When tomorrow is a promise that can't be kept, live for a happy now. Veteran actress Lainey Allen (Chappell) is tired of being sidelined for younger talent on the soap she has starred in for twenty years. Coupled with finding it harder to retain her lines, she decides not to renew her contract, and she and her publicist and partner, Eva Morales (Leccia), move to a beach house overlooking the ocean on the Central California coast. The move highlights some small changes in Lainey’s personality – mild depression that Eva puts down to leaving the show. But when Lainey starts to forget more than can be attributed to stress, Eva insists on a visit to the doctor.
Interview with Writer/Executive Producer Marisa Calin
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
When I came across the pairing of Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia on Guiding Light, I was immediately struck by their authenticity. The story was known as Otalia, the portmanteau given by fans of the characters Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera - women who fell for each other over a number of years in a slow-burn love story. The buried feelings that each character harbored provoked beautifully understated and nuanced performances, with a rare chemistry between the actors that didn’t feel generated or manufactured.
I love strong female characters, and while there was such a show of strength in Crystal’s character, Olivia, the magic lay in the vulnerability that at moments she couldn’t help but reveal. To see something raw show through in a character as if against their will is a captivating trait. I was very intrigued to explore with Crystal a similarly indomitable character who has thrived and existed on control but who now faces the most inevitable and compromising decline.
I also wanted to explore the shifting dynamic between a woman leaving the height of her career behind, and the woman who has been her steadfast behind-the-scenes support system as she takes the reins.
In regard to format, I was excited by the idea of reuniting these actors in a feature. They had existed daily in the living rooms of their profoundly devoted audience, who waited for three minute snatches each day of the storyline and the women they had fallen in love with. I wanted to be able to deliver the sustained intensity of an intimate start-to-finish journey that kept us by their sides and didn’t let up.
The setting of the beach house allowed us to spend a great deal of time at one location exploring the emotional and shifting dynamic between the two women, reducing the palette to this intimate and cocooned environment.
Beyond the personal familial experience I have with Alzheimer’s disease, I hoped to gift the two actors rich emotional journeys. It is as uniquely complex an experience for the patient as it is for the caregiver, so when I was looking to invite both Crystal and Jessica on to the project, I wanted to explore a subject that was dear to my heart, about which I had a point of view, and also one which provided a strong journey they could each equally engage with.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Because it’s a relatable character study in a simple and beautiful setting that hopefully builds a world but also strips away everything unimportant. Here are two people who love each other, dealing with a game changing moment in life that will rebalance everything their relationship is founded on. They’re a world away from you, and it could also happen to you. We’ve taken a woman and elevated her success to make her fall more poignant, but their relationship is every relationship - the power plays, the concessions, the vulnerability, the shifting dynamic and the trust.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The heartbreak of Alzheimer’s lies so much in understanding our own sense of identity and how we can continue to exist if we no longer have that. I gave Lainey her role as an actress on a soap because of the unique way these actors are required to inhabit other identities for such prolonged periods of time. With a character in the public eye dealing with people’s perception of her, I could layer the depth of the crisis of identity she might experience.
How who we love makes us part of who we are is thematically a big piece for me, and if we don’t remember them, or can’t relate that love to the person in front of us, who are we?
How we look at ‘now’ versus how we envision the life we’ll shape for ourselves is also a theme for me. For some of us, so much of life is spent dreaming into the future about everything we’ll be and do. And when that’s stripped away, being in the moment is everything. For someone planful and goal orientated, it’s been interesting to have to engage so much with the idea of living in the now.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
I wrote a first draft in just a few weeks, making sure it had a clear vision and tone, but sharing it early with Crystal and her co-producers, to invite their feelings and make sure they were signing onto a project that truly resonated for them. The first draft focused more on diagnosis and covered a shorter period of time. Anticipating something can cause as much fear as the experience itself, so there were a lot of stages for the characters to move through even before the disease really took hold. It was also less neatly concluded. As the script developed, we started the story earlier in their life together to help us invest in their relationship, and carried it through for a sense of conclusion.
Above all, Crystal and Hillary (B. Smith - both a Producer and Val) helped to draw out the lighter aspects of the story. My early view was perhaps more stark, and they reminded me of the importance of hope and humor, so the trick was to keep the life and energy.
Between Eva’s belief that Lainey can experience happiness even if she can’t retain the reason for it, and Lainey’s acknowledgement that she will be able to look at Eva and see her as beautiful as if for the first time every day, I have tried to bring the positivity that people so often show in the face of the hardest adversity, and the levity that we use in our lives to make the darkest parts manageable. The key is in that balance.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
We’ve only just begun our festival screenings. Our first outing was opening the Desperado Film Festival and we won the audience award - Best Feature - which I think is testament to Crystal and Jessica’s chemistry and hopefully a fairly universal story. Dementia has touched a lot of people’s lives in some way and no one is immune. The decline is the same for us all, no matter who we are and where we began. It’s the world’s greatest equalizer, in a time when being equal, whether it’s gender, sexuality, race or religion is so important.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Not yet. It’s early days. I’ll be interested to see if that changes, perhaps as I hear from more people who have their own personal experiences.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I love embracing niche, and producing material for an under-represented community, but I also believe in the universality of the themes in the film. There’s something beautifully simple about this story, and beautifully accessible about the performances. I think there’s tremendous merit in LGBT festivals and dedicated corners of book stores, but I also know the importance of there being normalizing and integrated exposure to all the things that make us different. This is an endeavor to tell a story like any other and I hope it might bring up interesting feelings for people who come across it who might not have elsewhere.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We are currently seeking distribution. The rights to the film have been signed to Shoreline Entertainment and we are looking for a distribution deal that will help us to reach as wide an audience as possible. Crystal’s existing following and online platform meant that we could have taken the film straight to a streaming service, but I felt that that might leave an untapped audience who could take something from it.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
My instinct is to answer on a very personal level. Beyond this being a story about a relationship between two women without that being a thematic focus, my experience with grandparents suffering from Alzheimer’s has shaped my view as an occasional visitor. If I can look just at the individual moment, there’s something pure, albeit still painful, about a moment suspended in time that exists purely on its own merit and not for any lasting effect. The fact that they won’t remember doesn’t make the short-term happiness and sense of being loved any less important. Looked at through a wider lens, it can be very depressing, and full time caregivers can’t sustain that view point, but I hope people might leave the film inspired to find those present moments of happiness with the people around them.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
The inherited aspect of the early onset Alzheimer’s we’re dealing with is in some ways peripheral to the story, but the questions it raises about how we live life are very interesting. Are you obliged to tell your partner something that may or may not happen? Are you protecting them from pain you yourself have no choice but to experience, or are you depriving them of an opportunity to prepare themselves, and the knowledge to appreciate every moment and live each day to its fullest?
Conversely, would you want to know something that could color every experience negatively, or instead prompt you to live a richer life? As Eva says, “I’m trying so hard to appreciate every second with you, that I can’t.” That’s their journey.
Would you like to add anything else?
We receive worldwide messages inquiring about the film’s release, and we’re very excited to share this film with its patient and deserving audience. We couldn’t have made it if we didn’t know that there were people who would go to see it, so thanks to them, we could set this project in motion to bring them more material.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Albert Alarr is currently running the show at Days of Our Lives for NBC.
Crystal Chappell is filming the final season of her web series Venice the Series.
Hillary B. Smith is reprising her Emmy winning role as Nora Buchanan, this time on General Hospital.
Christa Morris is working in television production.
Marisa Calin is working on a second novel and a new screenplay.
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
A Million Happy Nows
When tomorrow is a promise that can't be kept, live for a happy now.
Length: 80 minutes
Director: Albert Alarr
Producers: Marisa Calin, Crystal Chappell, Hillary B. Smith, Christa Morris
Writer: Marisa Calin
About Marisa Calin (Writer)
Marisa is an actress, screenwriter and novelist. She grew up in Bath, England, and trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Her debut novel for Young Adults, Between You & Me, – a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2012 and recipient of a Kirkus star for “books of exceptional merit” – was published by Bloomsbury USA. Between You & Me was also selected for the American Library Associations’ 2013 Rainbow Book List of quality books with authentic LGBT content, and as a Kobo dazzling debut. She is the narrator of numerous audiobooks. Find more at marisacalin.com.
About Albert Alarr (Director)
Albert graduated from the Julliard School for Theatre and went straight into John Houseman’s Acting Company as a member of their touring ensemble. He spent several years working in various repertory companies across the United States as an actor and director.
After a few years of intensive work in the theatre, Albert returned to school and received his graduate degree from the USC School of Cinema and Television. He wrote and directed his first short film and worked as an assistant editor on several major film and television projects such as The American President, Grumpier Old Men, and Dangerous Minds.
Albert was picked up by Walt Disney Television as the first recipient of their Director Fellowship Program for women and minorities, where he trained in multi-camera direction. He has directed such shows as Home Improvement, Homeboys in Outer Space and was a contract director for ABC, directing Port Charles, General Hospital and All My Children. He is now the Co-Executive Producer of NBC’s Days of Our Lives. He has been nominated for three Directors Guild awards and three Directing Emmys and recently won an Emmy for producing Days Of Our Lives.
About Perfect Features (Producer)
PERFECT FEATURES was established in 2014 by screenwriter, actress and novelist, Marisa Calin, initially to partner with Crystal Chappell’s OPEN BOOK PRODUCTIONS, to bring feature film A Million Happy Nows to the screen. The company will continue to develop and produce female led, character driven features.