There are just about as many ways to get an independent movie made as there are independent movies, and screenwriter Steve Zotnowski had one of the more unusual production experiences along the way to seeing his script “Barefoot” turned into a film.
A day-and-date release that hit theaters and online outlets like iTunes on February 21, “Barefoot” is about the ne’er-do-well son of a wealthy family (Jay Wheeler, played by Scott Speedman) who has a chance encounter with an escaped psychiatric patient raised in isolation her entire life (Daisy Kensington, played by Evan Rachel Wood). He decides to bring her home for his brother’s wedding, thinking that he will use her to show his family that he is no longer a black sheep, but along the way they fall in love.
This isn’t the first time Zotnowski’s script has hit the silver screen, though: He courted some interest from a foreign filmmaker before selling the script to an independent production company in LA in the early 2000s. Then the worst case scenario happened: That company went bankrupt.
Zotnowski recalls: “So I think of course my screenplay, which I love, is not only not going to be made, but will never be made. It always bothered me that it happened. I felt that one should have been made. But little did I know that after my wife and I moved from LA to Chico, [in northern California], it was being made.”
“Barefoot,” the First Version
He was never even notified that the first version of “Barefoot” was in production. “I didn’t know,” Zotnowski says. “I didn’t Google myself. I’m not that kind of person. So by pure chance, someone tells me in 2005 that the movie has been made. They were in Europe and saw the film.”
He adds: “Somehow this foreign filmmaker got the script from [the bankrupt production company]. He purchased it from them without me knowing. So he made it and it was a huge hit, but I had no idea. I was in the Writers Guild, and that began a process. We had to sue. It took about three years to settle, and we settled in 2008.
“The Guild has told me that to their knowledge, this has never happened before in the history of movies. Normally it’s the other way around: It gets made elsewhere and someone in the US buys the rights to remake it here.”
“Barefoot,” the Second Version
During the settlement negotiations, Zotnowski had an idea: “I asked my lawyer if we could buy the rights back to get it remade in English, and [the foreign filmmakers] were thrilled with that. I think that they figured it would never get made anyway.”
That was the beginning of a new odyssey, though, as Zotnowski explains: “Then the journey of getting the movie made here began. We had great people attached and then fall away, and interest from some producers, and then it fell apart. And then it was almost financed and not financed. That took three years.
“At one point Garry Marshall was going to direct it, but personal things happened and he couldn’t do it. When he was involved, some big financial people were interested.”
Finally, Zotnowski experienced the success that had eluded him for several years: “I had a producing partner, and he finally got through people he knew to an independent financier. They financed the film and we shot it in New Orleans during the summer of 2012. I was there for about a week. I was there just to experience it, and it was a great experience, especially since it had happened once without me.”
Comparing his script to the first European version, Zotnowski observes: “The other version is completely the same movie, and yet it’s completely different. I love the film. The music, the cinematography, it’s all fantastic. They changed tons of stuff and yet changed nothing. It’s so bizarre. It’s my movie, but some of the dialogue is exactly on the nose and a lot of it is different. The beats are there in the story, but they had to change some things because of the geography in Europe – scenes on a plane became scenes on a train, for example.”
A Day-and-Date Release
While the first version of “Barefoot” went the traditional route from theaters to home video, this one takes advantage of a new day-and-date trend that see movies hit theaters and online outlets on the same day.
Zotnowski says: “Day-and-date is a new thing. We’re on the cusp of so many changes in the film business. You would have never dreamed such a thing would happen. It used to be, it would come out in the theater, and then three months later, video, and then so many months later, foreign TV, and now the world is one place.
“We’ve seen Blockbuster get rid of the mom-and-pop video stores and Netflix get rid of Blockbuster. Day-and-date is such a new thing that there isn’t a lot of research into it, but what’s out there has shown that it doesn’t really hurt the box office. People who want to see the movie in the theater will find it, and people who want to sit at home with their Xbox or whatever will watch it that way. And maybe they don’t even know it’s in the theater.”
He adds: “The indie film market is so crowded that to even get a small theatrical release isn’t easy. So iTunes and things like that let all films get seen. We’re at this complete change in the industry. It’s hard to believe how fast it all happened.”