Jim Fleigner (Director - 'Rounding First')
'Who's On First?! Youthful Talent, Of Course!'
'Rounding First' is about twelve-year olds Joe, Tiger and Chris, who break out of Little League baseball camp to secretly trail Joe’s parents, who have lied to Joe about a mysterious trip they’re taking. The boys must piece together clues, avoid their parents, dodge the police, trust a stranger – and not destroy their friendships in the process – during an adventurous road trip in their last summer before junior high.
Hangin’ Hams Productions LLC have just released this independent family drama on DVD.
Chatting recently with director Jim Fleigner, and noting that from the poster art to the central leads there was a striking comparison to be made to Stephen King's very own coming-of-age movie, I wondered if this was inevitable and unfair, or confusing and unfounded? "A lot of people have said that 'Rounding First' is 'Stand By Me' for the current generation of 30- and 40 somethings who grew up in the late 70s/early 80s. And I think when you weigh all of the pros and cons, I’m fine with the comparison. First off, let me say that SBM is a fantastic film – one of the very best. And I don’t think our film is as good as that."
"But as an indie filmmaker, you are always looking for ways to entice your prospective audience in five seconds or less. Otherwise, there are just too many other films for people to turn to. So if mentioning a film that has some thematic connection to ours is going to give people a frame of reference, then by all means I’m for it. The drawbacks are when people say “it’s not as good as SBM” – we’ll of course not because they had twenty times the money we had to produce and market it!"
"'Rounding First' is not the easiest project to describe. It’s not “high concept,” as the geniuses in Hollywood like to say. So we are forced to find other ways to make people aware of our film in a time-efficient way. During the four years since I created this project, I have tried dozens of different ways to describe (and hopefully generate interest for) the film to other people. Ultimately, you let the market tell you what works and what doesn’t. I could have resisted all comparisons to SBM, but in doing so I might have won the battle but lost the war in terms of building awareness. We have enough obstacles to overcome – I don’t need to self-impose one more."
Was this 'mystery trip' that 'Joe's parents' took something that actually happened back then for you as a child? "No, not at all. I did try hitchhiking once at that age, but it didn’t get very far. Some older kids driving a car stopped and mocked me and a schoolmate for trying. I was too scared to get into the car anyway. Besides, I didn’t have an urgent need to get somewhere a hundred miles away like Joe did. A couple of viewers have criticized us for sending these boys on such a “reckless” journey, but my feeling is that they reacted as anyone would – desperate times call for desperate measures."
"Although I never participated in a secret 100 mile journey, I do remember that feeling of loneliness that the boys in the film feel: crying when my parents argue, mad when I felt they were hiding stuff from me. Perhaps it was to protect me, but try telling that to a twelve year old. Kids are generally smarter than adults give them credit."
How fun was it putting in all those '80s pop-culture references - and did you have to dig deep for any of them? "Extremely fun. It was great to just brainstorm an initial list of whatever came to mind, and then spend some time online rediscovering the rest. We had so many of them, I could never use them all. Some are really obvious (JR Ewing), some are somewhat subtle (chanting USA! USA!) and some are quite subtle (spider eggs in Bubble Yum). It is always interesting to see which ones people pick up on and which ones sail right over the heads."
"There was one reference that I really wanted to include and as we went through production I completely forgot – yellow ribbons tied around trees for the hostages in Iran. That made such an indelible impression on me in 1980 and I thought it would be such an easy yet effective touch in our film. About a month after production wrapped, I remembered and I cursed myself out for forgetting."
How long did it take you to complete your writing on this script – and having now seen it on the big screen is there anything you would change? "Writing is usually the hardest part for me – I didn’t consider myself to be a writer at all when I began as a filmmaker about ten years ago. But writing is a skill like any other skill – the more you do it, the better you get at it."
"I’ve written five feature length scripts, and 'Rounding First' was easily the quickest. I was to a complete first draft in about a month, and that first draft was probably 85% of the finished film. That is extraordinarily fast – my other scripts took 6 – 12 months with many more rewrites."
"I think part of it was I created a brief written outline of the script in advance (which was a new technique for me), but I also think it just “flowed”. One of the axioms about screenwriting is you should aspire for “simple stories and complex characters”. I really tried to embrace that on this project and I think it made for a more efficient, less frustrating process and a better product."
"As for changing stuff in retrospect, there are a million imperfections in the writing, directing, editing, casting that I wish I could go back and change, but that is easy to say. I think it was Spielberg who said, “the only time at which your film will be perfect is right before you yell “action” on the first day. So long as it’s in your imagination, it is flawless. After that, forget it."
When Rascal (Mike Dean) says, "Now doesn't matter when you're twelve," being as that is a true-to-life statement, was it something you actually heard a 12 year-old say at some stage, perhaps? "I wish I had, because I sure felt that way – then and now. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Rounding First (which I had also explored earlier in my short film From the Top of the Key) was to create a drama from a young person’s point of view. As an adult, it is so easy to forget that time in your life when everything is new and different and confusing and perhaps troubling. By keeping the point of view on these boys, it makes it easier to remember that being an adult creates a tremendous amount of hindsight, but we all start without it and life experience is just that – it must be experienced rather than imparted upon you by an adult. That is why adult experiences largely don’t matter to a twelve year old."
Finally, and knowing that this film was a personal labor of love for you, please tell us how you managed to get it to the point of playing on the big screens? Who backed you, who pulled out, and who asked for a part in the movie along with their donated money? "Wow, that has a long, tortured question! I’ve spent four years working full-time on 'Rounding First,' and it has unquestionably been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Until I did it, I had absolutely no appreciation for how difficult it would be, particularly as a true indie film. I had completed three award-winning short films in the years leading up to this project and I thought those would prepare me well, but they really didn’t. From the moment I committed to make the film (meaning I accepted investor money back in 2003), I’ve felt like I was holding onto the tail of a humongous tiger and I dare not let go for fear of being eaten alive."
"There were so many seemingly insurmountable obstacles, but the process broke down into roughly five phases: writing the script, raising the money, preproduction, shoot, post-production, sales and marketing. Each part (with the possible exception of the first) was overwhelming beyond belief. There were a few nights during production where I got into my car and planned to drive all night and disappear – not call anyone (not even my wife), become a fugitive and let the courts handle all of the lawsuits from a film being abandoned in mid-production. That felt like a better option than continuing."
"But in each phase, we had disasters but then we also had “miracles”, for lack of a better word. We did have one of our largest investors pull their money one week before production began, but then we had 38 people (many of whom I did not know when this began) invest money. So what do you focus on? The 38 people or the one person who made my life hell? My initial instinct was to focus on the gap that has been created, but that ignored the contributions that the 38 people made."
"Same thing with production. We had some crew members who went out of their way to try to screw us – stealing $1000 lights, demanding $20,000 in union meal penalties, etc. But then we had some crew members who built a huge tent in the middle of a downpour just so we could finish our shoot that night. So the film was like life in that you can focus on the positive or the negative."
"I think for me, I don’t yet have the distance to see as many of the positives in the experience as I probably should. Also, the film hasn’t yet come out, and the film’s reception will be a fairly large indicator of how I will ultimately view the experience. Not the only indicator, but a pretty big one. Some artists talk about how they don’t care whether their art is well-received or even seen. I don’t understand that. You know that saying “if a tree falls but nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” My perspective is “if a film is made but nobody sees it, was it ever really made?” Of course, the physical answer is “yes,” but I made Rounding First so that it could be seen and appreciated for what it is. And I hope plenty of people do."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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