For anyone who has ever wanted to take a germ of an idea, flesh it out into a script and then put that personal vision onto the big screen, it seems (like becoming a conductor—on the job training is as rare as it is expensive) that there is no Filmmaking for Idiots to follow. Accordingly, JWR sought to fill that educational void by having a telephone conversation with, Rob Margolies—the director/producer/writer of Lifelines, his début feature (cross-reference below).
“In 2006, I had the script for In the Meantime ready to go, but after raising only $100,000 of the $1 Million budget after six months, I decided to put that project to the side and start again with a less expensive film. I got the idea for Lifelines from my friend whose father had just announced to his completely surprised family that he was gay. His reaction was one of the strongest I’d ever seen even though he gradually came around to accepting his unexpected truth. So I holed up in my apartment and wrote the first draft in six days straight. Then it took another year to incorporate the feedback from my friends and colleagues. The thing I learned most about that process was that every script needs a lot of re-writing and a writer who has the discipline to work through those changes,” recalled Margolies.
Simultaneously with the creative work, the producer persona had the challenge of adding a further $150,000 to the investment already banked if the shoot was ever going to take place.
“Finishing the financing and putting the production together took about a year after the first draft was done. From the money point of view, most people were more interested in investing in me rather than the film. I kind of blew them away [when Lifelines was sold]. They didn’t expect to ever get their money back. Now I’m a third of the way towards my next film, but I’ve nearly tripled the original budget. The best part is I realize that In the Meantime will be a much better film, so, in the long run, the delay was a good thing,” he said.
There were some surprises along the way in lining up the cast and crew.
“I learned after he’d already signed on that David Sperling [director of photography] was the husband of my seventh grade performing arts teacher. His recommendations were a big help for the technical side. Since the film takes place in a single day and I’d already had the locations in mind, our first-time production designer [Leah MacLeod] was able to concentrate on the details and our costume designer [Kathryn Miriam] wasn’t overwhelmed. Josh Pais [who stars as the troubled father] was a friend of Robert Miller. I already knew his music for Teeth, so was glad he could do the score. After the shoot, I’d done a rough-cut edit, but through a Los Angeles search managed to find Jason Stewart who was able to improve the final result considerably.”
As is always the case in life, connections and coincidence are two prime ingredients in assembling the team. Signing first-rate and schedule-flexible actors is also an art in itself.
Margolies continued. “Casting director Judy Henderson helped find the three children. For a time it looked like James Earl Jones might have played the psychiatrist, but in the end, we were delighted to have Joe Morton. Overall, we had eleven days and Joe could only be there for four. Fortunately, most scenes were done in 2 or 3 takes. Hand picking all of those involved certainly helped us; just one day went longer than 12 hours. As the director, I saw that everyone cared, but knew that the person whose life was riding on it was mine. Being their friend and making sure they knew what I wanted helped a lot. With a good script and cast, almost anyone could direct.”
With another production on the way, and a lot of ongoing work getting Lifelines seen (note: the buyer didn’t care for the original title, Wherever You Are, so part of the deal was switching to Lifelines, a move the filmmaker vows never to repeat again), it seems the film is still a work in progress.
“Right now, I’m still totally involved. Once you’ve made a movie, it’s always with you—it’s never a wrap,” he concluded with conviction.
Sage words and food for thought. Making all of the pieces fit together and come up with a film worthy of attention is a minor miracle. While the details and methodologies will be different in every case, the overriding requirements must be a passion for sharing an aspect of life with your fellow human beings coupled with an unrelenting determination to succeed. JWR