Chicagoan shares top credit
on Spirit Award nominee

Co-cinematographer Ron Forsythe (left) and director Bernard Rose (top) on the set of “ivans Xtc.,” which is up for four Independent Spirit Awards.

While Hollywood insider stories are a genre unto themselves, “ivans Xtc.” may have hit a bit too close to home.

A loose adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” the film traces the professional fall and personal redemption of a cocaine-and-call-girl-addicted Hollywood agent.

Agent Jay Maloney, at least a partial inspiration for protagonist Ivan Reitman, committed suicide during post-production on “ivans Xtc.” after years in exile from his place close to the top of the industry food chain.

” ivans Xtc.” writer/director Bernard Rose was a former client of Maloney.
Rose couldn’t get studio financing for the picture, despite his track record as director of such major films as “Immortal Beloved” and “Candyman.”

Self-financed and shot on high definition video in 1999, “ivans Xtc.” is now up for four Independent Spirit Awards: best director; the John Cassavetes Award for best feature made for under $500,000; best lead actor for Danny Huston (son of John Huston); and best supporting actor for Peter Weller (“Robocop”) as a manic and decadent screen star.
Chicagoan Ron Forsythe shares cinematography credit with Rose on “ivans Xtc.”

” That was a great way to make a movie,” Forsythe says about the Los Angeles shoot. “We had nine people on the whole production crew. We had only one day that went over eight hours. We just picked locations that would work and ran with it. My lighting kit was a couple of 100-watt bulbs.”

Rose and Forsythe, the entire camera department, split duties behind the camera depending on the demands of a given scene.

” Sometimes he would let me run with it when he wanted to watch the monitors,” Forsythe says, “others time he would direct from behind the camera, which is obviously easier to do than with film. I handled all the tech: I was operator, lighting director, follow focus, camera assistant.”

” ivans Xtc.” has a stark naturalistic look that complements the bleak tone of the story. It was shot in relatively unaltered locations, with many actors playing themselves and mostly real people in the background. It was one of the first HD features ever made.

” We were amazed every day at what the camera could handle,” Forsythe says. “HD was so new at the time, when anything broke down, we were scrambling to find a replacement. And this was LA. I had the home number of the Sony engineer, and I was calling him all hours of the day and night.”

Like the rest of the crew, Forsythe had never worked in HD before. He came on board through producer, co-writer and co-star Lisa Enos, whom he’d worked with as a producer for the A&E cable network in Portland, Oregon.

” She knew I was a tech-head and she brought me on,” Forsythe says. “I spent a week with the [HD] manual, did all sorts of tests, and we rolled.”

” ivans Xtc.” was well received at festivals and made several critics’ top ten lists. The picture made $300,000 in international box office through Rhino Films and Artistic License, and Metro Tartan in the United Kingdom.

The picture screened both in a film transfer (by E-Film of London) and projected on HD. “I prefer a good HD projection,” Forsythe says. “HD has 11 1/3 stops between absolute black and absolute white. Film can’t handle that latitude, it gets squashed down to seven stops.”

Forsythe is a strong proponent of HD as an alternative, though not a replacement, for film. “It’s a great medium for the right shoot, if you know how to work it, and you don’t need a lot of high-key pretty pictures,” he says.

” For ?ivans Xtc.’ it works. It allows you to become a voyeur on this guy’s life, seeing all the grit.”

Forsythe is a longtime fixture on the Chicago production scene. Among numerous credits, he shot the 1995 suspense thriller “Deadly Lessons,” was key grip on the Project Greenlight movie “Stolen Summer,” and was gaffer on Noel Olken’s just-completed DV feature “Slave.”

Forsythe is focusing on his work as a producer these days, with several corporate and music video projects in the works, and an HD wines-of-the-world series in financing limbo with Pixel Flick Entertainment.
Forsythe can be reached at M. Koziarski