to Keep New York Busy
April 11, 2003 By DAVE KEHR
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
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
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."