Frequent IMAGINE contributor Hartley Pleshaw recently interviewed THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT’s director Robert D. Krzykowski and the film’s composer Joe Kraemer about their ties to the New England area and how their film came to be.
Over the nearly hour-long conversation originally broadcast on WCAP Radio 980, they discuss the mood of the film which director Krzykowski says is more Robert Altman than Troma Entertainment (though not without some pulp elements). The title drove the concept of the film towards its eventual plot and the story of that journey is fascinating to hear.
There’s a special guest call-in from our publisher, Carol Patton who gives an impromptu promo for the screening and VIP pre-screening party. There’s also a concise history of the Massachusetts Film Tax Credit!
Kraemer and Krzykowski bonded over their shared love of orchestral soundtracks from the 80s and 70s and Joe provides some great insight into the film composer’s creative process. Joe discusses how the soundtrack for THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT came into being through many artistic paths.
Robert Krzykowski then goes on to tell the story of how the film’s epic production team (John Sayles, Douglas Trumbull and Richard Yuricich to name a few) coalesced around their love of Robert’s cult comic strip Elsie Hooper. It’s a fascinating story in and of itself how some of the best independent filmmakers of today brought their talents together to create a story of true American grit with pulp fiction elements.
Definitely a fun and fascinating listen! And don’t forget to get your tickets for the screening happening on November 15th!
We have an extraordinary cover for this issue. You will also see that it relates to our back page and our cover story. Hartley Pleshaw interviewed both the star and director of THE MAN WHO SHOT HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT.
We’re excited about this film because IMAGINE will present a special East Coast Premiere at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square on November 15th and much of the crew will be special guests.
The screening will be at 8 pm. Those tickets are $15 each and will include a lively Q& A afterwards with the Director Robert D. Kryzkowski, Academy Award winning “Imaginnaire” Executive Producer Douglas Trumbull (2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, BLADE RUNNER, A CLOSE ENCOUNTER OF A THIRD KIND), Composer Joe Kraemer (MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION) and special effects guru Richard Yuricich.
There will be a preliminary VIP Reception at 6:30 with the cast and crew members that are available for the evening. We will be taking photographs and our co-hosts Jan and Mikhaila Waldman will be with us along with their canine actor Silas Archer Gustav for photo taking and such. Silas plays the role of the young (played by Aidan Turner) Calvin Barr’s dog. The cost is $75 for the reception and the opportunity to meet the aforementioned stellar filmmakers.
THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT has sold out at every venue it’s been screened including Montreal, London, Strasbourg, and Barcelona. And we hope to fill the Somerville Theatre to the brim.
Buy your tickets now on our info page because this will sell out here.
You can’t tell a book by its cover, and, in that same spirit, it’s probably unwise to make assumptions about a film by its title.
A case in point would appear to be the new film THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT. For most people, a cursory glance at that title would lead to assumptions that the attendant offering would be an exploitation film, a likely product of a cinematic schlock house.
But looks can be deceiving. And to make any assumptions about this particular film based on its title would be a grave self-deception indeed.
The film is in fact a deep character study, accompanied by frightening and alarmingly relevant metaphors. It is indeed a horror film, but as much about the horror within as without.
Two of the people who created it explain what THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT is about.
The Director: Robert Krzykowski
This may be his first film as a director. But Robert Krzykowski came to the project—an original idea of his—with an enormous portfolio of experience. Robert was born in Albany, NY, but has spent most of his life (excepting periods in Hollywood as a screenwriter) in western Massachusetts, where he still lives. (And, at least in the case, works; THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT was filmed in the Connecticut River Valley town of Turners Falls, Massachusetts).
He began to attend UMass, Amherst, but early recognition of his talent, and demands for it, led him to become a professional in film before he had a chance to graduate.
But now, with this film, Robert has earned the ultimate degree accomplishment in filmmaking: the graduation to Director.
So, what does the curious-sounding title mean?
“It says so much, that it must be about something else. It can’t just be about that title! I thought that it was a clue to the audience that they could expect to discover another layer in this film.
“The initial theme that got me writing this was, I wrote the opening ten pages kind of the way you would start a James Bond movie. At the end of those ten pages, the hero killed Hitler. And then I realized, well, I have nowhere to go from here. That’s about as big as the script can get!
“But then I started thinking, well, Hitler was a monster; maybe (his killer) could go on to another monster. And who would that be?
“I got to thinking about Bigfoot: this kind of mythic, American notion of this fantastic creature against a human monster, in Hitler. I went back to the beginning, and typed ‘The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot.’ That became my mission, to kind of work my way towards justifying that title. And in doing that, discovering this really sweet, awful, melancholy character at the heart of this story, and exploring his life, and everything he’s been through.
“So, it’s really about the man in that title: The man who killed Hitler, and then the Bigfoot.”
A man who, if one can at least temporarily disbelieve the agreed-upon history that Adolf Hitler killed himself in his underground bunker, committed a supremely heroic act, but was and remains unknown to history. A hero who wasn’t merely forgotten, but was never recognized to begin with—until, of course, he was needed again. A character very much in the tradition of another movie genre.
“He’s a classic, American mythic hero. Not unlike a Western (hero), or even a (character in a) Japanese samurai movie. A lonely, singular hero, tasked to do something that only he is capable of doing. And in doing that thing, it isolates him even further. There’s something very romantic about that kind of character.
“The movie seeks to also break down and analyze that. Both in the way that we romanticize this type of hero, and try to make him all the more human in studying him.
“At its heart, (this is) a character study.”
The film also employs a metaphor.
“Hitler is spreading a plague of ideas throughout World War II. That plague reached a lot of people. And that plague in some ways continues today. And I thought, this other monster in the movie, the Bigfoot, he’s spreading a plague as well. He’s spreading a literal plague. The Bigfoot spreading a literal plague brings our hero back into the picture, to try to stop it.
“The present and the past echo each other throughout the film.”
And so, Robert Krzykowski had his idea for a film. Now he had to make it a reality. This was no small task, particularly for a first-time director making an independent film. It wasn’t easy.
“The project was twelve years in the making. We hit a lot of walls in the process. I was told ‘NO’ many, many times. I got used to hearing ‘NO’ a lot more than I got to hear ‘YES.’
“But, one of about twenty people would say ‘YES,’ and become part of the project. And usually those people were incredibly special. Sometimes, they were all-time heroes of mine. Those included John Sayles, Lucky McKee, Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and Sam Elliott. There was a realization that this was worth fighting for. It wasn’t going to be easy, but we were going to try to stick to the script and make the thing that we set out to make.
“As I realized that this was going to happen, that this production was going to get underway in the summer of 2017, I felt an enormous amount of pressure. I felt very intimidated. I felt that no matter how much preparation I was doing, I could never be prepared enough.
“I knew the caliber of talent that was coming to Massachusetts to make this film. It made me work really, really hard. Once we got into production, it was really a matter of trusting all these great people who came around. And day by day, the pressure seemed to release a little bit. I could do more and more directing. I was a producer on the film as well.”
When it came time to cast the reluctant hero, Robert’s choice met his criteria.
“Our Casting Director Kellie Roy and I spent a considerable amount of time discussing who would be the right person to embody this character who has kind of this noble quality about him. I wanted somebody who could have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting. (Executive Producer) John Sayles and I talked quite a bit about whom that might be. He came out of a meeting one day, and said, ‘I think that Sam Elliott might be a really great choice for that part.’ Sam’s name had been mentioned before, but it really clicked that day. We reached out to Sam about two years ago, right around Thanksgiving. He got in touch with me, we had a long phone call, and at the end of the call Sam said, ‘I want to do this movie. I want to be a part of it.’
Sam Elliott had just finished work on what has turned out to be the most acclaimed film of 2018, A STAR IS BORN. Thus, for the second film in a row, he would be working for a first-time director.
But unlike that film’s rookie director, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliot would now be working for a director who wasn’t an established figure in contemporary film.
“I think that showed a lot of courage on Sam’s part. It also shows that he does things because they speak to him, and because he wants to (do them). Sam explained to me that he never takes a project for the money, and never has. Through his entire career he’s done projects because they say something to him. He’s looking for something true in each project. And I know that that was something he discovered here.”
The Lead Actor: Sam Elliott
The face. The eyes. The mustache. And, perhaps, above all, the voice. In a world of increasingly
indistinguishable “celebrities,” you KNOW Sam Elliott.
And in 2018, you are likely more aware of him than ever. Now in his mid-seventies, Sam’s career has never been hotter. A STAR IS BORN is no doubt one reason. But that he could go from a very Hollywood project like that to an indie like THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT—with a first-time director, no less—says much about his versatility, integrity and fearlessness.
Such being the case, he appears to have been a perfect choice to play the part of the film’s reluctant hero, Calvin Barr.
“I certainly was taken in by the script at the very beginning, because what’s in the film is really all on the page. There was no way that I could NOT do this film. In terms of Calvin’s character, it spoke to me on many, many levels.
“The whole thing that he was in the military. That speaks to me. The generation that he comes from speaks to me. Love lost, unrequited love, speaks to me.
“This man who killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot. To me there’s such goodness in Calvin Barr. There’s not a lot of it in the movies today. We’re beset by all this murder and mayhem, in the real world and on film. There’s was something about Calvin’s goodness that spoke to me.
“And his sadness—the sadness that he’s plagued by now.”
Like Robert Krzykowski, Sam Elliott sees something of the classic Western hero in Calvin Barr. The hero who saves the day, but neither gets nor wants the credit for his heroism.
“It’s clear that when the FBI guys come, and he has the conversation at the dining table with them that this was never something that he banked on or looked for. Being in the military, it’s what came to him. He was one of those guys who just stepped up. There are a lot of those people out there today. They join the military, and they’re there to answer the call.
“That’s what Calvin did. But he paid a dear price for it. He never reckoned, I don’t think, on killing
people. He was never comfortable with that. I have no doubt that he killed numerous people, being in the war that he was in. I can’t imagine that it was just Hitler.
“He lost the love of his life because he went off to war. He just didn’t bank on any of that.
“It’s the stuff that so many of us, I think, take for granted. The sacrifice that men and women make when they join the military. The cost that comes with it. Today, they call it PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Back in Calvin’s day, I don’t know what they would have called it. It’s as real today as it was back then, and it’s as real as it was in the film. It’s something to reckon with.”
Sam Elliott thinks that independent films do reckon with such issues, unlike much of today’s Hollywood
“The independent film world is a wonderful world to investigate real life in some ways. It just seems
to go so much deeper. There’s not a lot of money involved, not a lot of people in suits involved, trying to control the game.”
Robert Krzykowski kept control of HIS game, his film. According to Sam Elliott, as filming progressed,
the first-time director became increasingly skilled at his craft.
“I think that on some level, Bob might have been timid at the very beginning. A little overwhelmed by
it all, by the sheer fact that it had been such a long gestation period for his project. And then he had these incredible people behind him, the guys who stepped up. (Co-producers) John Sayles. Douglas
Trumbull. But after that, he just fell right into it. He was so specific. He knew what he wanted, and he knew how to go about getting it.
“He’s a collaborator, which to me is one of the things that puts him in the same field with Bradley
Cooper. Bradley is an incredible collaborator. And that’s the ideal situation for all of the creative
forces to be in.
“When you have a director who’s open, and who wants to communicate, and has a vision, and knows how to bring all the creative forces to achieve that vision together, then that’s the ideal situation.
By the time Sam Elliott had finished his work in both A STAR IS BORN and the Netflix TV series THE RANCH, his own situation was less than ideal. He was physically exhausted from his previous work, and wanted to rest. But Robert Krzykowski inspired Sam to take on the new project.
“I told Robert, ‘I want to come, but I just can’t make it now. I’m not up to it, physically or mentally. I’m not going to give you what I want to give you.’
And I pulled out of it. And he said, ‘it’s okay, I understand.’ We let it go.
“And then he wrote a letter to my agent. On an emotional level, it still gets me. This letter to my agent thanked him for all the time he put into it and for supporting the film, and trying to make it
work out. He wrote what a great representative he was for me, and that someday, we’ll be able to do something together. It was a long letter and well composed. Robert is a brilliant writer and speaker. He is a really smart, smart man.
“My agent forwarded me that letter. I read it, I thought about it most of that night. The next night I called Robert and said, ‘Hey, man, I’m comin’ up!’ I’ll do this movie with you.’
“It spoke volumes to me that Robert would thank my agent like that. I said to myself, ‘I just can’t let this kid down. If this guy really wants me to do this movie, I’ve GOT to do it!’ And I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I did.”
Sam Elliott is also very thankful that this film was shot in Massachusetts.
“For one, I was totally captivated by the countryside. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in more beautiful country, and I’ve seen some beautiful country.
“That rolling farmland and that valley right there in Deerfield was the most incredible country that
I’ve been in in a long time. And all those little towns! It’s mind-boggling to go through that country, and see all that breathtaking farmland and woodlands, and how beautiful it is. And this was in the spring and summer. It wasn’t in the fall, that everyone talks about.
“And the people were just as incredible. They were so friendly, and so welcoming.
“I loved it there. I want to stay at the Deerfield Inn again. I want to come back and bring my wife and spend some time.”
IMAGINE is sponsoring, hosting and presenting THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT at the Somerville Theatre on November 15th.
Jan Waldman claims she has entered her life’s second chapter when all of a sudden she turned fifty years of age. She had been an involved mom on all levels while her husband had a very busy career as an interventional cardiologist. When her youngest went off to college Adam Sandler happened to be filming on her street for GROWN-UPS 2. And she says, “I can’t explain it other than I got bit by the film bug.”
So owing her new bent to Adam Sandler, even though she didn’t work on any of his films, her next step was to register with all of the Boston casting agencies and her first work as an extra was on the Larry David film CLEAR HISTORY.
“Over the next year,” she tells, “I immersed myself in acting classes, student films, screenings as well as financially donating to many productions. It was a whirlwind, but it paid off. I had an acting reel within six months and a commercial reel within one year, thanks to the expertise of Becki Dennis Buchman of the then Talent Tools. To date I have over sixty film and commercial projects under my belt. My evolution has been rapid, maybe because I am older, why wait? My strength seems to lie
in commercials and TV hosting. It comes easily to me and I enjoy researching and conducting interviews. I refuse to use notes, so I go over every piece of information I can locate on the person I will be interviewing.
“My hard work paid off when I received two Communicator of Distinction Awards for Entertainment Plus, along with my coproducer and editor, Steve Spencer of SATV in Salem, MA. The two shows that received the awards told different yet equally important stories. Horses of Hamilton covered the long and storied history of the Myopia Hunt Club and how horse shows, polo and the Myopia Fox Hunts are a way of life in Hamilton, MA. The second award winning show is about the loss of cardiac surgery at Northshore Medical Center and the effects on Salem, MA. In 2015 I was featured on the cover of IMAGINE Magazine, chosen by publisher Carol Patton, along with thirteen other women over fifty who are making things happen in the film industry.
“I have also had the good fortune of working on the Emmy award winning TV show, The Folklorist (NewTV) with the incredibly talented Angela Harrer and Andrew Eldridge, for numerous episodes. My role as Mrs. Worrall in the episode, Princess Caraboo is one of my greatest experiences on set and this episode was the recipient of a New England Emmy.
“My newest evolution has me teamed up with my daughter, Mikhaila Waldman, together we have started an animal acting agency called Critter Casting (see their ad in this issue).
“My daughter came up with the idea after her German Shepherd was cast as Aidan Turner’s (THE HOBBIT, POLDARK, and BEING HUMAN) dog in the newly premiered movie THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. We enjoyed seeing our pup in all his scenes and knowing my daughter was hiding behind trees or crouching in corners out of sight to give commands made it even more fun.
“In THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT, directed by Robert D. Kryzkowski, the casting call was for a German Shepherd to walk on a leash. That’s all!
”Upon arrival on set her dog was required to do some pretty complicated scenes, luckily he had been expertly trained to do all tasks required. And, they were complicated. The realization that a director would have a much smoother experience if they knew exactly what the animal is capable of on set or in a studio was immediately evident. Silas Archer Gustaf was much more talented and trained than the production knew and that played handsomely to the production’s benefit.
“….so our goal with Critter Casting is to access and videotape the animal actors with different stressors, to properly assess them. My daughter Mikhaila is completing her Master’s in Animals and Public Policy at Tuft’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and her animalexpertise is invaluable to our new agency.” To cross pollinate stories in this edition of IMAGINE, recently Jan and Mikhaila evaluated entertainment attorney Elaine Rogers’ horses and dogs for possible roles in future movie and commercial work.
Critter Casting is located north of Boston in Salem, Massachusetts. They are in the business of casting animals of all species for commercials, fi lms and print ads. If you are interested in submitting your animal to be added to their online database contact them for an appointment. If you are looking to cast an animal visit their website for instructions.
Even though there is much on her plate, Jan is still expanding. Also in the works for Jan is, “This past January began my journey as an author with an autobiographical story which will detail the challenges and successes of raising a child with a disability. I have a children’s book in the works about a German Shepherd service dog that is in the infancy stage but hope to get published next year. This has been a very busy five years and I look forward to my next acts with great anticipation.”
At times her success seemed too easy and other times it seemed way too difficult and not worth the hard work. She remembers, “When I started out I encountered much professional jealousy because it appeared I started and then was hired for many jobs without doing my time, so to speak.
“The one thing I maintain is professionalism. I worked against this by taking classes, reading, and working behind the scenes on productions, listening, learning every chance I got. If I was working a large Hollywood film I would sit quietly and watch every single move the director made, or what the Hollywood actors did or said. Most importantly, I try and give back or support others. I refuse to be one of those people that say, ‘Why not me?’ I think a better question is, ‘Why her?’ Then go and find out why they chose this actor or that actor. I believe in congratulating and supporting everyone in the industry. Competition only makes each of us strive to be better.
“What has made me stand out in this industry would be my neutral accent, I am from Minnesota, but do not have any accent. My good nature, my smile and my hair color. These attributes have been very beneficial in my commercial acting success. I am also incredibly driven and creative and this combination works to my benefit in this industry. I am a speed reader and this skill helps me tremendously while researching my guests for my TV show, Entertainment Plus.
In a recent article for a Boston online magazine, Jan was asked what the future holds for the Film, Television and Commercial production industry. This is her reply:
“The biggest threat to the film industry would be the stability of the Film Tax Incentive. Every year it comes up in the MA State House Budget and the fact it is constantly being reviewed makes Hollywood filmmakers hesitant to bring their big budget films here. Commercials are done within a short period of time, so they can move forward at a rapid pace.
It appears that actors now benefit from having a Talent Agency supporting them, which wasn’t the case when I started five years ago. I would like to see more quality Independent films coming out of New England. We have the talent; we need to make sure that all aspects of the films are top notch. Sound, lighting, acting, editing, the entire package.
For now the film tax credits are intact and have been for the last two years, which may speak to why we are getting so many TV series. A hit TV series and we know we have one and maybe four, needs and deserves reliable and dependable film tax credits. Just think of all those jobs a ten episode series creates.
You’ll absolutely not want to miss seeing the made in Massachusetts movie THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT starring Sam Elliot and Aidan Turner.
IMAGINE is hosting a special exclusive one night screening on Thursday, November 15, 2018 at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.
Special guests from the film will be present at the reception including Silas Archer Gustaf, the in-house star of Critter Casting who plays the young Calvin Barr’s dog.
Twelve years in the making, THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT’s screenings have sold out in Montreal at the Fantasia Film Festival and then in London, Paris and Barcelona. IMAGINE is very excited about this opportunity to present this film at its one night only Boston premiere.
Tickets will go on sale next week.
Standby for the upcoming ticket sale announcement!
About THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT
The story follows a legendary American war veteran named Calvin Barr (Elliott / Turner) who, decades after serving in WWII and assassinating Adolf Hitler, must now hunt down the fabled Bigfoot. Living a peaceful life in New England, the former veteran is contacted by the FBI and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to lead the charge as the creature is carrying a deadly plague and is hidden deep inside the Canadian wilderness.
Directed and written by Robert D. Krzykowski. Starring Sam Elliott as the older Calvin Barr in a riveting performance that critics say is one of his best. The film, which is Krzykowski’s directorial debut, made its World Premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival to rave reviews. Aidan Turner (Poldark), Ron Livingston (Office Space, Tully), Caitlin FitzGerald (Masters of Sex), Larry Miller (PRETTY WOMAN) and Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) also star.
In addition to director Robert Krzykowski, the film was produced by Patrick Ewald, Lucky McKee, and Shaked Berenson. Executive Producers include Oscar-winning filmmakers Douglas Trumbull and John Sayles, Louise Lovegrove, Giles Daoust, Catherine Dumonceaux, Deborah Shriver and John Shriver.
John Stimpson, writer, producer, director, editor and more seen everywhere now.
We just never know what subject or story John Stimpson will be taking up next. He crosses genres from the dark to the light with engaging stories that he makes right here in Massachusetts. Currently he is one of our most prolific filmmakers pushing out movies about once a year. Movies that get picked up and that get seen.
GHOST LIGHT, John Stimpson’s haunted comedy about a misfit Shakespearean troupe who unleashes the notorious curse of Macbeth, premiered at the LA Film Festival September 22nd. The film is repped by CAA and the filmmakers have high hopes for a good sale coming out of the premiere.
Written and produced by Stimpson and veteran producer, Geoffrey Taylor under the Worcester based H9 Films shingle, the film was shot last fall in Groton and Concord. “It’s a Massachusetts film through and through,” said Stimpson. The story takes place in the Berkshires, and had a crew entirely based out of New England. Key collaborators included Director of Photography Terrence
Hayes, Production Designer Chad Detwiller, Costume Designer Joanna Murphy, UPM Luke Ramsey and composer Ed Grenga.
The film stars Roger Bart (THE PRODUCERS, A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS), Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons, Dark Heart), Shannyn Sossamon (SLEEPY HOLLOW, A KNIGHT’S TALE), Danielle Campbell (THE
ORIGINALS, FAMOUS IN LOVE), Scott Adsit (30 Rock, BIG HERO 6), Carol Kan (UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT, TAXI), and Cary Elwes (THE PRINCESS BRIDE, ROBIN HOOD MEN IN TIGHTS). GHOST LIGHT is the first film Elwes and Carol Kane have appeared in together since THE PRINCESS BRIDE.
The film also stars several local actors including, Caroline Portu, Alex Portenko, Liliane Klein, Zele Avradopoulos, Ken Cheeseman, Maureen Keiller and Mary Callanan. Julie Arvedon Knowlton of Slate Casting handled the local casting.
GHOST LIGHT centers around the crazy superstitions of the theatre,” said Stimpson. When a disgruntled understudy (Tom Riley) throws caution to the wind and deliberately utters the forbidden name of the “Scottish Play” on stage the curse of the Bard’s witches begins to reveal itself and the production falls further and further into chaos. “We may have been tempting fate ourselves,” Stimpson explains. “Carol Kane was very concerned that we were in fact saying the name of the play repeatedly during our shooting. I convinced her that our set was actually a converted barn and not a theatre which made us immune to the curse.” Kane plays, Madeline Styne the troupe’s Grande Dame. “She is an absolute treasure and a comic genius. What a joy she was to work with,” commented Stimpson.
Roger Bart and Stimpson go way back. They sang in a bar on Martha’s Vineyard together when they were in college. Bart won a Tony award for his portrayal of Snoopy in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” and is
also known for singing the role of Hercules in the 1997 Disney fi lm. “I reached out to Roger first. I thought he’d be wonderful in the role of Henry Asquith, the long suffering director of Shakespeare on Wheels,” said Stimpson. “I knew back in the 80’s at the Seafood Shanty in Edgartown that Roger had something special. It’s been so fun to follow his career from afar and now to finally have the chance to work together.”
Stimpson and co-writer and producer GeoffTaylor began the process of bringing GHOST LIGHT to the screen over two years ago. Talking about projects at a Red Sox game, Stimpson pitched the idea for GHOST LIGHT to Taylor and the partnership was launched. Taylor who produced many projects with Paul Mazursky including DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS and MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, moved back from Los Angeles to Concord, MA to raise his family in 2011.
Post production on the film was all done locally as well. Stimpson cut the film in his Worcester office, special effects (of which there are many) were done by Sandbox VFX in Pittsfield, Chris Anderson mixed at The Outpost at WGBH and Rob Bessette color timed the fi lm at Finish. “What a great
collaboration it was,” says Stimpson. “And a great example of a local project born and bred here in Massachusetts and made possible by the Mass Film Tax Credit.”
Congratulations to John and the GHOST LIGHT team (cast and crew) for the film’s acceptance at the LA Film Festival. And, just added before we go to press at the Woodstock Film Festivals where tickets are
Now we’ll be waiting to fi nd out what will John Stimpson, a valued and treasured Massachusetts filmmaker, be producing next.
Our cover story this month looks at how Dennis Serpone became an executive producer for the film SWEENEY KILLING SWEENEY and how that experience caused the film bug to bite. He discovered it took his whole life to discover what he does best. And that’s working with productions to raise money for them.
I hope you enjoy reading about his journey and how meeting certain people who served as stepping stones over a substantial period of time created this new opportunity. He discovered a lot of things about himself and he loved meeting the actors and comedians in SKS movie.
Now he is looking for more opportunities to exercise his new found skills. Our cover photo was captured by Carolyn Ross Photography in the picturesque lobby of The Charles Hotel in Harvard
Square. The cover design is by IMAGINE’s Design Editor Monique Walton.
Q&A with Matt Leslie, writer of the Sundance film, SUMMER OF 84
By Carl Hansen
Carl Hansen (CH): WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN LOS ANGELES?
Matt Leslie (ML): I’m originally from Ipswich, MA, and I’ve lived in LA since 2004 (with the exception of a two year move to NYC). I actually came out west following a girl — my then Fiancée (now wife) got a job in LA so that was that.
CH: WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE CRAFT OF WRITING AND WHAT KEEPS YOU WRITING?
ML: Back in middle school and high school, my teachers would always tell me I was a strong writer, but I didn’t take it seriously because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. In college, I got my BS in Communications with a focus in Advertising, which was a degree that was super broad and allowed me to use my writing ability in the future professionally. Somehow. But that “somehow” eluded me. Then, as I mentioned, I fortuitously wound up in LA and there was the movie business. Something that always seemed so far away and impossible to be a part of was suddenly a possibility. As a movie lover, I started reading every book on screenwriting craft I could find. Then I started writing scripts, and here we are…
As for what keeps me writing, there are two things:
1) I love writing movies. It’s a blast and I’ll do it ’til the day I die if I can. And…
2) My writing partner. His name is Stephen J. Smith and we hold each other accountable. Which is rarely necessary, but on the off chance I’m not feeling it (or vice versa), that ticking clock keeps us writing, pushing each other to be productive.
Steve’s a ridiculously prolific writer. While we were writing scripts years ago, little did I know he was also writing what would become a 500+ page novel called THE SABRAEL CONFESSION. Guy’s a G!
CH: WHAT MOVIES/TV SHOWS/CONTENT INSPIRE YOU? WHAT GENRES DO YOU PREFER WRITING?
ML: This is a tough question because what inspires me evolves constantly. I do have that list of classic flicks I grew up with that I love and could watch all day every day (e.g. THE GOONIES, THE BURBS, GROUNDHOG DAY, THE SHINING, THE THING, THE OMEN, and on and on and on…), but when it comes to new movies that inspire me, it’s all over the place. I haven’t been watching as much TV as I’d like because I’ve been writing so much, but a goal I have for 2018 is to make more time for it.
As for what I love writing, it’s less about genre and more about concept. If you tell me a logline and my mind explodes with plot and character, I’m in. That said, many high concept ideas come from the thriller/horror space and that’s the sandbox we’re playing in these days. We’ve had some success there, we’re having a blast and it’s creating momentum. Maybe one day down the line we’ll branch out and dabble in other genres, but for now, that’s where we are.
CH: HOW LONG HAVE YOU AND YOUR WRITING PARTNER, STEPHEN J. SMITH, BEEN WORKING TOGETHER, HOW DID YOU MEET, AND WHAT MAKES THE PARTNERSHIP SUCCESSFUL? HOW MANY SCRIPTS HAVE YOU WORKED ON TOGETHER?
ML: I met Steve at a tiny writers group in Silverlake about 10 years ago. We were the consistent members in a revolving door of writers and we grew to recognize each other as being more insightful, imaginative and dedicated than the others in the group. Then we wound up bumping into each other at a couple other writing events, like the Screenwriting Expo in LA (is that still a thing?) and the two year Writers Bootcamp program in Santa Monica.
Shortly after that, the 2008 WGA strike and economic collapse happened and the freelance copywriting gigs Steve had been working at the studios dried up. He had to move back to where he’s from in Wisconsin for a copywriting gig he landed at Kohl’s Department Stores’ corporate office. Oddly enough, that’s when we decided to try writing together…
Steve found this now-defunct screenwriting competition called “The Script-a-thon.” The idea was to write a feature length script in thirty days and see if your script wins the competition. Way we saw it, it put our feet to the fire so we had to produce something, plus we’d see if we work well together. Long story short, we wrote a high concept comedy script called ABANDON SHIP! And we won the grand prize. Granted, it was no Nichol Fellowship but there were over one thousand entries so we felt pretty emboldened. Plus, we had a blast. That was seven years ago now. Since then, we’ve written eight feature screenplays, one TV pilot and countless treatments/pitches.
If I had to pinpoint why we have a successful dynamic, I’d say it’s because we both have zero ego when it comes to ideas. The best idea always wins with us, regardless of who comes up with it.
CH: WHAT’S YOUR PROCESS FOR WRITING WITH A PARTNER? (IS ONE OF YOU IN FRONT OF THE KEYBOARD OR DO YOU TAKE TURNS WITH DRAFTS, ETC.?)
ML: Because Steve’s in Wisconsin and I’m in LA, we’ve become pros at collaborating remotely. We break screenplays into 12 sequences — Act 1 is 3 sequences, Act 2 is 6 and Act 3 is 3, each sequence running somewhere between 8 and 12 pages. So we’ll hop on marathon phone calls during the outlining process, nailing down every beat throughout all 12 sequences, because when you’re collaborating with someone, you have to have your roadmap fully fleshed out or when you each write your respective sequences, they won’t match up when you combine them. We use Google Docs to outline because it allows real-time collaboration. Then, once our 12-sequence outline is done (which is usually 20-30 pages long and often includes some dialogue), we’ll go off and write our assigned sequences. On the first pass, I always take the odd sequences and Steve takes the evens. Then, once we’re done writing the 6 sequences we’re each responsible for, we switch — I rewrite his sequences and he rewrites mine. At that point, it’s back to marathon calls, walking through the entire script, talking out problems, fine-tuning dialogue, narrative prose, etc.
Also, we use an awesome screenwriting app called Writer Duet, because unlike Final Draft it allows real-time collaboration like Google Docs, but in screenplay format. It’s a super robust program with everything you need from first draft all the way through production. We used it for all revisions on our film SUMMER OF ’84 and it worked flawlessly. Also, their customer service is unreal. The dude who created the app is the one who responds to you and he is on the ball. Couldn’t recommend it highly enough. And no I wasn’t paid for this plug 😉
CH: WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR “SUMMER OF ’84” COME FROM? ANY REAL WORLD STORIES OF NIGHTMARE (OR SERIAL KILLER) NEIGHBORS?
ML: I grew up on this sleepy, suburban dead-end street in Ipswich, MA and I had some…… “Interesting” neighbors for sure, though nothing and no one scary or dangerous. Just more weird and mysterious. I’d walk up the same street every day after the school bus dropped me off, and there were certain people who lived on the street I’d always see. But then there were certain people who I don’t think I ever saw and my mind would explode with theories about those people. Who were these people? What did they do with their lives that I never saw them? Were they in the CIA? Were they serial killers? Like I said, sleepy town. Ha.
That said, back in like 1986, there were a string of home robberies that occurred on our street that really sent a chill through the community. No joke, that was when people started locking their doors. Crazy to me there was a time people didn’t lock their doors, but I guess the ’80s marked the end of that era in the ‘burbs. At least, it did in my neighborhood…
The characters in SUMMER OF ’84 are really an amalgamation of various friends, neighbors and events Steve and I experienced growing up, but I suspect our experience is what most kids experience living in suburbia. It’s a little boring, a little provincial, but every once in a while, something insane happens that snaps you back to the reality that bad things can happen there too. That’s basically the idea SUMMER OF ’84 taps into.
CH: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE AND HOW MANY DRAFTS DID IT GO THROUGH BEFORE IT WAS PUT INTO PRODUCTION?
ML: SUMMER OF ’84 took us like three months to write, from idea through finished draft. When Gunpowder & Sky (the studio that financed the film) came on board, we did one rewrite to tighten the script and heighten some of the moments in the first half of Act 2 so that the momentum didn’t lag. They were great notes that got us from a 112 page script with pretty good pacing to a 104 page script that flew. But that was it, one rewrite.
Once we were in pre-production and production, we had to continue to adjust certain things due to locations changing and certain elements not clearing legal. For example, we had a kid wearing an Atari shirt in the draft that was green lit, but during pre-production, Atari said we couldn’t use their logo so it had to change. At the time, we were pretty devastated, but Van Toffler, the founder and CEO of Gunpowder & Sky, was previously the MTV Chief, so he worked his magic and scored us the MTV logo. Talk about a baller move. Sick. Love that guy.
Another example, this time of a location change, was that we had a setpiece at a roller rink. Only thing is, there are no roller rinks still in operation in Vancouver, BC where we shot. So that sequence had to change to a bowling alley and necessarily had to be overhauled because of it. Stuff like that…
CH: WHAT WAS IT LIKE BEING A WRITER AND ALSO A PRODUCER ON THE PROJECT? WAS THERE EVER AN INSTANCE WHERE SOMETHING IN THE SCRIPT WASN’T ABLE TO BE DONE DUE TO PRODUCTION CONCERNS OR SOMETHING THAT HAD TO CHANGE FROM WHAT WAS INITIALLY WRITTEN?
Being a writer-producer was awesome. Because had I just been the writer, I wouldn’t have been on set. So often in Hollywood, when it comes to features, the screenwriter isn’t involved once that final draft is handed in. But I wanted that experience. In TV right now, writers are the gods of the worlds they create and are empowered by networks accordingly. And look, TV is having a Renaissance. Film could be having a similar boom if writers were more empowered, but I digress…
To get that producer credit, I had to earn it. After writing the script, I attached the directors, a trio called Roadkill Superstar (RKSS). Since they’re Canadian, I thought it’d be attractive to potential financiers if I also attached a production services company in Canada that could not only crew us up, but also help us take advantage of Canadian tax incentives. I found a great company called Brightlight Pictures in Vancouver and they hopped on board. At that point, we needed a financier. My manager Jeff Portnoy at Bellevue Entertainment got me a meeting with Cody Zwieg at Supergravity Films, and while Cody loved the package, they couldn’t finance us at the budget we were looking for, so it didn’t go anywhere at the time. A few months later, I bumped into Cody at an industry holiday mixer and he informed me that Supergravity was being acquired by Gunpowder & Sky, a company that could finance our film at the budget we wanted, and that he wanted to help me get it done. By May of 2016, we had a green light.
As one of two producers on set (the other being Jameson Parker at Brightlight Pictures), I learned a ton. Every day on set is a massive learning experience because filmmaking is basically highly organized chaos. You’re thrown into the fire and you just figure stuff out because you have to. Our budget was honestly the exact right amount for this film, but it was still really tight on all of our 23 days of shooting. There were many times we wanted to get a certain shot and couldn’t afford it, or wished we had just a few more hours in a location but couldn’t afford it. Thankfully we had an awesome cast and crew and a supportive studio in Gunpowder & Sky, so we were able to overcome everything thrown at us and make a film I’m extremely proud of.
CH: HOW CLOSE IS THE FINISHED FILM TO THE SCRIPT THAT WAS WRITTEN?
ML: It’s really almost exact. There are a few improvised lines from our actors, but all in all, what you read is what you see. Again, during pre-production and production, some things had to change due to location changes and constraints and clearance issues, but none of that hurt the DNA of the film. We’d occasionally have to change dialogue on the fly if we all felt something wasn’t landing, but again, it was rare. And our directors and their talented DP Jean Philippe Bernier, translated the script to the screen beautifully.
CH: WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU HEARD THAT “SUMMER OF ’84” WAS ACCEPTED INTO SUNDANCE (I ASSUME IT WAS ON NOVEMBER 29TH)? WHAT WAS THAT MOMENT LIKE FOR YOU?
ML: Yup, November 29th. I was on my couch writing emails when I got an email from Cody Zwieg at Gunpowder & Sky. At first, because it wasn’t a phone call, when I saw the subject line “Sundance,” my heart sank and I assumed it was a rejection email. Nope… Turns out Cody just couldn’t call so he forwarded the email as soon as he could so we’d all see that we got in. Crazy. Still doesn’t feel real. The film premiered at the Library Theater in Park City at midnight on January 22, 2018 to a packed house. It was a surreal moment that I’ll never forget.
CH: WHAT’S NEXT?
ML: We have a feature script called THE HARROWING at a company called Cinelou (THE COMEDIAN, MR. CHURCH, and CAKE). It’s a supernatural thriller in the vein of ROSEMARY’S BABY but with a big plot twist at the end that’s gonna seriously shock audiences. In a good way. Can’t wait for that one to be on the big screen. Fingers crossed that gets green lit in 2018/19.
Beyond that, Steve and I have a lot of irons on the fire. We’re currently out with a TV pilot we’re hoping finds a home, and we have a feature that we’re gonna be writing on spec starting soon. We’re also attached to write a sci-fi-suspense digital series for Skybound (THE WALKING DEAD) that’s an offshoot of a really awesome videogame called OXENFREE (if you’re a gamer and you haven’t played it yet, you should). Plus we’re up for a number of other projects that we hope to come aboard. Again, fingers crossed… which is something I find myself saying alot these days.
CH: LOOKING BACK, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF AT THE OUTSET OF YOUR WRITING CAREER/WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A WRITER STARTING OUT?
ML: My biggest advice to writers is get into the entertainment industry. Be a PA on a movie set, be an assistant to a director or a producer (which is what I did — I worked for two producers as an assistant and then as a development exec and it opened lots of doors for me) and meet people in the business. Like everything in life, it’s all about who you know. There’s no place that’s MORE true than in Hollywood.
If I didn’t work in the business, I wouldn’t have met the directors of SUMMER OF ’84, which means that film wouldn’t have been made. Period. Because they were a big piece of the package that excited Gunpowder & Sky. These days, you usually need more than just a script, and I don’t know how you can manage that without relationships in the business.
For my first few years writing, having never been in the business at that point, I naively thought I’d write a script that wins a screenwriting competition, get representation that way, and be on the path to raking in serious dough as a screenwriter. Yeah, no. The odds of those stars aligning are beyond small. You’ve gotta get out here and MAKE it happen. Otherwise, I don’t care how talented you are, the odds are way stacked against you.
It’s a harsh reality to face when you live elsewhere while working a day job to get by and this is your dream. But it’s the truth.
CH: WHAT WAS THE RECEPTION OF THE FILM LIKE AT SUNDANCE AND SINCE? WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE OF HAVING A FILM IN THE FESTIVAL?
The film was warmly received at Sundance, which was really awesome for Steve and me. Everyone who works at Sundance, from the Programmers all the way down the line, were amazing, helpful, encouraging, and really just everything you could hope for.
There weren’t many film sales right out of the gate at this year’s Sundance, and we were no exception. Netflix and Amazon not buying left a pretty big void, but Gunpowder & Sky believed in our film, so they’re distributing the film themselves. We feel super fortunate to have them as partners in this process.
At the end of the day, all you want is for people to enjoy your movie and have fun for two hours, and it seems like we’re succeeding in that regard. Audience reaction on Twitter, etc. has been almost exclusively positive, which is really heartening.
CH: WHEN DOES “SUMMER OF ’84” COME OUT AND HOW CAN WE SEE IT?
The film comes out in select theaters on August 10th, and then it’ll be on VOD on August 24th. I have to say, it’s been pretty awesome to see the countless messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram from fans asking when they’ll finally be able to see it. The wait is almost over, and we cannot wait for the world to finally see SUMMER OF 84.
Beverly native Carl Hansen has written for IMAGINE since its inception. He is our reporter at large and he is an award-winning filmmaker and Emmy-winning producer who has been involved in various capacities with many successful unscripted and variety series. He won a Sports Emmy award for his involvement in “100,000 Cameras: Ohio State at Michigan” (Fox Sports) and was previously nominated for “89 Blocks” (FOX Sports). As a Co-Executive Producer he was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for “Shark Tank” (ABC). He was Supervising Producer on the critically-lauded and award-winning docu-series “Boston Med” (ABC News) where he was instrumental in coverage of the 2nd partial-face transplant in the U.S. and which led to many people signing up as organ donors for the first time. He is currently the director of production for Fox Sports Films. His credits are too numerous to mention.
Originally from Beverly, Massachusetts, Carl is a graduate of Beverly High School and Ithaca College. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife and son.