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 My First Film

All the press releases for A Home at the End of the World will state that this is my first film. For all intents and purposes, this is true. I have been working steadily on and off Broadway as a theatre director for over fifteen years, and Michael Cunningham’s beautiful adaptation of his novel is my first feature film. But there is another film that surely must qualify as my first film: The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia—not the 1981 Kristy McNichol flick—but rather an earlier work—shot during the summer of 1973 in Rockville, Maryland. A little background: On Bastille Day of that year, I had my Bar Mitzvah at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, an event most notable for my lyric soprano rendering of the prayers, and my speech in which I drew significant parallels between the Fall of Jericho and the Nixon Administration. Heretofore a strictly secular Jew, I got it into my head that I needed to have a Bar Mitzvah. My atheist lefty father was less than convinced of this necessity, but that’s another story….

Anyway, as a kid I was obsessed with movies. Particularly the old ones I’d watch religiously on Channel 5. In sixth grade, I had played Alfalfa in a classroom movie based on the Our Gang shorts, and I thought I’d entered heaven on earth. I wanted to get back that feeling, so I begged my parents for a movie camera for my Bar Mitzvah. And lo and behold, a Super 8, single lens with zoom, from Sears was mine. I shot everything in sight, trying out all the tricks the little camera could do. That summer, there was a top 40 song by Vicki Lawrence of The Carol Burnett Show that was constantly insisting itself into my consciousness, and one day it hit me: “That would make a great movie!” It had a strong narrative, a realistic setting that suburban Washington could double for, and a small enough cast that with some inventive costuming could provide excellent roles for my kid brother Kevin, my cousins Steve and Paul, and my best friend Richard Semsker. We prepped for at least an hour, casting and scouting locations, and started shooting in the early afternoon. I was the director, cinematographer, camera man, designer of sets and costumes, and executive producer. I even had a cameo as a ketchup-stained corpse (Kevin was the DP for that shot). Once we completed principal photography in the early evening, I sent the second unit (me!) out to get some random shots of lamps switching on and off in rhythm to the chorus of the song: “That’s the night that the lights went out in Georgia / That’s the night that they hung an innocent man…” Between my house, my cousins’ house and the Semsker’s basement, I had enough footage to cut together a pretty dazzling montage of chandeliers, wall sconces, table lamps and garage light bulbs, all turning off on cue. The wrap party was awesome.

Well, the stock was sent to the lab (Peoples Drug Store) and was returned about a week later. I spent several hours at my editing machine, cutting and splicing and turning the handles to match the time of my 45 which was playing over and over again on my portable stereo. We had a few test screenings to determine exactly how far into the introduction of the song to start the projector to get the sync right.

That night was the premiere. The response was overwhelming. We had a great opening weekend, with many return audiences. It was a hit. Of course, I had no idea I’d been making a comedy until that first show, but the laughter was so full of love, I embraced it completely. Nor did I have any idea that thirty years later I would be making my first film with an astonishing cast and crew of devoted and beloved people who would make me feel as at home with them as I was with my real family when I made my first film.

 

Director Michael Mayer's debut feature chronicles the lives of Bobby (Colin Farrell) and Jonathan (Dallas Roberts), inseparable from the moment they meet in 1960s Ohio. Bobby is Jonathan's connection to a larger world, while Jonathan's family offers Bobby stability he's never known. Twenty years later, they reunite in New York where, with free-spirited Clare (Robin Wright Penn), they invent a new family. But can they navigate the unusual love triangle they've created and stay friends? Screenplay by Michael Cunningham (The Hours), based on his novel. Co-starring Sissy Spacek.