Men in Scoring Position was conceived in the winter of 1995, shortly after the city of Seattle was transformed by the Mariners’ unlikely and exhilarating bid for the American League Pennant.
There was an incredible feeling in the air during that time, a feeling that anyone could do anything, that all things were possible. The Mariners, perennial losers and laughingstocks of the baseball world, came from behind almost every game, and were learning to become winners for the first time in their history. The mantra in Seattle that summer and fall, even from people who normally couldn’t care less about the game of baseball, was “Refuse to Lose.” It was a ubiquitous slogan-on cars and buses, in the windows of homes and offices, in the newspapers. From Microsoft millionaires to disenfranchised loggers and fishermen, the city of Seattle was united and inspired by the unlikely heroic efforts of this group of men.
The Mariners eventually lost to the New York Yankees in the league playoffs, but after it was all over, it occurred to me that there will always be men and women who believe in impossible dreams, who get caught up in the notion that the dreams they have for their own lives will come true, no matter the odds. The day usually comes, though, when the reverie fades; dreamers wake to the realization that their goals and ambitions were too high and will never be achieved. For their own sanity, perhaps, they set their sights lower and become satisfied with less. They trade in excitement and possibility for security and mediocrity-for a tiresome but comfortable routine-and most of them never look back.
There are a few tortured souls, however, who are never able to let go. Mitch Dileo is one of these, while his best friend, Danny Lovick, has learned to accept the hand that life has dealt him. After a long search for an actor who could pull off the difficult, complicated character of Mitch, I knew I wanted to cast Alan Gelfant immediately after seeing his brilliant performance in The Destiny of Marty Fine. There was never another choice for Danny besides Eric Liddell, who was working on the Seattle stage when I met him. The role of Lucy was written for Charis Michelsen, whom I met several years ago when we fought for the same payphone at a Little Italy laundromat. You may remember Charis from her memorable performance in last year’s indie hit, High Art. Charis’s next high-profile role is in Martin Scorsese’s new movie, Bringing Out the Dead. The part of Bobby was another we had difficulty with until John Paulsen came to a late casting session. I’d originally pictured an older actor for this pivotal role, but John impressed me so much I offered him the role on the spot.
Men in Scoring Position was as independent as independent gets, which means it was a family affair- the production office was in my Seattle home, and my two young children came to the set on days when I couldn’t get a sitter. It was edited by Robert Ferretti, the godson of my grandmother’s sister, and produced by my girlfriend, Susan Genard. One of the featured roles stars my daughter, some of the scenes were filmed at my house, and the financing came partially from my parents.
Some people wait until they’re financially secure to have children. They wait until they’re “settled,” until they’ve arranged life sentences with their lovers, until they live in the right home in the right neighborhood; they wait until their careers are at the right point, until they’ve been organic for six months, until June so they can conceive a Pisces child And then there are those who are guided by intuition-the reckless ones who thrive on the electricity that dancing with fate generates. They love the sense of adventure they feel when they take risks, when they have to guess at the wonders they’ll discover as they conquer each new peak. They typically don’t work 9 to 5, they don’t buy enough insurance, and they don’t storyboard their lives. They’re a little too trusting, maybe even naive, sometimes. But these people make beautiful babies, too, who just as often grow into happy, successful adults.
What does all this have to do with moviemaking? Only that, whether you’re creating children or art, the same psychology applies. Some moviemakers have it all figured out. They plan well, tinker with the script endlessly, raise money for years, strategize about festivals and marketing long before a frame is ever exposed. Others come from the Francis Ford Coppola “parade” school of moviemaking. (Coppola once famously said “If I walk down Main Street carrying a flag, by the time I get to City Hall I’ll have a parade!”) They’re impetuous. They don’t have many friends, but the ones they do have would “go to the mats” for them.
Men in Scoring Position was made using the parade system. Four years after film school, when
the itch became unbearable and I decided I was definitely going to make a movie, I had no money, no actors, no crew, no credit cards and no clue how it would all come together. All I had were a start date, two toddlers I was raising by myself, and a fledgling business that required all my time. Luckily for me, the business (this magazine) was attractive to some of the companies who had what I needed to make the movie. I got some deals. But the real key was leaving myself no options. Once you tell everyone in your life that you’re making a movie, and exactly when you’re starting, you either leave the country or you follow through. I finished my script and began negotiating with vendors, making promises, and writing checks. Pre-production, I think it’s called.
The movie was shot in Seattle in 12 12-hour days, with two more days of second unit in Los Angeles a few months later. Throughout, the right people came along at the right time. Jenny Hinkey, who was everything from First AD to stunt driver, (nearly becoming disfigured
in the process when an actor missed his mark and hurled a brick through a glass window at her) for reasons unknown agreed to come aboard early in the process. DP Mark Petersen, whose patience was matched only by his skill behind the camera, locked in just as I was considering hiring someone not half as good. The same thing happened with Bobby Ferretti who, along with his assistant, Philip Steinman, labored for months in the editing room for too little monetary reward, proving himself to be a loyal collaborator and friend. And Producer Susan Genard, who navigated the movie through the difficult, treacherous waters of post-production, became my right arm and partner, believing passionately in the project.
Even if you’ve studied the craft of moviemaking for years, the learning curve is steep on your first feature. What did I learn?
I learned that you can never be too safe on a set. Along with the near-maiming mentioned
above, on the first day of shooting we also had a grip get run over by a truck (luckily the wheels passed by on either side of his prone body).
I learned to always work with talented, humble people. Egos will kill you, and crew chemistry is everything.
Pay everyone. Even if you think the amount is nominal. Pay the PA flagging traffic. Everyone. The gesture will help you build loyalty, a priceless commodity on set.
Keep up morale. This is accomplished in part by feeding everyone well. But not just at meal time. Have a caterer (moms work fine) hang out on the set all day and make finger sandwiches for the crew. You’ll be surprised at how effective this is.
Use seasoned, professional actors for even the smallest parts. There’s no such thing as “a look and a line.”
Rehearse at least long enough to know which actors do best on which takes.
Bring a masseuse to the set twice a week. Massage students will often work for the practice and the potential business (Of course you’ll pay them something anyway).
Film Festivals are by and large run by emperors with no clothes. Don’t “submit” everywhere. Many are a waste of your time and money. Choose wisely, expect nothing, and when accepted, hope only for a better time than you’d have had at the dentist.
I’m completely convinced that most independent moviemakers don’t like themselves. How
could they and still subject themselves to this torture? No one who doesn’t have deep-seated masochistic tendencies would knowingly take on the madness of making an independent movie.
That said, I cannot wait to make my next one. In fact, I’m going to start the script as soon as I’m finished carving the names of my very beautiful children into my forearm with this exacto