Celebrated playwright, Harold Blumenthal, has passed away after succumbing to cardiac arrest while laughing at his own joke. Now, Harold’s estranged and jealous brother, Saul, must confront his personal hang-ups to deliver himself from an epic bout of constipation. Meanwhile, Saul’s wife Cheryl and son Ethan must grapple with their own personal obstacles through a set of circumstances so improbably ironic they might as well have been lifted from one of Harold’s plays.
Can oversized egos and romance peacefully co-exist in modern-day New York? Manhattan neuroses gets a fresh, bracing new twist in Seth Fisher’s delightfully acerbic ‘Blumenthal‘. The death of playwright Harold Blumenthal (Brian Cox) sets in motion a tangled web of family and relationship drama in a polished film distinguished by Zak Mulligan’s crystalline cinematography, a strong ensemble cast, and multi-talented Seth Fisher’s razor-sharp script.
We talked to Writer/Director Seth Fisher in anticipation of ‘Blumenthal‘ screening at the First Time Fest, which takes place March 1-4, 2013 at New York Cities famed The Players. This screening will be the NEW YORK PREMIER of the film.
As a “first time” filmmaker, what did you find to be the most difficult part of developing ‘Blumenthal’?
All of it was hard, to tell you the truth. I was, however, surprised by how problematic locations were. We had a ton of location and no money to pay for them. Almost every day we ran a risk of getting kicked out of a building or wherever we were shooting. Was there anything that you found to run surprisingly smooth? The actors were awesome. There was never a tense moment with any of them and it just felt like fun. We put them in some crazy environments and they were always such professionals about everything.
What is the personal story behind this original script?
There is no directly personal experience reflected in the film. It’s about a Jewish family in New York set against the theater scene. I grew up in Texas with South African parents. I would say that each of the films main characters are inspired by personal experiences I’ve had or people I have known. Otherwise, it’s just a story.
Pulling off double duties as writer/director, how did you find this balance of visualizing your own writing? Was there any sacrifice/compromise that you had to make with yourself in order to make specific sections translate to the screen?
Actually is was the perfect combination of jobs. I wrote the screenplay with a vision of how each scene looked, they more I thought about what I was after in the writing process, the easier it was to capture these moments on set. Once the camera is up an running, it’s just another extension of telling the story. We stuck to the script as much as we could. The only time we ever made sacrifices in any regard was when we had location constraints. Small NY locations always dictate where you can put the camera, lights, etc.
In the description of ‘Blumenthal’, the film is described as “Manhattan Neurosis with a bracing new twist”. What are some of the influences behind this particular kind of neurosis? Are these many of the same film-specific influences behind your film?
That’s funny. Who wrote that? The only twist I can think of is that these character’s neurosis is painfully real and universal. For me, Blumenthal is a story about personal fulfillment and where we find satisfaction in life. Every character has high expectations in life, unreasonably so. That breeds neurosis. I think. Maybe. I don’t know. As far as film influences, there is certainly a self-diagnostic aspect of Woody Allen that echos in one of the character’s actions and words. I would also say that people like Todd Solondz and Nicole Holofcener explore families in a refreshingly unflinching manner. I feel like I should name some more filmmakers. Noah Baumbach. He’s awesome.
From a purely directorial standpoint, can you give us a description of your visual approach to ‘Blumenthal’?
I made a very conscious decision to maintain a natural aesthetic as far as lighting. Zak Mulligan is a wizard at keeping things simple, awesome, and beautiful. A good deal of the moods were defined by the locations we selected. That long and arduous process really paid off in that each location perfectly augments the visual style and emotional state of each scene. Lastly, the framing of each scene is always dictated by the action at hand. When Saul is stuck at home on the couch, so is the camera. Fixed. Steady and stubborn. Once he works up enough courage to go get what he’s been after, the camera moves with him and remains handheld on him through the climax. It’s funny. Some scenes, you write the scene and you know immediately that it needs to all be in one shot on a 28mm lens at waste-level and backlit. Other scenes, you know you want to shape and pace it with more coverage and frame variety. I’m not sure I know enough about this sport yet to understand why I choose to do some things.
Purchase Tickets to ‘BLUMENTHAL’– HERE
March 1-4, 2013
FIRST TIME FEST
@ The Players
16 Gramercy Park
New York, NY