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indieWIRE INTERVIEW | A Decade in the Making: Director Dave McLaughlin and Producer Lance Greene Tal

indieWIRE INTERVIEW | A Decade in the Making: Director Dave McLaughlin and Producer Lance Greene Tal

Director Dave McLaughlin and producer Lance Greene‘s “On Broadway” tells the story of Jack O’Toole, a 30-something Boston everyman, who writes a play about his dead uncle as a way to reconnect with his hard-nosed dad. With no money and just his gut to guide him, Jack quits his job as a carpenter so that he can mount a production of his play on the only stage he can afford: in the back room of his neighborhood pub, on a little street called Broadway. “On Broadway” is available exclusively on Amazon VOD for the next month, via a special deal brokered by Cinetic Rights Management. The film premiered at the Independent Film Festival of Boston in April 2007, and then screened at the Galway Film Festival and the Newport Beach Film Festival.

“On Broadway” is available now on Amazon.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?

Lance Greene: I initially started out as an actor on stage in Boston and in New York City; with a passion that ran deep for film and theatre equally. This evolved into myself producing some theatre, short films and guerilla features. Basically, when you have a limited budget you get very creative and producing is extensively business orientated, which suits my mindset well…so while am I still happy to act and produce in a production like “On Broadway,” I may lean to more producing in the future.

Dave McLaughlin: I came to filmmaking in my early 20s. I had left school to write fiction. I was trying to write a story based on my friend Richie, who, along with a couple of other pals, had gotten himself tangled up in an after-hours club owned by a big gangster named Steve Flemmi, who was Whitey Bulger’s partner. Anyway, another guy told me that if I wrote the story as a screenplay, then he had a producer who would make a movie out of it. I literally didn’t even know that movies were written. I knew nothing about movies or about popular culture in general. I grew up in a house that didn’t have a working TV for years. The only movies I remember seeing as a kid were “The Champ” and a free summertime series of silent films that my parents used to take us to in the courtyard of the Museum of Fine Arts. My environment was rich in stories though – stories in books, and stories from people. For me, filmmaking is an extension of all that. Over the course of my career, I suppose two things have happened. First, I’ve come to understand my own voice and my own interests and skills and so on. Second, I’ve become increasingly focused on filmmaking tools other than the written word or the spoken word. Body language, blocking, palette, performance, music, lighting, composition…

How did the idea for “On Broadway” came about?

Dave McLaughlin: I started to write “On Broadway” as a direct response to my frustration as a screenwriter in LA. I had co-written the movie “Southie,” and I was dissatisfied with the finished film, with my work on it and with my lack of a voice in the making of it. I wrote a whole bunch of unproduced stuff that couldn’t seem to find a home with producers. And then I wrote a really strong spec script that immediately generated tons of meetings. It was powerful and I thought it was successful in being a very masculine movie without being macho. But all the development execs kept telling me that it was not something they could make – and I just thought, “this is bullshit.” I just spent two years or more on this thing and nobody has anything invested except me and now I’m in a position where I’m dependent on some multi-national conglomerate to say yes or else this effort, this anguish, this emotion was all for naught. I don’t want to be in this position ever again. I’m going to write something that’s cheaper to film, where I can take the bull by the horns and raise the money myself.

So I found myself thinking a lot about a time when I really loved writing and when I had felt most gratified by the work. It was when I was directing a play of mine called “God Willing” in the back room of a pub in Somerville, MA, and my wife and I were living in a sort of ramshackle three-decker on a little street nearby called Broadway. I liked the idea of how that humble environment contrasted with the tremendous personal importance and the artistic purity of the work. Nobody was getting rich there, believe me. Nobody was getting famous. They weren’t even comping our pints. But we felt alive, and having fun. We were proud of our voice, proud of our contribution, proud of the integrity and value of our act of self-expression.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…

Lance Greene: Well, the approach was: lets make this on our terms, it wasn’t something we wanted to hand off to any other director, production company or studio. Myself and the other producer’s believed in Dave’s vision and really felt that he brought a tremendous amount of value to the production as the director and to the story, seeing he wrote it too. Dave is an amazing asset in friendship and work, everyone should have the pleasure of being around him. That really rang true on the set as well. We had Joey McIntyre, Eliza Dushku, Mike O’Malley, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett coming in to work along with Jill Flint, Lucas Caleb Rooney, Peter Giles, Robert Wahlberg, Sean Lawlor, Vincent Dowling…oh yeah, me too. It was a huge ensemble and with any film like this you need an amazing captain/director and Dave was that person…people just love being around him, he has great vision and conveys it to the producers and talent alike.

I am influenced by filmmakers like John Sayles, someone that can take a limited budget and make the film look like a $50 million dollar studio project. I respect independent filmmakers that work with in their budget – not a studio budget. Anyone can get $50 to $100 million and make a crapy film. I think extroadinary things happen when people have limited funds – simply put, we get creative.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing “On Broadway?”

Lance Greene: Financing. We initially start looking for investors around 1999 in NYC. We were a little green at first because we were just handing out the script and didn’t realize we should have a business plan to accompany it. Soon after getting a business plan in line we had many meetings but no investor. We came close but it’s unnecessary to explain that it became tough to find investors in a post 9/11 world. The script sat on a shelf for a few years and I had called Dave around late 2004 saying I had someone interested. After a year that lead didn’t pan out so, again, we had to start all over.

Dave McLaughlin: You know, the money’s tough obviously. We wound up finding great partners in Henry and Donna Bertolon, who were our executive producers. They were challenging but always, always, always in a productive way. Never in an egocentric way. And that’s all you can ask for. For me the more interesting challenges have come subsequent to making the film. I think they’re more interesting because there’s less of a repository of tried-and-true strategies and tactics, which is a function of how fluid today’s distribution landscape is. From the filmmaker perspective, we’ve found it really challenging to keep the core team together to assess our options and make decisions in an efficient, effective way. It’s nobody’s fault. Everybody’s got to move on and try to make a living.

How did the casting for the film come together?

Dave McLaughlin: Some of the key members of the cast are folks I’d become friends with over the years – Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Lance, Mike O’Malley, Bob Wahlberg, [though] Joey McIntyre I didn’t really know. That was the amazing stroke of serendipity or luck or whatever, because he’s really exceptional in this. I called his sister Judy and said I had a hunch that this would be a great fit for Joe, and she passed it along to him and he loved it. As soon as he and I talked, I felt pretty sure that he was the guy. He just got it on such a personal level, because the story had a lot of overlap with his life in terms of being in an environment that discourages and ridicules self-expression. So he understood why it was important. Plus, he’s not a head-case, and that’s really important when you’re trying to do a lot in a short schedule with limited funds. The main thing about the cast is that people were very generous with one another. Everyone was making low-budget scale. Will, Amy, Eliza, Mike, Joe, they were all having fun and enjoying themselves and enjoying hanging out with each other. That sets a bar for everybody’s behavior that is really positive, really team-oriented which is what you need.

Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.

Lance Greene: I am very proud that I was able to share the premiere screening of “On Broadway” at the Independent Film Festival Boston with so many friends, but more importantly, with so many family in attendance. I am the youngest of 10 children and most of my siblings were there but my mom is 84 years old and she made it. She was extremely proud, as was I that she got to share in that moment, not to mention the standing ovation that the film received with over 1000 people in attendance. My wife also was there and I was thrilled that she got to see what this moment was like too. She stood by me during the ups & downs of the close to ten years in trying to produce the film. I owe her a great deal of thanks for watching two children under two while we made “On Broadway.”

Dave McLaughlin: Two moments from the film festivals mean a lot to me. In Michigan, at the Waterfront Film Festival, a Jamaican guy stopped us on the street after the screening and started to talk about how the film brought to mind his relationship with his own father, and how cathartic it was for him. For me, that confirmed the reason to make films and it confirmed that this film is not limited to people whose surnames begin with O’ or Mc.

In Ireland, at the Galway Film Fleadh, an Irishman in the audience raised his hand after the screening and said, basically, “This is the best film I’ve ever seen about Irish culture. Can you tell me how it is that it was made by a bunch of yanks?” I don’t have footage of that – wish I did. For me, that compliment speaks to “On Broadway”‘s sense of subtlety and nuance, and its determination to work while avoiding all of the usual Irish American shtick (gangsters and violence and IRA support and so on).

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