Hard Eight Perhaps it's his Texas roots, but local writer/ director/actor J.P. Allen is not one to let the grass grow under his feet. Just five months ago, his black-and-white, dialogue-rich debut, Coffee and Language, premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival to good reviews but little commercial interest. "Coffee and Language was almost like a collection of still photographs, and the language created the visuals," Allen says. "It's all about the act of communication itself and the power of the word to create connection." Although a theatrical run isn't in the cards for Coffee, a cable deal is brewing.
Allen's not letting a little thing like lack of distribution stop him, though. His next feature, Gambling, most of which will be shot in San Francisco, should be more ambitious visually, expressing shifts in time by blending 16 and 35mm film with hi-def digital video. Most of the film takes place in a hotel, augmented by additional scenes shot in the desert outside Las Vegas and the wilderness above Lake Tahoe. The indie film commences production April 5.
Allen originally wrote Gambling as a full-length monologue that he performed in Vancouver and L.A. in 1996. He subsequently expanded it into a novel of the same title, published in 2001, which he then adapted for the screen. Allen's lengthy theater background may explain why he advocates spending a lot of time on the text -- and taking an enormous amount of care in casting. "On a low-budget film, you can't hide behind the production values, so the acting, writing, and directing skills make or break it," he explains. Allen the actor hasn't settled on what part he'll play in Gambling, but his wife, Janis DeLucia Allen, will co-produce, play the lead, and edit, repeating the triple play she pulled off for Coffee.
Burden of Dreams Francis Ford Coppola declined an offer to head the Venice International Film Festival, shortly after Martin Scorsese did likewise. ... The cast of Peter Greenaway's The Tulse Luper Suitcases, an ambitious trilogy of two-hour films that begins shooting in England in March, includes local thespian and '80s heartthrob Don Johnson. ... Beau Bonneau Casting is casting extras for The Hulk, filming here in April. Registration is free from 2 to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 84 First St.; details are at www.beaubonneaucasting.com. ... Longtime Chronicle entertainment writers Peter Stack and Bob Graham recently took buyouts for an unspecified sum as part of a winnowing of the Datebook section's staff. Stack in particular will be missed, an old-school newspaperman with a cut-to-the-chase writing style spiked with a barbed wit. He was taken off the film beat a year ago when the post-merger Chron was hip deep in critics; his last review was of 3,000 Miles to Graceland. Ain't that a heck of a way to go out?