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Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | “The Key Man” Director Peter Himmelstein

Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | "The Key Man" Director Peter Himmelstein

Bobby Scheinman is an insurance salesman struggling to provide for his family. Enter Vincent and Irving, two con men who convince Bobby to join them for a simple moneymaking scheme that quickly spirals out of control. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

“The Key Man”
Emerging Visions
Director: Peter Himmelstein
Producer: Keith Calder, Felipe Marino, Joe Neurauter
Cast: Jack Davenport, Hugo Weaving, Brian Cox, Judy Greer, Ben Shenkman
Screenwriter: Peter Himmelstein
Cinematographer: Darren Genet
Editor: Glenn Garland
Sound: Andrew Hay
Music: Terence Blanchard

Responses courtesy of “The Key Man” director Peter Himmelstein.

Getting hooked…

Like a lot of people who have been lured into the business, I loved movies at an early age and always wanted to make one, or at least write one. I always believed I could do it, but it took me a long time to get around to it. I was very busy with another career (architecture)…it’s a complicated story. I finally threw myself into it and I will say that having made one makes me want to make another–you’re hooked. It’s difficult to shake for lots of reasons.

Using a family friend as inspiration…

The story is very loosely inspired by a friend of my father’s who I knew and liked as a boy. Something went very wrong with his career and his life and one day he disappeared from my father’s circle of friends. My dad was shaken up by whatever happened and would not talk about it. Years later I began to research what happened to him on my own. He had gotten himself involved in some kind of tangled mess and it ruined him. There were certain details that I found very evocative and certain things that I found a bit frightening, particularly as I got older and was married and had children. I worked on it slowly over several years and it evolved into a psychological thriller. The central character tended to remain fairly constant. It was largely built from my childhood impressions of my father’s friend.

Making a 70s movie…

The idea was to not only make a period film, but to make a movie that was literally made at that time. We used to joke about how it could be released as an undiscovered film. There were a whole range of early to mid seventies films that inspired the look of the film and the styling. Vincent looks like Jack Nicholson in “The Passenger,” for example. The general tone aspired to be like “All the President’s Men” or “The Parallax View.” This was the idea anyway.

I also spent a lot time drawing my own images, not exactly storyboards. There are a lot of moments on screen which are nearly exact matches of some of my drawings.

Moving fast and slow…

My experience in the business is that things either move at an excruciatingly slow pace or at dizzying speed. “The Key Man” moved both ways, more than once. Another producer worked with me for several years on it. It went through different directors and actors and eventually I decided to direct it. It was later picked up by Occupant Films, not exactly out of the blue, but it was surprising, and suddenly it moved very fast. So, one of the biggest challenges is not losing your mind and learning how to wait and then finding all of the excitement and passion for the project that may have been lost on the way.

I think we all had a creeping realization during pre-production that this is an ambitious project and will not be easy. By then there was no turning back.

A war on a golf course…

I will say that it’s incredibly difficult to shoot on a golf course. It’s also quite difficult to stage a car accident on a golf course. Near the end of the shoot, we came back to pick up some miscellaneous shots on the golf course, b-roll stuff, but in the meantime a major renovation had started and the place looked like a battlefield. We could have shot a war film.

In the works…

Recently I finished a new script called “The Man is Gone.” I hope to find a way to make it. 

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