Kid stuff

Kid stuff

Juvenile. That’s a leading theme in Temple Fennell’s world these days. His untidy office on the second floor above Five Guys on the Downtown Mall has boxes of toys on the floor. A whole bookshelf is lined with DVDs of daily rushes from a movie that features a crying infant. His phone rings in the middle of an interview with good news about a baby in the family who had a medical emergency. He’s been thinking a lot about his own childhood and his dad who died a couple of months ago. And the morality of 9-year-olds, or at least one in particular, has been central in his thoughts lately, too.

In Joshua, the dangerous mind belongs to his 9-year-old son, and not to Sam Rockwell (front, left). ATO Pictures inked a deal with Fox Searchlight that will put the movie in theaters at the end of summer.

Fennell develops movies for ATO Pictures, the cinematic arm of the media empire that has been built or funded by Coran “Fingers in Every Pie” Capshaw, Chris Tetzeli, Michael Macdonald, Johnathan Dorfman,  Fennell and Dave Matthews, a part-time actor known around the office as “David.” And on January 27, Fennell & co. celebrated closing a deal with Fox Searchlight to distribute Joshua, an ATO-developed feature about a creepy piano prodigy who gets all Evil Seed on his parents’ asses when Baby Sis is born. The movie, which was written by David Gilbert and George Ratliff, who also directed it, stars indie film royals Sam Rockwell and Vera Farmiga, and with the new $4 million deal in place, it’s set to hit theaters in August.

This is the first major deal for ATO, which was established in 2002. Getting it inked meant navigating the treacherous waters of parties at the Sundance Film Festival (, and New York and Los Angeles meetings with the likes of Miramax executives. Not to mention managing all those glowing articles in papers like USA Today, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The New York Times.

Sheesh! It’s enough to make a guy want to come home and play with his trucks. And eventually Fennell will bust out the slightly battered yellow construction equipment that occupies a corner in front of his desk. They belong to an idea he has for a music video, a backhoe ballet of sorts that amuses Fennell, an American Film Institute fellow who put in seven years working on commercials and music videos. But first there is the matter of settling the check for Sundance expenses (Tetzeli drops in to explain one charge he’s disputing—something about a bad driver on the way to Dulles), and tending to post-production on two other ATO movies, including Savage Grace, starring Julianne Moore. After that, the 40something filmmaker-turned-executive will check in on a screenplay that Ratliff and Gilbert have in the works—an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel End Zone. Once that’s all taken care of, it will be time to shepherd that little devil Joshua into nationwide cineplexes and start tabulating the receipts.

Being occupied with childish things might not sound like the work of a grown man, but these days, for Temple Fennell and ATO Pictures, it’s not a bad way to make a living. And, it makes for a good excuse to keep Tonka Trucks lying around the office.