Thursday, November 29, 2007


Donn Gobin came to the set the day we filmed the skirmish. We'd talked on the phone briefly. He knew a few of the people on set, crew he'd worked with elsewhere. They knew he was looking to put some money into a movie that was going, and, we were already going, with recognizable actors, and the crew kept telling him that we were nice, and respectful. As if this was novel. Maybe it is. I have worked on some sets where there was a lot of yelling and major melt downs and drama. I want all of the drama in front of the camera please, and we were pretty successful at keeping it that way, I think. Anyway, it was because we were 'nice' that Donn wanted to visit our set.

Maybe he just wanted to see how our production was running and if it looked llike we'd get it in the can. Whatever the reason, Donn came to visit our set the day of the skirmish. He hung around overnight. Sophia got him a room at a lovely b&b, the local businesses were astoundingly generous and Sophia very resourceful, and he stayed through the next day, and I guess Donn liked what he saw. We brokered a deal and he wrote us a check. It was a wonderful act of faith from someone who'd heard about us less than 48 hours before. He's been a great partner for us.

Then there was Shaun Harkins. Shaun is the inventor of the Cabletrak Jib. It's a camera crane arm that can maneuver in small spaces and can also run offroad with a forty foot arm. Shaun has used his jib for the winter Olympics in Utah and "Good Morning America" concerts on the street and MSG and ... The use of such equipment was way outside the scope of our budget.

Shaun's son, John, and my son Jackson have played baseball together for years. At a game Shaun asked me if I was gonna need crane work. I told him it would be a dream but that I couldn't afford him.

"How do you know if you don't ask?"

" much would 4 days of crane work cost me?"

"Two bucks."

"Two hundred? Two thousand? ..."

Here he holds up two fingers,

"One, two."

So I say, "That could work."

When Sophia tried to pay him those 2 dollars, he refused them, telling her in all seriousness that he'd drunk a couple of club sodas. That crane work, which he and Stephen choreographed so beautifully along with Randy Kovitz (fight coodinator) and Scott (A.D.), put about $50,000 we didn''t have right on the screen. Such a gift.

There were so many moments like this. We were working 12 hour days and trying to strictly honor that and make our day's work quota without sacrificing artistry. I'm generally not precious about my work. I'm a ruthless self editor as a writer, cutting out the fat, putting it in a drawer if it's worth saving, always trying to tell the story with the right blend of words ... to create tone, atmosphere, to support whatever themes are at play among the sentences...

I use to play that way with my kids when they were small. We'd build amazing structures out of blocks, try out daring concepts of engineering, daredevil inclines and floating precipices, and then we'd knock them down as part of the play. Why be precious about it, I mean, they're blocks right, toys...

I'd always admired the concept of the sand mandala, and I figure if you can live life that way, where none of the 'stuff' becomes so important that it impedes other areas of acquisition, then ... you get the idea. When Caitlin, my daughter, entered nursery school at age 3, we had been playing that way. Open House, as it was called, was a place that emphasized learning as "play" as opposed to the Montessori "work" method. I figured there was enough time in life to learn about work.

In her first week at Open House I got a phone call from the director of the school who asked if I could come to the school please, with an edge of urgency, though he assured me that nothing was wrong, he had something he wanted me to see. When I got there he brought me into her classroom and all but ta-da'd toward a large block structure supported by a block monolith. It looked like many others Cailtin had erected.

"Do you understand the math concepts inherent in this structure?!" I'm thinking to myself, 'dude, math? nah, I don't do math.' I'm a Convent girl with nuns and math-punishment stories after all.

When it was clear I wasn't gonna respond on the math level, he gets to what's really bothering him

"She wants to knock it down!" He's looking at me now with an 'is she crazy?' expression.

I say, 'Yeah, she does it all the time. I figure it 's better for her to learn not to hold on to the accomlishment cuz sometimes you get stuck on that being it, you know?"

He looked at me like I had three heads and each of them was speaking in tongues.

"She'll make another one..." I continue, "...and this way she won't be mad if someone else knocks it down, cuz she knows she can do it again ..."

He's incredulous at this line of thought, and her teacher, Sam, who looks like a lepruchan, is smiling and nodding, so I say to the director

"Maybe you want to take a picture of it?"

He does. One of the structure alone, and one with Caitlin standing next to it with an expression on her face that says, "What's the big deal?" We still have the photos.

Then she knocked it down. The next day she built another one with some other kids, and they knocked it down. The director stopped taking pictures and I learned about blocks and math concepts, making it less scary for me than numbers had been.

So I thought this approach would work the best on set. If something wasn't working maybe there was a simpler way to accomplish it. Knock it down and build it again. "Trust your gut." was my set mantra. It's usually right isn't it?

There are maybe two scenes where I wish I'd been able to get coverage, but they were days where the power on the mountain top went out and with one generator and ... we wanted to make our days and get everything we might need before David left, because there was no forseeable way of cranking this machine up again for reshoots.

There were days when we could feel the energy flagging. Bodies and minds were tired. One such day when the crew had schlepped a lot due to weather/country power ... Sophia and I could see that tempers were gonna flare ... That's when we went to my address book...Sophia called Sheila Demorest, a wonderful massage therapist, and asked if she could bring a table to the set the next day to give some needed adjustments and pampering to a tired cast/crew.

Sheila brought a friend, Kim, and between the 2 tables, everyone on set got to get away, even if only for a short while. It was reenergizing on so many levels. We build massage therapists into our next budget. You have to respect those moments, when a few minutes of change in the routine can provide so much renewed zest. Like the day we finally stopped paying the ice cream truck to go away and had the the cast/crew belly up to its windows for an ice cream break. Sounds silly when you read it like this, but it was a delightful change in the action that didn't cost us anything but the ice cream and improved moods. We made up the time in renewed focus.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


24 days. That's what we had, no more, no less. David came to us from a big budget set and would leave us for another 24 days later. It had rained torrentially the last 2 weeks of June. But July rolled in hot, and humid, with the creeks running. Always a good sign. It seems to me that things get stuck when the creeks run dry.

Those production days blurred by in a frenzy of questions and emotions ... everyone looking to me to set the tone. Now, I'm good in a crisis. I'll freak out after it's passed, sometimes, but normally I figure if you can breathe your way through labor and shove a 9 pound plus basketball out of your body and still smile when it wants to suck on you for a couple of years and ... well, you get the picture ... how hard could it be? Breathe. It's not war, nobody's gonna die.

People rushed at me with frenzied questions

"This color?!" "How much of the room do we see?" "Blood?" "What day is this in Sadie days?' "Are we in "Henry"?"

"This is directing?" I'd asked myself, having read several books on directing for single camera and being a staunch lover of those drawing room dramas and comedies that the Europeans do so well. If this answering questions and telling people what I like, but not being crazy in love with window dressing that's gonna cost too much and which does nothing to advance plot or deepen character, if this is directing, well, I can do that.

So I answered their questions as they set out to inflate the ideas I'd scratched on the page into a life-like make believe. I've always liked pretending and make believe. I have an assortment of accents and characters I regularly draw out to hide away the parts of myself who take it all too sensitively and seriously. I discovered as a child of color raised in a white finishing school world, that sometimes it's easier for people to comprehend me, and my lack of relation to general stereotyping, if I seem ... not American. It's that, and being adopted, where my history and antecedents are virtual unknowns, which for me meant I could be anything, no finites or absolutes of what is or was, but only what could be, that has allowed me the greatest creative freedom. It is a well excercised muscle.

But back to production and all of those incredible people who were helping me make Cedarsville and its quirky inhabitants come to life.

We shot the past first. That is the way we're taught that it happens. Okay, so I'm a quantum mechanics nut. Stephen Hawking has such a fuckable brain! Okay, that's what gets my engine running, abstract thought, conceptual, out of the box ... Anyway, the past came first for many reasons, not the least of which was facial hair. David had let Melanie (makeup) know that his beard took a bit of time to grow in, so if we were gonna need hair in the past we'd better start there. And we did.

Shooting the past first also served to establish the emotional stakes upon which the present day conflict hinged. We didn't plan that part, that was just another serendipity of the way this project came together.

We shot the love scenes the first days, and the Civil War battle and period garden party the first weekend. The love scenes are intentionally without nudity. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed by the visual on screen I miss the emotional stakes, and this is a story about emotions that travel through time, so I wanted to make sure we knew they mattered.

Anyway, I remember the first day, that period vanity scene with Anna in Edmund's lap. It was a small room, Sophia and Jason's guest room which they alllowed us to trash, and for which I am forever grateful. I was asked earlier if it was going to be a closed set for the love scene. I thought for a second,

"No. It's not that kind of scene. It's female erotica."

To which Stepehn (dp), who'd been passing in the hall quipped

"Which means boring."

"Really?" I'd replied, "Is that what you think?"

Stephen chuckled, "Sometimes."

By the time we had arrived in the tiny little room with our actors and mostly young-male-close-to-camera-crew a demon had possessed me. It's a benign impish demon who knows me well and knows exactly when to crawl inside me and take control.

"Listen up..." I said taking focus. "...82% of those women surveyed agreed that nipple stimulation leads to greater frequency and duration of oragasm. So if you like your women wet, pay attention." I had read the statistic in a waiting room somewhere just a few days before, and clearly it had made an impact.

But back to the small set-room. There was a silence and an excitement. Suddenly the energy was very sexy. Just talking about sex makes it sexy. Most women I know know this. At any rate, shooting the scene was fun. Maybe five takes, the room was hot, but no one left. And when we finished that scene I heard one of the PAs saying to another,

"That was hot." and he wasn't talking about the temperature.

Melissa and David broke a table during their first love scene together. It was several takes in and quite steamy and intense, not hard to believe years of longing lost in a marriage to another ... and that period table he leans her over collapsed to the floor!

Laughter alerted us to the lack of injury and Scott (a.d.) and a screw gun made the table stronger than it had ever been and ...Melissa and David were back at it without hesitation, great actors, brilliant renderings of these characters who had lived in my head for so long, to become who they are without me, beyond me, stretched whole. Such magic.

The Civil War skirmish was a pivotal scene in the story. It's the event that changes everyone. In the script it was always a skirmish, small, a rag-tag group of soldiers on their way north through a meadow when they encounter a band of Confederates headed south across the same meadow. There's a moment when it could all be changed and they could pass on without engaging, and then one man charges and they must all engage in this new habit grown old.

They say it's expensive to do period, but I'd been watching Ken Burns Civil War series and the credits included reenactors as did the credis of the film "Glory".

So I traveled around to Civil War reenactments, steeping myself in authenticity, and looking for folks with their own uniforms and period clothing who might want to be extras while I also familiarized myself with a camera. I have a file with hundreds of releases from these expeditions and many hours of footage, and I learned that this is some of the best improvizational theater being done in our country. These people are steeped in their worlds, and it was an honor to learn from them, and also to pass muster in the accuracy of the time period we were trying to recreate.

When the time came to ask folks to come and play we luckily found folks who were not previously committed to any of the big encampments and who lived locally. Except for the CAMPTOWN SHAKERS. I met Renny, Dave, and King in a tent on the commercial strip of the Reenactment of the Battle at Neshimany. It was a huge event. Thousands of soldiers on foot, on horseback, with canons. Choreographed and authentic and performed with such gusto. I time travelled and taped many hours of folks living in this alternate reality, this other time.

But the Camptown Shakers I heard heading toward my car, camera and releases packed away with the prospect of a 4 hour drive ahead. But I heard the music and knew that no one was using electricity there, so the music had to be live. I followed the fiddle and the percussion, and the banjo strains to a small flapped tent where the three men played their beautiful music.

We had always planned to include the Camptown Shakers and in our original budget had made provision for their travel and lodging and ... when the money went away we alerted them to our situation and apologized. That's when they offered to come and camp out on my land. Which they did for 2 days. It was delightful! We ate Chinese food and laughed. They added so much to the feel of the film and the mood of the set. The Camptown shakers would just sit and play. Awesome!

Reenactors came from across the river to attend our garden party. Lovely women in such authentic hand sewn clothing. Costumes we could never have afforded given our circumstances. Amazing.

There was one gentleman who came and participated in the battle and also at the garden party playing 2 distinctly different characters. When he came to the screening at Rosendale, he found me afterward with an incredulous look on his face.

"Cedar Creek?! I didn't know it was Cedar Creek ...!"

I nodded knowing there was more he wanted to get out.

The character I played that day, the day of the battle...?"

He stares at me as if I should know the punchline, but I don't, though I suspect it will be more Racing Daylight WOO-WOO.

"..."I never read your script ... I didn't know it was Cedar Creek. But the character I played, that soldier died at Cedar Creek!"

I had only discovered myself when looking through the local history collections, thanks again Stone Ridge Library, for photographs to use in the credits, that there were indeed troops from the area who died at Cedar Creek. It was not intentional, but again ... serendipity.

We shared our excitement at this new link to the past Racing Daylight had brought together. But Cedar Creek would come into play again ... much later on...


I attended a dinner a few weeks ago hosted by Marta Kauffman (co-creator of "Friends"), Gloria Steinam and the Women's Media Center. There were about twenty of us, women in entertainment, in the room. Interesting women; Judith Aidoo, who learned to earn money from her mother who is from Ghana. Evidently it is women in Ghana who are the wheeler dealers. She made her money on Wall Street and is spending it in radio, owning several stations, on Broadway, backing the "Bridge and Tunnel' Broadway debut, and in film, where she has opened a studio and produced her first feature, "Blackout". Theresa McBride, a single mother from New Mexico who recently sold her technology company for 200 million. Her son is a d.p. who has worked on many worthy indie features, and she wondered why they weren't being seen. So she bought an online distribution venue and has now hooked up a deal with Regal Theatres and an as yet unamed tv network, to distribute the undistributed in a novel new way. Here's hoping "Racing Daylight" is one of the first to take advantage of this model. Fingers crossed.

Beth Fraikorn, a sales agent, Meridith Wagner of Lifetime, Melissa Silverstein, who runs several blog sites, Amy Schor Ferris, a writer, Rona Oberman was in advertising and is reinventing herself, Terry Lawler and Carey Graeber of NYWIFT, Cindy Kreager, in banking, Alysse Bezahler, a UPM, Chris Hegedus, an all around award winning filmmaker, as well as the WMC crew, Carol Jenkins, Glennda Testone, Kathy Vermazen, and Rebekah Spicuglia, all accomplished women before they came together to champion women in the media.

We were told that a similar event had been held in LA a few months earlier with the same mandate; for women to make back room deals just as men do.

Now I've got to say that when I received the invitation I thought I was being invited to listen to a panel of talking heads bandy about the woeful state of women in the entertainment industry. After all the women's movement came to a standstill about 10 years ago and the numbers on women in Hollywood have backslid, so clearly there's a lot to talk about. But as the day apporached and the emails grew more detailed I realized we were being called to a summit. And it was in fact several hours of constructive talk. Not complaining, but brainstorming over excellent food, wine, and service. We talked about our kids, our lives, and our work, and I felt, on the drive home, that something had shifted.

The immediate impact on my projects; "Racing Daylight" and the upcoming "Slap&Tickle" will be known in the coming weeks. But the drums are beating. The call to action has been made. It is time to empower ourselves, to stop waiting for the 'guys' to let us into the backroom. Thanks to all of these amazing women who have invited me into the 'new' backroom, which was a private dining room at the Four Seasons. May we rally to renew a sense of consciousness not only in our media, but in our lives.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007



An essay by Thelma Adams,

Us Weekly film critic and New York Film Critics Circle member

When my six-year-old displayed dramatic tendencies, the actress Melissa Leo invited us to visit her on the set of Racing Daylight, The movie's title came to reflect my feelings on mothering: my daughter glows; I chase. And on that rare July afternoon, on a Catskills film set, I realized the limits of our time together. Elizabeth won't be this golden-haired girl riding shotgun in my life for long; this child will break out into the world and burn, baby, burn. And so I race.

At lunchtime, we approached the Big Blue Barn in Accord, our mom-mobile joining the aging sedans and trucks that packed the steep gravel drive. On the lawn, a folksy four-man band with an antebellum repertoire practiced amid black snaky cables On the patio, actors in period dress ate pasta salads, their laughter loud and thespian, unequal to their mild jokes and idle gossip.

Melissa emerged from a sliding glass door. The slender redhead best-knownas Benicio Del Toro's blowsy wife in 21 Grams skipped out to greet us in earth shoes and a cotton print skirt, welcoming Elizabeth like a VIP. When she introduced her to the producer, Elizabeth asked, with great seriousness: "Who's the second producer?" She's in the know.

"And who's the star?" Elizabeth asked. Melissa laughed and said slyly, "Me!" as if it was a joke she and Elizabeth sprung on the adults.

Melissa led us to Director Nicole Quinn, who shared a step with her husband. Nico, a fifty-plus African American, welcomed us on the set, eyes tired but happy, elbows on knees. She began apologizing for not vacuuming (it's actually her converted barn-home we're in), when a gangly assistant editor climbed past her on the stairs. She asked him if he ate, with a mother's concern, then dispatched him back downstairs for food.

With a rapt audience, Lizzy plunged in to pitching her movie. She will direct, she told Nicole, also produce and star. I, apparently, will write the screenplay. Then Elizabeth threaded her way down the hall, stopping to ask the production designer, the hair lady (who's stopped to ooh and aah over Elizabeth's Goldilocks ringlets), and Melissa, if they will work on her movie.

Having cast Melissa as her supporting actress, Elizabeth, who will also star, settled on the living room couch amid the wigs and the straw hats and a misplaced hammer and Giancarlo Esposito, whose scenes had wrapped for the day. Having never seen Esposito on Disney or Nick, Elizabeth ignored him; earnestly discussing with the producer whether her production should use real cats, which are hard to wrangle, or stuffed cats, or children dressed as cats. Apparently cats figure large in the movie.

After lunch, we went outside in the sticky heat. Elizabeth sat on a stump near the action, rapt, heavily doused with bug spray, and watched as, time after time, handsome Jason Downs solemnly approached a slightly flirtatious Sabrina Lloyd with her hair pulled back in a snood. They repeated the scene five, six times, Nicole pleasant and patient and encouraging; the snippy young sound man with shaved head and tats dissatisfied with the sound quality. He was the only drama queen on the set, except for a bee buzzing in the brush.

Next set-up, The Camptown Shakers played for the Victorian garden party scene. Despite the oppressive heat, banjo music and magic filled in the air. Nicole set the mood; she had the mellow attentiveness to detail of someone who's wrangled two children through infancy, childhood, adolescence, to successful high school careers and a bit beyond. She's a heaven-sent role model, no devil boss in Prada!

"Coffee, any one?" Melissa asked between takes, channeling her inner production assistant. She had a belly ring, and little five-pointed stars tattooed at various points on her body her ankle, hip, shoulder a constellation, she said. Then she laughed embarrassedly: she didn't want to be a bad influence on Elizabeth, who yearned to be Melissa right then.

As the heat rose, along with the mosquitoes, Elizabeth started to sag. We began to say our goodbyes then, as we crossed the lawn to our car, Nicole dispatched the Assistant Director. The stocky twentysomething with a Home Depot solidity asked Elizabeth if she wanted to be an extra. Suddenly, she had energy to burn!

The wardrobe lady whisked my daughter to the spare bedroom. She returned transformed to 19th century girliness in a calico pinafore and straw boater. Wild ringlets tumbled across the shoulders of her long-sleeved blouse. She was barefoot her feet too small for any stock shoes but it went with the summery feel of the lemonade day. She was ecstatic in that great game of dress-up: acting.

Elizabeth went to the front lawn. Nicole and her cameraman were setting the shot for a card game beneath a shady oak, where character actress Le Clanche Du Rand gossiped with the preacher and two others while playing bridge The sound man grumbled: the trees whispered.

After the extras and crew kvelled, and the actors ignored her, the assistant director led Elizabeth to her mark beyond the action. It was a lonely spot in the high grass where she waited until he lowered his hand. The plan was that after the actors began their dialog, she would run behind them, up the hill out of the frame, then circle around to the steps leading down to the camera placement. She would wait there silently for the A.D.'s signal to return to her mark.

Melissa and I positioned ourselves on a stone bench where we couldn¹t see the card players but had a perfect view of our star. Elizabeth, focused, paying strict attention to the A.D., ignored us. On her first try, her straw boater flew from her head, and she stumbled over the long skirt's ruffle. But she didn¹t stop or fuss, just gathered the skirt with one hand, picked up the hat with the other, placed it on her head where she held it securely and continued her uphill frolic.

Having gasped together when the hat flew, Melissa and I laughed to see how Elizabeth completely recovered, without a murmured darn, or a wasted motion. We covered our mouths to keep silent, wiped away tears, in awe of our girl and the day's assymetrical, unexpected enchantment. When Elizabeth came around to the stone steps, Melissa and I give her the thumbs-up. She smiled proudly, but swiftly, looking toward her A.D. to escort her back to her mark for the next take.

Elizabeth was an instant pro and Melissa couldn't help seeing herself in my daughter: the glow, the total concentration, the giddy feeling that when she was acting for a camera at the center of all that activity she was truly alive. And when Melissa returned at day¹s end to her quiet house, and the bills, and the what-next of it all, the magic evaporated. Maybe that was
why she lingered, dispensing coffee and joy, twirling in her cotton skirt, with her tattoo constellation.

We watched as Elizabeth prepared for each shot: grabbing her skirt; anchoring her hat. She stared at the stocky young man with unflagging concentration, ignoring Melissa and me. And then, the A.D. lowered his hand again, six more times. Each time, Elizabeth ran, all golden ringlets like summer sun, pinafore and pink legs and bare feet beneath the indigo ruffle, her straw hat a kite caught in a sapling.

Maybe, for Elizabeth, this was the beginning of a glorious career. Or maybe it was just the July day Mom made the magic happen. It doesn't matter what she wants to be when she grows up: vet, teacher, film critic, superstar. It's important to just be in the moment. She is the diva; I am her entourage. Let her lick the insides out of life's Oreo for the moment; it¹s one gift I can give her while I'm still picking up the check.

Thelma Adams is the Us Weekly film critic and a New York Film Critics Circle

Monday, November 12, 2007


... June rolled around. We had assembled a crew and opened our production office and design departments financed by credit cards, investors, (my dad and long time friend, godmother to my daughter, Catherine Rush, had invested, Paul and I scratched together the rest), against the dates scheduled and the production company monies promised.

It was a very talented crew of professional film people, our first crew was. I always like foreshadowing in a story, so now you know that there were two entirely different crews for this film all within a 2 week period of time. That last month of pre-production, the time when they took away the net from under our highwire act, when we had to decide whether we were still gonna fly, seems almost a blur ... several magic highlights and a certainty I've seldom known, propelled us through that intensely foggy time. But back to the first crew.

Hardworking, brilliant, and married to a hieracrhical structure that works well in job capacity and hatefully as pecking order. Sophia and I, as the filmmakers on this crew with the least credits, began to to feel patronized by our employees. Never good. The situation wasn't comfortable, and it was of our own making. Here's where more magic happens. We lost our production company budget, for a variety of reasons which I have come to understand are de riguer in this indie arena. We had $x in the bank with no expectation of more, and it was but a small fraction of our existing budget. This was the moment of truth.

The first thing we did was contact the cast. I mean, let's be real, what's the point of going on if we were gonna have to reconceive the whole artistic side as well? It would mean a cut in pay for the actors from the already low SAG low budget agreement to the even lower ultra-low budget contract. David and Melissa held strong, and as long as we had them in our corner we knew we could make this movie.

We called the crew together and told them the reality of our situation, of our inability to proceed as originally negotiated. We had been counseled to start the engine without alerting the crew, and then scramble to re-fund, but it seemed dishonest to Sophia and myself to proceed this way. Anyone who could afford to take this risk with us should do so with full knowledge of the committment, not find, mid-shoot that they were fucked.

Many crew members went away wishing us well, wishing they could stay. One or two were angry with me. Angry that I called this reconceived idea 'more in keeping with our original plan'. A scaled down found set/costume kind of film where it's about the performances, the story, making something out of nothing and not something out of too much. I mean where's the magic in that?

There were a few people left in the room when the smoke cleared .. very few, but they were integral. We had many costumes built, and actors, and we had a production space which Sophia had artfully exapanded in skillful deals with the landlord to include both storefronts and the apartments upstairs. Yuval and Lisa Sterer (The Big Cheese, Rosendale) owned the garage across from our prodcution space in the all but empty town of Kerhonkson, and they had given it to us to use as our art department. I was the writer, after all, and knew what was integral to the story and what was just fluff. So I went home and rewrote, possessed. I honestly don't remember the rewrite. But when finished we had relocated all of the scenes to locations we owned and winnowed down the story to just the story. And it was a better script for it.

Sophia and I sat in my living room with the 2 remaining producers from the first crew, realizing that they too would be returning to the city. They were nice fellows, and they were worried for us, we two wee babes in movieland. They told us what we had in the bank would enable us to make, at best, a home movie in my backyard. Sophia tells me that it was here I said something about 'A deer came to my window this morning. Deer never come to my window. It's a sign.'. I do worry sometimes, especially when I say things like this and truly have no recognition of the logic which propels the words from my mouth with such certainty, such authority. They looked at each other, then Sophia and me with such pity. It was here Sophia piped in: "If we find ourselves alone in the production office on Monday ... what should we do?"

We were alone that Monday, but we had a list, and we set out to check things off of it. Each of us needed to find one key person in order to move on. Sophia needed a line-producer and I needed a d.p. We set to find both with little over a week to go. We posted the line producers and d.p jobs on the shooting people website. That's where we found Arthur, our line producer, who was willing to come up and work on this project at this late date. He came to work because of David and Melissa and Giancarlo, he came because he liked the script.

We'd started looking at reels for d.p.s in the 845 area code. We couldn't afford to house someone. It was magic, Stephen M. Harris's reel. I said "I want him!" on first viewing. There was a confidence in his style which would allow us to convey our esoteric material without hestitaion or apology. But Stephen had won awards for his shooting, Clios and statues from Cannes, for his commerical work. The old crew told me I was crazy, "There's no way he's gonna come and do this for no money..." But Sophia and I prevailed with our mantra "It can't hurt to ask ..."

Stephen told us to send him a script. He emailed me that night to say "I am good and well hooked. When do we meet?" We met the next day. We talked art, we talked about the story, the actors, and it's here we discover that he knows David and had assumed it was he who had recommneded him. As we delve a little deeper we discover that our children, his son and my daughter, are friends having attended the same small school which David's children had attended as well. It was meant to be. It was like coming home. This veteren shooter with a crystalline eye and such a flair was to become my partner in lifiting the story off the page. Magic.

Now that we had actors, this new script, free locations and costumes, it was time to re-crew. Here is where the reel (real) magic happens. We stopped asking people for money and started asking fillmmakers to come take a risk with us, and they came. Deferred and backend, they shared our dream.

There were the other last minute crises that came and went. We lost Mary Louise Wilson to a high paying movie shooting in California. I panicked for about 15 minutes before calling her and wishing her well, then setting out to recast. We asked Estelle Parsons and other venerable women of the theater all of whom had conflicts or no affinity for the role. It was getting close ... costumes needed to be rebuilt for someone ... I woke up in the middle of the night remembering LeClanche Durand.

LeClanche was a legend at U.C. Berkeley where I had been an undergrad and she a phd candidate in directing. She had cast me in a reading in Rhinebeck a few years earlier so I knew she was local, and I knew she was good. I looked her up in the phone book. She asked me to leave a script in her mail box. She phoned that night and said "It's quite a good part. What do we do next?" I asked her if she could make a costume fitting the next day and be prepared to shoot by the weekend. She said "Of course, dear." I broke the news to Melissa and David when they came in for fittings, and it came out that LeClanche had been standing-by in David's first Broadway play. So tragedy once again became serendipity.

As would our final casting crisis. Tim Guinee had been cast as Edmund/Billy the third of the love triangle. Shortly after the loss of Mary Louise, Tim was offered a role in a Tony Shaloub film. By now I had come to realize that these shake ups,if viewed in this light, were gifts. Each time the refit seemed equal to the loss. I wondered which direction I ought to search for Edmund, because I was certain that there was an Edmund close by. We had thus far not lost anything without its replacement being close at hand.

That's when Jason Downs emailed me. Jason's married to my producing partner, Sophia, father of her child. He's also a member of Actors&Writers, and we had toured in a Romeo&Juliet out of Bard College, directed by Shelley Wyant, for a couple of years, so I clearly knew his work. He told me Sophia would kill him if she knew he was asking to be considered for the part, I doubt that, but I set about consulting those for whom it would have the most impact; Melissa and Sophia.

Once we wrapped our brains around the age difference actually working for us, we all agreed that he was completely the right choice. and Jason became the missing puzzle piece. We were now ready ... and the shooting began.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


How did you do it? It's the most common question Sophia, producer, and I are asked. How did you push past nothing to something? It's hard to say when you know it's gonna really go. There are all of the false starts, the naivete. Those promises of financing which are really designed to bathe the giver and receiver in the glow of possibility until it comes time to write the check and you hear , "If you could push, we overbooked our slate and ...", "okay, but first we want to see a draft where you boost the love story and lose the three act structure and make her a babe and ..." and my personal favorite "can't you get one A-list star?". Hm... A-list? These actors were a huge part of what got this film made. The crew came to work with David and Melissa and Giancarlo. How did we do it? We walked off a cliff and found earth under our feet.

I saw Ted Hope on a panel talking about distribution, about the formula for breaking even. If you can make a really good movie, with recognizable actors, for less than (unspecified amount) ... Sophia will not let me give a figure as she suspects people value a film by its price tag, and there's merit to that. Let me just say well under a million. Ted Hope said that if you kept your costs low and had all the other elements there's no way you can't make the money back even in a straight to dvd sale. It made sense to me what he said. So I set out to raise $x.

I applied to the Sundance Producers Conference, figuring that getting in was a good sign to move forward. It cost a couple thousand dollars, which is a chunk out of a small budget. But I had formed Racing DaylihgtLLC and had a a couple of small investors, seed money from my father mostly, which I greatly appreciated. So I could afford the fee, which included lodging at a great house walking distance up a creeksided mountain road from the institute, beautiful art. My housemates were Suzanne Jurva and Christine Fugate, funny, irreverant, smart. Both doc filmmakers from LA. We were all moms away from our kids shepherding these other children, our ideas, into the world. It was a busy few days. Panels and screenings. Small group meetings with industry professionals, watering holes.

I listened. I watched. I pitched to the panel of packaging agents where I was scolded by one for being "too independent" and another who challenged my veracity "IF you had that cast, I'd be interested." I mostly learned that Gregory Goodell's book "Indepenedent Feature Film Production" is as comprehensive as it seems and does prepare one well for the road ahead. But there is a cache to brand identity.

Back in NY we set out to get David really locked in, make him an offer, get his dates, work around his schedule. David and Melissa were/are the hub of the film. Then "Goodnight and Good Luck" opened. No nominations by the time we got to him, but the tom-toms were beating, and we didn't know if he might lose interest in our kayak once the yachts started circling. He asked tough questions, put us through our paces to determine whether we were just mucking with his schedule, or if we could pull this off if he gave us his focus. His biggest questions were about food.

David had just come off an indie shoot where he was buying food for the crew out of pocket. We assured him that as women and mothers there was no way people wouldn't get fed on our watch. Now I know that whenever you ask someone who's crewed on any movie what the set was like, one of the first things they comment on is the food; "Food sucked!" "Food was okay, little too much starch ..." We wanted to be a "Food was great!" kind of set, and had already nabbed Sandi Zinaman, a woman with water-into-wine capabilitites who charged us less than cost, (oh I hope not), or so it seemed, and with donations from Bruce Davenport at Davenport's farmstand, and many other local concerns (listed on our website:, our crew ate as if they were at a country spa.

Once assured of our sincerity and food strategems, Strathairn set about working us into his post-award nomination schedule. It became evident that May's days were dwindling to the ocean liners on either side of us, and on the advice of David's manager, Madeleine Ryan, we agreed to push into July. A little more breathing room, or so we thought ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


It started at the creek behind my home. The Stonykill by name. I will admit to having my astrological chart done annually by a gifted reader, Brian Evis, and it was on this day, Brian had counseled, the planets would be right to start a new project. So I sat on a stone slab in the middle of the Stonykill Creek perched on a sandchair wondering from which direction the story would come. Stories are like that ... they lurk ... pouncing when the time is ripe.

The air was electric. You know, those days when already frizzy hair becomes live wired? Who can blame Medusa for being in a bad mood? It was just such a day. I was just noting it in my journal when Sadie popped into my head, followed closely by Grandma, Edmund, and Henry. It is here I will confess to being a magnet for strange events. Never dire, just weird.

As a child my mother would call me up at boarding school to ask where she might look for her car keys. It never occured to me until I was much older how odd a thing that was, to call a 9 year old 45 miles away to ask about your car keys. Even stranger is that I often knew, "on the small table by the back door", "they've fallen under the chair where you put your purse" - though I may not have been home in weeks. One survives strangeness by not talking about it. Though by age 11 I had formed a coven at that convent finishing school, performing spells and enchantments in the back meadow by the rock ringed campfire circle, but that's another story altogether.

But on this day in 2003 the journey into Racing Daylight's magic began. I call it magic for lack of a better term to describe the self-determined energy of this project - energy to be made - to be seen. It was during this time, shortly after the deaths of my mother and brother, deaths to wasting illnesses, and in the beginning of my sister's 2 year demise, that this story of hope and forgiveness came to show me the path back into the light...but I've jumped ahead.

As I began to write about mousy Sadie caring for her catatonic Grandma ... I'd always liked the idea of the hospital bed in the dining room. Of generations coming and going in the same place. The sense that death is something you invite in rather than shut it away in some sterile institution, where the human is less important than the details written on a chart. I liked the idea that it was something that happened at home with people you love living their lives all around you. Where death is but the closing of the circle, to be celebrated, to be witnessed, an opportunity to walk cleanly into the next chapter in history, the chapter which begins after the death of anyone ... So I began to write about Grandma and Sadie about what it means to live life with someone who's dying. Especially Sadie who's not really good at living her own life.

I'd been doing research on another script that dealt with the paranormal, with reincarnation and had been exposed to the writings of learned scholars and psychiatrists who mine(d) the unexplained to diagnose our presents; the late Dr. Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia, Monticello, and Dr. Brian Weiss (Many Lives Many Masters), Mt. Sinai, Miami, to name but two. I wondered about the beyond, about forgiveness, and the underpinnings of this screenplay are steeped in the conclusions drawn from this research, this arena of learning.

However, the research was but the bones to build the skeleton, the meat and sinew came from the creek. Whenever I would lose the strand of the story I would return to the creek where I had found it. The first visit the small pebbles yielded up a ring, cast-tin, Victorian in style, stone missing, which quickly became a plot catalyst and the story surged forward. The second time I stalled I returned once again to that same spot, to discover a small limestone facing
square with the numbers 7-31 etched into it. I hurried back to my story with the treasure in hand and furiously wrote the stone's part into the narrative. The third stall brought me again creekside, but this time nothing came. No artifact surfaced from the pebbled water. I was to return to my efforts stymied, or so I thought ... for as I walked away from the creek I tripped over something. A piece of rusty metal which when unearthed became the prototype for a buried easel the third piece of the puzzle which seemd to solve itself after that.

I finished the first draft not long after finding that easel bit. Not sure whether it was ready for other eyes, I was looking around for some way to assure myself that it was whole. The radio was on. WDST, which I listen to in the mornings for the school closings and delays. They had a radio psychic on that day, Linda something, I apologize for not remembering her name, and I decided if I got through it would be a sign. I did. So I asked her,

"How many things are there to find in the creek?"

She replied, 'That's pretty cryptic, but I know you're not going to tell me more. There are 3 things. How many have you found?"

"Three...!!!" trying to hold my excitement in.

"So the story's finished." she said.

I bought a ticket to 'A Winter's Tale", printed up a script and had the joy of watching David Strathairn play Leontes before I went backstage and presented my lovechild to him. Telling him it was 'the best thing I'd ever written".

Several days later David phoned. I remember his words very clearly because I knew that any production of this would hinge on the Henry being an everyman with a glimmer of magic. He said,

"It's beautiful ... do you know what you've done?"

I did know, but it was nice to have someone else think so too, especially an actor like Strathairn. Once I had Henry/Harry I started looking around my female actor friends, those people for whom I am in awe every time they inhabit a new character and birth them whole, and it didn't take long to realize that I had written Sadie/Anna for Melissa Leo.

Part 2, Production, next time, where the magic continues.