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Jim Winters (Anthony LaPaglia) is a gardener who prefers a quiet and orderly life, especially since his family is anything but. His son Gabe (Aaron Stanford) is planning to leave his girlfriend for Florida, while younger son Pete (Mark Webber) has retreated into a private world of anger and disappointment. Jim can only watch as his sons make disastrous decisions, and it's only when he meets his new neighbor Molly (Allison Janney) that Jim finds a way to deal with his life and his family's future. Feature debut for writer/director Josh Sternfeld.
 

 The Seven Steps

In May of 2003, I had the opportunity to direct a film of my first feature screenplay, a family drama called Winter Solstice. Anthony LaPaglia plays Jim Winters, a landscaper in American Suburbia, who's trying to keep his family intact despite the natural changes occurring in his life. His older son is leaving home, his younger son is becoming rebellious, and his romantic feelings for a new neighbor, played by Allison Janney, force him to grow again and stumble towards love, in middle age. Ultimately, I think it's a story about how we conquer fear, how we communicate with our families, and the different ways that men and women express themselves.

The entire process took five years and three months—from the day I started writing to the day we sold the film to Paramount Classics. It was a marathon, and my memories of the process run the spectrum from agony to ecstasy. However, with the film now done and awaiting release, I find myself in a new, flattering situation—going to parties and having other aspiring filmmakers ask me how I did it. Although Winter Solstice was my first feature film, I now realize I've made one more than tons of people who would like to. I'm a young guy, and life is long, but I have learned a couple things about the filmmaker's marathon. I learned the seven steps.

STEP 1:
THE IDEA
This is the fun part. Let your mind roam, whenever and wherever. I developed Winter Solstice mainly on the subway to and from my job uptown. As for topics, some people say a marketing hook or trendy subject makes the day. Unfortunately, Karma dictates that any person who starts with only a desire to make something trendy or marketable is doomed to failure, mockery, and a wallflower existence on the periphery of the Good Life. Better to develop something that gets your blood flowing.

Good news: Step 1 is by far the easiest.
Bad news: It never gets this good again.

STEP 2:
THE SCRIPT
Things get rough in a hurry with Step 2. You probably have a job, which relegates writing to your spare time. Staying focused is always the hard part, especially if you always get new, seemingly better ideas, or if you want to maintain your social life. Lucky for me I'm a bit obsessive, and didn't want to write anything else until the Winters family story was finished.

If you do have time to write, go home and start. The first half hour is always the worst. That's when every insecurity you have gathers around, points at you, and laughs heartily. Just keep typing; they shut up after a while.

STEP 3:
FINANCING
Yep, this is where everyone turns back. The difficulties of fundraising are so well documented, I won't join the chorus. I don't have much advice for selling yourself, and neither does anyone else. Supposedly Dale Carnegie wrote a decent book. All I'll say is—genuine confidence and passion go much further than you think.

STEP 4:
THE SHOOT
Amazing. You're going to shoot a movie. If you get this far, you are truly hardcore and have my sincere respect. Be prepared for some mood swings, both positive and negative. And while the rollercoaster rolls on, be prepared to make twelve decisions at once—the prop truck is late, can we use this instead? where goes the dolly? when do I say this line? can we shoot A instead of B? does it have to be night? does it have to be here? can he stand to the left?….

Take care in choosing cast and crew; filmmaking involves serious physical labor and sincere, emotional acting—none of which you'll be doing. My cast and crew on Winter Solstice was an absolute dream, and I can't wait to hire them all again.

STEP 5:
EDITING
Time to get some sleep, correct your eating habits, and call back your friends. In the cutting room, I learned to trust my editor's judgment. She didn't have my production war stories; she just wanted to make the best movie possible. That's what you want in an editor: a talented storyteller with no memories of the shoot.

STEP 6:
WILL ANYONE SEE IT?
Who cares? No, just kidding. Usually it's the fear of Step 6 that scares away anyone not broken by Step 3. The world is filled with film festivals and distribution companies, but it's still incredibly difficult. As to why, I say forget the analysis—it's a waste of time, and there's too much work to do. Hit the streets, show your film everywhere you can, and drink up each screening like wine.

Now, this is easier said than done. A cavalry of people, lead by your mother, will surround you and tell you how exciting this all is. And then ask you about your excitement level. And of course you're excited, but if you're ambitious like me, behind the smiles lurk the questions—who will buy this? who will see this? will I get any reviews? will they be good?…until the anxiety reaches a crescendo…why did I do this?…and thank God, because it leads to the last step.

STEP 7:
ANSWER THAT QUESTION
There are approximately two hundred reasons not to make a film, and only one reason to go forward with The Marathon. If you're like me, one is enough. I know how it must look, me with Winter Solstice sold and hitting theaters, talking about the "romantic artist life." But when I first sat down to write, I had no idea what would happen. I only knew what I wanted: to tell the story of a suburban family of men, each of whom takes their first steps out of the shadows into the light.

I just crossed my first finish line, and I'm still catching my breath. And for those people contemplating this life, I will say the same thing I say at every party:
Keep going, it's worth it. It is absolutely worth it.