Jim Fleigner : INTERVIEW

On the morning of the 9th of February 2007, Jim Fleigner, writer/director of Rounding First, took the trouble to get in to his office extra early , despite having had very little sleep the previous few nights due to a maddening schedule , to take my long distance call to him from Singapore, which was 16 hours ahead of him in Los Angeles.

I really appreciated Jim Fleigner for that, as it was already way past midnight for me , and I was still nursing a nasty bug that had me laid up in bed for the 2 days prior to my interview with Jim.

The two hour interview that followed made it all worthwhile . Passionate and candid, honest and open, Jim gave a thought-provoking glimpse into the difficult world of independant filmmaking .

Jim, how did you get into film directing? What was your journey like?

Jim Fleigner : In retrospect, the journey was quite long. I can't say that I knew, from the moment that I was born, that I wanted to be a film director, but I did have a passion for the creative process. Probably the first event, for me, was when I discovered acting in junior high school. I was in eighth grade and I saw a school play, and immediately fell in love with the prospect of being on stage and having an emotional impact on people. From the time I was thirteen until I was eighteen, I was acting quite a bit, and I actually became pretty good at it. I briefly flirted with the notion of being an actor professionally, but being the first person in my family to graduate from college, and I did pretty well at school, so my parents basically said "You're not going to be an actor …. You're going to get a real job." <laughs> They were totally right, of course, but I always had that interest. So after I went to college and worked in the business world for a number of years, I was enjoying it intellectually in some ways, but I wasn't feeling really incredibly passionate about it.

So when I went to graduate school, it was with a goal of working in some capacity in the entertainment industry. I didn't know, at that juncture, that I wanted to be a movie director, but I did know that I wanted to be a part of the process in some way. In my first job after graduate school, I worked at Paramount Pictures, but it was on the business side of the business, it wasn't creative. That was interesting for a while, but I quickly realized that there was a very significant divide between the business side and the creative side of the film business.

I wasn't particularly happy in my job, and while I was trying to figure out what it was that I wanted to do next, I woke up one morning with stomach pains, and within 48 hours my appendix had burst and I almost died on the operating table before surgery saved me. That was a clarifying event for me, because I realized that I was 29 years old at that time, and life is short, and I'd better get on and do whatever it was that I was meant to do.

That event made me realize that there were things that I was more passionate about than what I was doing, so I decided that even though I did not want to act any more, I really wanted to try to be involved with the creative side of the film business. So I started writing scripts with an eye towards picking one short script and trying to create it. So I cast all of my friends in my first short film, and it was terrible, but I learned a lot from it. I followed that with my second short film, which was From the Top of the Key and I took all the lessons learned from my first short film and applied it to that, and "From the Top of the Key" ended up doing much better than I ever expected it would critically, and that gave me the confidence to say "Hey, maybe I do have some stories that people want to hear about." That really gave me the push to say that I should try to make a serious effort to be a film director.

 

How did your the short films Wingman, From the Top of the Key and the Last Writes prepare you for Rounding First?

Jim Fleigner : I think along some dimensions it prepared me well, having gone through the experience, there are just things that you learn that prove to be really helpful. Things as basic as working with a crew, or talking with actors, or having a shot list, or being prepared mentally for the unexpected, which happens often in making films, whether shorts or full length films. But having said that, the scope of Rounding First was so much bigger than a short film. There were just challenges that you had to deal with in a feature length film that you never deal with in a short film. I'm really glad that I did the short films because I feel that I was more prepared, having done them, as opposed to if I had never done a short film before, but at the same time, stepping up and doing a feature length film is a whole other ball of wax, and so along some dimensions, it was as though I was doing it for the very first time. Which was both good and bad, because it was a very gratifying experience along some dimensions but it was a very stressful and frustrating experience along other dimensions.

 

I found Last Writes particularly well made, I thought that it was a brilliant short film. It felt like you had been doing it a long time. You went the independent route for your three short films as well as your feature film , multitasking as writer, director and editor … was that a conscious choice of yours? Did you do it because you wanted to have full creative control over your films?

Jim Fleigner : I guess so, although some of it was by choice and some of it was by necessity. When you are starting out as a filmmaker, unless you go to film school, the reality is that you will not necessarily have a lot of people around you who are going to be willing to collaborate and take on all these various roles. I also knew that I wanted to learn, and that learning takes time. I knew that the projects were going to be a series of trials and errors and I had my own time line mentally in place. I was interested in the writing process, the directing process and the editing process, so you could say that at some level it was by choice, and I guess you could even say there was an element of control that motivated me to do that because I always felt that I was willing to work harder than practically anybody else that I know and I was raised on the premise that if you work hard, you know, things will work out in the end. And so, I think that because I wanted these projects to be successful, there was a part of me that had the attitude of, well, if I succeed, then I'll know that I was the primary reason why , but if I fail, then I have nobody else to blame but myself. I am comfortable with that trade off, and that is very unique in Hollywood, because a lot of people look to avoid responsibility, whereas I really wanted to embrace that, I think in part because I was just comfortable with that.

But at the same time, when you are just starting out, the process is much longer, and it's probably not as efficient as it could be, and I was willing to put in the time to overcome those inefficiencies, but I wasn't convinced that there was anybody else who would be willing to do it with me. I wanted it to be right, and if that meant staying up all night just to make it right, I was totally prepared to do that, but I wasn't convinced a lot of other people would be willing to do that. So I guess at the end of the day, some of it was by choice, and some of it was by necessity.

 

Why the independent route? Could you have done it any other way? How do directors get a studio to back them up in the first place if they have not done a feature film before? How do you get your foot in to making a studio film?

Jim Fleigner : Not very easily <laughs> It's really hard, and I think that, quite honestly, that's one of the primary reasons why people like myself make films independently to start. Getting a studio to back a first timer is a bit of a Catch 22, because most films produced by a studio are so expensive, and so risky just because of that amount of money, that they want do anything to hedge or to minimize that risk. And that starts with hiring someone who has been there before, who has demonstrated success in prior projects.

So the chances that I would have gotten to direct a feature length film were very, very small, and I knew that. I felt that making the short films would help to demonstrate that I could make a feature length film. But even with all the success I had with the short films, that still wasn't enough to convince a studio. So I came to the realization about five years ago, that if I was going to be able to direct a feature length film, I was going to have to do it on my own. And that meant that I was going to have to go out and find and attract the money, the capital, in order to make Rounding First a reality.

Before I became a film maker, I did not realize what a profound statement that is, because the skills that are required to go out and raise capital , which is really what a producer does, those skills are completely different than the skills that make for a good director, or a good writer. And so, by having chosen to raise that capital myself, you're really wearing two hats that are almost always worn by two different people, because the skills for raising capital are completely different than the skills that are necessary to tell a good story. But in the light of my business background, it made sense to me that I would have as good a chance as anyone to raise that capital on my own for a first time director, which also happened to be me! To make a film is not an easy process under any set of circumstances, to make it independently is particularly difficult.

 

Each of your films have dealt with totally different themes, how do you get your ideas as screenwriter ?

Jim Fleigner : The ideas can come from anywhere, really. From the Top of the Key … the inspiration for that story came from something I heard on the radio one day, combined with the fact that I knew these two boys, who were the two actors in the film, in real life and I just wanted to do a story that involved them. The concept for Wingman was based on a real life event that had happened with me. But Last Writes on the other hand was completely fictitious, and unlike the other two stories which were a little bit more personal, Last Writes was a conscious attempt on my part to write something that was very mainstream, very funny, but also very contained, because I wanted to have a directing sample that I thought the Hollywood studio system would relate to, and so that came about just from a desire on my part to say, let's create something that's really funny, regardless of whether it's something that's personal or not .

Interestingly though, I've spent a lot of time thinking about, well, what's the common theme in all of my films, and is there a common theme? I actually do believe that with the exception of Wingman, if you look at Rounding First, From the Top of the Key and Last Writes, there is a unifying theme, which is that they all deal with relationships between parents and children. Now sometimes the treatment of that is very serious, like it is in From the Top of the Key, sometimes it's very funny, like it is on Last Writes, and then in the case of Rounding First, it's a combination of comedy and drama. But they all deal with the question of how do you interact with your parents or your children or your siblings.

And, I think that for me, it's actually not an accident because I personally believe that the family unit is unlike any other relationship that we as human beings have. We treat our family members differently -- sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always differently -- than we treat anybody else that we come across in our life, and that is very interesting to me. Why do we do that, and to what extent will we treat our child differently, will we treat our parents differently? Sometimes we'll go to the nth degree to protect them, and to love them, and then sometimes we'll punish them or treat them in a way that we'd never consider treating anybody else in our lives, and that's one of the things that make us human beings, actually, that paradox. I didn't realize it consciously when I was first writing those stories, but I actually do think that those questions motivated me when I was making my short films, and they absolutely motivated me when I was making Rounding First.

With Rounding First, I started from the premise of asking myself two fundamental questions, which were, as parents, when is it okay to lie to your children? Because in real life, we know that there are some times when it's okay to lie, if you have the other person's best interest at heart. And the second question was, as a child, when is it okay to disobey your parents? Simplistically, we're told as children never to disobey our parents, but as we get older, and we understand more about our existence, we realize that there are times when it's justified to disobey our parents. In the case of Rounding First, the kids disobey because they're either incredibly hurt, or they're incredibly uncertain, or they're feeling very vulnerable. And in those instances, the risk of punishment associated with disobeying is worth it to them. And so, in all of those instances, they all deal with issues that I think are universal, and they are issues that are of personal interest to me.


Jim Fleigner directing young Soren Fulton on the set of Rounding First

What would you say is your hallmark as director-screenwriter?

Jim Fleigner : I like to think of my work as being heart-felt. I also know what it's not, which is, I guess, the anti-hallmark, which is that I try to stay away from gratuitous sex, violence, profanity or drug use. Which is not to say that those things aren't appropriate for filmmaking, but they are just not stuff that I'm personally interested in. Because I think there are a lot of other things that are interesting out there to talk about, I don't need or want to resort to those tools.

Another hallmark of mine is that I'm not afraid to deal with complex issues, or perhaps even morally ambiguous issues. And I also think a hallmark is I really like to walk the line in my stories between stories that are accessible to a large segment of the population, but they're also intelligent, they don't always resort to the lowest common denominator. When I think of other filmmakers that I admire, they tend to adopt the same types of stories, people like Ron Howard, or Clint Eastwood, or Cameron Crowe, or Steven Soderbergh. All of these guys have mastered this notion of finding stories that are intelligent, but yet, they are really liked and seen by a lot of people, they are very accessible to billions of people, and those are the types of stories I really like, and I try to incorporate or choose stories and tell stories that walk that fine line.

 

If I were to ask you to name one film that has really influenced you or impacted you, what would you say that film is ?

Jim Fleigner : On a personal level, it would have to be The Godfather, and even though Coppola wasn't in my list of four, that film to me is just an amazing film, and I think the reason why, is that it's the perfect combination of story and technique. When you boil it all down, that film is really about family. It's about the lengths that someone will go to in order to protect his family, even if it means destroying himself in doing so. And as we just talked about a minute ago, that's incredibly interesting to me, because sometimes we do bad things in order to support noble goals, and supporting and protecting your family is one of the most noble goals that I can possibly think of. I think that the Godfather does that wonderfully.

The other thing that I really love about that film is that, just by listening to it, and seeing it, it doesn't look or sound like any other film. There's a uniqueness to that film, that you can see an image from it and immediately know what it is, or you can hear a bit of the music from that film, and it just evokes a time and a place. It's what I always aspire to as a filmmaker. As a filmmaker, I want people to see Rounding First and say "Boy, I've never seen a film like that before…" It's story is unique, and the manner in which its told is unique, and that's what every filmmaker aspires to. That's one of the things I love about the Godfather, because there's no other film like it. If I ever got to make a film that was half as good, I would consider my life as a filmmaker complete.

 

Sharp-eyed fans will notice that the name Joe Koerner appears in the end credits of all four of your films, as a pseudonym for your cameo appearances in your three short films, and as the name of the main character as played by Soren Fulton in Rounding First . It is obviously a name that is special to you. Could you tell us a little more about the name?

Jim Fleigner : You're very perceptive. <laughs> Joe Koerner is actually the name of my great grandfather. I chose it in some cases because I needed a pseudonym. The first time I used it in From the Top of the Key, I didn't want people to know that I was an extra in the film. In fact, I wasn't even supposed to be the extra in the film, but the actor who had agreed to play that role dropped out the day that we were shooting , and so I needed somebody to fill that role, so I said, "I'll do it… I'll stand there." But I didn't want people to know that it was me, because I didn't want people to focus on me as an actor when I wanted them focused on the story. So I needed a false name, and Joe Koerner just came to me that day, and a lot of times I've just used it out of habit, or because I was just lazy, I guess <laughs> But the fact that it has a personal connection to me is kind of nice.

In the case of using it in Rounding First, I liked it because there was a simplicity to that name that I thought was appropriate to that character. Joe is among the simplest names that we have, and for the surname, I didn't want a surname that drew a lot of attention to itself, or that was obviously ethnic, I just wanted something that was very understated and had a certain connotation to it of simplicity and durability, and it felt entirely appropriate to use it as the character's name.

 

What was your inspiration behind Rounding First? How much of it was autobiographical?

Jim Fleigner : There were a lot of inspirations to Rounding First, some of which were purely emotional and creative , but others that were practical . Speaking about the practical side for one minute, I wanted to be very conscious of what my first feature length film was going to be, because after all, you only get to make your first film once. I didn't know if I was ever going to get the opportunity to make another one, so if I was only going to make one, I wanted it to be a story that was representative of me. But I also wanted to make a film that I thought had a decent chance for success, and so there was a practicality involved in choosing Rounding First as my first feature length film as opposed to some of the other scripts that I had written. The reality is that family films are vastly underrepresented in the market place, and so my feeling was that, well, if I stay within this segment of the market, even if we don't have tens of millions of dollars to make the perfect family film, just the fact that people are really wanting family films, I thought would help us in the market place.

So there was that kind of practical consideration, but at the same time, I was very much inspired to make a film that fit into some of the hallmarks that we described earlier …. that it was about family, that it was heartfelt, that it had a certain complexity to it. In other words, it is a family film, but it's not …it's more emotionally and morally complex than the typical family film and that was interesting to me. I guess I was inspired by the fact that I grew up in the late 70s and the early 80s. There's an axiom in screenwriting, which is that you should write what you know, write something that you understand better than anybody. And I wanted to tell a story that only I could tell, and as a result, I wanted to evoke a time and a place that was influential to me as a person, which was that year right before I became a teenager, right before I discovered girls, right at that period of time when your friends are everything to you. They are your best friends. And so that was something I was very interested in tapping into.

As far as the degree to which the story is autobiographical, you know, there were definitely incidents in the film where I drew upon personal experiences. So for example, the opening, second scene in the film, when you see the boys re-gluing tickets to get into the carnival rides for free, I did that, and I got into trouble for it too, and so that was a very obvious example of my drawing on personal experiences. But you know, at the end of the day, the story is fictional, the concept of going on the road for a hundred miles, I did not do that. But the emotions that those boys were feeling in the film were very real to me. The notion of feeling alone, and vulnerable, and uncertain of your parents at that point in your life, I remember feeling that very deeply. And those emotions were things that I very much wanted to convey, and were inspired by in writing the story and eventually filming it.


Director Jim Fleigner with cast and crew on the set of Rounding First

How long did it take you to write Rounding First?

Jim Fleigner : The first draft of Rounding First came incredibly quickly, by my standards. Rounding First was the fifth feature length screenplay that I had written. The prior four screenplays probably took an average of 6-9 months just to get a first draft. In contrast, the first draft of Rounding First took about a month, and I would say that that first draft probably represented about 80 percent or so of what the finished script was, which was also notably different from my other scripts where you'd get the first draft done, and then it would take many, many months after that to get something that was very different from what you wrote in the first draft.

I think the reason why it came to me so quickly, the writing process for Rounding First, was really two-fold. One was that it was something that I felt very deeply and personally about, and I think sometimes it's just easy to write that. I also tried a technique on this particular script where I actually did an outline ahead of time, and figured out very explicitly the beginning, the middle and the end of the story, and I think that helped greatly in terms of sitting down and writing it.

 

One of the lines that you had Michael E Knight say, playing the father of Joe Koerner, was very controversial. That line went "When you are an adult, best friends don't mean squat." Just a while ago, you said that when you were coming of age, just before you became a teen, best friends were everything to you. So now that you are an adult, is that line from the film true for you, or was it just another line from a film?

Jim Fleigner : <laughs> I think that like most things in life, there is always an element of truth to it, but at the same time there are limitations as to how far you can take a statement like that. It's funny because that line that Michael E Knight gives stands in stark contrast to the line which Michael Dean gives towards the end of the film when he is being interrogated, when he says "Now doesn't matter when you're twelve." To my mind, those, those represent almost diametrically opposed points of view, because the point of view that you have as a child is not the same point of view that you have when you're an adult. It's not better or worse, but it is fundamentally different. The reality is that part of that experience of becoming an adult is exposed to different elements of life. Oftentimes when you're an adult, you don't really have best friends any more. The number of people that you are exposed to or that you interact with is exponentially larger, and your experiences are much larger and more expansive, and there is a complexity there in being an adult that doesn't lend itself as well to "I have this small circle of friends, and they are everything to me."

But at the same time, I feel like that truism often gets misunderstood and misapplied, as evidenced by John's comment to his son, which is very black or white, that best friends don't matter when you are an adult, because life is more complicated, that kind of the subtext. The reality is that life as a twelve year old is incredibly complex, but it's complex in a different way. And it's easy for parents to say to children, well, "you'll understand when you grow up." There is an element of truth to that too, that there's no substitute for experiencing life for yourself, as opposed to having people tell you what it is, but at the same time, as Michael Dean says at the end of the film, that doesn't matter when you're twelve years old, because when you're twelve years old, that's the reality that you're dealing with. And so it's really of small consolation to a twelve year old to hear your parents say "you'll understand when you get older."

I remember when my parents used to say that to me, that was a completely frustrating answer, that's not satisfactory at all, because who wants to wait twenty years to justify the emotions that you are feeling when you are twelve years old? Nobody does, and that is in part one of the reasons why Joe, Tiger and Chris disobey their parents, because they don't want to just do what their parents tell them, they want to experience life for themselves, and sometimes that means making mistakes. Of course that is completely at odds with parents who don't want to see their children make mistakes, because they probably made the same mistakes when they were a twelve years old, and perhaps they want to spare their children the pain. But the reality is, we all have to make mistakes, and feel pain, in order to be human beings. And so, John's comment, I think, is very honest, just like Michael Dean's comment is honest. They're not always true in every circumstance, but they are truthful from the point of view of the characters who are saying them.

 

Was the final film very close to your original vision for Rounding First?

Jim Fleigner : I think that in light of the numerous practical constraints that we had, it came as close to the original vision of my film as it ever could come. One of the curses of being a filmmaker is that the vision that you have in your head will never be fulfilled at some level, because your imagination is perfect, and reality is not perfect. I can't remember who said it, but some well-known director said that your film will never be as perfect as it is the day before your first day of shooting, because it is in your mind, in your imagination, and all that will happen after that is a series of deviations from that vision. And that's not bad, but that's just life, that's just the reality of it.

There are things in Rounding First, when I look back on it, that deviated from the original vision. Some of those things, if I had the opportunity to go back and do them again, I could have done them differently, but there are many, many things that I could not have, and that's just a part of the business that I work in, which is that in translating words on a page to images and sound and music and emotions and everything else, there's a transformation that occurs. The good news is that along the dimensions that were most important to me, I think that we came extraordinarily close to what my original vision or intentions were, which was to create a heartfelt story, that tackled some pretty complex issues from the point of view of three twelve year old boys, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

 

To most of the fans who have seen Rounding First, we would not want anything changed, because to us Rounding First is pretty much perfect. However, had you had a much bigger budget, would you have filmed anything differently in Rounding First ?

Jim Fleigner : I wouldn't have changed anything in terms of where we shot the film, or how we shot it creatively, but I know if we had more money, it would have afforded us more time. On independent films, the lack of time is the single biggest obstacle that you face. There were many instances when the lack of money, and as a result, time, forced us to make choices on the fly, where we didn't have enough time, or we didn't have enough film, so rather than getting an extra take of a crucial scene, or an alternate interpretation of a line, we had to make do with what we had, and I think that had we had more money, it would have given us the freedom to not concern ourselves about a lack of resource. It would have allowed us to get that last take that we wanted.

On a more practical note, if we had more money, I would have had the money to hire someone to produce the film instead of me doing it. <laughs> I produced this film because I had to, not because of I wanted to <laughs> I just wanted to direct, all the hard decisions that we had to make, and there were millions of them, I would have just as soon delegated that to someone else. Seriously. <laughs>


Director Jim Fleigner doubling up as Producer with a T Shirt to prove it !

It must have been really tough playing both roles of producer and director. It must have been much easier being writer/director than producer/director, because the latter two roles demand two totally different perspectives when making a film.

Jim Fleigner : There's no question about that. As a writer versus a director, in my opinion, the director is an extension of the writer, what the writer's original vision was. So that translation, at least for me, is relatively straightforward. But a producer's job, however, is to come at completing the project from a completely different place, so it's just extraordinarily difficult to have that conflict within a single person.

There was a practical tradeoff too with being both a director and a producer. I remember when we were shooting, we shot Rounding First over the course of six, six and a half weeks, and I would be director for twelve to fourteen hours a day, then when everybody else was going home, I would go to the production office and deal with producing-related issues for another two to six hours, then you'd go to sleep for a few hours, and then you'd get up and do the same thing all over again. And you'd shoot six days a week, and then on the seventh day, I would be editing the prior week's footage. And so, there was just the hard reality of the time when by necessity I was producing, was time that could have easily gone into preparing for the next day's shooting, or being better rested, you know, all of these things.

If we had had more money, I would have been able to hire someone to do all that stuff, somebody who was really, really good. Not only would they have been able to take those responsibilities off me, they would have done a better job at it then I did. Again, that's through no fault of mine, but they would have had a ton of experience, whereas I was kind of making it up as I went along. Being producer/director is not a model that I would recommend to anybody, but if you care about something, you do what you have to do.

Tell us why you went with Soren, Matt and Sam for the three young leads. What special qualities did you see in each of them?

Jim Fleigner : Let's start with the obvious. Soren, Matt and Sam are three of the most talented young actors working today, and we were extraordinarily fortunate to find them. Each one of them brought qualities that elevated their characters and the film. In addition, all three of them were consummate professionals, and gave tremendous performances under very difficult circumstances. Even if this had been a hundred million dollar film and they had every comfort in the world, these were difficult, difficult roles to play. The fact that they were so incredible under such challenging conditions was nothing short of miraculous, and it's to their credit.

Each one of them had special qualities. In the case of Soren, it was a thoughtfulness and a sensitivity and a vulnerability that was very nuanced and subtle, but which was so crucial to the role. From the first time that I auditioned Soren, along with scores of other young actors, I immediately knew that he was our Joe, it was so obvious to me.

In the case of Matt, he brought a playfulness, and an intensity, and an element of danger, and an ability to demonstrate extreme vulnerability, all in the same person, which is very rare. On a practical note, I remember vividly seeing his audition tape, and I was just so taken by his voice. He didn't sound like any of the other young men who auditioned, and that was striking to me, and was what caused me to pause and consider him for this role that was absolutely integral to the film.

In the case of Sam, he brought a humility and an enthusiasm that was infectious, and a wicked sense of humor that was just perfect for that role. Sam was a wonderfully positive influence on the set, because he was so genuinely happy to be there, and his enthusiasm as an actor and as a person was perfect for his character.

And so we got three tremendous individuals who also happened to be three tremendous actors, and when you brought them together as a team, it was so just so obvious to me that we had the makings of something that was really special.

 

Rounding First had so many emotionally intense scenes. Which scene was the most difficult for you as director and why? How did you prepare your actors for that scene?

Jim Fleigner : Probably the hardest for me personally was the scene in the jury room, when Tiger is crying, and John is crying. Obviously it was a very difficult scene as it was written on the page, but I remember the circumstances under which we shot it were extraordinarily difficult, and it was very emotional for me. I remember feeling that this was among the most important scenes in the film, and I cared about this scene deeply and I had a very clear idea as to what I wanted. It was so close that you could almost taste it, but the circumstances under which we had to shoot the scene were just so difficult, that I was so panicked that we wouldn't get there. That was the second to last day of the shoot, and I was physically and mentally exhausted, and I felt, we had come this far, and to not get it now would be a tragedy, and that was very, very difficult for me.

I remember that I was so insecure and vulnerable, that I went over to John and Matt and tried to give them directions, but I was largely incapable of doing so because I was crying so much. And I remember Matt <laughs> looking at me and saying, "Don't worry, Jim, this film is going to be a big success, and you're going to make a lot of money off of it." Which was such a mad comment to make at that moment <laughs> and I remember I went back to the monitor, and they just sat there and cried their eyes out in front of the camera, both John and Matt, and I was crying along with them.

I was so proud of that scene, because it was the best example of where the circumstances were so extreme, but yet when you needed it the most, everybody was able to give of themselves in a way that made the scene outstanding. That was a bad day, but at the end, it was good. I can look back on that day now and say that it was worth it, but when you're going through it, it was really hard to see that.

 

You worked with the extremely talented composer Jared DePasquale on two of your short films, From the Top of the Key and Last Writes , but you went with Ludek Drizhal for Rounding First , and it was an inspired choice. What made you go with Ludek for the film score to Rounding First ?

Jim Fleigner : I'll be honest, part of it was just dumb luck, and Ludek knows that. <laughs> But honestly, a lot of it was persistence by Ludek, which is absolutely to his credit. He had seen my short film From the Top of the Key online, and in the course of that found out that I was doing this feature length film, Rounding First. It piqued his curiosity, and so he had contacted me even before we started shooting Rounding First, and expressed interest, as did a number of other composers. I, of course, was so preoccupied with getting the film made that I emailed everyone back and said " I appreciate your interest, but I am not going to make a decision on this for several months." Many of the composers who had initially contacted kind of just gave up, and never contacted me after that. But not Ludek. Probably once a month, Ludek would email me and say, "Hey, how are things going? I'm still very interested in working with you on this…" and that really meant a lot to me, because a lot of people in Hollywood say that they want to work, but they are not really willing to put in the time to work. Ludek was exactly the opposite, which really resonated with my own personal perspectives.

And so months later, after the film was shot and we had a rough cut in place, I finally contacted him, and said, "hey, if you are still interested, I'd be interested in talking to you." He was very interested in it, so I gave him a few pieces of the film and asked him to do some test cues. That was effectively his audition. There were two things that came out of that, one was that his instincts creatively for the film were really quite good. Not everybody got the film, but he immediately understood what the film was about, and what kind of music could really help support that notion. But the other thing I learned about Ludek was I loved his style of working. In the process of creating those test cues, we got the opportunity to collaborate, and I just loved his work style, because he was all about making those test cues the best he could. That was all he cared about, he didn't care how much time it took, he didn't care if he had to go back and redo a cue, it was just all about making it the best he could. And I loved that quality about him because he felt as strongly about the film as I did, and that is so rare to find. So when I saw the level of commitment in him, and I knew that this was someone that I wanted to work with.

The clincher for me was that he and I were just able to talk about the music in the film in a way that we both understood. We both spoke the same language, so to speak. I don't consider myself to be a musical guy, but for some reason, I was able to speak with him in a language that he understood, and so it made the collaboration process really effective, and it also made it fun! We were just able to talk to one another, and he got it right the first time, practically every time. And I knew even after I had hired him, weeks later, he was working through his cues, and I remember him showing me for the first time, the cue for the baseball scene, when Joe goes up to bat, and I got shivers down my spine the first time I heard it, and I was thinking to myself, "this guy almost understands this film better than I do, because he is able to come up with music on his own that elevates the film to a level that is far beyond what even I could imagine music could do," and that is all to Ludek's credit. I am grateful to have found him, and I think that his contribution is immeasurable.

 

It must be frustrating for you as producer/writer/director to garner so many positive critical reviews for Rounding First, yet not find a distributor to secure the film a theatrical release in the USA. What are your thoughts about this?

Jim Fleigner : I won't deny it. It's frustrating…. it's very frustrating. Rounding First has garnered, and is continuing to garner, a cult-like following from individuals around the world. My feeling is that if only we somehow had the means to make people aware of the film on a larger scale, that there would be more than enough people who would like it such that the film would be a success, and by success I mean, financially, emotionally, critically, you know, stuff like that.

I've always believed in my life that if you work hard and you try to do the right thing, you will be rewarded, and fortunately for me, that's been true most of my life. The fact that Rounding First has not yet received the scope of awareness that I would have liked has been very frustrating for the past year. I haven't given up yet, because there are still options that we are working on. And there are certainly examples of films that take time to develop their following. At some level I do have faith that in the long run the film will continue to find people who are touched by it, moved by it, and enjoy, and that it incredibly gratifying to me as director. At the same time, I do feel a void, not so much for the film itself, because I do think that in the long run it will be taken care of. But one of the primary reasons that I made Rounding First was that I was hopeful that it would serve as a launching pad for me to continue making feature length films, and to make a career out of it, one where I can generate some income to support my family and to continue to do what I love to do. I think that while the film's success is assured in the long run, it does not help me in that more practical goal, and I think for me , that's the biggest disappointment that I have today , the prospect of not being able to do what it is that I truly love to do, and to make directing my life's work . But hope springs eternal, and as I said earlier, I view this as a story that's still writing itself, and I hope that the film continues to find people who appreciate it for what it is.

 

Your director's commentary on the special edition DVD of Rounding First is literally a primer for aspiring independent filmmakers. What message would you like to give to someone who has dreams of making an independent film?

Jim Fleigner : I would tell people to be honest with themselves about why it is they want to be a filmmaker. I like to say that many people in Hollywood are motivated by one of four things: money, power, sex or fame. My feeling is that if any of those things are motivating you, then you should get out right now and go do something else, because there are so many easier ways to get any one of those four things. My feeling is that if you want to make an independent film and you are willing to endure the pain, the frustration, the stress that are going to last potentially for years, then you have to do it for some other reason, you have to do it because you love the process of making films. Because even when it drives you crazy, which it inevitably will, there has to be something more that's keeping you in the game, otherwise you will give out halfway though, which isn't a bad thing, but you will walk away not feeling particularly fulfilled.

I think for me, I was never really motivated by any of those four things…I mean, I was motivated by money a little bit, but only because I wanted to support my family. But I became a filmmaker only because I loved telling stories, and I loved having an emotional impact on people, and my feeling is that even if I am not ultimately successful as a filmmaker, I still will have accomplished one of the main things that I set out to do, which was to participate in a process that I love, and that ultimately is perhaps the most important thing. So if there is one piece of advice that I can impart upon people, it is to be honest with yourself as to why you want to be a filmmaker, and to let that answer to your honest question direct you in making films.

 

 

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