So why did it take five years to get on film,
and finally wrap this past summer
in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal?
I spoke to her recently about the saga of an independent
from its genesis in UCLA film school through
the roller-coaster terrain of development...
At the time I was so hot because of the script, it seemed like
there were seven or eight parties who were very high on it
and wanted to option it, but when it came down to putting
money on the table, there were no offers.
He was the only one at the time who seemed willing to stick
with it and try to market it but I wound up, in a way, screwing
myself, because there was a perception in the industry that
this producer owned it.
She was attached with Ellen Barkin as lead, but we couldn’t
get it set up anywhere with that package. The studios didn’t
feel that was enough to make a movie that was perceived
as “small and soft”.
The message out there, in film school and seminars, is that
if you write a great spec script, it will sell. My biggest surprise
is finding out that isn’t necessarily so.
I think it should be, if you write a great spec script, eventually
it will serve you, if not in the way you like. Talent will be
recognized in the industry. However, how quickly it is
rewarded depends on whether that talent is perceived as
being commercially viable.
I think it is true that if you write a great action adventure
spec or a great spec with a male lead, it will sell. But it is not
true that a great spec about a woman written by a woman
is going to make you a million dollars.
This was Tony’s first project as producer and David Seltzer,
whose career started with "Lucas", a small character-driven
movie, felt that with his success he had become a studio
writer and that "The Blouse Man" was a project that would
take him back to his roots. But he was not going to officially
attach until I did some rewriting, so in the course of the
next year, I probably did about five more drafts.
They wanted better development of the two male characters,
and my position on that had been and continues to be, I’m
happy to do that as long as everybody knows this is Pearl’s
story. There were producers in earlier meetings who said to
me if you make the husband the lead, we’ll be interested in
optioning the material. But Tony and David knew it was
Pearl’s story, and they knew it would be better for her
character if the men were more developed.
It was very disappointing to lose him, but as Tony
reminded me, we got his vision on the page.
Finally, in April 1996, Tony asks me how I’d feel
about him directing.
There was no one else in the world besides me who knew and loved
the script as much as Tony Goldwyn. So, I had to weigh his passion,
commitment and brilliance around the script versus his inexperience
as a director, and I decided the first stuff was more important.
An amazing number of rewrites and part of it was fueled by
Tony’s belief that the way to get the movie made was to try
to sell it as a two and a half million dollar movie, which
meant a shorter script with condensed scenes. I did at least
another five drafts for Tony from April through September '96.
The things I had to change in the script to fit a less expensive
budget, there was nothing fun about that. Not that I ever
wrote a 30-million dollar movie, but when I was telling the
story, I wasn’t thinking about things like whether we could
afford a traveling shot of the George Washington bridge.
In September 96, the script wound up with Murray Schisgal,
who is creative director for Dustin Hoffman’s Punch Productions,
and he said they wanted to do the movie with a little bit of rewriting.
Two drafts for Murray before there was a script sent out
for casting. Then Dustin, who’s now executive producer of
the project, wanted changes. I did a draft meeting Dustin’s
needs, and then the actors started having notes. I would say
I was working on rewrites from October 96 until June 97.
I had gotten option money twice from Tony, not a lot. And
none for any of the rewriting. You’re supposed to be paid on
the first day of principal photography,
but I actually didn’t get paid until the second day.
Viggo Mortensen, Diane Lane and
Lieb Schrieber in the
with Anna Paquin and Tovah Feldshuh in supporting roles.
Some of them I did, some of them I didn’t. It was often very
helpful to hear them explain why things needed to be
different. They had a very different internal experience of
The hardest thing for me was actors wanting to change
things that had made it through all those drafts, a prop
here, a moment there. It was really hard to lose things
that I had fought for and had won during the writing
You have to pick your battles. Being there on location, where
inside of myself I wanted to control everything, I had to
consider what’s worth bothering Tony about. I really tried
to keep my distance until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
One thing I learned as a screenwriter on the set is
that I was really the only one there who had the entire
script in mind at all times. I knew a line dropped in
a scene on page twenty-five was going to affect something
that got said on page one hundred and six. I mean, the
actors were in the moment. Tony had the broader vision,
but when he was really involved in directing a scene, he
couldn’t always keep in touch with that vision.
I also learned that the language of film is not always the
same as the language of a screenplay. There were things
on the page that did not work in the flesh, and there were
moments on film that would not have seemed right in the
Yes, for example, there was a scene where Pearl goes back
to the blouse man after breaking it off.
It was so intense between them, and having gotten to know
these characters and see them in the flesh, I realized what a
big deal it was that she went back to him after spending the
weekend with her husband. I knew then that there was a
missing scene between her and her husband.
In other words, for that to be happening,
something more had to have happened before.
I was in a rare and privileged position. It was an independent
film and I was the sole writer. It was my baby from start to
I was the one who knew this world. Tony Goldwyn did not
know the world of Jews in the Catskill Mountains. So, if I said
these extras don’t look right or that building needs this or
those hairdos are wrong, he believed me.
The title has been a subject of controversy for months, and
I’m going to be very sorry to lose The Blouse Man.
The bottom line is the domestic distributor gets to name the
film, and we don’t have one yet.
Spring has been discussed, as has next fall.
I saw dailies every night, but haven’t seen the “rough
assemblage” yet. This is the biggest letting go point. I’m
not there; this is Tony’s baby now.
I’m sad and scared, because I know the movie is too long.
I’m going to have to hold onto the satisfaction of
having seen everything shot that I wanted to see shot,
and know that I will probably never see some of those scenes again.
Don’t give up! I never gave up on this script. There were
periods I didn’t want to be a screenwriter anymore, but I
still believed the The Blouse Man would be made.
Don’t let people stop you at the creativity level. Don’t listen
to all the messages -- the story’s too soft, too small, too
uncommercial. You have to find that inner sense of belief.
I do feel stronger, and if I ever have
the privilege of being
on a set again, I will exercise that strength in a positive way.