Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Why, you may wonder, are we so excited at this seemingly unrelated triumph? For so many reasons, not the least of which is that it's star Melissa Leo is also our star. It's also a film written and directed by a woman with women in the lead roles.


CONGRATULATIONS to JULIE CHRISTIE and RUBY DEE! Two women well over the Hollywood target age who gave us performances of beauty and integrity, and to Sarah Polley for daring to take us where many of us fear to travel with a blend of humor and pathos.

I've been in contact with Thelma Adams, film/DVD critic for US Weekly, and Melissa Silverstein, www.womenandhollywood.blogspot.com, to discuss the irony of a woman-guided film taking the top prize when the sundance critics' panel was again composed soley of men. Melissa Silverstein noted that the difference between male and female helmed films was reflected in the purchase prices as well, Frozen river selling for about 1 million, yet all the boy movies, like Hamlet2, sold for much more. Isn't the equation how it performs, not who made it?

WOMEN!!! Wake up! If you don't go to the polls, the movies, the anything ... or let the powers that be know you are not happy with the choices you're being offered, well ... our absence is viewed as apathy not disinterest. Get interested. Get vocal. When women vote women win.

Here's the rub ... many films made by women FOR women, not to sugggest that Frozen River falls into this category as it is a story with enormous humanity, but many female helmed films are made by women FOR women and are killed before they reach their target market, by male critics. 51% of the population is being told by Papa what's good for them, or that the reflections we cast of ourselves into the popular conversation are sub par, or of no interest, or more incredibly that our reflections of ourselves are WRONG. Huh? Seriously? What is that about? Will somebody please explain to me why this equation seems equitable? And if not, why it still exists?

The yardstick is still how men see women, not how we see ourselves. Level the playing field please. Give us more women critics! I suspect less of the traditional fare would survive a deluge of estrogen. Yes, judge my artistic content and execution, but on the intended playing field please. I DO NOT WANT SOME MODEL-DOTING TWENTY-SOMETHING TESTOSTERONE DRIVEN STUDIO EXEC, AD MAN, POLITICIAN TELLING ME WHO OR WHAT I AM. I do not want my work to be leveraged against what's come before as the only stamp of good and true. I can chew my own food, thank you.

Studio films target the testosterone driven "prick flick" market (thank you Gloria Steinam for the introduction of this apt term), consisting of 14-18 year old males, as if they are the only movie goers and the only repeat offenders. It's middle aged women who are buying those boxed sets of PBS and indie films, AND the "chick flicks" at a premium which we will watch over and over again. When I go to my local theater on a Monday night the audience is full of middle aged + women, and we're regulars. Hm ... what's missing here?

Though women directors sit in that esteemed chair far less than their male counterparts, the ratio of award winning films is disproportionate. Pay attention investors... a far greater percentage of women's films are winning awards, though less women are making films. Again I say hm ...

If I know Melissa Leo's in a film I'm going to see it. Not just because she's a friend, but because I know that the film is gonna be interesting, textured, complicated, not black and white but built in the grey-zone where most of us live. And the women are gonna be three-dimensional, not JUST moms and arm candy. I will go to see anything with Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep, Liv Tyler, Brenda Blethyn, Helen Mirrren, Judi Dench, Fanny Ardent, Sarah Polley, Drew Barrymore, Renee Zellweger and a host of other female actors worldwide who choose material that challenges the status quo, which challenge our view of women throughout history. Women who dare to tell her story. This win gives us hope. I like hope. It sure beats the alternative.

Friday, January 25, 2008


We screened at Poughkeepsie Day School yesterday. Once in the afternoon for students in grades 7-12 and once again at 7pm to a mosly adult gathering. The James Earl Jones Theater, donated by that esteemed alumni parent, is a state-of-the-art theater with great sound, and a beautiful picture. We brought a rented mini-dv player, in Sophia's ongoing committment to never letting us live through another screening reacting to the random skips and pixolation from dvd machine to dvd machine. An imperfect technology, the dvd, in the public projection arena at least.

Sophia and I arrived early to meet with David Held, the I.T. guy, who easily patched us in and recalibrated the aspect ratios, he gaves us a lovely, crisp picture, thank you very much, David. When the students started arriving some of them looked pretty young, based on our thinking of the likely age range for this film. Sophia and I exchanged looks which told us we were both thinking the same thing. We were surprised and delighted to find that different ages reacted to different parts of the story. Sophia's guess is that Sadie's innocence, and the innocence of that crush is something with which young adults can relate. That feeling of being near someone you like and you're not sure whether to scream and jump up and down, or punch them in the arm, or find some other way to punish them for the chemistry which makes you act like an idiot.

Whatever the reason, they giggled, and tittered, and laughed, and screamed at Grandma's growl, and then again when she spoke on her death bed. They laughed at the fart joke! This in and of itself is not extraordinary, I mean who doesn't laugh at a fart joke? But structurally, for me, as a storyteller, it's a marker. If at that point in the story the audience laughs at the fart joke they're still listening, they haven't wandered away. So when the kids whooped in surprise at Henry's description of a scared stomach, it was heaven. They'd stayed with it.

When the credits rolled a lone female voice lamented,

"I don't get it...!"

We all laughed. The questions that followed were interesting and curious and fun, and it was very clear that we had found an unanticipated audience. We'd always expected it to play well in the 21-75 market, intellectuals, puzzle and mystery lovers, romance, Civil War, but had not thought of the 13 year old market as remotely ours. And not just the girls, the boys had many more questions of a "how did you...?" nature. It was a lovely eye opening lesson for us.

The evening screening was less vocal, but again we were reassured at how consistently well our-film-that-could performs, and how many want to see it again. We have begun to collect email addresses for our DVD launch which will happen this spring. So if you'd like to be on that list please let us know at:


Thank you to the Drama Teachers, Greta Baker and Laura Hicks for inviting us, and to Sandra Moore and the PDS Development staff for taking such good care of us. We look forward to returning to your theater with our next film, SLAP&TICKLE.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


When Jamie Kirkpatrick finished putting his sensitive editing skills to our footage it went out to sound and music. A new journey for me who had never ventured this way before.

Sound Design was Andrea Bella and ADR Michael (MIscha) Feuser a husband and wife team who operate in a basement studio in their apartment in Park Slope Brooklyn. Amazing! They made field trips with microphones to many of our locations to harvest. They brought a Foley Artist over from Germany who worked with antique cloth for Grandma and Anna, the tinkle of china, the rattle of cicadas ... breathtaking detail to an already rich palate.

At some point Andrea asked me if she might attempt a sound montage to accompany the visual one Jamie had so incredibly rendered from my scribbles on the page. Absolutely! What a brilliant idea, and its execution only heightens the moment.

Mischa filtered out generators and airplanes ... magic ... they worked with the actors in ADR in an unusual, more organic way, in front of a screen, and listening to the cadence of their own voices to recreate the mood, the words, like music, no bells and booths. Melissa and David were there together, overlapping, competing for number of takes, remembering the moments and giving them to us again. It was beautiful. A nice way to work. Very generous actors. We are so grateful.

While the sound design is in progress I started meeting with Sarah Plant, our composer. Sarah is a very gifted professional working out of an attic studio in the country. It's amazing what and where Mac equipment allows people to work. Quality of life.

Sarah asked me to give her a list of the music in my car. We've known each other for years, but never in this way. I give her that list. My tastes are eclectic from Cecilia Bartolli to Kanye, which I listen to with my son. She asked me what I was looking for ... that was a nice question to be asked, because I knew the answer to that and would not have known how to express it otherwise. I was looking for 'Puckish'. playful, magical, slightly ominous but you know it's all gonna work out in the end type music. If I had to quantify it in Shakespearean tones I'd liken it to' Midsummer', a place and time where it's all possible and gonna happen anyway, so why sweat it?

Sarah's music did all of that and more. The score on its own tells a story, and with pictures ... breathtaking moments which couldn't have happened any other way. We talked about instruments as characters. She'd heard Sadie as a cello, and sometimes in triplets and ... it's a lovely score. She wrote it a woman possessed. It was beautiful to be a part of this type of creativity. We are so honored to have her music to enhance our delghtfully simple and lovely story.

The opening credits music was a fluke, and one, like so much else on this film, filled with serendipity. We recorded the score in Woodstock over a 2 day period. Sarah had invited incredible musicians to play for us, and they said yes! For fun she had asked each of them to improvise to an Afro-Caribbean piece, "Chocolate" she had written for another film but which appears in the Racing Daylight Dress shop scenes. The second day of recording Sarah says,

"You've got to hear the music Tomas improvised."

She says it several times during the day, I never hear it, too much going on, until I'm on my way out the door and she says, you have to hear the Tomas solo. I do. It's amazing to me. I ask her to please send me the track because I have an idea to use it for the credits and want to send it to Jason Martin who is editing that compelling sequence with photos culled from the Stone Ridge Library collection.

Sarah sends me an mp3 with the caveat that she thinks it's too Latin sounding to set the tone of the film. I listen to it, and I agree and reply that I thought just the cello track would work, and isn't that what she played for me? She sends me the cello articulated and it's exactly as I'd heard it; wild and daring, and timeless. But she tells me that she played me the tracks overlayed, and that the cello alone might be a good idea, but it's not how she played it for me. Funny that. All I heard was the cello, when she played it, and Jason Martin said it fit perfectly. Meant to be. Thank you, Sarah and Tomas.

Thank you Andrea and Mischa who put this film together with such love and care and taste and talent ...I truly admire artists, and was so fortunate to have found so many willing to collaborate, at such a high level, on RACING DAYLIGHT, our collective film-that-could.

Monday, January 14, 2008


It was snowing. There was a fire in the fat bellied stove, a chubby baby in the basket at her feet, her hands in rhythmic concentration, repeating a pattern with hook and yarn, an everyday industry requiring no thought, so her mind wandered weaving unconscious spells, benedictions Anna wondered where he was ... Harry, where they laid him to rest. She hoped there was a view. Harry liked a view. A hillside on a rainy day when the mist rose up off the back meadow, hovering its invocation over the bee stung monardas and yarrow. Blessing it.

"Magic happens in the mist ..."

He'd whisper, as if he'd known the sacred words that unlocked those mysteries and measured them out in careful deliberate doses, not to awe, but to admire. He'd mezmerized her always. His small gallantries when no one else could hear, as if it were a secret only they would share. All her life she'd known he was her destiny, she'd recognized him, from somewhere deep inside, the memories embedded so long ago, she can't remember the time or place, just the longing. It took him a while to come around to the truth of it, chastising and chiding her for speaking her truth about them, for saying intimate things that made him wince and think, in that time before he'd come to recognize her as well.

Then he'd seen her. One day crossing the meadow in her flannels and frills, picking flowers, and talking to herself as if it were the most normal thing in the world to hold considered conversations in first person. She'd seen him then, and smiled. It pierced his heart, the simplicity of her, the truth she spoke so darn scary and deep its irritation worming its way into his heart. Before he knew it, her truth became their truth, for he truly could fathom no one else filling him up the way she did with her questions and wisdom, her hand in his.

And then he was gone. All their hopes now hers alone. There was the child, and there was Edmund, gifts from God. Religion an institution she had not abandoned though the Lord had set her such a hard burden to bear, she'd have missed the social life.

Anna pulled at the ball of yarn suspended through the arch of the child's basket. The ball nestled next to the flanneled baby swaddled there, a turtle on its back, all four appendages dancing toward that moving thread, eyes popping at the teardrop prisms off the lamp, and sometimes startled by something unseen just past his mother's head. She wondered if he saw spooks. The old folks always spoke that way, as if the ghosts of the dead were part of living. She had to admit to having seen shadows at the fringes of her sight, her thoughts, and sometimes to hoping it was Harry come back to her. To them.

Jack was a strong baby. The Stokes were sturdy stock. They were cousins to her kin, but then everyone in Cedarsville and its outlying lands had a claim to the founding families. Anna had come from two towns over to visit Stokes Farm with her mother and father one bug nettled day. Someone's wedding, or christening. She'd not wanted to come all that long way by carriage and then a hot walk across the meadow, boiling in Sunday frippery, to the old farmhouse by the pond. She was eight, after all and would have preferred climbing a tree. She'd sat under a one instead, frowning, shooing away the gnats and that pesty little kid Edmund who'd started poking at her the minute they'd met.

Then she'd seen him ... Harry Stokes. He was 15, dressed in long trousers, and she knew she'd known him forever, that they'd made promises, somewhere, sometime, that only she'd remembered ...

The fire popped, boots scraped on the back porch, Anna startled from her reverie. She looked around her to what is, and smiled, ready to greet the man who has rescued her from ridicule and shame, who has taken another man's baby as his own, whom she has grown to love and trust and would never hurt for anything in the world. For all that was Harry was lost, its archeaology buried deep in the lining of her soul, to be mined in another time. This life it would be Edmund, he had earned it.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

WOMEN, MAKEUP, HOLLYWOOD (if only ... at least 51%)

Sophia, our producer, has asked me to ramble about our choices regarding makeup in Racing Daylight.

Melanie Demitri is a gifted makeup artist and has worked on Emmy award winning teams for soaps, news, and has crafted public faces for many celebrities; Barbara Walters, Meredith Viera, Star Jones, and currently Cynthia McFadden ... she knows how to give glam. Melanie is an old friend. We were neighbors for over a decade in brownstone Brooklyn, she held my son when he was a week old, and he'll be 18 soon. So when we sat to talk about the makeup for Racing Daylight we knew each other well enough to talk in shorthand.

We both agreed immediately that if we could get our female actors to work without it, or the bare minimum, powder, it would help to establish the character of the piece. A story about a woman in her everyday. Many of of us, women I mean and some men, do enhance with a pencil, give ourselves lipcolor, but most of the women I see in my day to day do not wear much if any. Who has the time?!

Melissa was delighted! We gave her fake lashes, the kind that last for a bit and are placed one at a time. Not the full stripper set, much more modest. Melissa's lashes are very fair so the choice was to dye them or enhance, just so we wouldn't lose her eyes on camera. We used street makeup when Sadie becomes Anna, her more confident, sensual id. It's funny to think that the choice to tone down the makeup was considered novel even risky by members of our crew.

We shot the first Anna-Henry truck love scenes after we shot the Sadie-Henry truck scenes, where barefaced Sadie expresses her longing for the Civil War anecdote spouting Henry. Anna's hair was loose and she had a redder mouth, but the transformation from Sadie to Anna is all Melissa.

Stephen, our d.p., directs a lot of commericals and he was concerned that we would shoot Sadie so raw. Terrified that we were making a big mistake to the point of mutiny when Anna showed up without a glamor transformation armed only with an attitude. He asked,

"Aren't you gonna glam her up?"

"Nope. I'm making a point ..."

"But ..."

"... And that point is, that what makes a woman beautiful and sexy to somone is not what's on her face or body, but how she feels about herself."

Here he frowned, considering, so I continued,

"Let's get through a take, and after that, if you think it needs something more, well, then, we'll talk about it, then."

He seemd to think that was reasonable so we shot the scene. He turns to me after we cut and says,

"Female. This is a very female perception."

I'm not sure whether this is a 'chick flick' comment, but he continues,

"I like it. I feel like a voyeur to how women think. I like it. Very female."

We shot a couple more takes and moved on, issue vanished.

And this is why, as Gloria Steinam has said, "it's not a question of gender but of consciousness." We need to learn AND teach as we go, in the day to day.

All of our female actors were very comfortable with very little on their faces in front of an HD camera, which shows EVERYTHING. Brave souls. And they all look FABULOUS!

We want women to identify with themselves in our film. Since we didn't have to answer to anyone to make it, we considered what we wanted to say that would be subtly revolutionary in a film made by women who think for women who think, and the men who think with them.

As a footnote* John Seidman wears the most makeup in Racing Daylight as the transgender dress shop owner. But that's another story...

Monday, January 7, 2008


How many now have said, in varied phrasings, that if Racing Daylight were coming from Europe we would be considered novel, interesting, and marketable. Its simple pace, its lack of overt sex and violence, the lyric storytelling, so many wonderfully textured performances. I'm a fan of single camera films made in Europe and when I was teaching myself what a director does I included a book by Mike Crisp who directed for the BBC; "Directing Single Camera Drama", clear and to the point. But, I am an American who tells a story that, while steeped in our Civil War history, is truly a human story, one of love, loss, and hope. The stuff that can happen anywhere, to anyone on the planet.

Our budget would not allow for more than one expensive piece of equipment, (meaning the camera), and since we had no hope of a post budget, we needed to do as much with this camera as possible. It was a Panasonic HVX 200 .... which uses disks in a p-2 format, instead of tape. Each disk has the capacity for twenty minutes of footage, and the camera can hold two cards at once. The disks are downloaded in the same amount of time, 20 minutes per card, into a hard drive and backed up to a second firewire drive. There is no archival byproduct from this system, so if you worry and have the funds transfer to tape at some point, as these containment systems have a finite shelf life, 25 years, though we have replaced one faulty hard drive already. The picture has the clarity of HD and the diffusion of film. In the hands of an artistic genius like Stephen M. Harris the results are stunning. So little did so much. By the time we wrapped Stephen said he saw no reason to shoot on film again ... though he has.

We had a wobbly set of sticks, which we replaced with expensive sturdy legs on the few occasions we locked off to disappear our characters. We decided to let the actors tell the story, to trust their performances and not manipulate the camera too much, for they are complicated and subtly simple psychological journeys the characters take. We also had Shaun Harkins and his Cabletrak Jib for 4 days which, as I've said, put a lot of money on the screen.

(*Shaun has since given us a Moviola dolly with a lift arm and crabbing capabilities. I think he got it off the "Goodmorning America" set when they were changing over to new equipment. Our next film, Slap&Tickle" will benefit greatly by this wondrous new asset.)

Stephen also drove the "Fig-rig" so-called for its creator, Mike Figgis, who modified a steering wheel as a means of doing handheld shots with more control, less expensive than a steady-cam.

We decided to divide the look of the three films, and to do so in-camera, again because we had no $ for post. Sadie's look is technicolor, old fashioned in the present day. Edmund, which is set in the 1860s, has a silver chromium overlay, like a Deguerrotype. Henry is hyper present and so we went for an almost sodium vapor like tone. These treatments are subtle but add so much to the character of each short film. Stephen and Jason Martin's color correct, done in "Afterworks" , is brilliant.

There's a fan base growing for our movie-that-could. We are exploring all manner of digital delivery in an effort to reach our niche audience. We started digitally, it seems prudent to let the nature of its creation dictate its method of dissemination. We are proud to be an American Made film that does not fit the mold. We are storytellers. We are thinkers. We are movie viewers ourselves.


Friday, January 4, 2008


Just when you think it's safe to put it in print .... the date for our Apple screening has changed to 2/1/2008, still a Friday and still at 6:30. Please look for posters in the NYC flagship stores and newsletters.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


It is indeed a New Year and we've just booked a date to screen at Apple-Soho. 2/15/2008, 6:30 p.m.

We were told by industry veterans that a film without a distribution deal was not gonna get Apple's attention. It's amazing how often we're told that we CAN'T do something based on rules which were set in sand yesterday before the windstorm.

Optimism will out!

We thought that our use of all digital technology which, at the time, meant we could ONLY edit on Final Cut Pro would certainly make us attractive, even if we did not come out as a bona fide 'studio' independent.

We also thought that our incredible editor, Jamie Kirkpatrick, and seasoned award winning d.p., Stephen M. Harris, would add some glitter to our shiny red wagon. Maybe it's because we know a few people who work there or that the Final Cut Pro liason in L.A. is married to Debbie Zipp (http://www.inthetrenchesproductions.com) and she loves our film and has our teaser running on her site ... or maybe they just liked the film, its content and character, and its stellar cast ; David Strathairn, Melissa Leo, Giancarlo Esposito, Jason Downs, Sabrina Lloyd, LeClanche Durand ... well, you get the picture.

I'm not sure what combination of factors and events have led to this new good thing which we were told couldn't happen.

Hm ... so which next impossible to climb mountain will we find has a starircase round the back?