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Going Hollywood suits indie director Winick

He directs the new film ‘13 Going on 30’ starring Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo.
/ Source: Reuters

Movie director and producer Gary Winick has arrived — in Hollywood, that is. For fans of independent film, that statement may seem odd.

Winick and his InDigEnt film production company have been major players in art house cinemas for years, but Friday he goes Hollywood when Columbia Pictures debuts romantic comedy “13 Going on 30,” which he directed.

Starring Jennifer Garner, “13 Going on 30” is the 43-year-old director’s first high-profile Hollywood flick. He aimed to make big movies when he started his career some 20 years ago, but never had the chance. In a twist of fate, it was the world of low-budget digital films that finally earned him a pass inside a major studio’s gates.

“The dreams that I’ve had,” Winick said wistfully, before pausing to reflect. “To now direct a movie that people seem to like, and I’ll probably get another chance to do it.”

“This has been the year,” he said. “Life works out.”

Dreams, fate, life working out and taking second chances are main themes in “13 Going on 30,” in which Garner portrays a 13-year-old girl living in a 30 year-old woman’s body.

Garner, the star of TV’s “Alias,” who has begun moving her career into movies, portrays Jenna Rink, New York-based editor of a fashion magazine.

At 13, however, Jenna is a gawky, brainy preteen who desperately wants to hang with the hip “six chicks” that dress like Madonna and are led by the school’s queen of cool, Lucy.

Jenna and her best friend Matt Flamhaff are geeks, but Jenna is so determined to be a seventh member of the “six chicks” that she invites Lucy and Lucy’s friends to her 13th birthday party.

Banished from the basementOnce there, the group banishes Matt from Jenna’s basement bash and tricks Jenna into hiding in a closet where the boy she adores will come to kiss her. But the six chicks leave Jenna alone in the wardrobe, waiting for the boy who never appears.

Humiliated, Jenna wishes she could just skip her teens and instantly be “30, flirty and thriving” like the women in her favorite magazine “Poise.” When she emerges from the closet, that is exactly who little Jenna Rink has become.

At 30 years old, Jenna is a top editor at “Poise,” and her best friend is the adult Lucy (Judy Greer). But adult Jenna is a back-stabbing executive. The size of her ego is eclipsed only by the size of her wardrobe. She dates a hunky hockey player.

But after her wish comes true, 13-year-old Jenna doesn’t understand who the new, older Jenna is. To learn what happened in the past 17 years, Jenna seeks out Matt (Mark Ruffalo), whom she hasn’t seen since school.

Matt sets the record straight. Jenna learned how to become cool while mimicking the six chicks and abandoned him. She got everything she wanted, except love. It is up to young Jenna to set old Jenna’s life right.

If the story’s premise sounds like standard Hollywood fare, it is. Tom Hanks did it in 1988’s “Big.”

But as show business newspaper Daily Variety writes in its review of “13 Going on 30,” “Winick does a nifty job of bringing a fresh spin to most of the script’s cliches.”

Indie story, Hollywood detailWhat Winick offers is an independent film veteran’s sense of what the movie’s premise can evolve into if the story is emphasized over Hollywood movie-making magic.

His experience also tells him, however, that without the attention to detail that Hollywood brings, it is hard to make a film that mass audiences will go to see, which was his original goal — offering stories to broad groups of people.

“Now, I had the opportunity to work on the story ... and get all the detail,” Winick said. “Instead of being locked-in to a room that was all I could afford, we built a room that I could make any size and shape I wanted.”

It is not that InDigEnt makes films people don’t want to see. Romantic comedy “Tadpole,” which Winick directed, and drama “Personal Velocity” were winners at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. And this year, InDigEnt-backed “November” earned the Sundance cinematographer award for Nancy Schreiber.

But low-budget films rarely get the marketing support of major releases like “13 Going on 30.” As a result, fewer theaters play them.

Winick worked hard to get to this point. He didn’t become famous overnight or get plucked from film school and taken to the studio lot like Steven Spielberg.

After studying at Los Angeles’ American Film Institute in the 1980s, he kicked around getting some experience, grew frustrated and nearly quit. He moved home to New York.

Partnering with attorney John Sloss and winning backing from cable TV’s Independent Film Channel, Winick formed InDigEnt in 1999 to let filmmakers explore the art of filmmaking using inexpensive digital production. The success of ”Tadpole” made him a director to watch.

It costs InDigEnt about $300,000 to produce, edit and ready a digital film for theaters. On the $37 million budget of “13 Going on 30,” Winick could have made 123 digital movies. Far fewer people, however, would see them.

“People say to get the Hollywood movie, you have to put up with all the bull---- that goes with that,” Winick said. “Maybe 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to ... Yes, you do have to do it a little differently, but that doesn’t mean you compromise. That doesn’t mean I’m selling out.”