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Gary Winick, director and digital filmmaker, dies at 49

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By Valerie J. Nelson
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 10:35 PM

Gary Winick, 49, a producer and director of independent digital films who found mainstream success with such movies as "13 Going on 30" and "Letters to Juliet," died Feb. 27 at a hospital in New York. He had brain cancer.

When Mr. Winick went to the Sundance Film Festival in 2002, he didn't even have an agent. He screened the sixth film he had directed, "Tadpole," a coming-of-age comedy made in two weeks with digital cameras for a reported $150,000.

After he earned the festival's directing award and Miramax paid $5 million for the distribution rights to "Tadpole," Hollywood came calling.

His first big-budget directing project was the 2004 fantasy-romantic comedy "13 Going on 30," a well-received Jennifer Garner vehicle about a 13-year-old girl who wakes up to discover that she is 30.

He followed that with "Charlotte's Web," a 2006 live-action version of the E.B. White children's story. Mr. Winick considered the film "the hardest thing I've ever done."

"Working with animals is cute for about 15 minutes, and then it becomes frustrating beyond belief," Mr. Winick told Denver's Rocky Mountain News in 2006. A total of 47 pigs were used to play Wilbur, the pig saved from slaughter, and it could take days to get a single shot.

After surgery for brain cancer, Mr. Winick directed his final film, "Letters to Juliet" (2010), a multigenerational romance road-trip movie starring Amanda Seyfried.

He also directed the 2009 revenge comedy "Bride Wars" with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.

The two-plus years that Mr. Winick spent making "Charlotte's Web" pulled his attention away from InDigEnt - for Independent Digital Entertainment - the all-digital production company that he co-founded in 1999. It became the industry's digital filmmaking leader.

With InDigEnt, Mr. Winick "saw an opportunity to attract young talent by marrying the rock-bottom economics of digital video with the creative intimacy of the medium," Patrick Goldstein wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

InDigEnt gained notice for such Winick-produced films as the comedy-drama "Pieces of April" (2003), which earned actress Patricia Clarkson an Oscar nomination.

Small digital cameras pull better performances out of actors, Mr. Winick contended.

"You really don't feel the presence of that big mechanism of film," he told The Washington Post in 2002. "Instead, you have this little plastic thing, which keeps falling on the floor."

Gary Scott Winick was born March 31, 1961, in New York City. After graduating from Tufts University in 1984, he continued to study filmmaking at the University of Texas at Austin and the American Film Institute.

In 1995, he gained attention for "Sweet Nothing," a cautionary crack-addiction tale that featured Mira Sorvino. A few years later, he made "The Tic Code," a drama about Tourette's syndrome.

Survivors include his fiancee, Emily McDonnell; his parents and his stepparents. His only sibling, his older brother, Mark, died in December after a heart attack.

- Los Angeles Times

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