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Director Martin Guigui Reels Out His Wish List 

State of the Arts

Published January 17, 2007 at 5:13 p.m.

As a P.T. Barnum of the movie industry, director Martin Guigui has spent a decade imbuing the circus that is cinema with his ebullient, entrepreneurial spirit. These days the former Vermonter operates Sunset Pictures, a production company on L.A.'s fabled Sunset Boulevard. His wife, actress Dahlia Waingort, is a partner in the venture. They have a 15-month-old daughter named Esther Frida and are expecting another baby girl in May. "We're turning out little Guiguiettes," says the proud papa, who is still a rock musician as well.

Guigui, now 41, also can boast five finished films, with another 17 on the company's to-do list; their budgets range from $3 to $9 million. "Our stockholders made their money in oil, gas and gold," he explains. "This is a business like none other. It's all about who you know that likes you. But the ability to tell a great story is what makes all the doors open here."

Guigui's own story launched his big-screen career in 1997. The autobiographical Wedding Band, a raunchy comedy shot in Burlington, has become something of a video cult favorite; the title was changed to My Ex-Girlfriend's Wedding Reception so as not to be confused with Adam Sander's Wedding Singer.

Guigui relocated to California and was hired to helm Changing Hearts, a 2002 drama with Faye Dunaway. Jacqueline Bisset appears in 2003's Swing. Guigui notes that the recently completed Benny Bliss & the Disciples of Greatness is previewing this month at Utah's Park City Film Music Festival, which coincides with the last few days of the nearby Sundance extravaganza.

His National Lampoon's Cattle Call,Fsis a parody of the casting process, is due for a nationwide March release. Around the same time, he'll begin shooting Sweetwater, a biopic about the first African-American basketball player signed by the NBA. And Guigui fantasizes about Queen Latifah playing the commander-in-chief in Sister President, which would open during the 2008 election.

In addition, he's collaborating with Burlington litigation attorney Bob Manchester, who pitched an idea to Guigui and Waingort in 2001. They encouraged him to tackle the script, titled Alienation of Affection.

"It's about one of the most amazing cases of the last century," suggests Manchester, who researched 1200 pages of legal briefs and news articles published in the early 1920s. "Dorrit Stevens was the wife of Douglas Woodhouse, whose grandfather started the Merchants Bank. In a five-week trial, she sued her in-laws for destroying the marriage."

A Queen City jury of 12 men, seven of them farmers, heard testimony that the wealthy Woodhouses didn't think Dorrit was their son's social equal.

Guigui, himself, might become the target of a lawsuit, if he proceeds with another project on his wish list - In Search of the Perfect Woman, which the Sunset Pictures website attributes to Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni.

When Franzoni was still struggling to get his career off the ground about three decades ago, Steve Powers - an infamous character in the entertainment world - hired the Rutland native to tell his life story. "He had been involved in a number of questionable investment deals that made him wealthy, and these 'deals' linked him with some famous and notorious rip-off artists," Franzoni recalls in an email. "And, he was constantly chasing Playboy bunnies . . . It was an interesting script and I had to take the deadbeat to court to get paid. He then, I was told a few years back, hired a succession of writers until I have no idea what the script really is . . . If the film were ever made I doubt my name would remain after an arbitration - which I would insist on."

Guigui's presumably less controversial involvements with his Green Mountain State homies include Jeezum Crow, the saga of two agricultural brothers for which he held Burlington auditions in 2000.

Also on the back burner is The Vermont, which would chronicle the first successful automobile trip across America, accomplished by Burlington's Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson in 1903. Guigui says he had already acquired the feature rights before Ken Burns' 2003 PBS documentary on the pioneering physician.

Arguably, the most surprising desideratum on the Sunset Pictures agenda is Raging Bull II, a prequel covering the formative years of boxer Jake LaMotta not addressed in Martin Scorsese's 1980 classic. "I've spoken to LaMotta," Guigui reports. "He said that where the rage came from has not yet been told."

Where Guigui's persistence, dreams and schemes come from is a mystery perhaps revealed in Between You and Me, the how-to-survive-Hollywood book he says he's penning. "I like getting knocked down and getting back up," acknowledges the indefatigable showman. "It makes you that much stronger."

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Susan Green


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