BILL: Perhaps oddly, I had no background in filmmaking. I had always been in athletics, including four years of college football. I discovered theatre and the arts later in life and it was love at first site. I couldn't read, watch, discuss, or absorb enough information about filmmaking.
Sydney Pollack, Ang Lee, Kathryn Bigelow, Sidney Lumet, Robert Zemekis, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron--just listening to their discussions about making films was so beneficial to me in preparing to film this movie. Plus, I was a featured extra in five movies leading up to my filming. On set, and between takes, I asked many questions, and whether or not it was typical, virtually every crew member was free with explaining what they were doing on set and why.
I realized then and there that professionals love what they do and were quite willing to discuss it. Maybe they could tell I was sincerely interested, but I was always met with thorough answers as to the how and why of angles, lighting, audio, and everything by crew members.
Finally, once I told my wife I was going to shoot my movie, she bought me "how to" books on every phase of moviemaking. I soaked it up because I wanted to tell this story.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
BILL: I am a trial lawyer and try cases in the courtroom. This particular case was impacting me. It lasted for five years and was very intense. The intensity of high stakes litigation is amazing. I decided at some point during the case that I was going to tell this story through film.
The case was a nursing home malpractice case and involved some of the worst treatment of a human being I had ever seen. I wrote the script over a six-month period. The writing process was cathartic for me, and I've realized this in hindsight.
I needed to tell this story. I wanted people to know what happened to this sweet, innocent lady and how it tragically unfurled.
BILL: The jury verdict was returned in March of 2011. The verdict was a record verdict for Walker State court in Lafayette, Georgia, and was Georgia's highest malpractice for 2011, in the amount of almost ten million dollars. Half the verdict was erased within thirty days when the assisted living facility filed for bankruptcy protection.
I took $200,000 of the attorney fees and made the film. It was my way of bringing attention to nursing home mistreatment and a statement that Pauline did not die in vain.
As far as recoupment of costs and distribution, the film has been shown six times in three different theaters to packed houses. The IMDB reviews have been good.
The whole "distribution" issue remains up in the air. It is hard to get attention with so much noise in the air. I will continue special screenings until we stop having full houses at theaters, and then the film will be offered on DVDs.
How did you cast the movie and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?
BILL: Casting was a big adventure. One of the books I read revealed "actors access," a remarkable free vehicle to invite auditions. When we published the role of the young associate with specific descriptions, we had over 2,500 applicants for the role within a week. Catharine and I had these head shots all over our king size bed and we literally went through every head shot, first narrowing it down to fifty, and then finally to five, and then I flew to New York City to interview the actors.
We decided on Todd Litzinger, an absolutely incredible talent, to fill the critical role of "Paul Bruce" the young associate attorney. And I want to say that you will see Todd make it big. He is a professional actor, and here he was coming from NYC down here to little Cedartown, Georgia, to shoot this film with a first time filmmaker and never once did he lose his patience, temper, or perspective.
As far as Fred Thompson, I knew I needed a substantial actor to play the role of my mentor and senior partner. Fred is a lawyer first in my mind, and he was the perfect choice to play the role. Fred understands what a trial lawyer goes through in preparing a case for trial. He interrogated Richard Nixon back in 1974, and he prosecuted a Tennessee governor in his career. I have always loved his performances in Law and Order and The Hunt for Red October. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. He said he wanted good southern food while he was here, and that was his only request. Just a delightful person.
My daughter, an attorney and drama major, was cast as Todd's wife. She also just completed filming Billy Lynns Long Halftime Walk where she was cast by director Ang Lee as the lead character’s, Billy Lynns’, big sister. Her other sibling is Kristen Stewart.
The other roles were filled with actors I had seen on stage in other shows locally or lived in Cedartown and fit what we needed. One of the actors in an important scene is actually a neurologist. He and his wife, Christine, a registered nurse, were terrific. Our children who had performed for years in our children's theatre shows, had important roles in the film. It was a family affair.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
BILL: We shot on a canon 5d MKII. Great camera. Real film quality. What I loved about it is being able to interchange the lens, and we shot a lot with 50's and 100's, and the flexibility of this little camera.
What I hated about the camera is that it was so very small, that shooting did not feel like a "real" movie unless we had the matte box and complete shields with it. And this statement means I had to hunt something up to hate.
How much did the story change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?
BILL: Wow, the changes. We filmed three separate times. In August of 2012 for eight days, for fifteen days in October, 2012, and then for six days in February, 2013.
I realized after the October filming and while we were editing, that we were really not only telling the case and trial, but we were highlighting small town southern comfortable life, the children's theatre aspect, but it needed to be accentuated. So, from the standpoint of what changed during the editing process, we brought into sharper focus that we all have a daily, comfortable routine in life, and that stepping out of that "comfort zone" is what matters. This case took me out of that small town comfort zone.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
BILL: By far the smartest thing I did was to simply ask for help. I asked our Cedartown City Commissioners at a regular meeting to "borrow" the fire truck with a 100' ladder to shoot the ending scene of the movie. They were so accommodating, as was everyone I asked for anything.
Our superior court judges allowed me to use the courthouse for three straight days, ten hours per day, uninterrupted, for the trial scenes. An 1800 plantation home was the residence of our former district attorney and was used for most of Fred Thompson’s scenes.
The dumbest thing I did was to underestimate the importance of the audio/sound equipment and crew. While I had a great cinematographer from Hollywood in Caroline Clonts, the sound I paid for in post with ADR work and other headaches.
Fortunately, Fred Story of Concentrix sound design out of Charlotte, North Carolina saved me. Fred Story also wrote the original music score, which I think is one of the best parts of the film. Fred is another one of the great contributors to this film. A brilliant composer.
And, finally, what did you learn from making this feature that you will take to other projects?
BILL: I learned from making this film that preproduction is very important and will streamline production. I also learned that good actors make all the difference. I further learned that preparing as much as you can BEFORE you say "lights, camera, action," is critical to costs, production, and editing.
Finally, I learned that telling a story through the medium of film allows the director the freedom to tell his story on his terms, and I am proud to say I did that with A Larger Life. Not having "outside" money gave me the freedom to tell Pauline deans story. I loved every minute of it.
Thank you for the questions and I am hopeful that this film will see a wider audience. There are something like two million Americans turning 65 years old every week, and elder abuse and neglect in all settings must be guarded against. This film reflects how bad it can get.