Four years ago, US-born, Australian-based director Jeff Balsmeyer shot a buddy comedy with a little known cast in Tucson, Arizona. It screened in a few festivals to good reviews but no one wanted to buy it.
Originally known as Lightbulb, it has since been re-titled Ingenious, and one of the stars was Jeremy Renner.
The movie finally is being released in a bunch of international markets in the third quarter of this year, tying in with the August launch of Renner's latest vehicle, The Bourne Legacy, as distributors and the filmmakers hope to capitalise on that high-profile film plus his Academy Award nominations for The Hurt Locker and The Town.
A semi-autobiographical tale produced and written by Mike Cram, it features Renner (pictured) and Dallas Roberts as struggling inventors whose friendship survives poor judgments, broken promises and repeated failures.
“The reality-based story of two struggling inventors and their eventual, improbable success… could – with careful, deliberate marketing – tap into the current Zeitgeist and emerge an indie success story,” opined Variety's Lael Loewenstein in his review at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in February 2009.
The critic added presciently, “Despite its winning conceit and can-do-spirit, the pic faces an uphill battle, since its cast, though impeccable, has no marquee value as yet.”
Movie City News hailed it as “a funny but also dramatic tale of what it's like to be this odd genius of a guy who gets all these great ideas but lacks the resources to bring them to fruition.”
The Hurt Locker opened later that year, while Israeli actress Ayelet Zurer, who played Roberts' long-suffering wife, shot to fame internationally in Angels & Demons.
Balsmeyer posted two-page, hand-written letters to the actors on his wish list and most agreed to meet him. He was keen to cast Renner having followed the actor's career since he appeared in 2003's S.WA.T.
“We took it to a few festivals and got great reviews and won some prizes but we ran out of money and it was finished on Avid and no one picked it up,” he told SBS Film. “Luckily we had cast really good actors who were not well enough known at the time to command big fees. As Jeremy's star started to rise there was more and more interest in the film and Bleiberg Entertainment picked it up.”
Umbrella Entertainment acquired the Australian rights and released the film on DVD in March, which Balsmeyer discovered last week when a friend saw copies in a JB Hi-Fi store.
US-based sales agent Bleiberg clinched deals to 19 territories including Canada (VVS Films), France (First International Pictures), Latin America (Swen Entertainment), Scandinavia (Scanbox Entertainment) and Italy (Minerva Films).
“The film will be screened at the upcoming Cannes market where we expect to pick up several additional major territories,” Cram told SBS. “We've had three offers from US distributors, which included a small theatrical release, but are biding our time until August, holding out for a wider theatrical release.”
Budgeted at just under $3 million, Ingenious drew on Cram's experiences before he struck gold as a co-inventor of the talking bottle opener and the iBottleopener, an iPhone case with a built-in bottle opener.
It's the director's second feature following 2003's Danny Deckchair, an amiably comedy-fantasy that starred Rhys Ifans and Miranda Otto. Of that film, Balsmeyer reflects, “It didn't do well here but it did quite well in the States and a lot of people have seen it on DVD so it was a great calling-card in the US.”
Screen Australia gave Balsmeyer, who married an Aussie and has lived here for 15 years, funding to write a screenplay, Why Not Me, a comedy inspired by an Italian friend who was travelling years ago with his girlfriend on a plane in which actress Brooke Shields was seated in first class. The girlfriend said, “Why not me?” and then snuck up into first class, got a seat next to Brooke and struck up a conversation. They hit if off so well they spent the next summer travelling around Europe together.
“It's a movie about an extreme travel sub-culture, people who are daring their way around the world,” said Balsmeyer, who is shopping the script to producers.