Monday, October 4, 2010
As we completed our Press Day at the InterContinental, we noticed a group of paparazzi waiting outside the hotel. Jackson and Evan went out ahead of us. This is one of the shots:
Evan finally finished his Press commitment back at our hotel room doing a phone interview with ArtistsOnDemand. After that, we told him to get some rest. It was going to be a loooong night.
The plan was for everyone to meet up in our hotel lobby at 6:45pm before heading over to Scotiabank.
Once everyone was in the lobby (or, mostly everyone) I gathered people together for a couple photos.
In the first photo (L-R) Harrison Lees (Production Designer/Cast Member), Justin Lerner (Writer/Director/Producer), Dan Turnbull (Cast), Evan Sneider (Cast), Joe Turnbull (Cast/Production Supervisor), Me, Jeff Castelluccio (Editor/Post Producer) and Craig Wesley Divino (Mr. Sneider's Acting Coach/Cast).
In the second photo: (L-R) Cecelia Chapman (Production Assistant), June Suepunpuck (Costume Designer), Leah Cooper (Unit Photographer), Jackie Lerner (Mother of the Director) and Nicole Rivera (Production Assistant and my cousin).
And, because I know Evan will check out this blog...
And because she wasn't in the other shots...
(L-R) June Suepunpuck (Costume Designer) and Quyen Tran (Director of Photography).
Finally, the time had come. We all walked over to the Scotiabank and headed into the theater. We had sold out again (which, of course, feels really good).
For me, this was the best screening we had at the Festival. When the lights came up at the end, the audience gave us a sustained applause that continued as Justin invited the cast and key crew members up onto the stage. When Justin announced Evan, the entire audience got to their feet - and it lasted, I would guess, about two minutes.
Here is a good portion of the Q & A. (Thanks to Jaime Mosher for posting this!)
After the screening, Evan stepped out into the theatre lobby to a crowd of fans. He spent a good thirty minutes signing autographs and taking photos with people who were so happy to congratulate him on his extraordinary performance...
I think, for me personally though, the best part of the experience was that there were a number of Down Syndrome people in the audience (as well as parents of children with Down Syndrome) and Justin, Evan and I had a great opportunity to meet them and to hear their stories.
People with learning disabilities are so often undervalued in our society, or lumped together as a group that is only capable of a certain contribution to the world - Evan breaks those barriers and his performance in the film is proof positive that even those who may be viewed as "different" are capable of so much more than they are often given credit for... and it goes beyond the Special Olympics campaign.
Evan is defiant. He is strong and he is, above all, talented. An artist. So, if any of you are reading this who came out to see the film and either have Down Syndrome or any other learning disability (or maybe are a parent, relative or friend of someone like Evan), I hope that he (and the film) are able to help you in the future - to realize that anything is possible.
After the screening, we all walked back over to our hotel, where the plan was to reconvene before heading over to the after party at the Brant House.
TIFF was providing us with several Audi vehicles for the party, so I loaded Evan into one, Justin and the lovely Sarah Carter (an actress friend of ours who happened to be shooting a new Spielberg produced series in town) in another, Shannon and actor Andrew Garfield in the third and finally the members of 100 Monkeys into a stretch limo before leading the rest of our group over on foot. Funnily enough, the traffic was so thick that those of us who walked ended up getting there before the cars!
Once the cars arrived, we all made our way down the red carpet where the media had set up. Here are a couple (brief) clips I made of the interviews:
Some of you may be wondering why I am not in any interviews... or maybe not? Well. I'll explain anyway.
There are certain celebrity producers. The Wachowski's (formerly The Wachowski Brothers), Joel Silver, (the aforementioned) Harvey Weinstein, Steven Spielberg, Scott Rudin... but with the exception of Silver, Rudin and Weinstein the others were known first for their directing or writing. Rudin and Silver are known (aside from their impressive resume) for their tantrums and screaming. But you see, producing is the hidden art. Most people don't really know what it is a producer does. If you've read this site in previous posts, I tried to paint a picture of what the job is, but even in describing it, it can be... nebulous. That's partly because the dynamics of the job can change dramatically from project to project. All of this is to say that, for the most part, the only place you'll see a producer talk is on DVD Special Features. And at the Oscar podium for Best Picture, where it is the producer who accepts the statue.
Inside, the Brant House is pretty great. It's a huge venue and has an upstairs area reserved as the "VIP" section. We had an open bar all night and the staff there was great.
Couple more pics. In the first, we have (L-R) Jackson, Evan, Justin and Shannon.
In the next one (L-R) we have Jackson, June and Jason Olivier, our Executive Producer and founder of Make It So Productions.
It was such a great experience. Some of us were able to have our family there (mine, unfortunately, couldn't make it) and we even had fans there who had paid to get in (in the form of a donation to the Special Olympics).
A few of us basically closed the place out and finally, when we headed back to the hotel... well, suffice it to say that we were all extremely happy. It was a great night.
The next couple of days were all about meeting people, talking to other filmmakers and seeing movies! We did, however have one more awesome thing happen. And just in time before Evan and his mother had to leave.
During the next day, we hung out. Justin, Evan and I saw a couple of films and hung out at the TIFF Filmmaker Lounge.
That night, we figured that even though we were all wiped out, we ought to try and make an appearance at some of the parties going on around the Fest. We were going to hit The People Magazine Party, but we ended up getting lost on our way over and instead, found ourselves at the In Style party. Well. We weren't on the invite list... but as it turns out, we were supposed to be. A woman named Susie (who ran the party) was waiting outside with a group of security and staff. I didn't know her, but she was the first one to step away from the group. By this time, someone in the Press Corps had spotted Evan and so Justin and Jerad began to walk the press line with him. He signed a few more autographs and took a ton of pictures.
Meanwhile, I pounced on Susie... but in truth, I didn't have to say much. In point of fact, all I got out was "My name's Shaun O'Banion. I'm a producer on a film called 'Girlfriend,' and - " She cut me off right there. "Is he here?" she asked? For a second, I thought she might be referring to Jackson (who had caught a bad cold and wasn't with us)... "Evan?" I replied, "Yes. He's over by the media."
And that was it. She walked over with me, stamped our hands and we walked into the party past all of the security who, only moments earlier, had frozen us out.
Inside the lavishly decorated building, some of today's hottest celebs were mingling and partying. I ran into old friend (and recent Emmy winner) Aaron Paul, we saw the stunningly gorgeous Maggie Q and the cast of the new series' NIKITA. Evan talked with (and danced with) Missy Peregrym (star of the hit series ROOKIE BLUE) and we ran into Tiffany Hines (super sexy co-star on NIKITA) who also happens to be a friend of Justin's. Justin, it should be noted, knows everyone.
There were amazing deserts, jars full of candy with little bags and twisty-ties so you could take some home with you(!) and of course, all the free drinks you could handle.
Evan found some willing dance partners and the rest of us really just had fun watching Evan work the room.
Here's a shot of (L-R) Evan, Jerad, Kristina and I...
When the party was over (and believe me, we nearly closed out this one too), we all made our way back to the hotel. The next day, Evan would be leaving (which we all knew would be tough)... but we also had good news. A distributor had stepped up with an offer on the film. We were having to keep things quiet (even from the rest of the cast and crew!) but we had good reason to believe that a sale was coming.
I'll leave the closing day and post-TIFF "What's Happening Next" for another post.
Hope you enjoyed this one. Leave some comments! Ask questions! Let's get a little interaction going.
Thanks for reading.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
Probably a combination of the high from the first screening and the knowledge that a bunch more of the cast and crew would be arriving the morning of the 13th.
We began the packed day by cabbing over to the Intercontinental Hotel on Bloor Street, where a day of press had been set up by Jeremy Walker and Associates (our publicists for the Festival). It was definitely an odd feeling to be sitting in this chic hotel on a secured floor where actors like Jim Broadbent, Bruce Greenwood and the lovely Gemma Arterton were wandering back and forth doing press. Of course, they were surrounded by an army of publicists, assistants and make-up people. We were a bit more... contained.
If you've never been around a Press Junket, well. I'll go ahead and give you a sense of what it's like. They're all pretty much the same. Generally, the cast and director will check into a suite at the hotel where the junket is to take place. You're given a calendar of events for the day. Then, it'll either be one of two things: You cast and filmmaker will walk from room to room, with each room representing a different media outlet, or the cast and filmmaker will go to a single room with a camera already set up. The media people then come into the room, pop a tape into the camera, sit their on-air talent down opposite the star or cast member and they get about 5-10 minutes worth of questions. Quite often, your poster is set up on an easel. Sometimes, you're in front of a green screen.
For our press day, Evan was set to do a ton of press along with Jackson and Shannon. In our case, they would move from room to room.
Here is the actual interview with ET Canada (thanks to JrathboneInfo for posting):
Evan was handling everything amazingly well. It may seem like it would be easy, but it becomes exhausting and monotonous - mostly because the questions tend to be very similar, if not exactly the same. The media need "sound bites" they can use to tease the story, and then they'll only use a small portion of the actual interview. After a while, everything gets hazy. I once worked with someone (who shall remain nameless) who thought it might be fun to play a bit of a game with the press. In between each interview, he'd ask me for a word... any word, which he would then have to try to slip into the interview, no matter how awkward. I think one of the words I gave him was Asparagus. (He did it, by the way.)
Anyway. Evan was running (like most of us) on little to no sleep, but he was amazing. He had poise and charisma and everything you expect of a star. At lunch the group of us (Justin, Evan, Jerad, Kristina and I) walked over to the Four Seasons where Wayne/Lauren Film Company had set up a casual lunch. At this point, we were being trailed by columnist Steve Pond, who writes for The Wrap and was doing a story on Evan which you can find Here.
During the lunch, Evan spoke with Harvey Weinstein the fabled former head and founder of Miramax who now runs The Weinstein Company. Weinstein hadn't seen GIRLFRIEND, but they have a mutual friend in Amanda Plummer. Since Weinstein was sitting only a table away, Justin thought it might be cool if Evan introduced himself. Harvey seemed surprised by the occurrence, but we thought it was great. Near the end of lunch, Evan did another interview (for print) before we headed out for a few more on camera interviews. You can find those here and here (special thanks for luckyj525 for the links).
Finally, with interviews done (and with a few swag bags now attached to us), we headed down to the cast lounge in the lobby for our final publicity stop of the day. The TIFF Photocall. You know about this. Every year, Entertainment Weekly does nearly an entire issue on Sundance Film Festival Photo Calls. The video from this particular shoot was covered by The Wrap and Steve Pond.
Here are some of the great photos from the GIRLFRIEND press junket:
By that time, we had been running from hotel to hotel doing press for about 9 hours. It was time to head back to our hotel where Evan and Justin would do one final "phoner" or phone interview , before we'd get a proper meal (they only have hors d'oeuvres for the most part at the press junkets), have a little nap if we could and finally, get ready for the big night. Our second screening and our official Red Carpet After-Party.
Check back in for Pt. 3! More pictures! More video! More excitement!
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
I got into Pearson airport at about 7am on the 12th after a great trip with Virgin America, my personal favorite and the chosen airline of our production thanks to, um... me. This was my first trip to Canada, so I was already excited, but to get off the plane knowing that I was headed to the Toronto International Film Festival with a buzzed about film, was more than I could've dreamed at that particular moment in time.
Jeff Castelluccio, my best friend (more like a brother, really) and I flew out with Donal Logue and Abigail Breslin, so we were in good film-making company. Jeff, if you don't know, is the editor on both of the films I've produced. He's kind of like my good-luck charm. I try to bring him on anything I do. Fortunately for me, he's talented in addition to being a good guy. Justin flew out with Sasha Grey... also on Virgin... As he so delicately put it, "irony."
The perfect start to my week at TIFF began with my bag being the first off at baggage claim. I was staying longer than Jeff, so I had to check a suitcase - something I'm normally loathe to do. Jeff had only his carry-on.
We grabbed the Airport Express and headed for our hotels. That night was going to be our World Premiere screening, though we were treating the screening on Monday the 13th as the real deal, since it would be attended by a large number of the crew who worked on the film and because we were being provided a Red Carpet After-Party by the great people at Tribute Events. The hotel was literally half a block from most of the events and right away I found myself in the mix. It had been nearly a year since the shoot and so this was already feeling like a bit of a reunion. Most of the cast and crew who were coming in would arrive the next day, but a few were already there. Jeff and I met up right away with Evan, Jason Olivier (Exec. Producer), Joe Turnbull (Cast), Darren MacDonald (Cast), Dan Turnbull (Cast), Seth Chatfield (Production Designer/Actor), Sarah Steinberg Heller (Co-Producer) and Jeff's parents who flew in especially for the event. We had a great lunch after Evan had introduced the 100 Monkeys at the TIFF Bell Lightbox Block Party. It was great to see everyone.
By the time it was 3pm on the 12th, I figured that I'd already been up for 32 hours. That's when I stopped counting.
The first night, you could feel the pressure. It was the first official public screening anywhere in the world. I may have been alone here, but my heart was pounding. My stomach was doing flips - of course, as a producer, I was covering it pretty well.
It's a complicated film and we knew that it could polarize an audience. Knowing that and trying not to worry about it though are two very different things. Justin spent a bit of time thinking about what to say when he introduced the film. He ran some ideas past me and settled on being brief as the best policy. After the screening, there would be a Q & A. I was not going to go on stage for this one. It seemed the film would be best served by having a minimal amount of people up there - meaning Justin, Jackson Rathbone, Shannon Woodward and, of course, Evan Sneider.
We sold out that first night and the audience was a crowd spread across all age groups with a heavy helping of TWILIGHT and 100 Monkeys fans who'd made the trek. After the first screening, I think we all felt that, while still overwhelmingly positive, it was a bit of a mixed bag. It seemed like they (the audience) were... maybe in a bit of shock as the credits rolled. When the Q & A began, there wasn't a single question... so our moderator, Lynne (who it must be said is stunningly beautiful) had to sort of take the lead. She did great getting the ball rolling and things went smoothly after that.
I kind of felt as though I was sleep walking through the whole experience that night. Seeing the film projected on that huge screen at the Scotiabank Theater was so incredible. We were playing in of the largest theaters they have, and knowing that your film has people standing in the rush line in the hopes of getting in is pretty humbling. Special mention should be made of Jane Schoettle here, our programmer for the TIFF Discovery section, who's efforts on behalf of our film were tireless and for which we are all so grateful.
Our Executive Producer had set up a dinner for the core creative team (aided by Co-Producer Sarah Steinberg Heller) and once the screening was done, we all headed over to a fantastic little place called Bistro 990 , where we had a private room reserved upstairs. The attendees were: Jerad Anderson, Kristina Anderson, Jason Olivier, Patch Cutler (Jackson's manager and Co-Producer on the film), Seth Chatfield, Sarah Steinberg Heller, Jackson Rathbone, Evan Sneider, Shannon Woodward, Quyen Tran (our amazing Director of Photography), Sam Reigel (Q's hilarious husband), Erin McPherson (Production Attorney), Justin Lerner and myself. It was a great night full of many toasts (most of them by Evan) and a few by the rest of us. After that, we all needed to head back to our hotels.
The next day was going to be pretty interesting as it would be the first Press Junket day.
Check back for Part II: The Toronto Experience and "Look, Ma! My name's in the Trades!"
Sunday, September 26, 2010
When I first came on board the project, I was told that one actor was already attached... that actor was Jackson Rathbone. At the time, to be honest, the name didn't mean much to me. I hadn't seen TWILIGHT, nor any of his other work for that matter. I went out that night to rent the first film in the saga.
It didn't change my perception of him. In fact, it didn't do much for me at all, really... but then, I'm not the core audience for the film. What I knew of him after watching the film was that he was (possibly) a good looking guy. I say possibly because you can't really get a sense of him either physically or otherwise by watching the first TWILIGHT film. He comes off as a new-age Johnny Depp. A vampire Edward Scissorhands with frosted tips... still, you'd be crazy not to acknowledge that he has charisma. With maybe only two lines in the first film, I was still intrigued. Anyway, it wouldn't much matter what I thought either way. He was going to be in the film. I just hoped he could actually act. Like with Evan, I was in for a surprise.
Early on in the process, Jackson came in to Brad Gilmore's L.A. office for *chemistry reads with a variety of actresses. It was during this process that all of my concerns related to Jackson playing "Russ" were put to rest. In the room, he was magnetic. His "Russ" was a man to be feared. He wa tortured. Dangerous. Crushed under the weight of a reality he may not want to acknowledge. In short, he was fantastic. This was only the beginning though. We would have a great many hurdles to jump through together - not the least of which was his schedule with the third TWILIGHT... which was already threatening to wreak havoc with my initial schedule for our film. Not to mention the budget.
For weeks, I tried to negotiate with the powers that be at Summit and for weeks, they held us off. They tried to tell me they had no schedule only weeks out from their start date (yeah, sure). I even generated inside sources in their office in Vancouver - hoping that I might get enough info to lock in our schedule. On our end, we were fighting several other issues. Weather in Massachusetts was going to be a huge factor. We had to shoot at a certain time to maximize the beauty of the changing season's, something which was very important to Justin, and we also had to begin at a certain time to create a window of time with which we'd be able to have the amazing Amanda Plummer in our film.
Fortunately, we had Jackson on our side. Jackson, when he signed on, had indicated that he was very interested in the behind-the-camera aspects of film-making as well. He wanted to come on as a co-producer, which meant that I'd have an ally when it came to scheduling him around his vampire adventures... in the end though, the only way to make our film work for him, was to bridge our shoot across weekends. He'd shoot all day Friday in Vancouver, then hop a red-eye to Boston, which would put him into Logan Airport around 8am. He'd brave morning traffic in the back seat of a Production Assistant's car, change into his wardrobe on the way, arrive at set to literally jump in front of camera (thanks to our crack AD staff who had the days scheduled down to the minute and really saved us several times during the shoot) and that'd be it. By Sunday evening, he'd be back on a plane and headed back to the wardrobe of "Jasper."
In short, he didn't sleep for about three weeks. His commitment to the shoot, the character and the crew literally changed the polarity of the set. When Rathbone showed up for the first "Rathbone Day" as Evan called it, everyone suddenly came alive again. We had spent several weeks with only Shannon and Evan, and to see Jackson and Shannon perform together and, in fact, Evan and Jackson... well. The movie really came together on those days.
I mentioned Amanda Plummer above. This is a woman who, above all, loves the craft of acting. When she's "in it," she is totally invested. Each take brings with it a totally organic quality.
I remember one take that was so great that it transcended what Justin had written. It just became something else. It became a living thing in Amanda and Evan's capable hands. Once we had cut, Justin ran over to Amanda and said, "That was brilliant! Can you do another one just like that?" Amanda surprised Justin and the crew when she gave her answer. "No," she said. "I can give you something else, but not that because I don't know what I did." In other words, she wasn't Amanda the actress playing the scene... like Evan, who's genius is that for him, there was no divide between "Evan Grey" and Evan Sneider during the scenes, Amanda ceased being Amanda in front of the camera. She was "Celeste." She went to great lengths to ensure that the transformation would envelope Evan as well - she even came out to Massachusetts early to spend time with Evan on her own. Doing this ensured that they didn't seem like they were "playing" mother and son, but that they had spent time off camera building a relationship for real. When the camera rolled, it wasn't capturing performance, it was capturing natural behavior... and it was beautiful.
Next, I come to Shannon Woodward. Again, being honest, she wasn't what I had pictured in the role. When she came in to read, she projected a natural strength I felt was wrong for the part. But when the scene began, it melted away. She became troubled. Weak and laid bare by the turn of events in her life. A desperate young girl forced to be an adult for the sake of her child. In other words, she became our "Candy." It's one of those Hollywood cliche's, right? An actor comes in and isn't at all what you thought you wanted... but they simply cannot be denied. He or she just becomes the only person for the role. Sometimes you even try to fight it. You say to yourself, "No. Let's keep looking," but in your mind, you keep coming back to them. Sometimes, it keeps you up at night. In the end though, there's no denying it. The part dictates what it needs just as in editorial, the film begins to tell you what should stay and what should go. It happened to us on DAKOTA SKYE, and it happened again here.
Shannon is a fantastic actress, and her work with Evan was really extraordinary to watch on set - sometimes, subtly directing Evan or providing cues from within a scene to help get him to a certain place or past a block. In many ways, Shannon's work was key to Justin and Craig Divino's work with Evan. Shannon and Evan are in virtually every scene of the film together and the tenderness, confusion and realization she brings to their scenes together are the perfect counter-point to her scenes with Jackson. Where Shannon and Jackson have this feeling of two caged animals trying to determine what to make of each other, Shannon and Evan give the feeling of two people who have come to depend on each others love - even if they can't understand how or why. By the way: Shannon has a new show on called RAISING HOPE that is supposed to be hilarious, and as of right now, you can check out the pilot for the series for free on iTunes, so go check it out!
There are bunch of other actors in the film who turn in wonderful and varied performances and who, many of them having little or no acting experience before, are stand-outs. Seth Chatfield, Dan Turnbull, Joe Turnbull, Darren MacDonald, Harrison Lees, Carole Helman and of course young Nate Krawshuk all leave strong impressions in the world of the film. They are each a testament to Justin's ability to work with non-professionals and to create and craft strong and memorable characters.
For those of you who had a chance to see the film in Toronto, I'm sure you'd agree. This film doesn't work if you don't care about the people in it. From the smallest part to the biggest, they need to make you feel something. They are your connection as the audience and your eyes into the world. If you don't get "Candy" and her decisions, or why "Evan" feels the way he does for her... or why "Russ" seems so completely crushed by the things he's seen or the scenarios he suspects, it all falls apart.
Post Toronto, the general consensus seems to be that the film is strong. In fact, only yesterday, we announced that we have been picked up for distribution by indie label Hannover House, to whom we are all so thankful for recognizing the potential in the film.
If the film works at all, it is all down to collaboration - to the cast and crew and to Justin's vision... I cannot wait until you can see the film for yourself.
(Toronto Blog coming soon!)
*Chemistry Reads: This is the process in which actors are paired together in the audition process to see if they have chemistry on screen.
Monday, August 30, 2010
OFFICE SPACE, SEVEN and of course SCRUBS. He has an important message. As a producer on a film which stars an actor with Down Syndrome, I urge all of you to watch and help SPREAD THE WORD TO END THE R-WORD.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
A really nice description of our film by Jane Schoettle, who is a big supporter of ours at TIFF:
Justin Lerner’s first feature film skilfully sets a traditional theme – a relationship between two people that seem an unlikely match – within unconventional circumstances. The result is Girlfriend, a gentle yet complex exploration of the nature of love.
Evan (Evan Sneider) is a young man with Down Syndrome who lives with his mother Celeste (played by the ever-commanding Amanda Plummer) in a working-class town hard hit by the recession. Evan holds down a job and has a circle of neighbourhood friends. Although he is completely self-sufficient, he and Celeste enjoy a close relationship with shared evenings in front of their favourite television shows.
Then, unexpectedly, Evan comes into a large amount of money and, rather than do anything for himself, he decides to use his new wealth to pursue Candy (Shannon Woodward), a local girl that he’s been in love with since high school. Since then, Candy has made some bad decisions. She is now a single parent with huge debts, who cannot shake the attentions of her volatile ex-boyfriend, Russ (Jackson Rathbone of the Twilight films). Knowing full well that money always complicates things, Candy nevertheless accepts Evan’s offer of financial help, leading to an intricate tangle of emotions, expectations and secrets between Candy, Evan and Russ.
In his first feature film role, Evan Sneider is pitch-perfect as a young man in pursuit of his heart’s desire and as the moral centre of the story. Evan’s pureness of intent only serves to highlight the mercurial, self-interested and often cruel motives of Russ, played with a fiery, danger-ridden intensity by Rathbone. This is not lost on Candy, who knows she doesn’t deserve Russ’s abuse, yet doesn’t feel worthy of Evan’s unfettered compassion.
Making excellent use of its pastoral setting as counterpoint to volatile human emotions, Girlfriend gathers power as it unfolds, leaving the viewer with a thump to the heart that will linger long after the lights come up.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
A message to everyone who gave their time, their energy, their heart and spirit to make Justin Lerner's vision for GIRLFRIEND come to life:
"Thank you. Sincerely. From the bottom of my heart."
GIRLFRIEND is a testament not only to the beauty of Justin's script and the depth and strength of Evan Sneider's extraordinary performance... but to the commitment and talent of a small group of people willing to sacrifice so much in the hope that their work will pay off. With the announcement of our selection at Toronto, it has.
Not a day has passed that I haven't thought back, remembered little moments, thought of the tough days and the great days, and smiled.
Today, I went through photos from the shoot and was filled with emotion. Every single person on the film did such an amazing job - sunshine, rain or snow... and I cannot thank you enough. If you were all here with me now, I'd hug you... but unfortunately, we're all a bit spread out.
For those of you who will be coming to TIFF, I am so looking forward to a little reunion. To those who can't make it... well, you'll be missed, but we will make you proud, as you have made me proud to have worked with you.
If this is all a bit sappy, well... that's me. But I really just wanted to thank you.
This film will exist forever... and all of your efforts to bring every shot to life on screen along with it.
Every film that gets made (even the bad ones), are a miracle. This film, is a very, very good miracle. This is your miracle. This is our miracle.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Many of you now know (by following me on Twitter, (@shaun_obanion) that I have become quite close with Evan Sneider, the star of our film and as we head to the Toronto International Film Fest this week, I thought I'd do a blog about Mr. Sneider and my experience with him on the film. Here it goes.
PS: It's a long one.
There were many questions during Prep on GIRLFRIEND. How long would our schedule be? (pretty short by feature film standards). Would there be rehearsals? (yes, but very informal). Would our DP even be available for the first few days of the shoot? (after a difficult negotiation with another production, thankfully, yes). Would anyone from Summit return our calls? (a very emphatic no). What the hell do you do when you lose your First AD three days before a Location Scout that everyone's flying in for? (...get lucky and find a better one, who also happens to be an old friend.)... I mean... there were a lot of questions... though nothing new for an indie film.
For a lot of indies, the biggest question is often: where is the money going to come from? We didn't have that problem. The Anderson's of Wayne/Lauren Film Co., had already secured the full budget, so everyone was basically waiting on Justin and our excellent casting director Brad Gilmore to cast the film, Justin and I to crew the film and for me to create the initial schedule and early budget drafts... but the one thing that was nagging at me was how we were going to pull this thing off. For me, there were a whole different set of questions in addition to the normal ones I'd be asking (and getting asked) on a shoot.
I had never really been around a person with Down Syndrome before, much less had to count on one to convincingly do what we were going to ask him to do, not to mention all of the possible technical issues:
If you've never done any acting, well, it's not as easy as it looks - believe me, I ended up in the film when an actor could no longer accommodate our schedule.
Actors, particularly film actors, have to be aware of so many things. Not only things like motivation and character, but knowing that (for example) we're shooting Scene 25 which is an interior, where the character comes into a room. 25 follows 24 in the script (logically) only, due to the availability of locations, or other shooting necessity, we shot 24 (the Exterior scene where our hero arrives at the building and enters) maybe, three weeks earlier and now we're shooting the room he walks into... so the actor has to approximate what head-space he or she (as the character) was in three weeks ago when we shot the entrance. By the way, I fortunately only had one scene and limited dialogue, so I didn't have to be too concerned.
Things like blocking. Matching... knowing that he picks up the cup of coffee on a specific line so that in the coverage(I) he does it at the same time for every take and every shot. Remembering where to stand at a given moment. When to move, so that the focus puller(II) [ours was Alex Cason, and she is, quite simply, a badass] knows the distance the actor will be from the lens. Then, maybe the other actor moves. He or she takes something down from a shelf. In the other shot, did he use his left hand even though he's right handed so that he wouldn't flag(III) the other actors light?
Take Down Syndrome out of the equation and it's a lot to think about for anyone... now an army of film personnel and actors were going to be dependent on an actor doing his first film in the lead role, not only being aware of these technical things, but of his performance at the same time!
Early on, Justin (the Director) and I had many conversations about this. Justin, it should be stated, never doubted for even a second that Evan could pull it off. Well. If he did, he never let on. He had written the piece with Evan in mind (he'd even named the character after him) and had worked with him before on his excellent short film THE REPLACEMENT CHILD ( )... but, as a Producer, I still had to wonder... would we be able to keep our schedule? Could Evan Sneider actually do all that would be asked of him?
I was about to get an education.
Evan isn't you're typical guy. He's extremely high functioning. In fact, what I came to discover is that Evan, like many people, really likes to break down barriers. He likes to play with people's perception of him, and above all, he's re-defining what you and I might call "special." What actually makes Evan special is his ability to be un-special. Don't get me wrong, he's a very special person... but he has this disarming quality that just makes you deal with him as though he didn't have Down's.
Evan's brilliance is in his ability to overcome his "handicap." Above all, Evan is... just a guy. He's smart. Funny. Sweet. Kind. Curious. Emotional. Whimsical. And sometimes devious. He knows what he wants and he'll do what he needs to do to get it. In other words, he's pretty much just like you, me or anyone you know.
What I had to learn was to get over my bias. To forget whatever I thought I knew about Down's; Forget what I saw in RAIN MAN or some Farrelly Brothers' movie and just come to deal with Evan as a man... which, ultimately, is what he deserves.
Evan's been performing in the theater for years. He has a nearly photographic memory and he is the most feeling individuals I've ever met. He exists on purely emotional terms. He's both Method(IV) and Sense Memory(V) at the same time. He doesn't play the character, he becomes the character. It's really amazing to watch unfold in front of your eyes and believe me, it translates on screen. Evan is, without a doubt, the beating heart of the film.
These are all things I had to figure out. When we started, my own misconceptions about people with Down Syndrome led me to feel "off" when dealing with him... and since I was often the guy who often had to deliver news about changes being made on set, we didn't get along that well in the beginning. In fact, I told his mother at one point that I just didn't know how to communicate with Evan... I told her I felt as though I had "two left feet."
Evan, for his part, never changed. He knows exactly who he is and, unlike myself and most people I know, he never seemed to be wracked with doubt. He displays a high level of confidence, not only in what he's doing, but in the manner in which he does it. Maybe it's from his stage training. He'd often be heard telling Justin, "I know the drill."
As the shoot went on, my friendship with Evan grew and my understanding of him deepened. As that happened, my desire for what the film could or would do out in the world changed. I hoped (and hope) the audiences perception of what Down Syndrome is would change - as Evan had changed my perception. What I learned was that Down Syndrome is really just a term; A way for the rest of us to deal with that missing chromosome. A way to classify something... but that's all. It can only define the affected person if he or she lets it. And Evan refuses to let it define him. It absolutely does not define him. Just like you and anyone else you know, Evan is unique. A true original. To compare him to anyone else who has Down Syndrome would be like telling you that
you are like everyone else... and you aren't, are you?I soon realized that what I wanted, by the end of the film, was for the audience to see 'Evan Grey,' the character he plays in the film, not as a man who has Down Syndrome, but as a man.
If even one person leaves the theater thinking that way, then I'll be happy. I know it's a tall order, but not out of the realm of possibility. It, of course, doesn't determine the success of the film for me, but it would be a great bonus.
It should also be mentioned that Justin, who cared for and nurtured this film beginning with some notes scribbled on a few scraps of paper a little over a year ago, would never tell you how he wished for the film to be received. Justin Lerner does not make "message" movies. The film is purely subjective. It isn't meant to educate you. It's art. It's storytelling. And I agree. It is. But I still have that wish in my heart - for Evan.
I should also mention that the credit for Evan's choices and abilities cannot be given to Evan alone. His mother has instilled in him a lot of ideas... He was taught that there are no limits to what he can do, and throughout his life, whenever someone placed a wall in their way, she and Evan would simply find a way over or around it.
Here's an example: when the Massachusetts School Board told them that Evan would have to ride the short bus and attend school with other "special needs" kids, they fought... and they won. Evan didn't go to school in classes with other Down's kids. He went to regular classes. Just like everyone else. And why shouldn't he have? As it turns out, that would prove a fortuitous decision... Evan met Justin in High School.
There were a couple more people who brought Evan to this point as an actor... When we were almost ready to shoot, Evan began rehearsing with Amanda Plummer. She came out early to spend time with him and to build a history together. They walked around town. They did their Wardrobe fittings together. The ate together. By the time they got to set, Amanda had really become like a second mother to Evan... and their scenes together are really lovely. Amanda, as many of you know, is an artist in the truest sense of the word. She's a total professional and is just lovely in the film. Justin's handling of the scenes between Evan and Amanda (aided by the stunning photography of Quyen Tran and the skillful editing of Jeff Castelluccio) create some really beautiful moments on screen.
Another ally in Evan's cinematic journey: A fantastic young New York actor named Craig Divino. Divino had also worked carefully with Evan to make sure that he understood all of the emotional beats in the story. He designed breathing exercises and physical movements to loosen Evan up before a scene and had taken time out of pursuing his own career to be present and available on set whenever Evan needed him. Evan also asked a lot of questions. He and Justin had many conversations about his character. He also wanted to understand the other characters in the film. He wanted to know about their choices and how what they did would affect his character.
So, after working with Justin, Craig and Amanda, Evan came to set and was one of the most professional actors I've ever had the pleasure to work with. He was obsessive about referring to the script. He knew it front to back and back to front. He understood where he had been and where he was going. He felt the emotions of a scene.
There was a day on set where he literally had the cast, crew and background in tears. It was a hugely triumphant moment and at the end, everyone broke into applause. He blew us away, time and again. Now, I don't want to completely sugar coat things and say that there were no issues... no tough moments, but by and large, things were very smooth and working with Evan was really, really wonderful. Justin and I had dinner recently with our Casting Director Brad Gilmore and we talked about how we'd like to work with Evan again. That says a lot about the experience. He was, and is, nothing short of extraordinary.
I can't wait for you to see him.
(I) Refers to shooting a scene from a variety of angles and distances so you will have the raw material necessary to edit the scene together into an interesting visual and emotional experience for the audience. Each of the shots, or individual angles, requires a different setup.
(II) In cinematography, a focus puller or first assistant camera (1st AC) is a member of a film crew's camera department who is responsible for keeping the camera properly focused during each shot so that the Camera Operator is able to focus on the Camera movement.
(III) Blocking a light with ones body or using a Grip tool designed to block the light.
(IV) An acting technique introduced by Stanislavsky in which the actor recalls emotions or reactions from his or her own life and uses them to identify with the character being portrayed. This allows the actor to experience emotion in the moment, as the character would.
(V) Sense memory is reliving sensations that were experienced through the five senses.
BLOG ABOUT WORKING WITH THE OTHER MEMBERS OF THE CAST COMING SOON.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
According to , a producer is "a person responsible for the financial and administrative aspects of a stage, film, television, or radio production; the person who exercises general supervision of a production and is responsible chiefly for raising money, hiring technicians and artists, etc., required to stage a play, make a motion picture, or the like."
describes it like this: "Although often under appreciated, the Producer's work is so crucial that on a big budget production, there may be a whole team of people - the Production Team - performing the Producer's various jobs. To fully grasp the all-encompassing nature of the Producer's responsibilities, it's helpful to divide the job description into sections and relate commonly used job titles to their counterparts in the business world.
On an small indie project, one very busy Producer might manage every aspect of the production. This would be like the Sole Proprietor of a small business doing everything necessary to make it run. On larger scale productions however, the job is simply too much for one person to handle. In this case, the Producer works within a Production Team."
"If you think of the Production Team as a company, the Producer is the Chief Executive Officer, or CEO. Just as the first CEO in a corporation is often the founder, the Producer is often the main driving creative force behind a film or TV production. (S)he may have played a role marrying the script with an Executive Producer, or attaching a well known Director or Actor to a screenplay to attract financing. Thus from the very inception of a production, the Producer plays a vital role. During production, the Director and Line Producer work with or report to the Producer to ensure the creative vision is being executed - similar to the way Managers answer to a CEO. However, even the Producer is beholden to the financing, which is represented by the Executive Producer."
So. Yeah. We do... a lot of different stuff. It's a daunting job. In addition to just the day to day keeping track of things (budget, schedule, cast, crew), there's also being able to keep in mind the overall reason everyone is there... the script. As someone who, from time to time thinks "hey, maybe I'll get back to that script I started writing..." I have to tell you, writing is crazy. I don't know about you, but for me, discipline is tough. This blog is kind of a way to get me back into the habit of writing something - anything - on a semi-regular basis and yes, I know, I'm not so good at the "semi-regular basis" part. Focus, for me, can be a problem as well. My rapidly increasing level of ADD is a bit overwhelming.
On a set, as a Producer, ADD can actually work to my benefit. There are always multiple "fires" to put out. What one then has to do is prioritize. Which item is the most pressing? Or maybe the question is: Which problem can be solved the fastest.
Sometimes, a snap decision is the best. On a recent production, we had gotten into the rainy season and showed up one day to find our set nearly washed away, but we had actors on loan from another production and our schedule was such that it would be impossible to re-shoot the scene. Meanwhile, our Gaffer(I) was telling the Director that there wasn't enough light to shoot - the cloud cover making our location (at 10am) look more like 7pm. Now usually you would go to what's called a Cover Set(II). This is like your weather contingency. Rain? Snow? Hail? Ok. Move the company indoors. Problem was we were a small shoot on a tight budget with a tight schedule and were nearing the end of production, so we had already shot out our cover sets earlier on when the weather had turned bad. In other words, what to do? Well. After consulting with the director and my First Assistant Director, we informed the cast and crew that light or no light, rain or shine, we were going to stay on the location and shoot the damned scene. And you know what? It worked. After some subtle manipulation in Post Production to brighten things up a bit (and considerable ADR [III]), we got the scene and it's in the film.
But I digress. Script. Keeping the goal in mind. What is the story we're trying to tell here? Because, as anyone who has studied film or made a film will tell you, things change once you're on set. That old famous quote that goes something like, "A film is written three times: First, by the Screenwriter, alone in his room. Next, on the set, when the Director has to make different decisions based on a variety of elements and challenges, and finally in the Edit, when the filmmakers begin to assemble not necessarily the film they set out to make, but the film they have."
Another job which is key: shielding your Director from all manner of issues. If you're a Creative Producer, this job can last for a year or more. You're usually one of the first people on a film and the last off. You could think of a film as being like a train. The Screenwriter creates the script (builds the train). The Producer finds the engineer (Director), or, sometimes the Screenwriter will also direct his or her script, in which case the Producer has begun to lay down the track and add cars. Into those cars, he or she will bring the crew and the Director (with the Producer and the Casting Director offering counsel) will bring on the talent. On and on until the train is moving safely down the track.
Protecting your Director allows him or her to focus on things like story, performance and "making the day"(IV) rather than the minutia of everyday normal movie shoot problems. You have to be sort of like a therapist, priest, confidante and, above all, protector. This part of the job you do get to hand-off from time to time. Occasionally, you ask your AD to handle these positions while you deal with other issues. In Post, your Editor carries the weight of these duties as he or she and your Director sit locked in a room for hours on end slaving under a delivery deadline.
Before you get to any of the stuff above, there's also the development process - a frustratingly slow, incredibly expensive part of the process in which a Producer finds a screenplay, options (V) the property, engages the screenwriter (if necessary) in a series of re-writes based on notes and then tries to get the film made by then seeking out people who have money or connections to money - all before the option runs out. To give you an example, I have (currently) options on two screenplays and a film from 1978. So far, I haven't found anyone who's ready to make them... but, ah, if you know anyone who's eager to get into show biz, send them my way.
So it's an interesting gig, to be sure. By the way, there are probably only ever about three people reading this blog, but if you ever have questions about anything, I'm happy to answer. Just put them in the comments section and, I'll do my best to answer.
Thanks for reading. 'til next time.
PS - Below, you'll find a list referencing some terms I used in this blog. Within the text, I placed Roman numerals, so if you'll check below, you'll find definitions.
I - The person who, under the DP or Director of Photography, is responsible for the lighting of the film.
II - A backup set the company can move to in the event of inclement weather or other issue which may cause a set to be unavailable for shooting.
III - Additional Dialogue Recording or Automated Dialogue Replacement. This is where an actor stands in a recording booth and re-records dialogue, sounds or audio which was unable to be recorded without interference during production. Voice Over narration, new dialogue embedded in a scene or, simply, sounds (grunting, kissing) may also be done here.
IV - Literally making (or, completing) all of the scenes, shots or set-ups that were scheduled on a given day.
V - Optioning a script is the process in which an agreed upon amount of money is paid to a screenwriter to, essentially, take his or her screenplay off the market for a set period of time. The option, in effect, states that the Producer has reserved the screenplay in an attempt to get it made into a film. The option will also have terms which will state that if a Producer or Studio does not come on board to make a film within the stipulated time period, the rights will revert back to the writer who may then offer it to the producer to be re-optioned (for an additional fee) or taken elsewhere.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
The process of working with my friend John Humber on DAKOTA SKYE was what opened up the possibilities for me. Like most of my friends, I was (and had been) hovering around the fringe of the industry for too long. The beauty of a film industry education is that you make a lot of friends who will come out to support you later - the only downside is that they are what we call "working crew." If you're in the trenches with them, you aren't really going to meet the people who control the money, which is to say that when you're ready to make your film, you need to search for those people or know the people who know them.
A few days ago, DAKOTA SKYE had it's one year anniversary of being available for rental and purchase. It's a big deal. We worked so hard on that little film and, even now, when I do a Twitter search for the movie and see how people are finding it and being moved by it, it's still a great lift to my day... to my confidence. Good review, bad review... Doesn't matter. What's important is that it's making people feel something. That's magical.
So anyway, that anniversary has me doing a bit of reflection on the process as I await the fate of my new production, GIRLFRIEND.
Dakota had an interesting development process in that, there wasn't really a process. John Humber and his family were going to invest in the film. We had a great script by Chad J. Shonk, another good friend of ours, and John and I simply set about lining up the elements to make the film. When you have a tiny budget and no access to further funding, it's simply a matter of backing the numbers into the total. Not unlike squeezing a car into a tight parking spot with cars on either side. You only have the space that exists, so you just make it work... and hope you have enough room to get out once you've parked.
Having limited funds means you don't have a lot of the toys that big movies do. This forces creativity. Ingenuity. How can we get this moment across with just a subtle camera move instead of a crane? (We did have a crane on Dakota, but not the kind films usually use). How can we get a school to let us shoot on their property when our story is loaded with language, sex and "drug" use? (Yeah, finding a school was a big problem).
All of these little hurdles we survived make that film what it is. And believe me, John, Chad and I would be the first to admit to you that it's faaaaaar from perfect... but the beauty of the film is that maybe to you, the audience member, it may be just what you needed on a Friday night. It just may be perfect.
John, Chad and I had years of experience under our belts by the time we shot Dakota. We knew what needed to happen on a set. We understood the elements. It was only a matter of getting it done. And we did. The shoot was, for all we had to deal with, relatively simple. There really weren't any major problems. Sure, we had arguments. Yes, there were tons of small fires to put out, but we had a great team of people - all of whom were (and are) friends. That made the shoot pleasant.
On GIRLFRIEND, it was a different team. I was brought in by Jerad and Kristina Anderson of Wayne/Lauren Film Company. They had already attached Justin Lerner to direct and had optioned his script. The nice thing, for me, was that the script was still being re-written and, as a producer, I got to submit notes. Justin and I ended up working very closely together throughout the process and, on GIRLFRIEND, there was a 6 month period of Pre-Production and development during which Wayne/Lauren, Justin and I set everything in motion.
Wayne/Lauren had the investor in place and we knew that the film was going. We had to cast the film, set the budget, work out the schedule (tough to do when one of our leads was currently locked in to shoot the third film in one of the largest franchises in modern film history at the same time!) and find the production team.
On this film, we had a stellar group from the word "go." Justin set the pace and Brad Gilmore was the first on. As our Casting Director, he was going to bring us some of the best young actresses out there. We searched New York, we searched L.A. We even saw a few Aussies. In the end, Shannon Woodward became the one to beat and she nabbed the role. Justin wrote a very difficult part. The character is one that people are, I think, going to have very strong opinions about. Shannon made her character real. She was scared and strong at the same time, it's a complicated role... and she's just phenomenal. I really can't wait for people to see her work in the film.
Jackson came on early through his relationship with Wayne/Lauren, so we knew that our 'Russ' would be volatile. Dangerous. I had only seen him in the Twilight films and so, for me, seeing him even in the casting period (when he did chemistry reads with various actresses), was an eye opener. Nobody quite knows what he's capable of yet and we get to put him out there. I think people will be surprised.
Ultimately, what the film would come down to though, is the performance of one person: Evan Sneider, an actor from the Boston area who has Downs Syndrome. If Evan's performance didn't work, we'd all be sunk. Well. Evan's performance in the film is extraordinary. He's stunning. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. And the guy has a smile that will melt your heart.
After casting was completed, the rest of the Pre-Production period was great. We had plenty of time, we "crewed up" with a fantastic team of people and by the time we got out to Boston, we were ready for anything.
Now, like on Dakota, we wait to see how we do on the Festival circuit. We won a handful of awards with Dakota... a few Audience Awards and though we didn't play any of the big Festivals (Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, Telluride), it was still a great ride - though, as a producer, it can be a bittersweet ride as well: Nobody really knows what a producer does these days, and since there are usually quite a few producers (8 credited, in various capacities on GIRLFRIEND), it tends to water down the title a bit and confuse the uninformed. Compound this with the fact that most Festivals are only interested in Directors, Writers and Cast, and it can be an odd experience for a producer on the circuit.
The Phoenix International Film Festival was an eye-opener for me. DAKOTA SKYE was one of the big hits there. We were selling out every screening. For our final screening, the Fire Marshall allowed the theater venue to bring in folding chairs and place them in the Handicapped area and along the front row.
The movie played amazingly in every screening. And yet, to a certain extent, there was an element that made me feel out of place. Only the Director, Writer and talent got the coveted "Filmmaker" badges - and you might think, ok... so what? But that pass means that you get into the VIP areas (where the other filmmakers are) and you are always recognized as someone who made one of the films as opposed to anyone else at the Festival. So, yeah. It can be weird.
Going into the Fall Festival season with GIRLFRIEND, I'll be curious to see how it goes.
Regardless of all of that, the end goal is to get the film sold and out there in the world. SpyFilmz repped Dakota and we ended up selling to E1 Entertainment. E1 is the largest Home Video distributor in North America and produces the HBO series HUNG, so we're in good company. The release was small, but we're out there.
As we wait to see what trajectory GIRLFRIEND ends up taking, I'm so excited to be at this stage again, regardless of what happens, waiting to take the ride... and waiting for an audience to see the film.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
The fact that I have two feature films to my credit is kind of a miracle in the indie world. I was incredibly fortunate to have been invited by a close friend to become a part of "Dakota Skye." The film came together quickly because the films director (John Humber) and his family paid for it. There was no hunt for money. No need for multiple investors. In short, we just set out to make the film. Our collective filmmaking knowledge is what made it work.
For the next film, "Girlfriend," I was brought on by the Wayne/Lauren Film Co. after meeting with Justin Lerner and his team. Again, financing was already in place.
I just finished watching "Crazy Heart," the film for which Jeff Bridges won the Oscar for Best Actor. During the end titles, I noticed a laundry list of producers including cast members Robert Duvall and Bridges himself. This most likely means that, at some point, the film ran into financing trouble and was bailed out by members of the cast. I don't know this for sure, but it's a likely scenario.
Last week I had a very good meeting for another project that seems a long way off, but could very well end up being my third film as producer and may lead to a long term relationship with a well respected production company... Something I really hope goes through. At the same time, I continue to develop my own projects in the hope that I'll be able to get them made.
For indies, having a great script is hurdle number one. I have managed to find several now, and currently am working to make what I think is a good script (mine) into a great one. This too is difficult.
Hurdle number two, is finding the money. Something I'm working on.
But it feels like it's getting easier.
Wish me luck.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
This Monday, June 7th 2010 will be the 25th Anniversary of “The Goonies,” so I thought I might briefly talk about the film.
Anyone who was young enough when it came out (at least the people I’ve met), remember the film as a fond reminder of their childhood.
I can remember the theater I saw it in (Saddleback Cinema on El Toro Road in Laguna, Ca.), who took me (my grandmother) and how amazing the film was as an experience. I think, at the time, what was kind of mind blowing was that it was a film starring kids and about kids that never seemed to treat its actors or its audience like kids. There were, to borrow from an old 40’s one sheet, “thrills!” “chills” and “adventure!”
The film gave me everything I was hoping for in a movie. It was, in a word, perfect. I mean, who didn’t want to ride down that water slide at the end and climb onto ‘One-Eyed Willy’s’ ship?
I hear that on certain anniversary’s, the people of Astoria, Oregon (where the film was shot and takes place) have events and welcome members of the cast. Wish I could go this year. Maybe someday I’ll get up there… but for now I’ll simply say:
I am a Goonie.
Thanks to Richard Donner, Chris Columbus and Steven Spielberg for the great film.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The image is actually taken directly from the RED Camera we used to shoot the film, so credit must be given to not only our director (Justin Lerner), but to our phenomenally gifted director of photography Quyen Tran.
Hope you like it... Again.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Hopefully this one'll stay up for a while.
Hope you like it!
Monday, May 10, 2010
Saturday, March 27, 2010
I was thinking recently about some of my favorite actors… Top-tier people like Gary Oldman, Russell Crowe, Sean Penn, Cate Blanchett and Kate Winslet… and those are the names you recognize. but there are so many more whose work I really enjoy. Who, time and again, turn in solid work. The people you see and say, “I love this guy!” or “She’s great.” And while I know their names, you may not.
People like Catherine Keener, Bruce McGill, Carla Gugino, Elias Koteas, John Carroll Lynch, Ted Levine, Kevin Dunne, Emily Mortimer, John Slattery, John Hawkes, John Ortiz, John Ashton, Joe Pantoliano and the late great JT Walsh. Look any of them up and I guarantee you’ll have seen them and appreciated something they’ve done over the years.
Thinking about this made me realize how much I love actors in general. Not just their work, but being around them. The energy that surrounds them is, to me, like a drug. By being around them and talking with them, it makes me want to create. It reinvigorates me!
I recently had an opportunity to sit down with 6 up and coming actors (I've left out the names to protect the innocent) and it was literally the highlight of my week. The experience reminded me of the scene in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, where Richard Dreyfuss as 'Roy Neary’ becomes aware that he was invited to take part in the events which had been unfolding around him. This wasn’t chance. It was destiny. His destiny. Something had been calling him. Something told him that he needed to solve a mystery – he simply had to find out about that mysterious shape that had been haunting him… and once he knew, he had no choice but to go there. To find it. No matter what the challenges. No matter the odds. These six people were on a similar journey. They were pulled. Drawn to acting, as if by some unseen force – some from what seems like a million miles away! And despite the odds (like, for instance the fact that only 1% of the Screen Actors Guild is working in film at any given time), they refuse to quit.
In the group was a handsome young guy from Germany who grew up with the Wall dividing his country making it a "dark and grey place," and who flew across the world to follow his heart. There was a spunky, adorable Australian girl who, when she found out she could afford to come to Hollywood, literally packed her bag and flew the next day. There was a handsome Puerto Rican/Italian guy who gave up a six figure salary to chase his dream and follow in the footsteps of his uncle (a working actor). There was the stunningly beautiful blonde girl who decided that despite the abundance of pretty blonde girls in L.A., she simply had to take the chance – in fairness, she’s not your typical blonde (not by a longshot). There’s the guy who grew up on a farm in Oregon and found a way to become an actor, first on a local level, (by driving to “town”), and who then decided the time had come to head to L.A. Finally, a girl from Chicago, the child of a Detective and a classical musician who has been modeling and acting since before she could talk.
We hung out and talked to each other for nearly five hours! We laughed, we told stories and I found out so much about who they are and what they intend to accomplish.
Since my father passed away three years ago, I have become acutely aware of time – and more importantly, how quickly it passes. I mean, I feel like we just passed Christmas and we’re already hitting April! The summer movie season is about to start (what the hell???!!!) Anyway. As I sat there, listening to their stories, telling some of my own, and just sort of feeling these people and learning about their infinitely interesting lives, time (for me), literally melted away. Their commitment to their craft. To their dream. It was… well… inspiring.
This couldn’t have happened at a better time for me. Having been back in L.A. for several weeks, and with GIRLFRIEND winding down, (at least, the production end), I had found myself somewhat deflated.
In New York, there are people everywhere. Fascinating stories. Snippets of conversation on the subway. It’s constant. A truly a magical city. In L.A., here I was again… driving around in my car. By myself. Isolated. Missing out on life! Feeling the inevitable breakdown which usually hits me after I complete a project. But in an instant, that all changed.
Let me back up a bit.
I have known Bobbie Chance, an acting coach in the Los Angeles valley, for 23 years. As a kid, I studied with her (yes, at one point, acting was my aspiration). Last year, I looked her up to see if she was still teaching and happily found that she was. I began going to her Thursday night Showcase – not as a student, but as a professional filmmaker, and out of those Thursday nights I have made a ton of new friends, and even added a few members to the class.
The last time I produced a short for a friend, I cast two roles out of Bobbie’s classes and sent our lead actress to study there!
So in a way, being allowed the opportunity to go in from time to time and watch these people perform, is mutually beneficial. I get to watch good work and from it, I refill my, um, creative juices (for lack of a better term) and they have a forum to meet people who may, at some point, be in a position to change their lives because, as I often say, "films, for the people who make them, are kind of like a lottery ticket - you only need one to take off and your life will be completely different."
To see the sheer amount of undiscovered talent out there makes one feel like, even though the movies I’ve made are small (so far), that they are worth the effort… worth the pain. Because if these actors can strip themselves bare and leave every ounce of themselves on the stage in just a classroom setting, then I have no excuse but to pursue this showbiz dream with every single beat of my heart.
So if any of you read this thing, and I know I’ve said it in person, but again, “thank you.” You guys inspire me.
I was once asked by a class of high school drama students what advice I might offer them as far as getting into the acting world in L.A.
My response? “Don’t.”
I watched as they all looked at me quizzically. Their faces fell. Then, after a moment, I continued:
“Unless… Unless you have no choice in the matter. If performing… interpreting a script. Creating a character… expressing yourself through art… If doing that, to you, is like breathing and to do anything else would be like literally killing your soul… then fight for it. Fight for it with everything you’ve got because it’s a long, hard road and no one is going to hand it to you.”
I looked around the room and I could see a few of them brighten. In that moment, I recognized the ones who would fight. The kids whose need, not for attention, not for stardom, but for a forum for creative expression and for art, would never stop. And that too was inspiring.
If you happoen to read this blog and acting or film is not your thing, you can still use this. Whatever it is that you want. Whatever inspires you. Hold onto to it. I’ve been working in film for 16 years and I’ll turn 35 this year – I’m now on my second feature film as producer with more in the works, and the only reason I’m still here is simply that I refused to give up. I refused to hear “no.” …Not that I haven’t thought of throwing in the towel (I have… more than once). But in the end, as I said, to do so… to… admit defeat would have been something akin to dying. It would mean letting that flame that has burned in me since I was a child in that first screening of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” go out. And in the end, I could never do it.
Best regards. ‘Til next time. Thanks for reading.