Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Winter Passing

Winter Passing is a world premier at the festival and the first feature film from playwright and author Adam Rapp, who wrote the screenplay and directed. The film follows Reese, a young actress played by Zooey Deschanel, who returns home from New York when a book publisher asks her to find the correspondence between her parents, both famous authors. Reese is drifting through life, so detached that she takes to slamming drawers on her hand just to feel something.

She travels to her family home in Michigan, only to find that her ailing and eccentric father (Ed Harris) has taken in one of his former grad students (Amelia Warner) and a former Christian rocker (Will Ferrell), after the death of his wife and Reese's mother. Reese's interactions with her father and the pseudo-family that has collected around him prompt her to expose her feelings about her childhood and relationship with her parents, and to come to terms with her own life.

I thought this was an excellent film, especially considering this was Rapp's directorial debut. Zooey Deschanel gives a wonderful, emotional performance as Reese, and Will Ferrell does a restrained, thoughtful turn as the rocker/handyman Corbit. Rapp's story and characters were interesting, and the occassional light comic moments provided a nice counterpoint to the dramatic, emotional story at the heart of the film. I thought this was a film well worth watching.

Writer/director Adam Rapp was present for a Q&A session after the film:

  • The film came to being when Rapp was up for a grant through the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had produced a couple of his plays. He came up with a synopsis for a four-character play set in the garage, and at the end, the garage door would open to reveal the furniture in the back yard. However, he didn't get the grant.

    At the time, he had signed with a west coast agent who suggested he write a screenplay. This prompted Rapp to open the story up, starting with Reese's departure from New York. Once he had finished it, Rapp said he couldn't imagine anyone but him screwing it up.
  • On the subject of casting, Rapp said he first wrote to Ed Harris, who called him back three days later saying he wanted to do the movie. Having Harris on board allowed Rapp to attract other actors to at least read the script.

    At the time, Rapp shared the same agency with Will Ferrell. Rapp's agent suggested Ferrell for the film, but Rapp was hesitant because Ferrell was so big and was becoming very famous, and the character of Corbit is such a loner, kind of lost in the world, and trying to disappear, in many of the same ways as Ed Harris' character. But when Rapp met Ferrell, Ferrell was very decisive about how he wanted to do a small dramatic role, and he seemed to trust both the idea of it and Rapp, and they had a good rapport. Rapp added that Ferrell was one of the sweetest people he's ever met.

    For Zooey Deschanel, Rapp had met with about 45 actresses, but felt that she had the kind of dynamics he was looking for, that she had an incredible intelligence, was very good with language, and at the same time had an incredible emotional life. Rapp also loved her work in David Gordon Green's film, All the Real Girls.

    Rapp said that without the participation of Harris and Ferrell, they wouldn't have gotten the financing to make the film.
  • Terry Stacey was the cinematographer, and he also did The Door in the Floor and In Her Shoes (which is also showing here at the festival). He was Rapp's mentor a lot early in the process when Rapp didn't know that much about film or its technical execution.

    They sat together for about two months, talking about what films they liked and how they wanted it to look and move. Both are huge fans of 70's films like those by Bob Rafelson and Hal Ashby, and they talked about that, and how the camera would move, how it would become stiller as Reese became more still in her life.

    Rapp said that Stacey works with a lot of first-time directors, so he felt really lucky, and that Stacey is one of the funniest people he’s ever worked with, and the he wears a funny hat a lot.
  • When asked if he considers the music in the film the landscape of Resee’s psychology, Rapp said very much so, that the musical selections were very important (Rapp is also a musician). He felt the music carries the mood of the picture and Resee’s inner life. Both Rapp and Meg Reticker, the editor, spent a lot of time listening to and experimenting with music. They worked to find a lot of female voices, like Cat Power and Dawn Landes, women around the same age as Reese, singing about things similar to what the character was going through in the movie.
  • Asked about the scene where Harris and Ferrell are playing golf in a room in the house, Rapp said that he needed some way for Harris’ character to destroy the room and turn it into something else, because the room was where he and his wife slept, and made love, and had their life. Rapp thought golf would be a theatrical sounding thing (the sound of the balls and showing the walls crumbling). It also establishes that Harris’ character has an agoraphobic bent; he puts the furniture on the lawn and the house is turning into other things through the grief that is going on.
  • Rapp was asked how he got away with showing smoking in NYC bars. He replied that they had shut the places down so it was no problem, and that he loved the way it looks, and that is so French. Because Zooey Deschanel doesn’t smoke, Rapp had to cut around some of her smoking scenes because it looked like her eyelashes were on fire; but Ed Harris smokes beautifully.


Wow, you took great notes on this film! I was at the 9:00 a.m. screening on Monday (it sounds like you were to, unless the other screening had pretty much the same Q&A). I asked Adam if he originally conceived of the idea as a play because it is the kind of piece with few characters that would work well on stage (with consolidated locations--the garage--of course). All the performances were excellent. Of course, even though Adam Rapp is a first-time film director, he's written and directed theater, so he has experience working with actors. Good film.

Thanks! I remember that question being asked. I think his experience as a playwright showed through in the screenplay and the performances.

this film was supposed to take place in the u.p of michigan it clearly did not i am a yooper and yoopers know where bars are up here there is no great notch inn in the u.p. next time film where your story takes place i'm sure you could afford it everything is cheap up here!

The Great Notch Inn is actually in Little Falls, NJ. I live right down the road from it. Imagine my surprise when I saw it in a movie taking place in Michigan!

My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites