Last film Anna Nicole Smith stirs new controversy

Last film Anna Nicole Smith stirs new controversy even as producer angles for U.S. theaters and Cannes Festival
By Alex Ben Block for Hollywood Today
anna-nicole-in-last-film-illegal-aliens.jpgAnna Nicole in last film illegal aliens

HOLLYWOOD, CA. (rushprnews) 3/7/07 – It isn’t out for nearly two months but there is already controversy swirling around promotion of Anna Nicole Smith’s final movie performance in the low budget indie comedy “Illegal Aliens,” especially the involvement of her co-star Joanie “Chyna” Lauer.

As plans are being formulated to promote the May 1 video release, a revived limited theatrical release and an out-of-competition screening at the Cannes Film Festival, director David Giancola says he doesn’t think Lauer should do any more publicity. He says that Lauer wasn’t a friend of Smith.

“I know she was feuding with Anna Nicole Smith before she died,” Giancola, 34, told Hollywood Today on Wednesday.

Giancola also said he wasn’t sure Lauer would be up to PR chores in any case, due to what he described as her problems with substance abuse problems: “I’m not sure if she will be ready because of her own demons,” he added. “She was sober when we made the movie.”

Lauer’s manager, Anthony Anzaldo of Good Guy Entertainment, said he was surprised and distressed by the director’s comments. He said Lauer never claimed to be a great friend of Smith, and has only attempted to express that she was sympathetic and could identify. “She is not fighting her demons,” said Anzaldo. “She will promote the movie.”

Ed Baran, a Los Angeles publicist for the movie, also said Lauer will do promotion.
Anzaldo said that Lauer does take the prescription drug Xanex (Alprazolam), but that “it is not a problem.”

Lauer, known as Chyna when she was a pro wrestler (with the World Wrestling Federation from 1997 to 2001), as the other above the title star in the science fiction satire which cost between $3 million and $4 million to make, would naturally be expected to do publicity for the film now that Smith is gone.

In addition to salary, Lauer was given a small profit participation in the movie to ensure that she would be available to do press tied to the release, according to Giancola. She had already done a flurry of publicity late last summer and fall, including appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Howard Stern,” “Queer Edge” and “Opie and Anthony.”

smith-with-soren-and-jimenez-in-illegal-aliens.jpgSmith with Soren and Jimenez in illegal aliens

However, Giancola, who operates from his own full service studio in Rutland, Vermont, said he wants to avoid any recurrence of what happened on the Larry King show on CNN the day Smith died. On air, Lauer looked visibly upset and said with regards to Smith’s death that she “knew it was coming.” Lauer drew comparisons with her own battles with the media over her image. She said Smith used to ask her to hang out together on the set.

That brought a sharp retort on air from Monique Goen, wife of TrimSpa CEO Alex Goen, who told King that Smith did not consider Lauer a friend. Ms. Goen said Lauer was using Smith death to generate publicity for herself, to which Laurer replied that she didn’t need the publicity because, “I get my own.”

“Frankly because of what she said on ‘Larry King’ it is not likely we will want to put her out there,” says Giancola. “I’m not sure if she will do any promotion at all…She has two new young managers, and I don’t think she was well served by them letting her go on obviously intoxicated.”

Lauer never claimed to be a close friend of Smith and was just being sympathetic on the Larry King Show when she was attacked by the other guests, responds Anzaldo. “I was with her (at the King taping),” says Anzaldo. “She was not doing well that day because of personal issues not having to do with Anna Nicole…(She) was attacked by people on the panel and just kind of lost where she was.”

Anzaldo says that Lauer will definitely attend a planned premiere, to be held in either New York City or Los Angeles, in late April or early May. He said that he did not know about the screening for international buyers at Cannes in May, and was unsure if Lauer would make that trip.

Before Smith’s death, according to Giancola, the plan was to have a limited theatrical release for “Illegal Aliens” before it went to video. That plan was put on hold first by the death of Anna Nicole’s son Daniel, and then by the death of Smith herself.

Giancola said the plan now is to do a four-wall engagement in a movie theater for a week or two just before the video release. He said they are considering doing it at the Tribeca Theater in New York City. A four-wall release means the producers rent the theater themselves, typically for a flat fee, and then show the movie and retain any proceeds.

Giancola’s company Edgewater Studios will be in charge of the limited theatrical release, while MTI Video in Miami will be doing the domestic video and ancillary market release and Artist View Entertainment of Studio City, California will handle international sales of the movie. Giancola says all three are small companies he chose because he had confidence in them, and that this will be the biggest movie ever handled by any of the three entities.

There are also plans for several benefit screenings. One will be a benefit in Rutland, Vermont, to support restoration of the local Paramount Theater. There will also be a benefit screening for a music archive called Big Heavy Wood in Burlington, Vermont.

Giancola recalled how Smith became involved with his project, a comedy meant to be a spoof on genre films. In the film, three aliens come to earth and take the form of super models because “hot chicks have it easy,” according to the director.

chyna-lauer-no-friend-of-smith-onscreen-or-off.jpgChyna Lauer no friend of Smith onscreen or off

He said it was his idea during a casting session to have Smith star and then he was surprised when his casting person came back to him and said she was interested. His friends and associates thought casting Smith was a bad idea, he recalls, but he went with his instinct and said he wanted to work with her.

A few days later Giancola got a call from Smith’s attorney and fiancé Howard K. Stern, who said that not only was Smith considering starring, but that she also wanted her son Daniel to be involved in the production, and that she wanted to invest in the movie. He told the director they would also have some notes on the script.

The role was a departure for Smith, because she was not required to disrobe or do any nudity. Giancola says he expects the movie to get a PG-13 rating. “If people want to see Anna Nicole Smith nude,” says Giancola, “then there’s none of that at all. This is a very different Anna Nicole. A more mature Anna.”

Smith, who was very thin when the film was shot, was very excited about playing a straight comedic part, he adds: “She thought it would change her career.”

During pre-production, Giancola received a script with revisions from Smith and Stern. At first, he says he was angry and refused to look at it. Then his friend and Vermont neighbor John James, star of the soap opera “All My Children,” who is Executive Producer and has a role in “Illegal Aliens,” urged him to read her changes. He remembers being floored at how smart and right they were. She had altered the script to make her own role more of a satire on her life, which Giancola loved. He called Stern, and “I ate crow.”

Giancola says there was also improvising on the set by Smith and others. He calls the film “Mel Brooks meets Monty Python,” and adds that “we broke down the fourth wall…It was a lot of fun.” (Fourth wall is a reference to speaking directly across the camera to the audience, not staying strictly in the fiction of the narrative).

anna-nicole-to-finally-rip.jpgChyna Lauer no friend of Smith onscreen or off

The film wrapped principal photography just before Smith appeared at the U.S. Supreme Court in her legal case over the estate of her late husband in May 2006. Giancola says the post-production has taken over a year because there are 427 special effects shots.

The initial investment in the movie was made by Smith in Daniel’s name, according to Giancola, and Daniel was named an Associate Producer. After Daniel’s death, his interest in the film passed to Anna Nicole herself. Now it will go to her baby Dani-Lynn, but not right away. Giancola says he is waiting for all the legal actions to be settled to see who is the ultimate legal guardian of the infant, before he transfers the interest in the film again.

Giancola says he was approached by a number of “mini major” movie companies who wanted to put Illegal Aliens into theaters immediately for a short run to capitalize on the huge wave of publicity. The director says he turned them down because the deals weren’t right and he didn’t think it was the appropriate way to release the film. He wanted to wait until May and do it in a way he considered in keeping with Smith’s spirit and legacy.

Giancola says it is now his mission to make sure the movie finds it audience. He personally plans to do extensive publicity, and says other cast members will also be doing PR chores including Lenise Soren and Gladys Jimenez.

“It is my fiduciary responsibility to little Dannielynn,” says Giancola seriously, “to make sure the film is as successful as possible — finally.”