly in some of her past starring vehicles, but the lower-key demands of Mann’s film bring out her intelligence and responsiveness as a performer. British thesp Barnes, his male-model features shamelessly lapped up by the camera from the opening frame onwards, is also as limber and likeable as he’s yet appeared on screen, his native accent convincingly hidden behind a middle-American husk. Both stars also do their own impressive singing, their voices imperfect but characterful enough to carry the film’s rootsy soundtrack.

Non-musical techs are all serviceable. Duane Manwiller’s lensing can be too dark in some of the interior scenes, but he knows his way around the woozy, streaked sky of a Utah sunrise — one of many familiar romantic indulgences in “Jackie & Ryan” for which Mann makes, and owes, no apology.

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Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Aug. 30, 2014. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Highland Film Group presentation of a Hassell Free production in association with 120dB Films, Electric Shadow Company, Main Street Films/982 Media, Xantara Film Capital, Crema Family Office. (International sales: Highland Film Group, West Hollywood.) Produced by Molly Hassell, Ami Canaan Mann, John Jencks, Jon Avnet. Executive producers, Peter Graham, Stephen Hays, Rodrigo Garcia, Arianne Fraser, Delphine Perrier, David Wulf, Jay Taylor, Alexa Seligman, Todd Labarowski, C.C. Hang, Harrison Kordestani, Arti Modi, Jay Modi, Anja Gohde, Ksana Golod. Co-producers, Stephanie Pon, Glen Trotiner. Co-executive producers, Berry Meyerowitz, Lawrence Greenberg, Alexis Bishop.

Crew: Directed, written by Ami Canaan Mann. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Duane Manwiller; editor, Mako Kamitsuna, Lauren Connelly; music, Nick Hans; music supervisors, Hans, Dawn Sutter Madell; production designer, Diane Millett; set decorator, Brian Lives; costume designer, Mona May; sound, Paul Maritsas; visual effects supervisor, John Attard; visual effects, Rain VFX; stunt coordinators, Kevin Chase, Brian Finn; line producer, David Wulf; associate producers, Jake Wasserman, Datari Turner; assistant director, Glen Trotiner; casting, J.C. Cantu, Rick Pagano.

With: Ben Barnes, Katherine Heigl, Emily Alyn Lynd, Clea DuVall, Sheryl Lee, Jeff Hanson, Ryan Bingham, Lyle Werner, Adam Dietlein, Terence Goodman, Joey Miyashima, Nell Gwynn.

The Hollywood Reporter: Jackie & Ryan

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by Deborah Young. Original post.

THE BOTTOM LINE Director Ami Canaan Mann hits her stride in a homey but surprisingly enjoyable ride through honest old mid-America.

Katherine Heigl and Ben Barnes play musicians who meet by chance in small-town America

After bringing her police procedural Texas Killing Fields to Venice competition three years ago, writer-director Ami Canaan Mann returns in the Horizons section with a small, beautifully modulated work about recession-strapped America and the power of a fortuitous meeting to alter the course of two musicians’ lives for the better. The sunny, soap-and-water characters and thoroughly upbeat message may not be the stuff great films are made of, but in Jackie & Ryan the modesty of the story, the simple story-telling and honest emotions all come together in a satisfying whole. As a bonus, rollicking period music brings a smile every time somebody pulls out a banjo. The two attractive headliners should help locate audiences:  Katherine Heigl of Knocked Up and Grey’s Anatomy and Ben Barnes (Prince Caspian in The Chronicles of Narnia, though his frustrated musician role in Killing Bono is perhaps more relevant). The quality is there for additional festival exposure, even if one feels the whistle of the small screen blowing at the end of the line.

Ryan (Barnes) is a traveling musician, a happy-go-lucky drifter who romantically train-hops around the country like it was the Depression instead of the recession. His carefully crafted music also nods to pre-1930s folk tunes. A lyrical opening sequence communicates his sense of joy and freedom riding the rails through America’s magnificent plains and mountains, all the way to Ogden, Utah. Blink, and you will miss a quick glimpse of the American flag flying proudly as a Bruce Springsteen industrial landscape flashes by the moving train. It's subtle, but it's there.

While busking on the street with a violinist friend, he meets self-possessed single mom Jackie (an ash blonde Heigl).  She too had a musical past as a successful pop singer signed with a record company, but that seems to be another lifetime. Right now, she’s preoccupied with a messy divorce and a battle for child custody. Their brief love story could hardly be simpler, but it works because of the actors' light touch and the extreme low key in which it all plays out. Mann hits her stride using a fast, delicate style that describes ordinary people without tears or self-pity or great drama. A funeral scene only a few minutes long manages to be affecting.

The small-town setting with its schools, supermarkets and fiddling contests is pure, unadorned Americana, where a general shortage of cash afflicts everyone. Duane Manwiller's camerawork doesn’t waste time idealizing the vast, empty, snow-dusted plains of Utah, nor does Mann pretend the locals are any better than the New Yorkers Jackie left behind. Still, as she tells her dubious daughter (Emily Alyn Lind), it wasn't much fun growing up in Ogden, but it’s a nice place to be from.

Street musician Nick Hans wrote most of the tuneful songs Barnes and Heigl sing in the film, based on traditional melodies.

Production companies: Hassell Free Productions in association with 120dB Films, Electric Shadow Company, Mainstreet Films, the Crema Family Office, Xantara Film Capital
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Ben Barnes, Emily Alyn Lind, Clea DuVall, Ryan Bingham, Sheryl Lee
Director-Screenwriter: Ami Canaan Mann
Producers: Molly Hassell, Ami Canaan Mann, John Jencks, Jon Avnet
Director of photography: Duane Manwiller
Production designer: Dianne Millett
Costume designer: Mona May
Editors: Mako Kamitsuna, Lauren Connelly
Music: Nick Hans
Sales:  Highland Film Group
No rating, 90 minutes.

Jena Malone Featured in New WIGS Series Written and Directed by Ami Canaan Mann

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Original post.

"Dakota," the latest scripted series from WIGS stars Jena Malone ("Sucker Punch," "Into the Wild") and is written and directed by Ami Canaan Mann ("Friday Night Lights," "Texas Killing Fields"). Dakota is a tough single mother who pays the bills by playing poker, and right now, she's down. She sees a chance to reverse her fortunes when she's invited to a high-stakes home game, but she'll need a little luck and the help of someone unexpected to get back in the black. The three-episode series begins today and will air new episodes on Wednesday and Friday.

"What I think is so interesting about Ami's script is that Dakota's a woman that you usually don't see on screen," remarked Malone. "Dakota is smart, she's got charm, she's a gambler, but it's a healthy addiction. She's doing something to better herself and it's not disgusting. So I love that there's so many layers to work with – I just read the script and loved it."

Over the coming weeks and months, WIGS will be releasing content produced with a renowned group of writers and filmmakers, all starring female leads. Upcoming programming showcases actors including: Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Beals, Maura Tierney, Michael C. Hall, America Ferrera, Jason Isaacs, Allison Janney, Jane Kaczmarek, Rosanna Arquette, Walton Goggins, Jimmy Wolk, Gary Cole, Tim DeKay, Jason O'Mara, and Catherine O'Hara.

Reel Talk Online: Texas Killing Fields

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by Candice Frederick. Original post.

Too often women directors get boxed into the sappy and cliched romantic comedy circuit. But quite a few go unnoticed and unnamed when they helm projects like when Mary Harron did American Psycho in 2000 or Patty Jenkins did Monster in 2003. Director Ami Canaan has joined the ranks with her disturbing new thriller, Texas Killing Fields.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Sam Worthington play Texas detectives Brian Heigh and Mike Souder, who are on the hunt for serial killers who dumps his mutilated victims in an abandoned marsh. Mike (Worthington) is the natural-born Texan with a hothead spirit, and Brian is a New York transplant trying to make the world a better place--one solved murder at a time. When someone they know--a young girl named Anne (Chloë Moretz)--ends up on the culprit's hit list, Brian especially makes it his mission to stop him before she ends up another victim. Meanwhile, as the two sleuths are hot on the killers' trail, they become the killers' nemesis. They must find a way to end the killers' reign over the forgotten part of the state, before he ends them.

Texas Killing Fields, which is inspired by actual events, is a captivating thriller elevated by great performances. Worthington, in perhaps his best performance, is almost as frightening as the premise itself, yet you can't take your eyes off him. His line delivery drips with reckless malice by a man who's clearly not afraid of most people, much less the douchebag who's threatened his hometown. Morgan, who's sometimes lost in Worthington's shadow, holds his own as a man suffering from his own flawed sense of heroism. Together the two are like night and day.

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Then there's Moretz, who is really proving to be a fine actress with every role she takes on. Little Anne is a small town girl from a twisted family (mom is played by the underrated Sheryl Lee), who seems to be doomed from the start. But, even though she's a girl of few words, the audience realizes there may be more to her than she's willing to share. Canaan allows us to fear for her as well as with her as she walks the lonely highway, as one suspicious car rolls by, at dusk. Jessica Chastain also shines as a tough cop and Mike's jilted ex.

The movie is rabid but delicate at the same time. It keeps your attention until right before the end, after a perfectly directly scene between Worthington and the killers at their home. Since there are two sets of characters we're introduced to in the film--the killers and another set of cagey characters from the wrong side of the law--we're left questioning whether there will be justice brought to those other guys. But perhaps the open-endedness of their crimes make for a more haunted take on the Texas town. Either way, Texas Killing Fields is a must-see.

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Rating: A-