E. Paul Edwards’ directorial debut, FIGHTING WORDS, begins with these words: “Here’s a recipe for poetry: begin with a healthy portion of heartache - thick and juicy. Add a pinch of death, a dash of despair. Allow to rise.”
Well, the death isn’t there-at least literally-but all other manner of specters of negativity hover like unseen characters just out of frame. A loquacious recasting of the underdog Rocky tale set against a fresh, contemporary backdrop, Fighting Words is about one man’s quest to locate the requisite courage and discipline to match his passion. He has a foil, yes, but it’s also a story about a young man’s battle with himself.
A talented but down-on-his-luck poet stuck in a dead-end job, Jake Thompson (Jeff Stearns) is, when we first see him, unable to foresee a world in which his innate aptitude ever translates to an audience beyond a few drunken barstool pigeons. The film centers around Jake’s burgeoning professional and personal relationship with admiring associate publisher Marni Elliot (Tara D’Agostino), who harbors a painful personal secret, and eventually his competition against successful freestyle poet David Settles (C. Thomas Howell) in the highly lucrative Los Angeles Poetron, a tournament-style gathering of spoken-word poets.
The success of Fighting Words lies in its savvy blend of the familiar and novel. The underlying love story is almost primal and subliminal; Jake and Marni’s star-crossed fate isn’t one of feuding families but rather their own hang-ups and the nasty reality of the 21st century sexual landscape.
The setting, meanwhile, provides a rich and modern tableaux of twentysomething anxiety and uncertainty. After the sudden cultural ascendance and almost as quick withdrawal of the beats, poetry for an entire generation-maybe more-basically returned to the shadows. It was a form of expression ceded to rock ’n’ roll lyrics. In the 1990s, though, the first-person narratives born of rap music fused with raw, emotional new wave literature in an exciting and innovative way, and a bastard child was born - slam poetry.
Part public plea, part personal confessional, part braggadocio, spoken word open mike nights and contests sprung up in college campuses and large urban centers around the country. Poetry was no longer the weak, thin-armed younger brother of the artistic world, it was a loud, proud, ready-to-rumble primetime player.
Brimming with the same passion for wordplay, expression and connectivity that its characters display, Fighting Words features fine work from big screen newcomers Stearns and D’Agostino, and boasts supporting performances from a diverse cast that includes Fred Willard, Fred Williamson, Michael Parks and Edward Laurence Albert.
If ever you have felt the pressure of another human soul on the other side of a book or in a song or on a movie or television screen, if in an author’s voice or performer’s articulation you found a friend that you thought you could never find in life, Fighting Words will bring the recollection of that feeling rushing back. It’s an absorbing celebration of the nature of creativity and its symbiotic and replenishing relationship with the human spirit.
With a simplicity and emotional forthrightness, the film underscores the profundity of the notion that the spirit of art lives in its truest form in its most joyous receptors - an audience.
Fighting Words (125 word synopsis)
In a rowdy bar, JAKE THOMPSON rants in a “poetry slam” contest where poems are read competitively. Later, Jake meets MARNI ELLIOT, a publisher looking for new poets. Although they are attracted to each other, the poet and the business woman agree to keep it 'business' between them. It doesn't work.
Alone, they begin tearing each other’s clothes off but Marni has a dark secret that destroys the budding relationship. The publisher and the poet agree to continue working together on Jake's poetry.
In the L.A. Poetron Slam competition where he must win to gain a publishing deal, Jake faces DAVID SETTLES, Marni's ex-boyfriend who will stop at nothing to beat him. Searching his mind, Jake finds a place in himself from where emotions and poetry spring.
Fighting Words (short synopsis)
A gifted poet is discovered by an attractive publisher. When the relationship turns sexual, the publisher reveals a dark secret. Although stunned by her revelation, the poet learns that love is more than words.
Talent Bios JEFF STEARNS as “Jake Thompson”
After auditioning for Fighting Words, where he shared and performed some of his original poetry with the film’s producers, Jeff Stearns was offered his first leading role in a feature film. Though movie audiences will be introduced to Jeff in this film, television audiences gave him quite a fan base during the series run of USA Network’s “Pacific Blue” where he starred as Russ Granger. He also had a recurring role on “Port Charles”; the ABC series that featured his co-star Edward Albert. More recently, Jeff has made two independent films for one of his “Pacific Blue” directors, Terence H. Winkless, Twice as Dead and Fire over Afghanistan.
C. THOMAS HOWELL as “David Settles”
One of Hollywood’s busiest actors, C. Thomas Howell worked on more than 70 film and television projects before taking on a completely different kind of leading role of champion slam poet David Settles. His big break came as a teenager, when after years of competing in the Junior Rodeo Association and learning stunt work from his stunt-coordinator father Chris Howell, Steven Spielberg upgraded Howell’s position as stunt-double to featured actor in E.T.. Francis Ford Coppola gave Howell his next job as ‘Ponyboy Curtis’ in The Outsiders, which also launched the careers of Golden Globe nominees Rob Lowe & Patrick Swayze and Oscar-nominees Diane Lane and Tom Cruise.
Several of his other movies from the 1980s have since become major cult classics, especially The Hitcher with Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and John Milius’s Red Dawn with Charlie Sheen and Lea Thompson. Howell continued his prolific acting in the 1990s but also directed three features: Hourglass (which he also wrote), Pure Danger, and The Big Fall. Recent roles of note have included Thomas Chamberlain in Ronald F. Maxwell’s Civil War epics Gettysburg and Gods and Generals and Dr. Ballard in the mini-series remake of The Poseidon Adventure. He continues to pursue not only acting but also producing projects under the auspices of his own production company, Buckwheat Films.
TARA D’AGOSTINO as “Marni Elliot”
As with her co-star, Jeff Stearns, Fighting Words is Tara D’Agostino's first lead in a feature film and it provides an excellent showcase for both its newly discovered talents. D’Agostino grew up in the suburbs of Holmdel, New Jersey and resides now in New York City with her two Yorkies, Chewbacca and Kobe and her Rottweiler, Frankie. She trained at the Joanne Baron/DW Brown Studio in Santa Monica, California where she completed a two year program of the Meisner method. Her television credits include C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation, Days of our Lives and a supporting role in the indie film Bill the Intern.
FRED WILLARD as “Longfellow”
Fred Willard has been recognized as one of his generation's most gifted comic actors. With these praises, and his continuous work over the last four decades, it is no wonder why Willard is known as a "master a of sketch comedy." Willard is an alumnus of Chicago's Second City and founding member of the classic improv comedy group, the Ace Trucking Company. His work on the cult-classic, late night talk show, "Fernwood 2Night," with Martin Mull, was recently celebrated at the Museum of Television & Radio. In fact, this late night talk show is only one of several projects that have led to Willard's cult following, not to mention his role as Lt. Hookstratten in This is Spinal Tap, and his fifty appearances in original sketches on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno." Willard has not only established himself as a first-rate television host ("Candid Camera"), but has been busy doing guest work on popular series throughout the 1990s. Willard has played recurring roles on "Roseanne", "Mad About You," "Ally McBeal," and "Everybody Loves Raymond."
Willard's most critically acclaimed work has been in Christopher Guest's films, Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind. His work in Guffman earned him an American Comedy Award nomination and a Screen Actor's Guild nomination for Funniest Supporting Actor. His scene-stealing portrayal of the babbling commentator in Best in Show won the actor an American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture and a Best Supporting Actor Award from the Boston Society of Film Critics. In addition to innumerable television commercials, Willard consistently co-stars in Will Ferrell comedies, such as Anchorman and Bewitched.
EDWARD ALBERT as “Marc Neihauser”
Edward Albert’s long and distinguished film career spans more than 30 years, beginning with his starring role opposite Goldie Hawn in Butterflies are Free (1972). That performance earned him a Golden Globe nomination as Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, and though he lost to Jack Lemmon, he received a special Golden Globe for the Most Promising Newcomer of the Year. He followed that performance over the next ten years with leading roles opposite legendary Oscar-winners Charlton Heston (Midway), Gene Hackman (The Domino Principle), Anthony Quinn (The Greek Tycoon), Paul Newman & William Holden (When Time Ran Out), Rex Harrison (Time to Die), and Orson Welles (Butterfly). More recently, Albert starred opposite Nicholas Cage and Shirley MacLaine in GuardingTess, this year’s romance The Work and the Glory, and spent a couple of seasons on the Emmy-winning television series “Port Charles”. Albert fought hard for his role in Street Poet since his daughter Thaïs is herself a talented and passionate original local poet. Talent, of course, runs in Albert’s family, as he is the son of celebrated Oscar-nominated actor Eddie Albert and the godson of Lord Laurence Olivier.
FRED WILLIAMSON as “Gabriel”
After a 10-year career in professional football, playing for San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Kansas City, Fred Williamson moved to Hollywood in 1969. Always known for a take-charge attitude, Williamson immediately made a memorable feature debut in Robert Altman's classic, M*A*S*H. Williamson even landed himself an Emmy nomination for his work on "Police Story." After working in the industry for only a short time, Williamson began to study the technical aspects and launched Po' Boy Productions in 1974. Since then, he has directed and starred in over forty films produced under his production company. Po' Boy Productions expanded from riding the wave of the 1970s "blaxploitation" movies (Three the Hard Way) to more recent action films, such as South Beach which starred Gary Busey and Peter Fonda. Although Fred Williamson is known as one of Hollywood's most popular black stars of the 70s, the age of his fan base has taken a dramatic dip. After starring in Robert Rodriguez's cult favorite From Dusk Till Dawn in 1996 with co-stars Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney, and Harvey Keitel, Williamson has gained a new generation of fans. This led him to star in roles in MTV's "Carmen: A Hip Hopera" in 2001, and the popular remake of Starsky and Hutch with Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Snoop Dogg, and Vince Vaughn.
MICHAEL PARKS as “Benny the Heckler”
The career of Michael Parks began auspiciously in the late 1960s. After making his film debut as the star of the art-house road movie The Wild Seed (1965), he won the part of Adam in the legendary Dino De Laurentiis $18 million all-star epic The Bible (1966), directed by John Huston. Parks worked on several television projects after that, the most well known of course was “Then Came Bronson”(1969-1970) a cult favorite series produced to capitalize on the success of Easy Rider. Parks starred in several feature films of note in the 1970s and 1980s, including The Last Hard Men with Charlton Heston and James Coburn, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, where he portrayed Robert Kennedy opposite Broderick Crawford, and Hard Country opposite Daryl Hannah and Kim Basinger. More recently, Parks has been appearing quite regularly in critically acclaimed independent films such as Niagara, Niagara with Stephen Lang, Deceiver with Ellen Burstyn and Renée Zellweger, Julian Po with Christian Slater, and Wicked with Julia Stiles. But Parks is best known to modern audiences through his working relationship with his loyal fan, Quentin Tarantino, who co-starred with Parks in From Dusk Till Dawn and cast him in not one but two roles in Kill Bill (Vols 1 & 2). Michael’s son, James, appears as ‘Fresno Pete’ in the opening round of the poetry slam in our film.
VAL LAUREN as “Etch-A-Sketch”
It's been said that Val Lauren "doesn't wait for breaks in Hollywood. He makes them happen for him." His crowded resume is a definite reflection of these praises. Since the early-90s, Val has had continuous work in film, television, and theatre. Instructed by prominent actor Jeff Goldblum, Val has been studying at Playhouse West since 1996. His training has paid off with several recurring roles on the popular series "24" as Agent Randy Murdoch. In 2002, Lauren completed "The Salton Sea" with Val Kilmer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Adam Goldberg, and Luiz Guzman. Lauren can currently be seen co-starring with his friends and collaborators from Playhouse West, Scott Caan and Jeff Goldblum, in Caan’s directoral debut, Dallas 362 .
DOMINIC COMPERATORE as “Alan Mitzer”
With an extensive background in theatre, Dominic Comperatore is no stranger to playing a leading man. Dominic's past performances have included the roles of Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet," and Hamlet in "The Secret Love Life of Ophelia." Dominic has made a smooth transition into television, playing guest roles on "ER" and "The Sheild." In addition, Dominic's list of film credits include nothing but starring roles, all of which have been the object of film festivals at home (AFI Film Festival) and abroad (Toronto Film Festival, Athens International Film and Video Festival).
JEN DEDE as “Lisa”
Jen Dede is from Chicago Il, where she attended The Theatre School of DePaul University. Since moving to LA Television credits include: ER, Gilmore Girls, and Early Edition . Her movie credits include several independent films, Payback, and most recently Spring Forward Fall Back a project she also produced. She has recently been cast in the independent feature “Sweetzer”, to start filming in April.
VANESSA DORMAN as “Shelly Lancaster”
Best known for her role on the soap opera "Sunset Beach," Vanessa Dorman played spoiled socialite Caitlin Richards-Deschanel. Although Vanessa was not working in Hollywood as a child actor, she knew she wanted to go into acting at a very young age. Vanessa's childhood aspiration was to become an actor, and her family gave her a lot of freedom to pursue her dream. Growing up in Niantic, Connecticut, she turned down a national ad campaign at a very young age just to stay in her "normal life." Instead, she starred in many of her schools' plays (playing Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz"). Although Vanessa had been living in New York City to be near her first love, theatre, she is back in Los Angeles working in film and television. Since leaving "Sunset Beach," Vanessa made several notable guest appearances, including a recurring role on "Dawson's Creek."
DWIGHT EWELL as “Leopold”
Dwight Ewell is well known to the vast audiences of Kevin Smith movies, having starred in Chasing Amy, Dogma, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. He has also appeared in Kiss Me Guido, and the award-winning independent features The Waiting Game and The Pavillion, starring Patsy Kensit and Richard Chamberlain. After a memorably passionate and energetic audition, Ewell was cast as ‘Leopold’, one of the poets Thompson and Settles must compete against in the final Poetron Slam.
The filmmakers, searching for authenticity, chose the works of the following authors for the poetry contained and performed in the film.
Thaïs Carmen makes her feature film debut performing an original poem in Streets Poets, the film that co-stars her father, Edward Albert, in the role of “Marc Neihauser.” Carmen graduated from the College of Creative Studies at the Universary of California at Santa Barbara in 2002 with a B.A, in Literature. She has written and published her own book of poems called "Fireplay," which is available through her publishing company, Eat Poems Press, and can be ordered at email@example.com. She is a visiting reader at UCSB and Oxnard College and has been featured on "Eve of the Poet" at Muddy Waters. Her work has appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent and the Malibu Surf Side News. Carmen also writes songs, which she has performed at the House of Blues, the Wadsworth Theatre, and the Ford Amphitheatre.
Mona Jean Cedar
One of the most unusual performances in Fighting Words is given by Mona Jean Cedar, who performs one of her own poems and another written specifically for her to perform in the film in both voice and interpretive sign language. Cedar, a Los Angeles based poet who is also a professional dancer and musician, deftly blends interpretive American Sign Language in her performance poetry and music “using her sign language as a song and her body as an instrument.” She also enjoys teaching dance to blind, deaf and mentally and physically disabled adults and children. In 1999, a chapbook of her poetry was published as part of the Laguna Poets Series entitled “…to Express & to Shine.”
Bridget Gray grew up in Chicago and was educated in theatre and dance at Northern Illinois University, but she is best known for her written and performed poetry. She entered her first poetry contest at the age of fifteen and has entered and won countless contests since then. She was last year’s LA Grand Slam Champion, the first HBO Soul Poetry Slam winner, and won the local slam competition, Battle of LA. Currently a member of the Da’ Poetry Lounge/Hollywood Slam Team, she has performed at the Pan African Film Festival, the Malcolm X Festival, The African Marketplace, VZN Records’ Conscious Hip-Hop Seminar and UCLA. Her poetry has heard on Los Angeles Hip-Hop Station 100.3 The Beat and National Public Radio. More recently, Gray released a spoken word CD entitled “Shades of Gray” and performed, not surprisingly, on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam”.
A native of South Central Los Angeles, Javon began his poetry career in the winter of 2001, and the following year he qualified to represent Los Angeles at the 2002 National Poetry Slam Tournament, where the Los Angeles Slam Team placed 5th in the nation. In 2003, the same team won the National Poetry Slam Championship, placing 1st over more than 60 teams and becoming the first winning team from Southern California. In addition to this, Javon and the Los Angeles Slam Team won all of the Battles of Los Angeles. In 2004, Javon joined the Hollywood Slam Team and won the West Coast Regional Championship and the 2004 National Championship, making Javon only the second person in Slam National’s history to ever win back to back National tittles. Javon is a 5 time intercollegiate Speech & Debate National Champion, and has won the Brovero-Tabor award for being the best all around competitor on the national community college level. He has coached Speech & Debate at California State University, Los Angeles, where he is completing his Masters of Arts Degree in Communication, with an emphasis in Critical Performance Studies. He begins Northwestern University Ph.D.’s program in Critical Performance Studies in the fall of 2005. He has appeared on Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam on HBO, BET’s Lyric Café, and filmed BET’s The Way We Do it. In addition to this, Javon co-wrote poetic narration for Emmy-winning brothers Kern and Kip’s 2004 sports documentary Crossover. “I noticed I live in a capitalist society, where my self-worth is based on how much I own, and since all I own are my own words, then my words is what I’m worth. Since actions speak louder than words, I promise to try and write my words into action, so my self-worth can be much, much louder.”
One of the most soulful poets in Los Angeles, April Jones has stolen the hearts of audiences with her descriptions of love, loss and other four letter words. April is an established poetry slam veteran whose passion strikes like lightning from the stage. April has appeared at various venues in LA including the Bourgeois Pig and Da Poetry Lounge.
Though she began writing poetry at the age of 12, it was at 17 that this California native stumbled upon a poetry reading and met her true love, spoken word. At 21, she has now been published in a few anthologies, as well as featured in the online poetry magazine, PoeticDiversity.org.Recently, she has taken her talents to a new field, music. She sometimes reads under different aliases. You may have seen her as Betty Boop, She-ra: Princess of Power, The Star, JJ Big Pimpin’ or, The Muse. However, she is best known as Jasmin. She has been featured in a number of spoken word readings in the greater LA area, such as the Bourgeois Pig, Unurban Café (performing with The Really Big Show) and Abbott’s Habbit in Venice.
New York City native Jerry Quickley is now probably the most well known performance poet in Los Angeles due to his extensive exposure on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and his own popular and energetic weekday radio shows on Pacifica Networks in Los Angeles, New York, Washington DC, Houston and San Francisco. His poetry has been published in The Los Angeles Times, The LA Weekly, The Village Voice and the Penguin-Putnam book Slam. While in Manhattan, he was the Playwright in Residence at the Tiki Ti Theatre Company in 1994-1995. Since moving to Los Angeles Quickley, like Bridget Gray, has won the Los Angeles Poetry Grand Slam and has also been a finalist at National Poetry Slams held in Portland, Connecticut, Austin and Providence.
Rives is one of the hardest-hitting spoken word performers on the scene. He has won slams from L.A. to Berlin, and a bunch of cities in between. His crowd-pleasing improv from the Finals Night stage at the 2002 National Poetry Slam in Minneapolis earned him 5th place, and he swept all three invitational Big Money $lams at the 2002 Austin International Poetry Festival. A paper engineer by trade, Rives spends his free time in Los Angeles designing pop-up books. His most popular title, "If I Were a Polar Bear" is available from Piggytoes Press.
Conney Williams is a Los Angeles based poet and performance artist who has performed his poetry across the country. A member or the Anansi Writers Workshop at the World Stage in Los Angeles and has been published in various journals and anthologies. In 2002, Passage Publishing released a collection of his poetry, “Leaves of Spilled Spirit from an Untamed Poet.”
Director - WriterE. Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards was born into a military family moving from place to place and felt extremely fortunate. "I lived overseas for a good portion of my life growing up - Cuba, Newfoundland, Morocco. It was really great." Paul eventually settled down in Washington D.C. for high school but he soon went off to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he received his B.A. in history and M.A. in the school of film and television. Out of college, Paul worked as a video artist for Public Television, receiving a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Paul's efforts resulted in the creation of a non-profit production company specifically designed to supplement the local PBS stations with programming. Once Paul moved to Hollywood, he pursued a career writing episodes of popular television shows including "Knight Rider," "Fall Guy", "21 Jump Street," "Baywatch Nights." Paul's goals, however, were not limited to writing for television. Throughout his career Paul has written several screenplays including his biography which was sold to Kevin Costner's TIG Productions. This however, is a film that he wanted to direct himself.
Interview with E. Paul Edwards
When were you first introduced to, or did you discover the slam poetry culture?
I was doing research for the story and I didn't know what the characters professions would be. I was looking for something artistic for one of them. I thought they might be a musician. But it's been done too many times. I kept looking around and stumbled upon something in the newspaper about a poetry reading. That led me to go to clubs and hang out in coffee houses, and that's how I discovered it.
So, you already had the idea for the story and then you wanted to build on the characters?
At that point I had the story. I was at the point where I knew I wanted to do a love story, and I knew I wanted it to be a "Romeo & Juliet" story, and I knew I wanted to have something keeping them apart. I wanted the girl to be a straight, normal person, and I knew I wanted the guy to be artistic and that's what sent me looking.
What about that culture made you think, 'This is it, this is what I was looking for?'
A couple of things. Stand up poetry is just so exciting, and so simple, and raw, and direct. I was just attracted to it because you don't need a band, you don't need instruments, you don't need a computer, you don't need anything. You just stand up there and do it. It's simplicity--a direct line from your emotions to what you say. It's just a straight line. There's nothing in between. Also, that poetry I studied in school was just so boring and awful and out of date and anachronistic or, maybe, I just didn't get it. Watching people sitting around me stand up, walk to the stage and read their poetry made it all real. Plus it didn't rhyme and wasn't sing song but more like a rant. There it was in your face, and it was about today's moment.
So, you think this is a backdrop that people of our generation will really be drawn to?
Exactly. It is a part of them. But I didn't really realize it was going to take the form it did until I found out there were slam competitions...and they're wild and the performances can be over the top. Once I saw the competitions I said, "well, that always works on some level in films." That kind of sealed the deal. But even slams didn't exist, I probably would have still picked this arena…but then we wouldn't have had an ending to the movie (laughs)
. Why did you feel that it was important for you to direct this film as well as go through the writing process?
I really wanted to capture the performance of spoken word. It's pure performance that can be missed on the written page. I realized when I finished writing the script that I had just written something with 23 pieces of poetry in it. The movie actually has more than 23 pieces. I thought that people at some point might plug-in to it because of the poetry. I thought they would become aware that it was this hip, cultural thing. It's just now that people are beginning to see its popularity. I decided to raise the money to do it and, after that struggle, there was no way anyone else was going to direct it.
Throughout the process of directing your first film, were there any awakening moments? Was it tough in the beginning?
I read several books about it and one of them was really telling. It's called "My First Movie." It's 10 different directors talking about directing their first movie, and these are famous people basically. They all seem to have similar experiences. The funny thing was 70% of them or something had never been on a movie set before they directed their first movie - any movie set. So, I figured I had a big jump on them. Then, I read another one called "Actors Turned Directors," which was about all these directors who had formerly been actors. That was real interesting, because it helped me figure out how to create an environment where the actors would do well. Those two books helped me.
Do you have any stories about your time on the set?
Well, the worst part was the casting. It went on until 1:00a.m. the night before I had to be on the set at 5:30am. Really. I had to leave the house at 4:30a.m., which means I had to get up at 3:30a.m. Basically, I was looking at two and a half hours sleep. And...I couldn't sleep. It was weird. I wasn't panicking or anything. My head was just full of thoughts. And I went down there and we got through the first day, and of course, we start at 5:30a.m., we stop at 5:30p.m. On my way home, on the 405 freeway, at 5:30 in the afternoon, I almost fell asleep in the car.
Oh my goodness!
I couldn't have gotten hurt. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic, but I was passing out just from lack of sleep. So that's kind of the weirdest thing, because it's really physically exhausting.
Casting was the worst, though. We didn't have a lot of money to pay people. People would think it was a good project, but they couldn't do it, or their agents didn't want them to do it, or their agents wouldn't show it to them. We had an instance where we were told that our name actor had passed on the project, and we accidentally ran into the actor at a restaurant, so we asked him about it. We just talked to him about it and we said, "well, I'm sorry you passed on it. What was it about the script you didn't like?" We were hoping that we'd get a helpful critique. He said he'd never seen the script. So, we said we had submitted an offer to his agent in writing. And the next thing we know, the agent calls us back screaming at us. Apparently the actor had called her up and just reamed her, and now she's screaming at us. Then she said - this is like three or four days before we start - "well send me a copy of the script…you can't start this movie until I've read the script!" Dealing with the agents, you know…
And we were caught in a triple-witching situation. The movie started production on February 4th and the Christmas holiday hurt us, and then Sundance hurt us, because the agents are all out of town, and the actors are out of town. And then the third thing was pilot season. These three events right in a row conspired against us. But the cast is good from top to bottom, so I really have no complaints. It just made the whole process difficult.
But you got through it and you guys started, so…
Right it's just one of those things you have to work through, but if I had to do it again, I would do casting a different way. That's for sure.
Well, what was the best part of the experience?
When you do a low-budget movie, at least my thought process is that I'm going to have to do everything myself. That is that I'm going to have to shoot it, I'm going to have to light it, I'm going to have to act in it, I'm going to have to direct, I'm going have to do everything, and what happens is that all these people come help you and it just makes it all so easy. Bob Hayes, Bill Russell, Dennis Salcedo, the entire crew were very talented people and very experienced people, and they just did it. It was just so gratifying to be able to sit back and just be able to work with the actors and not have to worry about a lot other things that you'd have to deal with in a low-budget situation. And the film looks good so everybody did their job.
So, they took care of you?
Yeah, I felt completely taken care of.
Once it's picked up and it's going to be distributed, how do you think it's going to be marketed because it does seem like it would be for a young audience, but it is an interesting backdrop for the story with the slam poetry?
That's a good question. I think it appeals to both men and women but for completely different reasons. I think women really focus on the love story and I think men focus on the competition aspects of it. Plus, I think guys identify with the lead character, and I think women are attracted to him so it kind of works both ways. The movie works on a variety of levels. I think it'll be marketed towards a college-age crowd, and an art-house crowd. I think the movie's going to require some thought. Let's put it that way. They're going to be looking for an audience that likes to think about what's going on in the world.
What are you most proud of with the film?
The thing I'm most proud of is the cast. From top to bottom, there are no weak links in the chain. They are all very good performers. That's the most important thing to me. That they all come across well, and I think they all did a good job. You know in 18 days, I mean, it's just a whipsaw. The thing about directing at this level is that it's so exhausting. You're working 12 hour days, and then for a couple hours after you looking at tapes, and winding down or something, looking at dailies. Then, it takes you an hour and a half, or two hours before to get up, and prepare for the day ahead by sketching blocking and stuff in a scene. You know, you're really working a 16-hour day. You're working 6 days in a row, with 1 day off. So, physically it's a lot more demanding than people think.
And those 18 days must have flown by.
They do and they don't. When you're in the middle of it, you're so focused on what you're doing that it alternates between a blur and time standing still and…it's like the days are long, but the weeks are short. You know what I mean? It's like the week is over and you're like, "what was that?" But during the time that you're there you're so focused and you're trying to take everything in and see everything, and you really don't have time to make mistakes so it's intense.
The other thing I like about the film is the use of real poets as transitional devices. It is a very innovative thing. I mean it's been done in some movies in different forms, like in Warren Beatty's Reds, and Woody Allen movies have done it, but using it in this movie is very interesting and unique. After having said that, I realize that it is really just the Greek chorus, you know. Between scenes, the Greeks would come out and read poetry or sing. Nothing's new, but it feels fresh.
And it works really well with this film.
Yes. All the poets are there to lengthen and deepen emotions, which is real similar to the use of songs in musicals. They're always used when "words are not enough." They lengthen and deepen the emotion of the moment. You know, like "I Just Met a Girl Named Maria." Also, about the transitional poets, you know, they weren't in the original script. They didn't exist. It was just the script. What I did was I auditioned all these poets. They were real poets. And we taped their work. Basically I told them come in with something to do with relationships, or a love story. So they came in and we shot a bunch of them, and selected 10. Then we shot the 10, and used the pieces in the story. I didn't want it scripted--it felt like it should almost be happenstance…random…well, I wanted to see what they came up with. I didn't have specific places for them in the film. They all sort of found their own place.
Any famous last words?
Most importantly, I hope it will help somebody - encourage them to sit down and write something...express their emotions. Maybe even read it in front of people instead of shooting up a school or jumping off a water tower.