This interview was originally published during indieWIRE’s coverage of this year’s SXSW. “Helena from the Wedding” opens in New York this Friday, November 12. The film marks producer Josh Infantolino’s feature directorial debut. He reveals to indieWIRE how his marriage inspired him to write the script, and dishes on his inspirations.
“Helena from the Wedding” is writer/director Joseph Infantolino’s first feature film. Shot mostly in sequence in and around a small cabin in upstate New York, this nuanced and funny portrait of marriage and anxiety in the late blooming professional class revolves around one dark night of the soul of Alex Javal (Lee Tergesen), who is feeling so out of sorts that he fails to appreciate his new wife, Alice (Melanie Lynskey), and the new life she represents. The story takes place over the course of a weekend long New Year’s Eve party that the Javals host for their closest friends and one unexpected guest, the very beautiful and very young Helena (Gillian Jacobs). [Synopsis courtesy of the film’s website]
“Helena from the Wedding”
Director: Joseph Infantolino
Screenwriter: Joseph Infantolino
Producers: Brendan Mason & Alexa L. Fogel
Cast: Lee Tergesen, Melanie Lynskey, Gillian Jacobs, Dagmara Dominczyk, Paul Fitzgerald, Dominic Fumusa, Jessica Hecht, Corey Stoll, Lee Tergesen
Cinematographer: Stephen Kazmierski
Editor: Jennifer Lilly
Director Joseph Infantolino introduces his work…
Over the last ten years I’ve been producing an eclectic mix of films such as Jim McKay’s “Our Song” (co-producer) and most recently David Schwimmer’s debut feature as director, “Run, Fatboy, Run” (executive producer) with my producing partner Alexa Fogel at Beech Hill Films. The first screenplay I wrote was the short film “Jimmy Blue” which I also directed and which premiered at the New York Film Festival in 2006. It was a transformative experience and I was quickly hooked on the writing and directing process and connecting with an audience through story, camera, editing and the magic of actors.
The idea for “Helena from the Wedding” originates with my own marriage relatively late in life set against the backdrop of some of my friend’s longtime marriages that had begun to show some strain by the time I got around to marrying. It began with just a feeling and an image of a man and a woman standing facing each other and for a long time I couldn’t figure out whether they were coming together or coming apart. After my contrasting experiences as a producer asking for permission to get films made and my “just do it” experience writing and directing my short I really wanted to create a feature story I could just make. I had access to a hunting cabin in upstate NY and I put the aforesaid man and woman facing each other in that cabin and started writing.
The approach to the film was inspired by the naturalism and immediacy of filmmakers like John Cassavettes and more recently by the Dogme movement and its insistence on a stripped down approach in order to focus on the writing and performances. I wasn’t concerned with following all the Dogme rules but by the spirit of it. I made my short this way and loved the experience and the result. This approach was actually my first decision and guided the creation of the screenplay as well. I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder and his tone and the way his films like “The Apartment” were amusing on the surface and about something serious underneath. One inspiration for this film was “Knife in the Water” because it is so contained yet cinematic and a good example of the power of mood and leaving things open enough for an audience to bring their own feelings and experiences to the show.
The biggest challenge was that I wanted to tell a story that was about something that was never really discussed directly and where almost everything that was communicated between the characters of importance was through looks, glances and actions rather than dialogue. At the extreme, I wanted the entire third act to unfold with no dialogue between the central couple of the film at all. This element proved to be the biggest challenge because having decided to “just do it,” I had very little time to capture all these vital unspoken moments, sometimes between eight characters at a time.
Infantolino on what people can take from “Helena from the Wedding”…
I hope that audiences will either see themselves or someone they know in one of the characters, hopefully both. Also the subject of relationships and the theme of transition from youth to adulthood are universal and while it can be painful, embarrassing and sometimes sad, it’s also often comic terrain to explore.
Infantolino on his upcoming projects…
I’m producing several projects at Beech Hill and I’m writing a few screenplays to direct including the feature adaptation of my short film and a comedy inspired by my aging and ailing grandmother, who has completely taken over my parent’s golden years.