Like fellow Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer, Ira Sachs has parlayed Sundance success into a career as one of America's most promising young filmmakers.
A year and a half after capturing the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Forty Shades of Blue, the Memphis-bred, now New York-based Sachs is in Los Angeles completing pre-production on his next film, Marriage, a period piece set in the Pacific Northwest in 1949.
With a budget of "around $12 million" and an eye-popping cast -- Chris Cooper, Rachel McAdams, Patricia Clarkson, and Pierce Brosnan are the principals -- this genre film, set to begin shooting in Vancouver at the end of the summer, signifies a big step-up for Sachs.
The script for Marriage, co-written by Sachs and Oren Moverman (Jesus' Son), is adapted from the British pulp mystery Five Roundabouts to Heaven by John Bingham.
"It's the story of a married man who falls in love with another woman and decides divorcing his wife will cause her too much pain, and it will be better to kill her," Sachs says. "Then it becomes a suspense film about whether or not he'll go through with it."
Cooper, who won an Oscar for Adaptation, plays the husband. Indie veteran Clarkson (The Station Agent) plays the wife. Rising superstar McAdams (subject of a recent Entertainment Weekly story about her judicious choice of roles) plays the woman Cooper's character has an affair with. And former James Bond Brosnan plays the best friend, "the consummate bachelor."
"This film is inspired by times my then-boyfriend and I would stay home and watch Joan Crawford movies -- '30s and '40s melodramas," Sachs says. "Those films would take exaggerated situations and have audiences relate to them very personally, and I think that's what Marriage is like."
The plot of Marriage evokes the great '40s Edward G. Robinson/Fritz Lang collaborations Scarlet Street and The Woman in the Window, influences Sachs also acknowledges.
"I think Cooper is very much in the style of Robinson in that he's someone you can identify with yet very much has a power on screen," Sachs says. "He's an Everyman in a way."
After getting great notices for the performances he got from Rip Torn and relative-unknown Dina Korzun, Sachs gets to work with some of the most high-profile and respected actors in American movies. So how did he put this cast together?
"It's a process," Sachs says. "It's a culmination of the script, which I think is a page-turner. It's a good read and people can see it as a film. Forty Shades of Blue had strong performances, and I think that gave these actors confidence in me. Basically, it's like courting. For the past 12 months, I've been trying to court a series of strong actors who would be right for the roles."
According to Sachs, Marriage will be financed by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, a company that has been involved with films as diverse as 9 ½ Weeks and the current United 93. Marriage will be produced by Steve Golin, who has worked on some of the very best recent American films, producing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich.
"He's one of the good guys out here," Sachs says of Golin. "He knows how to work the system but is very much oriented toward filmmakers and preserving the creative vision of a film."
After searching for a distributor at Sundance for Forty Shades of Blue, Sachs says Marriage is likely to be distributed through MGM in a pre-arranged deal.
"At this amount of money, it's not something where you hope to get a distributor," Sachs says. "I think that will be set up in advance. It'll still end up going to a festival to launch it but likely with a distributor in hand."