New Production Dates for “My Spirited Sister”

Yes, I know. It’s been over a month since my last post. My apologies, but Cooper and I have been incredibly busy in preproduction on MY SPIRITED SISTER. Preparation is perhaps the most important part of the filmmaking process, and MSS is a much more ambitious project than ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? was. Plus, we had a bit of a setback.

As mentioned in earlier posts, we had retained our editor from IIR and he was going to serve as our DP as well. Unfortunately, he had to pull out of both jobs. He is always very busy and our project was more than he could handle with his very full schedule. So, in addition to every other job, we’ve had to search to fill those positions. As a result, we felt it would be best to postpone production.

We will now be shooting the final three weekends in January, including Monday, the 20th, Martin Luther King Day. The extra time will enable us to fill out the crew, finalize casting and locations as well as prepare our shot lists. It’s quite a task when you’re the writers, producers and directors, even with two of us. It was a little disappointing to have to wait a bit longer. We’ve been so eager to get going. But it was the prudent decision and will allow for a better shoot and final project.

We’ve got some good candidates for DP, including one we really like. He’s interested and we should be able to make a deal. Regarding casting, we ran a notice on Backstage and got a ton of submissions. We went through them all and chose and notified the actors we wish to see. We’ll be holding auditions in New York again, like last year. Similarly, we’ve got a good handle on locations.

We’re very happy with the crew we have too. We found an excellent 1st AD with plenty of experience. She’s organized and hardworking and is taking quite a load off us during preproduction. We also have a production designer this time around. That will make a big difference. Visually, IIR is adequate, but it could be a lot better. Some of that has to do with the lack of set dressings. We didn’t have anyone dedicated to that job. We’ve got an ambitious, young hair and make up artist, a good sound recorder and some good PAs. We have a gaffer this time too, Cooper’s fiancé, Jimmy. It’s going to be fun having him on set.

Speaking of which, Jimmy and Cooper have been planning their wedding throughout the preproduction process. Simply amazing. I don’t know how Coop does. If I go to the bank and the dry cleaner in the same day, I need a nap! Their wedding is two weeks from today. I’m really looking forward to it. They’re two terrific people and really good together. I’m also going to be shooting footage on the second camera for their wedding video. Now I can add “Second Unit Camera Operator” to my resume.

So, there you have it. You’re up to date and know when the shooting starts. I will try to be better about posting. I know my fans eagerly anticipate these posts. Both of you.

The Cast Is Set

This past Sunday, we held auditions in a rented studio in Midtown, right around the corner from The Ed Sullivan Theater.  What a great experience!  I’ve always dreamed of making a movie and now it’s happening.  As an East Coast guy and a native New Yorker, I never had visions of Hollywood.  I’ve always had the desire to shoot on the streets of my home town and at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios in Queens.  I haven’t quite gotten there, yet, but our casting session gave me a little taste.

I was very happy with the caliber of the actors who submitted.  I spent hours watching reels and chose a nice stable to bring in and read for us.  We have our cast set and I am quite pleased.  I had a couple of tough decisions to make and the actors I’ve chosen are going to add greatly to the production.

The most difficult decision I had was in casting the part of “Lance Wilson”.  Lance is a movie star.  Good looking.  A heart throb.  It’s a tricky part to play because Lance has capped teeth and cosmetic surgery and deep inside is still the insecure nebbish.  We needed an actor with the right look and the ability to play it.

It came down to two candidates.  One was a terrific actor, very funny and extremely creative.  Low maintenance. I got the feeling he wouldn’t need a lot of direction.  He didn’t quite have that matinee idol look though.  I was on the fence about bringing him in for that reason, but he was such a good actor, I decided to take a look.  He gave an outstanding audition and impressed all of us.

The other actor was good, but not as good.  He did have a great look.  Truly like a movie star.  I was impressed because he learned the lines.  (I sent all the actors the scenes they would be reading.  I don’t  like cold readings, I want them to have every chance to succeed.)  He didn’t bring the script with him.  My co-star pointed out to me what a risk that is and that an actor really shouldn’t do that.  Honestly, I admired the boldness and confidence.  It’s like something I would do.

It was an incredibly difficult decision.  You love casting the best actor when you can.  Ultimately, we HAD to have a guy the audience will buy as a heart throb.  I chose the lesser actor with the right look.  He was still good and seemed like a nice guy.  I got a good vibe from him.  I feel that I can work with him and get him where he needs to be.

I do feel bad though.  I so wanted to cast the smart, funny guy.  Good looking guys always win.  I feel like I betrayed my own kind.  Nevertheless, I did what was right for the movie and I feel good about that.  As my co-writer pointed out to me, I created the character.  So I had to cast him.

The other two parts are small; two lines each.  I honestly wish they were bigger, the two actors I cast are that good.  The parts are two female movie goers who exit a theater and discuss the film they just saw, which was written and directed by the protagonist.

The first one I knew I wanted when I saw her reel.  She has a lot of experience in short films and I watched her clips about four times.  She is a Kathy Bates type and has a fire that touched me.  Very subtle and natural and she comes across well on camera.  Her audition was dynamite!  She touched me from across the room adding a poignancy to a comedic scene that gave it depth.  Her first take was great, but I had them all do it twice.  The second time I gave them an adjustment to see how they took direction.  She made a very slight, but palpable change that was equal to her first take.  She had a quiet confidence about her as well.  She was in.  It would have taken Meryl Streep walking into that room to change my mind.

The other woman I cast was also very good.  She’s a friend of my co-writer, so I know she is a professional that I can count on.  She was natural, made her adjustment well, and visually will work very well with the other woman.

So, there it is.  We have the cast.  Four excellent actors and me, the comedian who’s basically playing himself.  This is going to work.  I’m proving to be the genius I always knew I was.

Woody and me: We’re not the same guy

Let’s change it up a little today and talk about something not directly related to ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  We’re visiting the location house today and holding auditions in New York tomorrow, so there will be plenty to report on after the weekend.  Instead, how about if I discuss my filmmaking idol, Woody Allen?  Particularly how we are different.

As I related in the articles on my background, I grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, the same neighborhood that produced Woody.  In, fact, a great number of film legends came from Flatbush, but that’s another story for another article.  Woody of course, is a big hero throughout New York, and especially in his home neighborhood.

I also told you about the short story I wrote in fifth grade about the suicidal cafeteria clock that won me a creative writing award and which numerous teachers compared to Woody Allen’s work.  It made me even more aware of him and I have followed his career religiously since then.  The stand up albums, the films, the plays, the prose.  I’m intimately familiar with all of them.  I couldn’t help but be influenced by his work.

There are other great writers who have affected me.  I’m a huge Neil Simon fan.  I love the late Nora Ephron.  Both have had a major impact on me.  Mel Brooks, and more recently, Larry David are other writers who I’ve emulated to a certain extent.  But no one has affected me as much as Woody Allen.

His work continues to inspire me and I’m jealous of the incredible situation he’s in.  He gets funding and distribution without having to show anyone a script or even have a title!  He makes the movies he wants to, with little outside interference.  I’ll never have that, but, hey a guy can hope.  Despite my great respect and admiration for the incredible Mr. Allen, if it were possible, I would not want to be him.  No matter what, I desire to always be me, a unique individual.  It’s something I strived for as a comedian and now, as a writer and budding filmmaker.

The truth is that the similarities I have to Woody are not things I’ve tried to affect.  We do have some things in common other than Flatbush.  I tend to be drawn to heroes with whom I can identify.  For example, I am honestly a very neurotic person.  I always have been.  That element of my work is like Woody’s, but it is genuine.  All writers invest themselves into their work, but some do it to a much higher degree.  It’s always been instinctive for me to do that, right from my stand up days.  Woody does it too, which I’ve always admired.  But I deal with personal issues because I need to, not because he does.

The differences.  You may find this one interesting.  Woody is Jewish.  Despite my last name, I’m not.  Most people, because of my name and the type of comedy I write, assume that I am Jewish.  My grandfather was, but he married an Irish Catholic woman and my father was raised Catholic.  My mother comes from a Dutch/Swedish Lutheran background.  What does that make me?  Confused and racked with guilt!  I was raised Lutheran, but long ago rejected my faith.  I’m agnostic.  Who knows if there’s a God or not?  But if there is, I’m convinced every religion is wrong.  Anyway, my characters to a certain extent have some typical Jewish traits, but not like Woody’s, since my protagonists are based on me.

Another very big difference.  Woody Allen was a professional gag writer at the age of fifteen.  By seventeen, he was in NBC’s young writer’s program.  He has spent his entire adult life at, or near the top of the show business world.  That’s the world his characters inhabit, the upper strata of literati.  I’ve only known the lower rungs of the ladder.  I never made it to “The Tonight Show” or Letterman.  My characters have a blue color sensibility, even the successful ones such as ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?‘s protagonist, acclaimed writer/director Danny Kresky.

Although we grew up in the same neighborhood, Woody Allen and I are a generation apart.  He’s a year young than my mother.  (Exactly a year, they share their birthday, December 1)  To paraphrase a line from his MANHATTAN, I grew up with television and the pill, he was World War II.  It makes a big difference.  My references and my outlook on many issues differ because of it.

The Flatbush I grew up in was very different from Woody’s nice, lower-middle class, blue color neighborhood.  In the 60’s and 70’s Flatbush was dangerous and crime ridden, once of the worst neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  My father was mugged at gunpoint one night. I had a younger brother and sister to protect, so I fought constantly.  In that neighborhood, you either fought or you ran, and I don’t back down to anyone.  Thus, my protagonists don’t have that nebbishy quality that Woody’s do.  They can take care of themselves because I can take care of myself.  Which leads us to the final difference.  I’m a fighter, not a lover.

A big part of Woody Allen’s persona, right from his days as a comic, is his problems with women.  He deals with it in a very funny way to which I could always relate.  It’s just as big a part of my persona.  However, with Woody, it’s an act.  Come on.  The guy dated both Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow.  Mia was once married to Frank Sinatra for God’s sake! And Diane Keaton was with Warren Beatty.  Woody’s on his third marriage.  This guy has no trouble getting women.

I’m the real deal.  Only one good relationship ever in my life, and I blew that one.  I haven’t been on a date since Clinton was in the White House.  First term.  Women don’t like me.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I make a great “friend”.  Nice guys.  We’re always the friend.  But no woman wants anything to do with me as anything more.  When I write those characters there is great authenticity.  I’m going to die alone.  I’ve accepted that.  Sorry, Woody.  You’ll always be my idol, I’ll probably never be the artist you are.  But in the failure with women department, you’re not in my league.

An Actor’s Director

As preproduction continues, things are going amazingly well.  I’m blessed.  Nothing has ever gone this smoothly in my life.  It’s scary because I’m waiting for the other shoe to fall.  But I am also making sure I am prepared for any conceivable setback.  If something inconceivable happens, I may be in trouble.  I better plan for that too.

This Sunday, we are holding auditions.  We posted a casting notice on the BackStage web site and got a ton of submissions.  There are so many actors out there looking for work.  It brings back memories of my stand up days and all the effort that went into booking gigs and standing out amongst one’s peers.

I’ve spent the better part of the last week looking at headshots and resumes and watching actor’s reels.  There are some really talented people out there waiting for their break.  Some of the stuff I watched was truly enjoyable.  I booked auditions for  a nice stable of good actors with the right look and personality for the roles.  I am very optimistic about having a great cast for ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? 

We rented a room at a studio in Midtown Manhattan.  Most of our actors live in New York and it adds credibility to our production to cast in that environment.  Very cool for me, a native New Yorker, to be seeing actors for my first film in the heart of the theater district.  Truly a dream come true.

One thing that is really important to me, is to give the auditioning actors every chance to succeed.  I sent them all a copy of the scene they will read.  I don’t believe in cold readings.  I want to see how they prepare and at their best.  I’m sincerely rooting for all of them and I hope every one of them blows me away and makes my team’s decision incredibly difficult.  I love actors.

Many directors I’ve talked to, or read about, express negative feelings toward actors.  A lot of filmmakers come from a technical background, especially film school graduates.  They learn everything they can about cinematography, sound, editing, writing.  But how many of them have ever taken an acting class?  I have.  A good film director should have a least a basic understanding of every aspect of filmmaking, and acting is of prime importance.

You can’t make a good movie without good performances.  To guide an actor to a good performance, you need to understand the process and what kinds of problems actors deal with.  It’s a very noble profession.  Actors are the most vulnerable people involved in production. They go in front of the camera and put it on the line, opening themselves up and exposing themselves in a very personal and profound way.

I have so much respect for that.  I want actors who are collaborators.  I want to hear their ideas and let them create the roles with just adjustments from me.  More than anything, I would love to be known as an actor’s director.  Don’t get me wrong.  I study the other aspects of filmmaking, ask questions of my crew and I can communicate with them in their language.  But I will never refer to an actor as a “necessary evil”.  I hope that I can gain their trust, make them feel comfortable and able to give me their best.  I appreciate them.  Can’t make a movie without them.

80% of Directing Is Casting

That’s a saying I’ve read that’s been attributed to a number of directors.  It makes sense.  If the actor is right for the part, contributes creatively and can take direction, your job as a director will be much easier.  That’s the latest chore on my directorial to-do list.  We are now actively casting.

Our two leads have been set from day one.  The male lead, is me.  We’ve covered that.  The female lead, my co-producer, co-writer and a terrific friend.  She’s an excellent actor and I wrote the part for her.  We work well together so that gives us a nice solid foundation.   We are now working on the other three speaking roles.

We have a supporting role that is important to the success of the film.  The character is a handsome, playboy movie star.  His looks are a result of capped teeth and plastic surgery, so we need an actor who can play the role with the nebbish still inside.  My co-star had a friend in mind who was a good fit, but he’s not available, so we’re looking.

The other two are bit parts, or under 5’s as they are known.  Two women in the brief, but important opening scene.  It’s strictly expository but it sets the tone for entire story.  I don’t view them as throwaway parts.  I want good actors.

We’ve set a date for auditions and I’ve got a notice up on a casting web site.  I’m really getting into this.  I feel like a director.  We’ve gotten a number of submissions and several that look promising.  I’m amazed at the training and experience some of them have.  Why are they interested in my little film?  Just goes to show you how tough show business is!

The auditions are not for a couple of weeks, but I’ve already started my research.  Using modern technology, I’ve been checking resumes and locating some of the shorts the actors have been in online.  That way, I can get a look at their work and get a jump on the casting process.  I’m also finding contact information for the directors of the films so I can inquire about what the actors are like to work with.  Great idea, right?  I’m a genius.  (Not really.  I got the idea from a book on casting.  But kudos to me for making the effort to learn how to cast correctly.)

The other 20% of the job is going pretty well.  If I can nail the 80%, I just may pull this off!