The Search for John Gissing. The new DVD by Mike Binder (Reign Over Me, The Upside of Anger) made the film festival rounds six years ago, but never wound up with a distribution deal even though the film featured a stellar cast including Alan Rickman, Janeane Garafalo, Juliet Stevenson, Frank Harper, and Mike Binder. This despite the fact that the film is extremely funny and is probably funnier than about 75% of the films released in the last decade.
The Search for John Gissing is an comedy that Mike wrote, directed, self-financed, and currently is being distributed independently on his website www.thefreebird.com
Set in London, the film follows Matthew Barnes (Binder) and his wife (Garafalo) as his job transfers him to London during a corporate change in management. Meanwhile John Gissing (Rickman) - the very person who was supposed to help Barnes - is trying to ruin him in order to save his own job. As they begin to realize what Gissing is up to, they decide to strike back as well and the result is a hilarious look at the dog eat dog world of the corporate world.
The DVD includes commentary from Mike Binder and his editor Roger Nygard. What makes this commentary so interesting is that it was basically the first time the two had watched the film in many years so some of the scenes brought back memories leading to stories and others were scenes they hardly even remembered.
The cast of The Search For John Gissing is tremendous. Many are very well known actors in British films and on the British stage. Even though the chemistry was great for this film, Binder plans to reshoot the film under the name The Multi-National. The cast would largely change, but he says he would like to bring Alan Rickman back for the John Gissing role. The main reason for redoing the film would be to be able to tell the story with a larger budget and be able to distribute it in theaters.
"I think with the original distribution, it was just the wrong time for it," said Mike Binder. "I think that if it had come out a couple of years later it could have worked. It came out during a time when the only independent movies were either really arty or really violent. There weren't comedies down the middle like Waitress or Little Miss Sunshine.
"It got great reviews at festivals - we had plenty of pages of reviews to show distributors. I just think that they thought it was a real tweener. It wasn't an art-house movie and it wasn't a big studio movie. I think I learned that you kind of have to be in one camp or another."
Binder shot the film on a budget of less than three million dollars. The entire thing (with the exception of a few quick shots at the airport) was shot in and around one building. Mike's brother Jack found the building while scouting around London.
"I don't think we could have pulled that movie off without finding that," he added.
The set designers did an incredible job utilizing that one building to its fullest. It was used for everything from corporate offices to a bank to a four star hotel. In each case, you would never have guessed it was the same building. It will be interesting to see what they can accomplish with a much larger budget.
"Sometimes movies just have their own life," said Binder. "I'm a guy that really feels that things happen the way they're supposed to happen. I had a great time making this movie and I'm really proud of it. I just want to do it again, only better. So, I'm kind of glad it hasn't been out too much."
You can order The Search For John Gissing online at www.thefreebird.com. The film is highly reccomended for fans of British comedies or plays by Neil Simon.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.