Hamptons 97: Seven Questions For Darren Stein, The Director of "Sparkler"
by Tom Cunha
With the premiere of "Sparkler" at the Hamptons International Film
Festival today, writer/director Darren Stein presents the first public
screening of his feature directorial debut. (This afternoon's
screening was added after the first two sold out.) Like many of the orphan
indies that compete in the ever-growing festival circuit, "Sparkler" is in
hopes of finding a distributor as well as carving some segue into the
Sundance Film Festival. The film has also been nominated for an award
provided by Lifetime Television, targeting a festival film that has strong
representations of women.
The whimsical comedy/drama is about a woman from the middle of
nowhere who leaves her philandering hubby of 15 years and follows a trio
of twenty-something men to Vegas, where a series of zany adventures
follow. The eclectic cast features up-and-comers Freddie Prinze Jr.
("The House of Yes") and Jamie Kennedy (the upcoming "Scream 2") alongside
accomplished vets Veronica Cartwright ("The Birds", "The Right Stuff") and
Park Overall "Biloxi Blues" and TV's "Empty Nest"). The day before leaving
for the Hamptons, Stein said, "I'm thrilled. It's my first time going
to a film festival with a movie I directed, so I'm excited and nervous."
indieWIRE: Where did the idea for "Sparkler" come from?
Darren Stein: "Sparkler" is based on an experience that I had in
Victorville, which is where Melba (the lead character in the film)
is from. Its about two hours from L.A. Every time I went there it
was an exciting new experience because it was so strange. Here is
this town between L.A. and Vegas and cars would just speed on by.
Most people's perception of Victorville is just this blur off the highway.
They would stop there for a snack or for gas. What intrigued me was
the notion of a character whose life was on the way. Not here nor there,
but on the way somewhere, and that's where Melba came from.
I was with two friends and we were out one night at this bar which you
could see off the highway. From across the dance floor we see this
sparkling vision, this woman that's in head-to-toe sequin. The light is
catching on her dress like a disco ball. She was very mythical and
surreal. Before we knew it, she was walking towards us and she said,
"would one of you handsome young men care to dance with me? It's my
first night out after fifteen years of marriage." I went back to L.A.
after the weekend and the experience just stayed in my head.
iW: Who did you co-write the film with?
Stein: I co-wrote "Sparkler" with a woman named Catherine Eads. We had
been tour guides together at Universal Studios. She had just graduated
from college and I had just graduated from high school [when we met].
We were very much in different places in our lives. She was a stand-up
comic. She was this kind of jaded, very funny woman. Kind of Mary
Tyler Moore-ish but more mysterious. We became friends and kept in
touch all throughout the time I was at NYU.
iW: How did you end up casting Park Overall?
Stein: I had never seen "Empty Nest" in my entire life. I met with my
casting director and he said, "I know this woman and she is Melba." and
he showed me Park Overall's picture. He was convinced that this woman
was Melba. I had known her as the whore in "Biloxi Blues" and I remember
thinking she was really great in that. She also had a small part in
"Mississippi Burning" and she was in this lesbian serial killer TV movie
called "Overkill: The Aileen Wuornos Story". But all of those roles had a
kind of sinisterness to them. Whereas Melba is this trailer park
princess who has this gift of being able to see the goodness in
someone's soul. But I met with Park and immediately I knew she was
great. She had the script in her hands and she's like, "Honey, I adore
the script. There's just no roles for me like this." She spoke so
warmly of the script and of the character and she got it.
iW: What about Veronica Cartwright?
Stein: Veronica Cartwright is God. "Alien" is one of my favorite films
of all time. She is an opened wound, an exposed nerve. There is a
world of pain on that face. I wanted Dotty to be very vivid and
graphic. Veronica came in and she was dynamite. When I first met with
her, I couldn't separate my adoration from my job as a filmmaker.
iW: Veronica, who's gotta be in her late ë40's, has a strip scene in
the film. Was she at all nervous about doing that?
Stein: She read the script and she loved it. She knew what she was
getting into. It was all on the page. She was completely fearless
about it. We had a woman who choreographed her scene, who was an
ex-striper. Veronica has a great body for her age and she wanted to
show it. We went to strip clubs where girls slide down polls and
stuff. One of the girls recognized [Veronica]. She was like, "Aren't
you in the movies?"
iW: You've had some private screenings of the film. How have people
Stein: People have responded very passionately to it. People have
called the day afterwards or the week afterwards and said, "I'm still
thinking about the movie." I'm happy about that. I have a lot of
"Sparkler" groupies in L.A.
iW: What's your next project?
Stein: It's called "Jawbreaker". It's a black teen comedy. I describe
it as "Heathers" meets "Carrie". "Carrie" is one of my favorite films of all
time. That was another film that I was completely obsessed with. It
was just such an exercise in style. The end of "Jawbreaker" is a complete
homage to "Carrie". You would never know that the person who wrote
"Sparkler" wrote "Jawbreaker".