“Help us to see what we need to see, hear what we need to hear. Thy Will, not ours, be done,” is my best paraphrase of the prayer spoken by accomplished playwright and filmmaker Zsa Zsa Gershick to kick off the first reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” (more on the title later).
I’ve written four feature length screenplays before. None of them have been produced. This time, I wasn’t taking any chances and wanted from the start to invoke a higher purpose for the material, especially since the tension between ego-driven and authentic, soul-driven choices provides the core conflict of the movie.
The reading took place at the 5th floor screening room at my communal office. Television’s Rex Lee quickly voiced the question on many minds, “Is this going to be the temperature setting for the whole night?” I looked anxiously at the locked thermostat. I knew a key card wasn’t going to cut it with that thing. What we wouldn’t be hearing was the whirring of an AC at work. Justin Schwan, reading a lead role, shed a modern-day, professorial grey button-down sweater, preferring a white tank top, but Zsa Zsa (in a tailored suit) and Ashley Osler (in a cream, fluffy turtleneck sweater) weren’t so lucky. It was hot.
But whatever discomfort the heat provided did not arrest our progress through the script. I felt torn between the focus on my own role and marveling that living human beings were embodying characters that began as notions, developed into imaginary conversationalists and, now, met with flesh and blood.
Readings help to reveal how the structure of a piece is working and, on that score, I’m beyond pleased. They also spark challenges to identify the really important aspects of a character – whether you’ve pegged the guy at the right age, the right sexuality, the right archetype. Here, some adjustments will occur. They also start to indicate the range of reactions from an audience. I learned long ago not to attempt to please all segments of the audience and sucking up to the mainstream is anathema to my quirky humor and homoerotic sensibilities. But still, it’s helpful to know which characters they wanted to know better, who makes a shift in behavior that takes them by surprise and assess the universality of the piece. I consider my niche to be creating a surprising universality through characters usually overlooked or stereotyped and feel this script is in alignment with my own authenticity. So I felt grateful that many of my friends voiced support for the script as a success or on the road there.
“I don’t like the title,” said one of the most interesting guys I know in Los Angeles. Alessandro Piersimoni gave up a lucrative career in advertising to pursue filmmaking in Los Angeles and so far has found some success as an actor, appearing in David Fincher’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” His eye for aesthetics surpasses my own, although my innate if somewhat downplayed competitive spirit challenges me to catch up.
“The title doesn’t do anything for me. Maybe shorten it to ‘Inside-Out’ or change it to something else. Other than that, you’re 99.9% done. Just take it to the literary agent and say, ‘Here.'” He mentioned two or three other problem areas and encouraged me to just get on with it. Compliments from those with developed sensibilities really mean something and I relished Alessandro’s words as something hard-earned and real.
Once the reading broke up, some of the guys, including Justin, the talented and underused Shon Perun and Alessandro enjoyed a beer. Like Christmas coming early, Justin couldn’t believe a professional office would feature frosted mugs in the freezer and beer on tap, but the quirky Tracey Verhoeven was a little late to the party and had to settle for a plastic cup.
Zsa Zsa and her erudite wife Elissa closed it down, talking to me another half hour about the script, its theme and their own experience casting and refining the scripts for Zsa Zsa’s projects. Zsa Zsa generously tried to sum up her playwriting degree in a few minutes and boiled it down to, “Know the theme. Make sure everything supports that. Write your character bios and find yourself in ALL of them.” Elissa, like a big sister, asked if I parked close or if they should wait and walk me to the car.
Soon after, Rex and Richie, an adorable 26-year old techie hipster-who-denies-he’s-a-hipster, texted me. They ordered me to drive to Bossa Nova on Sunset, where they’d ordered me a steak that was on its way. I showed up as the waiter brought my food to the table and noticed the guys had already eaten and their plates had been cleared. Ah, friends. A lovely discussion ensued.
Tracey emailed me at 12:40 a.m. with a concern about the reading. I called her back at 12:41 a.m. and we talked it out, but her note so provoked me that I called Rex at 1:20 a.m. and then Richie at 1:45 a.m. before finally heading to bed around 2:45 a.m. I slept til Richie’s phone call at 11:40 a.m. this morning (save for a catatonic walk with my pug) and felt oh-so-Bohemian for sleeping in on a Tuesday.
The next day, I’m full of enthusiasm and optimism. Seeing and hearing these fifteen beautiful souls – each so unique – pull together for the night to give voice to something new made me truly grateful for this Bohemian life I’m proud to live. As an unconventional artist, you never know if you’re gonna end up reciting poetry under a bridge with some donated whiskey, but this morning, after my City Harvest Black Vanilla tea (you read that correctly), I feel curious for a continuation and evaluation of the story of the life of my movie…and its gallery of characters – past, present and future.
For the record, here was the cast of the first reading of “Inside-Out, Outside-In” in alphabetical order:
Camille Carida, Marilyn Chase, Zsa Zsa Gershick, James Lee Hernandez, Hunter Lee Hughes, Rex Lee, Thyme Lewis, Marlyse Londe, Ashley Osler, Shon Perun, Alessandro Piersimoni, Ann Russo, Justin Schwan, Erwin Stone and Tracey Verhoeven. Guests included Ms. Elissa Barret and Mr. Richard Scharfenberg. The reading took place at WeWork Hollywood, 7083 Hollywood Boulevard, 5th Floor Screening Room.
Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).