True Story?

Added on by Chris WHITE.

Reflections on CINEMA PURGATORIO \ 1 of 10

CINEMA PURGATORIO is a true-ish story. It’s based on true things, true people, true events, true observations. Still, taken as a whole, the film is a work of fiction. Or maybe not. I’m not really sure anymore.

Emily and I are married and work as full-time, self-employed, independent filmmakers. We produce one feature-length film a year…films that we write together and that I direct.

Occasionally I work on projects for friends, but unlike Neil, the character I play in the movie, I’m not really a film technician. My background is in live theatre, improvisational comedy, and writing. I am, at best, a photography hobbyist and self-taught cinephile.

CP_Traysie Barney.jpg

Emily writes like Liz does in the film…though screenwriting is not her favorite form, short fiction is. Em is a step mom (the best ever), but she doesn’t act…or edit movies. I think she might consider playing a purple dinosaur at a kid’s birthday party, but I don’t think she ever has.

Emily and I really do hate film festivals…48 hour fests or otherwise. We’ve had fun at film festivals and we’ve even won awards for our films at film festivals. But. The currency most film festivals traffic in, namely gatekeeper approval, is something we aren’t buying. When we sat down to write CINEMA PURGATORIO we’d been talking a lot about how frustrating film festivals are, and the sense/dread that we have to enter them anyway…to get selected for screenings and win those precious laurel leaves.

We think film festival culture is self-perpetuating, built to advance the festival over the filmmaker…not unlike many US arts organizations that consume artists rather than nurture them, support them, and promote them.

So we made our movie-selves frustrated by film festivals, too…and especially disdainful of 48-hour festivals that offer the promise of art, but really only deliver recreation for film hobbyists.

In CINEMA PURGATORIO, Neil and Liz are lured into participating in a 48-hour film festival on the promise of a cash prize (wealth) and exposure to a huge celebrity (fame).

Emily and I do love Bill Murray. Who doesn’t? But it’s not like we’ve always dreamed of meeting him. In fact, we're far more interested in working with famous people than simply meeting them, shaking hands, or grabbing a selfie with them. So we made our movie-selves flawed in this way…tricked by fame…the false idea that meeting a famous person makes us famous too. Part of what Neil and Liz learn in the film is that they really didn’t need Bill Murray.

(A side-note. I am well aware of the irony of our current push to get Bill for a brief cameo in the film…of putting the “you don’t need me” lines in his mouth to say.)

The money pressure Neil and Liz feel is certainly something Em and I can relate to. We’ve chosen extreme creative entrepreneurship as a way of life. Money is always tight around or house. Often, non-existent. We cobble together sustainable income for our family from our film pursuits, freelance writing, and part-time, itinerate teaching gigs. So the promise of a significant cash prize is appealing to us both…the proverbial winning the lottery. We’ve given Neil and Liz that vulnerability, too.

A couple of other true/not-true items from CINEMA PURGATORIO:

  • We do want to make a baby together…but Emily does not have infertility issues like Liz does in the film.
  • My real-life youngest daughter Harriet, who plays my only daughter Hope in the film, is not nearly as sullen and disaffected as she is written to be in the film. But she is a really good writer…who doesn’t get picked for cool stuff at school as often as she should.
  • Traysie Amick who plays Liz works for a children’s theatre and has been known to work a kid birthday party in character from time to time.
  • Our real-life friend Jen does write software, wear sweet trainers, and enjoy white wine. But, unlike Monica Foster’s Jen in the film, she’s never assaulted a cop and spent a night in jail (that we know of).
  • Alex Smith’s hilarious Dos Midler, the awful and pretentious filmmaker with a put-on German accent, is a combination of several awful people Emily and I have actually met and like to mock in private. He is also us…on a bad day.
  • Lavin Cuddihee’s fabulous Nick Teasle grew out of custom-writing a role he could have tons of fun with. Geoff Gunn, our screenwriting collaborator, made Nick an ex-action star. Interesting fact: Lavin once worked as Bruce Willis’ stand-in for the TV show “Moonlighting.”
  • Alan Ray is Alan Ray in real life. But he does not live off the grid with a common law wife. He lives in Austin with the lovely and amazing Katrina and three beautiful children.
  • Nealy Glenn who plays bi-coastal filmmaker and former Neil flame Jackie Miller does not prey on men at parties or run interference for fools like Dos. But we felt like we needed the temptation of escape for Neil at the film’s climax…and thus, her character was born.
  • Jeff Driggers, who plays Clark Wiggins, is an aspiring writer-director. But he’d never betray us with a tell-all documentary. WOULD YOU, JEFF?
  • Reid Cox, who plays Bree, is aware of the fact that water is not bad for your skin. And speaking of skin, Monica Eva Foster who plays Jen was in a Jergens body shampoo commercial in the 90s. We are fortunate to know so many talented actors who are willing to accept slave wages and home-cooked meals to collaborate with us. CINEMA PURGATORIO was a very happy set…unlike the set of the Shaw’s 48-hour movie.

True or not true? CINEMA PURAGTORIO plays with that distinction. Our film is, like most movies, a mash-up of the writers’ experiences and ideas in the service of a story.

When we meet at one of the film’s screenings this summer, I am happy to confirm or deny other truth claims. Just don’t ask me for Bill Murray’s phone number. I don't think he has one.