Thursday, October 15, 2009

Marc Fienberg on "Play the Game"

What was your filmmaking background before you made Play the Game?

MARC: Almost none! For some strange reason, I enrolled in business school instead of film school, and got my MBA from Northwestern. I had made a few short films beforehand, but besides that, I came to Play The Game on the first day of shooting with very little experience, but lots and lots of preparation.

I was meticulous in preparing, having storyboarded almost the whole film, and shot-listed every single shot in the whole film. It definitely paid off, and I think things went much easier on set because of all the preparation.

Where did the idea come from?

MARC: Play The Game is about a young ladies' man who teaches all his dating tricks to his lonely, widowed grandfather. It was inspired by my own grandfather, who started dating again when he was 89 year-old, and came to me for advice. Admittedly, I was a little bit uncomfortable hearing all the details of his love life at first, but I quickly learned how nice and endearing it was to see an 89 year-old man go through all the same emotions in dating as a school kid.

So I helped him out by teaching him my 5 sure-fire dating tricks that my friends and I developed, and sure enough, I learned a lot from him as well. It was two bachelors out on the town, one in his twenties, and one in his eighties.

What was your process for writing the script?

MARC: I outlined extensively before writing a single word, and when constructing the story, I construct it backwards, starting with the ending. For me, story is the most important element, and what that means is that the ending needs to be great. It's hard to write a romantic comedy that surprised people, and indeed, I think in Play The Game the audience is satisfied and happy because the characters they want to end up together in the end actually do get together in the end, but they're also very surprised by the last few minutes of the film in the way it all happens. That is why I think the film is getting all the attention it's getting. Aside from the controversial sex scene with Andy Griffith that is...

Did you write it with the idea that you'd direct it ... and, if so, did that change how you wrote it?

MARC: No, I wrote it just trying to write the best, most intriguing, most entertaining story possible, without any thought as to who was going to direct it. The goal was just to make sure that whoever read the script was taken on a fantastic, funny, and clever ride.

How much trouble was it to hang on to the script and be the director?

MARC: With regard to being the director, I went through a similar process with almost every investor that came on board. Everybody thought I had a wonderful script, but each person was eager to have me find a director with more experience. Then, as they got to know me, see my short films, and get to know me professionally, every single one of them reversed course and supported me as their first choice of director. They quickly realized in talking to me that there was nobody who was going to be more passionate, more prepared, and more in tune with the characters and story than me.

What did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

MARC: I could write a book on what I learned from my first film. Probably the most important thing I learned was that the old saying in Hollywood is true: 90% of good directing is good casting.

Having legends like Andy Griffith, Doris Roberts, and Liz Sheridan, not to mention fantastic younger actors like Paul Campbell and Marla Sokoloff, made it very easy to direct. The more I just stood out of their way and let them do their thing, the better performances I got.

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