Viper Club: Making of

VIPER CLUB

Directed by: Maryam Keshavarz

Written by: Maryam Keshavarz and Jonathan Mastro

Produced by: Anna Gerb, Neal Dodson, J.C. Chandor

Running Time: 109 minutes

Rating: this film has not yet been rated

 

Cast

Helen Susan Sarandon

Sam Matt Bomer

Amy Lola Kirke

Andy Julian Morris

Sheila Sheila Vand

Keesha Adepero Oduye Agent Walsh Patrick Breen Reza Amir Malaklou Dulaney Damian Young Charlotte Edie Falco

Production Team
Directed by Maryam Keshavarz Written by Maryam Keshavarz and Jonathan Mastro Produced by Anna Gerb, PGA Neal Dodson, PGA J.C. Chandor, PGA Executive Producer Susan Leber Director of Photography Drew Daniels Editor Andrea Chignoli Music Gingger Shankar Music Supervisor Linda Cohen Costume Designer Victoria Farrell Production Designer Javiera Varas Casting Telsey + Company Tiffany Little Canfield, CSA

 

At her job, veteran emergency room nurse Helen Sterling (Susan Sarandon) is unflappable: she can stand up to the much younger doctors who often put ego before results, and deliver both tenderness and tough love to patients with grace and strength.

But on the inside, she’s starting to fall apart. Just a few weeks ago, Helen got word that her son, freelance video journalist Andy (Julian Morris), was seized by a terrorist organization in a Middle East war zone. She’s been sworn to secrecy by the FBI and the State Department, whose attempts to reassure Helen have grown increasingly vague. When she is contacted with a ransom demand for twenty million dollars, her government handlers tell her to stall the terrorists with negotiations, even though they seem to have no plan to rescue Andy.

Unable to share any of her ordeal with her colleagues at work, Helen finds herself even more deeply invested in the people she comes in contact with, such as a young patient critically injured in a shooting, and the hesitant new resident, Dr. Reza (Amir Malaklou), a recent immigrant from Iran. She’s plagued by memories of her lifelong connection to her son, at times fraught with Andy’s perpetual need for independence and adventure far away from the sheltered life his mother built for him.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the government considers her son’s kidnapping a minor issue, Helen turns to a secret organization called the Viper Club – a network of international journalists, translators, contractors, and wealthy donors who attempt to bring aid to foreigners who become victims in war zones. Headed by a wealthy Manhattanite named Charlotte (Edie Falco), Andy’s case is turned over a stateside colleague, Sam (Matt Bomer), who helps Helen put together a plan to rescue Andy.

Finding herself in desperate need to raise money, Helen must make the decision about whether to go public with her plea. As the impact of her decision plays itself out, she finds herself clinging to the hope that her actions will prove strong enough to set her world right and bring her son home.

Headlines today are about stories of parents and children torn apart by forces beyond their control. Even when the child in question is a grown adult, it’s still a parent’s worst nightmare to have to endure a forced separation with no end to the ordeal in sight.

The central character in “Viper Club,” an ER nurse in Oneonta, New York is Helen Sterling (Susan Sarandon). As the holiday season approaches and the demands of her job seem to grow more intense with each new day, Helen carries the secret that her son, Andy (Julian Morris), a freelance video journalist, has been taken as a prisoner by a terrorist organization in the Middle East, held for twenty million dollars ransom.

“Viper Club” draws its power not from political intrigue and global conflict, but from the simple exploration of the loss of the connection between parent and child. . “The film is about mothers letting go of their children,” says Sarandon, “and letting their kids do what they need to do even if it is risky. That bond has to be broken at some point – or at least modified in order for a kid to find their way to freedom of choice. It doesn’t always gel with what the parent wants for them, which is safety.”

Adds co-star Matt Bomer: “For me what really resonated were the themes about parenting, and the particular challenges of parenting, how complicated a relationship with your child is, and what you wish you could redo. It’s about all of the little things you look back on, things you wish you could change, things you wouldn’t change for all the money in the world, and just how strong you have to be to, to really be a loving and supportive parent.”

Reflecting on Helen’s unique ordeal, “Viper Club” producer Neal Dodson offers, “There’s a quote that says ‘it’s a scary thing to love what death can touch.’ That’s thematically deep in the fabric of this movie, and in the lives of this mother and son, and of all mothers and sons.” “You try to teach your child independence and support them as they pursue their passions and dreams,” observes producer Anna Gerb. “But what happens when those passions and dreams lead your child to dangerous areas? How does any parent grapple with the law when they are trying to save their child’s life?”

When the government officials assigned to Andy’s case offer little but stall tactics and token sympathy for Helen’s plight – while asking her to keep the situation quiet so as not to jeopardize Andy’s life – Helen ultimately has to figure out how to take control of the situation. She’s not a superhero or an ex-military operative – she’s an overworked nurse with no savings, no connections, and no community outside of her job. Then she learns about a group Andy was connected to as a resource for himself while working overseas – the Viper Club, a private wiki for anything a journalist might need to know about an area of the world when working there. Through connecting to this group and other individuals and families affected by kidnapping, Helen starts to believe that there might be a way to take action and save her son. Through the process, she starts to learn more than she ever realized about Andy’s work and his commitment to report the harsh realities of war that few people see.

This makes her feel closer to Andy, and brings her into contact with his tight-knit community, such as his former colleague, Sam (Bomer) who becomes the point person for engineering Andy’s possible rescue; and Sheila (Sheila Vand), a fellow journalist and ex-girlfriend from Iraq. But working with the Viper Club also means courting wealthy donors who might fund a rescue mission or ransom fund – a world that Helen has never operated in. Ultimately, Helen has to make the difficult decision of whether or not to go public with Andy’s kidnapping in order to set things in motion to bring him home. “It’s this woman holding onto this impossible secret that’s tearing her apart,” sums up Neal Dodson, “and she could obviously use some support in what she is dealing with.” “You have to be surrounded by a community of support and friendship in these traumatic situations,” adds Anna Gerb.

Director Maryam Keshavarz (who co-wrote the screenplay with Jonathan Mastro) makes films about complex modern characters forced to take strong actions in the face of larger historical, cultural, and political forces. Her feature “Circumstance” is set in present-day Iran and tells the story of a young woman growing increasingly confident in her lesbian identity while her brother is drawn to political extremism. In “Viper Club,” it was important for Keshavarz to tell a story where the action focused on the realistic and complex decisions faced by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. “We wanted to explore what are the kind of actions you can take if you don’t have money and resources,” she explains. “It’s symptomatic of what a lot of working class people have when they look at health insurance, or unemployment: you feel abandoned, or a nuisance just by trying to literally survive. Helen’s case is extreme, but you can extrapolate that same

feeling if you go out and have to deal with the government, which usually just leaves people feeling frustrated and alienated.”
That meant there’d be no action sequences on trains where Helen and a well-armed sidekick engage in a shootout with nameless brown-skinned terrorists, or scenes where Helen has to don a burqa and “pass” for a local as she crosses a dangerous border. “I wanted it to be as close as possible to what families in these situations go through,” says the director. “These people can’t fly overseas, and they feel trapped by their circumstances; and when they find organizations or networks like the Viper Club, they suddenly have a community that understands them and sees the world in a similar way. When you feel abandoned by the government, you find you can count on the people who are closest to you who care about the same things.”
“Viper Club” found safe haven when Gerb brought the script to her partners at CounterNarrative, Neal Dodson and filmmaker J.C. Chandor. Prior to “Viper Club,” the trio had worked together producing Chandor’s work (Gerb and Dodson were producers on “Margin Call,” “All is Lost,” and “A Most Violent Year.”) “Anna thought that this was a story that our company was uniquely positioned to help tell,” says Dodson. “We had been championing J.C.’s films, and now are finding find ways to champion other filmmakers. The script resonated on such a deep, emotional level, which is not easy to achieve on the page.” The script was “sharp, astute, and intense,” remembers producer J.C. Chandor, “in the way that projects need to be in this day and age.”
Chandor remarks about “Viper Club” being the first film produced by the newly formed CounterNarrative Films. “One of the goals was to try to bring new voices forward and give people an opportunity that deserved it,” he says. “When Maryam brought the story to us. it seemed like a great opportunity to take someone that we knew, and give them the help to get the movie going.”
For Susan Sarandon, the political and the personal in “Viper Club” connect to form a uniquely powerful story. “The film shows you a world I don’t think many people are too aware of, the world of journalism, and what the role of the United States is in terms of how they treat journalists. What these amazing people risk and lose and gamble in order to get us information so that we can make decisions, so we can have a point of view that’s based in reality, that’s what Helen discovers.”
Casting Sarandon as Helen was a key creative moment for Keshavarz, as the film is told from Helen’s point of view: she is present in every scene, including numerous flashbacks that recall her relationship with Andy in good and bad moments; private moments at work that reveal Helen is

adept at manipulating her colleagues and the rules in order to achieve a greater good; her disempowering and humiliating ordeals with government bureaucracy; and her tentative engagement with the Viper Club, a group of people with wildly different backgrounds and connections to Andy and his work.
“The whole cast is amazing,” says Keshavarz. “My last film was very independent so I was able to really protect the actors, and sometimes working on a bigger film it can be harder to create that space. But we built a space where we knew that Susan and the others could thrive. What impressed all of us about her was how generous she was with everyone, including actors with less experience, like Amir Malaklou, who shares a number of scenes alone with her and is really just at the beginning of his career.”
“Susan is an actor who has traced every moment of the inner life of the character, and she knows the character even better than I do as the writer,” adds Keshavarz. Noting that the production only had a twenty day shooting schedule – which means that most shots had to be executed in no more than two or three takes – Sarandon also set the bar in terms of technical precision and managing the chaotic process of filmmaking. “I’m amazed that she’s never wanted to be a director,” says Keshavarz. “In addition to all of the depth and nuance she brings to the character, she knows exactly where the camera is, she is so aware of the cinematic language, and that is such a gift.”
“When a movie rests completely on your shoulders, it’s a responsibility,” admits Susan Sarandon. “When you’re doing a film that you’re in every single scene, and the audience is following through your eyes – I find it easier in a way because you always have to be awake. You really have to pay attention – inertia can’t take over, and you’re so involved with everything. It’s your job to make sure the storytelling is clear, it’s a responsibility to be the glue holding the audience’s perspective together – but I like it.”
“She joined the project at a very early stage,” says producer Anna Gerb. “And she stuck with us until we found our home at YouTube. She’s a total badass – she allowed herself to be attached because she supports independent film and filmmakers and she champions causes she is passionate about. I was completely inspired by her – she doesn’t miss a beat, she clocks every detail, and her work ethic is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. She’s totally fierce.”
Since Helen’s action in regards to her son is kept in check for the first part of the story, we learn a lot about Helen by seeing her at work, and come to understand how confronting trauma, violence, and tragedy is part of her daily routine. “Nurses are extraordinary people, because they’re

dealing with such extremes and they have to think so quickly, and they have to get tough,” says the actress, who visited nursing shifts at Bellevue Hospital for research. “They have to make decisions that are very, very difficult, and these populations you are working with are really heartbreaking. Helen is a good nurse, and she’s tough, she’s really strong and independent, but she’s used to having her son there. Now, she’s at the mercy of a bureaucracy and is just trying to figure out how to do the right thing and who to listen to.” Producer J.C. Chandor credits Sarandon’s experience and keen storyteller’s instincts as something that the project “needed to find” to be successful. “For Maryam to have Susan as a partner on this,” he says, “was an absolute breakthrough for the project. It’s exciting to watch her work up close, and to see what she was able to bring to the part.”
For Maryam Keshavarz, another key element that establishes the tone of the film is the setting of the hospital. “I grew up around hospitals,” she explains: she has a brother who is an ER doctor, and her father ran a community clinic in New York after moving to the US from Iran. Particularly familiar with hospitals in urban areas, Keshavarz was always struck by the representation of big city hospitals on TV and in the movies. “Doctors and nurses are from everywhere, but when you see it on TV, that’s not the case. The modern hospital is a real international landscape, and it’s amazing how people get to know each other in those stressful environments.”
“Viper Club” foregrounds the very real diversity of contemporary American life “without being underlined,” as Keshavarz puts it. That diversity is also reflected behind the scenes, with women and artists of color fulfilling many key production positions. “Our entire filmmaking team and cast was over 50% female,” says producer Anna Gerb. “It was important that we didn’t just find a woman here or there, but that we were committed to true equity as much as possible, in as many production areas as possible.” “There are a lot of great women and people of color on our team,” says Keshavarz, who admits that while she’s “lucky” to have found the crew she ended up with, it wasn’t difficult to find such talent among less represented populations. “It takes a tiny bit of digging in some cases,” she says, “but there are so many talented people out there, it’s not hard to find a team that can be great and diverse.”
A key member of the creative team was the film’s director of photography, Drew Daniels, who embraced the rawness of the script and worked with Keshavarz to shoot the film hand-held, managing to keep Sarandon’s Helen squarely at the physical and emotional center of the frame. Keshavarz had not worked with Daniels, but quickly fell into a rhythm with him. A departure from the look of “Circumstance,” “Viper Club” matches the realistic investigation into Helen’s emotional status with an almost fly-on-the-wall perspective. “Drew knew we had limited time and resources

and had to make a strong visual impact,” the director explains, noting that Daniels serves as his own camera operator. “His effort was really inspiring.”
Daniels knew when he read the script that the key creative challenge would be making sure that Helen’s ordeal was the prime element in the story. “It’s about her, it’s about her emotional arc, it’s her story,” he says plainly. “It felt like the camera should be by her side, or on her, or behind her in the whole movie, as well as in her head for the memories. We never wanted to do ‘too much’ and push the visuals into a world where we were heavy-handed. Because of that, we ended up shooting the movie handheld.” Daniels and his camera team also found a unique way to give the movie both style and substance by using a set of Panavision Ultra Speed lenses, relying heavily on the lessfrequently employed 40mm lens. “I wanted to find lenses that were kind of soft, but had characteristics that were a little unpredictable,” says Daniels of the unconventional choice of a hardware that was more frequently used in the 1950s and 60s in the waning days of the old studio system. “You shoot at a different stop, and it’s a different lens; we ended up shooting more on the open side of the lens, where you get all of these really interesting highlights.” The ultimate effect is one that feels more subjective, suggesting the perspective of a human being under stress or exhaustion. “It also has a nice, soft quality on skin, so all of these different aspects of the lenses really fit the story. Gordon Willis used these lenses on a lot of his films, and the 40mm was one of his go-to lenses.”
He also remembers Sarandon breathing “a little sigh of relief” when he told her he would be shooting handheld, “because of the flexibility that gives the actors, and the speed at which you can shoot. Actors don’t have to wait as long in between takes, so they can stay in the moment a bit more. Shooting handheld is like a ballet with the actors, and Susan was an amazing partner in that sense. If she needed to hit a certain mark, or find a certain light, or if she needed to move at a certain speed, or if she decided to improvise, I was blown away by just how technically strong she is as an actor.”
With such a short window of production time and the necessity of using Sarandon every day, filling out the cast with both new and veteran actors in key supporting roles would be challenging. The character of Andy, Helen’s son, is a constant presence even when not on screen. Actor Julian Morris says that this is “the kind of role that you usually hear about months in advance, and then audition like hell to try and get it and then probably not get it, one of those dream roles that you pursue and pursue.” “Viper Club,” however, was different: “I had a meeting with Maryam via Skype, read the script that night, and it came through the next day.” Having known Keshavarz

through her work, he was particularly eager to work with the Iranian-American filmmaker: “She’s so intelligent about how she wanted to approach the material…her vision for it blew me away.”
The most direct connection Helen has with her son is through the character of Sam, played by Matt Bomer, who showcases his dramatic range as a troubled and erratic colleague of Andy’s, a photo journalist who is still feeling the effects of his own time covering wars overseas. “He really should have ‘honey, not vinegar’ tattooed on his forehead, because Sam comes on pretty strong,” explains Bomer. “The clock is always ticking for him, because he comes from a place where the stakes are always at level ten, there’s always a ticking clock.” Like his fellow actors, a big key to his participation was the unusual strength and brutal reality of the script: “It was one of the most patient scripts I’d read in a long time in terms of not spelling everything out…it trusts that its audience is intelligent and attentive.”
The casting of Bomer was also a bit of kismet for the actor and producer Neal Dodson, who have been close friends for over two decades since they first met as undergraduates at Carnegie Mellon – but have never had the chance to work together professionally. “I know him really well creatively and personally, so the chance to work with him on film for the first time since student films in college was a great joy,” Dodson continues to be in awe of his friend’s talent and commitment: “He goes deep dive on whatever role he’s playing, and his research has always been impeccable.”
Another familiar face is Edie Falco, who plays the key role of Charlotte, a wealthy Manhattanite and central figure in the Viper Club, who has already managed to get her own kidnapped son returned safely. Though she is supportive and sympathetic with Helen, Charlotte comes from a very privileged world, and is somewhat unaware of just how difficult the ordeal is for a working-class nurse. “Having gone through this ordeal, Charlotte understands that there is collateral damage and that there are ramifications from what her son and her family had been through,” says Falco. “But Charlotte is also someone who is used to having money, and kind of assuming that the rest of the world is like her on some level.”
Like co-stars Sarandon and Bomer, Falco was also intrigued by the film’s focus on the deeply personal inquiry into the relationship between Helen and Andy. “To me the film is really about motherhood, and the price you pay for caring about your kid. And it’s an allegory of our time, asking what happens if your child goes overseas in such a dangerous world?” Along with the film’s compelling theme of parenthood and motherhood stretched to an unimaginable limit, the notion of working with Susan Sarandon was a major bonus for Falco. “I’ve known Susan Sarandon just a little bit through events and mutual friends…but I’ve seen her and loved her in so many things

that maybe I feel a familiarity with her that’s probably not earned. I’m thrilled at the idea of acting opposite her.” “Watching her and Susan work together was fantastic,” says Neal Dodson. “And it’s great to see Edie play a role that we haven’t seen her play before.”
Although perhaps less known to movie audiences, many of the supporting roles are filled by performers that the filmmaker had in mind when she wrote the script, including the Iraqi dissident Sheila (deliberately named after Iranian-American actress Sheila Vand), and Helen’s ER supervisor Keesha, played with notable depth and sensitivity by Adepero Oduye. “Those are two roles that I wanted to make as real as possible,” says Keshavarz, “not just for people in hospitals, but overall. I believe in the goodness and complexity of most people, and I wanted to find roles for Sheila and Adepero to show that.”
“The human element is what drew me to the script,” says Vand, “the fact that we don’t always think about how the loved ones of these people navigate such a difficult situation. The character Sheila was born in Iraq but raised in America, and we get the idea that she might be the reason that Andy became involved in war journalism. Now she’s tried to remove herself from that life, but is drawn back in because she feels responsibility towards Andy, and can only act upon that by helping Helen, who has no idea how to deal with it.” She’d long wanted to work with Keshavarz. “Maryam and I had become friends over the years, and we’re both big fans of theatre. We’d go to the theatre every time she’d come to New York, and last year, we were walking down the street and I said ‘give me a job!’ And she did – she gave me a job! And what a blessing for an actor, because you get to lean into parts of your own personality: it feels like the line between the character and myself is more blurred than usual.”
For Adepero Oduye, bringing her character to life meant trusting the filmmaker’s approach to how Keesha and Helen work with and understand each other. “In addition to being coworkers, colleagues, there’s a friendship there,” Oduye says of Keesha and Helen. “And even though Helen can’t say anything, Keesha senses that something is going on, and decides to give Helen some space. I think what’s really cool is there’s another kind of family within the hospital, and Keesha is a part of Helen’s hospital family.” She’s also excited to work with Keshavarz after several years of professional friendship. “We met at Sundance when her film ‘Circumstance’ was there, and I was there with ‘Pariah,’” Oduye explains. “Maryam is awesome because she stayed in touch throughout, and finally approached me about this.”
Rounding out the key cast is Amir Malaklou as Reza, the new doctor who finds himself both challenged and comforted by Helen as he starts to absorb the everyday brutality of his job: in a key moment, she coaches him through what to say the first time he has to inform next-of-kin of their

loved one’s death. For Malaklou, it was a dream come true. “Growing up, I idolized Susan Sarandon, her work, and the choices she made. To be sitting across from somebody that has made movies like she has, I’m learning every day.” The director’s focus on the actions and inner lives of female characters also resonates for Malaklou: “She gives a voice to a certain part of the world that has been quieted for a long time,” he explains.
Indeed, all of the cast and crew noted that working on a production set that was genderequal gave the production focus and brought unique strength to the subject matter. “These are highly competent women who are standing firm in the knowledge of their talents,” says Edie Falco, who has noticed more female colleagues on professional sets in the last few years. “Whatever side of the camera they are on, they are doing good, solid work. It’s a thrilling time to be in the industry, not just for women, but for the men who get to work with these women in any capacity.” Adds Anna Gerb: “It was really amazing to see a lot of women killing it in our technical departments, where those departments often skew male.”
“This is so exciting for me,” exclaims Adepero Oduye, herself a filmmaker as well as on screen performer. “The first day on the set, I was standing next to Rebecca [Rajadnya], the focus puller, and first AC. And I thought, I’ve never seen a woman who was a focus puller, and just to see that there – women on the camera team, it’s thrilling. I think it is as it should be. Very, very, very thrilling.”
Veteran Susan Sarandon also sees the landscape changing, although there is still progress to be made. “The last five films I’ve done have all been directed by women,” she says. “And coincidentally, they were all low-budget films. But every woman’s different, and every set is different. Certainly, sets that have a female energy on them tend to be different from something like ‘Thelma and Louise’ where we had all of the guys smoking cigars on the set in their t-shirts in the middle of the desert. I’m happy now that we can have women’s voices, and a woman’s perspective.”
“That’s not to say that just because there is a woman director that you have to see eye-to-eye on everything,” adds Sarandon. “At the end of the day, that’s the person getting your ship to shore, and you have to trust that person has a vision. Obviously, this project was a labor of love in so many ways, and that was good news. When you do a film where money isn’t the main motivation, the people that show up are the ones who really believe, and that creates a very special world.”
Keshavarz’ strong vision and leadership created an ideal atmosphere on the set, according to Matt Bomer. “We had great discussions leading up to the beginning of filming, but the way she works is so interesting, and unlike anything I’ve gotten to do before. It’s almost like she is painting

the frame as you go – the camerawork by our cinematographer, Drew Daniels, is constantly roaming. So it’s very untraditional, the way they are covering angles – which shots you are in, which ones you aren’t. So you really have to just be there in the moment and stay in it, wherever the camera goes. A lot of writer-directors are understandably precious about their material, and Maryam will throw things out, try something new, let you improvise. She really embraces the spontaneity of the process.”
Sheila Vand agrees: “Maryam is very confident and we have been plowing through so much material. It’s really been wonderful to watch a female in that position, commanding a set like this. It’s comforting because once you see that the ball is rolling, you just go with it.”
Producer Anna Gerb loves the challenge of making impactful films with limited resources, and “Viper Club” had its share of challenges. “You never feel like you have enough prep time, you never feel like you have enough shoot days,” she says. “We tried to jam our shoot between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we were praying to the weather gods on the East Coast that J.C.’s pond in Westchester would freeze over so we could shoot young Andy’s ice skating scene.” Adding to the challenge was a nasty flu bug that ran through the East Coast, infecting nearly everyone on the production crew. “One by one people were dropping,” says Gerb, noting that Sarandon was under the weather the entirety of the production, and was the one person whom the production could not afford to lose even for a day. “She was in every frame of the movie, and she was a complete professional and rose to the challenge,” says Gerb. When others were temporarily felled by the bug, the production really had to stretch their human resources: “I think at one point, someone put a walkie-talkie on me and tried to get me to direct some extras,” remembers Gerb with a laugh. “It got a little crazy, and it’s pretty amazing we made it through.”
“Indie films have an energy that is very visceral and very alive,” says Dodson when talking about the compressed schedule and increased demands on cast and crew, noting that most indie films have far fewer locations than the “Viper Club” script required, necessitating frequent company moves. “The movie has no time to sit around and wait – decisions have to be made fast, you don’t have the luxury of doing it seven different ways. But I like the fact that it’s fast, you get together and form this merry band of people and then you walk away.”
As an independent journalist, unaffiliated with a major network and without “official” clearance, Andy can get into places that other journalists aren’t allowed to go, and tell stories outside of the usual mechanisms of cultural production. Likewise, “Viper Club” found a home in the world of “new media,” produced by YouTube. Even though YouTube might be relatively “new” to original feature film content creation, Keshavarz saw right away that the partnership had interesting potential. “They have a big reach – it’s a very open platform. All of these new platforms resonate in those regions where Andy is doing his work. This media has changed journalism, and it’s changed the way we understand international terrorism and violence.”

“Working with YouTube with this project was a godsend,” says J.C. Chandor. “It feels like the right place and felt like the right partner for us. It’s the beginning of a really interesting collaboration, with a traditional theatrical release of smaller character-driven films, and also using the strength of this global company to bring stories to the screen that wouldn’t have that opportunity. And, importantly, doing it with the kind of support that allows great filmmakers to tell their story in the right way. As producers, we couldn’t be more grateful and humbled that they took a swing with our team on their first original film.”
Producer Neal Dodson knows that the film is likely to spur audiences to consider the obstacles faced by those impacted by global violence, particularly journalists who are so dedicated to documenting the full truth of human experience. But he adds, “I also hope that people are invigorated and moved by the story, and by the character of this mother and her struggles to let go of her son.” Building that story around Sarandon’s indelible performance, Keshavarz hopes the film succeeds at looking at the world through the eyes of a determined woman exploring and defining the limits of her own power in a moment of unimaginable pain: “Really, this story is about Helen, it’s her experience, and that’s the story we got to tell.”

SUSAN SARANDON (“Helen Sterling”)
The extremely versatile Susan Sarandon brings her own brand of broad appeal and intelligence to every role – from her fearless portrayal of Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham” to her Oscar-nominated performances in “Thelma & Louise,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “The Client,” and “Atlantic City,” to her Academy Award-winning and SAG Award-winning role as Sister Helen Prejean, a nun consoling a death-row inmate in “Dead Man Walking.”

Sarandon made her acting debut in the movie “Joe” in 1970, which she followed with a continuing role in the TV drama “A World Apart.” Early film credits include “The Great Waldo Pepper,” “Lovin’ Molly,” Billy Wilder’s “The Front Page,” the 1975 cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and Louis Malle’s controversial “Pretty Baby.” She went on to receive her first Oscar® nomination in Malle’s “Atlantic City.”

Film credits include “The Hunger,” “The Witches of Eastwick,” “A Dry White Season,” “White Palace,” “Light Sleeper,” “Bob Roberts,” “Little Women,” “Stepmom,” “Cradle Will Rock,” “Igby Goes Down,” “The Banger Sisters,” “Moonight Mile,” “Shall We Dance?,” “Alfie,” “Elizabethtown,” “Romance and Cigarettes,” “Enchanted,” “The Lovely Bones,” “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” “Robot & Frank,” “Arbitrage,” “Tammy” and “The Meddler.”

The actress has made a career of choosing diverse and challenging projects in film as well as television, having just finished portraying Bette Davis in Ryan Murphy’s “Feud: Bette & Joan” opposite Jessica Lange. In 2008, she received an Emmy® Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries for her role in the HBO film Bernard and Doris, as well as a Golden Globe® and SAG® nomination. She received an Emmy and SAG nomination for her work in Barry Levinson’s “You Don’t Know Jack” with Al Pacino for HBO.

Sarandon has made guest appearances on “Friends,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “ER,” “30 Rock,” “The Big C,” “Doll & Em,” “Mike & Molly” and in the “Mother Lover” video on “Saturday Night Live” as well as lent her voice to numerous animation projects including “The Simpsons,” “James and the Giant Peach,” “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie,” “April and the Extraordinary World,” “Hell and Back,” “Spark: A Space Tail” and “Skylanders Academy.”

Upcoming projects include the sixth season of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” with Liev Schreiber, “The Death & Life of John F. Donovan” with Kit Harrington and Kathy Bates and “Going Places” with John Turturro, Bobby Cannavale and Audrey Tautou.

MATT BOMER

After receiving a BFA Degree from Carnegie Mellon University, Bomer moved to New York where he worked on such acclaimed productions as “Spring Awakening” and “Grey Gardens.” He also starred as Ernest Hemingway in “Villa America” at the Williamstown Theater Festival. Soon after, he got the lead role on the ABC series “Traveler,” produced by Academy Award winners Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks. He had recurring roles on the Fox series “Tru Calling” and on the NBC series “Chuck” before landing the role of ‘Neal Caffrey’ on USA Network’s “White Collar.” The show, which was one of the highest rated and most critically acclaimed scripted shows on cable television, aired for six seasons. He has also guest starred on the hit Fox series “Glee” and on the NBC series “The New Normal.”

Matt made his directorial debut with a critically acclaimed episode of “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” In addition to Matt’s success on the small screen, audiences have seen him star in a variety of feature film roles Matt’s feature film credits include a starring role in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning,” “Flight Plan” with Jodie Foster, Andrew Niccol’s “In Time” alongside Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried and the sci-fi dramadey “Space Station 76” with Liv Tyler and Patrick Wilson.
In 2014, Matt starred alongside Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Jim Parsons in the critically acclaimed screen adaptation of “The Normal Heart” for director Ryan Murphy. For the film, which is based on the Tony Award-winning stage drama of the same name, Matt won a Golden Globe Award and a Critics’ Choice Award and he received an Emmy® Award nomination.
In 2015, Matt starred alongside Kathy Bates and Lady Gaga in the critically acclaimed FX series “American Horror Story: Hotel.” Most recently, Matt starred in Amazon’s drama series “The Last Tycoon” alongside Lily Collins, Rosemarie DeWitt and Kelsey Grammer for director Billy Ray. He also reteamed with Channing Tatum in “Magic Mike XXL,” the sequel to the 2012 blockbuster film “Magic Mike” in which he starred with Tatum and Matthew McConaughey for director Steven Soderbergh. In 2016, Matt starred opposite Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe in the the action drama “The Nice Guys” for director Shane Black. He also appeared in Antoine Fuqua’s feature “The Magnificent Seven.”

Last year, Matt starred in “Walking Out” for directors Alex Smith and Andrew J. Smith. The film, which premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, is about a teenager who journeys to Montana to hunt big game with his estranged father. Father and son struggle to connect, until a brutal encounter in the heart of the wilderness changes everything. Matt also appeared on stage in the Broadway and Los Angeles readings of Dustin Lance Black’s play “8” where he was joined by such acting luminaries as Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John C. Reilly and Ellen Barkin.
Currently, Matt stars in the Broadway production of “The Boys in the Band.” The show opened at the Booth Theatre on May 31 to critical acclaim and sold out audiences. Upcoming, Matt will star in John Butler’s “Papi Chulo. Matt is also set to star and produce a film based on Hollywood film legend Montgomery Clift. Ira Sachs will direct from the screenplay he co-wrote with Mauricio Zacharias.

EDIE FALCO (“Charlotte”)
Edie Falco became the only actress to win the Emmy Award for Best Actress in both the drama and comedy categories upon receiving the award for her performance in “Nurse Jackie,” having previously won for her portrayal of Carmela Soprano in the groundbreaking series “The Sopranos.” Falco has been nominated for a record 22 SAG Awards, and became the only actress to ever receive the Emmy, the Golden Globe, and the SAG Award in the same year for the same performance.
Onstage, Falco made her Broadway debut in the Tony Award winning play “Sideman,” and later starred opposite Stanley Tucci in the acclaimed revival of “Franki and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance opposite Ben Stiller in “The House of Blue Leaves.”
Falco recently received rave reviews for her role opposite Jay Duplass in the independent film “Outside In.” She also received acclaim recently for her performance as Leslie Abramson in the NBC limited series “The Menendez Murders” and for her roles in the limited web series “Horace and Pete” as well as the film’s “Megan Leavey” and “Landline.”

LOLA KIRKE (“Amy”)
Lola Kirke is in production in Black Label Media’s “Love & Oatmeal,” opposite Ben Platt. This summer also marks the release of her debut full-length album with Downtown Records, “Heart Head West,” which dropped in August.
This past year, Kirke starred in the Los-Angeles set thriller written and directed by Aaron Katz, titled “Gemini,” opposite Zoe Kravitz and John Cho. Kirke also starred in “Untogether” alongside Ben Mendelsohn, Jemima Kirke and Jamie Dornan, which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.
Kirke can also be seen in the original Amazon television series “Mozart in the Jungle,” as Hailey. In January 2016, “Mozart in the Jungle” won a Golden Globe award in the category of “Best Television Series – Comedy or Musical.” The series was nominated for another Golden Globe award the following year. The fourth and final season of “Mozart in the Jungle” premiered in February.
Last year, Kirke produced and starred in the Aaron Fisher-Cohen Project, titled “Active Adults.” The film became available on Video on Demand and for digital purchase on November 21, 2017.
In 2016, Kirke debuted her self-titled EP and subsequently embarked on an 8-stop tour between New York and Los Angeles. Earlier that same year, Kirke appeared in “AWOL,” alongside Breeda Wool and directed by Deb Shoval, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Previously, Kirke appeared in Noah Baumbach’s “Mistress America,” opposite Greta Gerwig, and released by Fox Searchlight in 2015. Other credits include “Free the Nipple,” distributed by Sundance Selects, and as Greta in the David Fincher-directed blockbuster “Gone Girl.” Other film credits include “Another Happy Day,” “Reaching for the Moon,” “American Made” and “Fallen.” Her television credits include: “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Leftovers.” Additionally, Kirke starred, directed and wrote the short film project titled “My Rifle, My Baby, and Me.”

JULIAN MORRIS (“Andy Sterling”)
Actor Julian Morris has been building a body of work that expresses both his depth as an actor, and his strength as a leading man. He recently co-starred in two of the BBC’s prestigious mini-series; “Little Women” opposite Sir Michael Gambon, and “Man in the Orange Shirt” opposite Tony Award winner Vanessa Redgrave, the latter to air on PBS “Masterpiece Theatre.”
He last starred as acclaimed journalist, Bob Woodward, in Sony’s political drama ‘Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House,’ which premiered at the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. The film garnered critical reviews as its star Liam Neeson and producer Tom Hanks singled out Julian for his portrayal of the 1972 journalist.
In film, Morris has appeared alongside Academy Award winner Jon Voight in “Beyond,” opposite Tom Cruise in Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie,” starred in Universal’s hit genre thriller “Cry Wolf,” and led the cast of producer Kevin Costner’s film “Whirlygirl.” In 2012, Julian starred in and made the award circuits with the BAFTA / SXSW nominated movie, “Kelly + Victor” directed by Kieran Evans. In television, he is well-known for starring as the love interest on the top-rated series “New Girl” opposite Zooey Deschanel and starring opposite Ron Perlman in the critically acclaimed Amazon series “Hand of God,” produced and directed by Marc Forster.
Julian Morris began acting at the acclaimed Anna Scher Theatre in London. After training under Scher, he went on to spend three seasons with the Royal Shakespeare Company, shortly thereafter landing the lead role in the much-anticipated NBC series “Young Arthur.” Since moving to Los Angeles, he has been recognized in playing popular characters in successful shows: Agent Owen in “24,” as Dr. Andrew Wade in “ER,” as Prince Phillip in “Once Upon A Time,” and as in the original cast in “Pretty Little Liars,”
SHEILA VAND (Sheila)
An extremely busy actress, Sheila Vand stars in the 2018 Sundance Film Festival NEXT Award winner “We the Animals,” released this summer by Orchard Films. On television, Vand is one of the stars in TNT’s highly anticipated Snowpiercer series, in which she will appear opposite Jennifer Connelly this fall. She also recently completed production on “The Wave” with Donald Faison and Justin Long, and “Highway” with Lucy Fry and Josh Hartnett. This past April, Vand appeared opposite Jon Hamm, Jenny Slate and Zachary Quinto in Brian Shoaf’s psychological thriller “Aardvark,” and starred in the indie sci-fi thriller “Prospect,” which made a splash at SXSW 2018.

In 2014, Vand made a splash when she starred as “The Girl” in the award-winning cult hit “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” after earlier garnering rave reviews playing “Sahar” in Ben Affleck’s Academy Award-winning Warner Bros feature “Argo.” Previous film credits include Tina Fey’s “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” Ingrid Jungerman’s indie caper “Women Who Kill,” and St. Vincent’s 2017 Sundance hit “XX.” Previous television credits include co-starring opposite Corey Hawkins in “24: Legacy,” starring opposite Katherine Heigl in NBC’s “State of Affairs,” a recurring role in Fox’s “Minority Report” and starring in the CBS/Shawn Ryan pilot “Beverly Hills Cop.”
A multi-media artist, Vand made her Broadway debut opposite Robin Williams as “Hadja” in Rajiv Joseph’s Pulitzer Prize finalist “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” she starred in the Disney Hall’s Tenth Anniversary LA Philharmonic staging of Frank Zappa’s “200 Motels” for Esa Pekka Salonen, had her original performance piece “Sneaky Nietzsche” mounted at LACMA, and cocreated the award-winning visual art series “MILK: what will you make of me?” with TED fellow Alexa Meade, which toured throughout Europe. This series served as the inspiration for Ariana Grande’s recent music video for “GOD Is A Woman,” on which Grande worked with Vand and Meade.

ADEPERO ODUYE (“Keesha”)
Adepero Oduye has emerged as one of the most exciting African American multihyphenates working today. After an auspicious film debut in Dee Rees’ critically- acclaimed “Pariah,” which garnered her nominations for Independent Spirit and NAACP Image Awards, Oduye continued the momentum of working in critically-lauded projects helmed by A-list directors by appearing in such films as Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” Ava Duvernay’s “The Door,” and Oren Moverman’s “The Dinner” opposite Richard Gere, Steve Coogan and Laura Linney, which premiered to fantastic reviews and was nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear (Best Film) at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival.
Oduye is also an accomplished theater actress who made her Broadway debut in the acclaimed revival of Horton Foote’s “A Trip to Bountiful” opposite Cecily Tyson, and most recently starred in the New York Theatre Workshop’s off-Broadway production of “Her Portmanteau.”
Oduye wrote and directed the short ‘To Be Free,” which highlights the famed Nina Simone finding a moment of freedom through music. It was shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer, Bradford Young and premiered at the Atlanta Film Festival. It was also screened at the Athens International Film and Video Festival, the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. Additionally, her first short, “Breaking In,” appeared in such film festivals as Louisiana’s Cinema On The Bayou Film Festival where it won the 2015 Inspiration Award, Harlem International Film Fest 2015 where it won for Best Short and BAM’s New Voices in Black Cinema Film Festival.

AMIR MALAKLOU (“Reza”)
Since making his feature film debut in a bit part in the Oscar-winning “Argo,” Amir Malaklou has earned roles in films like Billy Ray’s “Secret in their Eyes” and TV series such as “The Fosters” and “Doubt.” He’ll soon be seen in Adam McKay’s “Backseat” and Marvel’s “Captain Marvel.”

 

MARYAM KESHAVARZ (Director-Screenwriter)
Maryam Keshavarz received her MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in film direction and has been making award-winning films for 11 years. Her first feature documentary, “The Color of Love,” an intimate portrait of the changing landscape of love and politics in Iran, won numerous awards at top-tier festivals and was broadcast internationally. Her short film “The Day I Died” garnered top accolades at Mar del Plata, Clermont-Ferrand, New York Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival; and was the only short film at Berlinale to win two awards: the Gold Teddy and the Jury Prize.
Keshavarz’ first narrative feature fiction film, “Circumstance,” premiered to overwhelming critical acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, garnering the coveted Sundance Audience Award, leading to Maryam’s inclusion in Deadline.com’s 2011 Director’s to Watch. The film has won over a dozen international awards including Best First Film at the Rome Film Festival and the Audience & Best Actress Awards at Outfest. The Independent Spirit Award nominated film was described by the New York Times as “swirling and sensuous”, by the Wall Street Journal as “supremely cinematic”, and by the Hollywood Reporter as “amazingly accomplished.” The film released theatrically in the US by Participant Media and Roadside Attractions, and went on to be distributed internationally in over a dozen countries.
Keshavarz met award-winning playwright and composer Jonathan Mastro while they were taking a “Politics of Shakespeare” course as undergrads at Northwestern University. After a decade of attending each other’s films and plays, the two Northwestern alums decided to collaborate on the script for “Viper Club.” Keshavarz is also developing the gender-bending, genre defying, historically epic musical film “The Last Harem,” with co-writer Paolo Marinou-Blanco. For this insanely ambitious project, she has garnered several high profile awards for the project including the Hearst Screenwriters Grant, the San Francisco Film Society/ KRF Screenwriting Award, the prestigious Creative Capital Fund, and invitation to the Yaddo Writers Residency. She also recently sold a pilot to BBC America, entitled “2030.”

JONATHAN MASTRO (Screenwriter)
“Viper Club” is Jonathan Mastro’s first produced feature. He has worked extensively in the theatre, as an actor, playwright, musician, conductor and composer, with collaborators ranging from Chicago’s The Second City and avant-garde legends the Neo-Futurists, to MacArthur “genius grant” recipients Julie Taymor and David Cromer, to Broadway legend Harold Prince.

His long, fruitful collaboration with Maryam Keshavarz includes serving as Story Editor for her debut feature “Circumstance,” which won the Sundance Audience Award in 2011. Among his current projects are “The Veer,” a series about a hyper-addictive virtual reality technology; “Leaves,” a limited series about Walt Whitman’s Civil War experiences; “Mac”, a thriller about a former child star; and “The Lease”, a horror-comedy co-written with “The Opposition”’s Laura Grey.

ANNA GERB (Producer)
Anna Gerb is currently in post-production on J.C. Chandor’s film “Triple Frontier” for Netflix and the indie film “Run This Town” starring Ben Platt and Damian Lewis. Gerb produced Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year,” starring Oscar Isaac & Jessica Chastain which was nominated for a Golden Globe and three Independent Spirit Awards. She also produced Chandor’s “All is Lost” starring Robert Redford, and she co-produced his film “Margin Call,” both of which were nominated for Academy Awards and Independent Spirit Awards.  Gerb was executive producer-head of production at Washington Square Films in New York, where she oversaw film, television, and commercial productions. Back in her native Canada, she produced the film “Blood,” directed by Jerry Ciccoritti, nominated for Genie & DGC Awards, and she produced James Hyslop’s documentary “Me, Myself and the Devil” for the CBC.

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