One More Hill to Climb, Baby!

Running the meeting

Me, at a production meeting for “Isn’t It Romantic?”

The title of this post will be recognized by any long time New York Ranger fans. They were part of then radio play by play man Howie’s Rose’s call of the goal Stephan Matteau scored in double overtime that eliminated the New Jersey Devils and sent the Rangers to the NHL finals, where they defeated the Vancouver Canucks and won the Stanley Cup in 1994. What does this have to do with anything? It’s playoff time and I thought this would be a fun way to announce that my feature romantic comedy screenplay, Soul Mate is headed to the finals!

On April 26, eleven scripts were announced and low and behold, mine was amongst them. I have now won a free Stage 32 Next Level webinar and the logline for Soul Mate will be sent to over 500 industry professionals. Not to mention the chance to win the Grand Prize or one of the second prizes.

I’m thrilled. No question about that. This is actually the second contest where Soul Mate has been a finalist. It got down to a final six in the 2012 Wild Sound Summer Screenwriting Contest. So people think it’s pretty good.

At the start, I said I hoped to at least make the finals. I’m very happy to be there, but I would be lying if I said I don’t care about winning. I want this. Badly. Nearly all Stage 32 contest winners have gotten agents and their scripts optioned. That would be a very nice career boost. With everything else that’s been going well, this would just add to the momentum. In a very big way.

The winners will be announced on May 17. I will post my results then. So if you’re interested, and I think you are, tune in then.

In case you’re curious, you can hear Howie Rose’s amazing call and see the goal on YouTube. Let’s hope I go all the way as my Rangers did that magical season.

The Next Round

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As I recently reported, one of my latest successes was my feature length romantic comedy screenplay, Soul Mate being selected as a quarterfinalist in the Stage 32 Comedy Writing Contest. Pretty exciting. But let’s see. What would be more exciting? How about if it were selected as a semifinalist? Yes, boys and girls, that’s what I’m telling you. I was notified yesterday. Semifinals!

I am very happy and proud. Not to blow my own horn, but it’s a very good script. I worked extremely hard on it. It’s a unique and very funny story that takes place in my beloved New York. (Hence the photo above)

The story behind the story is pretty interesting too. I had the idea for it in 1988. I had written my first two screenplays when I came up with an idea for a romantic comedy, one of my favorite genres. I told my then girlfriend I was going to write one and she laughed. She informed me that I did not have a romantic bone in my body. Out of fairness, she was pretty much spot on at the time.

I wasn’t ready to write it. So it sat in the back of my mind in a little cabinet where I store my best ideas. Eventually in late 2010, I decided I was ready to write it. I did and here we are. Progressing nicely through a fairly prestigious contest.

Another interesting fact about Soul Mate. After I completed a couple of drafts, I let my ex-girlfriend read it. We have remained friends and I greatly value her opinion. She really liked it and was amazed that I had written it. That was the inspiration for my short comedy, Isn’t It Romantic?, which just won a festival award. Two for one! Not a bad deal.

Finalists will be announced on April 26. Here’s hoping I can make at least one more round. This is almost as much fun as the NHL playoffs. Let’s Go Rangers and Let’s Go Soul Mate!

Bonus Perk Weekend!

Abbe Skinner (thumbs up), Lauren Abbott (gray sweater) and Emma Skinner (extreme right in profile taking the picture) in  "Isn't It Romantic?" Soul Mate poster behind them.

Abbe Skinner (thumbs up), Lauren Abbott (gray sweater) and Emma Skinner (extreme right in profile taking the picture) in “Isn’t It Romantic?” Soul Mate poster behind them.

The Kickstarter campaign to fund MY SPIRITED SISTER is progressing steadily. We are happy to offer a special deal this weekend. The highest pledge this weekend, Saturday, August 3 or Sunday August 4, will receive, in addition to the regular perk, two autographed items from our previous film, ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?

First, there is the SOUL MATE poster (in the background above) that shared a scene with Lauren Abbott, Emma Skinner and Abbe Skinner, the three stars of MY SPIRITED SISTER. The three up and coming actors will sign it.

Paul Rothbart and Cooper Campbell in "Isn't It Romantic?"

Paul Rothbart and Cooper Campbell in “Isn’t It Romantic?”

Second, you will receive the photo above, featuring yours truly and my partner, Cooper Campbell, the writer/directors of MSS, who also starred in IIR. We will both sign the photo. How can you turn that down?

Here’s a chance to become a part of our team, support indie film and get some cool signed mementos. Check out the Kickstarter campaign. Please, share it with your friends. Give everyone the chance to take advantage of this limited time offer.

Special Offer!

This is last minute, I know, but, hey, I only thought of it this afternoon.  In the future, I’m planning to run these specials all weekend and will announce them on Friday.  But here it is.

The MY SPIRITED SISTER Kickstarter campaign is now almost 19% funded with a total of $1880.  In an effort to reach $2000 over the weekend, I am making this exclusive offer.  The person whose pledge pushes us to $2000 or above, today, and today only, will receive in addition to the perk for that level, the special ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? bonus pack.  That will include the DVD of the film, the first by Cooper and me and some signed memorabilia.

Abbe Skinner (thumbs up), Lauren Abbott (gray sweater) and Emma Skinner (extreme right in profile taking the picture) in  "Isn't It Romantic?"

Abbe Skinner (thumbs up), Lauren Abbott (gray sweater) and Emma Skinner (extreme right in profile taking the picture) in “Isn’t It Romantic?”

First, the SOUL MATE poster (behind the girls in the photo above) that was used in the opening scene of the film, signed by Lauren, Emma and Abbe, the three stars of MY SPIRITED SISTER.

Diana and Danny Scene 4

And I will throw in the “Property of Brooklyn College Film School” T-shirt (pictured above) that I wore as “Danny Kresky” in the film.  And I will sign it.

You have the unique opportunity to receive memorabilia from our first two films!  When Cooper and I win an Oscar, think of how valuable these items will be!  Jump on this opportunity and, if you are unable to do so, share the link with everyone you know.  Surely, someone will want to take advantage of this offer.

Introducing Our Stars

The stars of "My Spirited Sister" (left to right), Lauren Abbott, Abbe Skinner and Emma Skinner.

The stars of “My Spirited Sister” (left to right), Lauren Abbott, Abbe Skinner and Emma Skinner.

The photo above was taken on the set of “A Moment with Jon Francois”, WHC-TV in West Hartford, CT on the night of July 23. That’s the same show that Cooper and I appeared on last month. This time, the three young stars of our current film, MY SPIRITED SISTER were the guests. It was a terrific show and the girls all came through like pros. No surprise there. These are not ordinary young ladies. I am happy to introduce Lauren Abbott, Abbe Skinner and Emma Skinner.

Last year, during preproduction on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?, Cooper, who was my co-writer and one of my producers, came up with an idea for the opening scene. It took place in a movie theater with a crowd exiting after viewing Danny Kresky’s latest film. They were excited and gushing about the film. We needed extras and Cooper said she had a group of teenage girls who would add energy to the scene. I trust her judgement 100% and I thought it sounded like a great idea, so we went with it. I remember that day well, in fact, you can look back at what I wrote in my post on it.

The girls were terrific. We had no dialogue written, in fact, their actions weren’t even in the script, so I decided to let them improvise some lines. Lauren, Abbe and Emma were amazing! The were natural and shared the screen like professionals, not stepping on each other’s lines, despite the fact that it was improvised. They also brought so much energy and excitement to the set that it affected all of us. The veteran actors commented on great it was to have the girls there. Talk about easy to direct! I told them what I needed and they delivered.

Abbe Skinner (thumbs up), Lauren Abbott (gray sweater) and Emma Skinner (extreme right in profile taking the picture) in  "Isn't It Romantic?"

Abbe Skinner (thumbs up), Lauren Abbott (gray sweater) and Emma Skinner (extreme right in profile taking the picture) in “Isn’t It Romantic?”

Cooper and I were very impressed. There was no question we had to work with this talented trio again. This time with them in lead roles. Cooper conceived of MY SPIRITED SISTER with our stars in mind, the roles were written for them. Emma and Abbe, real life sisters, will be playing Amanda and Bethany Paige, sisters in the film and Lauren, Abbe’s real life best friend, will be playing Crystal Albright, Bethany’s best friend. This is a can’t miss.

The girls have been interested in acting and performing their entire young lives and started training at the age of five. They’ve attended camps and taken classes in scene study, character work, improv, singing, pretty much every aspect of acting. They also  have plenty of experience on the stage and television work. Of course they’ve also appeared in a film, my first.

I say this in all seriousness, these young ladies are worth watching. They are talented, well trained and dedicated. Cooper and I are thrilled to have them as our leads. You all know my approach: eighty percent of directing is casting and we’ve nailed it here. It was further confirmed last night as we watched the interview. The girls were a bit nervous. Perfectly natural as none of them had ever done a TV interview. Cooper and I prepped them the night before and just before the interview. Once it got underway, they all relaxed and were charming and articulate and entertaining. Never a doubt in my mind that they would be.

We’re planning to develop MY SPIRITED SISTER as a series and have a couple of potential avenues we plan to pitch to. With the work we’re putting in on the script and the terrific lead actors we have, we’re anticipating a great film. This should advance the careers of everyone involved. Very exciting.

Caption Contest!

Caption this photo to win a signed poster that was used in "Isn't It Romantic?"

Caption this photo to win a signed poster that was used in “Isn’t It Romantic?”

As post production continues on ISNT’ IT ROMANTIC?, I’m also making efforts to promote the film.  It’s actually starting to take on a life of its own and we’re generating a little buzz.  I would like to make that buzz bigger.  So I came up with an idea.

We are running a contest on the movie’s Facebook fan page.  The photo above is a screen capture taken from the film’s footage.  Interestingly, it did not occur during a take, so it’s not an interaction between characters, but rather between director and actor.  I thought the body English and facial expressions were interesting, so I chose it for the contest.

Visitors to the FB page can leave a caption as a comment.  The contest runs until January 31.  The writer of the best caption will receive a poster for Danny Kresky’s fictitious film, SOUL MATE.  The poster was used as set dressing in the opening scene of ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and it will be signed by yours truly and Cooper Campbell, pictured here with me.  So, you essentially get six autographs, the two writers, the two lead actors, the main producer and the director!  What a prize!

Margie Ferris (left) and Madeline Jaye rehearse their scene on the set on Day 2.  In the background is the prize poster.

Margie Ferris (left) and Madeline Jaye rehearse their scene on the set on Day 2. In the background is the prize poster.

So check out our fan page.  Enter the contest, look at the outtakes and like us!  Who knows, you may end up with a piece of movie memorabilia.  ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? is rapidly nearing completion and will be hitting the festival circuit very soon.

Status Update

It’s been almost a month since production wrapped on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? and quite awhile since I’ve posted.  I guess I’m overdue to bring everyone (okay, the three of you that actually read my blog) up to speed.  We’re still in post production and there is a considerable amount of work to be done.

I’ve gotten a look at the footage.  We’ve got some good stuff, but there are some gaps in coverage that will take creative solutions to make the scenes work.  I’m not happy with myself for allowing that to happen.  Granted, this is my first film, but it’s difficult.  I set very high standards for myself and it bothers me when I don’t live up to them.  My editor is confident that we can work around the problems.  He has over twenty years of experience and is very creative and talented.  He’s also a good friend who helps me stay calm when I start to freak out.

I”m a neurotic mess much of the time.  It’s very helpful in that I feel it’s the source of my creativity and talent.  It provides me with energy and inspires original story concepts.  It also makes me crazy sometimes.  For example, I find my performance in the film to be abysmal.  Other members of my team tell me otherwise, that I did a solid job.  My editor used the words, “Pretty damn good”.  Most actors don’t like to watch themselves and it’s so hard to be objective when watching oneself.  Nonetheless, watching me in a scene with the experienced and terrific actors in my cast looks to me like a high school pitcher trying to get major league hitters out.

I think part of the problem is I can’t buy into my character, Danny Kresky.  I look at the screen and I don’t see Danny.  I see me.  It makes everything else hard to buy.  I can’t get into the story because I know I’m not a highly successful writer/director (and probably never will be).  I’m not married to an amazing woman (and definitely never will be!)  I know, I should be looking at the overall story, but it is hard.

On the plus side, the sound is very good.  Poor audio is one of the major problems independent films face.  I hired a very good sound man and eliminated that issue.  I had two beautiful locations, four of my five main actors were excellent and my background actors were terrific.  We also had an excellent script from which to work.  As my idol Woody Allen said, “Experience has shown me that if you have a good script, you can do a miserable job of directing and still get a pretty good movie …”  I didn’t do a brilliant job, but it certainly wasn’t miserable either.  I did pretty well, I thought.  So I think we will end up with a pretty good movie.

SAG has invited us to submit it to their Short Film Showcase.  So glad we did it under a SAG contract for a number of reasons and this is now another.  It’s free to enter and if we get in, there’s a free screening at the SAG office in New York with a Q and A with the director and producers after.  That would be really nice exposure for us.  There is also a local film festival that we are almost sure to get into.  So, there are things to which we can look forward.

In the meantime, I am once again attempting to market my feature screenplay, SOUL MATE.  It’s a great script, the best thing I’ve written to date and I’ve got to get it on the screen.  If I have to, I will shoot it myself one day.  I’ve also started work on a new feature with my writing partner.  I’m very excited about that too.  We have a good story concept and our work on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? has shown both of us that we are capable of great things together.

Sorry for the long layoff on the updates.  (Like anyone is paying attention.)  I’ll keep you apprised of new developments.  Hopefully, we’ll have a finished film sometime early in the new year.

Production Has Begun

The opening shot of “Isn’t It Romantic?”

Although our first shooting day with the full crew is not until Saturday, October 13, production on ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  technically began tonight when my director of photography and I took a trip to our movie theater location, the beautiful Warner Theater in Torrington, Connecticut, to get the opening shots.  The head of maintenance at the theater graciously dressed the marquee for us to display the title of Danny Kresky’s latest film along with my fictional counterpart’s name.  It was a cool but clear night and it went off without a hitch.  We got terrific shots of the marquee from several angles.  It will be a nice way to start the film.

I experienced a true thrill when we pulled up in front of the theater and I got a look at the marquee.  Throughout pre-production, although the majority of my attention was focused on the film, it still felt abstract.  It was all planning and as busy as I was, I never truly registered exactly what was happening.  Tonight, as I stood behind the camera, looking at the shot on the monitor, it all sunk in.  It was actually happening.  I was there capturing the first ever images for my first ever film.

Kind of a surreal moment.  How does one describe the feeling of finally experiencing a long time dream?  I was a bit overwhelmed and I wished my still photographer had been there to record the moment, at least for me.  But, no matter.  The sight of that gorgeous marquee lit up against the night sky displaying an image that I had created and placed on paper is permanently burned into my mind’s eye.

This is not only the first film I am directing, it is also the first of my screenplays to be produced and it will be my film acting debut.  As a writer, I got a charge out of seeing a scene in front of me that previously had only existed in my imagination.  It was different.  Much better than I initially saw it.  The theater I envisioned when I wrote the script was just that: a theater.  I ended up shooting it at a movie palace.  Very nice upgrade.

Saturday will take things to the next level.  We are shooting the longest and most complex scene of the film and I will have my actors and my crew to direct as well as my role to play.  A challenge to be sure, but one I eagerly await.  No matter what I accomplish in my filmmaking career, this first one will always be special.  I want to remember this thrill, the childlike feeling of a new and exciting experience and let it carry me in all my future work.

I’m not dreaming.  I’m really making a movie.

Our Other Location

Warner Theater

The beautiful and historic Warner Theater in Torrington, CT, the location for the opening scene of “Isn’t It Romantic?”

 

The photo above is an approximation of the opening shot of the short film I am shooting, ISN’T IT ROMANTIC?  The marquee displays the title of the fictitious film written and directed by the protagonist, Danny Kresky.  (For the record, SOUL MATE is the title of a feature screenplay of mine, a romantic comedy that has been generating some interest.  It was a contest finalist and one way or the other, it will be on the screen some day.)

The opening scene of our comedy short takes place at a movie theater.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I was not able to get in touch with anyone at the theater two blocks from my house, or receive any help from the local film commission.  I was very fortunate.  That theater is a nice little venue, but look at that photo.  The Warner is gorgeous!

Built in the 30’s by Warner Brothers, and restored decades later, it is seriously one of the nicest theaters in the entire Northeast.  My co-writer, my director of photography and I took a tour of the incredible facility yesterday.  The scene is very brief and takes place in the lobby.  We were very tempted to rewrite it and include the auditorium.

The Warner has a number of programs to promote and support local performing artists.  Stage shows, concerts and programs for children are regularly held.  They were very receptive to allowing us to shoot there and are letting us do it for free.  That’s the kind of support independent filmmakers need to create original and entertaining movies.  The executive director was incredibly generous.  They are going to set up the marquee for us.  (It was photoshopped in the picture above)  They are also going to provide us with some extras for the background of the scene, and a place for the actors to rest and for us to set up our craft service tables.

We were so deeply moved by this show of generosity.  I feel as though our production has been blessed.  Things are going so well.  We have two truly beautiful locations that will add greatly to the production value.  I’ve got a great cast and crew.  An entire team working hard and dedicated to making a great film.

This whole venture is succeeding beyond anything I could have imagined.  The heat is on.  All the elements are in place.  No excuses.  I’ve got to guide this team and bring it home.  Luckily for me, I thrive under pressure.

More Funding – Maybe

Money.  It has been said the love of it is the root of all evil.  It has also been said to make the world go around.  In the world of filmmaking, it is a simple fact: you need it and getting it is not easy.  Even with the advances in HD video and micro budget indie productions, the scramble for funding is on.

Currently, our production, “Isn’t It Romantic?” has $5000.  That’s actual cash in the bank, ready to spend.  How did we get it?  From me.  Every penny of it.  I happened to come into a little dough and I put the whole thing into the project.  To be perfectly honest, I should not be spending the money this way.  It doesn’t matter.  I am committed to getting this film made, so that’s what I’m doing with the money.  No guts, no glory.  Fortune favors the bold.  Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!  Let’s see if I’m still saying these things when I’m living in a cardboard duplex in an alley.

The budget we have, as it now stands, is $10,000.  Yes, that’s a big discrepancy, but it’s not as bad as it seems.  Initial budgets are estimates and much manipulation occurs when coming up with the actual numbers.  For example, our actual location fee is only 30% of what was budgeted.

That said, I still would like to have more money, ideally the entire $10,000.  We may have a significant amount coming soon.  I took a job several months ago, rewriting a feature screenplay titled, “Facades”.  It’s very different from my usual work, not a comedy, but rather, a character study, a psychological drama.  It’s a good script, an art house project.  The original draft was written by the director and he hired me to do the rewrite.  I have been working on it steadily, making adjustments based on notes I get from the producer as well as the director.  For this, I will be paid $3500.  I intend to put every penny of it into “Isn’t It Romantic?”.

The problem is, before I can get paid, the movie needs funding.  I knew this upfront and I was okay with it.  It’s been a very good experience for me.  It got me out of my comfort zone and doing things I had never done as a writer, such as working on someone else’s story.  I have improved my skills.  No matter what, it’s been a worthwhile experience.

Today, I sent the sixteenth draft to the director.  That’s a lot.  Many more drafts than I generally do.  But, it looks like the payoff, in the most literal sense, is imminent.  An investor is very interested in the project and funding should be in place very soon.  I have been assured that my fee is the first order of business.  My fingers are crossed.  I am sure the intentions are genuine, but deals in show business can fall apart easily.

At any rate, there is hope.  This would actually help me in more than one way.  Obviously, raising the coffers for our film to $8500 would be huge.  We could run a crowd funding campaign, which we are going to do anyway, but we would only need an additional $1500 to reach $10,000.  That would be a very comfortable number that should allow us to shoot with a minimum of financial stress.

The other benefit would be that “Facades” would go into production on schedule for later this year and make its May release date.  I would have a legitimate screen credit.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how much that would do for my career.  Between that and the contest finalist status achieved by my feature screenplay, “Soul Mate”, I should be able to get an agent.  Also, the director and producer of “Facades” have other projects for me.  I could get very busy as a writer and start taking those numerous baby steps that lead to a writing career.

Whether this all comes off or not, who can say?  But it is exciting to be in this position.  Possibilities keep us going, give us hope, make us feel, at least for a little while, that all the effort as been worth it.