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Painting Palettes: Bringing Characters to Life in For the Love of Money

Painting Palettes: Bringing Characters to Life in For the Love of Money

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I’m not exactly a religious gal. I believe in what I like to call “The Force.” But when I named my latest film as writer/producer after the biblical passage Timothy 6:10 (“For the love of money is the root of all evil, those who have been led astray in their greed will pierce themselves with many sorrows”), I was going for more of a global message. A message to say there’s a good way to get ahead, and then there’s the dirty rotten scoundrel way. The dirty end up dead in this film, which is based on a true story.

Micky Levine, played by James Caan, is the perfect gangster, ruthless and without remorse. On the flip side is our hero Izek, played by Yuda Levi, an Israeli superstar making his breakout debut in our good ol’ USA. Our hero comes for the American dream, trying his best to stay clean in a world of easy money and bad guys.

A number of characters were based on real people, many of whom are still alive, so my boundaries were tightly drawn. The characters that were mainly fictional are the ones I could really play with and make come alive. One of those characters is Vince, played by Dark Angel star Richard Gunn. This was one of those amazing situations where the actor actually brought elements of the character to me as a screenwriter, and the details brought him to life.

Painting the palette of a character without making them a caricature in a genre like this is tough. Frankly, many of these gangster sorts are already teetering on the verge of caricature. But painting them with broad strokes and adding nuances—like Micky’s insecurity about his wife, Vince’s meticulous grooming of his mustache and secret love of Duran Duran and Levi’s use of catchphrases like “buddy” and “pal”—make an audience innately understand something about them… for example, that Levi’s a salesman at heart, a conman. Something subtle can speak volumes about a character to a smart audience.

I also spoke early on with the director, Ellie Kanner, about making some stylistic choices that were written into the screenplay. For example, the gangster intros are done in quick cuts to clearly delineate the “bad guys.” It’s using all aspects of communication — sight and sound — to convey the story.

I’m not going to wax poetic too much more about the screenwriting process, but I will say that there is definitely a sprinkle of magic in what we do, a “where is this going and how will it end?” sort of quality that is unfortunately often lost in a true story-type situation. But there were moments when, as a screenwriter, I fought to put my own quirky stamp on the film. When Levi (played by Oded Fehr), Vince and Izek are headed for a jewelry heist I have them singing along to a Flock of Seagulls song from the era, which personifies how I write.

It’s reminiscent of the old John Lennon quote: “Life is what’s happening while you’re making other plans.” I never like to go on the nose or spoon-feed the audience. I like to give them credit for being as sharp as I know they are, even when they’re watching a popcorn flick. I want to still leave something to the imagination.

I got to do that mostly with this film. I say mostly because there were many concessions. Some were more painful than others, but they are a part of making movies. It’s a sort of committee process and at times is an issue of too many cooks in the kitchen. On this occasion I don’t think cooks spoiled the broth. I think we made something fast and fun that leaves audiences feeling good about life and what you can make of it. That the path you take is entirely up to you.

My next project is based on a novel I wrote called Messiah, so now I think people are going to start thinking of me as the filmmaker who’s always writing Bible-themed stuff. Which is funny, since like I said I’m not even Christian or Jewish or anything, frankly. The novel is based in historical fact and is spirituality told with a modern twist. I’m writing things these days that mean something to me. That have a message. So even though it’s a hoot writing about coming-of-age crudely, like I did in Fish Without a Bicycle, or writing a Disneyesque fairytale like The Third Wish, these days it’s about “something more.” And if I can entertain people while opening their minds, then that’s the quintessential icing on the cake.

For the Love of Money, starring Yuda Levi, Edward Furlong, James Caan, Oded Fehr, Richard Gunn and more, opens in New York and Los Angeles Friday, June 8th. For more on the film and to stay updated on future screenings, visit www.fortheloveofmoneythemovie.com.

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