|Margarita Happy Hour
The Sweet Life
The Sweet Life
Book shoots ahead of pic bow
Jan 27, 2003
In fitting indie fashion, "Shoot Me" got its launch party before the movie the book traces got a firm release date.
"Substitute" scribes Rocco Simonelli and Roy Frumkes experienced their share of frustration working in Hollywood but quickly discovered DV filmmaking comes with its own share of trials and tribulations. "Shoot Me" began as Simonelli's diary entries while making "The Sweet Life," his tyro directing effort, and soon turned into a production primer for the DV age.
"I thought if I could learn from it, so could other independent filmmakers," Simonelli said.
Along with Joan Jett, "The Sweet Life" stars Barbara Sicuranza, who found out about the warts-and-all book after the fact. "At first, my defenses kicked in," she admitted. "But I'm here supporting it." Sicuranza confessed that fellow cast members had playfully tossed around their own vengeful book idea called "Shoot Him."
Frumkes called the book's debut ahead of the film's bow -- expected this spring -- "typical of independent filmmaking," noting, "It kind of plods along."
Event was held at the Writing Center of the Marymount Manhattan College. Also in attendance: critic Andrew Sarris, director Larry Fessenden ("Wendigo") and Focus Features' Michael Ellenbogen.
what Rex Reed has to say about "The Sweet Life"
"The Sweet Life is a fresh, contemporary slant
on both the sugar and the vinegar in the sexual
rituals of the big-city singles scene that is hilarious,
keenly observed, and chock full of refreshing details
and insights. Intelligence, wit, nuance, clever writing
and slick direction add to the entertainment value.
Really, a job well done that gives independent
filmmaking a good reputation." REX REED
Pick up the spring issue (#50) of MovieMaker Magazine (with Robert Duvall on the cover.) Read the interview with filmmakers Rocco Simonelli and Roy Frumkes on DV alternatives, or read it online at http://www.moviemaker.com/issues/50/digitalwriting.html
Squeezed, Screwed and Hardballed
Two screenwriters-turned-digital moviemakers discuss how to navigate the marketplace while still making a movie your way
by Jennifer M. Wood
L to R: Roy Frumkes, Joan Jett, Barbara Sicuranza and Rocco Simonelli celebrate The Sweet Life.
Some stories just need to be told, and no one knows this better than longtime writing partners Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli. The team that kicked off The Substitute franchise (beginning with the 1996 Tom Berenger flick, and ending—maybe—with 2000’s Failure is Not an Option) knows a thing or two about writing for Hollywood—and its boundaries.
When they came up with the idea for The Sweet Life, a story of two very different brothers in love with the same woman, they knew that to tell the tale their way, they would have to make the film independently. But as MovieMaker readers know, talking about making a film and finding a way to do it are two different things. In the case of The Sweet Life, salvation came in the form of digital video.
Jennifer Wood (MM): What’s been the most drastic change you’ve seen to the role of the screenwriter since you began your careers?
Rocco Simonelli (RS): The chasm between the A-list writers and the grunt writers in the trenches is wider than it has ever been. It mirrors what’s happening among actors, in that if you give a Travolta or whomever $20 or $25 million, how much is left for the supporting players? The answer is “not much.” So, as a working writer, unless you’ve got some monster hit under your belt, you’re going to constantly get squeezed and screwed and hardballed. The suits are going to stall on your payments and try and extort as many free rewrites out of you as they can, and God help you if you dig your heels in and say no.
Roy and I are uniquely stubborn. In the past, when we’ve thought we smelled unethical behavior lurking just around the next corner, we’ve resorted to holding our pages hostage until checks have been placed in our agent’s hand.
MM: Congratulations for taking a stand. Has the so-called “digital revolution” changed what you do, or how you work?
Roy Frumkes (RF): More options are available. I wouldn’t have gone looking for money for The Sweet Life if my options were 35mm or Super16. The difference between 35mm and digital was a budgetary reduction of over 60 percent—and we had the same shooting schedule, dealt with SAG and only reduced the crew by two.
RS: It’s changed me in that it made it possible for me to become a director—to direct my own script without having to take marching orders from anyone else. I don’t think that digital alters the process of directing very much, other than to relieve the pressure of getting what you need in a minimal amount of takes because you can’t afford a lot of film stock and lab costs. Digital tapes are cheap and there are no lab costs, so you go in knowing you can do a few extra takes if you want or need to. I think, consequently, because that particular concern is eliminated, you end up doing fewer takes because you’re working with less fear and more confidence.
MM: What is the most welcome freedom the digital medium offers screenwriters?
RS: The opportunity to get your own vision on screen at a greatly reduced cost.
MM: Do you think there are any “impossible” movies to make on DV, or do you think that any story, genre, etc. is fair game?
RS: I think most genres aside from the epic are fair game, but it depends on what you mean by “digital video.” Is it the version of DV George Lucas is utilizing for his Star Wars crap-o-rama? Because then there are no limitations in regard to scope. You could do Lawrence of Arabia if you so desired, with computer-generated armies and sand dunes. However, if we’re talking about the kind of digital video Roy and I used to shoot The Sweet Life, then I would certainly shy away from stories that are epic and/or primarily visual in nature, and stick with material that’s more intimate—more story- and character-driven.
MM: Is there one film that—to you—illustrates the perfect marriage between story and medium in the digital arena? A story that you think worked well with the look of digital?
RF: Rebecca Miller’s film Personal Velocity claimed to use digital in all sorts of canny ways that justified the form. I certainly liked what it did. But I spoke with Barbet Schroeder about his choice of HD to shoot Our Lady of the Assassins partially to keep himself from being killed on the streets of Colombia, and that seems a more telling and vital reason for using the digital format.
RS: Digital has been a boon and a curse. In other words, the means to produce film stories have been made accessible to a lot of folks who, unfortunately don’t possess the talent to do it well. Just because you can suddenly afford to shoot your own movie doesn’t mean you should be allowed to do so. What’s happening now is that festivals and film markets are being flooded with a ton of really bad digital movies, and it tends to cast a negative light on the medium itself.
MM: Is it fair that the term ‘digital’ still suggests ‘low-budget’?
RF: Yes, it is synonymous with low-budget filmmaking and should be, because the primary importance of digital thus far has been to liberate independent filmmakers from the terrible constraints of budget and the debilitating dependence on Hollywood, in order both to produce their projects and get them out to the public.
MM: When writing a script for what you’ve already determined will be a digital movie, are there certain aspects that would be better emphasized (character, etc.)?
RF: I would move the script more toward a pseudo-documentary feel in look and dialogue, and that occurs in the script stage. I’d also be nervous about writing anything that would require extreme long shots.
RS: It’s more about writing to the budget than to the production medium. My feeling about digital video is really an extension of what I feel works best for low-budget moviemaking in general. An audience will cut a film a lot of slack in regard to its technical aspects—image quality, lighting, etc.—if the story works; if the characters are believable and interesting, if the dialogue is sharp and well written, if the performances are good. Look at a film like Chuck and Buck. Transferred to 35mm film and projected in a theater it looked like bad VHS—I’ve seen old porno loops that looked better. But audiences didn’t mind because it was well written and well acted, and those elements will always carry the day.
MM: What changes—if any—were made to your script for The Sweet Life as a result of deciding to shoot on digital?
James Lorinz and Joan Jett in a scene from Rocco Simonelli and Roy Frumkes’ digitally-shot romantic-comedy, The Sweet Life.
RF: As I recall, the changes were mainly in the art department: stay away from hot whites, etc. And looking at the end result, we could have done even better there: clothes or props with horizontal lines don’t hold up well when projected.
MM: What tips would you offer those aspiring writers with an idea in their head, and the means to finance a digital movie?
RS: Without compromising your vision in any way you can’t live with, make every attempt possible to balance your own creative needs and desires with those of the marketplace. There are any number of genres that are commercially viable, that distributors understand and feel comfortable in marketing. With The Sweet Life, Roy and I chose to do a contemporary romantic comedy set in New York. Distributors know this genre, they understand it; they’re not put off by it. Creatively, we never indulged any of the clichés of the genre; rather, we subverted them.
Love does not conquer all in The Sweet Life; the hero doesn’t win the girl in the end; no one learns anything; and everyone makes the wrong choice. However, we made the film as funny as we could. We kept the tone light and brisk enough that test audiences have never seemed to pick up on just how inherently dark the material is, we kept the length under 90 minutes and we got a name (Joan Jett) in a marquee supporting role to give the video shelf-life. These were the compromises we were willing to make, and we made them unreservedly. In brief, make the film you want to make, but give yourself a chance in the marketplace.
RF: Read our book. It’s really the best guide out there at the moment because it’s so fresh. I’m already working on an update for the Website, which will deal with my experiences at AFM. MM
You can track The Sweet Life’s progress through the distribution and release phases online at www.TheSweetLifeMovie.com
For more information on Roy Frumkes & Rocco Simonelli’s book, Shoot Me: Independent Filmmaking from Creative Concept to Rousing Release, visit Allworth Press at www.allworth.com.
Read all about it in: Shoot Me: Independent Filmmaking from Creative Concept to Rousing Release
by Rocco Simonelli, Roy Frumkes (Paperback - November 2002)
Hear all about it: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/episodes/03182003
Listen to director Rocco Simonelli give the sweet low down on shooting "The Sweet Life".
THE SWEET LIFE (2002) *** James Lorinz, Barbara Sicuranza, Robert Mobley, Joan Jett. Very funny romantic comedy with 'nice guy' Lorinz (sardonically apt) attempting to find true love in the unlikely form of his ladies' man brother's latest fling (sexy Amazon Sicuranza), a rough-around-the-edges barmaid with a quick tongue and a heart of gold. Hilarious dialogue and frequently amusing moments of pitfalls Lorinz faces on a daily basis and the frustration of Sicuranza wanting something better in her life blends well as does Mobley as the borderline misogynistic elder brother. Jett gives an unforgettably comic turn as Lorinz' blind date from hell that provides his destined relationship with Sicuranza. Screenwriter Rocco Simonelli makes his directorial debut winningly with his sharp slightly skewed valentine to true romance of the flawed. Echoes of Woody Allen, Rob Reiner, Ed Burns and Kevin Smith prove throughout as influences yet the comedy remains solid as it is by itself. A sleeper indie that should be seen by anyone whose lost in love.
Ahhh, La Dolce Vita... Fellini's 1960 masterpiece must have had a major impact on screenwriter and teacher Rocco Simonelli. He has titled his directoral debut "The Sweet Life". This feature was shot around New York this past summer. I star opposite James Lorenz, Robert Mobely and Joan Jett in this dark and quirky romantic comedy. I play Lila; a loud mouth, brash, no non-sense barmaid who gets stuck between a rock and a hard place as she falls for two very different brothers.
Joan Jett is my roommate Sherry; and she's no pussycat, she's a hellcat. Drunk, tough and sexy...she is a force to reckon with.
The character of Micheal (played by James Lorenz) is a sweet guy with the best intentions who just keeps misssing his mark. His extensive vocabulary only adds to the confusion when he tries to help Lila stand on her own, after being left broken hearted by his brother. Now, Frankie (Robert Mobely)unlike Micheal,is quite the ladies man. Well, yeah, he's hot for Lila, ("she's good for a piece on the side") but he dumps her when she gets too serious ("let's face it, she's trash").
Meanwhile, Micheal's been set up on a blind date with Sherry, the results of which are too horrifing to divulge.
Confused yet? Well, you should have been on the set. All the real life drama of a true and fully disfunctional alternate reality. So much truth can only be expected, knowing that Micheal is modeled after writer/director Rocco Simonelli.