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Lindsay R. Bellinger


 

Lindsay is a film journalist and an aspiring playwright currently based in Berlin.

Attending film festivals, reviewing films and collecting vinyl keeps her busy. Let her know what you think of her reviews.^^


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All These Small Moments currently at Mannheim-Heidelberg Filmfest - interview with director Melissa Miller Costanzo

(Melissa Miller Costanzo, Molly Ringwald and Oldenburg Filmfest head Torsten Neumann, Photo courtesy of Laurence Diederich / Filmfest Oldenburg)
 
By LINDSAY R. BELLINGER
 
"All These Small Moments" is currently screening at the 68th Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival and will have its first screening at the Torino Film Festival on November 25th. It had its international premiere at the Oldenburg International Film Festival in September and Melissa Miller Costanzo and actress Molly Ringwald were in attendance. Since my interview with Miller Costanzo, distributor Orion Classics has scooped up the North American and Latin American rights for her film, which will see its theatrical release on January 17, 2019 with a VOD release the following day. 
 
Melissa Miller Costanza's debut feature "All These Small Moments," based on her own screenplay, is a coming-of-age tale centered around Howie Sheffield (Brendan Meyer) and two potential love interests, the older Odessa (Jemima Kirke) and schoolmate Lindsay (Harley Quinn Smith). It's an entertaining, biting, ensemble piece that wonderfully showcases New York City, particularly the Cobble Hill area of Brooklyn. There are plenty of comedic, awkward, honest moments and at times it even gets a bit dark and edgy. Some of the more notable and darker scenes are family-oriented, involving Howie's parents Carla (portrayed by the talented and lovely Molly Ringwald) and Jon (the recognizable Brian d'Arcy James). Ringwald is a household name for those of us who grew up watching 80s films and anyone who might have caught her onstage in NYC or London and d'Arcy James is an established stage and film actor whose face is likely familiar, having been in "Spotlight", "Molly's Game" and "13 Reasons Why". The scenes about the ebbs and flows of a marriage, growing apart and growing indifferent are very touching. Therapy sessions, uncomfortable family dinners, being alone on one's birthday and just the sheer amount of casual "fucks" thrown around make for a candid and biting family affair. The perfectly-timed straight man delivery from talented newcomer Sam McCarthy as younger brother Simon rounds out the Sheffield clan. 
 
 
The Q&A session moderated by filmmaker Buddy Giovinazzo had a slew of questions thrown at Miller Costanza and Ringwald. It was surprising to hear Ringwald reveal that she considered getting work done on her bottom teeth but thought it would never be an issue. She was in for a rude awakening when Miller Costanza's script called for a big close-up during one of her more dramatic scenes. She said that it was probably the closest close-up that she ever had in her entire career, which is surprising seeing that her film career has spanned the last 36 years. Ringwald shared that she always tries to find the dignity in whichever role she takes on, so occasionally she was worried if Carla was coming across as too bitchy or too dark. She didn't; it made her seem like a real woman, wife and mother. 
 
Melissa Miller Costanza is down-to-earth and approachable, much like her film. When I sat down with her after the film screened at Oldenburg we discussed her writing process, how she got the film made and one particularly miserable day shooting in the rain. At times, it almost felt as if we were old friends just catching up. After the interview we even sat together during a screening of Altman's "Nashville," which Keith Carradine personally introduced. "All These Small Moments" is a charming New York film that deserves its place among the ever popular coming-of-age films that have graced our screens these past few decades. Perhaps this is also the start of a budding songwriting career because in part to this film, Miller Costanza is now an accredited songwriter. Not bad for one's debut film, not bad at all. The primarily German audience in Oldenburg laughed heartily throughout the film. Congrats to Miller Costanza and her team for their great film! 

 
Thanks for sitting down with me. I really enjoyed the heart and honesty of your film, especially the family moments including the Simon character. His straight delivery was so spot-on, lightening some of the heavier scenes.
 
Melissa Miller Costanza: People love the younger brother. 
 
Although the selling point of the film is a coming-of-age story about Howie falling for an older woman, I personally felt that the heart of the film is the family dynamic with the mom, dad, and the two brothers. I suppose that were I younger I would relate more to Howie, Lindsay and their friends but now I find myself relating more to Odessa and the parents. It was nice having an ensemble cast with all of their little separate storylines. Can you discuss a little bit about your writing process? There were so many funny and authentic lines within the film.   
 
MMC: Yeah, I don't know whether you saw the film "Walk The Line" with Joaquin Phoenix. 
 
Yeah, I did. 
 
MMC: There's a scene where Reese Witherspoon's character says, "You're doing all these things and can't help it. Well, you wear black because you have nothing else clean, you sing that way because you can't sing any better." Basically, she's saying "take responsibility for it." And my answer would be, that's just kind of the way that I write. But I think a professional writer or a professor would probably tell me that I was all over the place too much, but that's just how my mind worked in these sort of separate storylines. And I think that when it came together it did work, you know, and I do think that it truly is an ensemble because each character has their own thing going on, other than the main character. And in a lot of ways Howie, even though the movie is about him, he is the straight man and there are obviously things happening around him. So even the secondary characters hopefully are interesting and have something to say. 
 
Yeah, they are pretty interesting. I feel that the entire cast really worked well off of one another. I definitely had a longing for New York City while watching your film, even though it's been awhile since I lived there. There are so many quintessential NY moments that you captured beautifully. That makes me wonder whether you yourself grew up in the city, seeing that it's a coming-of-age tale and all. 
 
MMC: No, no, I grew up in Boston, and I moved to New York right out of college. But the funny thing about this movie is that it takes place in Brooklyn and everyone is like, "Oh, it's so authentically Brooklyn and you really know Brooklyn." I mean I've never even lived in Brooklyn. I live in Manhattan but still even Molly was like, "Well, you live in Brooklyn" and I was like, "No I don't." People just assume for whatever reason that I live in Brooklyn, but I am probably one of the rare people that I know that still has a family living in Manhattan. 
 
And it was the Cobble Hill neighborhood, right? I thought I read that at the bus stop where Howie and Simon jumped on the bus. 
 
MMC: Yeah, yeah, yeah exactly.
 
The teenage male dialogue and situations felt realistic and reminded me of boys I knew in high school. You look too young but from the way you write I would guess that maybe you have a teenage son at home. 
 
MMC: I have one son who is six, so it definitely did not come from there. 
 
Wow, that surprises me. I thought for sure that you had some teenage boys running around, or maybe you just closely studied your brothers and cousins while growing up. The scenes with the boys are quite memorable.
 
MMC: Thank you. But I think sometimes for whatever reason I'm always thinking about the male perspective in a lot of ways because I don't know how any kid got out of high school with all the hormones going on and all the aggression. And I think that's why, you know, the boys beat the shit out of each other because they have all of this sexual tension that they don't know what to do with it. I think that it's easier for girls to focus in high school like during puberty and everything that is happening to us, but I simply have no idea how boys do it, how they keep it contained because like in this movie they are masturbating to an exercise video. So I think that I just find it so fascinating that I put myself in their heads a lot.
 
I totally understand where you are coming from having grown up with an older brother. So many of the scenes with Howie, Simon and the two friends are hilarious. You mentioned the exercise video, and then the girl at the spelling bee really cracked me up. That might have been lost on the German audience though.
 
MMC: I wasn't really sure if they got the joke but obviously the guys were like, "Oh, she's getting me going" and you look at her and she's wearing straight up khakis. So I think that maybe that was lost in the translation a little bit.
 
Yeah, seems that way. I particularly liked the music and how subtle it was, with light touches that complimented the flow while lightening some of the heavier themes. How did you and Dan Lipton, the composer, get connected?
 
MMC: Thank you. Well, with Dan it's interesting actually because he went to grade school with my husband. Dan has had a very successful career on Broadway. He was Sting's musical director on his Broadway show and he was just playing on the band's visit. He also has known Brian d'Arcy James for a really long time. And so Russ (Costanzo) was like, "Oh, Dan is interested in getting into film" so Dan and I spoke. The way that I described Dan, he had this really successful career on Broadway but all he really wanted to do was film. So this was a great opportunity for him, and I was really lucky to have him. And it was a lot harder than I thought. I would give him examples of movies where I liked the score, and what I really wanted was to have a score that followed a character and matured as their story matured. So we would call it a Howie scene, for example. 
 
Yeah, one feels that musical progression with the characters. 
 
MMC: And then there was music with the parents, so that was very intentional. It was interesting because we didn't have a lot of prep time, and I remember sending him the movie "Wonder Boys" (2000, Curtis Hanson, music by Christopher Young), which I always talked about because it's one of my favorite movies. And I love the score. The more we listened to the score in "Wonder Boys" we realized that it's very comical. It's a very funny score, so it didn't really work for us, but what I did love is that every time we saw Michael Douglas it was the same score. So that is what we tried to emulate. We talked through a lot of stuff, and we realized that we had to really rework everything, so it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But I am so happy with it, and people have always commented on the score. And the source music is actually...we had this wonderful music supervisor (Charles Newman) and he would send me things. He owns a music library, and I would go through it and he was like, "I have three songs for you that I think would be good for the opening title." And so I listened to them and when I heard this song (Slow Runner, "My Love Will Bring You Back") I instantly started balling my eyes out.  And I think, "That's it!" you know? And Airfield, the song where she smooshes the cake. That was just something that I found in the music library the second I heard it. It's just so random and you wouldn't think that it would go with the scene but that's what I loved about it. Then there's another one when he (Howie) touches her (Odessa) hand on the bus, and I actually ended up co-writing that song ("Coming Down Around Me"), so the lyrics that you actually hear are mine, which is very exciting. I'm totally winning a Grammy.  
 
That first listen must have been quite the experience. 
 
MMC: So it was very cool that, all of a sudden like, "My god, he's using my lyrics." I kinda said I want something like Elliott Smith, and so they went away and came back with a track and I said, "Oh, it seems too literal. I don't know." And so I said, "Well, I kinda just wrote some stuff" so they listened to it and proposed to use my lyrics. And to hear it with the melody, it was all very exciting. And the musician's name is Kris Gruen, and he's been touring Europe. He talks about how he and I wrote this song together. It's gotten reviewed so it's like, "Oh my god, I'm a songwriter!"
 
How exciting! That song really fits so well with that part of the film. Dan's score also wasn't intrusive or overbearing. I find that certain film composers lay it on a bit thick, telling you exactly how to feel and when to feel it. It sometimes feels like lazy storytelling, bombarding the audience with such an intense score, with no room to breathe.
 
MMC: Right, and we didn't want to do that. But you know it is a tool, just like your camera and just like your wardrobe so it's okay to utilize it. I think that sometimes people are too afraid to use it. So, I think it's okay to utilize it for what it's for as long as you're not hit over the head with it. 
 
Exactly. It's inspiring to find out how involved you were with the score because some directors just give their composers a few specific words to describe the tone, whether that be dark and moody or happy-go-lucky, and then that's it. At that point they are pretty hands-off and then are surprised when the rough tracks aren't exactly what they wanted. The score can definitely be employed like dialogue, so to think that a director would just leave it to a stranger, asking them to essentially add dialogue to their script doesn't completely make sense to me. 
 
MMC: No, I was literally like, "Dan, you know when it goes bah, bah, ba-ah...like I want it to go bah, bah, buh. And you know maybe we can meet each other." But you know, it really is splitting hairs especially because sometimes you have to edit a note, so it is really something that I really thought about a lot. We worked really hard. Nobody is going to love your material as much as you do, so you have to inject yourself everywhere to make sure that what you want is happening. 
 
(Still from "All These Small Moments")
 
That's sound advice and not just regarding filmmaking. There were specific scenes where I was reminded of other coming-of-age movies. The library scenes reminded me of "The Breakfast Club" and one particular shot on the bus reminded me of "Forrest Gump". Maybe it's just me projecting what films I watched a lot growing up. Were there certain films that influenced you while writing or shooting? 
 
MMC: I would say, you know the scene on the bus, when we were shooting outside of it? It was like "Midnight Cowboy" and like that final scene, so that was something that I definitely stole from the best. 
 
Naw, it's called borrowing. Everyone does it.
 
MMC: Borrowing, exactly.     
 
The scene with Howie in the rainstorm worked quite well, his phone conversation with his mom and the overall feeling. The weather perfectly compliments his emotional state, but without feeling forced or trite. You lucked out with the rain that day. When I worked as a script supervisor on a short film we unexpectedly had to deal with crazy rain for two days and were less than thrilled. How was that production day for your team? 
 
MMC: That was a fucking nightmare. 
 
I was thinking that Brendan Meyer must have been completely miserable. 
 
MMC: He was like the least miserable out of all of us. We would keep him in the van until the last minute so that was the day...it was just miserable. I wasn't wearing the right clothes. It was totally miserable, and I think also when we were done we were like, "Wow, we have eighteen seasons in this film. What are we gonna do?" And we also didn't anticipate the snow. It was the blizzard of March 2017 so all of a sudden we had a winter movie. And we were worried that the continuity would be all over the place, but what we noticed is that no one noticed because I think that they were so invested in the story. Whereas we added some special effects snow in some places. I had to write in some dialogue where she says, "It's covered by the snow right now, but it's usually very beautiful." But I think that at the end of the day it ended up looking really beautiful, but it's not something at all that I really anticipated. Even on a very heavy work day on the bus, the city took away our permits because it was the blizzard; it wasn't safe. Like they took everyone's permits shooting that day so thankfully my location manager was like, "The Loews parking lot will let us drive around in circles." And I was like, "Okay, well we have no choice." We ended up not using it, but there was this scene where every single person was on the bus and it was supposed to be very...you know. So we didn't end up using that, but it saved our day of shooting. 
 
That snow really made me miss the Northeast. My complaint about winters in Berlin is that there is never enough snow. Your snow in the film looked gorgeous. 
 
MMC: Thank you, yeah it ended up being really beautiful. Well, we had to do a lot of color correcting. 
 
I liked the natural-looking cinematography of the film, especially the sun-drenched shots of Odessa on the bus and Howie gazing at her with such longing. It really made me feel like I was there with them. How was the collaboration with the cinematographer on the film?
 
MMC: Well, I think the great thing about my DP Adam Bricker is that very early-on he said, "Don't stress yourself out. It's your first feature. I'm the director of photography, let me direct the photography. Just tell me what emotion is happening and whatever." So I have to give him all of the credit for always finding the light. I mean, that's his job. You know, we didn't use much lighting, we didn't use much equipment, but it was hard on the bus because we would go in and out of pockets so editing things was really tough. We also would joke that Jemima, no matter how cold it was outside or whatever was happening, she always found the light, like she just always looked beautiful. And so it's a testament to her but also the DP. And of course, you see the tapes where we got the sun, especially in the classroom, he knew what time of day to shoot to get this beautiful sun stream in. We knew right away that that was what we were going to use, but he had the foresight, like most DPs do. to say, "Well, if you're gonna shoot it here we're not gonna use lights in the morning or at this time of day." So we were very cognizant of when we were shooting specific scenes. 
 
Was everything shot on location? It looked like it was, although I wasn't sure about Howie's room and the therapist's office. 
 
MMC: No, the therapist's office was actually a build; it was a stage set. So that was all what we built but everything else was location. 
 
The reveal that you had during the therapy appointment was quite clever. I don't want to give away any spoilers away but it worked so well. 
 
MMC: I mean, well it was a very hard shot to do but I'm very happy about it. 
 
It paid off. There was a huge laugh at Howie's line about wool. I'm not sure whether a different actor or delivery would have received such a response.   
 
MMC: Yes, yes, yes, people love that line. And it's funny because on the day, before we were even shooting my production designer was like, "Listen, we can't afford to build another farmer's market stand. Because we had real ones that were there we built them into a farmer's market, but we can't afford to build a wool one." And I was like, "Shit, because he's got that line...The producers think no one's gonna remember, it's fine." I mean, the laugh is just what it is. But yeah, people love that line a lot, and his delivery was also great as well. 
 
Another comic scene that sticks out is the stoop sale. It was so awkward and funny, with Sam McCarthy really working that scene. I guess that I never spent that much time in the row house areas of Brooklyn, so I wasn't really familiar with stoop sales or whether they really happen. Are they that common? 
 
MMC: Yeah, people love that one a lot. They absolutely do. What I like about that scene is that she's actually trying to move on with her life by selling the dad's stuff and the kid's like, "No, they're not selling anything. They are gonna be fine. It's just a phase." 
 
(Still from "All These Small Moments")
 
Yeah, family bonds hold strong. Another moment that felt so blunt, knocking you on the head with the truth was in that Italian restaurant. Some brutal honesty. People were dying during that scene. 
 
MMC: Reggie's. Yeah, yeah, the reveal is pretty funny, yeah. 
 
Personally, I thought the dad at the door bit was a lot of fun. Did you usually give really specific direction to the actors, or was there leeway for them to improvise a bit? Brian d'Arcy James really went for it.
 
MMC: There was. I think I would say that Brian the actor would say that it's too over-the-top, but he's letting out so much pent up emotion. So we have him do it like it wasn't so nuts and then we had him go really over-the-top and you know all that type of stuff. So, yeah they did have room. I would always say, "I'm good. Is there anything else that you want to try?" So I think that that made them feel comfortable and most of the time they were fine and they think we got it, but then they try it another time another way.
 
That's amazing when directors give actors that kind of room to try things out and give their own input. 
 
MMC: Yeah, I mean I made sure that I had a take that I can use and then I felt like, "Yeah, well let's see what you got. Let's see what you do from here." 
 
Sometimes those little surprise nuggets are the best. Did you write the mom and dad characters with Molly Ringwald and Brian d'Arcy James in mind? They were both so perfect, their chemistry and lack of chemistry at times. 
 
MMC: I would say that when I first wrote it that I didn't have anyone in mind. But then when I was thinking about the cast, I just feel like sometimes you see movies and you just see the same actors and actresses over and over and over again. I didn't want someone that you just saw in like four other movies, but I also wanted someone that was familiar enough that you feel comfortable with. And I thought that Molly was the perfect choice because people already feel a connection to her, but we haven't seen her so much. And then, so her and Brian made the most sense together.
 
They played off of each other so well, in every scene. 
 
MMC: Yeah, well they really liked each other as people. It was the first time they had met each other. And they really liked each other, and I think they are still in touch and that type of thing.
 
Yeah, films can be such a bonding experience when you get the right people working together. Can you talk a little about the development of Lindsay's emotional story that she shared with HowieThat'll probably be relatable for many people who've had similar traumatic experiences. 
 
MMC: Yeah, it's funny because when I wrote it I didn't mean for it to be so heartbreaking...but Harley Quinn, the actress who played her, she just took it to this other level and we were all so blown away by it. It became this really painful thing. I think my intention wasn't necessarily at the time for it to go there, but I loved where it went. And I thought that emotionally it made sense and she was finally able to tell her side of the story as well. She did such an amazing job and just brought it to this whole other level. I think that's the collaboration that as a writer especially, you really can do things so many different ways. The actors come on set and make these choices and that's acting. And they just elevate what you've written so then as a director it's choosing which takes make sense and make sure it's a cohesive ark. I think that is the most important thing as a director, to make sure each performance feels like it's in the same movie, you know? 
 
Yeah, definitely. Having watched your film, I was surprised that this was your first feature but having a look at your IMDB page, I saw how much film and television experience that you've had in other departments. 
 
MMC: I do, I do....and I think that really helped me a lot. I surprised myself, how comfortable I felt on set. I have produced, and I worked in the art department, so I know the language and I know what problems can happen on set. It was still hard. I still had a hard time, but ultimately I was much more comfortable than I thought that I'd be. 
 
It clearly shows. So how long ago did you actually write the script?
 
MMC: You know, I think that maybe the first draft was back in 2011 or something, and I kind of tried to get it made and nothing happened. Then I put it away for awhile and then I brought it back out. I started tinkering with it, and I was working on the TV show "The Affair" and I was like...maybe I can be a writer's assistant next year because I was in the art department the first season. So I approached Sarah Treem, the showrunner, and she was like, "Send me some material", and I had actually written a spec of "The Affair" and she was like, "For legal reasons, I can't read it. Do you have anything else?"    And I sent her this script, and it got me a meeting and then she was like, "You're too good to be my assistant. I don't know if you're happy with your current agent." And I was like, "What agent?" And so she actually helped me. She and Anya Epstein, who is the other co-head writer, helped me get an agent and through them they found our producers and from the first time I talked to the producers on the phone we were on set almost to the day a year later, which is super fast.
 
Wow, that's crazy fast. That's how networking should work, especially after putting your time in.
 
MMC: It really did, but it wasn't even just the networking. It's that Sarah took a chance on me, and she put herself out there for me. And that's something that I'll never forget. I mean she helped me get this movie made, and I am so thankful for her for that. 
 
Well, she saw talent and took a chance. "All These Small Moments" made its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in April of this year. What has been your experience on the festival circuit so far?  
 
MMC: Yeah, we premiered at Tribeca. I mean, you know I was lucky to get some really great reviews and it's just been really, really positive. It's interesting to hear what people like and what different audiences respond to. But it's just been really nice talking to the audiences. I guess that one surprise would be that the German audience responded to it so nicely. I was so...that it was received so well here, and that they really laughed.     
 
I feel like this family-centered New York story would do really well in cinemas. It has a lot of heart and is relatable, frankly what's lacking in a lot of big budget films lately. What's the distribution look like for your film? I hope to catch it again in cinemas.
 
MMC: It's good, we have...I think that it's going to be coming out next year, which is really nice. 
 
In the US? 
 
MMC: Yes, in the US. And then we have some other festivals first. I'm gonna be at Mill Valley, which is in San Francisco. I'm gonna be at Torino in November.
 
That's so nice that you are making the rounds on the festival circuit. Are you thinking about any new projects?
 
MMC: Well, I always am. I'm attached to direct a movie called, "Make It Better" which I didn't write so it'll be interesting to see what that experience will be. I mean, I've done a lot of work with the writer on the script, so I think it almost feels like I had a part in it but I didn't. I wasn't there at the very beginning. 
 
Yeah, the way you work it sounds like it's usually very collaborative. 
 
MMC: Yes, absolutely I mean there are definitely people who know more than you about what they do best.
 
It's so nice to talk with filmmakers who are so open to collaboration. Sometimes you hear about film and theater productions where the directors act like it's their way or the highway.
 
MMC: I would be like foolish not to listen to people, yeah. 
 
We need more of that kind of thinking in the world. Can you sum up your experience with "All These Small Moments" in three words?
 
MMC: Collaborative, rewarding, thankful.
 
That's lovely. If you could sum up your impression of Oldenburg in three words, what would they be? 
 
MMC: Familial, inquisitive, trailblazing. 
 
That's an amazing way to end our talk. Thank you so much. 
 
MMC: Thank you so much for the interview. 
 
 

 

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