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Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #40: Depressed Teacher Directs Elementary School Play in ‘Tenured’

Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #40: Depressed Teacher Directs Elementary School Play in 'Tenured'

READ MORE: Meet the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmakers

In Chris Modoono’s new film “Tenured,” elementary school teacher Ethan Collins has given up. His wife left him and now he’s floundering and depressed. Ethan starts teaching his kids things like “nothing lasts forever.” But the school can’t fire him, because he’s got tenure. When Ethan is named director of the school play, he decides to rally and attempt to make the play mean something — especially since his ex-wife will be sitting in the audience. 

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

Foul mouthed teacher, depressed over wife leaving him, is forced to direct school play. What happens next will astonish you. 

Now what’s it REALLY about?

“Tenured” tells the story of Ethan Collins, a severely depressed, foul-mouthed elementary school teacher whose wife’s recent departure has left him questioning his life and teaching his students that “mommies are liars.” When he is put in charge of the school play as punishment for his bad performance, Ethan rewrites the script to be about his marital problems and puts on an unforgettable show for the parents, school board and his soon to be ex-wife.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I’m a New York filmmaker who now kinda, sorta, sometimes lives in LA. But my license plates still say NY, so that counts – right? I also teach screen acting at Stonestreet Studios conservatory program for New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. When I was a kid I would dress up as Indiana Jones by wearing my Dad’s old leather jacket and using a dog leash as a whip – which is my way of saying I didn’t hang out with “friends.” What was the question?

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

This feature grew out of a short that premiered at the 2012 Tribeca film festival. Several key moments in the film were scenes we reshot from the short. So, it was important to me as a director to make sure we weren’t just trying to copy what we had done in the past, since both Ethan’s character and the story as a whole had evolved. Our shooting schedule was 12 days. For a feature film, 12 days is insane. Also, we shot in Los Angeles during a heat wave last year. It was 110 degrees on set every day, and we had to walk uphill both ways carrying bricks that we used to build the school we shot in.

What do you want the Tribeca audience to take away from your film?

It’s a comedy so we’d be thrilled if someone laughed. However, the comedy does come from a very real struggle that Ethan is going through. Life rarely turns out how we plan it; how we deal with the bumps in the road is what defines us. Ethan’s bump in the road is kind of like the Grand Canyon, and Ethan is both Thelma AND Louise speeding toward the edge of the cliff. (Spoiler alert: they drive off.)

Any films inspire you?

“Thelma and Louise” (see previous answer).

What’s next?

My writing partner (and star of “Tenured”) Gil Zabarsky and I wrote a script about a college kid who gets an internship working for Satan, who turns out to be a lovable mentor. Eventually, however, Satan is revealed be truly evil. Because, you know, he’s Satan. We also have a pilot about the day-to-day workings of an assassination firm that we are going to shoot later this year.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Sony F3 with kick-ass Panavision lenses.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?

We did not. Fox Digital Studio graciously pulled out their credit card when the dinner check arrived. We were strategically waiting in the bathroom.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? 

Nope. I went to a Babson College and studied the Business part before I studied the Show. Which is hopefully the most pretentious thing I’ll say all month.

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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