It’s 1984 and outside a small-town nightclub, a group of 8th graders gather, grappling with a spate of recent suicides, UFO sightings, their absentee parents, and each other. 18 TO PARTY spans a single evening in the lives of these kids, but manages to transport us fully to a time when waiting for something to happen felt just as significant as the thing itself.
Hey Jeff, it's great to talk with you, how have things going?
Things are going well. Everyone involved with the film is all very excited to share its first public screening and we are grateful that the Woodstock Film Festival has given us the opportunity to do so.
18 to Party is your directorial debut there any nerves ahead of your World Premiere at Woodstock Film Festival?
Hell, yes! At the simplest level, we create film and art and music and dance and theatre to share with others and, of course, you want people to see in it and respond to the energies and impulses that created it. We are looking forward to gauging the response.
Can you tell me a little bit about 18 to Party, how did the film come about?
The film was adapted from a play I wrote, and the film came about from a sequence of events and situations that proved to be serendipitous. Old friends - both living and deceased - and new friends and collaborators all had a hand in it coming together, rather quickly, I might add.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
An amalgamation of experiences and people and places and events drawn from my childhood, a deep sense of pride and compassion for my generation, and the desire to honour a place and moment in time, and the people - specifically the kids - that inhabit it. The work itself was inspired by too many filmmakers and playwrights and artists and movies to list, from highbrow to lowbrow. A few that come to mind, though, are Lukas Moodysson, Andrea Arnold, Thornton Wilder, Spike Lee, Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Larson, Amy Heckerling, and Daniel Johnston. Even the cult-classic doc-short Heavy Metal Parking Lot made an enormous impression on me.
"When writing an ensemble, every actor should go home at the end of the day thinking that they have the most important role in the movie."
When you're creating characters do you ever use your own life/history for inspiration?
Certainly. The foundation of every character - some more than others - originates from people I’ve either known, though I’ve known, wanted to know, etc. And I draw from my own life, too, not just from the situations and people that have come into my orbit. I guess it’s all self-referential to some degree until it’s not. But rattling off exact things that happened to you and/or to other people around you is often not the most compelling and interesting way to tell your story. And yet sometimes it is.
What has been the biggest challenges you faced with this project?
My own nerves, perhaps? Really though, the biggest challenge was the uncertainty as to whether or not what we wanted to do was even possible. From having young actors on tight schedules to shooting a period piece on a limited budget. The producers met every challenge, and creatively they believed in a deceptively complicated concept. The first thing I ever said to them was “This might not work”. They heard me and still believed that it would work. And I think they were right.
Now you can be reflective what would you say has been the biggest lesson you've learned from making your debut film?
If it feels like something isn’t quite working, it’s not.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
I’ve always had a passion for recognizing the truth in storytelling. I began my creative career a little later than many others. I’ve grown to see the film as the most effective way for me to tell a story, and the most joyous way, in working with other artists and watching magical things happen when creative people are inhabiting the same space. Directing a film suits me more than anything else.
What was the first film you worked on?
I was a producer on a film called Love Liza, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Kathy Bates. It’s an interesting film and those actors are two of the greatest of the last half-century. It always helps to cut your teeth on projects with amazing talent.
What has been the best advice you have been given?
When writing an ensemble, every actor should go home at the end of the day thinking that they have the most important role in the movie.
Do you have any advice you would offer a writer/director?
Listen. Be open. A wisp of tunnel vision can be helpful, but stay malleable. Also if you’re going to go through the process of hiring terrific department heads, let them explore the talents you saw in them in the first place. Your film will be better.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from 18 to Party?
I hope they’ll be able to see a direct line from where we were to where we are, culturally, politically, economically. And I hope they see the importance of Generation-X, a truly forgotten generation, who’ve been largely responsible for keeping things together. Sort of like the knocked around the middle child who turns out to be the one who had more of their shit together all along.