Not every audition is about getting the role.
Interview with Writer/Producer Sharon Cooper
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
My name is Sharon Cooper. I’m the writer/producer of the short film The Seven Men of Hanukkah.
There were several reasons we made this film. The Seven Men of Hanukkah is a short. Several years ago, I wrote a romantic comedy feature while at NYU called The Golden Age of Kali, which is about a closeted, Hindu lesbian New Yorker who is trying to keep her Jewish girlfriend away from her family and vice versa. The Seven Men of Hanukkah is definitely not about that; The Seven Men of Hanukkah is a romantic comedy about a man who’s recently experienced a major loss and he’s about to go on the most peculiar audition he’s ever had. Even though the content is clearly different, the short film could serve as a kind of calling card for my work as a writer and that was one of the reasons I wanted to work on it.
During this time while I was thinking it would be good to make a short film, Daryl Lathon, whom I’ve known for over 15 years, approached me and asked if I’d like to make a short film together. Daryl is a fantastic actor, editor and director. He was also interested in expanding his work as a film director. Without hesitation, I said “yes.”
I’ve had my most commercial success as a playwright and in particular with my short plays, which have been produced internationally and published in several anthologies. I sent Daryl about seven of my short plays with the question—“Think we could adapt any of these for film?” and he read them all and chose The Seven Men of Hanukkah. I agreed. We would co-produce. I would write; he would direct/edit and we would assemble a team to join us.
That was two years ago.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
The Casting—Daryl Lathon and I have gotten into three film festivals so far: The “Black Bear Film Festival” in Mildford, PA; the “Big Apple Film Festival” in NYC; and the “High Falls Film Festival: Celebrating Women in Film” in Rochester, NY. In our world premiere, we were asked to screen our short film solo and Barbara McNamara of Barbara McNamara Casting (Sex and the City, 30 Rock, and Spike Lee’s new series for Netflix and much more) led a talk back with Daryl and I about casting.
We were told by “Black Bear” that we were chosen because our casting was perfect (and it’s a little bit about casting). At our world premiere, the NYC premiere, in Rochester, and with every professional who has screened the film, we always, always are complimented on the casting. Barbara McNamara said she can’t imagine anyone else in these roles and several people have asked if I wrote the characters for these specific actors. (The answer is yes and no.) Daryl and I were very clear that with this story in particular, the film would rise or fall based on the cast.
We wouldn’t have a great film without Daryl Lathon. And from the DP to the sound designer and from the production designer to the production manager, we wouldn’t have a film that we’re so proud of without this entire team. So you should watch this film to see a lot of incredibly talented New Yorkers who worked together to make a film that will make you laugh, surprise you and move you.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
One of the characters says, “I just want life to be joyful. . . .When did we stop having fun and why?” The characters struggle in very different and sometimes comedic ways on how to be carefree in a world that isn’t.
Our film deals with loss and how one recovers from the loss of a loved one. Loss is universal. At some point everyone one has to deal with it and we all deal with it differently. Phil has to face his loss but he doesn't face it alone. The varying approaches people take towards recovery forms the dramatic core of our short.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
First we had to deal with how to best adapt a short play to a short film. Then something important changed in the story due to casting, which ended up making the script much stronger. Then we rehearsed and rewrote. We filmed for two days and had one pick up day. Also, we got to experience first-hand how the film was rediscovered in the editing room. We revisited our original ideas and discovered and rediscovered the best way to tell this story.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
See #2. We’re always complimented on the casting, story (which was definitely a collaborative effort with Daryl) and on the team.
The feedback has been incredibly positive and Daryl and I are proud of the film. Before we had an audience, we got to a point where we felt like “This might be pretty good.” But it wasn’t until we started screening and seeing people taking off their glasses to cry or laugh out loud that we realized that it might just be true.
We’ve been told that the film is funny, moving and surprising. When my great aunt was alive and we paid her a compliment, she’d say, “You’re only saying that because it’s true.” We’ve had so many people enjoy the film that we’re starting to believe that it’s really true.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
We’re just happy that we’ve communicated the story in a way that people seem to be enjoying.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
As I mentioned earlier, I’d love to create more films as a writer (whether it’s my feature The Golden Age of Kali or another short film) and I’d love for all of my team to get more work and to be recognized positively for the film we’ve made. It would be great if other filmmakers or producers were excited about our work and wanted to collaborate on other projects or for The Seven Men of Hanukkah to reach a much wider audience.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Yes, yes and yes! We’d love to meet all of these folks you’ve mentioned to move The Seven Men of Hanukkah to a larger audience and to potentially expand this story or work on other projects, too.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
We want the audience to be so sucked into our story that 16 minutes later, they have a smile on their face and are satisfied that the questions we raise are answered and that they love these characters as much as we do.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How far is too far when trying to help a friend?
What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve said or done with someone you barely know?
How has humor helped you get through tough times?
Would you like to add anything else?
The lead characters in The Seven Men of Hanukkah are the kind of people who usually are the best friend or supporting characters in a film, and in this case, they are pushed to center stage and fully explored. Interestingly, our leads, Mike Houston and Jenny Kirlin, both expressed how excited they were to have the opportunity to play romantic leads as that’s not how they are generally cast.
I think more storytellers are finally becoming more imaginative and inclusive of how the real world is and it’s a great place to be! The character “Stephanie” says she wants to look “sexy and smart, like a sexy, smart librarian.” This is a joke. Her looks aren’t central to the story. Mike and Jenny are both captivating on the screen and bring Stephanie and Phil to life in beautiful, fully realized ways, and they are drawn to each other for a lot of reasons.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
From Sharon, Writer: I had the opportunity to be one of the writers on BKPI (Brooklyn Private Investigators), a new web series that is currently in postproduction. (Creator/Director: Hye Yun Park. Produced by Super Deluxe.) Daryl Lathon is featured as an actor in one of the episodes.
Also, I have upcoming productions of my short plays in Pleasantville, NY, across the Hudson Valley and in Sydney, Australia. I’m working on a rewrite of my feature screenplay The Golden Age of Kali and a second feature screenplay. I’m going to continue submitting (and hopefully screening) The Seven Men of Hanukkah.
From Daryl, Director/Editor: I’m in post-production on my next short film, A New Kind of Silence.
Interview: November 2016
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The Seven Men of Hanukkah
Not every audition is about getting the role.
About the writer, director and producer:
Daryl Lathon (Director/Editor/Producer) has developed into an accomplished filmmaker, receiving accolades for his work on a number of short films including President of the Fan Club, Anniversary Dinner, Sunshine, and the web series Clean Kill.
Sharon Cooper (Writer/Producer). Sharon is an internally produced playwright who has been published in several anthologies. Her short plays have had productions across the United States, Germany, England, Hungary, and India. The Seven Men of Hanukkah is her first short film.
Mike Houston (Phil) Debuting in early 2017, Mike can be seen guest starring in the upcoming Amazon series, 'Sneaky Pete' starring Bryan Cranston, as well as guest starring in the 4th Season of the SAG Award winning original series Orange is the New Black on Netflix. He has been a featured guest star on a number of episodes of the hit show Inside Amy Schumer on Comedy Central.
Jenny Kirlin (Stephanie) has appeared in more than a dozen films and national commercials, including featured roles in the films Motherhood (with Uma Thurman) and The Messenger (with Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster).
Looking for: producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, and journalists and funders for future projects.
Made in association with:
And Executive Producers: Al and Pauline Cooper
Release date: 2016
More info: www.thesevenmenofhanukkah.com