Thursday, September 19, 2002

Audiences love Louiso's 'Liza'

Success surprises the Cincinnati director

By Margaret A. McGurk,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        TORONTO — Todd Louiso is amazed.

        Not only did Love Liza, the Cincinnati native's first feature film as a director, survive ferocious competition to earn a spot at the Sundance Film Festival, it was picked up for theatrical distribution by Sony Classics, and finally, earned a showcase spot in this year's Toronto International Film Festival.

        “It's all been amazing,” he said. “I am almost overwhelmed.”

        The movie met an enthusiastic reception in Toronto, where audiences raved about Philip Seymour Hoffman's starring role as a man who lapses into bizarre self-destruction after his wife's suicide. Sony Classics plans to open the movie in a few markets on Dec. 27, in time to qualify for Academy Awards consideration.

        Director and star met as struggling New York actors when both were cast as students in Scent of A Woman with Al Pacino. They became friends, then roommates when they both moved to Los Angeles.

        They were still rooming together when Philip Hoffman showed a script by his brother, Gordy Hoffman, to Mr. Louiso. More than five years later, they were making the movie.

        “It was rough sometimes,” Mr. Louiso said of the shoot. “As much as I had prepared, we had so, so little money (the budget was $1.5 million), it was a struggle.”

        The worst problem arose when a camera malfunctioned and several days' worth of film had to be re-shot. “I look back on it now and think, ha! But when it happened, that felt like the worst day of my life,” Mr. Louiso said.

        To stock up on background shots for use during the lead character's long road trip, Mr. Louiso and cinematographer Liza Rinzler drove around with a video camera after each day's shooting was finished to record views out the car window. “We drove for miles and miles,” Mr. Louiso remembered.

        Screenwriter Gordy Hoffman admitted that it took work to agree on exactly how to translate his script to the screen. “Todd and I had some serious moments,” he said. “But as long as it was about the project and the work, we could go beyond it. Both of us were able to let go of certain ideas.”

        Despite the struggles entailed in making the movie, Mr. Louiso said he regrets only one thing: He had to shoot it in January, which meant he had to shoot it in the South. “It was supposed to be set in Columbus, Ohio, and shot in Cincinnati,” he said. “I really, really want to make a movie there. Maybe next time.”

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