What's so important about a 5 star rating? Maggie's about to find out! Maggie, a wife and mother, must find the courage to own up to her behavior when she wakes to find every adult has received a YELP-like star rating floating above their head. While most everyone has a shining 4 or 5 star rating, Maggie's got just 2.5.
Interview with Writer/Director John Fortson
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! I had to! I love movies. I grew up on them. Inspired by Woody Allen, Nicole Holfecener, Jay and Mark Duplass, and Alexander Payne to name a few. I'm always writing. And so I was hit with this idea as friends were explaining Uber to me and how you rate the drivers and they rate you (only you don't get to know what your rating is).
And as my wife and I are frequent Yelp users, looking up good restaurants to eat at and everything else, coupled with my tendency to write very personally from my life, these swirling themes became a story that was jumping out of me. I knew it would touch people and so moved on it, financing it myself, and taking the leap to direct. I loved it.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
RATED is an extremely engaging dramedy, more about our humanness than the stars themselves. The film speaks to that deeply human need to be liked and how we wrestle with that need in everyday life. So relevant today with our positive or negative obsession to rate everything from our favorite restaurant, to a park, to our dentist.
But it's also about relationship, and our self reflection as people that can, if we let it, lead us to humility, empathy, and forgiveness. Qualities that help us grow as people. What more can we ask for?
The performances are amazing and spot on, delivering a story that will make you laugh, think, and discuss our social boundaries today.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
I always write from a very personal place, intimate, and mostly about relationships in my life. I find that what I think is personal is actually universal as the more personal I get, the more people identify with what my characters are experiencing.
The fact that the stars are in this film is an added bonus of relative social concept that says so much about our lives today and is relatable to almost everyone on the planet.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
Right away, when I got the idea, I brought it home and shared it with my wife, Christie Lynn Smith, who plays Maggie, and who produced and co-wrote the script. We started improving situations back and forth around the idea. Was the husband or wife going to have the 2.5 stars and how would that change the story?
That decision to have the wife have the lower stars made the movie. We just empathize with her in a way that wouldn't of played as strongly with the husband's character. Overall though, the film is actually very close to the script we wrote. I had pretty clear ideas from the beginning.
The biggest evolvement was the fine tuning in the editing room with my editor/producer Heath Ryan at his company Pace Pictures in LA. Together we went through every frame of the film creating the tone and pace of the film as well as the comic rhythms. Painstaking, minute detail was given to every frame and I wouldn't change a thing.
I loved the work and working with Heath. He had the idea for Maggie's closeup when she walks outside for the first time. So I did a pick up shot and it's a huge laugh and a great addition to exposing Maggie's feelings at that moment, informing us more about who she really is.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
Tremendous. Sold out screenings at festivals with lots of laughs, reactions and people approaching me afterward sharing how moved they were by RATED. Telling me they had tears in their eyes. How much they identify with our main character, Maggie, and how much they want to improve their own "rating" in their life.
The film seems to create a lot of self reflection, which I'm proud of, as I think it's reflective of a story well told. Whenever we can look inside us, I think we grow as people. We need more of that.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
I've not been challenged by the feedback, but emboldened by it. That this story is so relevant and meaningful to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. I appreciate that. I had some strong ideas writing, directing, and editing, but it's talking to audiences, which I love to do, which brings out such great discussions because they see things you never thought of as the film comes together before their eyes.
That's why I'm excited to direct more films. I love that touch you can have with audiences. I'm talking to them through the film.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
This is a beautiful and unique website, curating together the best short films of today. I'd love for the industry to take notice of all the great films here and the talents of the directors, writers, actors and producers bringing them to life, so that we can all further our creative careers in filmmaking. I'm excited to direct more films and to continue to tell the stories that speak to my heart.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
I'm always looking for wonderful festival directors to join with me in bringing RATED to their audiences, spread the word, and get people talking. RATED continues to play to the top tier on the festival circuit so we are excited to see where it can go.
I'd love to talk to journalists to spread the story of this film. I have a feature script written, based on the short RATED I'm looking to shoot soon. So it would be wonderful to bring aboard producers, sales agents, and distributors to help make that feature happen in the right way.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
It's happening, people are laughing, people are talking, people come up to me with tears expressing how much they identify with the main character and her journey. I'd love for this impact to reach as many people as possible around the world.
People see RATED and they immediately start asking their partner, how many stars do you think I'd have? Self reflection. Fun!
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
How many stars would you have?
Would you like to add anything else?
Three things: I could not of done this film without the amazing work of our VFX team, Thilak Vasu and his company Cinibees Studio and Rekha Mohan who now has her own company WidevisionVFX, both in India. They were very helpful to me, communicative, and genius in mastering the work necessary to achieve the stars of RATED.
And to all the cast and crew who did such an amazing job and worked seamlessly to bring my vision to life. Every award RATED receives goes to everyone involved with our film. Thank you!
And that I'm blessed to have a John Cassavetes type of family. The actor who plays Maggie is my wife, Christie Lynn Smith, and the actor playing Hannah, the young girl, is my real life daughter, Abby Ryder Fortson. And the young little guy playing my son is, yes you guessed it, my real son, Joshua Fortson, making his film debut. And he did great!
My kids grew up in our acting world and have just taken right to it. You might recognize my daughter as Paul Rudd's daughter in Marvel's Ant-Man as well as Mark Duplass' daughter on HBO's Togetherness.
They do an amazing job and I'm so proud to have the opportunity to work with them. I have to commend Christie for trusting me and my direction, which brought to her character, Maggie, a beautiful, yet delicate balance of vulnerability and strength. Her great work allows us to clearly see and feel who Maggie is and what she's wrestling with in her life. She nailed it!
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
As I've said I have a feature script based on this short, RATED, that I'm looking to get shooting soon. We are looking to bring aboard the right people to make it happen. Christie Lynn Smith has a script of her own that we are excited about as well, that is also extremely relevant.
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
Where can I watch it? We are screening at Palm Springs International Shortfest: June 23rd at 8:30pm as part of "A World Imagined" and August 9-14 at FLICKERS' Rhode Island International Film Festival and August 11-20 for our LA Premiere at HollyShorts. Check our website www.ratedthefilm.com for updates and news on future screenings.
Length: 19min 24sec
Director: John Fortson
Producer: John Fortson, BD Gunnell, Lindsay Lanzillotta, Heath Ryan, Christie Lynn Smith, Andrew Troy
Writer: John Fortson, Christie Lynn Smith
John Fortson: (Director/Writer/Producer/Lead Actor) is an award winning LA based director/writer/actor making his directorial debut with RATED which to date has won 2 Jury awards and been selected by many top festivals in the country. He's currently finished the feature script for RATED. www.ratedthefilm.com
Christie Lynn Smith: (Producer/Co-Writer/Lead Actor) has starred in more than 70 television shows and films portraying a wide range of characters with deep emotional range. Some of her credits include: Justified, Weeds, The Crazies. www.christielynnsmith.com
BD Gunnell: (Producer/Line Producer): A Los Angeles based Producer working on a variety of independent films including the recent, including the recent Almost Paris, for Dominica Scorsese.
Lindsay Lanzillotta: (Producer): A Los Angeles based Producer with Candleridge Entertainment. She produced a variety of films including the Sundance select and festival winner, The Vicious Kind, and the recent critical and festival darling, The Invitation. Lindsay is a multi-media producer from Toronto, Canada who has worked in Los Angeles for nine years.
Heath Ryan: (Producer/Editor): Originally from Australia, Heath is the CEO/Founder of Pace Pictures in Los Angeles which handles editing, vfx, and coloring for a variety of the biggest studios in the business. But he's passionate about making movies, thus while having edited a wide range of films both studio and independent, he's also been producing, most recently, Lawless Range with Kris Kristofferson. www.pacepictures.com
He formed his first production company at age 14, in Adelaide, Australia. He has devoted his life to the world of film, television and web production. He and his company Pace Pictures have completed numerous feature films for major studios in Hollywood, including Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2, The Little Rascals, Mine Games, The Lookalike and Jingle All the Way 2. Heath edited the HBO documentary Brothers Lost and has produced and directed advertising spots and trailers for international brands and campaigns.
Heath produced the pilot, The Producer, starring Billy Zane and the feature film Lawless Range with Kris Kristofferson and Beau Bridges he is currently producing and editing Woody Woodpecker for Universal and has produced and edited numerous award winning shorts and Virtual Reality content for projects like Coachella 2016.
Pace also specializes in VFX and title design and was responsible for the highly acclaimed opening and closing sequences for the feature Veronica Mars and is currently working on iZombie for director Rob Thomas.
Andrew Troy: (Producer/Sound Editor-Mixer): A Los Angeles based Producer, owner of Troy Entertainment and The Park Entertainment since 2001. Andrew has collaborated with many great filmmakers on projects that have achieved high artistic merit and global box office success. Some projects include: Salinger, Sugar, Cry Now, The Fighter, The Runaways, The Devil and Daniel Johnson, Growing Up Smith, Hairspray, Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story, and the NRDC’s Acid Test: A Global Challenge. www.troyent.com
Key cast: Christie Lynn Smith, John Fortson, Abby Ryder Fortson, Deepti Gupta, Ayman Samman, Bronwen Bonner-Davies, Patrick Daniel, Kate Morgan Chadwick, Joann Krekorian, Joshua Fortson
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Any and all. I also have finished the feature script of RATED and are ready to get shooting.
Funders: I funded RATED myself.
Release date: March 2016