House of Hugs Productions

Julia Radochia's blog for her films, film festivals, and film in general, among other things...

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Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, United States

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Eddie's Winning Date

(Back to Eddie's Winning Date website)

"A guy loses a Super Bowl bet and has to call back every woman he ever dated and dumped."

My screenwriting professor, Tom Stempel, wanted five one-line ideas for a film. I had four. I was stumped for a fifth. I thought of what my father, the wise Bob Radochia, would tell me, "Just give them an answer. That's all they want. It doesn't have to be right". I thought I could apply this wisdom here, telling myself, "Just write a line, any line that comes to you. You don't have to have a story behind it."

So I wrote the above quote. Of course, Mr. Stempel, good ol' Tom, gave an A to only that idea and wanted me to write a treatment for it. Darn, he called my bluff.

Sometimes it's better when you start with nothing, because you're completely open and can just let things come to you. Being that it was 2002 and the New England Patriots had just won their first Super Bowl, I started with my lead character, Eddie, as being a New England fan who always expected his teams to choke. He scoffs at the idea that the Patriots can beat the Rams, so when his friend's wife gets on his case about being a commitment-phobe who dumps women without reason, and without actually informing them, he says he'll call all his exes if the Patriots beat the Rams.

Eddie almost forgets the bet because he does get sucked into the game. While he lives with a glass is half-empty attitude, deep down he is looking for a happy ending, with a hope that anyone can be a champ if they want it enough and work for it. I was really taking the drive of Tom Brady to be the best he can be and applying it to Eddie's attempt to better himself as a man.

The idea came so quickly to me because I was incredibly moved by the Patriots' Super Bowl win. I felt lucky that on top of being one dang happy New England fan (who was a fan since the days of Steve Grogan), I had something inspirational around which to weave a plot thread. The story wrote itself, as I applied the idea of being a champion to one's personal life. Then, I imagined some of my friends playing the characters I was developing. Just putting people in as those characters let me watch the movie in my head. I felt that I was just copying down the script as I was watching.

While I wrote the script in 2002, because of my other 3 projects, I didn't film EDDIE'S until 2004. At that point I updated the script, not only cutting out a little dialogue but changing the ending to include the Patriots' second Super Bowl win. I had originally cast a friend of mine to play Eddie and I had someone in mind to play Jennifer. So I really auditioned actors only for the parts of Mike and Maureen. I really wanted two very Boston people for this couple. I saw a lot of people from Boston, but casting was tougher than I had anticipated. I needed not only two people who had the right energy for these parts but who would have the right chemistry together. They didn't have to have the thickest Boston accents, but I wanted a certain Boston feel to them.

Christine Fazzino brought both a subtlety and spiciness to the role of Maureen. She had an understated charm that was compelling. While I wasn't sure, after the first auditions, whom I was leaning towards to play Maureen, after the callbacks, I was sold on her. There was something really special that shined through. She had the right quirkiness for Maureen but kept it real, dimensional and intelligent.

When I got Ryan O'Quinn's headshot, I saw nothing on his resume that indicated he was from Boston or could do a Boston accent. It looked like he was from the south, and I thought right away, well, you can't have a Southern guy play a Bostonian. But, something told me to call him anyway. When he came to read for me, I was still attached to having a Bostonian, but Ryan read Mike with the energy I was looking for. While I had seen a bunch of guys who had Boston accents, and who could act, Ryan just *was* Mike more than anyone else. He also came off as very respectful and hard working, which, of course, is always a big plus for me. I thought that he and Christine would be a very believable couple as well. I decided that the qualities that Ryan had were so much more important to the character and the film than being a New Englander. Now Ryan is a really funny actor who can do a range of accents, but, rather than have him do a Boston accent, I just decided, that hey, Mike is a guy from the south who married a Bostonian and became a die-hard Pats fan. Or he had been a fan anyway. I mean, I know the south has some Patriots fans down there!

After I held auditions, I found that my original Eddie and Jennifer couldn't do the film. I went back through my headshot file and looked for guys who would make a good Eddie. The first person who came to mind was Michael Contrastano. When he submitted his picture for the role of Mike, I thought that he probably would not be a good Mike, that he looked too similiar to Eddie (I wanted a strong contrast between Mike and Eddie), but I had him come in to read for Mike anyway. His read showed he could act, but I didn't have him come to callbacks because, as I had thought, he just wasn't a Mike. I was having a feeling in the back of my mind that maybe he would end up being Eddie, even though I thought my friend was still in at this point.

So I called Michael and asked him to read for Eddie. I also had another actor or two to read for Eddie as well. I know I sound like a broken record regarding actors I saw but didn't cast, but I saw this one actor who was just fantastic and he was so close, but when I had Michael read, well, he just *was* Eddie. And what I loved about Michael is that as we read the sides a few times, he always evolved and found something new with each read. I love seeing actors uncover things as they go along rather than force something immediately.

Jennifer was the last main part I cast. It was important that Jennifer play really well off of Eddie. It wasn't that I didn't want to consider any of the women who tried out for Maureen, but that my gut told me to call someone else -- Megan Molloy. Megan, who played Christine in Jimmy's House of Hugs, just seemed like the perfect gal to play opposite of Michael. She has the quick wit I wanted for Jennifer. Megan is the kind of actress I could see in a 40s screwball comedy, because she has a classic elegance AND goofiness.

I then needed a babe or two to be in the Fear Factor type half-time show that the guys watched on TV. I ended up with one babe, not two, and she was Kristina Hughes, a former Miss Connecticut who had a resume that showed she didn't need this part, but she was happy to do it anyway. (I love this gal -- she's very dedicated to her work and sees the value of doing even a smaller part.) She was also one of Eddie's exes on the phone. ("I know, Eddie, you were just afraid I was too good for you.") So she got to be both seen and heard in the film but not at the same time. I really appreciate her contribution to the film. I really needed something that looked something like half-time show Fear Factor did with models a few years back. I didn't have the production for it, but having Kristina, who looked like she could have been on that show, at least got the point across on what the show was supposed to be.

I also cast other actors I had worked with before, Wenzel Jones (Sally's Dream House), as the waiter and Matias Coo (Like His Father) as the wine steward. Both of their parts got cut down a bit. There was originally a short scene after the dinner montage when Wenzel brought in the doggie bags. But as I was editing I realized it was unnecessary, even though I loved watching Wenzel in it.

Also, Matias first had a little bit more of flirtation going on with Megan's character. The whole scene with him originally had only a couple of lines, and was mostly visual, with Eddie's apologies to Jennifer taking place after the wine steward leaves. But this flirtation, while entertaining in itself, just dragged the scene and did nothing to propel the story forward. It's interesting how you can have fun little scenes that still need to be cut out because they detract from the overall purpose of the film. But taking the flirtation bit out was a real challenge to do because I was facing serious continuity problems. But I found a way to cut the film having Eddie start apologizing while the wine steward is pouring the wine. I could use only close ups of the conversation because the long shots would not have Matias in them, so it took some precision in the editing and some sound tricks to make it work. Of course it's not perfect, but I think it was the best solution available.

My crew was Thomas H. Davis as DP, Jeremy as fellow producer, sound, etc., Danielle Davis as production designer, and Matt Henderson and Catherine C. Pirotta gaffing and gripping. Thomas and Danielle's daughter, Carlin, helped out, too. Huge props go to Matt who, at last minute notice, saved us when we were behind setting up on the Friday night before the shoot. Having a crew that are not only students but who also have full time jobs makes scheduling very tight!

I should note that this film was shot entirely on our apartment's premises. Mike and Maureen's home was our home. The restaurant was in the lobby downstairs. Thanks to Danielle, I think it was pretty convincing! I had been looking for a restaurant to film the scene, but we then figured that making a little restaurant was easier and cheaper than using a real one.

The scene outside was filmed right outside our good friend, Robert Shaw's bungalow. Where we lived were 10 bungalows with an apartment building in the back. The complex has been used in Six Feet Under. Actually they needed to come back enough that they ended up building a set that looked just like it.

Jeremy did all of the sound for this film, production and post. I have said this before but I am so lucky to have a great sound man as my boyfriend. It was so noisy when we filmed outside Robert's. We had to film around helicopters, people rummaging through the trash cans on the street, a party, and more cars than usual driving by. But if you pay attention to the sound in that scene, or ANY scene, you'd think I hired a professional.

Jeremy also composed and performed all the music in the film, including the jazz piece played in the background at the restaurant. I edited the film with placeholder music, mostly with songs from ELO's album, Zoom. I also used a bit of one Matthew Sweet song. Poor Jeremy -- I was growing attached to these songs. Jeremy had to come up with songs that were different, of course, but that had the same kind of feeling. Another challenge was that I edited the restaurant montage scene to match the flow of music from one ELO song. There was a nice camera move that Thomas did that I had edited to match the music so precisely and Jeremy had to find a way to compose music to my edit. He found the way and did it. All the music he did using Garage Band, which is a great way to score a movie on a low budget!

Oh, and Jeremy also did the voice for the announcer on TV. That we added in last. I first cut it to the DVD of the actual Super Bowls, but I didn't want to leave any copyrighted material in there at all.

This is the best production film we've done. It was nice to work with Thomas and Jeremy on all these films and evolve together. Both Thomas and Jeremy are very talented but there were things we just didn't know when doing our earlier films. This one shows that we learned!

At the same time, when it come to my work, I'm probably most critical of Eddie's. I'm pleased with it on many levels but I see where I could have made it better, in script, direction and editing. Well, I think I did the best editing with what I had. I just think if I did a couple of things differently, I would have liked what I could edit together in the final product. I'm a little harsh on myself with this film. I forgive myself more with my earlier films. Of course, I need to take this all as a learning experience and move on. And I can' t complain -- Eddie's has been in/accepted to 16 festivals, including the Plymouth Independent Film Festival and Ohio Independent Film Festival and has won a few awards.

As always, I was lucky to have a talented and dedicated cast and crew. Eddie's Winning Date was a great experience and, personally very fulfilling.

(Back to Eddie's Winning Date website)

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sally's Dream House

SALLY'S DREAM HOUSE was the third sync sound film that I shot, but it was the first script I finished and the first film to get in a festival.

Sally is an old house lover who walks around LA neighborhoods with her fiance, Raymond, judging homeowner's remodeling jobs. She writes postcards to people whose homes she particularly likes or dislikes. She has one house that is her dream house, and while it is not for sale, she fantasizes that she and Raymond may live in it one day. She writes the owner, Jeff, and he invites Sally and Raymond to his home. There, Sally's world starts to unravel.

The character of Sally evolved from my love of old houses. Jeremy and I would take walks in LA discovering that the city did have some older homes (not old like around Boston, but still old to LA). We would wrench in pain when we'd see a home that looked like it was once beautiful that was destroyed by the owner's remodeling choices. We'd also wonder if houses that we approved of on the outside, were treated well inside. My big pet peeve, is when people take an old home and then make it look uncharacteristically modern inside. I'm not against making a home modern in efficiency -- I'm against destroying the character of a house.

I asked my good friend Stacy Marr to play Sally. Now I don't cast my friends, just because they're my friends. I cast Stacy because I thought she was a very talented actress who would bring a great quirkiness to the part. I had known Stacy in Boston and New York before we both moved to LA and had seen her in many plays and films.

I held auditions for the three males, Raymond, Jeff, and the Man in Flannel. I can't explain fully what I was looking for in Raymond without giving away the ending, but I wanted a very good looking man, who could say some strange things in mostly a straight but ever so slightly off way. I cast someone who I thought fit the part great, but because of scheduling conflicts I had to re-cast. I had some other very good actors audition for me, but none of them really fit what I was looking for.

Now, I had just recently seen Stacy in her theatre company's (Ronin Ensemble) production of "The Dining Room". One of the actors in it was Grant Reynolds. I thought he did a great job of playing a versatile group of characters. When I saw him I actually thought he would be a good Raymond, but I didn't think to ask him. I really wanted to audition actors and choose from people who submitted for my film. But when the first Raymond dropped out I asked Stacy if I could get in contact with Grant and offer him the part. I was happy when he accepted.

For Jeff, I wanted someone with a dry humor, someone who seemed just a little older than Sally and Raymond. When I got Wenzel Jones' picture, I felt like I was already looking at Jeff. He was the first person to audition for this role and he gave me exactly what I wanted in his first read. I saw several other actors, and many of them were excellent, but Wenzel was the closest to how I envisioned the role.

For the man in flannel, I wanted a guy's guy. I wanted someone who was not as classicly handsome as Raymond, but who gave off a masculine vibe. When Tracy Howe came in, I thought, yup, that's him. Now. I feel very lucky to have gotten Tracy. Tracy did not need to do my film. I mean, not that my other actors *needed* to do it either... but Tracy was getting plenty of parts on TV -- he's been on all Law and Orders and he's done a lot more film and TV since. He was playing the smallest role in my film. It was nothing I could imagine he would use for a demo reel. But he enjoyed doing student films, and I'm grateful that he took the part.

I also want to emphasize that I cast Tracy because he was best for the part, not because of his experience. I don't cast people based on their credits. The funny thing is that I've acted for years, so you would think that the resume would matter to me. But I found myself looking at pictures and getting a feel for people that way. I mean, I liked to see that they had at least acted before, but I really didn't care how many tv shows, films or plays they had been in. What mattered was whether they fit my vision for the film.

The hardest "part" to cast was Sally's dream house. I needed a house that looked old on the outside but looked different on the inside. I thought that I might need to use two separate houses entirely. But my friend and DP, Thomas Davis, said that his house might be a good fit. He lived in an old house in Angeleno Heights that had wall to wall carpet and popcorn ceilings. Awesome. There was still a little too much character in certain places but we tried to find ways to bring that down.

We ended up with a small crew. Thomas was the DP, Jeremy was AD and did half the sound recording, Catherine C. Pirotta was my gaffer, Ayesha Black was the production designer, Kenneth Kil did sound for one weekend, and Thomas' wife, Danielle, helped out in the art department. We didn't get the lighting we had hoped for when filming inside of the "dream house" because it was raining the day we shot the interiors so we were not able to put a light outside to make it look like we had real sunlight coming in. We really did not have a good workaround because there was nowhere to put a light to fake it and get the shots I needed to get. But I thought, hey, at least you can SEE the people! Even though we had just shot LIKE HIS FATHER and JIMMY'S HOUSE OF HUGS, SALLY'S DREAM HOUSE was the first real kind of production film I was doing. While all films have *limits*, we had a very limited schedule and budget so we did what we could with what we had. And we were ALL students, just learning. While LA City College encourages students to hire professional DPs and some professional crew for the advanced cinema class, I opted not to. First, I didn't have the money for it and second, I wanted to try it with just us students. While there is great value in hiring professionals, I think there is also a lot of value in all of us, as students, having gotten this film made.

SALLY'S was accepted into the 2004 Route 66 Film Festival, in Springfield, IL. There it won the audience choice award, beating out some local films. It has since played in a couple of more festivals, but never got into more than that. That's OK. I'm happy that it tasted a small amount of validation.

(Back to Sally's Dream House website)

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

PB & J

When I moved back to Boston I thought I'd send out my headshot and resume to see if I could get some acting work again. The first film I got cast in was PB & J by Harvard University junior, Natalie Evans. So I here I am with castmates Tracie Jules, Shelby Flynn and Josh (I don't remember his last name but he was a real good kid!). The film centers around Josh's character and his overbearing mother, played by Tracie. I was the mother of Shelby's character. Shelby's real mother, Brenda, took this picture and gave me permission to put it up on my site.

Small film world that Boston is, Tracie and I both then got parts in an Emerson College film, HARRISON BERGERON, and I saw Brenda again when I played the mother of Shelby's brother, Jimmy, in ENTROPY. I was happy to play a mother to both Shelby and Jimmy because they were both such sweet and easy kids to work with.

PB & J was the quickest film I've worked on in a long time. Natalie was great to work with. She had only one weekend to shoot the film, so she kept things moving. We did this film less than two months ago, in October, but it already feels like a long time ago, because I've been keeping busy working during the week and doing films on weekends.

I just wrapped filming on a fourth short film, FREED RESTRAINT. I've been having fun acting again and hope to get more film work, but I'm now also more driven to get back to work on my own films.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jimmy's House of Hugs

(Back to Jimmy's House of Hugs website)

JIMMY'S HOUSE OF HUGS was my second sync sound film, again, with no real equipment but a 3 chip dv camera. So the sound is bad in this, too, although you can still understand the dialogue.

This film I put together quickly in a week and shot in one day. During this semester I had to do three shorts films, the third being, SALLY'S DREAM HOUSE which was for my advanced cinema production course. Most of my energy needed to go to that film. JIMMY'S was the second project for Joni Varner's dv class. Originally, Jeremy and I were going to do a short documentary on Marine boot camp in San Diego, but the war in Iraq just broke out, and a week before we were going to shoot, they called us and said they couldn't let us do the project at that time. Now, I still needed to film my second project very quickly, otherwise I wouldn't have enough time to work on SALLY'S. So, on a Sunday, I shut myself in my bedroom until I came up with an idea. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Then, an idea I had previously considered about a hugging business came to mind but I didn't know what to do with it. I kept looking around my room, thinking about how there was a rumor that this 1929 Spanish style apartment complex using to be a bordello. Hugging.... bordello.... a-HA -- a hugging bordello!

I thought I could do a mockumentary on a hugging bordello for women. I thought how women can always go into a bar and get sex if they really wanted to (not recommended by me, of course) but how men didn't have that same certainty, therefore, the business of prostitution helps them out with that (not recommended by me, either) . However, women could not always be guaranteed HUGS accompanied with genuine understanding.

I still was trying to form the structure of it. Then, an actor, Gianfranco Russo, who had auditioned for a role in SALLY'S DREAM HOUSE, came to mind. I didn't cast Gianfranco in Sally's because I went with an all-American kind of guy for the part. But he had a great presence and a sexy Italian accent to boot. I started writing the role of Jimmy for Gianfranco, hoping, of course, that he could play the part. I saw Jimmy as a reformed player, who started a hugging business as a way to show his newfound respect for women... and so he could be around women.

I called Gianfranco and asked if he'd like to do the film. He accepted and I emailed him the script. When we met, he said to me, "This is me -- I am this guy!" He said that he, too, had been somewhat of a playboy when he was younger but had since changed his ways. He still retained a large dose of smoothness, but was actually very (and surprisingly) genuine.

When I started writing the script on that Sunday, I had just one week to put the whole film together. Everyone I cast was a friend/co-worker or was someone who had auditioned for me before. Megan Molloy, who played Christine, had auditioned for me for a part in the scene in my directing class, and was my second choice, but I went with Emily Brooke Hands, instead. I thought she was great though, so I called her and offered her the part.

Alfred DiMaio, was the only non-actor in the film. We worked together in QA. He's a musician (now a full time musician). I didn't care if he could act well or not. I thought he just had a great thing for the role of Tim, and I think it worked.

The rest of the cast was to be PJ Marino, Stacy Marr, Eric Casaccio, Dwight R. Williams, Anne Allaire and Sherry Mattson. But on Sunday morning, Sherry called me up extremely apologetic and extremely sick. I decided that it was too late to get anyone else so I did her part (Rachel). I ended up cutting the part down on the spot. I cut a brief intro scene with Jimmy because now it didn't seem necessary. It was easier to cut with me playing it. I would have felt bad if I were cutting Sherry's screen time down. (FYI - "bad" is correct English here -- ask my mother, the former English teacher -- one may do badly but one feels bad.)

My crew was Jeremy, as always, Thomas H. Davis as DP and Stacy McDonald who could help out half the day as a grip and second AD.

Because we had to accommodate actors' schedules on such short notice, we had to schedule most people in 2 hour blocks of time. Gianfranco was the only actor who stayed all day. We spend the whole day running up and down the stairs between the apartment lobby and my apartment. The last scene we filmed was with Eric and Stacy and at that point our pace slowed down. They're both good friends of mine so we just had fun with that scene. They did a lot more improv than I showed in the film. It was funny but as I edited the film I realized that I needed to keep the pace quick.

I went over the 5 minute time limit, accepting points taken off my grade for every second I went over. The class voted it as one of the three films to be screened in LACC's end of semester screening.

Later I did a very slight re-edit in one scene and Jeremy did the best he could to fix up the sound. There was very little that we could do to make the sound better, but Jeremy's work did result in it being a little more tolerable. I decided to try to send it to a few festivals. It got into the 2004 S.N.O.B. Film Festival, the 2005 Faux Film Festival where it won an audience award, the 2005 Plymouth Independent Film Festival, 2005 Fiery Film Festival, 2006 Marblehead Festival of the Arts, 2006 Hovey Summer Arts Festival and last month it played at the START Moving Image Festival in the UK as part of an exchange program with the Plymouth Independent Film Festival. So, not bad for a little film with bad sound, shot in one day!

To this day I feel blessed to have had such a talented and energetic cast and crew who came through for me on such short notice. (I wish I could talk more about each and every one of them but I don't want to make this post too long!) This is a film I'm looking into develop further. I just need to find a way to get Gianfranco Russo back to the States for it. He's currently in an Italian soap, "Vivere". I guess he's wanted all over the globe!

(Back to Jimmy's House of Hugs website)

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