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Lessons Learned—and Skinny Dipping—on Sherman’s Way

Lessons Learned—and Skinny Dipping—on Sherman’s Way

Articles - Directing

Four years ago producer Craig Saavedra (Rhapsody in Bloom) and actor Michael Shulman (“Party of Five”) joined forces to form the production company Starry Night Entertainment. Their goal was to seek out and develop material that explored the process of artistic expression. Instead, they ended up creating the work themselves. Last year their collaboration came to life in Sherman’s Way, a feature film loosely based on their life experiences that stars James LeGros, Lacey Chabert and M. Emmet Walsh.

After winning awards at the Cinequest San Jose, Jackson Hole and Newport International Film Festivals, Sherman’s Way is now set to open in New York at the Village East Cinemas on March 6 and at the Laemmle theaters in Santa Monica and Pasadena on March 13.

Nora Murphy (MM): How much of your personal life experience is present in the film?

Craig Saavedra (CS): Well it’s certainly not autobiographical, but it is loosely based on some real -life situations. In fact, the idea for the film sprouted from a road trip I took with my younger producing partner, and the film’s star, Mike Shulman. We had just formed Starry Night Entertainment and were pitching around ideas for our debut feature film.

On one such excursion Mike and I found ourselves in Napa Valley, tossing story ideas back and forth. Mike had just graduated from Yale and, having been raised in Manhattan, he was certain to be taken in by the northern California wine country. Or so I thought. Instead, as I was pointing out the beautiful scenery and suggesting vineyards to tour, he was cursing the lack of cell reception for his Blackberry. And the charming, winding roads? Forget it. After an hour he was homesick for the organized grids of New York. Right then, I knew we had the makings for a cross-generational, East Coast versus Coast buddy picture that explored the notion that learning involves more than just books, and that you’re never too old to learn something new.

Oh, and did I mention there’s skinny dipping?

MM: What was it like working with former co-stars and friends? Were there any unique challenge?

CS: I love creating a familial atmosphere on my sets anyway, so I saw working with friends and family members as a huge plus. The last 20 years I’ve shared my life with my DP, Joaquin Sedillo, and our son, Josh, was the set photographer. So being with them up on location in Northern California didn’t engender the typical homesickness had they not been part of the crew. Plus, Joaquin was on hiatus from a TV show he was shooting, and brought along the bulk of his regular crew.

From day one we were a pretty well-oiled machine in terms of getting along and knowing each other’s temperaments and work habits. I had directed Mike in a TV movie when he was a kid, and we were fortunate enough to cast Lacey Chabert, whom Mike had worked with on “Party of Five.” I had met Enrico Colantoni through Joaquin when they worked on “Veronica Mars” together, so there was a rapport already established. And although I’d never worked with James LeGros or Brooke Nevin before, we hit it off immediately and after just the first day it felt as if we’d all been friends a long time.

As for challenges, I’m afraid our biggest ones were not unique as far as indie filmmaking goes. It wasn’t so much the lack of a substantial budget, although more money would have been nice; the biggest challenge was lack of time. We had three weeks of pre-production and 19 days in which to complete principal photography. And when you’re doing comedy, rehearsal and coverage are paramount. A tight shooting schedule prohibits both, and if I were to do it again, I’d insist on a longer shoot schedule. Or do a drama.

MM: How does it feel to see your dream project land in theaters?
CS: Honestly, it’s a bittersweet experience.

I’m thrilled that we’re getting the opportunity to have general audiences see the film and I genuinely hope they enjoy it. But when I was in middle school and high school making student films with my buddy, Tom Nance, we’d talk endlessly about one day making a “real” movie that would be in the theaters. When I brought Tom on to write Sherman’s Way—we had been writing partners off and on for years but never sold anything other than a sitcom pilot to an Australian TV network—he kept saying, “This better be a real movie. It better make it into theaters!” I constantly had to remind him of the realities of today’s indie climate and how hard it is to get DVD distribution, let alone a theatrical release. Unfortunately, and quite tragically, Tom was recently killed in a motorcycle accident and never got the opportunity to learn that we made it into the theaters.

MM: Since Sherman’s Way was a success at film festivals, what’s next for Starry Night Entertainment?

CS: We’ve got a number of plays and features in development. We just completed the run of our first stage production, the off-Broadway, New York premiere of J.T. Rogers’ White People, and are developing a Broadway musical based on Mitch Zuckoff’s book Ponzi’s Scheme, about the life of financial con man Charles Ponzi. There’s been a lot of talk about him in the news lately, what with Bernie Madoff referring to his own fiscal woes as a giant Ponzi scheme. We’re also concurrently developing it as a non-musical feature film that Mike and I will neither act in nor direct; we’ll merely don our producer’s caps.

But as for directing, the next thing on my plate is a feature film adaptation of Josh Hartwell’s critically acclaimed play Contrived Ending. It’s about a group of failed film students who work at an art house movie theater. Think The Breakfast Club meets Cinema Paradiso. Should be fun!

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