Friday, January 12, 1996

John's Next Move

You twisted your ankle, I carried you
You got a divorce, so I married you
You fell off a cliff, so I buried you
I wish there were bad times, to see you through

I been walking around all day singing this song to myself.  They're the opening lyrics to "More Bad Times",  a song in the new film from Bluehawk Films and director John Walsh.  The movie is called "Ed's Next Move."  Never heard of him or it?  There's a reason for that.... but I think it's going to change. 

I first met John a few years ago when he edited one of my projects.  He's the brother of a colleague, and the schoolmate of some other people with whom I work.  I knew he was working on a film, not an unusual "hobby" among the people I know.  But when I finally got around to asking more than "How's it going?", the story that emerged was far more just a guy filling his spare time. 

John's a scrappy guy.   After graduating film school from NYU (with the number one student film that year), he spent 11 years toiling in the trenches of the industry, working on features, industrial films, and tending bar to keep himself afloat.  He had an idea to do a "fish-out-of-water" story about a newcomer to the city, but it was hardly a groundbreaking thought.   After working for a number of months in Seattle and returning home, he was struck by the quirky things in New York: not in the bigger sense, but in the little, isolated contradictions.  With that focus, he sat down to write a script.  That was 5 years ago.   

He discovered, however, that there's a long distance from paper to screen.  He shopped his script around with minor interest, but no offers.  It was pigeon holed as a "romantic comedy", and all that people wanted to know was who would have the lead. He tried to interest a bankable star, with no success.   Some studios were interested, but nothing was offered.  A quiet, low key guy, John says he came to realize that the only way to succeed was to change his outward demeanor:  he had to present the mental focus and the emotional commitment that he could do it.  He changed his pitch from not "if I get it made" to "when I get it made."  When people spoke of other, similar projects, he invariably said, "Yeah, but this one's gonna be good."  The easy part was that the attitude wasn't a stretch:  he believed in himself.  The only difference was in putting it on display. 

With that new found commitment, he staked his own money, plus whatever he could beg, borrow or steal in cash and services, and put together a trailer. If "they" wouldn't look at a script, perhaps "they" would look at a tape.  The good news was that in producing nine minutes of finished film, he discovered that he could do it, that he had the passion... and that he loved it.

Still, while the trailer was well received, no one picked it up.  In the interim, John's father died.  His dad was a filmmaker for a lay religious organization, and had always encouraged him to try and stretch.  His death put a sense of urgency in John:  if he didn't try now, he might never get the chance.  Sitting in the backyard of his mom's house after the funeral, he and his producer blocked out a plan.  It was a route that many try, but in which few succeed.  He watched his mail, and accepted whatever credit cards were offered.  The twelve cards he got, plus some money from friends, friend's parents and family, gave him a beginning stake of about $80,000.  He stretched it as far as he could:   they shot on short ends, leftover pieces of film;  they borrowed a set from another film, and repainted and propped it;  they begged a camera for a week for what it normally costs for a day.  He kept hunting for money, for backing, for tradeoffs he could use to complete the film.  And the key was that, through it all, John kept focused, never believing he would fail, always believing he had something better than most. 

The movie?  I finally got a chance to see it.  It's the story of a kid from Wisconsin  who comes to New York, learns about the city and meets a girl who sings in a band. It's funny, wise, well acted and directed, and gives you a wonderful sense of what's it like to be a "normal" person confronting all that the city and its people take for granted.  It's gotten great reviews in a number of papers.  And... the good news..... its one of 35 accepted out of the thousands submitted in its division at the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious in the world.  His hopes are riding on it, along with his wallet:  he currently has $80 in the bank.

As for John,  in order to realize his dream of being a filmmaker, he had to become a caterer, a publicist,  a missionary, a banker, a beggar, a debtor, a pitchman, a negotiator.  By while his role has gotten very complex, mine has gotten a lot simpler.

I'm a fan.

- END -

Marc Wollin of Bedford rarely goes to the movies.  He does, however, have over 25 he hasn't watched on tape at home.  His column appears weekly in the Record Review.