INTERVIEW: David Moreton, From Producer to Director in 10 Minutes Flat
by Aaron Krach
June 1997, David Moreton read Todd Stephens’ script for “Edge of Seventeen.” Taken by the material, he signed on as co-producer with Stephens. Five months later they were on location, with Stephens directing his personal and humorous account of coming of age in Ohio, circa 1984. A few days later, Stephens discovered that directing such an autobiographical film, in his hometown, wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought. He decided “Edge of Seventeen” needed more objective eyes and tapped Moreton to step into the director’s chair. Without missing a beat, Moreton guided “Edge” to completion six weeks later. During 1998, the enjoyable crowd-pleaser picked up numerous awards at Outfest in Los Angeles and San Francisco’s Gay & Lesbian Film Festival before screening in the American Spectrum at Sundance ’99. “Edge of Seventeen,” care of Strand Releasing, opens on May 14.
indieWIRE: What was your first reaction when Stephens asked you to step in as director?
David Moreton: My first reaction was excitement. I had wanted to direct a feature anyway. We were way into production. We had started filming and Todd decided that he couldn’t do it. Todd came to me and asked if I would take over. I jumped at the chance and said yes and so one morning I found myself with 50 extras, a cast and crew staring at me saying, “What do we do.” I had only been the director for all of 10 minutes. It was kind of an intense experience. I didn’t have time to have a nervous breakdown. Truly, I benefited from the fact that I didn’t have time to get nervous.
iW: Do you think you benefited from having been the producer and thus having been very involved already.
Moreton: Yes. In auditions I read with the actors. I was intricately involved with everything. We went on scouting trips and I found locations. I knew the cast and crew and they were friends. As corny as it sounds, this movie was a fascinating collaborative process.
iW: How was it to collaborate with someone who not only wrote a script, but a very autobiographical one as well?
Moreton: It’s important that the script was autobiographical for Todd. So despite the fact that Todd wasn’t there, we tried very hard to remain true to his story. That was very helpful when you don’t know what to do or feel lost a bit. It was good to ground ourselves in that.
iW: One of the key elements in accurately capturing the feel of 1984 is the tremendous amount of 80s music in the film, Annie Lennox, Tony Basil, etc. How did you manage to get the rights to so much music?
Moreton: When we were showing the script around initially, people would say “Oh this is great, but you’ll never get this music.” So we got freaked out and we decided we’d better try. It was important for me to have a great soundtrack. Music of that era was very important for me. I think that music for teenagers is an escape from their problems. The key is getting a good supervisor who has the connections. We had Gerry Gershman, who was really great. He knew Annie Lenox’s manager. He knew Tom Bailey’s record company’s executive. (Bailey, previously of the Thompson Twins, composed the score.) Before we even started filming, he started working on it. It helped that we started early and it helped that he was persistent. It also helped that people liked the movie. We also ended up spending money on it. Not a lot. It’s funny cause I thought it was so much, but now I’ve talked other people who spent two or three times what we did for only a few songs. But that is because we started early. We also never backed ourselves into a corner for a song, unless we knew we had the rights before we shot the scene.
iW: “Edge of Seventeen” premiered on the gay film fest circuit before heading to mainstream fests like Sundance. What do you think of the ever-expanding circuit of gay and lesbian festivals?
Moreton: I think it’s great. Although, I encourage people to open in straight fest because it gets more exposure. Actually, I go back and forth. For example, at Outfest in LA; if your movie is well received, you meet so many people in Hollywood. Because all the people who run the festival work for studios, you meet all these people. So by all means, do those festivals and your film does get exposure. I also think they are great at bringing gay films that would never get distributed to an audience that would appreciate them. And I’m not sure they should be distributed, cause it would be even harder for other movies to get an audience.
iW: You had a particularly good experience in San Francisco with your parents in the audience.
Moreton: My parents went to see the film at the Castro Theater during the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. It was sold out, 1,200 screaming people. I am so happy they saw it there, cause you can’t ask for a better audience. That was an unbelievable experience and I don’t think I will ever have it again, unless I make another gay film. It was just so cool. The audience interacted with the movie. They booed and cheered. Two distributors came up to me afterwards and wanted the movie because of the reaction. One of them was Strand, which we eventually went with.
iW: Your path to filmmaking is definitely out of the ordinary. How did you get from Wall Street to Edge of Seventeen?
Moreton: I was an English major as an undergrad and then I worked for awhile. Then I got an MBA at Wharton and worked on Wall Street. I went through three jobs very quickly after graduate school. It was very apparent to me that it wasn’t the right career. The only thing I ever wanted to do was film. But when I was young I thought, “Oh that’s not what real people do for a living.” So I didn’t pursue it until I was nearing 30 and I realized I couldn’t go through the rest of my life sitting behind a desk.
[Aaron Krach is a freelance writer and regular contributor to indieWIRE.]