The film “Ellie Parker” was made for pennies but it’s so rich with humor that Chevy Chase called it one of the funniest movies he’s ever been in — and he doesn’t even play the lead.
The indie comedy stars Naomi Watts, who also produced the movie with writer/director/actor Scott Coffey. Over a five-year period, the two nurtured “Ellie” from a 16-minute short that dazzled at Sundance into a full-fledged feature that recently opened in select cities.
Even when making the long version, the filmmakers didn’t bother with lighting setups, location permits or even hair and makeup specialists. Watts and Coffey grabbed what they could, when they could, using just one small video camera.
As for the story, “Ellie Parker” is essentially a voyeuristic view into the frenzied life of a burgeoning actress. “There were moments, [such as] the auditions,” Watts said, “that were completely taken and influenced by experiences I had, that [were] all heightened for comic relief.”
“She was the perfect person and she brought this ferocity to it that was really great,” said Coffey, who met Watts while both were filming “Mulholland Dr.” “Her humor and lovability was really important.”
“Ellie Parker” is a far cry from the big-budget “King Kong” flick that Watts is also starring in, but she said she was intrigued by the movie’s uncomplicated depiction of the industry’s ups and downs, something she navigated before her big break in “The Ring.” It wasn’t foreign to Coffey, either.
“I thought [of] some of my experiences going to audition to audition and changing characters, and by the end of the day I [didn't] know who I was or why I was doing this,” Coffey said of his script. “I think for a woman it’s even harder.”
That endless maze of auditions not only provides a breeding ground for laughs, but also illustrates some of the most disconcerting quirks of living and working in Tinseltown. “In the first part of the movie, [Watts] is a Southern belle and then a New York prostitute,” Coffey said. “She has to change characters in the car while driving, and I thought that was a great metaphor for identity in L.A., a metaphor for Hollywood.”
“You’ll see movies about actors and actresses in L.A. and you’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen these kinds of movies,’ ” added Chase, who plays Ellie’s manager. “This isn’t that kind of a movie nor is it intellectually simply a metaphor. You laugh and giggle all the way through, and before you know it, it’s over and you don’t want it to be.”
Coffey said Chase wasn’t cast for his famous deadpan. “I wrote the scene for Chevy and he was in my head the whole time,” he explained. “It’s kind of the part of [him] that people don’t totally know; I don’t think [he's] known for sweet and sensitive.”
“There’s just a slickness about the character in how he dresses and the goatee,” Chase added. “[It] reminds me of a couple of people that have represented me in the past.”
Chase doesn’t make many movies these days, but he liked the raw, powerful approach Coffey was taking to shooting “Ellie Parker.”
“Don’t expect to go to some grainy, out-of-focus thing,” Chase said. “To watch [Coffey] with a little tiny camera capture, it really is quite amazing how it does look, given it’s just a one-chip digital thing. It gives it reality.”
“That’s what I wanted to capture is the light and feeling of what it’s like to be living in Los Angeles, always driving and the way you come out of dark and light,” Coffey said. “It’s really a punishing environment, and the camera really captures that.”
The movie might gross what “King Kong” spent on catering for a day, but Watts is proud of “Ellie Parker” regardless.
“If it encourages people to be creative and pick up a camera and shoot a film, that could be the greatest achievement out of all of this,” Watts said.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Ellie Parker.”
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