From Heaven' is a real-life sister act
Not only did the five Burton siblings
collaborate on the comedy fable set in their hometown, their mom
wrote the script.
By Carolyn Patricia Scott, Times Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES TIMES
April 11, 2003
They call their film company Five Sisters Productions,
and for once in Hollywood, that's no exaggeration. The sisters Burton
-- Charity, Jennifer, Ursula, Gabrielle C. and Maria -- are the
heart and soul (as well as director, producer and some of the cast)
of "Manna From Heaven," a warmhearted comedic fable that,
not surprisingly, is about family.
"Manna From Heaven," which opened last Friday,
is being self-released by Five Sisters in more than 30 theaters
in Los Angeles and New York, with plans for a national release later.
Gabrielle C. and Maria co-directed the film; Jennifer is the line
producer; Charity helped with casting. Their mother, Gabrielle B.,
is the screenwriter. Co-producer Ursula made sure the entire family
had on-screen roles in the $4-million film, which is set in the
family's hometown of Buffalo. For the main roles, the sisters were
able to attract such well-known actors as Shirley Jones, Cloris
Leachman, Louise Fletcher, Frank Gorshin, Jill Eikenberry, Shelley
Duvall, Seymour Cassel and Wendie Malick, all of whom are profit
participants in the film.
The filmmakers cast against type. Jones, a star of
Broadway and film musicals, plays a con artist. As she recalls:
"I read the script and thought, this is fun. A little different.
A little bizarre." Gorshin, an impersonator, plays it straight
as Jones' husband. though he does get an opportunity at wildly comedic
turns with a variety of accents.
But the filmmakers couldn't resist the temptation
to have Jones sing -- she does a version of "Just the Way You
Look Tonight." Initially they hesitated to ask her. "We
can't pay you," Gabrielle C. confessed. But Jones agreed. "They
had a wonderful symphony orchestra," the Buffalo Philharmonic,
Jones recalls, "and they'd recorded in my key."
The film takes a humorous look at a mildly dysfunctional
family whose members find redemption within themselves and one another.
The sisters, all in their 30s, say that in some ways their filmmaking
process imitates real life. Los Angeles-based Five Sisters Productions
was formed seven years ago; "Manna From Heaven" is its
third movie, after "Just Friends" in 1997 and "Temps"
"Our parents raised us so that we have fights
and arguments," Ursula explains. "The way that we've learned
to deal with our differences is what makes us successful -- we each
get to discuss and express opinions, but we've got to say why we
believe what we believe."
To keep the production company afloat, the sisters
pool their money from acting jobs and other work (Jennifer is a
lawyer). Four of the sisters live in Southern California; the fifth,
Gabrielle, lives in Ohio but commutes regularly to Los Angeles.
Asked how spouses, boyfriends and others respond to the Burtons'
devotion to their business, Maria says: "They know how it is
before they get in a relationship with any of us."
Shooting the film in Buffalo, the family encountered
a spate of bad luck: Their grandfather died, and as they returned
from the funeral, their car was in an accident that put Gabrielle
C. and Charity in the hospital.
Then their car was broken into, and cameras and other
equipment were stolen. The mayor of Buffalo went on television and
upbraided the thieves. By evening, the camera and equipment surfaced
at a local pawnshop. (The shop owner told the thieves that the whole
lot was junk and paid them $50, then called the police.) The sisters
lost only a day of production time.
"There," Gabrielle C. explains, "there
was our manna from heaven."
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