Status: Post-Production
Helping to Keep New York Busy

April 11, 2003 By DAVE KEHR

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Wall Street is quiet on the weekends but not nearly as quiet as film production has been in New York since 9/11. One of the few indie productions not to take the Toronto route lately is "Rick," a nonmusical adaptation of Verdi's 1851 opera "Rigoletto" transposed to the canyons of Lower Manhattan.

"Rick" is being made by ContentFilm, a New York-based production and distribution company that has already filmed Sigourney Weaver's "Guys" and the Sundance hit "Party Monster" in the city. The picture is being shot with Sony's 24F video system to keep costs down, and to allow the production to remain in New York rather than heading off to a more forgiving economic climate.

A recent Saturday visit to the set found Bill Pullman, who plays the imperious, abrasive businessman who is the film's title character, folded into a tiny corner office in an Exchange Place insurance company. There was barely enough room in the cozy, wood-paneled cubbyhole to accommodate Rick's overflowing desk, not to mention the imposing actor, the camera crew and a dense flock of overhead lights put into place by the cinematographer, Lisa Rinzler ("Pollock").

Just to make it interesting, the set was shaken every few minutes by subway trains, rumbling through what sounded like the office next door. "Rick" will be the first feature directed by Curtiss Clayton, a film editor whose many credits in the independent film community include "Drugstore Cowboy" (1989), "To Die For" (1995) and "Buffalo '66" (1998).

The sequence being shot involved a young job seeker (played by the comedian Sandra Oh) forced to submit to an interview with the casually sadistic, hermetically self-involved Rick. When he didn't cut her off, the subway did. But Ms. Oh gallantly pushed on, and with each take Mr. Pullman sank deeper into his character, finding more implicit menace and sheer strangeness built into each line.

" `Rick' is a story about a man who reaps what he sows,"' said Ms. Oh, "and my character, Michelle, is unwittingly the Oracle at Delphi. Rick and his co-workers treat her quite cruelly, and Michelle just gets mad."

Ms. Oh added, enigmatically: "She colors his life in a certain way, and then various events, some really tragic, happen to the character of Rick. Things come back to him."

The screenplay for "Rick" is by Daniel Handler (a novelist better known under the pseudonym he adapts for his children's books, Lemony Snicket). It is a contemporary version of Verdi's opera about the deformed jester whose mockery of his master's victims brings on a curse that leads to tragedy for himself and his daughter.

"It starts off on a farcical tone and gets progressively heavier until the ending is really quite severe," Mr. Clayton said. "So the tone is very tricky. Rick is brought around to see the tragedy he has made for himself, but he doesn't really have any stronger self-awareness at the end than he does at the beginning."

Mr. Pullman said: " `Rick' is its own piece, but yet it is this curious reflection on the cave wall of `Rigoletto.' And `Rigoletto' was an adaptation of a previous play by Victor Hugo. To me it's always a surprise how modern `Rigoletto' is because of the ambiguities: Rigoletto is a jester, he's compromised, but he's also charismatic and interesting. The daughter is the victim, but she's also making her own trouble." The role of Rick/Rigoletto's daughter is being played by Anges Bruckner of "Murder by Numbers."

Of his screenwriter, Mr. Handler, Mr. Pullman said: "I haven't met him yet. He has a dark sensibility, but a way of turning the darkness into a different aspect. Like he says in the Lemony Snicket books, `This is a sad story, so if you don't like sad stories, don't read this one.' With `Rick,' it sounds sad, but it's also kind of engaging."