by Bill Kalmenson
All I want is a woman who will like me for who I pretend to be when Im with her. That line had became the central joke of my stand-up act and the point of inspiration for my romantic mockery, THE SOULER OPPOSITE.
In the winter of 92 the girl I was crazy about ran off to the Jerry Brown presidential campaign and a new life in politics. My comedy career had stalled and when I stepped away from my life it seemed like it might be the basis for my next screenplay. I mean I know, in the scheme of things, my life wasn't a big deal. But I thought there was a funny movie that I might be able to squeeze out of myself.
By the summer of 1992 I had my first draft of "The Souler Opposite." It was my second script and it just flowed out of me. I did rewrites into the fall and by the end of the year my agent and I were confident enough to "go out with it". Soon the D notes rolled in. "Loved the dialogue, hated the main character. "Hated the dialogue , loved the main character." yada yada yada
My script in hand, I schlepped out to Sundance, hung out at AFM, and suffered through countless IFP seminars on how others had pulled off their movie miracles. I was in "schmooze hell."
Two more scripts, three years and no deals later, it all became very clear. If I wanted to make a movie then I had to do just that... go make a movie. No more agents, no more development meetings, no more seminars. "Just do it."
That's when I met Tani Cohen. Tani had produced Inside Monkey Zetterland which played Sundance and was released in 93. I told Tani, "If you show me how we can do this picture at a 'price', I think I can make this happen." (meaning scrounge the dough) She did a budget and I did a rewrite. Before I knew it the Souler train was headed down the tracks...and I was strapped to the front of the locomotive!!!
Casting, Casting and Casting
Harold Clurman, an icon of the theater, once commented that there are three keys to directing: Casting, casting and casting. For me this was the most pressurized part of the whole process. A mistake here could ruin everything. So a word to the uninitiated: your talent as a director is to a large extent expressed by the actors you choose. Your cast will be carrying the ball for you. So take care.
The first break for my movie came when Timothy Busfield read for the role of Robert. Timothy was hilarious without compromising one ounce of reality or belief. He also became my first answer to the all-important Whos in it? question. His name value brought instant validation to the project.
Then Chris Meloni came in and stole the part from the guy who wrote it. This guy did me better than me! No problem there. Now I could concentrate on directing the best movie possible.
With the start of production only two weeks away the pressure was mounting to find the part of Tea. My prayers were answered when the beautiful Jane Moloney, walked into the casting office. She communicated the sensitivity and intelligence which was the perfect foil to Barry. After a dizzying month of auditions I had found my Souler opposite.
For my cinematographer I hired the talented Amit Bhattacharya. Together we planned the visual style of the picture with our production designer Jane Anne Stewart.
We filmed at 22 locations in a lightning like 24 days, plus three days shooting in Washington D.C. The key to our success was in the intense preparation during pre-production. When I wasnt casting or scouting, Amit and I planned the film shot by shot. On the set this paid dividends, giving me the freedom to concentrate on performances while Amit could devote his energies to executing the visual style of the picture.
My editor, Timothy Snell, had been assembling dailies as we were filming. Shortly after I had returned from shooting in D.C. I was able to look at a rough assembly of the whole picture, the big house as I call it. Even though I had a tight script there were redundancies and storytelling inefficiencies that only became apparent to me once we could see the story play on film. For the next six weeks we were camped in front of the Avid until we brought the picture down to its present length of 100 minutes.
The last big creative hire was our composer. I was exceedingly fortunate to find Peter Himmelman. Peter is a well known singer/songwriter who has a national following in the alternative folk-rock scene. Peter crafted a unique and intimate jazz score that set the lyric and comic tone for the whole picture.
Looking back on the Souler odyssey I cant believe how many things went right. We finished the picture on time and under budget and more importantly, I made a movie I love.
The one piece of advice I can give is, it all starts with the script. The most valuable time you can spend on your movie is also the least expensive...those lonely hours in front of your word processor. If your script works chances are your movie will. If it doesnt, you might as well flush your money down the toilet.
Post, Post Production
The Souler Opposite had its world premiere at The AFI International Film Festival where it enjoyed fantastic audience response and excellent trade reviews. We signed with Curb Entertainment for foreign distribution and after showings at The London Screenings, MIFED and AFM we closed healthy deals in Germany, Spain, Latin America and Russia to name a few.
In the spring the executives at Fuji Film honored myself and cinematographer, Amit Bhattacharya with a special screening at Twentieth Century Fox. Souler also was the opening night film at The Tahoe International Film Festival in Squaw Valley, California. And in June Souler finished its festival run when it screened as part of the Inaugural San Diego World Film Festival.
All of these screenings were part of my quest to find a domestic distribution deal. The theatrical arena is the true test for any film. The folks that plunk down $7.50 are, in the final analysis, your ultimate jury. So, after a frustrating year of chasing acquisition execs I have switched gears and am planning a release for The Souler Opposite. I am now operating my own distribution entity, M.S.A. Thats short for Movie Studio Apartment. My chores include overseeing a theatrical trailer, hiring a publicist and setting up the booking arrangements that will open Souler this fall in L.A. , Chicago and possibly in New York.
More than anything the theatrical release of this picture without a mainstream distributor is an entrepreneurial act of faith. Faith, that if you tell a story that works on a comic, emotional and aesthetic level, put it out there and promote like theres no tomorrow, somehow, in spite of the odds the movie gods will smile on you, and the public will come. Because in the end, soul does matter.
For clips, photos and more info check out the web site at souleropposite.com.