Having co-written (with collaborator Roberto Orci) “MI: 3,” “Transformers,” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” Alex Kurtzman stands as Hollywood’s most in-demand writers and producers.  Although saving the world from aliens or power hungry terrorists are great for opening weekend, viewers and artists with a broader cinematic palette also need a more intimate form of expression. Mr. Kurtzman scales things down with his directorial debut “People Like Us,” an evocative drama inspired by his own family journey.

The story centers on Sam (Chris Pine) an egotistical salesman whose music producer father passes away, leaving his son a ton of unanswered questions.  While handling his father’s estate, he discovers that he has a half sister (Elizabeth Banks), a struggling single mother living in Los Angeles.  Pine previously worked with Kurtzman on “Star Trek,” as Kurtzman and Orci served as the film’s writers and executive producers.  Although “People Like Us” doesn’t hold the same technical challenges as “Star Trek,” Kurtzman had to ensure this intimate drama was believable, and that’s something that doesn’t happen overnight.

“We had two and a half week of rehearsals, which I felt strongly about,” says Kurtzman, who also produces ‘Fringe’ and ‘Hawaii Five-O’ with Orci.  “First of all, we had very little time to shoot the movie, so it wasn’t going to be about getting (on set) and going, ‘Hmm, what’s this scene about?’  It was going to be about knowing why the scenes were there, knowing what we needed to accomplish and then opening it up with the time we had to do it.  We (Orci and Jody Lambert are also co-writers) spent eight years writing this thing, and part of what came out of this experience was this real commitment to never being settled on it being done.  It was just constantly rewriting and seeing what was there.  Another part of that rewriting process was that two and a half weeks that we had.  For the actors, it was about allowing them to slip into their skins with total comfort.”

“People Like Us” is blessed with a strong cast (including Olivia Wilde, as Sam’s long suffering girlfriend, and Michelle Pfeiffer, as Sam’s mother) and a first rate composer (Oscar winner A.R. Rahman).  I was also impressed with the film’s visuals, as cinematographer Salvatore Totino, whose credits include Jim Jarmusch’s “Night On Earth” and the topnotch thriller “Changing Lanes,” as he captures Los Angeles from the eyes of a person who understands the city’s innate beauty and heartache.

Listen to Mr. Kurtzman elaborate on his work with “People Like Us” cinematographer Salvatore Totino: 

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“People Like Us” is now playing in select theaters.

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posted by Greg Srisavasdi (Twitter:  @gsrisavasdi )