Last year I sat down with writer and director Rosemary Rodriguez in New York City to talk about her career trajectory, and directing for television for this publication.
Rodriguez’s television credits include The Good Wife (she directed 18 episodes, more than any other director in the seven seasons of the series) The Walking Dead, Amazon’s Sneaky Pete starring Bryan Cranston, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Empire, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Outsiders, Law and Order: SVU, and Rescue Me. Acts of Worship, Rodriguez’s first feature, which she wrote and directed, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, including the John Cassavetes Award for Best Feature.
We recently caught up to talk about Silver Skies, her second independent feature film, which she wrote and directed. The film is being released by Joe Amodei and his company Virgil Films Entertainment (VFE) and will be available on DVD and Streaming on Amazon and iTunes April 4, 2017.
Silver Skies chronicles a group of seniors whose lives are turned upside down when their Los Angeles apartment complex threatens to be sold out from under them.
The film won the Audience Award at the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, Best Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival, Best Comedy at the Tiburon International Film Festival, Best Film at the Live Free or Die Film Festival, and it was the Closing Night film at the Palm Beach Film Festival. Alex Rocco won Best Supporting Actor at the Madrid International Film Festival.
Rodriguez: The film opened in September 2016 in a limited theatrical run, playing eight weeks in Palm Springs and eight weeks at The Villages in Florida. We played in Orange County, Arizona and around Florida. Little by little, it’s kept going. We are finishing our theatrical run March 30.
Kouguell: Tell me about the evolution of Silver Skies.
Rodriguez: It took about ten years. I went to the MacDowell Colony with an outline for ‘Silver Skies‘ and wrote the script there. Then, when I directed an episode of Law and Order, I hit it off with the show’s star Dennis Farina. He loved the script and helped to get the movie made. Two years later I called Dennis, told him we got the money, and we picked the start date. Two weeks later he passed away. I was devastated by his passing. Sometime later we had a script reading and producers Fred Roos and Arthur Sarkissian came, and they said, ‘let’s do this movie.’ The movie is dedicated to Dennis.
Kouguell: Did your actors have any input into the script?
Rodriguez: Yes, they definitely did. I’m a big collaborator; I want to hear what people have to say. For example: George Hamilton’s character is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Jack McGee’s brother, George Hamilton’s mother, and my dad, all had Alzehimer’s and we shared our respective experiences to further develop George’s character. In a way it was a tribute for George to his mother, for Jack to his brother, and mine to my father.
Kouguell: You describe Silver Skies as very personal and inspired by your parents’ aging. The characters of Nick and Phil are inspired by your father, who was a bookie in Boston, and the character, Eve, by your mother.
Rodriguez: Valerie Perrine’s character always has flowers; that was my mother. I watched my parents get old when I was still young and I saw how their relationships changed. I think seniors don’t have a voice in this world. These are people who want to have sex. They want to work. They want to spend money. Make money. Have money.
Kouguell: These issues about sex and money, as well as ageism and women’s power, are themes in Silver Skies that dare to challenge the viewer. Indeed, these topics have resonated with your audiences.
Rodriguez: The audience response was incredible and that’s what kept us going! When we had no money for marketing, people would show up to see these actors that they miss: George Hamilton, Valerie Perrine, Barbara Bain, Mariette Hartley, Jack Betts, Jack McGee, Alex Rocco. Then as they watched the movie, something wonderful happened: they would stop seeing the actors and start seeing themselves in these characters! That was my goal! These incredible actors pull off some extraordinary, relatable performances.
Kouguell: ‘Silver Skies’ also doesn’t shy away from thought-provoking subjects, including sexual assault and pornography.
Rodriguez: There is a part of the storyline that is very provocative. It involves a sex addict who’s addicted to online porn. This is something that is happening in society, breaking up families, people getting arrested. We barely discuss it even though it is impacting how we relate to each other in profound ways. I put it in Silver Skies to shed light on it and to provoke thought. It was risky in this film. What I learned from seniors is that they are ok with everything because they’ve seen it all and they are not afraid to face issues head on. I was so inspired by our audiences!
Seniors are the topic of many conversations these days: whether it’s the ACA or senior housing. and Silver Skies seems to hit home with all seniors and their children and grandchildren. I’ve learned from audiences what I thought all along: that this movie is for all generations. Many people are dealing with Alzheimer’s, not enough money for retirement, not getting hired to work anymore, and all the things that society throws at an aging person in our society. They become invisible. Just when life needs to get easier, it’s supposed to, it gets harder because of our society’s priorities. I want to fight for seniors to be seen and heard. It’s up to us to take care of each other.
Movie distribution is very difficult for character-driven films today. It really takes grass roots efforts and word of mouth for a film to succeed. I’m hoping with the state of politics in our country today, that movies will help bridge the gap between people. The amazing gift of movies is that an audience is drawn into a character’s life and can experience empathy for another’s situation, even if the audience member is from another place, time, financial situation, gender, race, etc. Characters are human beings going through an experience, and we get to experience things through movies that change how we look at life. That is crucial today. We need love and empathy more than ever with so many people feeling afraid, marginalized and judged.
The ‘Director’s Chair’ Podcast
Kouguell: We’ve spoken a great deal about your love of collaboration. Your Podcast ‘The Director’s Chair’ available on iTunes, has welcomed writers, producers, directors, and actors, including Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter, to discuss collaborating.
Rodrigues: In the show I talk with my guests about what works for them when collaborating and what doesn’t, what is their creative process, and more. There’s a great episode with Nestor Rodriguez and I talking about collaborating on ‘Silver Skies’.
Rodriguez: I’ve adapted the memoir Loose Girl, by Kerry Cohen, for a feature film, which has producers attached, MarWin Films. I’m directing a documentary about pioneering graffiti artist Lee Quinones, produced by Rosadel Varela. And I’m pitching Silver Skies as a TV Series.
Rodriguez: Silver Skies tells the story of people who make a choice to fight back when the system deems them unimportant. We need more movies that help us navigate this crazy world and our feelings about it. I’m hoping financiers and studios see the importance of telling these stories now more than ever.
Check out all of Susan’s Upcoming Classes!
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting: Give your Script a Solid Foundation – 04/06/17 – 05/04/17
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting, Accelerated
Writing the Family Feature Film
Writing the Family Feature, Accelerated
Writing the Documentary – 03/30/17 – 04/27/17
Writing the Documentary, Accelerated
Writing the Animated Feature
Advanced Film Rewriting – 04/20/17 – 06/29/17
World Building: Crafting Screenplays Readers Can Step Into