It's been 20 years since Omaha native Dan Mirvish released “Omaha (the movie),” then started the Slamdance Film Festival because it didn't make the cut at Sundance.
It was 10 years ago that Mirvish lobbied the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to reactivate its original-musical category so that his new real estate musical, “Open House,” could compete for Oscar nominations (he failed).
Now Mirvish is coming home to introduce his latest movie, “Between Us,” at Film Streams on Aug. 1, then hang around for an audience Q and A afterward.
“Between Us,” based on a 2004 off-Broadway play by Joe Hortua, is a dark dramedy in which two couples, ostensibly friends, meet on two separate explosive evenings, one each in their homes in the suburban Midwest and New York City.
In the first meeting, the Midwestern dwellers played by David Harbour and Melissa George behave badly because of a faltering marriage. In the second, roles are reversed and the New York couple, played by Taye Diggs and Julia Stiles, are in trouble.
Spouses feud with spouses, wives with wives, husbands with husbands. For every possible combination of two, a verbal storm is brewing. They fight about careers, class consciousness, religion, money, becoming parents (or not), marriage, sex, friendship, betrayal.
“Between Us” is not pretty. But it is filmed and acted well. Many people have compared it to Roman Polanski's “Carnage,” another movie starring two feuding couples (Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly) and based on a Broadway hit, though the play “God of Carnage” was actually written after “Between Us.”
Mirvish, who graduated from Central High School in 1985, grew up near 59th Street and Underwood Avenue, where parents Sidney and Lynda still live. He's glad to be coming home and showing his movie, which has made the rounds for the past year at a number of film festivals. It won the grand prize in the Bahamas but has earned mixed reviews.
The story of how “Between Us” got made begins with “Open House.” Some New Yorkers got interested in turning Mirvish's movie into a stage vehicle. Mirvish took meetings in New York with playwrights, agents and producers.
While in those 2004 meetings, Mirvish kept asking if anybody had a play they thought would make a good adapted movie script. They were surprised to be asked.
“The best-drama Tony winner, or a Pulitzer winner, somebody buys the rights to those plays,” Mirvish said. “Maybe they get made. Everything short of that kinda falls through the cracks. There's more money for playwrights in television.”
Mirvish read 30 plays. Two got his attention. One, “Between Us,” could be made on a big budget or a small one, since it's essentially four characters in two rooms. The other, political thriller “Farragut North,” would be more expensive to make. He went with “Between Us.”
“Farragut North” became a best-picture nominee, “The Ides of March,” which George Clooney co-wrote, directed and co-starred in with Ryan Gosling.
Mirvish could relate to the young married couples starting families in “Between Us.” He was young, married, with small children — though, fortunately, he had a better marriage and friendships than those in the movie. Still, he could relate to some of the issues in the script. And he shared Midwestern roots with the Chicago playwright, with whom he worked to adapt the script.
Among other distractions, Mirvish fell from a ladder in his Los Angeles home and shattered his leg, delaying filming. (It inspired a scene in the movie.) Then the economic collapse in 2008 torpedoed the film. Actors were attached to the project, then had to drop out. A book deal intervened. Finally he raised money on his own, including a chunk from Omaha friends.
Principal filming was in Los Angeles, with a bit more in New York and Omaha. Dana Altman, Marc Longbrake and Jason Levering did some cinematography for the movie here, and you'll recognize aerial shots of Midtown Crossing and the Bob Kerrey Bridge. Markel BMW allowed use of a car that appears in the movie and even provided the driver. A number of the crew on “Between Us” are Nebraska natives.
“Between Us” also will play at the renovated World Theatre in Kearney, Neb., Aug. 16-18, and Mirvish will do an audience talkback on the 16th. Screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp, who led the theater renovation, lives in Kearney. His first job, Mirvish said, was working on “Omaha (the movie).”
That movie, by the way, soon will be re-released for streaming and on iTunes. “Between Us” is nearing a distribution deal as well, though the details still are being worked out.
Mirvish has come a long way since making Super-8 movies with friends from Lewis & Clark Junior High. Now his kids, Rebecca, 14; Jonathan, 10; and Miriam, 6, are old enough to have helped Dad make a movie. They're in the credits for “Between Us.”