The New York Times recently ran an article on the fact that in these times, good old American optimism is stronger than ever. There seems to be no place for old-fashioned curmudgeons like W.C. Fields and Fran Lebowitz in the post-war, lay-off stricken US of A. A good cinematic example of the American feel-good attitude is Rebecca Bagley-Cooke’s debut feature The Chester Story. Rechristened A Touch of Fate to appeal to the international TV market , the film is a plea for second chances and spotting the silver lining on every cloud. Bagley’s next feature is less upbeat. Shooting Livien is a dark tale of a John Lennon impersonator who doesn’t know where he stops and where Lennon takes over. Bagley plans to start shooting in September with Trudie Styler, Matthew Rhys and Evan Dando (soundtrack) on board.
Thessa Mooij: A Touch of Fate had its world premiere in Wilmington, NC last March. What’s next?
Rebecca Bagley-Cook: The US distributor wants to bring it to audiences as a date movie, whereas I always saw it as a feel-good movie. A film like A Touch of Fate is hard to appeal to the average guy, other than Teri Hatcher – they ALL love her. It’s feel-good, it has a message of hope, happiness, love and fate. That’s hard to sell to a typical male audience – unless they’re going with their wife or girlfriend. We’re now going to try to release it in Boston at the end of the summer, where myself and most of my film’s production company are from.
So how did you end up shooting your film in the South, in Wilmington, NC?
By the time we had raised the money, it was almost winter. I had wanted to shoot in New Hampshire because the story was set there. But my producer said shooting in New Hampshire would change the whole feeling: it was going to be cold, it wasn’t going to look like spring. I was heartbroken, but I also didn’t want to wait another six months to shoot. I found North Carolina online, because at the time New York, LA and Wilmington were the three major shooting locations in the country. We lost some locations because big budget productions like The Sisterhood of YaYas (sic) could pay six times what we paid.
Did you find yourself having to adapt the script because of the new location?
The majority of the cast is from the South, so they had the mannerisms that I could have created, but not with the same kind of authenticity. For a writer, it’s difficult to get the Southern accent right. I had to do a couple of rewrites when we went down there to suit the location. I didn’t know how to use the accents. The hardest part for me was to adjust my mindset from New England to beautiful draping trees in the South. I had wanted to recreate New England there, like they did in Dawson’s Creek, which was also shot in Wilmington. But once I got there, I felt there was such an undeniable sense of the South around me that I had to go with the environment rather than fight it. In independent film, half the battle is to compromise.
Was it a conscious decision then, to go with Southern actors?
We managed to get Teri Hatcher through ICM, an LA-based agency. The rest of the casting didn’t happen until eight weeks before the shoot. A local casting agent told us of some LA-based actors with local roots who happened to be in town, so we found Robert Trevelier [who plays the male lead] and David Andrews [who plays his brother] that way. The actress Andrea Powell, who is New York-based but has a house in Chapel Hill, almost fell through the cracks. She submitted herself to the New York and the local casting agents, but we only heard of her because she contacted us directly.
What is your next project about?
It’s very dark; the antithesis of A Touch of Fate. Shooting Livien is about a struggling musician with an uncanny resemblance to John Lennon and a family history of insanity. He goes through this downward spiral where he is loved for playing beautiful renditions of Lennon songs and he realises that’s actually all the audience wants from him. He starts to wonder where he ends and where John Lennon begins.
Why John Lennon?
Because I never understood the fascination. I never got it. Finally I saw a documentary and I was so blown away by his power. To me he seemed like the quintessential tortured artist. Yoko Ono owns all the rights to the story, so I can’t do a straightforward biopic. So I decided to write a story about someone who’s obsessed with Lennon, as most musicians are. I was fascinated by the process in which actors are in character and become themselves again. How do you figure out that line of who you really are?
The creative process behind rock music is notoriously hard to capture on film.
I went to a lot of rock clubs downtown, where I observed a lot of people. Our music supervisor is one of my best friends, so I really witnessed first hand what the New York rock scene is about. The actor who plays Livien is Adam Pascal, who is in Aida on Broadway at the moment. His son’s name is Lennon! Adam can help me tell the story about a musician. It IS hard to make music films. We went through a massive debate whether to approach big stars. One of my producers figured that established musicians wouldn’t want to go with a director they don’t know. From there we went to big actors who didn’t have any music experience. Along came Adam Pascal. He’s being wanting to get into films for a while. He’s been on Broadway for about ten years.
When are you shooting?
Hopefully in September. We’ve also got Trudie Styler, Sting’s wife, in a role. When we met her, she asked a lot of production-related questions and then she said ‘wait, I’m not supposed to think like a producer on this one, I’m supposed to be an actor’. We have another British actor, Matthew Rhys, who played in the stage production of The Graduate in London, opposite Kathleen Turner. We’re in talks with Evan Dando to do the score. Right now, we’re really trying to get the shooting off the ground. A Touch of Fate has given us that opportunity; we can tell people we made a film that sold [to Sky Movies, HBO Asia and Greek television] even on a small level.