Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Confined Spaces (thanks Scott Feinberg!)

Since I began pursuing this project, I've been warned many times that a film like this runs the risk of coming across as 'staged' or 'theatrical' -- I've been encouraged to expand it to new locations, to write in new scenes, to take it much more outside the boardroom. My friend, Scott Feinberg, an industry analyst and guru behind just noted that this year in particular, there are quite a few highly-regarded films that take place in confined or claustrophobic spaces. I feel like I'm in good company!

Of course, looking at the careers of successful filmmakers, their first films are rarely large-scale, multi-location spectacles. Their films tend to be confined in some way. Lumet's "12 Angry Men" is an obvious one to look at, but also Spielberg's "Duel" (which put him on the map) takes place on a desert highway (sure, they move a lot, but the car and the truck really don't change setting at all). The economics of this are interesting in their own right, but I think the real secret is that these are films that really test their filmmakers. You can't just shoot your way through a dull scene and hope to cut to the next location quickly, before the audience gets bored. You have to make every shot, every angle, every moment count. That's really one of the things I've found so thrilling about "A Modest Suggestion".

Anyway, we'll see if Scott adds "AMS" to his list next year...

-Arnon Shorr

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bio – Ken Kaissar (The Writer)

Ken Kaissar was born in Ramat Gan, Israel. When he was three years old, his family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where he developed a precocious understanding of the term “Red State.”

He received a BFA in Directing from Carnegie Mellon University, and an MFA in Playwriting from Columbia University. After college, Ken spent a few years directing plays in various festivals such as The Women’s Center Stage Festival at The Culture Project and the American Globe Theatre’s Festival of New Plays. He also directed a new production of Ibsen’s A DOLL HOUSE along with a handful of other new plays.

Finally, in 2002 he started devoting more of his time to playwriting. His adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s THE CANTERBURY TALES was commissioned by Columbia University and premiered in 2008, and his ten-minute play CEASEFIRE (about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) was a regional winner in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. His other plays include, THE MAN STANLEY, THE VICTIMS OR WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO ABOUT IT, RECIPROCAL VELOCITY (finalist in the Ashland New Plays Festival and the Texas Non-Profit Theatre Production of Original Plays Contest under the title CREATIVITY), and NUDE STUDY. Ken now resides in Yardley, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy. He is an adjunct professor of theatre at Rider University, Neumann University and Stockton College.

Through the experience of promoting A MODEST SUGGESTION, Ken has learned that he gets the best results when he uses the pseudonym Moshe Feinblum.

How A Modest Suggestion Came To Be - Ken Kaissar

One day in playwriting class, my teacher was explaining that a writer’s work should reflect their philosophy towards life. In other words, by reading someone’s writing, we should understand how that writer understands the world in which they live. Do they think people are intrinsically good or evil? Are they conservative or liberal? Pessimistic or optimistic? Materialistic or hedonistic? Are they for abortion, or pro-life? Socialized health care, or capitalist health care?

And in this laundry list of possible views that could be reflected in a writer’s work, he said, “Should we kill the Jews, or should we not kill the Jews.”

My teacher of course was intentionally raising an absurd question to make a point. He is in no way anti-Semitic, but is actually quite passionate about people from all backgrounds. But he was trying to exaggerate the sick and twisted thoughts that lurk in people’s minds. I think he was trying to help us tap into our dark side. Everybody knows that great writing comes out of a writer’s dark subconscious mind.

But in that moment, my mind stayed on that terrifying question: “Should we or should we not kill the Jews?”

I started to imagine a scene in a corporate board room in which four executives engage in a cold and calculated cost-benefit analysis to see if it’s actually beneficial and cost effective to kill the Jews.

I intended the scene to go on for about ten minutes. Ten minutes became twenty. And at the end of the first scene, I decided, “okay, now we have to see them interact with a Jew.” And then I thought, wouldn’t it be “funny” (that’s the sick and twisted part) if they decided that this Jew isn’t Jewish enough. And the piece quickly became a statement on ethnic identity, and what it really means to belong to a people, in this case the Jewish People.

A Modest Suggestion is not just an absurdist look at genocide and bigotry, but also a statement on what it means to be a Jew. Or, to put it in a more universal way, what it means to belong to any nationality or ethnicity.