Brick Walls and Breakthroughs

We slave and slave toward a goal. Or, maybe we slave and throw up our hands. Then, hopefully, we get inspired again and re-join the race. Often, these goals are big and hard to define. Make a movie. How does one do that, anyway?

I’m finding it’s good to celebrate the victories—little and not so little—along the way. Making a movie, I’m finding, is a series of breakthroughs until a critical mass is reached and the train that is that movie leaves the station. I haven’t blogged in a while because I’ve been in the midst of several breakthroughs. Here is one that, for me, was like being blessed by the pope.

I am directing a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s KING HENRY IV, PART 1. For those of you not familiar with the play and its relevance to our current political climate, please read Arianna’s terrific article of June 02, 2004. As I’ve been putting the project together, the one person I’ve wanted to talk to most is Kenneth Branagh. Besides being a terrific director and actor, he is responsible for the recent revolution of Shakespeare on film. So, I decided to write him a letter.

Long story short, I wrote the best letter of my life and sent it to him via his manager. Off it went into the void of unanswered letters and, nice as his management was, despite my repeated follow-ups I could tell my request had landed in the circular file. Faced with a brick wall, I had some good fortune on another front. An Oscar-nominated actress agreed to meet with me on another project. She lives in London.

Well, I decided that if I were going to London, I would do everything appropriate in my power to get a meeting with Mr. Branagh. Still no help from the manager, so I asked all of my British friends for some kind of production office information. He’s a busy man working on lots of different things, I reasoned, there had to be an office somewhere that I could fax a new letter to.

Finally, I got a production office phone number. By this time, I was in New York City, a week out from my London trip. It was hard to print the fax, find an international dialing fax machine, and even get anyone on the phone with the time difference. When I did find a fax machine to send from, the number I dialed would just ring and ring. And all of this was happening in the midst of a busy trip filled with meetings. Finally, I got the fax number, sent the fax, and started following up.

No response.

I was ready to throw in the towel because I am not a stalker, rather a filmmaker who is extremely persistent. But, I decided to try one last time. At 5:30am from Newark Airport while waiting for my London flight, I called one last time… and got through. Mr. Branagh was considering meeting with me filmmaker to filmmaker. At midnight when I got to my London lodgings, I had an email telling me where to go at 5pm the next day.

He graciously met with me for forty-five minutes. I had the once in a lifetime experience of meeting with a hero of mine about a mutual love, directing Shakespeare on film. Here is to celebrating breakthroughs.