Shirley MacLaine Film Descends Into Chaos as Director Feuds With Financier and Crew Goes Unpaid

The first couple times, he said no.

But like most people in the entertainment industry, Andy Zolot wasn’t working much. So when the offer came around again to work on an independent film starring Shirley MacLaine, he agreed.

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“Fuck it,” he said. “It’s Shirley MacLaine. And I need the check.”

The film — “People Not Places” — offers a case study in the desperate state of the business.

The budget was probably too low, but Zolot hoped the production could pull off something special. He did not know how bad it would get once he and a couple dozen other crew members showed up for pre-production in March in Atlantic City, N.J.

The director, Brad Furman, came in late, blew off meetings, screamed at people and stalled on cost-reducing cuts to the script, according to five other crew members, many of whom asked not to be identified to avoid being sued.

After weeks of chaos, the principal financier, Jeff Katz, backed out. In a statement, Katz blamed Furman’s conduct and disputes over the budget.

The crew was sent home in mid-April. They are still owed about $245,000, according to multiple crew members.

Furman’s attorney, Marty Singer, denied misconduct, saying in a letter that Furman is a “consummate professional” and that Katz is to blame for “any alleged ‘chaos’” during pre-production. Singer also said that Furman missed meetings because he was hospitalized while recovering from gallbladder surgery.

Furman has not given up on the film. He is now shooting it – from a script written by his mother – using money from his family to pay the new crew.

The former crew are now lodging complaints with the state of New Jersey and their unions, and wondering why the Directors Guild of America hasn’t shut the production down.

“This whole thing is really a disaster,” said another crew member. “This has been insane.”

In a statement, the DGA said it is working to get people paid.

“The DGA is aware of this situation and is working to ensure that both the DGA members who performed the initial work and the DGA members who are now working will receive everything they are entitled to under our collective bargaining agreement,” the union said.

Singer said that Katz was “solely” responsible for paying the former crew, but added that Furman is working with the unions to make sure that everyone will be paid.

Furman directed “The Lincoln Lawyer,” “The Infiltrator” and “City of Lies.” He recently wrapped “Tin Soldier,” starring Jamie Foxx and Robert De Niro. “People Not Places” is a labor of love that he has been trying to get off the ground for years. At 90, MacLaine is in nearly every scene, playing a dying woman who befriends a homeless man played by Stephen Dorff.

“We are both honored to be part of the film under the direction of Brad Furman whose talent and passion to tell this story moved us tremendously,” MacLaine and Dorff said in a statement. “We look forward to bringing it to the screen (with him).”

Last fall, Furman appeared to have the financing in place. Katz, a wealthy investor from Philadelphia, agreed to put up the entire cost. An early budget came in at $2.6 million, while other estimates pegged it at $2.95 million and $3.4 million.

But after some delays and a lot of back and forth, Zolot and his crew concluded that shooting the script as written would probably take 35 days and cost at least $5 million.

Furman agreed to cut down the script. But when the revised version came in, three weeks into pre-production, it was only 10 pages shorter. One scene involving a forest fire was replaced with a knife fight in the bed of a moving pickup truck, which crashes into an electrical pole and explodes. Two crew members thought that might be costlier than the fire.

According to the crew, Furman insisted the new script could be shot in 24 days. Fights raged over the budget and the schedule.

Pre-production was haphazard. Katz insisted on approving expenditures, and sometimes handed out cash from his pocket to pay for production expenses. He began to fear that he wasn’t being told everything. At $2.6 million, he had a chance of making his money back. At $5 million, forget it.

So he pulled the plug.

“We agreed to finance the production under certain budgetary terms and conditions initially presented by Mr. Furman,” Katz said in his statement. “Upon realization during the pre-production period that those budgetary terms, including the proposed schedule, were not plausible, and the underlying conduct by Mr. Furman in regard to such, we pulled out of the production.”

He added that Furman is now using crew, locations and materials from the pre-production period “without our permission or reimbursement in his current film.”

Furman contends that he was still working to cut the script to meet Katz’s budgetary demands when Katz backed out. Everyone agrees that the former crew has not been paid – but Katz and Furman each contend the other is at fault.

Meanwhile, Furman is trying to finish the film in 24 days. The former crew, some of whom agreed to work well below their standard rate, have no idea when or if they will see their money.

“This is what happens when work gets slow,” said another crew member. “People start considering projects like this because they have no choice.”

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