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Tuesday, September 16, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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'Made-Up' distribution deal eludes Shalhoub

Special to The Seattle Times

Near the end of the film "Made-Up," a mockumentary about aging and ambition, Elizabeth (Brooke Adams) is asked what she wants from life, and, after pausing to reflect, she responds, "I want to be seen."

Elizabeth's wish for herself is first-time director Tony Shalhoub's wish for the film: He wants it to be seen.

Filmed two years ago on a $500,000 budget in just 3-1/2 weeks, "Made-Up" (screening through Thursday at Galleria 11) played small film festivals across the country, where it piled up awards: Best Independent Feature at Santa Barbara, the Audience Award at South by Southwest and New Haven, and Best of the Fest at Northampton.

What it didn't get was a distribution deal, and therein lies the usual tale of Hollywood greed and myopia. "Made-Up" is a smart, multilayered film, but it doesn't have major stars, and it's about a subject Hollywood goes out of its way to avoid: aging women. That the movie treats this subject with humor, and that it's better than 90 percent of the movies that do get distribution deals, doesn't factor in. Instead, distributors are rejecting it, according to Shalhoub, because of a triumvirate of misperceptions.

One: They feel that "Made-Up" is exclusively for older, baby-boomer women.

Two: They feel that older, baby-boomer women don't see films on opening weekends.

And three: If a movie can't open well, they're not interested. It's as if "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" never happened.

So how is "Made-Up" being distributed?

"You're looking at it," Shalhoub said, sitting at a table in the Bellevue Galleria Square, where passersby did double-takes and nudged each other upon spotting the star of the cable TV series "Monk" and films such as "Big Night," "Men in Black" and "The Man Who Wasn't There."

"And that's why we're here," he added. "We want to start a grassroots movement around the country that will begin to spread. And hopefully some distributor — with vision — will realize that it's a viable product that can generate revenue, and they will get behind it and give it a wider release." He held up his hands. "I don't know how else to do it."

The reason "Made-Up" — and Shalhoub — came to Bellevue in the first place is about as grassroots as you can get. Last year, Lynn Chapman, a retail manager for a children's clothing store in Spokane, was researching film festivals and kept running across this audience-award winner. She went to its Web site, saw a preview, and e-mailed the production company to find out more. When she finally saw the film, she wondered "Why isn't this out?" and, with no background at all in film distribution, helped book it for a week in both Spokane and Bellevue, and arranged for visits for Shalhoub, star Brooke Adams (Shalhoub's wife), and Brooke's sister, Lynne Adams, the film's screenwriter, co-producer and co-star.

"I just know the Northwest will get behind it," Chapman said.

Well, yes and no. The film did well in Spokane, where it played at a local AMC theater. But with minimal radio advertising, only a few dozen people showed up to the Saturday-night screening in Bellevue. Even so, Shalhoub, 49, a Green Bay, Wis., native, introduced the film and entertained afterward during a lengthy question-and-answer session, talking about everything from the current videotaping craze ("People are documenting their lives, they're not experiencing their lives") to his disdain for hip movies ("I tried to make a square movie").

"We can't just bury it," Shalhoub said about his film. "We haven't got to the point where, 'Oh, straight to video.' This movie needs to be seen in a theater, on a big screen, with people sitting next to each other and hearing laughter."

For a week, anyway, in Spokane and Bellevue, Shalhoub is getting his wish: "Made-Up" is being seen.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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