We thought for sure we’d get a free glass of chardonnay, what with Chris Lehane making a movie. A chance to see his star, Rob Lowe, in the preternaturally dewy flesh, at least?
But sadly, there’s been no big D.C. rollout for the new indie comedy “Knife Fight,” despite all its impeccable Washington connections — the story of a cutthroat political strategist (Lowe) and the debut screenplay by cutthroat political strategist Lehane. (“To win in politics,” Lowe’s character tells a potential candidate, “you have to be the type of person who brings a gun to a knife fight.”) You’ll have to settle for your own red-carpet premiere at home: Concurrent with a brief theatrical release in New York and L.A. last week, “Knife Fight” is now available via cable channel IFC’s On Demand.
Yet Lehane — a veteran of the Clinton White House and the 2000 Gore presidential campaign — isn’t disappointed by the quiet release. It’s simply a new business model for indie films, which can make more money in DVDs and cable and airplane rights than in multiplexes.
“The economics really work if you’re able to keep it at a certain cost level and get talent that finds the script interesting,” he told us.
Lehane’s unlikely route to Hollywood began with a friendship with director Bill Guttentag, winner of two documentary Oscars, who years ago sought unsuccessfully to get his cameras into the backroom of a campaign Lehane was running.
In 2009, Guttentag pitched him again: How about a fictional take on elections? They began collaborating on a TV pilot that became a movie when big investors got interested. Although it was his first time writing anything longer than a 60-second political ad, Lehane says he found filmmaking reminiscent of campaign work.
“You launch an idea and work with a group of folks in a fairly intense atmosphere — and then it’s over,” he said. “And then you have a product that half the people like and half the people don’t.”
The strategist in the movie juggles clients ranging from a philandering Kentucky governor (Eric McCormack) to a naive first-time candidate (Carrie-Anne Moss) to a war-hero senator accused of crossing a line with a masseuse. . . . Hey, wait a minute! Didn’t your old boss Al Gore deal with something like that?
“We wrote this before any of that [story] was published!” Lehane said. “That was the odd thing!”
But coincidences piled up as they filmed in mid-2011, the Year of the Sex Scandal. The day they shot a scene where the governor’s wife warns she won’t stand by her man was the same day as the famous Anthony Weiner confessional news conference. Other highlights: a manic cameo from our former colleague Howard Kurtz as a hyper-competitive reporter (“When I heard about this story, I had a blogasm!”), a subtler one by GOP strategist Steve Schmidt.
And Lowe — how true to life is his character? Lehane laughed. “As my wife said, ‘No one in the world will ever think it’s based on reality given how much better-looking he is than you.’ ”
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