Writer-director Logan Kibens and co-writer Sharon Greene debuted “Operator” this week at the Ivy Substation in Culver City as part of the Sundance Institute Screenplay Reading Series. “Operator,” a tech-savvy (and tech-wary) relationship comedy, was selected for the highly selective Sundance Screenwriting Labs in January.
A solid mix of actors were on hand, many from the upper echelons of the TV world. Ben Feldman (Ginsberg from “Mad Men”) and Deborah Ann Woll (of “True Blood”) played the script’s central couple, with supporting help from Miles Fisher (another “Mad Men” alum) and Mimi Kennedy (Rachel McAdams’ furniture snob mother in “Midnight in Paris”).
Without giving too much away, “Operator” revolves around twentysomething Joe Larson (Feldman), a well-intentioned but socially inept engineer attempting to design the ultimate voice response system for customer support phonelines at healthcare company Welltrix. After initial tester voice “Alexis” fails miserably, Joe enlists his girlfriend Emily (Woll), a nurturing teacher at a hippie-dippy grade school, to be the empathetic voice of the next model. This does no wonders for their relationship, as Joe becomes increasingly obsessed with Emily “the voice” over Emily “his girlfriend/a human.”
The actors’ commitment to their roles was impressive, particularly during a sequence in which Woll and Kennedy have to belt Patti Smith’s “Because the Night.” (You’ll have to wait for an upcoming Sundance to find out what the context of that is.) Also admirable was Ilyse McKimmie, the organizer of the Screenplay Reading Series, who narrated the entire 90-plus page script with hardly a slip-up. I’d never been to a rehearsed live read before, but it’s an enjoyable hybrid of theater and film, where one gets the energy of a stage performance while mentally picturing the yet-to-be-realized movie.
Aside from being a 2012 Screenwriter Lab fellow, Logan Kibens was awarded the 2011 HBO/DGA Directing Fellowship and was selected as one of Film Independent’s 2011 Project:Involve fellows for her CalArts thesis film “Recessive.” Sharon Greene is a Chicago playwright turned screenwriter, whose 2008 play “Fake Lake” was on the Best Plays list of both Time Out Chicago and The Chicago Tribune. Kibens and Greene also are live-in partners, and humorously thanked the audience in advance for being willing to watch their “psycho-sexual” complexes emerge from the reading.