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 9-1-2008: My review of Iowa
The following review by EFi (me) is exclusive to "Ask Dr. Mike". Please do not reprint it without permission!
If you want to use it, please ask me first.

Thanks to a string of lucky coincidences, I recently had a chance to see "Iowa", the debut feature film of Matt Farnsworth.
It premiered at 2005 New York's Tribeca Filmfestival, gained three awards ('Best Film', 'Best Actress' - Diane Foster, 'Best Actor' - Michael T. Weiss) at the 2006 Midwest Independent Filmfestival in Chicago, and screened at the 2008 European Film Market in February in Berlin.
Even if I hadn’t known about its tight budget and strict 24-day filming schedule beforehand, I wouldn't have noticed it. Filming is concise and to the point, the camera movements complement the story, as do the colours and the music. The characters are drawn from life; you have a vague feeling that you might know such characters, even if only from the pages of newspapers, but they are somehow familiar.
A young couple, Esper and Donna, are desperate to escape a non-descript small town in Iowa, but lack the necessary cash to make the move. A solution would seem to be the $200 000 insurance money following the accidental death of Esper’s father, but while waiting for the payout, the pair decide to reopen his old laboratory to cook up crystal meth. Unfortunately they and Esper's best friend become their own best customers, with their drug-induced visions making the ones in "Trainspotting" look like something from a Sunday afternoon family film. However, the business thrives and the money comes rolling in.
They are not the only ones waiting for the money from the insurance company. Esper's mother's new lover, a brute, corrupt probation officer, tries to convince her that it would be a splendid idea to kill her son and therefore inherit that money from him. And from then on things go from bad to worse. Esper is arrested for drug possession, Donna is tricked by officer Clarkson to bail him out, and she doesn't dare to tell Esper about that - which leads to an even worse outburst of crime and punishment gone wrong.
The scenes of sex, drug use and violence are explicit; blood and gore are generously displayed but there are also some tender moments, between Donna and her father, and Donna and Esper.
Matt Farnsworth (Esper) and Diane Foster (Donna) who became a real life couple during the production must have had a lot of faith in their respective other half to do such scenes. You can't help but root for their characters, keeping your fingers crossed that they will get out of all this in the end. Considering that these were their first big roles, they handle the difficult tasks that they bring in a highly professional and convincing manner.
John Savage as Donna's father has a small part, but without him the end of the film wouldn't be so believable. He is the embodiment of a loving, yet helpless parent, who wants to protect his child from harm, but isn't able to stand in the way of forces more powerful.
Rosanna Arquette (remember her in "Desperately Seeking Susan"?) as Esper's mother portrays her as the mother from hell that you certainly don't want to have in your family, but they do exist! White trailer trash at its best - one wonders how her son wasn't affected more by her behaviour.
One of the highlights of the film is s definitely Michael T. Weiss as parole officer Larry Clarkson. He reminds me of Larry from "Freeway" (where he plays Reese Witherspoon's character's stepfather who tries to force himself onto her), some years older, and with lots more experience in odd sex practices and violent behaviour, who has a hell of a time to step away from Jarod in "The Pretender" as far as possible with his choice of roles since the end of the show.
He steals every scene he is in with a highly powerful portrayal of a man you’d love to chain up and give him a dose of his own medicine. He might even love it. Larry enjoys perverting kind emotions and unfortunately gets away with it. Given that Michael T. Weiss in real life is such a friendly and nice person, he seems to enjoy exploring his dark side. He absolutely deserves his award from the Midwest Independent Filmfestival for doing it!
Elia Cmiral, who had also composed the score for John Frankenheimer's film "Ronin", and for "Bones", the 2001 film with Michael T. Weiss and Snoop Dogg, has done a splendid job on the music. The soundtrack moves from country songs to speed metal to rural folk tunes and back. The music both enhances and counterpoints the action on the screen, but never gets in the way of the story.
Matt Farnsworth as writer, co-producer, star and director did a fine job with putting all these bits together, even adding a reminiscence of "A Clockwork Orange".
I did like the film, it had me sitting on the edge of my seat most of the time holding my breath, but due to its graphic nature I can't say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching it, or would keep it in heavy rotation in the DVD player. But it is definitely worth seeing. Even if only for the sight of the grey washed-out underpants ...
"Iowa" is certainly not for the fainthearted or the ones with a weak stomach - it is kind of a roller coaster ride through the House of Horrors, as decorated by Marilyn Manson's set designer.

It is a pity that the film has so far only found distributors for Japan, where it will be released on DVD (Region 2) on September 12, 2008, and for South Africa, but the company's man in charge has already announced that they will sell the DVDs worldwide after the release at the end of this year.

(© by EFi, 2008 ; Edited by Kathryn Radmall)
 7-10-2008: My review of Fade
The following review by EFi (me) is exclusive to "Ask Dr. Mike". Please do not reprint it without permission!
If you want to use it, please ask me first.

I had the benefit of being in contact with its writer/director/producer Anthony Stagliano and co-producer/assistant director Paul Washburn, who both kindly answered my questions, since during filming it back in June 2005. This exchange of emails gave me an insight in independent movie making, rarely available for a mere film fan. So now when I watch the finished film I have that information in the back of my mind, and can compare the original ideas with what is now up on screen.
Fade is not a film in a conventional way; it is rather a collection of scenes and unrelated (or so it seems) snippets from what looks like a nightmare. It rarely has dialogue, mostly odd sounds, haunting music, or a voice over by the man (David Connolly) who seems to be the focus point. Scenes are sometimes seen from his point of view, so you can never be sure if it is only his imagination caused by a rare case of insomnia and losing his ability to communicate, or do these things really happen, or are these the bad dreams of his wife (Sarah Lassez)? The only conventional narrative bits take place in a hospital with his doctor, played by Michael T. Weiss.
The film leaves you without a satisfying explanation of what is happening, or an ending, but with a feeling of not really being able to figure out what to make out of what you’ve just seen.
It is an interesting experience though, how your eyes and mind can trick you. How often have you woken up after a nightmare thinking that all had really happened?
Fade is a very dark film, and at some point it is blood soaked, even gory, so if your stomach is weak, beware.
It is not a film that will entertain you, but it certainly gives you a very different viewing perspective, and something to talk about.

Fade premiered at the ACE Film Festival in New York on August 25, 2007, and it was released on DVD in the US on June 10, 2008 by Cinema Epoch.
The DVD contains a stills gallery, a deleted scene in hospital (but without Michael T. Weiss), and an indepth interview of Anthony Stagliano with Karl Krogstad from ‘The American Avantgarde’, season 4, ep. 1.

(© by EFi, 2008)
 9-28-2007: My review of Scarcity
The following review by EFi (me) is exclusive to "Ask Dr. Mike". Please do not reprint it without permission!
If you want to use it, please ask me first.

In early 2006, after returning from Boston and "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", I announced: "If Mr. Weiss ever returns to the stage no matter the play, and circumstances permit it, I'll be back as well."

So now, I made it to New York – I couldn’t stand the idea of Michael T. Weiss being back on stage without me witnessing it.
And since seeing a play only once doesn’t do it for me, I booked tickets for three performances on the weekend of September 14 – 16, 2007, evenings of Friday and Saturday, and the matinee on Sunday afternoon.
Previews of "Scarcity" began on August 29, and its world premiere took place on September 20 at the Linda Gross Theater. So I caught what was different from the first previews, but looked a lot like the final version.

"Scarcity" is about a very dysfunctional family (or so it seems to the outside world), but they cling together – somehow. The play gives the audience a look into a world we hope we don’t have to face in real life.
The children behave and act a lot more like adults than their parents or the other grown-ups in this little town, set in Massachusetts, but it could happen anywhere in rural America.

Martha (Kristen Johnston) and Herb (Michael T. Weiss) seem to have been a couple since High School; he probably being the king of sports then and she being the leader of the Cheerleaders. They probably married shortly after finishing school, and had their first kid, son Billy (Jesse Eisenberg) soon afterwards, with daughter, Rachel (Meredith Brandt) following a couple of years later.
But at some point all their hopes and dreams of a future must have faded, the play doesn’t go into that, it only shows. Nothing has been done to their home since they moved in; it still has that dirty yellow and brown tones, and plaid fabrics that were fashionable in the late 70s. All is worn down, and only patched up, no new additions to the furniture have been made since. A bowling bag stands neglected in a corner, a sign that they used to go out and do things together. But now their favourite pastime seems to be to get drunk and have noisy sex, within earshot of their children. Herb might even have tried something on his daughter at some stage, despite Martha’s rigorous denials.
She works as an assistant manager in the local mall, and Herb sometimes gets work as a handyman. So they mostly live on food stamps and on the good will of Martha’s leering cousin Louie (Todd Weeks), the local cop who is more than eager to get into her knickers, and his disagreeable wife Gloria (Miriam Shor).
The children are bright, and desperately search for ways to get out of this situation.
Billy’s new teacher, Miss Roberts (Maggie Kiley,) is a young upper class woman who sees it as her goal in life to rescue children like him, and with only minimal encouragement, he makes a clumsy attempt at seduction.
Billy has the opportunity to go to a better school away from home, leaving his little sister behind to take care of their parents.
The most touching and tender moment, and the only quiet time in the whole play is when Martha and Herb have a moment together, only partly drunk, where they show their affection for each other. It is like a look back in time when they were young and fell in love. And that’s when the audience sees what she still sees in him. She holds on to the past when he was her hero, and takes the present as it is. Possibly she has no wish to change her future, only that of her children.
At the end of the play the characters haven’t changed and the window into this strange world is closed again.

Acting is great; Kristen Johnston occupies the stage as her and Martha’s home territory. Michael T. Weiss has a difficult time to being reduced to few word sentences and dirty clothes, and mostly just being on stage. He manages that brilliantly, bringing across the power that is still somewhere hidden deep inside in his character, but also shows his weakness, yet still remains sexy ... Jesse Eisenberg shows all the nervous energy of an adolescent, all ready to explode, but no focus yet. A real life portrayal. Meredith Brandt has been given lines that would suit an older girl way better, she comes across too smart for being only 11 years old. Not her fault, she already conquers the stage every moment she is on. Maggie Riley is a good counterpart for the others; she handles the small part of the smart yet inexperienced teacher that is overrun by the force of this family with grace. Todd Weeks’ Louie is a bit on the cartoonish side, a bit too much, even when his character is confident in his actions. But unrequited love might look that way to outsiders. Miriam Shor isn’t required to do much; her part is more like a cameo appearance in clothes from the 70s.

"Scarcity" is called a ‘dark comedy’, but it is neither. My problem with it was that I don’t care for any of the characters even a bit; their fate simply doesn’t touch me. But after the 2nd show, I began to warm up to it.

Three shows, three different sets of audiences. Each show was full, with an extra row of seats brought in on Saturday and Sunday.
Friday night, it was comprised half and half of members of some senior citizens clubs and students of the Atlantic Theater School with a few ordinary people like me thrown in. Applause after each scene when the lights went out, and two curtains (not that there were any) at the end, but all in all a ‘dead audience’.
Saturday night, mixed audience, of all ages (even a child) and all walks of life. No applause between the scenes, but the audience was definitely alive. And that showed in the acting, which was also much more lively, so the characters became alive, instead of just being parts in a play. Some of my neighbours were so fond of the play, that they predicted that it will be turned into a movie. I doubt that, because some aspects of the teacher/student topic have already been touched by films like "To die for" with Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix, and more recently "Notes on a Scandal" with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench.
Sunday afternoon, mixed crowd, students of Atlantic’s Theater School and locals. No tourists or noticeable fans besides me. Not much difference in acting to Saturday, only the actors appeared a bit more tired. Again no clapping between the scenes, only at the end and Michael again applauded the audience.

I had the good fortune to meet Michael after each of the shows. Most of the others waited for Meredith Brandt, either family or family friends, and some fans of Kirsten Johnston. None of Michael besides me.
On Friday it seemed that I looked vaguely familiar to him, but then: "Oh, Evi, you are the one running this fabulous website!", in his dark, warm voice with a smile in the back of his throat. On that he shook my hand and smiled. He repeated what by now I have heard a few times: "I don’t know how you do it, most of the time you know things earlier than I do, I have to check it to learn the news." I told him, that in the past the directors, writers, producers of his films were very helpful, but that he should tell his management to be more co-operative. He wanted to know what I was doing in New York, and upon hearing that I was there mostly to see him in the play; he said "That deserves a hug!" Before I could move I found myself facing his chest with his arms around me. Soft beard despite its look, and boy – is he tall! I felt kinda dizzy as I didn’t expect that! He also wanted to know where I was staying (The Paramount); "Oh, fancy!", and inquired: "Were your hair always that red?", referring to that night in Boston after one of the performances of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses", when we first met, and where the lights in front of the theatre were quite dark. I could only nod, and with this he took his leave as some friends were waiting for him.
On Saturday, I had ordered a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to the theatre that afternoon. When Michael came out after the show, still no other fans of his, he was all smiles "Oh, you are here again! How did you like it tonight?" I: "Much more than yesterday." "Yes, me too!" He complimented me on my earrings (white Frangipani Flowers with purple tips), or was that just an excuse for rubbing my earlobes? I took up all my nerves and asked him: "Did you get the flowers?" "Oh, yes they are wonderful, thanks to whoever thought about them". (They better should be really wonderful, considering their price!). He kissed my hand with a perfect bow, seems he hasn’t forgotten Valmont’s manners. I almost returned it with a courtesy, but felt too dumb to do it. He wished me good-night, and left, and walked towards 8th Avenue all by himself. I didn’t want to appear as a stalker so I crossed to the other side of the street, and by then I had lost him out of sight.
On Sunday afternoon round 5pm, the church yard was crowded with lots of people who weren’t in the audience, but friends and family of several cast members. Someone pointed Lucy Thurber, the playwright out to me. Nice, friendly and approachable young woman. I had considered congratulating her through her agent, but so I could tell her in person. I had grown attached to the play, and that it is like a peek into a world hopefully no one in the audience will ever have to experience. She told me that during the run of the previews the play had progressed, some scenes were cut or moved, but that this Sunday afternoon version is the one that will make it from the premiere on. She is proud of the work of director Jackson Gay, who was also present, since they were constantly honing small bits, and what the cast did with her words. I wished her luck for the upcoming shows.
I also had a chance to talk to Maggie Kiley about her upcoming film "We own the Night," starring Joaquin Phoenix, in which she plays the wife of Mark Wahlberg’s character Joseph Grusinsky. She still hasn’t seen the finished film and wonders how much of her part will remain in the second half of it. She has of course heard of the odd reactions of the French press on its premiere in Cannes, but I assured her, that most of them shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Then Michael appeared, again all smiles. And that’s when I got all of my courage together, asking him about his plans after the play, "I really don’t know what will come next, I wait and see!", and why he doesn’t do anything for a wider audience. Theatre being fine and independent films also, but his fans want to see him, but most of them have no chance to travel to see him on stage, and these films haven’t found distribution, like his recent one "Fade".
And then his voice lost all the smiles in it and he got serious: "Isn’t it horrible what has happened to David? I had learned about it only a month ago. I didn’t know." (Speaking of David Connolly’s suicide of course). I had no idea what to reply to this.
On a lighter note he asked what I was seeing that night. "Spamalot". "Oh, great, but I haven’t seen it, no tickets!" I bought mine that noon ...
I found a friendly lady who would handle my camera, as to finally get a photo with Michael. Not that I want to see my face on the internet, but a nice reminder on my days in New York won’t hurt. Michael introduced me to her as "This is the woman who runs this fabulous website ...", then he held me like he usually does with fans. I tried to do likewise, but his backpack was in the way, so my hand accidentally might have slipped down towards his butt ...
I again thanked him, wished him luck and said good-bye, as he was in a hurry to catch a train. And so was I, King Arthur and his merry men were waiting for me.
And before you ask - I did resist the temptation to show off my Pretender tattoo.

(© by EFi, 2007 ; Edited by Kathryn Radmall)

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The Linda Gross Theater, a converted church, home of the Atlantic Theater Company.
 1-11-2007: Premier screening of Razor Sharp
The following report and review by Marjorie Laflin is exclusive to "Ask Dr. Mike". Please do not reprint it without permission!
If you want to use it, please ask me first.

The Premier Screening of Razor Sharp was held at the Fine Arts Theater, a movie theater on Wilshire Blvd., near the eastern end of Beverly Hills. It was slated to begin at 8 PM. By 7:30, when your reporter arrived, there was already a small crowd on the sidewalk outside. Stepping into the lobby, the reason was obvious. It was packed with cast, crew, friends, and well-wishers.
The Fine Arts is a nice old theater, somewhat plain but kept in good repair. Nice seats and the requisite sparkly silver stage curtain and beautiful red draped side curtains. The lobby is small, especially when crowded with a pre-event reception. There is a concession stand with nearly unbelievably low prices and large theater area with a seating capacity of 422. On this evening, it was filled nearly to capacity.
Before the event, I was able to talk at some length with the heroine of Razor Sharp, Cassidy Freeman. An extremely friendly and cheerful person, she is a talent to watch.
As the lights in the lobby clicked, I found a seat. The first one seemed not quite right so I moved forward about three rows and took a seat near the aisle. Imagine my surprise a few moments later when I looked around and saw Michael T. Weiss across the aisle and only one row behind me. He was very sharply dressed, as usual. White turtleneck with tailored jeans that looked very fresh. His hair, always a topic of discussion, was expertly cut in the currently popular "Ivy League" style: somewhat short with a good part of it brushed up.
The evening began with a few words from the producers Brian Pianko and Marcus Perry (who also wrote and directed the film). The theater darkened, the screen slid open, and Razor Sharp was ON! Whoosh! You are taken into the action with a heartpounding rush. You are then returned a day earlier to the meeting between Veronica (Cassidy, the hero) and Dex (MTW, the villain of the piece). This is best acting on his part that this reporter has personally seen since the movie "Jeffrey." The slight accent, the devilish looks, the bland intentionally uncomprehending stare, the fury, acceptance, and wheedling at the end--all combine with just the right eye movement, tilt of the head, and voice inflection. It is a real treat to watch.
After the showing, Marcus Perry took the stage again and introduced the cast and crew individually. In introducing MTW, Marcus said, "Your hero is only as good as your villain." Razor Sharp has an exceptional villain and an exceptional hero. The developmental core of the movie is the wonderful interplay between MTW and Cassidy Freeman, both truly gifted actors.
Leaving the theater, I was able to accost MTW from behind to announce that I was there on behalf of "Ask Dr. Mike." He certainly knew of the website and pronounced it "amazing!" He was very cordial and a delight to talk to. We chatted a bit more about "Ask Dr. Mike." He joked that it is the place he goes to read about what he's doing himself!
My primary goal was accomplished, however, when I asked him what environmental organization he most preferred. He said, "ECO. I've been away from it a little recently but definitely ECO. It will always be ECO." With that he shook my hand firmly and kindly wished me a good evening.
I must admit that I waited in the lobby until I was sure that someone would take pictures of the cast. I had my camera but I was hoping for a professional to turn up. Eventually one did and promised me that he would be sending the shots on to Marcus, who will certainly send them to Evi.
With that I waived a cheery farewell to Michael and he returned the smile.
A truly lovely evening.

(© by Marjorie Laflin, 2007)
 2-9-2006: My review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses
The following review by EFi is exclusive to "Ask Dr. Mike". Please do not reprint it without permission!
If you want to use it, please ask me first.

'Les Liaisons Dangereuses', by Christopher Hampton based on the novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.
Directed by Daniel Goldstein.
Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the B.U. Theatre in Boston from January 6 – February 5, 2006.

Since 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' was famously filmed in 1988 with John Malkovich and Glenn Close, the story has become a familiar one. It mirrors 'Clarissa' by Samuel Richardson (an English novel mentioned in the play), another celebrated tale of innocence corrupted.

Former lovers, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont, play games of sex and power with one another; Merteuil promises sexual gratification if Valmont succeeds in disgracing her young rival Cecile, and for converting the chaste and honourable Madame de Tourvel, famed for her virtue, to her own wicked ways. But Valmont has failed to reckon with his own fatal weakness: his own heart.

I must admit that I was a bit worried before I bought the tickets for January 18-20, 2006, after I had read the mainly odd professional reviews the play had received by then, and especially as I always considered the play (no matter which cast) a bit boring.

But I had a luxury that the usual reviewers don't have: that of seeing the play on three consecutive evenings in the middle of its run, with three very different audiences. And the reactions (or the lack of them, on one night) of the audiences swept over on to the stage and influenced the performances greatly.

It is true, though, that the show on the 18th was a bit dull, but that was because of the *dead* audience, an impression confirmed by Mr. Weiss the following night. My seat neighbor informed me that almost the whole audience that evening consisted of regular subscribers past middle age. Hardly any fan of the actors in the audience, and no tourists.

The show on the 19th was far more exciting, partly because of the presence of many younger audience members and several fans of Mr. Weiss. It was followed by an Actors Forum, attended by most cast members, sitting on stage casually dressed, and hosted by Artistic Associate Justin Waldmann.

The audience could ask questions about the production, and so we learned that each character is represented by an individual instrument (Valmont's instrument is the clarinet) in the commissioned score for this production, and that family members are represented by related instruments ; we learned that the auditions were held in New York ; we learned that the rehearsal room didn't have stairs, only marks on the floor, and that it took them all a while to get accustomed to the real stairs on stage. We learned about Mr. Weiss' favorite aspect of working on stage: "It is the rehearsal process. When working on a movie, you hardly have time to rehearse. Due to budget reasons you are usually on your own to prepare, whereas in theatre, you have some weeks of rehearsals with the whole cast. That's what I like best about theatre." We also learned that during the previews, while the director was still there, they continued rehearsing during the day, changing and improving the play according to audience reactions and actors’ input (my question!), and that once the production is 'locked' the reviews don't have influence on it.

The performances have certainly been honed since the clips for Huntington's website were filmed during the previews and the first reviews were written. The actors are now at ease with their characters and have established their timing and delivery.

Thanks to these insights, I could enjoy the show on the following evening even more. This was certainly the best of the shows, and the audience was awake, so even Valmont's death scene was a lot more lively, if such a thing can be said of that sort of scene!

Michael T. Weiss is highly convincing as the scheming rake Valmont, charming and almost terrifying by turns. He looks incredible, and his voice is seductive -- but as the play has to reflect the stiffness of the time, with its whale-bone corsets, bodices and coats, neither he nor most of the other characters can show their feelings. It all had to be done with their voices, and with small gestures.

The only exception to this is young Cécile (Louisa Krause) who is only too happy to lose her virginity to Valmont. Only her romping around naked on Valmont's bed is a bit too much.

In this same scene, when Valmont appears onstage barefoot, wearing nothing but pyjama bottoms resting at the lowest possible point - before the play would really become adult in content - and wearing a silk dressing gown, which he immediately let drop, he drew sighs of joy from some audience members.

The chemistry between Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil (Tasha Lawrence) unfortunately doesn't always work, so it is a bit hard to believe that they were lovers once and still want each other.

The director fails to mark the moment when Valmont stops pretending and begins to fall in love with Madame de Tourvel (Yvonne Woods). So till his end we can’t be sure how much of his feeling for her is play, and how much is real.

Also, the duel at the end between Danceney (Jeff Barry) and Valmont could have beeen fiercer, more dangerous, and much more convincing, as at that time, fencing was a skill which all true gentleman were taught. It was more like 'we don't want to get hurt' – a good intention, but at the end of the scene when Valmont commits suicide through Danceney's épée, their blades should at least meet.

And speaking of things French, the play was written in 20th century English, standing in for 18th century French, so any French accent or phrases would have been out of place. Thankfully the director resisted that temptation.

I especially liked the end, when all the letters the Marquise has written to Valmont about their scheme drop out of heaven onto the ground for everyone to read.

The only thing I really missed were the tattoos, promised in the Boston Herald by Terry Byrne, on January 4, 2006: "....and also work in nudity, tattoos and leather...." ;o)

I really enjoyed seeing Michael T. Weiss, who is indeed a powerful actor, on stage for the first time; and I loved the shows far more than I had expected I would!

If Mr. Weiss ever returns to the stage no matter the play, and circumstances permit it, I'll be back as well.


I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Weiss after *my* last performance. He was as charming, friendly and welcoming (and not to forget – handsome) as everyone who has ever met him, has reported. His voice is not as dark as it sounds on stage or on TV, but with a smile in the back of his throat. He also seemed to enjoy talking with me, inquiring whether I did understand the play (I assured him, I did), asking where I was staying and apparently approving my choice (Courtyard Tremont Hotel), and marvelling about the fact that I came all the way from Munich in Germany just to see it. He also seemed not only to have heard about the website I run about him, but also seems to know it. And jokingly he said: "You guys know so much about me, and mostly even before I know about it". He tried his best German on me and thanked me (and the other fans) for all the things I do for him, then shook my hand for quite a while before he waved me good-bye with his trademark smile. What a man!

(© by EFi, 2006 ; Edited by Mary K.)
 8-31-2004: Transcript of the Q&A after Until the Night
UNTIL THE NIGHT Q&A (Egyptian Theater, Hollywood, CA – Aug 26, 2004), as documented by Kelly DeWitt:

Moderator: Please welcome the writer/director of UNTIL THE NIGHT Gregory Hatanaka, and some of his actors, Kathleen Robertson, Sarah Lassez, Michael T Weiss and Boyd Kestner.

Come on down... (Pause... A minute or so goes by and the actors come down except Boyd Kestner – don’t know if he attended. Applause...)

Moderator: Hi, congratulations. (Applause.) (Michael and cast members laugh as they get seated)

Moderator: So, Gregory, this is your first feature, right. And how long did it take you to write and get this film off the ground?
GH: I started writing this script 7 years ago actually, and just for various reasons, mostly laziness, I just never made the film. You know, I’d stop, uh, start it and stop, I even at one time before cast myself as the lead (audience laughter), so there was just an opportunity, yeah, no, yeah, yeah, there was just an opportunity the timing was right. Eventually a company called Untitled Entertainment - Beth Holden Garland [Michael's agent] loved the script. They really supported it and they basically cast the film because we couldn’t afford a casting director. That just kind of happened - we got Norman and Kathleen, it was wonderful and we made the movie somehow.

Moderator: That’s a good segueway. How did you get the actors to be involved? How did you guys, it’s such an ensemble piece, and such sort of like the actors are such a big part of it, how did you all come aboard?

KR: Well, for me it was just, you know, it was kind of a no-brainer when I got sent the script. It was... you know in this day and age I don’t really think as an actor you get a ton of opportunity to do a movie that’s this sort of focused on character and it’s very -- the movie’s, is a very challenging, a very slow film in the best sense of the word. I mean to me it reminded me of, you know, well, John Cassavetes movie, where it was very much, you didn’t really quite know where it was going to go, and it wasn’t always sort of neat and tidy and okay this is, this is where this is and this is what this character is and... It, it’s, you know, as an actor it’s just a joy to work on stuff like this because it’s just all about sort of finding out you know little tiny nuances and details about the relationships and and each relationship is I think very different. And it was just, it was just sort of for me it was just like I just knew I wanted to do it as soon as I read it. I found the character to be very kind of confusing to me and a little bit scary, which I respond to, usually. So yeah. I don’t know if I answered the question... but hey.

Moderator: Yeah, yeah, actually it leads to another question. Gregory, how much, how much did the actors, and I’d like to hear your answers as well, you know, how much did the actors perform your written script and how much was scripted or improvised or ??

GH: Well, when I wrote the script it was ridiculously long. It was like a 3 hour movie. It was going to be this total epic on LA so when we started rehearsing, we just cut out scenes left and right and we started rehearsing and each actor developed their own character and we improvised in the emotions and then I would write to that, kind of making more specific so by the time we were actually shooting the actors kind of knew specifically what we had rehearsed.

Moderator: Do you guys want to, actors, weigh in how is that process for you guys?

MTW: Well, my father owns Seagrams... (laughs along with audience) So I figured it was a win-win situation if I did the film. For me, and this was a treat to work on, because I think Greg really captured the underbelly of Los Angeles, the kind of relentless need to find something in your life and everybody’s so disappointed because they can’t really find that thing that fills them or that person that fills them. And I really think he captured that and to be part of that was really interesting to me. So, that was a treat. And to play characters that aren’t... to play characters that are searching, that are trying to get it together and they desperately want to get it together but they can’t, to me, that makes for a really interesting characterization. So...

SL: (Laughing) What was the question?

Moderator: What was it like to develop your character in the film?

SL: Well, actually for me, this is going to sound kind of weird to me this was a character... part and I was really nervous about doing it because I had it in my head that she was one of those LA party girls you see maybe at SkyBar or something with like fake boobs and blond and I just thought that wasn’t me at all but he offered me the part and I thought, well, I mean he must know what he’s doing, so and I wish really I felt so much pressure to be this babe so finally I just said you know what, I’m going to be myself. And so I was. It was fun for me. Usually I have to kill myself or be victimized. This time I got to be a whore and a party girl. It was fun. So...

Moderator: Who were some of your influences that you know that lead you to this kind of project?

GH: Well, I mean, to be honest, I wanted to make a Cassavetes film, you know. I wanted to make intense drama where you look at yourself... [missed about 5 second spot] People weren’t making them at this time, so they’re not making them, so I kind of wanted to do that. The next one I’m making is a horror film, so I got this out of my system.

Moderator: Well, it’s really amazing because it’s really intense like with the very extreme close-ups and the camera work and stuff like that and it really gives you this sort of obsessive feeling about Los Angeles and the way you sort of feel about your emotions, you know. And what? Was that your plan? Like what, you know, where did you come up with that?

GH: No, no I wanted a sense of like here how LA, it’s very expansive, right, nobody really talks to you and you feel very claustrophobic in this very expansive land and city so I wanted to do that through the close-up, you know this very obsessive close-up on people.

Moderator: I think it really works. Was that scary for you actors? Like did you know that it was going to be all sort of like intensely close up? And you know I would imagine that it would be like... cause it’s so claustrophobic. I may be the only one, I thought it was kind of claustrophobic like that, the intimacy of it.

MTW: I love a good close-up... (laughs with audience) I mean, it really is interesting because I think Greg really captured that that sense of like "I can’t get out of myself", and I think that is what is so great about his filmmaking is that you don’t, you don’t, he doesn’t hit you over the head with it, he lets you experience the emotion and ways to get that sometimes is to put the camera right in your face. So it’s really interesting how he used the camera I think and he’s got a lot of talent with the camera.

Moderator: Does that tailor your acting at all like when you know that that’s your sort of space that?

MTW: Oh... We tend to try to ignore the camera even if it’s right in our face - we try to pretend it’s not there. That’s one of the dysfunctions of being an actor, like it’s sitting right there but you have to pretend it’s not there.

KR: We don’t know. I mean I had no idea either until I saw the film for the first time and we don’t, I had no idea it was going to be sort of this as isolated and tight as it was. But I think that I think it’s shot really beautifully. (Moderator: Absolutely.) Considering I mean I was actually really... I had never done a movie on the DV, you know it’s a DV film, and I had never done a DV movie before. And I know when we first met one of the first things I said I said are we all just going to look like shit? Like is this going to be just like totally ugly. You know, but actually I think looks amazingly beautiful. (applause) I mean I really do. I think Yasu [Tanida] is here somewhere, the cinematographer. The cinematographer is here? Yasu... come on down.

Moderator: What camera did you use?

GH: We shot with a relatively new camera at the time, called the Panasonic DVX 100 which uses mini DV tapes and it cost $3000, and Yasu was the first DP who had shot a feature with that film. It was a film called OPEN HOUSE. And so I called him. He was the only one who really knew the camera.

Moderator: So do you want to talk about the camera work?

YT: How’s it going here. I just got off the set so I’m filthy dirty. Sorry about that. But yeah, we shot it very... we wanted the claustrophobic feeling. And I don’t think they knew we were so close up. But I would light a scene to do a wide shot, and Greg would say zoom in all the way. We would just do these close-ups so I would light up the whole set but would only get these tight close-ups but... Yeah, I mean, 'cause the camera, I shot a film called OPEN HOUSE which premiered here a couple months ago. And that was the first film that I practiced with this camera. And for this one we were initially going back to film, so we did some tests going back to film prints, and that actually looks a lot better zoomed in all the way, the camera, so we did that a lot. It’s not, it actually worked well with the close-ups because we were really far away, we were about 10 feet away from close-up for them and I think it helped their performance 'cause we were away from them. It lets them kind of do their stuff.

Moderator: It looks beautiful, that’s true. Should we open it up? Does anyone have any questions for our fabulous filmmaker and cast and crew?

Audience Member: How many shooting days did you use on the film and can you give us a rough idea of your budget?

GH: It was 20 days and the budget was zero, basically. (Everyone laughs) No really, it was basically like shooting a student film but we had such great actors you know.

Audience member: Since you were shooting video, it helped the actors to play more, what was your shooting ratio?

YT: We didn’t shoot too much. We didn’t shoot too much at all. We shot two cameras all the time. But... I don’t think we took a lot of takes, maybe 4 at most, really. Cause we just did play the whole scene so we would just find where they, they would actually, we never, we didn’t even have marks on the set because they would just let them roll around and we would just find their close-ups. So... but the ratio was... we didn’t shoot too much.

Moderator: That’s really, that’s amazing so it was... so there were no marks, and you let them play the entire scene out and then you had two cameras?

GH: It was tough... because you would have like two cameras, one on each side of the frame, and so there would be crossing back and forth and each guy would trade, I would say, I would like run back and forth between each monitor, and say Yasu, zoom in there, and John, go here, you know, and then zoom in and we tried to capture it like a real reality. You know, everything wasn’t staged and planned you know you know.

Moderator: Actually, one of the things that you know the way that Robert [Norman Reedus’ character] is filming, constantly filming his girlfriend as well so you had the sort of two different levels going on there. How did you achieve that?

YT: Well Norman, I didn’t do anything on that. Cause Norman, we gave him the camera and he... he actually liked doing it. (laughter) I think he took over a little bit too much. (louder laughter) But I didn’t mind. But he did a lot of stuff. All those close-ups of Missy was Norman behind the camera. And I just showed him how to do the focus and how to zoom. And that’s why it looks a little different than my style.

Moderator: How did it affect the editing, Gregory, with the two cameras and the and the??? ....

GH: Well, I mean, it was certainly tough. My editor is here tonight, she’s Chisako Yokoyama. She’s wonderful. And fortunately I was able to get her to edit this movie cause she trained under Pietro Scalia who did LITTLE BUDDHA, all the Bertolucci movies, you know, he won an Oscar for a lot of stuff. And so she was able to organize all this footage, and you know being a low budget film we didn’t have everything organized, and so she was able to minimize it you know, down to like what we, you know, what was the best footage. The hard part for me was that there was so much good stuff to choose from, so it was hard to narrow it down. So, it took a while to put it together.

Moderator: Right, right. Now I just remembered something. Now, your background is distribution. And so and you distributed a bunch of art house films. Do you want to talk about that? Like about you know sort of switching roles, and going from the distribution to directing?

GH: The whole why I made this movie was because I was getting tired of distribution, it wasn’t about any more doing the artistic films, I’d lose money on doing a French movie. You know I had done 200 films, I had distributed 200 films under my belt and I felt this was the time to make this movie then. I had to make a very un-commercial film, but great acting but you know, but yeah, you know...

Moderator: So it’s a non-commercial, but the kind of films that you distribute, and so what’s on the horizon for the distribution of this film.

GH: For this film? I mean, well, obviously we’re screening it for studios and other companies and if somebody wants, or is in love with it and wants to write a check, great. (laughter) If not, you know we have our own distribution situation so we can do theatrical releases, DVD and television, so it will be seen, shortly, hopefully in spring in some form or so.

Moderator: That’s a really great thing for a filmmaker.

GH: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’m very lucky in that respect, you know.

Audience Member: You said that you wrote the script and that it was like a 3 hour script. Did you have a reading with the actors before you went ahead and shot the film and did they do like improvisations on the written word?

GH: Yeah, we had several readings, one with rehearsal we would take like the two actors in the hotel would rehearse and just do a read-through and we would know what didn’t work you know automatically and I had my co-writer Norith Soth with me, so he would like say well this scene’s not working and this is not working and we would shoot it, we’d film the rehearsal and we just kind of like said Michael, well Michael T will just come up with an quick idea and we’d write a new scene and Kathleen would say okay how about this and we would write up a new scene on the spot so it was kind of loose that way.

Audience Member: So they were actually recording all your words or did they do a lot of improvisation on the scene?

GH: There was improv during rehearsal like I say and we were able to adjust that to the script. But on the set, I think, I don’t recall a lot of improv. No I think it was pretty specific, yeah.

KR: We improvised a lot in rehearsal, but then once we sort of decided in rehearsal what we were going to do, we pretty much stuck to that. And one of the things I just think was one of the coolest experiences on this movie, and I always tell people this, and I don’t know if anyone else finds this interesting, but I found it really interesting, was that when we first started, when I first started working on the film, I started rehearsal, Greg gave me, he sent to my house a package of novels and music, CDs by the likes of Sigur Ros [artist from Iceland] and these just amazing totally beautiful bands and he sent me a ton of really really cool movies I had never seen, like the PIANO TEACHER, and just all these amazing sort of movies to sort of express the world of the film that he was trying to create.

MTW: I, I never got that Greg... (laughter) (Missing banter)

KR: Anyway, I just thought that was very, it was very... cool. Anyway, enough...

Audience Member: Where did you come up with the name UNTIL THE NIGHT.

GH: It was actually not that hard. It was a Billy Joel song that I like... a lot. No, no, no, no. It was a Billy Joel song. And I felt that it would be great as a Fitzgerald novel, you know like the STILL OF NIGHT. Cause this movie is very Fitzgeraldian, there’s always bickering back and forth. And I wanted that feeling in the title. The original title was NO REGRETS actually, yeah.

Audience Member: There’s a lot of film about Hollywood that really focuses on the glamorous side of acting and you know art in LA. And I was wondering just what inspired you to really focus on what is more of the majority of LA by showing you artists that you know and for the actors, how did it feel, was this close to what you have experienced or know people that experienced this.

MTW: Well, I’ve never watched a bad movie that I’ve done…in the dark (audience laughing)... with a cocktail. (Michael laughs) It is... it’s intense for a lot of the work that we do sometimes it’s out there and isn’t about something that we’re necessarily we’re proud of. It’s interesting to play an artist searching to be an artist and not achieving his goals. And that’s probably the majority of people that live in Hollywood. And I thought it was really interesting to capture that, that person.

GH: For me, you know, it was seeing like my close friends, my close circle of friends like they were becoming like these characters you’re seeing, and at some point I even felt that way, you know, I was going through very difficult situations, and so that’s kind of, it came naturally. I was able to just draw from people I knew, my friends and stuff, and I wanted to kind of capture that, you know, what made them unhappy with their jobs, their lives, their relationships, you know what made them try to self-destruct themselves you know.

Moderator: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I mean obviously, living in Hollywood is our day-to-day life, you know, it’s not like a glamorous thing all the time and I think you really captured that essence there.

Audience member: Question for Greg and then the actors if they’re willing to answer this question? What was the most painful part of the process for you, the moment that was the most difficult.

(Audience member: Hot tub...)

GH: I think for me writing it, trying to put dialogue together, then pulling up like maybe memories I had, or memories of friends. That... That was difficult. The shooting wasn’t that, wasn’t the really painful experience for me.

MTW: It was kind of a treat. I mean, for an actor to play all those hard core emotions, is a treat. And to be able to dabble (?) down on the dark side is a treat. So it may look dark, but as an actor, but for an actor that’s the stuff we live for. So it wasn’t really painful, it was fun.

SL: For me the hardest part was dancing... (laughing) because Greg gave me the music and I listened to it and it was like boom, boom, boom, I was like I cannot dance to this. And then I get to the club, and we didn’t have enough money for extras, so there was like 3 people around me, (laughter) exactly... and I was dancing and all these men, it was just so embarrassing in the world. But it actually... (laughing) That was very painful for me. I had to practice at home to that music and it was really stressful. So I’m glad that Yasu shot it so well.

Audience member: You all did a beautiful job, I want to start with that, and it’s a beautiful movie. You said that you had zero budget. I was wondering if you could be more specific and (laughter) what kind of advice can you give for producing a movie without a big budget?

GH: Well, I mean, first of all, I could never have gotten such a terrific cast if the script wasn’t there, you know, even if maybe the script wasn’t great to start with, but it attracted, so we had something to work upon. Especially the best thing is the script when you’re doing this kind of drama, you know. And the budget was well, well, well, well way under a million, I mean, it was just you know, you would just be shocked. Yeah, I don’t think anybody of the cast has ever worked on such a low budget film, actually. Even they don’t even know the budget.

Moderator: Did you guys, how did that affect you as actors working on a lower budget film? I mean, did you guys have the normal, you know, makeup, snacks, you know, what was the ?? How was it different for you?

KR: We had nothing. (audience laughter) We had some turkey jerky. (more laughter) But, you know, I did my own makeup and, yeah, it was, I mean, to answer your question specifically, for me, I’m sure it’s the same for you guys, but like the only reason, you know, for an actor to do a movie, a tiny little movie, where you get paid zero, the only reason you do it is if it’s a character that you are excited about doing. I mean, you get signed a movie that’s you know $400,000 budget and it’s obviously something that they’re trying to make a sort of genre piece, and they’re trying to make like MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING, or something and make money off of it, and make it sort of a chintzy shitty little version of a studio movie, it’s just you’re not going to do it. But if it’s something like this, where it’s, this to me clearly was not trying to be anything other than what it was. It was clearly like very specifically trying to express these characters and this un-commercial sort of story. That’s... I don’t know if that answers that but...

MTW: And it’s amazing if you if you know Greg, and from the outside you would never think he’s as twisted and fucked up as he is. (everyone laughs)

Audience Member: Talk about the songs used in the film.

GH: Well, the ending is the Eagles’ I Can’t Tell You Why. I don’t know what else I used. There’s the nightclub. Colin Chin, who is our music composer, actually was here also. I would play music for him, like Brian Eno or Sigur Ros, and Colin would try to score to that, I would say I love this piece by Brian Eno, can you score it or how about this Vangelis piece, how about Tangerine Dream? He would try to score it, and adapt it. And it was a long process. He had to go through 9 times until I was satisfied. (laughs)

Audience member: I was wondering, on some of the scenes, you would kind of recut them so they kind of appear differently. Do you kind of know what I’m talking about? (GH: yeah, yeah) And I was just wondering what made you decide to do that rather than do kind of a more formal job of editing it?

GH: Well, there’s only one scene that is repeated, basically, that’s when Kathleen’s fighting with Michael, when she comes home and he’s moving the furniture, and I basically repeated it so you get the sense of her life what she faces every single day when she come home, just over and over the same thing again, and that leads to the degradation of her mindset, if you understand that, her repetitious life.

Audience member: I think, I think it happened more than once. Like I think at the beach... I think it happened...? Maybe I just was hallucinating or something?

GH: Not that I know of. We shot a lot of the same shots. Where I would just cut in almost exactly the same shot next to another one. But, no, no we didn’t repeat except for the one scene.

Moderator: Are you referring to the jump-cutting, that’s what Yasu said.

Audience member: Maybe, yeah, maybe yeah, jump-cut, yeah, sure. (uncertain)

GH: Unless you mean stuff like flashbacks where he keeps thinking of Sarah in his mind, I mean stuff like that.

Audience member: For example, she is sitting in the chair, and she’s just kind of talking about her day, "oh I’m just tired", how you randomly cut to her - when she’s moving back in the chair. She’s sitting in the chair and (?) are moving back. Something like that also.

GH: It wasn’t really repeated. Again, she had different lines. I mean, it was shot many different times and then like pulled together, but it wasn’t really repeated, yeah...

Audience member: Okay, well, alright... (sounding unconvinced)

Audience member: I’m curious getting back to the characters and their self-destruction, what your cause and effect was in terms of the alcoholism. Did their life fall apart first and then they became alcoholics or the other way around.

MTW: For my character it was like managing disappointment. When you get to a certain place in your life where you didn’t achieve what you wanted to achieve, I think he just numbed the pain of that. I think he really set out to achieve great things and he never got there. And he didn’t have the power, the know, uh, wherewithal to keep things together, his marriage, his career, and it just all started slipping away from him and I think that helped medicate himself so he didn’t have to feel that kind of pain.

GH: I mean I think, I know when I wrote it, it was basically that you get they’re in this kind of high pressured kind of society or life and so they tend to self medicate themselves basically, you know, to hide from what the reality is. And then that self medication makes it worse, you know to them, for them.

Audience member: Why was the cat put to sleep? (everyone laughs [you have to see the movie to know why that was funny])

GH: Because that’s my cat and I wanted to give him like a debut performance. (everyone laughs and claps) Yeah, no, I mean that was just one more thing, it was there to signify the end of Robert’s and Mina’s relationship, by the death of that cat. You know ‘cause she’s always complaining. Plus the cat was dying, too. My cat was really healthy. But it supposed to be a cat that was supposed to be dying of feline aids basically, you know.

Audience member: Just really quickly: What was the name of the Eagles song?

GH: I Can’t Tell You Why

Audience: No, no, no what’s the name of the song?

GH: I Can’t Tell You Why (audience is laughing while GH gets the pun)

End of the Q&A session

(© Kelly DeWitt, 2004 ; with additions by Gregory Hatanaka)
 6-19-2004: Exclusive Reviews of Until the Night and Marmalade
The following reviews by Kelly DeWitt are exclusive to Ask Dr. Mike. Please do not reprint them without permission!
To ask for it, write to Kelly.

For me, both UNTIL THE NIGHT and MARMALADE are strangely alike in that they both use a movie camera as if it is one of the characters and both have people in them who find themselves living a life they don't recognize any longer and can't figure out how they got there. But that's where the similarities seem to end...


UNTIL THE NIGHT is a very dark take on what happens when everything starts to go wrong and you can't stop the descent because you don't even know when or where it began. It's like driving along at night, faster and faster, then seeing the flashing warning lights and suddenly finding yourself at a standstill on the road with an accident scene up ahead, but you have no where to go and no way to turn around, getting impatient, getting frustrated, inching along, not wanting to get caught up in it, too afraid to look when it's your turn to drive past, too curious not to and finally horrified when you see the aftermath, only now it's too late, you've seen the all the destruction and pain and will never be the same or drive that road again without remembering it.

Robert and Daniel are men who've reached a point where nothing's going right anymore, but they won't, or maybe they can't, do anything about it, no matter how many warning signs appear. Somehow their lives have gotten on a road leading straight into disaster and it looks like there may be no way off. And the women who love them are about to be dragged into it with them. It's all done so realistically you feel like you're living it through it, unable to get them to listen, to stop what they're doing until it may be too late.

Norman Reedus does a wonderful job playing Robert, a man who has never really succeeded at anything, but who's always managed to stay one step ahead of total failure while getting closer and closer to the bottom without quite touching it... yet. It's fascinating to see how he slides down, and then comes back up just a little, only to slide a little further down than before. You wonder just how far he can really go until the final crash.

As the movie starts, he seems to be at a interesting place in his life, living with Mina, his girlfriend (played perfectly by Missy Crider) and looking for that next something that will jumpstart his life. First he uses a camera to try "direct" it, but it quickly turns into an obsession, driving Mina further and further away and into her own forms of madness. Then he decides to see different women, but like with other things in his life, he can't stop at just one, alienating all. And while all this is going on, a friendly drink every now and again, turns into a LOT of drink, ALL the time. (To tell the truth, if he really drank that much in real life, he'd be on his 3rd liver transplant by now, but hey, I can let that pass for the sake of art.) However, until Robert wants what he's got, he'll never get what he wants (to paraphrase Sheryl Crow)... It's hard not to like the character because, as played by Norman Reedus, he can be quite charming and easy-going with a twinkle in his eye even when doing the most stupid things, but you also want to grab him and shake him and yell "Wake up before it's too late!"

Michael T Weiss' character, Daniel, on the other hand, has tasted success as an actor but it has slipped away and he doesn't know how to get it back. Michael does an excellent job of trying to hide Daniel's fear that maybe he never really had any talent. Maybe it was just luck before or maybe he hasn't got that elusive something "they" are looking for anymore and couldn't get it back even if he tried to. The frustration and anger just pours out of him when he's asked by his wife Elizabeth (Kathleen Robertson) how his latest job hunt went. Instead he found excuses to not go on the audition because it was a "sh*t part anyway" and he was too busy "fixing up the house" to go out looking for another part (or more likely drinking himself into a stupor, again) - anything so he doesn't have to face what the real answer to never getting called anymore might mean. Any imagined slight can tip Daniel over the edge. The raging fights between him and Elizabeth are powerful and painful to watch, especially if you've ever known how it feels to be afraid to fail, and you can't find a way past it, lashing out at everyone else instead or finding ways to hide from it and yourself. You want to feel sorry for Daniel but also angry that he can't or won't ask for help. It's also very easy to see why Elizabeth gets so upset at times she wants to throttle him...

Elizabeth has been desperately holding onto what she originally thought would be a stable and loving homelife, but which has turned into a living hell. She too starts looking for ways to hide from it or ignore it all. Only her job seems to offer a haven for the moment but even that could change at any time. She also looks to replace what's missing in her life, first in talking to friends, then with other men. A little over halfway into the film, she crosses paths with Robert, who she knows from before, and who suddenly wants her in his life again, even though she's told him she's married.

Will he hurt her somehow as it seems he's done before or will she help him break his lifelong losing streak? What will Mina and Daniel do? At this point in the film, you sit back and wait for the life crash you know just has to be coming. It's all in place - you just don't know whose life it will be and if someone, anyone will walk away from the "scene of the accident" when it finally does happen... And as in real life, there may not always be pretty answers and happy endings... but even knowing that, you just can't look away until the final credits roll...


MARMALADE on the other hand takes a different approach.

It's a really funny, sometimes sad, sometimes thoughtful, romantic and cute movie that let's you see life through the eyes of Kim, an "aging" model who thought her looks would always see her through...until they didn't.

Superbly played by Jill Sorensen - a real life former model who also wrote the screenplay and helped produce it - her character jumps from scenes that are downright hilarious (without quite going over into parody) to moments of pure pathos and back to a middle ground and then around again for another pass. It's played against a second storyline, with Kim's friend (Jennifer Kusner) trying to get financing for her film school project (again a camera comes into the picture almost as its own "character"...) who's also trying to figure out her own professional and love life.

Kim not only has to deal with her modeling life falling apart at the ripe "old age" of 32, or is it 31 or 29 or ?? (no one seems to know the real answer, not even Kim), but it seems her personal life has been built around her looks as well. She's now left possibly starting over there, too, when her boyfriend, played by Michael T Weiss, is happy with the way things have always been and loathe to make the kind of changes Kim has in mind when she realizes her modeling days may really be over. He's a "city" kind of guy: the type who likes hi-rent luxurious apartment living, who's successful, definitely very well-dressed and keeps himself in tip-top shape (!!) and who wants to be seen in the company of a beautiful woman. He's a man who likes the status quo. If needed he will find any reason he can to keep it that way.

Unfortunately Kim is also her own worst enemy - she's never had to develop true friendships or real skills before, not when looks smoothed the way. Every effort is sabotaged by her own inabilities and ignorance of the way things really are, sometimes hilariously. Without her friends (played by Karen Duffy, Sarita Choudbery, Jennifer Kusner, and Michael Cavadias) herding her along, trying to wake her up to real life, you could almost envision her ending up a (very good looking) bag lady on the streets without a clue... However, even some of their help proves to be a bit dubious, especially when it comes to picking out potential dates for her to go on to help make Michael T Weiss jealous!

The whole movie is intermixed with real life sound-bites from models and people in the industry as part of the film school project, giving it kind of a documentary feel every now and then but it's done well and really works. (MARMALADE actually reminded me a little of JEFFREY, another Michael T Weiss film, with the way the plot would suddenly take a left turn, then come back to the center, only to suddenly jump to the right and then back again while still being totally entertaining and engrossing throughout.) It also has some poignant moments that make you stop and think, not just about the way people are treated as they get older, but also animals. (They worked in a nice plug for the ASPCA which I appreciated being a "pound puppy" and "pound kitty" adopter and sponsor myself.)

All in all, I really enjoyed the film. The plot may be a bit predictable, but the acting in it isn't, and unlike UNTIL THE NIGHT which can be a little too much like real life to ever be "fun" to watch, this one definitely is.

(© Kelly DeWitt, 2004)
 7-16-2003: About independent movies
Film and actor stuff (generally speaking)
by Winona Kent, author of The Cilla Rose Affair, screen writer, and mistress of The Compleat Sean Bean website.
Reprinted with permission.

Just speaking personally and generally from what I've learned about film production over the past couple of months.... (bear with me - it's long....)

Financing for independent films is always iffy. If a film is made by a Hollywood studio like MGM, New Line, etc., the money for production is provided by the studio. By production money, I mean money to not only pay the actors and crew, but also to pay for the production costs like food, locations, travelling, licenses, actual film, editing time, insurance, music - everything. We're usually talking over a million dollars.

Just to give you an idea of the budgets: $5 million is a low-budget Hollywood film. $12 million is a higher budget, but not a huge budget. $20 million is getting up there. $50 million is the bottom end of high budget. $100 million is a high budget.

The money can come from banks (loans), investors, grants, government production funds - there are hundreds of places you can go to find this money. Sometimes you need to get the money from 25 or 30 places for one production, because each place you approach will give you a small chunk (several thousand dollars) but not the whole amount. It's crazy.

The film project can't get out of development (when you "develop" a film it usually means you're working on the script) and into production until those funds are in place.

Also, when you make a film with a big Hollywood studio, distribution is pretty much guaranteed (distribution means the company that handles getting it out into the movie theatres, onto television, onto video and DVD, etc.).

When you're a small independent film company, you don't usually have a distributor on board. So there is no guarantee the film will be shown in theatres at all. You could in theory make a movie, and it might never be released. So the independents aim towards film festivals like Cannes, where they can show the film and hope that a distributor likes the movie enough (and believes they can make a big enough profit from it) to take it on as their project.

Sometimes the budget is so small, the film-makers are all people who know each other, and they work for little or no money, and get favours from friends to act, help edit, shoot the film, etc. I suppose it's one way to guarantee you have creative control over the projects you take on. On the other hand... it makes it very difficult for anyone to see the finished project. But sometimes it's so difficult to get your project off the ground, you don't have any other choice.

I believe (and here I'm making an educated guess) that actors (speaking generally) are able, in the negotiation process, to specify certain terms and conditions (in addition to salary) under which they will agree to work on a project, subject to those certain terms and conditions being met....

I also believe (and I'm making an educated guess here too, because I'm still a little hazy on the process) that there are stages of negotiation. An actor (speaking generally) can be offered a script, then can express interest, then can agree to take the role – all without any kind of binding contract in place. At that stage the actor can change their mind without penalty (and indeed it happens all the time). All of this negotiation process is sensitive information, and is usually kept confidential.

Or there may be something in place which may define the actor's interest dependent on certain things happening – i.e., financing finalised, the actor's salary demand being met, filming dates....

Then once that's all happened, there's a contract between the actor and the production company - but until it's signed, the actor may still pull out without penalty.

All of which I hope explains why actors' agents (and by extension, webbos who rely on those agents for info) are sometimes unable to comment on rumoured projects.... :)

(© Winona Kent, 2003)