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Jeff Lipsky: “Once More with Feeling”: Childhood, Honesty, and Immortality

Jeff Lipsky: "Once More with Feeling": Childhood, Honesty, and Immortality

EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling dramatic and documentary competition and American Spectrum directors who have films screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Jeff Lipsky’s dramatic comedy “Once More with Feeling” tells the story of Frank Gregorio (Chazz Palminteri), a successful psychiatrist, loving husband, and doting grandfather to the two children of his eldest daughter, Lana (Drea de Matteo). When the universe conspires to introduce him to karaoke through both a patient’s parent issues and his precocious granddaughter’s birthday party, Frank rediscovers a long-suppressed dream of becoming a professional singer.

Once More with Feeling
American Spectrum
Director: Jeff Lipsky
Screenwriter: Gina O’Brien
Producers: Paul Jarrett, Nick Huston
Cinematographer: Ruben O’Malley
Editor: Sara Corrigan
Cast: Chazz Palminteri, Drea de Matteo, Linda Fiorentino
U.S.A., 2008, 105 min., color

Please introduce yourself…

My name is Jeff Lipsky. I directed the 2009 Sundance Film Festival American Spectrum selection “Once More With Feeling,” co-starring Chazz Palminteri, Drea De Matteo, and Linda Fiorentino. I’m 55 years old which means most of my fellow Sundance filmmakers have no clue who I am. By 2009 few of them will even recall the name of the company I co-founded in 1990, October Films. I was born in Queens, New York and I presently reside in Queens, New York, but, in my entire life, I’ve only been a resident of that borough for a total of two and a half years. I began reading Variety at the age of ten (no joke). My first screenplay was a two-part episode for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” that I wrote over the course of two months during 4th and 5th periods in junior high school. Sadly those episodes were never produced.

Film school for me was ushering at the 1,582 seat Plainview Theatre on Long Island (a single screen theatre that featured 70mm projection), working for John Cassavetes from 1974 through 1979, and distributing Jean-Luc Godard’s “Every Man For Himself” and Louis Malle’s “My Dinner With Andre” in 1981 and 1982. Graduate school saw me distribute Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” in 1984 and Lasse Hallstrom’s “My Life as a Dog” in 1987. I wrote and directed my first film, “Childhood’s End,” co-starring “True Blood’s” Sam Trammell, in 1996. Following a short return to distribution, during which time I ushered into the marketplace Tim Roth’s “The War Zone,” Michael Cuesta’s “L.I.E.” and Zacharias Kunuk’s “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner,” I wrote and directed “Flannel Pajamas,” co-starring Justin Kirk and Julianne Nicholson, a 2006 Sundance Film Festival Dramatic Competition Selection.

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

“Once More with Feeling” director Jeff Lipsky. Image courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Movies were for me, as a child, an escape into worlds where anything was possible, even for me. As an adult they’re a reflection of the potential of an individual’s humanity, even mine, and a mirror into the soul. Sometimes it’s a funhouse mirror, at other times the mirrors are gilt-edged, and sometimes they reflect what most mirrors do – the truth, unvarnished and unembellished. Those last ones are the great ones and reflect great movies. A great movie always infuses me with a feeling of immortality. If I ever make a film half as resonant and honest as the best films of my muses (Cassavetes, Bergman, Leigh, Allen) I’ll be a happy man for the rest of my days. Almost all watershed films begin with a breathtaking script (Chayefsky, Lehman). Even though I didn’t write the script for “Once More With Feeling” it feels very much a part of my canon.

My own screenplays tend to be love stories. At their most tender moments they’re honest explorations of the human condition. That’s what appealed to me about Gina O’Brien’s screenplay. It featured these traits and it was funny and it was, well, quite musical. I was fortunate (oh so fortunate) to be a director-for-hire this time around: the financing was already in place, and distribution is part of my past (or is it?). What did I learn making “Once More With Feeling?” That shooting HD is no less expensive than shooting film.

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Success as a filmmaker? You’ve achieved success as a filmmaker when you change the life of a total stranger halfway around the world just by that person having seen your film…and not before.

What are some of your favorite films?

My twenty favorite films of all time (in alphabetical order): “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Cabaret,” “Casablanca,” “Chinatown,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Conversation,” “Days of Heaven,” “Fanny & Alexander,” “Husbands,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Local Hero,” “Manhattan,” “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” “Night & Fog,” “A Night at the Opera,” “North by Northwest,” “O Lucky Man!,” “Reds,” “Schindler’s List,” “sex, lies & videotape.”

What are your future projects?

My future projects? Depending on how much money I can raise, my next film will be either “The Problem With Maria” or “Untitled 2009” (sorry to be coy).

If you’re a writer never cheat yourself. If you’re a director never cheat the writer. If you’re a writer/director you’re the luckiest person on the planet.

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