2/26/10

CITY ISLAND: A JULIANNA MARGULIES OUTTAKE/PLUS SET TOUR

reels

A couple of fun snippets to close out our recounting of the first week of production. First, a little walking tour through the set. Dig it:



And a clip from the diner table of Julianna Margulies being rudely interrupted by a grandfather clock.This was shot early in the week we've been discussing. More in a minute...



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2/25/10

CITY ISLAND: PRODUCTION DAY SIX



Day Six of our shoot--our first Friday--was a late call, 11:30 AM according to the above call sheet. This allowed us to work into the evening, shooting some night stuff involving Ezra Miller, Steven Strait and Julianna Margulies. During the day, however, we shot several scenes outdoors--and a lovely day to be out of doors shooting it was. Scene 92 involved Andy Garcia and Steven Strait working together in the yard--Vince (Andy) having brought Tony (Steven) home on the pretext of helping him convert a boatshed into a guesthouse. Later in the day, we made another scene--A99--between the two in which Vince confesses his secret desire to be an actor. Here's a still of a rehearsal of scene A99, shot before lunch (served at dinnertime due to the call) in the late afternoon:



And here's a bona fide outtake from Sc. 92, which appears to have been the first thing shot that day. Enjoy. And by the way, if you want to see Andy Garcia on Jimmy Kimmel last night, go to our Twitter feed (right column upper of this page) and click on the link.



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2/24/10

CITY ISLAND: ANDY GARCIA ALERT!

alert

WHAT: Andy Garcia appears on JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE! in support of CITY ISLAND

WHEN: 12:05AM (EST & PST), TONIGHT

WHERE: ABC– Check local listings

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CITY ISLAND: PRODUCTION DAY FIVE



Before I continue with the sinister saga of shooting "City Island", let me lay on you the cities and theaters the movie will be opening in. As I've mentioned before this will be a slow roll out, starting in NY and LA on the 19th then moving to eight more cities the second weekend. If people like the movie, more theaters will be added in these cities and then more cities (and suburbs) will be added. Viz:

Theater Name City State Circuit Name Playdate

THE LANDMARK 12 (WESTSIDE PAVILION) Los Angeles CA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/19/2010
ANGELIKA FILM CENTER 6 New York NY City Cinemas 3/19/2010
LANDMARK CENTURY CENTRE 7 Chicago IL Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
LANDMARK KENDALL SQUARE CINEMA 9 Cambridge MA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
RITZ AT THE BOURSE Philadelphia PA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
LANDMARK EDINA 4 CINEMA Minneapolis MN Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
LANDMARK BRIDGE THEATER San Francisco CA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
REGAL SOUTH BEACH 18 Miami Beach FL Regal Cinemas 3/26/2010
ANGELIKA FILM CENTER - MOCKINGBIRD 8 Dallas TX City Cinemas 3/26/2010
CUMBERLAND 4 Toronto ON Cineplex/Alliance 3/26/2010

Now that we're done with that, a moment for our mantra: "City Island" is the people's movie. If you like what you're reading here and are intrigued by what we're doing, or if you've seen the movie and enjoyed it, please send this link to ONE FRIEND. Of course it would help if that friend was in one of the cities mentioned above, but the hell with that! We're just spreading oodles of joy and good will. By doing so, presumably, the movie will actually open everywhere. Check the sidebar--the right side of this blog--for links to the movies website and Facebook page. And send those to your one friend as well. Now bring on the call sheet...



Day five, according to the above clickable-to-enlarge call sheet, involved another non-event with the threatened rains. It also involved setting up in the afternoon for the mother of all dinner table fight scenes (pictured above--click that one too!) We shot what is for me the best scene in the movie in a couple of hours with two cameras rolling and we exposed a shitload of film. I hesitate to even resuscitate the production report which, as I recall, provoked howls of horror from the bond company (we shot thousands of feet of film for the scene...and what the hell of it? How else are you supposed to cover a five person dinner table scene?) Here's the Production report filed that night.



Big deal--ten thousand feet. Sounds like any normal movie to me. Sort of. Though for some magical reason, it was considered three times the amount of film per day that we were supposed to be "allotted". Nonsense. The scene is many people's favorite in the movie and we wouldn't have gotten it any other way. Film is the single cheapest thing on a movie anyway, so why everyone gets so freaked out about exposing it is beyond me. Maybe I've finally stumbled upon a good reason for shooting tape: nobody cares how much of that stuff you waste...

Before we got to that mosnter scene, however, we work working outside (as you can see from the above clickable schedule of scenes) and that the the big news on day five was a visit from Radio Man, a New York institution (for some reason) who pays a visit, via his bike, to every movie set in the city. Dig:



.

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2/23/10

ADDENDUM TO DAY FOUR




A couple of stills of the crew on the day described in the previous post--Day 4.

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CITY ISLAND: PRODUCTION DAY FOUR



On the fourth day of production, we shot the above pictured scene between Vince (Andy Garcia) and Tony (Steven Strait), standing in a little boatshed behind Vince's house. Because of the size of the shed (small), one wall of it was built 'wild'--in other words, it was removable. Thus you can see how there was room for all of us and our gear in a space that appears in the finished film to be no more than five feet wide.

Production day four, according to the below posted call sheet, fell on a classic New York summers day--high in the mid-nineties with strong chance of rain predicted. Since we were shooting both interiors and exteriors that day, the juggling act involved staying one step ahead of the weather; were we outside at the optimum time (no precipitation for long enough to complete a scene once started)? And were we moving indoors at the right time (as long as we're indoors let it rain, though it's not great for sound...)? We seemed to have worked another perfect twelve hour day and shot slightly over four pages. Click to enlarge:



Actually I don't remember the weather being much of an issue at all. The production reports seem to bear this out as well.

What is a production report, you ask? Well, let's say that it stands in diametrical opposition to the call sheet which is a document filled with hope for the future, well laid plans, a good organized flow for a days work. The call sheet is made up the previous evening and distributed at wrap--it's the plan for tomorrow. The production report, however, is the recounting of what actually happened that day. Of chief importance on the PR is the number of pages scheduled versus the number of pages shot; the amount of film stock exposed; and the time of the first shot made in the morning and after lunch. And of course what time camera wrapped.

These facts inform the producers and the films insurers (the bond company) about not just the progress being made (or not being made) but serve as an indication of trends--how are things going on this movie in general? Does the first shot get made inordinately late after call? Does it get later every day? If so, whose fault is this? The cameramans? The assistant directors? How about number of pages being shot? Every film tends to slow up a little, perhaps even has a scene or two that keeps jumping from one day of the schedule to another--no big deal really. But are we falling seriously behind? If four pages are scheduled for a day and only two are shot, assumptions can be made: at this rate, the film is 50 percent behind which means the shooting schedule will double. And if you think a bond company is going to sit still for that kind of progress, you don't know bond companies. Click to read the (in our case) not so grim realities of our day four production report, viz:



In the hierarchy of the filmmaking process (or the "chain of pain" as it's known), bad news on a series of production reports will invariably lead to somebody being fired. Since the most grievous step that can be taken on a movie is removing the director, this is not an option. The cameraman? Not really easy to get rid of a DP either--their crew usually goes with them and besides, the DP is an artistic collaborator of the directors. The firing of a DP can really only happen at the behest of the director--not over his objection. So who's left? The first assistant director, alas. They usually carry the can for a film that's going downhill production wise--though of course they have less than nothing to do with why said film is falling behind schedule. Usually it's the director and/or actors who are having trouble communicating. But they don't get fired too often. Hence the chain of pain...

All right, kiddies, enough film school for today. Here's a treat having nothing to do with "City Island": the greatest pie fight ever filmed (supposedly) from Blake Edwards "The Great Race". Can you imagine what the production reports looked like on that film?



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2/22/10

CITY ISLAND: PRODUCTION DAY THREE



A gracious good Monday to all of you dear ones who are back for more production madness. Before I go any further, let me urge you to check out the City Island Facebook page, where there's info on a screening tomorrow night (Tuesday) in Los Angeles.


And guess whose second column posted this morning on Salon.Com? Yes, I am now no longer exclusive to myself--the very prestigious Salon.com is letting me mouth off for the next few weeks about--guess what subject? Yeah. My movie. Well, at least I've found a niche. Greetings to any of you here for the first time who found us via Salon.


Click on the above photo to observe the call sheet for day three of the shoot. It appears that we worked outside and inside--filming Vince (Andy Garcia) and Vinnie Jr. (Ezra Miller) talking on the porch, as well as the family screaming match that results from Vince bringing his long lost son Tony (Steven Strait) home from prison. I remember being electrified by how radically far both Andy and Julianna Margulies went with the scene--they cut loose and tore each other apart as only a long married Italian-American couple can. It also appears that we shot a scene of where Tony and Vince park in front of the house and have a conversation in the car. Four and four-eighths pages--typical of our pace and not really that outrageous an amount. Unless your Antoine Fuqua, who I imagine shoots the four-eighths and leaves the other four pages to be incrementally gathered over the course of the coming weeks. Filmmakers know the style of fimmaking they grow up in: someone like Fuqua, whose from the music video world, is used to taking plenty of time and often not shooting much at all if things aren't looking just right. Somebody like me who came up in indie film knows only one mantra: MAKE THE DAY. No matter what, I get the scenes shot and usually don't work more than twelve hours. Honestly, I wouldn't sleep well knowing I'd shot only a portion of what was listed on the call sheet (not that I sleep all that well during a shoot anyway...)

Below is a clip that includes a scene we shot on day three--it's the second half of the scene where Vince goes outside and talks to his son Vinnie Jr. Enjoy!



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2/19/10

CITY ISLAND: ADDENDUM TO DAY ONE/TWO



In another stunning example of my memory being much faultier than I would ever have thought possible, the below captured event turns out to have happened on our first proper shoot day in City Island--a savage attack on the nice old Ford Galaxy by propmaster Dan Fisher (cheers to you, Dan, if you're reading). I would have sworn this happened deeper into our stay on Horton Street, but the call sheet bears this out as having happened on the first full day of our shoot. The above photo is us shooting the scene after wrecking the Fords grill.

Dan had to wreck the Ford's grill because in the previous scene Andy gets into a fender-bender while driving his daughter home from school. More to come...





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2/18/10

CITY ISLAND: PRODUCTION DAY ONE? (Sort of...)



Well, let's begin our journey on our production with an error. Shooting did not, as I said, commence on a Thursday, but rather on a Tuesday. The reason for my not remembering this clearly was that it was not much of a shoot day. It was a kind of warm-up second unit day--albeit with first unit "talent" (me and the DP Vanja Cernjul). A look at the attached call sheet (click on it to enlarge) shows that we spent the day cruising around City Island, making shots of roads, signs, traveling point of view shots and so-called "beauty" shots of the island. A full three days later (as you can see on the bottom of the sheet) the crew loaded-in to City Island.

And then, the following Monday--July 21, 2008-- the real shoot began. Click below to see our first official call sheet.



As you can see after clicking and enlarging on the above call sheet, we kicked off fast and furious, shooting an impressive four and two-eighths pages. We started in the upstairs of the house, filming scenes that currently play under the opening credits--the Rizzo family waking up and getting ready for another screwed up day in their lives. In the afternoon, post-lunch, we moved downstairs and outside to shoot a scene of Vince and his daughter coming home. This really ought to have been enough work for any normal movie. But when you're shooting a 125 page script in 28 days, you've still got miles to go. As you can see, we then moved into the dining room and shot the first of the films two epic family dinner and fight scenes. These were two-camera shoots--doing stuff around a dining table is slow going and requires tons of coverage so carrying a second camera is, for me, mandatory.

What I remember most fondly about this day is, in fact, that last scene. Because the Rizzo family suddenly came alive before my eyes. The improvs around the table and the hostile, funny and mordant interactions of the family made the script come alive--after years of waiting patiently on the page, the words were suddenly given real life. Below is some unedited footage--dailies--of Ezra Miller, from that first day of shooting. Ezra blew us all away from the get go--a race horse who'd been waiting for the starting bell his whole life and who took of like a shot. Viz:







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2/17/10

CITY ISLAND: THE DAY BEFORE DAY ONE

cityisland

Tomorrow begins our virtual production history, a complete day-by-day account of the filming of "City island", featuring call sheets, production stills, behind the scenes clips, outtakes, angry e-mails and other ephemera. If you are enjoying this blog, do me and "City Island" a favor: e-mail it to a friend. Hell, e-mail it to your whole address book! Or send someone you love a link to our Facebook page. Cuddly thought, that.

Click here to read a wonderfully enthusiastic review of the movie from a blog called whatchuckthinks. Not sure how he saw it and not sure I want to know. Downloads are a fact of life these days but if they provoke enthusiasm like this, they're worth the lost income...


And dig our sexy placement on Fandango. Featured! Saturday night! Not sure what this means! But I love the exposure!


And Hulu's exclusive clip, titled "Before We Met" and posted here, ain't exactly hay! Whatever that means!



Enough. Tonight I'm joining Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies for the Lincoln Center Film Society screening of the movie at the Walter Reade theater (we're introducing the movie). Tmorrow production "begins" again--on the blogside, that is. Tune in early, often and daily. I'm hoping the next 28 days doesn't provoke too many middle of the night flashbacks.

Oh--what did I do the day before the first day of principal photography? Easy. I went to the set with the actors who were working the next day and walked though the days work. You see, actors for the most part work a lot more than directors do. And the first day on a movie is usually a rusty one for me. Getting adjusted, getting sea legs back (whatever they are!), trying to get things relatively together and not appear a quivering mass of nerves, uncertainties and distractions...all of these things are familiar feelings to most directors on day one. So walking though the days work with the actors--very privately--allows me to sleep decently the night before. And it averts a soul-crushing first day of argument, contradiction and power plays...not that we had any of that crap on our movie, but the potential is always there lurking...

Dig the below clip--a press conference we did for the film in Deauville this past fall. The stunningly handsome blonde boy who comes out on the stage at 47 Seconds is my son Lorenzo. Andy Garcia had been announced, but Andy told Lorenzo to go in his place. After Andy held him up for the crowd to see, Lorenzo got his first glimpse of seeing what its like to be an object of interest to the papparazzi. I'm sorry to say that the experience was a positive one. He now wants to be a performer.

See you bright and early for day 1...




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2/15/10

CITY ISLAND: FOUR DAYS BEFORE PRODUCTION BEGINS

ci

Welcome any and all new readers who may have found us thanks to Salon.Com where I've become a guest columnist (plug...). How cool is that? Aren't I groovy? Don't you want to touch me?


If you've landed here for the first time, you're in for a treat if I do say so myself. Starting this Thursday, I will begin posting a day by day history of the shoot of our movie, "City Island"--which stars Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies and Alan Arkin-- complete with call sheets, production stills, outtakes and behind the scenes clips. The 27 days of the shoot (which began on a Thursday) will be recounted as they happened. Even the days off will be mercilessly blogged! All of this mishagoss is, of course, leading us up to the theatrical release of "City Island" on March 19th. So there.

Now, before I continue with the sinister saga of shooting "City Island", let me lay on you the cities and theaters the movie will be opening in. As I've mentioned before this will be a slow roll out, starting in NY and LA on the 19th then moving to eight more cities the second weekend. If people like the movie, more theaters will be added in these cities and then more cities (and suburbs) will be added. Viz:

Theater Name City State Circuit Name Playdate

THE LANDMARK 12 (WESTSIDE PAVILION) Los Angeles CA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/19/2010
ANGELIKA FILM CENTER 6 New York NY City Cinemas 3/19/2010
LANDMARK CENTURY CENTRE 7 Chicago IL Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
LANDMARK KENDALL SQUARE CINEMA 9 Cambridge MA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
RITZ AT THE BOURSE Philadelphia PA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
LANDMARK EDINA 4 CINEMA Minneapolis MN Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
LANDMARK BRIDGE THEATER San Francisco CA Silver Cinemas Inc (Landmark) 3/26/2010
REGAL SOUTH BEACH 18 Miami Beach FL Regal Cinemas 3/26/2010
ANGELIKA FILM CENTER - MOCKINGBIRD 8 Dallas TX City Cinemas 3/26/2010
CUMBERLAND 4 Toronto ON Cineplex/Alliance 3/26/2010

Now that we're done with that, a moment for our mantra: "City Island" is the people's movie. If you like what you're reading here and are intrigued by what we're doing, or if you've seen the movie and enjoyed it, please send this link to ONE FRIEND. Of course it would help if that friend was in one of the cities mentioned above, but the hell with that! We're just spreading oodles of joy and good will. By doing so, presumably, the movie will actually open everywhere. Check the sidebar--the right side of this blog--for links to the movies website and Facebook page. And send those to your one friend as well.


Okay. So we're less than a week away from principal. Now City Island, as a place, is small, precious and well protected by its staunchly supportive population. It was always important to us to not show up and trample all over everyones lawns and leave behind a years worth of detritus. In fact, this was a mandate ever since one of our earliest scouts. Because the following conversation happened:

We knocked on a door. Introduced ourselves. Said we were interested in filming here. Loved City Island. Wrote a whole script about it. The woman looks at us and says: "Are you 'Law and Order'?" Before we can say no, the door is shut.

So apparently that vernerable show had been on her block in the past and it was not a block party she was interested in revisiting.

Still, "Law and Order' is a tightly run ship and actually quite well known for taking care of the locations in which they work. So what was the problem in City Island? My guess was that this was not a place in which anything could go down in an impersonal way. Even if L&O did nothing wrong, they might not have let it be known how terrific it was to have shot on City island. Jesus, how could they? Their schedules are murderous.

So we took a two-pronged approach to dealing with our interpersonal realtions on City Island. Part one involved a fabulous woman-an angel really- who appeared early on to help us put together the physical aspects of the movie before it was even really a movie. Laura Tressel contacted me via e-mail to tell me that she'd worked in production, locations etc. for years, was based now in Burbank but was, in fact, from City island. Born and bred. A true local with a clam-diggers love of her home base--even though she now lived in LA. I was so moved and impressed to hear from somebody who only had heard that we might make the film and was eager--DYING--to be involved with helping us that I called her to thank her and tell her there was no money yet...

This didn't seem to phase her. I told her we were going on a reccee soon and she offered to fly to New York and meet us on the bridge that leads to City Island. And she did. Literally. The sight of this stranger waiting faithfully for us to show on that Saturday morning...you get how moving I still find it, I hope.

Part two was solved by Zachary Matz, our producer and a very strong indie-film presence--the kind of guy who's heard all these problems before and doesn't even bother acting concerned.

What he did was, to me, genius: instead of trucks hauling in and out of CIty Island every day--creating traffic snarls, wrecking people's feelings and patience, hurting plants and grass etc,, he created ONE BIG LOAD IN. Which is to say:

On the weekend before we started shooting, the circus came to town: a series of trucks and vans all made there way out to the little island and dropped off as much stuff as they could in numerous support spaces that Zachary and his staff had rented: people's garages, attics, stores on the main street that were closed, some that were in the process of closing--all of these places wound up being the hosts of our major equipment for the three weeks we were there shooting. And once all this crap was staged there, there was no need for more trucks to populate the little island. Our crew sort of disappeared into the island. If you didn't know we were there, you wouldn't have known we were there.

In addition to all the support space, we rented a couple of additional houses; one, a few blocks away from our 'hero house', was for the makeup/hair/wardrobe folks...and of course there was a "directors house", a place where I could stay at night and watch dailes with my DP Vanja Cernjul. My house was on the water and was about two blocks from set. An ideal commute, as it were. Vanja and I watched dailies every night, then passed out whilst trying to formulate a plan for the next day. Instead of a long drive in a crew van out to the northern Bronx, all we needed to do the next day was stroll across the street, coffees in hand, and discuss the days work. Surrounding us was the nautical charm and other-worldly pleasure that was City Island.

It was summer, 2008. After a mere seven year wait, the movie I had been waiting to make since the turn of the century was finally about to go into production in the city where I'd chosen to spend my personal and professional life...




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2/9/10

MAKING CITY ISLAND: WHO DO I HAVE TO F*#% TO CAST THIS PART???

xanax

Welcome, dears, to another installment of my on-line book about the making of our movie "CIty Island". When last we left off, nobody seemed to want to play the part of Joyce Rizzo. I'll get to the remarkable stroke of luck that saved our collective asses in a moment. But first a few annoucements.

For new readers (and what the hell--for old readers as well): this blog and "making of" book that's being written on it are part of our grass roots effort to reach the people out there whom might be interested in helping make our movie "City Island' a hit. If you like what I'm writing about, like the trailer of the movie (in the right column--see it?) or have managed to see the movie already and enjoyed it, please PLEASE e-mail this blog to one friend. Or send them a link to the movies website or Facebook page (all are findable in the right column--see them?)

And now two plugs: please visit our wonderful, devoted reader Marianna from Greece's blog. She's devoted a lovely post to our movie and what this blog has meant to her. But there is much other good stuff to be found there as well.


And my old friend and producing partner on "Two Family House", Adam Brightman, has gotten into the high stakes world of blogging with a very charming blog called "Way Off Center". Check it out.



And remember: "City Island" is the people's movie. It belongs to you. Please tell friends about it. We open on 3/19 in LA and New York and a week later in Toronto, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis and two other cities that I can't remember at the moment. Next week, though, I'll post the theaters in each city where we'll be opening...really, I will...


So there I am, waiting for Mary Louise Parker to give us the thumbs up...and then we got the call. Ready?

She was passing. Loved the material, said it was nice meeting me on the phone, but there were personal issues that seemed to preclude her being in New York for the summer. Oh well.

We were, by now, bordering on despondency mixed with anxiety. Xanax was my morning drug of choice. Evenings saw the bottle of Absolute Vodka rapidly diminishing. We began discussing who in the office might be qualified to play the role. Not really. But we were getting desperate.

And then Andy suggested Julianna Margulies, with whom he'd previously worked in a movie called "Man From Elysian Fields". How come we hadn't thought of her before? Because she had been in something of a retirement phase...not working...living in New York...got married, had a baby...and not necessarily acting like she was too interested in going back to work. (This is all a little hard to believe now--she is, as I'm writing this, the years great "comeback" event...but remember, this is the summer of 2008 I'm talking about). I thought it was a fine idea--a bit of a longshot perhaps but why not give it a try?

A couple of days later, she phoned Andy and said she'd like to meet me.

So there I am, sitting across from Julianna Margulies at DeMarchlier on 86th and Madison. We're less than two weeks away from principle photography and as soon as I sit across from this foxy, magnetic and totally down-to-earth woman I suddenly realized: everything truly does happen for a reason. She was exactly the combination of elements that I wanted for Joyce Rizzo. Attractive, open, funny, unafraid.

We talked around the subject for a bit. How happy she was living in New York again, how much I like it as well etc. etc. Then we got into the script and I found she had a lot of insight into the role. She also really liked Andy--we talked about their previous work together. All the while I'm thinking: this is who always belonged in the movie...why did it take such a stressful and circuitous route to find her?

And then I started thinking: when is the other shoe going to drop? When is she going to tell me what she doesn't like about it?
But that didn't happen. Instead, after quite a bit of conversation she said: "So when are you guys looking to try to make this movie?"

Pause. Try to make this movie? As if it were a faraway prospect, still unfinanced and unready to roll. Apparently nobody had informed her of the emergent nature of the situation. There was the other shoe! She had no idea we were days away from going...and no doubt she had other plans for the summer that was already upon us.

As calmly as possible I replied: "A week from next Thursday."

Now the pause belonged to Julianna. She took this in. Looked away for a moment. Then she said: "Oh. I get it. You're in trouble."

Yes, I replied. I'm in trouble.

Now we understood each other. Another long pause as she no doubt contemplated her still open options. Then she nodded and said: "Well...a lot of the time it's much more fun for me to just jump into somethng without overthinking it too much. There's one thing that I really would need from you."

At this point I'm thinking: ANYTHING! Even script changes...

"What's that?"

"I have this great custom-made wig that would be perfect for Joyce. It'll also save you guys lots of time because my hair is a big deal to deal with every morning. If I can use the wig, I'll do the movie."

Done.




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EMERGENCY SCREENING NOTIFICATION!

emergencysymbol

Attention readers who live in the New York area: if you're interested in seeing a screening of "City Island" tomorrow night, click here to go the movies Facebook page and learn how to get in!


More tomorrow on the making of the movie!


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2/8/10

CITY ISLAND: STUMBLING TOWARDS A STARTDATE PT. 2

cityislandbridge

Through all of the ups and downs I've been describing--the feeling that we had a movie about to really happen and the concurrent feeling that we were in the midst of multiple rugs being yanked out from under us--the life-saving event was::

The recce. Short for: Reconnesaince trip. Or: location scout.

Every day a group of us would pile in a van--me, our location manager, production designer Franckie Diago, a couple of PA's and off we'd go to check out various prisons, houses on City Island, possible midtown offices, theaters, streets in Tribeca, etc.
No matter how weird it was to be starting this movie with two big parts uncast, these journies made it feel like we were going to make the damn thing no matter what. Except for the occasional times when they didn't provoke that reaction and instead made me yearn for a life owning and living over a liquor store in Vermont. (This idea, for some reason, has been a soothing concept of disappearence for me for many years...) Best of all, though, was our growing familiarity with City Island itself--the place was beginning to feel like a second home to us as we met the locals--all of them terribly nice and welcoming--and finally found our "hero house".

The Rizzo house, in the movie, is in fact half of a "two family house"--a wonderful, early 20th Century quasi-Victorian pile with round windows, glassed in porches, wide decorative archways and terrific views of the water and, in the not too far distance, the Manhattan skyline. We fell in love with this house immediately and were fortunate to be able to secure it as our main location. By shooting it from certain angles, we concealed the fact that it was only half of an attached house--in fact, I don't think anyone's ever caught on to this who's seen the movie. The house conveys a convivial, old-world spirit and was in just the right state of semi-dilapidation that it truly would have been in the Rizzo's hands.

But back to cast: Andy had the idea that the part of Molly --recently Chloe Sevigny's and now clearly not hers--would be well served and sparklingly realized by his friend Emily Mortimer, with whom he'd been in several Pink Panther movies with and whose offscreen humor sounded like a distressingly good match for mine and Andy's. So we sent her the script.

And bingo! She loved the part and we made arrangements to meet for coffee at a far too precious joint in Brooklyn near where she lives. Once she showed up, I liked the place a hell of a lot better. Emily would be a delightful Molly--proof, really, that problems really do happen for good reasons.

Which would lead one to think that our problems casting Joyce Rizzo would also soon be over. If you read interviews with actresses approaching or just passing the age of forty, certain themes tend to reoccur. Usually they complain a lot about the parts they are offered. Hollywood, it seems, doesn't respect women over thirty. They don't believe "older" women can be desirable, sexual beings. They don't get offered parts featuring "strong" women, mothers, professionals who are also...sexy, I guess is the missing component. You've read this rant before if you read People, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, Vanity Fair.

So the good news, I thought, is that we were offering just such a role: a mother, a working woman, a strong personality, and still a stunner--capable (SPOILER ALERT) of being attractive to a man half her age...who her husband brings home from prison...who she doesn't know is her husband's...(enough). We made a list of appropriate actresses and prepared to spring into action. We were a "go" movie, with a start date only a few weeks away. We would make the offers to these lucky women one at a time (protocol demands this), give them a couple of days to consider it and then move on in the unlikely event they turned us down.

First up, I think, was Laura Linney. She passed. Second up was Patricia Clarkson. Also a quick pass. Laura Dern anyone? Pass.
Marisa Tomei? Pasadena! Before we knew it, a week was turning into two weeks, our start date loomed ever closer and all of those movies that don't write roles for strong women who are also mothers and also sexual suddenly looked pretty smart--they didn't write them because actresses didn't want to do them. I honestly do think that a big turn off was the fact that the Rizzo's have two teenage children--in the real world, of course, people have kids in their twenties but in Hollywoodland the idea of being in your early forties with teenagers seems...unnecessarily hurried...

Then we got an interesting bite. Mary-Louise Parker, from "Weeds" (and much much more) liked the script. Well that was a relief. A phone call was set up--she was in LA--and I spoke with her. She sounded terribly bright and genuinely enthusiastic, though she stopped short of actually saying she would do the movie. She said she needed to work something out, maybe it could happen, she knew I was in a time crunch and wouldn't hold me up...

And so we waited another couple of days to see if Mary-Louise Parker would be Andy's wife...





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2/5/10

CITY ISLAND: STUMBLING TOWARDS A STARTDATE

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We set up production offices in Queens, just over the East River from Manhattan, and hired the extremely capable Ged Dickersen as our line producer/UPM. The offices were basically one super big space divided into two sections--approximately one-third of the space was partitioned off from the rest of the space by a glass wall. This enclosed glass space is where the producers and I--Zach, Ged, Lauren--and our assistants hung out. Andrew Saxe came on as our Production Supervisor. The accounting staff was next door. From the window we could look out into the space inhabited by the ever growing production staff.

I began interviewing Cinematographers and Production Designers. Generally I asked them to meet me at a coffee shop across the street from where I live in New York, rather than coming out to the office. When you interview these people, you're interviewing people at the top of their game--there are no bad ones, otherwise they wouldn't have ascended to the jobs they now have. (In other words, they would have either stayed in more subservient positions on the crew or left the business entirely). So what you're doing is not so much trying to decide who's "better" than somebody else, as who's the right fit...who you feel like you speak the same language as...who has a real, burning desire to get to work on your movie. Sometimes it's a process of elimination and its made easy for you: one very talented production designer I talked with seemed quite promising. Halfway through the meeting, however, he started calling me "Josh". Now, if he'd said "Randy" or even "Rob" I might have corrected him. But "Josh" has as little to do with my name as, say, "Matilda". So I didn't bother to correct him. But I mentally left the meeting, figuring that if he hadn't bothered to learn the name of the writer/director, he probably wasn't all that eager to work on the movie. We said goodbye in front of the coffee shop. I told him I'd be in touch. "Thanks, Josh!" he said.

I had the real honor of talking with some Cinematographer legends--chiefly Adam Holender and Fred Murphy. Adam shot "Midnight Cowboy" among many other classics and was still interested in working...providing the amount of time to shoot the film felt right to him. In a sense he was interviewing me--to see what kind of filmmaker I was and precisely the kind of situation he'd be facing were he to commit to our movie. Fred Murphy, who shot "Trip To Bountiful" and John Huston's last film "The Dead" among many others, and I had a very nice, very simpatico exchange and I thought he'd be perfect for the movie. Upon looking into each of these men, however, it felt like there were issues; what we were offering time wise for Adam wasn't really what he was comfortable with, while money and scheduling seemed to block our way with Fred. (By the way, Fred is currently the DP for Julianna Margulies show "The Good Wife"--a nice moment of almost-connectivity. He and I chatted quite a bit while I was shadowing the episode of the show last fall).

And then I met Vajna Cernjul, who I instantly knew upon meeting and watching his reel was the right fit for our movie. European and with a sense of the tone and artistry that needed to be captured for our comedy to feel natural, beautiful and unforced...and a busy independent filmmaker and up and coming television DP (he did the "Ugly Betty" pilot and a season of "30 Rock") which meant that he understood and could work with the time constraints that we were going to be facing. So I hired him. And I've never regretted it. He did a terrific job and was a great housemate as well who introduced me to Malbec red wine (more on that later).

Now, all of the production designers I met brought me large portfolios of their work. I always felt obliged to look the work over carefully, commenting as I went along, and I always secretly resented this. Because I wanted to talk to them about life, the story of the movie, how they like to work, whose work they like...and more and more time got eaten up staring at those portfolios. Don't get me wrong--the work was all terrific. But after awhile, I just didn't know what I was looking at or why.

And then I met Franckie Diago, who was suggested to me by Andy Garcia. She'd worked for the great Dean Tavolauris in the art department on "The Godfather 3", production designed many other movies and--interestingly--seemed to take long periods of time off from the business, to travel and live and learn. This intrigued me so we set up a meeting. When she arrived at the coffee shop across from my house, the first thing I noticed was that she had no portfolio with her. I asked her why. In her very charming French-accented English she said: "your script is natural. It's what it is. I must serve it. Not serve my own ideas or my other work. It's about the people and their environment". And then she shrugged, as if to say: isn't that obvious?

As soon as I got back to the office, I hired her. Sometimes simplicity and directness is everything. And she did a bang up job as well, even though it took her awhile to figure out what my last name was (at least she knew my first name...)

For my assistant director I interviewed three people. The first one made it easy by not showing up. The second one made it easier by telling me in detail how he'd saved the directors ass on the last movie he'd A.D.'d. (Did I want him saying that about me in future interviews? I passed.) The third made it super easy by being prepared, enthusiastic and organized. So I hired the invaluable Eric Henriquez and I'm certain we will one day repeat the experience--Eric turned out to be a brilliant A.D.

So far it sounds like everything was going just nifty-dandy, doesn't it? And it was--putting your key crew together is one of the truly enjoyable moments in the whole process. Soon Franckie had her art department assembled and spreading out in that big office space we'd rented. Eric had his charts and schedules and boards. Production Assistants bustled around busily, phones rang, computers booted up...we were a movie in prep.

But as week one of prep turned into week two of prep, those of us sitting in that glass enclosed cubicle began to feel less like the people in the zoo staring out at the animals then the animals being stared at. Because it was becoming obvious that a movie with a start date just over a month away seemed not to have two very important cast members in place. Chloe Sevingny was, by now, clearly not going to be our Molly. And things were getting iffier by the day with Marcia Gay Harden. The truth is, many movies enter prep and never get to shoot a foot of film--because prep is the cheapest part of the process and if need be the plug can be pulled (if actors fall out or money starts disappearing) with only nominal damage. So it was that I sat there in a state of palpable anxiety every day, staring out at the good people who were there to finally make my dream project into a reality and wondering to myself: what if this all goes away?




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2/3/10

CITY ISLAND: THE TALE RESUMES, THE ACTORS BOLT

actors

Okay, we're back. But first, click here to listen to a nifty little podcast where Andy Garcia is interviewed about the movie--it also includes audio clips of scenes from the film. This was done for the magazine AARP.



When last we met, I provided what I hoped would be a cliffhanger involving the sudden disappearance of a number of our cast members shortly after our successful trip to Cannes, 08. For after getting lots of foreign buyers excited about our as yet unmade movie and feeling destined about the likelihood of going into production soon, we were suddenly having the proverbial rug pulled out from under us.

In short, both Marcia Gay Harden and Chloe Sevigny suddenly seemed to have other things to do rather than be in "City Island".
It's a bad phone call to get, and usually it isn't one phone call. It's a series of calls from the actors agents in which certain phrases start popping up, phrases that might seem innocuous to the uninitiated but are filled with ominous portent to those who've made a few movies.

Phrases like: "pending his/her schedule"...or: "trying to work out some dates"...or:"he/she still likes the material"...or simply: "there are other offers on the table but we're still committed..."

All of these phrases mean: he/she ain't doing your movie, pal. Grow up and move on.

Why does this happen? Actors, oftentimes, will commit to a role without any real belief that the damn thing will truly happen. Most of the time, after all, movies don't happen. Except then they do. And what seemed like a promising meeting about good material months ago will, upon second look, perhaps appear in a different light and set said actor to posing some introspective questions. Like: why aren't I getting a better paying gig? Or, where and when does this shoot and is it going to screw up my vacation plans? Or: I liked this then, but now it stinks. Often it is simply a case of the dancecard getting filled up and priorities shifting.

In the case of Marcia Gay Harden, she had two conflicts. One was a part in a movie that Drew Barrymore was directing (it's since come out but I can't remember the name of it). This clearly would pay better than we would. But she also had a television pilot that was on the verge of getting picked up. At one point, we were actually in touch with the unit production manager of the Barrymore movie, trying to work out dates. The TV pilot was a different matter--there was nothing to do but wait to see if it was a go. For the moment, she remained attached to City Island, but "loosely" as they say. I put on a bold front, certain that she'd do our movie. From the beginning, Andy was convinced otherwise.

Chloe Sevigny, on the other hand, was a simple matter of HBO making things too difficult for us. The new scripts for that season of "Big Love" had just come in and apparently there was a lot of Chloe in the show. From the earliest agent calls, we were pretty sure that we weren't going to be able to get her when we needed her. Too bad, as she'd been enthusiastic about doing the role.

Or was she? You may remember a few posts back, my discussing the meeting Andy and I had with Chloe at the Chateau Marmont and how I sensed there was something about her that she was holding back. It occurred to me, when the "Big Love" moment came, that perhaps Chloe wasn't all that convinced that she was right for the role in our movie. At the time, our enthusiasm for her seemed stronger than her enthusiasm for the material--and good actors often have a sixth sense about how appropriate their presence will be in a given role. One day I'll have to ask her if, in fact, upon a second reading months later, she just didn't think it was the right part for her. Assuming I ever see her again. And assuming she even remembers our meeting. "What? City Island? Who?"

It was May now and Lauren, Andy, Zachary and I (all co-producers) were committed to a schedule; get this movie up and rolling for a summer shoot in New York. We looked at the calender and figured that the latest we wanted to be shooting was Labor Day. Moving backwards, the six week shoot would thus have to begin no later than mid-July. Which meant that our six week prep would need to begin no later than the top of June.

Which meant that we needed some new actors in a goddam hurry before our financing, partly predicated upon the participation (wow--author alliterates acutely--dig!) of these women. It's times like these that you, as a director, start to wonder if animation might be a saner way to make a film. Or maybe using puppets instead of humans. Yeah. How about puppets?



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2/2/10

CITY ISLAND: PAUSE BUTTON

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Dearest readers, followers and City Island hounds--

Profuse apologies for the pause in the on-line book about the making of our movie. It seems that I got preoccupied with a staged reading of my musical "Buddy's Tavern" (adapted from my movie "Two Family House"). And very well it went, too. But that was the past four days for me and today I fly back to LA fron New York, so this pause button will be on hold until tomorrow. Meanwhile:

Click here to check out the superb placement of our movie on Apple I-tunes movie trailers. Top right module, first row thumbnail. Nice.



And go to Hulu and rate the trailer--it looks to me like we're only a star away from having their top rating.



Has anyone noticed on the comments page the proliferation of unbelievably annoying spam? Though some of it is quite amusing in an Ionesco kind of way, I think it's mostly an annoyance and no doubt due to the twitter stream appearences of the blogs address. As a result I'll be blocking anonymous commentors--but please, all you good people named "anonymous", don't stop commenting! Just pick a screen name and let's get back to business as usual.

"City Island" opens in six weeks. Spread the word by forwarding a link to the movies website or facebook page (links available in the column to your right).

I'll see you tomorrow with more of the tale. Meanwhile, perhaps Jerry Lewis really can sing...





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