Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coleman Hough on "Bubble"


What screenplays had you written before Bubble?

COLEMAN HOUGH: Before I started Bubble, I had written a movie for HBO about the life of Katherine Graham. And I was developing a TV series with some producers in Los Angeles. The thing for HBO, I was hired to do it, I did it and it was completed, but it's never been produced. It's still in development. Apparently, one of the re-writers is Joan Didion. That's kind of cool. If you're going to be re-written by anyone, Joan Didion's the one.

And then I went to Los Angeles last Fall and was developing this TV series. And I ran into Steven, and he wanted to know what I was doing. I told him and we started talking about working together again. He said that Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner had commissioned him to do six films in this new format, day and date release. And he said, "Why don't you write the first one?"

I was thrilled. And then he said, "I don't want to use actors, I want to use just people in the town. And I want there to be no scripted dialogue; I want it to be all improvised." So then I thought, well, what am I going to write?

What was his concept for the movie?

COLEMAN HOUGH: He had an idea, he wanted to do a tale of jealousy that took place in a factory, a love triangle. So I said, "Well, what kind of factory?" And he said, "I'm thinking about an animal testing facility." And then we started talking about the political implications of that, and we decided we didn't want that overlay of political implications.

We started brainstorming about other factories, and I was researching industries in the Midwest, because I knew he wanted to film in the Midwest because it was during the re-election, and Ohio specifically was such a hot swing state. I found two doll factories in Ohio and Indiana, the only two remaining doll factories in the country.

I started making some calls. I didn't tell them what I was doing, I just said I was interested in making dolls and I wanted to know if they did tours of their plant. So I went with a location manager and it was this fun research trip for two weeks, with a week in each town. It was really great, it was like working as a site-specific playwright. I fell in love with the Ohio town, because it was right on the Ohio river.

From the people I met in the town and the feeling I got from the town, and just by observing the life that I had landed in the middle of, I fashioned this story. And then I presented it to Steven and he liked it; we made some adjustments and that gave us our shooting outline.

And you were on the set throughout the shoot?

COLEMAN HOUGH: The fun thing, the great discovery, was that he wanted me on the set every day, because he wanted to be constantly incorporating the stories of the actors into the story.

So I found my job to be the best job of all, because I was not only putting the non-professional actors at ease -- Steven called me The Human Green Room -- because they would hang out with me. I would listen to their stories and we'd share stories and we'd talk about things we'd done and I'd ask them a million questions. Their stories were so great and so rich. So, whenever I would see Steven, on a break or whatever, I'd say, "Okay, I've got a good one. You've got to get Debbie to talk about …" whatever story they had told me that day.

For example, the scene where Rose is taking a bath in the house she's cleaning is a story from my life. I've always wanted to put that scene in a movie because I used to take baths at parties. When I was in my 30s I went through this weird phase where I would just disappear and take a bath at a party, because my idol, Zelda Fitzgerald, used to do that.

I've always wanted to put that in a movie, and I thought, what if she takes a bath in the house where she cleans. And so, that day Misty, the actress, was very apprehensive about wearing the nude suit and being in the bathtub. So I told her that story from my life, and it put her at ease. She just thought that was so funny and it just made it more delicious for her to do it.

How did you create the characters once you had the story roughed in? And did it change once you cast the non-actors?

COLEMAN: I had a clear idea of the characters before we cast the actors. We cast the actors based on the characters I'd imagined. When Steven and I were reviewing the audition tapes, the criteria was, are these the people that I imagined? So we didn't have to make any adjustments to the story, because they were the characters.

So, Debbie just jumped out, she was Martha, and Misty was Rose. They couldn't have been more perfect. We found them, they found us. The whole Bubble experience was like the magic synchronicity of everything. The town opened up to us, everything that was meant to be happened. It was wild.

How difficult was it for you to not write the dialogue and let the actors make it up on-camera?

COLEMAN: It was very hard for me at first, because that's what I write. I'm a playwright and dialogue is what I love to write. I felt a shift -- Steven always talks about a writing head and a making head, which is developing a film and then actually making it. And it's true. So I got to experience that in terms of listening to their cadences and pointing out to Steven the things that really spoke of their characters. Like Misty would say, "Oh, yeah," that was one thing she said that was so that character.

We filmed in the bait and tackle shop for a long time. I would listen on the monitor through all the shooting, and I was thrilled when that woman said, "The darker the water, the darker the bait." And I said, "Steven, you have to start there. It's such a great line."

So it was kind of like writing it as I heard it. It was such an honor, because it was like not making it up in my head, but listening to it and catching it. Which is what you do when you immerse yourself in a world or a culture, you start to hear certain phrases or certain intonations. That was a hard adjustment, not hard but challenging.

I always thought dialogue was so important to me in writing scripts, and I couldn't imagine what that would be like to relinquish the control of that. But it was thrilling. On the first day of shooting, we did the lunchroom scene, where's there's an awkward silence and then Rose says, "Do any of you all smoke?"

I got chills when I was watching that, because of the silence. That's what I love to write; in fact, in a lot of my plays the stage direction says, "There's an uncomfortable silence between them." And the fact that they just trusted that silence, and the sub-text in that line "Do any of you all smoke?" I just couldn't have written anything better than that! Just by putting them in that situation, it was amazing to see the organic response.



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