Saturday, May 10, 2014

All In The Family:The Making of "Town Diary" - We Have Met the Enemy...

"Everyone I like stays the hell away from me"
-Archie Bunker
I had a dear cousin, Bobby. He reminded me a lot of Paulie in one of my favorite 80s films, The Pope of Greenwich Village, which I discussed in a previous post. Bobby had a big heart, but could be, well, unreliable. He was, however, the Godfather at my Confirmation*,which means I chose him.

Everyone loved Bobby. Girls loved him because he was charming and handsome - there was no friend of the family that did not have a crush on him. Guys wanted to hang around with him because he welcomed everyone.

By the time of his parents' (my uncle and aunt's) 50th anniversary, the question of whether or not Bobby would show up at a function remained a very open one. My then-wife, Maureen, and I were seated at Bobby's table, along with his (I forget) four or five children. I had not seen them since they were little, but they now ranged from kids to pre-teens to teens, and, all of them had a lot of Bobby in them - the good looks, as well as the crazy side. The girls' hair was done up, one of the boys had a Mohawk. You get the idea.

The kids' mom, who Bobby had not married, not a big deal today, of course, but for Italian-Americans even then (late 80s), it was not as accepted. While waiting, we mused on whether Bobby would show up.

Mom turned to the oldest girl and said, "What do we always say?"

Smacking her lips like Joan Cusak's wonderful "Bridge-and-tunnel"** Working Girl (to me, she and Phillip Bosco were much more entertaining than either Meg Ryan or Harrison Ford) , she responded:

 "The best thing about being an Esposito is you can't marry one."***

You've seen all the Christmas and Thanksgiving movies, not to mention a majority of sitcoms. Whether it be the family from the Midwest, the Big Fat Greek Wedding Family, the Jewish family, the hippie family, the overly-conservative family; family means all that is good and wonderful and all that is crazy and embarrassing all at the same time. They are all dysfunctional in their own familiar and unique ways.

A film "family" is no different. There is working together and pulling apart; love, hate, bonding, jealousy. Because of the intense time spent together, and the stakes involved, all good and bad emotions tend to tip toward the extreme.

The seed of this project was planted many years earlier, on the first project where I met John Rosnell. I had a script at the time that started with a telephone conversation. "A telephone conversation, " JR said derisively. "That should be exciting."

Family always feels they can be honest.

In any case, it did put it in JR's head that I could write. Soon, I met one of his producing partners on commercials and PSAs for the American Dental Association, Jack K. Over the years. we spoke often over dinner about doing our own feature, which Jack would direct.

Originally, I would have been the AD and Stan the line producer, but by the time we got to doing it, Stan had passed away. It was over dinner at one of JR's favorite Italian restaurants in the West Village that we decided to set out on the project.

Jack had an idea for the story, which we would work on together. I would produce, Jack would direct, and JR would shoot and edit.

Jack lived in Chicago, and JR kept an editing suite there. Again, this was when we were always shooting 35mm film, so editing was a longer process.

This all started somewhere around 1998 or so, and for two years, we planned, met and wrote. I would fly out to Chicago and stay with Jack and John; Jack would come to NY and stay with JR.

It would be produced with funds JR and Jack had put aside from various projects, significantly less than $400K. It would be shot on 35mm, and everyone would be paid, something about which we all felt very strongly.

The fact that it was self-funded was a big factor in the emotional turmoil, as was the fact that Jack and I wrote the script.

Unlike other projects, we couldn't joke about the director, or the script ,or "the producers." One of JR's favorite quotes, "We have met the enemy, as he is us," turned out to be true.****

Every dime we spent we felt. It's the reason movies really should be made with OPM - Other People's Money. It's not just about not risking your money - it's about making rational decisions that are not impacted by the fact that the money is coming out of your pocket.

To be fair, my financial contribution was small, and only came near the end. Jack and JR were putting out their money , but since they had saved it for this project, they felt good about it.

We got going in earnest in late 1999, and set a start date for Summer of 2000.

Over the years, we had put together a strong crew, and we felt early on that we really wanted to be surrounded by people we knew and trusted. In fact, over time, I can't say anyone did not live up to their end of the work - in fact, many of them did spectacular work. The one thing we did not count on was the emotional factors involved in working on a project that we had self-funded with so many people we knew (sometimes too) well, from crew to production to actors.

How often have you thought, "If only I could make a movie I wrote, a friend directed, and I knew everyone on the project. Then we wouldn't have all these problems!" I have worked with enough groups of friends, lovers, spouses, etc. to know that it rarely is the Nirvana that people expect.

In the next post, I will discuss the script and the writing process.Two minds working as - two.

*In most cases, the term "godfather" in Catholic families refers to a title given at the sacrament of Baptism. This is chosen by the parents. However, at Confirmation, the sacrament where a Baptized Catholic knowingly makes a commitment to the Church (a better definition at link above).

**If you grew up outside Manhattan - whether it be Jersey, one of the boroughs, Long Island, etc - you were "Bridge-and-Tunnel." Manhattan-ites rarely used it as a compliment.

*** My mother's side of the family was not named Esposito. You know how this blog works.  I use it here for flavor, and so as to not embarrass a truly wonderful family.

****If you are not familiar with Pogo's work, the link above is a good start. It's quite good.

N.B. - In the last post, I mentioned a series on Jungle Software. That is coming. It involves scheduling an interview with the President of the company, and then taking that interview and presenting it in a way that illustrates the software issues we discuss, so it will take a bit of time. It is coming.

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