Producer James Schamus Says Ang Lee's “Taking Woodstock” Will Capture “Hopeful Spirit” - Rolling Stone
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Producer James Schamus Says Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” Will Capture “Hopeful Spirit”

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm) and his producer partner James Schamus are dialing back to 1969 in their current project Taking Woodstock. Based on a true story, Demetri Martin stars as interior designer Elliot Tiber, who inadvertently played a pivotal role in Woodstock when he offered his family’s Catskills hotel to organizers as a home base, while his neighbor Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) offered his farm. The eclectic cast also includes Liev Schreiber, Paul Dano, Emile Hirsch and Zoe Kazan. “The cast is insanely fresh,” producer James Schamus told “It’s an amazing bunch of people. You look around and I can’t believe we’re getting away with this.”

The project marks a departure from the bleak territory that Lee has traditionally stalked. “We’ve had some very intense movies,” said Schamus, who adapted the screenplay for Taking Woodstock from a book by Elliot Tiber and Tom Monte. “This is about play and fun and has hopeful spirit.” And with two noted comedians in the leads, it promises to be funny. You can partially thank the producer’s young daughter for casting of Martin, the shaggy mop-topped comic whose few screen credits include guesting on Flight of the Conchords and The Daily Show. Schamus and his daughter had been casually scouting YouTube for talent and came across a clip of Martin’s mellowed-out act. “It was a chance for me to be a really hip dad, so I mentioned him,” Schamus said. “He’s great and really funny. What’s interesting is that he’s like a tsunami underneath calm water.”

As for the music, Schamus and Lee are trying to avoid cliches while still honoring time-tested material. “Ang and I are score-oriented,” Schamus said. “It’s in the early stages, but I can tell you it’s not going to the be the usual collection of obvious needle drops. It will be of the time, and of the spirit of the time. It’s whatever works dramatically.”

Taking Woodstock aims to reflect the social unrest of the 1960s, but also mirrors modern times, complete with a “disastrous imperial war and a corrupt government and people struggling to express themselves.” After producing a host of films, successful though serious-minded, Schamus and Lee were looking for a light-hearted project with humor, warmth and emotion. “It’s funny but it’s not cynical humor. Part of what we’re doing here is that it’s 40 years later but we’re not that much smarter. We have a lot to learn.”

Meanwhile, Schamus is keeping tight-lipped about plot specifics. As Martin’s character pinballs among the great unwashed masses, bouncing from one scene to another in some sort of Ulyssian hippie quest, he never quite makes it to the festival. Schamus would only reveal a brief glimpse of the wayward journey. “Put it this way,” he said. “He gets waylaid by an acid trip and a three-way.”

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