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Filmmaker’s Wish Unspools as Summer Camp for Adults

“Being able to write or direct any movie is a thrill, but when you get to do both on the same project, it’s the brass ring,” said Laguna native Rob Hedden about his most recent film project.

His romantic comedy “You May Not Kiss The Bride” is scheduled for release next year and stars Dave Annable (from television’s “Brothers and Sisters”) and Katharine McPhee (of “American Idol” fame) in the lead roles, with a supporting cast that includes Oscar winner Kathy Bates, Mena Suvari (“American Beauty”), Rob Schneider, Tia Carrere and Vinnie Jones.

The road from writing a screenplay to producing a movie is often a long and tortuous one. Many finished screen treatments that are optioned never get produced.

Hedden’s screenplay, on the other hand, was destined to be produced even before he wrote it. A company familiar with Hedden’s work and planning a romantic action-comedy in the vein of Robert Zemeckis’ 1984 “Romancing the Stone,” approached him about taking on the project. “Sometimes the planets align just right and a movie gets made,” said Hedden.

No novice at screenwriting or filmmaking, Hedden started out making behind-the-scenes documentaries, and his film “What Is Brazil?” about the making of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 science fiction fantasy “Brazil,” earned him industry awards and was exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution.

In addition to writing numerous episodes for several television series and made for television movies, Hedden co-wrote and co-produced the 2002 sci-fi fantasy film “Clockstoppers,” and the screenplay for “The Condemned” (2007), both theatrical releases.

The stars began aligning when Hedden wrote, directed, and co-produced “Boxboarders,” an independent comedy filmed in Laguna Beach that was released on DVD in 2008. Showcase Entertainment, which was responsible for distributing the film in foreign markets, subsequently formed a partnership with Hawaii Film Partners for a television production. “When Hawaii Film Partners decided to move into feature film production, David and Shauna Jackson (owners of Showcase) arranged for me to meet Rann and Gina Watumull, owners of Hawaii Film Partners,” Hedden explained. “They all had seen and liked ‘Boxboarders,’ ‘Clockstoppers,’ and some of my other work. We hit it off, and I began pitching ideas.”

Hawaiian Film Partners agreed to wholly finance “You May Not Kiss The Bride,” a story line that came easily to Hedden.

Film industry veteran Keiko Beatie, who curates the Laguna Beach Film Society showings, says Hedden’s experience is rather atypical. “In many ways it is mana from heaven for a screenwriter-director to get this type of opportunity,” she said. “It takes a very successful screenwriter-director who can write his own ticket to be able to do this.”

And that’s just the tip of Hedden’s good fortune. The producers’ imposed only one caveat: to film 70 percent of the movie in Hawaii so that they could take advantage of a state-offered tax incentive. Hedden was happy to oblige since he had always dreamed of making a movie in Hawaii.

The story of YMNKTB unfolds when a pet photographer (Annable) is forced to marry a Croatian gangster’s daughter (McPhee) and spend his honeymoon at a Tahitian resort, where she is kidnapped. Though filming locations also included Chicago and Los Angeles in addition to Hawaii, Hedden says scenes include jungle chases, helicopter flights piloted by Schneider, and gunfire. Even so, the movie’s ultimate success depends on capturing the story, the characters and their relationships, he said.

The movie possesses the three keys to a successful romantic comedy: two unique main characters, cinematic storytelling (i.e. plenty of visuals/action), and a theme, as outlined by author Billy Mernit, of “Writing the Romantic Comedy” (Harper Paperbacks, July 2001). “Good romantic comedies speak to something that’s going on in the culture,” Mernit writes.

The message in YMNKTB is “that an underdog can triumph against all odds when love is involved,” Hedden said.

He seems to have avoided the many pitfalls, such as foul weather and personality clashes, that can derail time-sensitive film productions. Hedden said cast members all contributed great ideas to the script and the lead actors made it their own. “As a director, fortunately I had the common sense to stand back and let actors of this caliber have the freedom to do their thing,” he said. “A lot of times it’s like catching lightning in a bottle, especially with comedy. Every take is a new surprise.”

He likened the experience to summer camp for adults, at which he spent three months working with fun, talented, passionate professionals. “We laughed hard every single day,” said Hedden “And I got to surf on the weekends,” he added, revealing an ulterior motive not unexpected in a Laguna native.

Having crossed two big items off his to-do list – shooting a feature film in Hawaii and making a movie in his hometown, Hedden feels “extremely blessed.” That doesn’t mean he’s ready to call it a wrap. His current projects include an action-drama set in New Orleans, an action-romance in South America and a 3D thriller, among others. But Hedden stressed that what’s most important to him is his family, “that’s my real career,” he said emphatically. Hedden and his wife Jan, an instructional aide at Thurston Middle School, have three sons; Kyle, 16, a sophomore at LBHS; Ryan, 23, a USC grad who majored in interactive entertainment; and Corey, 21, a digital arts major at Chapman University. But the line between career and family became happily blurred with YMNKTB, since Ryan drew the storyboards and did graphic design work for the film, while Corey shot behind the scenes footage for the DVD extras.

When audiences will see Hedden’s Hawaii adventure now depends on the sort of distribution arrangement the producers can secure. “It will be very important to the success of a movie to have the right distribution avenues and marketing. If you don’t have the budget to support marketing, you need to work hard to get the word out,” according to Beatie.

Erik Forssell, a filmmaker and director of programming for Newport Beach Film Festival, said that with the advent of YouTube, iTunes, Netflix, Video on Demand and the like, there are more ways than ever for a film project to get distributed. Obtaining a theatrical release for an independent film remains high risk. “But the best stuff still rises to the top,” he said, adding that since Bates, Schneider, and Suvari have huge fan bases, “name recognition will definitely help make it appealing to theaters.”

Hedden obviously hopes his film is a success. With its quotient of comedy and action, he expects to find an audience among the husbands and boyfriends who get dragged to romantic films. “As for me,” Hedden said, “I’m thrilled that I even got to make the film, so it’s all gravy from this point on.”

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