Michael Shannon and Kate Hudson star in CT indie movie ‘Shriver’

The film is an adaptation of a Ridgefield resident Chris Belden’s novel of the same name which was published in 2013 by Rain Mountain Press, before being picked up by Simon & Schuster in 2015. Belden said the book was inspired by his own feelings of “being a fish out of water” and not belonging when he was invited to speak at a literary conference prior to writing his first book. That experience inspired him to write “Shriver,” a satire about the literary community that delves into imposter syndrome.

The film follows the book’s plot, with Shannon playing Shriver, a man who professor Simone Cleary (played by Hudson) mistakes as the famous and reclusive author Shriver. She invites him to her university’s literary festival in an attempt to draw a crowd to the event. The problem is that once Shriver is at the festival, another man comes forward claiming to be the real Shriver, played by Zac Braff. Don Johnson, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Jimmi Simpson, Wendie Malick and M. Emmett Walsh are also in the film. 

Belden credits Bethlehem director and screenwriter Michael Maren with keeping him in the loop throughout the adaptation process. Belden said that because Maren is a writer himself and is married to author Dani Shapiro, the director was familiar with the literary world satirized in the book and film. 

“He knows exactly what the story was about and that’s what attracted him to it. He knew it was a good subject for satire and the insecurity of artists because he’s been there, he’s witnessed it first hand so he wasn’t going to mess with it too much,” Belden said. “I’m very pleased with the end product. I think he did a great job so I’m happy.”

Belden and Maren met when the writer was giving a reading of “Shriver” at a bookstore in 2013 shortly after it was released. Maren said he loved the humor in Belden’s novel and approached him about adapting the book into a film. The two men agreed and years later, “Shriver” is in its final stretch, with the production companies wrapping up the final details before the film’s release. “Shriver” doesn’t have an official release date yet, but Maren said he believes the film will be released within the next few months. 

While audiences can’t watch the movie quite yet, Maren described the satire as “definitely genre-defying, there’s romcom elements to it, there’s mystery elements to it, there’s a lot of things going on.”

It’s been a long road to get “Shriver” filmed, which isn’t uncommon for independent films. Belden said that he was “pleased and surprised” when Maren approached him about making the film, but he was aware that the project might never be finished. 

Maren said the film had to overcome a number of hurdles before making it to the finish line. In 2017, the film had been ready to shoot in Toronto, but they weren’t able to get a crew together, and when the project was later moved to West Virginia, the film ran into a financial roadblock. In 2019, Shannon joined the project, but the film was put on hold after Maren was diagnosed with cancer and underwent treatment.

“Michael Shannon stayed with us, we lost some of the cast that was attached at the time, people left to go do their own projects and whatnot, but Michael stuck with it,” Maren said. 

Hudson signed on to join the movie at the end of 2019, and the movie was ready to be filmed in 2020 after filming was moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles, which shortened the production’s prep time while also adding new faces to the cast.

“We pulled it together, it was kind of a miracle,” Maren said. “The cast came together, and Don Johnson joined and Zac Braff joined and Da’Vine Joy Randolph joined, people kind of flocked to it.” 

Filming finally began in late February 2020, and Belden said he was getting ready to travel to Los Angeles and film his cameo in the film when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the production. Luckily for those involved in the movie, enough of the film had been shot that they resumed production exactly 400 days later. The film gave Belden the chance to tack acting onto his resume, along with writer and musician.

For his cameo, Belden said he plays “an annoying ukulele folk singer who sings a song about Shriver that I wrote who sort of annoys Kate Hudon’s character, and [she] tells me to shut up.” 

As for his experience being on the set, Belden described it as a “Shriver-like experience because everyone was treating me so well and being really excited that I was there.”

Belden said he was excited to be on set and watch the cast bring his characters to life. “It was a kick to see them speaking the words I wrote in the situations I created.”

For Maren, “Shriver” was the second film he directed, and he said that while it was intimidating to work with well known stars, he felt it was the story itself that drew them to the project. 

“Making any independent film there’s almost always a saga of some kind. It’s not easy to do, anytime an independent film gets made there’s a story behind every one, but for me it’s a personal story because I related to it,” Maren said. He also credited Shannon with sticking with the project despite some of the hiccups. “I think a lot of this comes back to Michael Shannon — if he had not continued to have faith in this project through my illness and everything else, that never would have happened.”

Both Belden and Maren said they’re pleased with the final product of the movie and said they’re working on new projects while they wait for the official release date to be announced. Belden teaches different writing workshops around the state and said he’s currently editing a book of poetry and prose by inmates from the workshop he led at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown. Maren is currently adapting a screenplay based on his wife’s memoir, “Inheritance,” and said he’s lined up to direct another film.