I have DVD caps and a poster for the movie The Color of Time to the gallery.
ames Franco’s recent SNL hosting gig poked fun at his eternally busy schedule. The Hollywood mainstay, who used to be known for his supporting roles and boyish good looks, is now littering the foreground of all things entertainment. He acts, directs, produces, teaches, writes, paints, sings and would likely jump at the chance to add another dozen verbs to that list. And now, the Interview actor created a feature film with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, directed by 12 of his students. Because when you’re James Franco, why the hell not?
The Color of Time, the unconventional (and risky) film Franco crafted with 12 of his students during a course he was teaching at NYU, is based upon the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet C.K. Williams. The film follows Williams (Franco) and his adoring wife (Mila Kunis) as he struggles to write new prose, becoming haunted by memories of his past: His childhood, his mother (Jessica Chastain), his first sexual encounters, and his first losses.
I spoke with James Franco and one of the 12 directors of the film, Bruce Cheung, about the story’s inception. “It came out of this idea to unite a class,” Franco said about the initial idea. “Classes are all run in the workshop format — whether it’s the art school or the writing school — so the students would make a project and bring it in and have it critiqued by their professor and film students. But unless you work on a collaborative film, you’re not invested in someone’s work,” he said. “Yeah, you want your friends to do better and you help each other along, but if you DP on someone’s film, then you feel like: ‘Oh, this is kind of my film, too. I want this film to be really good.’ So I thought: What if we worked on a film as a class together?”
The narrative, which begins with Williams as a young married man, moves backwards and forwards in time, woven together like patchwork. With each director claiming a section of the film as his or her own, Franco avoided a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario.
“The way it was structured allowed for a variety of voices while still allowing all these different voices to work in concert. You have these characters at the center, you have a central storyline, but then you have different episodes directors,” he explained. “Each director had his or her jurisdiction, their section to work on.”
For Bruce, collaborating with Franco was not only a chance to be mentored by one of Hollywood’s elite, but have the talents of well-known actors at his disposal. “I worked on the section called ‘From My Window,’” Cheung said. “It was a joy to work on because I had the opportunity to work with James and Mila, who have amazing chemistry. They showed up on my set right after shooting Oz [The Great & Powerful], in the middle of the night. I felt bad, but they have so much fun together, they improvised whole sections. It was awesome, I rarely work with such great actors, why not give them the freedom to express what their capable of.”
But Franco and Kunis weren’t the only heavy hitters to commit time to the picture. Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain came aboard as Williams’ mother in a series of sepia-soaked flashbacks that emote motherly love and fostering adolescent growth. Wish I Was Here’s Zach Braff also signed on, finding relatability in Franco’s ambition.
“Zach Braff had been through film school so he really appreciated the class. I think he was impressed by the ambition of this project, he was really happy to be a part of it. He even told me after that it was such a great experience, he loved the kids’ attitude,” he said, explaining that his involvement served Braff’s own inspiration. “I don’t know this — I won’t take credit for all of this — but I think it pushed him to go and find a way to direct his next movie. He had been trying for a long time to get financing for it and I guess having a hard time. He was getting really frustrated waiting for a gatekeeper to say ‘Yes, I want to make your next movie.’ And so he found a way to make his next movie and I don’t know if it’s all because he saw we made it happen on The Color of Time, but I think it had something to do with that.”
The Color of Time, filmed in Detroit after hours during Franco’s time shooting Oz: The Great and Powerful, had a very minimal budget, unlike many of blockbuster flicks Franco’s attached to. ”People in filmmaking say that obstacles force you to be more creative. But sometimes when I hear that I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…’ But in fact it is very true.” The directors were thrifty, using Detroit as a convenient, and as it turns out, ideal location for their film.
But what’s more impressive than the thriftiness of production, was the array of female characters portrayed on screen. From mothers to friends to lovers and ultimately, a wife, this script offers more roles for females than males. Cheung spoke to this element: ”We wanted to create strong female characters, and there’s definitely a need for that in storytelling. It’s one of my really big hopes for the near future.”
The Color of Time is available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and On Demand now and is playing in select theatres from Starz Digital.
There’s one drama on James Franco’s resume that made the actor tear up watching it.
Not because of his soulful performance in “The Color of Time,” but the pride he has in the filmmakers behind it — Franco’s former students from the graduate film program at NYU.
“I remember after seeing it, at the end I was pretty embarrassed because I was actually crying a little bit and I never do that,” Franco tells the Daily News of the film’s premiere at the Rome Film Festival two years ago.
“It was really a proud teacher moment. It took me a couple of seconds to stand up because I was a little teary eyed by the end of that screening.”
You couldn’t script a story like the one behind the student film that finally arrives in New York in December: Franco rounded up a band of his students and several former classmates from his own time at the NYU program, also enlisting famous acting peers like Mila Kunis and Jessica Chastain.
“There are a lot of people who would look at a project like this and say, ‘You’re going to take 12 really strong willed people who are all here because they have a very specific vision and you’re going to make something that is one voice out of that?,’” says Pamela Romanowsky, 31, one of the directing dozen. “It’s a challenge and a risk, and James is the kind of person who loves a challenge and a risk.”
Right from the first act of the movie adaptation of C.K. Williams’ poetry, the fledgling filmmakers got the kind of education you can’t get in a classroom.
When Franco went off to Detroit to film “Oz the Great and Powerful” in 2011, his students followed him to snag time with their teacher each night at 8 p.m. after he wrapped filming his Hollywood tentpole flick.
“The budget was so low on this film, that I drove the first equipment truck with one of the line producers from New York to Detroit through a blizzard,” says Shruti Ganguli, 32, who was drafted to be a first-time producer since she was earning an MBA at NYU at the same time as her film degree.
“I learned what ‘hydroplaning’ was when it happened to me.”
It helped that Franco doubled as a casting director. When co-director Gabrielle Demeestere needed to stock a convenience store clerk to shoot her segment, “James was like, ‘Oh why don’t we just have (his ‘Oz’ co-star) Bruce Campbell and this hilarious Detroit driver in Detroit and we can just have the two of them?’
“I didn’t know what to expect but they were amazing bantering improvers,” adds the Brooklyn-based NYU grad.
Armed with a budget less than the catering bill on a Hollywood production, the students split into two teams — quarterbacked by cinematographers Pedro Gomez Millan and Bruce Thierry Cheung — to get it done in the two allotted weeks. Everyone pitched in with multiple jobs, says 29-year-old co-director Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo, who says that when he wasn’t directing his own segment, he doubled as a script supervisor for another director.
Franco, 36, may have a rep for flitting from school to school as a teacher, but the Hollywood renaissance man has stayed in many students’ lives long after “The Color of Time” wrapped. He’s acted in several of his former pupils’ following feature films, including Demeestere’s “Yosemite” and Romanowsky’s “The Adderall Diaries.”
“When James says he wants to collaborate with you, that’s a big thing for someone who’s starting out,” says Millan.
Franco may be somewhat of a film-making Yoda, but he downplays his role as just a “hands-off producer.”
“I just think it’s a way for me to use my place in the entertainment industry to help students get their projects off the ground,” he says.
You should know…
“The Color of Time” can be seen on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video from Dec. 2, is available On Demand from Dec. 9 and hits select theaters on Dec. 12.
managed to draw attention with their upcoming film, “The Color of Time.”
The biographic drama tells the poetic story of writer C.K. Williams, including the most poignant and problematic moments of his life. Williams, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, finds a rebirth in this forthcoming film pulling from his memorable “The Color of Time” body of work.
Viewers can expect a heartfelt cinematic journey through 11 of the poet’s works in this series, but really a narrative about his character.
The film races from Williams’ childhood and adolescent years in Detroit during the 1940s and 50s to the early 1980s. Franco steps into the role of the talented writer, who eventually marries Catherine Mauger, played by Kunis.
But this feature will vacillate between the past and present (hopefully with ease.)
The emotional parts of the film are punctuated by voice-overs from Williams’ poems, merging memories and moments in a unique way. And at its heart, “The Color of Time” is the bemusing tale of one man’s life broken into fragments like puzzle pieces.
Scenes show Williams’ passing many nights with writer’s block, struggling to craft and create work. Other moments give glimpses into the things of his past that haunted him.
One standout section reveals the famed poet preparing for a reading of “Tar” in New York City, reflecting on the paramount points of his life.
And through this retrospection, viewers come to know and understand Williams; there are entry points into his various relationships, the women in his life, as well as his thoughts on love and loss.
Jessica Chastain, Zach Braff, Henry Hopper and Bruce Campbell also star in the film.