In “Silence Is Not Golden,” we are attempting to take a look at some modestly-released films through the eyes of the filmmakers themselves. This installment features writer/director Marc Fienberg, who was kind enough to answer our questions about Play the Game, which has a national release date of August 21st. Our thoughts on the film can be found here and be sure to check out the official website at: www.playthegamemovie.com.
Golden Grouches: I’ve read that Play The Game is, at least in some ways, a very personal project, the idea stemming from conversations you had with your own grandfather over his foray back into the dating pool. But another reason the story felt so fresh was the relative paucity of romantic comedies (or really movies in general) with a major plot revolving around the elderly. Did that concept of bringing something somewhat new to the genre impact the writing and filmmaking process at all?
Marc Fienberg: The film was inspired by my own grandfather who started dating again when he was 89 years old. When he started sharing the details of his love life with me, admittedly I was a bit uncomfortable with the images popping into my head, but when I started to see my grandfather go through the all the same emotions and issues of a schoolkid in love, (Should I talk to her, what should I say, what if she doesn’t like me, what if she DOES like me, etc.) I found it amazingly touching and endearing. And that range of emotions that I experienced in learning about the love life of a older person was the same range of emotions I wanted to bring the audience through in the film. And so throughout the filmmaking process, I didn’t pull any punches with the “senior sex” scenes. Very little is shown, as the film is PG-13, but I wasn’t afraid of making people in the theater a little uncomfortable. So the biggest effect of having the senior storyline in the film was making sure that it stayed true to the life of real seniors, not diluting it at all out of fear of offending people. Strangely enough, those scenes are the ones that bring the biggest laughs from the audience, so I’m glad we didn’t cave to the pressure of making it more mainstream.
GG: If you’ll pardon me hunting for clues in your diction, when you describe some of your screenwriting decisions, you use first person, but say “we didn’t cave” when talking about how mainstream the film ended up being. How were those kinds of decisions made? As writer, director, and producer, was it difficult to incorporate the suggestions of the other producers?
MF: Usually, when I’m referring to “We” creatively, it’s me and my wife I’m referring to. This movie was a true family affair, and she had an enormous impact on the film creatively, especially since she did much of the casting and was on set everyday to help with some of the details that I just didn’t have the time to focus on. The pressure we felt was from industry “experts” who advised us to make it more crass, or more dramatic, or more something. Everybody’s got their opinion of what they think the market wants, and eventually we just realized that it’s really just their opinion of what they themselves want personally. Once you come to that conclusion, you realize that Abe was right and you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and even more importantly, you can’t predict what the market will want. As a result, you learn to go with your gut, and that’s what I did. Thankfully, my wife and I are pretty much on the same page creatively, so it wasn’t really difficult to integrate her suggestions at all. More importantly, I found that the actors had most of the best suggestions creatively, and when I trusted my gut and followed their lead, great things happened. In fact, I would estimate that almost all of the changes that our actors made, either through improv or during rehearsals, made it into the final film because they were spot on creatively.
GG: Speaking of the market, has Play The Game met your expectations in terms of its audience? I know the film first opened in Florida (that’s where I saw it) and did pretty well there.
MF: It has exceeded our wildest expectations in terms of reaching its audience. First in sheer numbers: over 50,000 people have seen the film in Florida alone. Second in terms of the demographics: We’ve obviously reached the boomer/senior audience of those 55 years or older, and I think having Andy Griffith and Doris Roberts in the movie, as well as tackling the subject of senior love, companionship and sex, has helped get that audience in the theater. But the longer we’re in the theaters, the more we’re seeing teens and college kids come see the movie. Most suprisingly, in market research polls, our film actually scored higher with 12-24 year olds than it did with 55+ year olds! As it turns out, the kids love the dating tricks they learn from the movie, and we get compared to Will Smith’s HITCH all the time, a movie in which he was teaching a younger guy how to date. So to see a bunch of teens sharing a theater with a bunch of seniors is a nice testament the fact that movie really has something for young and old. And of course, it’s always nice when I get an email from somebody who brought their grandparent with them to see the movie together…
GG: I think Hitch is an interesting point of comparison. The premise and plot are certainly similar enough that I can definitely see recommending Play The Game to someone who enjoys it. Of course, a significant part of the appeal of Hitch is Will Smith, and obviously there aren’t very many actors who can match his charm. How hard was it for you to cast the principal actors and actresses? Did you have people in mind, or did it take some time to find the right matches?
MF: It’s true that Will Smith charms audiences, but I think what was appealing about that film was the story of him teaching a much less charming and more naive Kevin James all his dating tricks, which I think is the same thing that attracts younger audiences to our film; seeing a young, charming Paul Campbell teaching his dating tricks to an older, naive, lonely Andy Griffith is just fun and touching to watch.
We were definitely very particular and meticulous in our casting, but having a good script and unique story was really what helped us get such amazing and legendary actors. Andy told me that it was the first script he read that he didn’t have any changes with, and that he loved the character of Grandpa Joe because he got to fool around with women, and he didn’t die at the end of the story. Doris and Liz too were attracted to the story because we didn’t pull any punches when it came to the seniors in love storyline. Paul Campbell and Marla Sokoloff clearly fit their parts better than any other actors I auditioned. It was definitely a situation where, when I saw them, it was clear that they were the right ones for their roles.
GG: Owing, I’m assuming, to the release strategy, Play The Game hasn’t received a ton of reviews (relatively-speaking), but have you read the ones it has received? And if so, is there anything about which you wish you could responded to the reviewer?
MF: Indeed, we have not solicited many reviews for Play The Game because we were only doing a test market in Florida and wanted to “save” our reviews for when the movie is released nationally. I have read most of the reviews, but whether the reviews are good or bad, I don’t really have the urge to respond to individual reviewers, with the exception of offering them all a sincere “thank you for taking the time”. Good reviews are obviously more enjoyable to read than bad ones, but to paraphrase what my good friend Abe said, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Luckily, Play The Game seems to please MOST of the people MOST of the time, as reflected by the fact that almost 60,000 people have paid good money to see the movie, most, I imagine, because somebody else recommended it to them. That’s what matters most to me…
We’d like to thank Marc for his time. If you have any suggestions or tips for interviews, please e-mail us at GoldenGrouchesATgmailDOTcom.