Susan Kouguell is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker, and chairperson of the screenplay and post-production consulting company Su-City Pictures East She is the author of The Savvy Screenwriter: How to Sell Your Screenplay (and Yourself ). Follow Susan on Twitter: @SKouguell
I had the pleasure meeting with director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, screenwriter Wally Marzano-Lesnevich (who also starred and produced) along with his co-star and producer Michael Sorvino, and actors Abigail Hawk and Adrian Martinez, in a lively talk before the premiere of their film Almost Paris. Enthusiastically finishing each other’s sentences and passionate in their commitment to their film, our discussion ranged from the importance of collaboration to family lineage.
About the Director
Returning to the Tribeca Film Festival with her first feature Almost Paris, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese previously attended with her shorts Spanish Boots and Roots in Water. Her first short, A Little God, won the Torchlight Short Film Award. She continues to direct and act in film and theater.
About Almost Paris
In the wake of the mortgage lending crisis, a former banker has to return home in order to get back on his feet. It is a story of resilience and redemption where one can rise up, collaborate and give back to those he loves in ways that are priceless.
Domenica Cameron-Scorsese is the daughter of director Martin Scorsese and Michael Sorvino is the son of actor Paul Sorvino and brother of Mira Sorvino. I asked them if they felt somewhat under the microscope given their respective family names.
Sorvino: There are a lot of families who are in the film business and there are a lot of family businesses in the world; a lot of kids do what their parents did. I think you have to recognize and honor those who came before you and who you may be related to who’s had success; they have a lot of wisdom and experience. But you also have to chart your own path and be your own artist and person.
Cameron-Scorsese: My experience with this has been the last name may open doors but what matters is what you do when you’re in the room.
Sorvino: That microscope may also be a good thing. It does attract people to your film, but it’s important that we say something, move people.
How the Team Came Together
The evolution of the making of Almost Paris began with childhood friends, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich and Michael Sorvino, who met in sixth grade and were in the same acting program (and dorm-mates) at Rutgers University. Sixteen years ago, Sorvino and Cameron-Scorsese met at a play reading and shared a unique artistic sensibility, and as Cameron-Scorsese explained, she and Adrian Martinez had the same agent, and they all stayed in touch. During the audition process, they met Hawk, who added, “I was the new edition to their fold.”
Marzano-Lesnevich: I worked on the script for about two years. It’s such a timely story, dealing with the after-effects of the 2008 financial crash, and the ripples all of the people back home in Oyster Bay for my character. I brought the script to Michael (Sorvino) and told him I had written him a role. And the timing was right.
Sorvino: When the project was ready to go, Wally and I drew up a short list of directors. Domenica was on each of our lists. She was the best person to direct this film. It was her perspective and her life experience. Growing up in the film business, she has a certain perspective given who she is and what she is. That was a nice added icing on the cake.
The group talked about Cameron-Scorsese’s input on the script as a dramaturg, and how they fed off each other with some on-set improvisation, and needing to be open to some script revisions due to budget and location constraints.
Hawk: Domenica brought dimension to the characters. She kept us focused on that.
Cameron-Scorsese: It’s a very complex story. The issues involved are pretty sprawling and I wanted to make sure that we were specific, that it was something people could relate to with an emotional payoff.
Making Almost Paris
Cameron-Scorsese: We made the film on a low-budget; 21 locations, 18 of which ended up in the final cut, and 20 speaking roles. The shoot was 21 days; it was a fun and challenging marathon. In true indie fashion we really had to come together collaboratively to problem-solve every single day. The film was shot on Long Island and in New York City. (We were doing the Made In New York incentive. Our executive producers were so incredibly generous and they wanted to make this film happen. They have extensive relationships in Oyster Bay, and you know what they say, ‘It takes a village’ – and it certainly did.
Martinez: As an actor, the one thing you hope for when you get on set is that you feel safe, safe to work with the producers and the director. On this film, I felt like a rubber ducky floating in a pool!
Cameron-Scorsese’s Transition from Shorts to Features
Cameron-Scorsese: When I had my first film deal, I was playing 15 on stage and I was in my late twenties. I made a short film for $21,000; it was before the recession and the feature was budgeted at 3-4 million. Here’s the thing; I’m 5 foot tall and fairly soft-spoken and I’m Marty’s daughter. So people would be saying, ‘Well, how do you go from $21,000 to 3-4 million?’ I think every filmmaker regardless of the other things I just listed have the same challenges with this type of budget.
Advice for Aspiring Filmmakers
Cameron-Scorsese: What’s happened in the last decade certainly with the technological advances, we’re able to make movies less expensively, more efficiently and I feel, without compromising the visual aesthetics and the value. You are able to get more bang for the buck, and going digital, the audience is prepared for it. It used to be a question of, ‘How does it look big?’ and now it’s a question of, ‘How does it look small?’ We can make movies with our phones like Tangerine. This is a wonderful time to be a filmmaker and to take advantage of it you just got to be able to access your resources and match the style and content, and be smart about it.
Martinez: This film started with two buddies connecting and making a movie. So don’t try to get Brad Pitt if you’re just starting out. Look to the buddy next to you; that’s how this film started out. It’s who you know, not who you may think you know.
The Tribeca Film Festival Experience
Cameron-Scorsese: Tribeca has nurtured me as a filmmaker, finding me when I just had a seven-minute spark of a film, and encouraging me to show them my work. It’s been a decade-long relationship for me with Tribeca and it means so much to have our film premiere here. It’s a New York story.
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