Rooftop alum Bryan Wizemann’s Think of Me is a heartbreakingly honest tale of modern America. Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) stars as Angela Jerome, a young single mother struggling just to get by in the face of a spiraling economy and an unforgiving city. When things go from bad to worse for Angela and her daughter, she is brought to the brink of an impossible dilemma: grasp on to her ever disappearing foothold, or risk losing everything for a chance at a better life?
Bryan spoke with Rooftop’s Alece Oxendine about his award winning second feature, which will screen May 12 at Open Road Rooftop for a special preview screening at the Summer Series Opening Weekend!
Rooftop Films: How did the original concept for Think of Me come about?
Bryan Wizemann: The spark of the idea was loosely inspired by a short passage I read in The Shipping News, and also the news story of Susan Smith, which was happening around the same time I was reading the book. I wondered if one couldn’t craft a story where you could organically explore what would bring a mother to truly consider selling her young daughter, and perhaps see that from the mother’s point of view. Though the film is fictional, many elements of my own adolescence, growing up in Vegas with no money by a single mother, found its way into the film. It ended up becoming a personal project in the end.
RF: Your first feature Losing Ground was shot in Las Vegas. What made you choose Las Vegas again as a location for Think of Me?
BW: I grew up in Las Vegas, so I know it well. Losing Ground is set in a video poker bar, based on a gambling addiction my mother went through. Think of Me tries to speak to what it’s like growing up in the shadow of all that Vegas brings. I hope to never write anything about Vegas again.
RF: Tell us how you casted Lauren Ambrose for the role of Angela and Audrey P. Scott as her daughter Sunny?
BW: My casting director always pushed Lauren, saying simply that “she can do anything.” I think ultimately she was right, and we were lucky that Lauren responded to the script. I’ve known her from some of her work in New York theater, as well as the Six Feet Under series and Starting Out in the Evening. She had an edge to her that I knew would work well for the role, but it was more an intuitive feeling than anything else. I was also happy to give her her first real adult lead role in a film. We went through fairly normal channels to cast Lauren, an agency sent us a list of folks they though would be right for the role, and she happened to be on it. We met in Brooklyn, she instantly identified with the script, and was willing to take on a challenging, at times unflattering role. In the end she even helped find some production money, which is why we gave her a producer credit for the film.
For casting Audrey, we worked with the Fincannons, a southern agency who are well known for discovering child actors. They saw hundreds of kids and submitted about forty for us to review their video auditions. Audrey stood out right away, I felt like I cast her from her photograph before I was even able to see her tape. I always assumed we would cast a child who was similar to the character, but in fact we cast the opposite. Audrey in life is chatty and has boundless energy, so what you see in the film is real character work that she brought to the film. Audrey was a gift, and a true pleasure to work with.
RF: What was the biggest obstacle you faced while filming?
BW: There are always the normal indie obstacles of never enough time or money. We had a twenty day shoot for a 120 page script, on location, and working with a child who legally was only available eight hours a day, three of those hours having to be in school with a tutor. I thought I had underwritten Sunny’s role to address those challenges beforehand, and even though it’s a low dialogue part, she’s still on screen a lot more than I would have guessed. That was tough, and sometimes we had to cheat her out of a scene because she just wasn’t available.
Being a personal film, I definitely exorcised a few demons in its making. I’m emotionally sensitive as it is, but there was a real vulnerability I had to contend with on that shoot.
RF: Congratulations on winning the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at IFF Boston! What are the future plans for Think of Me, that is if you can reveal them…?
Yes! I honestly didn’t know we were in competition. It was unexpected, and some of our production team is based in Boston so it was great for them. Film seems to be pitted against each other more than any other art form, I think perhaps because there are so many different people involved and it’s such a monumental effort that there’s an impulse to single out individual contributions. I’m still on the fence about how I feel about it all though. We started out in Toronto with other films that were also here in Boston, like Dark Horse, Wuthering Heights, Your Sister’s Sister and The Loneliest Planet, and honselty, I’m just happy to be in their company.
I’m not sure if I can reveal the whole release plan just yet, but it does look like we’ve been pickup up by a great distributor for VOD/DVD, and there should be a limited theatrical in NYC and a few other select cities. The film’s site is at www.thinkofmemovie.com, and we’ll be sure to update it with any new information on how folks can see the film. It’s increasingly becoming a film that’s benefiting from simple word of mouth, so if that continues along with the exposure that fests like Rooftop bring, hopefully we’ll reach a wider audience.
RF: You had a film screen here are Rooftop Films before. What was that experience like and what are you looking forward to for this screening?
BW: I loved screening at Rooftop, showing outdoors is a great environment for a film. The bands beforehand, the beer, and if weather cooperates, it’s really a richer experience than being closed off indoors. I’ve had two shorts at Rooftop previous to this, and I’m always grateful for the exposure. Living and working in Brooklyn, we try to support Rooftop any chance we get.
RF: What are some of your up-and-coming projects?
BW: I have a late high-school relationship script that I’m revising, and hope to go into production next year. I also have a more ambitious southern gothic screenplay that toys with magical realism. I first wrote it in my twenties and have been refining it here and there since. That one will take more doing to get off the ground, but I’m hopeful.