Tammy Blanchard and Mira Sorvino in UNION SQUARE, a film by Nancy Savoca. Picture courtesy of Dada Films. All rights reserved.
* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.Home/Social Media Links
Union Square (2011/2012)
Opened: 07/13/2012 Limited
|Angelika/NYC||07/13/2012 - 07/26/2012||14 days|
|Playhouse 7||07/13/2012 - 07/19/2012||7 days|
|Town Center 5||07/13/2012 - 07/19/2012||7 days|
|Music Hall 3||07/13/2012 - 07/19/2012||7 days|
|Cinema Village...||07/27/2012 - 08/09/2012||14 days|
Trailer: Click for trailer
New York City's UNION SQUARE is the setting for an unexpected reunion between two estranged sisters, one of whom is on the verge of getting married, the other on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Lucy (Academy Award® winner Mira Sorvino) attempts to shop for young and flirty discount clothes while anxiously carrying on a conversation on her cell phone. When the news on the other end of the cell is not what she wants to hear, she has a complete meltdown in the park. Crying openly and unsure of her next move, she has an idea. Suddenly, Lucy finds herself somewhere she's never been: her sister Jenny's (Tammy Blanchard) loft apartment off Union Square.
The apartment is as spare and disciplined as Jenny is herself. Jenny is stunned to see Lucy on her doorstep and, what's worse, unable to keep her out -- Lucy has decided she needs to stay with Jenny a few days, along with her dog and all her shopping. Attempting to remain calm, Jenny has little time to prepare how to explain Lucy's presence to her fiance Bill (Mike Doyle), whom she has not been completely honest with about her family's tumultuous upbringing in the Bronx or her sister's excessive behavior. Lucy suspects as much and attempts to play along but also tries to update Jenny about their mother (Patti LuPone) and the old neighborhood. And the news is not what Jenny expects to hear. After a tense dinner with Bill, the sisters try to clear the air by heading out together to a club, but the confrontation that follows only creates more tension. And the next day when Lucy leaves as unexpectedly as she showed up, Jenny is left wondering what else could possibly happen to disrupt her ordered life...that is, until Lucy returns with even more surprises for Jenny.
I was sitting in a coffee shop with (producer) Neda Armian and (screenwriter) Mary Tobler. We were venting our frustration at the difficult climate of financing indie films and Neda said, "Let's just shoot something. Anything! Shoot in my apartment. It's yours!"
Little did she know that I'd take her up on it.
Because our resources were limited, my biggest fear was we'd be forced to shoot some boring, half---baked 'two---people---in---a---room' scenario. (Neda's apartment is actually just one room).
So, I entered the project feeling a bit shaky but, luckily, Mary was fearless. Over the summer, she and I batted the script back and forth. It was great fun to get the emails with her latest draft--- like opening a lovely gift every time!
I also enlisted the help of my favorite movie couples: Roberto Rossellini/Anna Magnani and John Cassavetes/Gena Rowlands. "The Human Voice" (part of the feature, AMORE) and WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, were an inspiration for telling an emotionally powerful story within a small canvas.
Like both films, I wanted to bring our audience in close with some difficult women. Maybe it's a reaction to so---called 'reality TV' which makes us see people as either crazy, stupid, uptight or bitchy. It plays on our cruelest instincts--- like Romans cheering at the Coliseum!
That's why, at the start of our movie, the characters fit a stereotype and you can quickly judge them. But by the end, you are in it and you are with them --- for better or for worse.
Kind of like life!
As to whether this was inspired by my own life--- not really. But this story, like my other films, has situations and feelings that resonate with me. They're usually things I find painful or confusing or disturbing in some way. And I want to understand them. I believe movies are one way to do this.
-- Nancy Savoca, Director
About the Story
'Union Square' is a story of volatile family ties as embodied in the complex relationship between two very different sisters, Lucy and Jenny. The writers were given the challenge of creating a screenplay that was quite contained as to the number of characters and locations and yet as universal and accessible as possible. Limited resources may have defined the small size of the canvas but as co---writer Mary Tobler indicated, "... I quickly realized that the more pressing -- and more interesting -- challenge was continually resisting conventional "shoulds" about storytelling in order to follow our instincts about creating a truly resonant story featuring characters who felt intimately familiar."
And so the parameters were set --- this would be a basic story of 'two characters in a room', but with the age---old question: what to do with that burdensome family history? How do we protect ourselves from the torment of a difficult upbringing while recognizing that it will forever be a part of who we are. "No matter what we have to deal with when it comes to our family, love and acceptance must win out," as Michael Rispoli (Nick) says.
The writers seized the opportunity by spinning an "edge of your seat, what happens next" tale that was borne, not of plot manipulation, but character development. The focus would be on all too human behavior. As co---star Tammy Blanchard describes it, the movie shows how, "Anything can happen and you can never get back all the time you missed with those you love. It's a tender caution about family."
The story's syncopated emotional rhythm was an essential element of the filmmaking. While the juxtaposition of humor and raw emotion is a cornerstone of all of Savoca's movies, in this one it is front and center. 'Union Square' became, in Mira Sorvino's words, "the rarest of beasts that makes you laugh your head off but also moves you to the core." Lucy bursts on to the scene, engaging in a full--- fledged public melt---down on her cell phone and then hurls herself at her surprised sister, Jenny, with the most terrifying line a difficult relative can utter, "I would love to stay here for a few days..."
Younger sister Jenny could have easily fallen into the stereotype of the prudish sibling. Instead, Tammy Blanchard's Jenny is a woman struggling to preserve a carefully constructed life when her chaotic past makes an unexpected visit. Because of the unique sequential shooting style, Jenny's own melt---down emerges as her hidden "Jenny from the Bronx"---isms unravel with each progressive scene. For actress Tammy, this was surprisingly taxing. "At night, I felt myself consumed with the place we had left off at the end of the day." As for Jenny's unsuspecting fiance Bill, actor Mike Doyle knew that he would not play him as "a cardboard cutout" but as part of a couple "at a pivotal moment in their lives forced to confront themselves."
Lucy's manic energy presented another type of challenge for actor and director. "Lucy literally goes from laughing to crying, back and forth, at least five times within the first hour," says Sorvino. "My character's mood swings were extreme, and I was afraid I might lose the audience with the histrionics, but Nancy knew just how far to go before changing it back to comedy." That comedy is the relief valve, the circuit breaker for a family gone haywire.
About the Lucy character, editor Jenny Lee offered, "Basically she's the definition of 'hot mess'. You look at the way Lucy presents herself and she's just this force of nature: big style, big emotions." At the same time Lee notes, "There are all these wonderful moments of wisdom and vulnerability Mira brought to her portrayal. Nancy would call them "Lucy's lucid moments." These lucid moments are what ultimately connect Lucy to her sister. As Sorvino puts it, "She is by turns full of need, like a little child, and a great advice giver, like a big sister should be."
Whether cast or crew, all involved were drawn to the project because of the stormy family themes that were explored in the movie. As Blanchard puts it, "Coming from a big family, I have seen a lot of time gone by wasted by anger and pain. I thought that if I could be a part of something like this, maybe I could help others choose to talk instead of walk."
About the Production
Union Square's creation was unique in that the writers knew from the first discussion where it would be shot, how it would be shot and even the maximum number of characters they had to work with. There would be one 'hero' set -- the apartment of producer Neda Armian. In fact, that apartment was really one large, lovely loft space a block north of Union Square. Any additional locations would have to be within walking distance of the apartment. The next criterion was a very small cast -- two principal characters and two or three supporting characters. The shooting format would need to be extremely light weight and flexible, allowing shooting on the street without so much as a tripod and with no production vehicles. Finally, the plan was to shoot the entire movie in ten days.
"That was the clincher," recalls producer Richard Guay, "We needed to be as small as possible and shoot this in two weeks time ---no longer -- in order to make the budget work." The writers were given the daunting task of taking all of these restrictions and molding them into a screenplay that actors would love. But, as writer Mary Tobler says, "In the end, the parameters of production we had envisioned liberated the writing process and enabled us to go even deeper and travel even farther emotionally." What the story may have lacked in expansive exteriors and varied locations, it more than made up for in depth of character and emotional punch.
The script attracted a small but dedicated and talented cast. The project was able to generate a small but vital amount of product placement along with the prospect of a number of free locations. At this point, production again took what seemed like a disadvantage and turned it to an advantage. Locations such as Filene's Basement, The Union Square Farmers Market and Crimson's nightclub cam on board because of the quality of the project, but also because of the scope of the shoot. A very small crew brought virtually no lighting equipment and the Canon 5d -- a still photo camera capable of shooting high def video -- proved to be hardly noticeable, even when there were two of them. In a world where the smallest movie productions might require fifty or sixty people and truckloads of equipment, "Union Square" was unique. This show would hit the streets with less gear than many student films ... but with a crew that, between them, had well over a hundred years of production experience.
While the filmmakers saw the plan clearly, it remained daunting for the talent. Guay says, "The first time I met Mira, she looked me square in the eye and asked if I had ever made a feature film in ten days. I swallowed hard and said, 'No. But I have a plan'. " The plan consisted of bringing together a tech savvy young film crew with a few industry veterans for a brief three weeks of prep and shoot. As is her usual approach, director Savoca spent hours with director of photography Lisa Leone at the location breaking down the script and doing detailed shot lists for every scene. "We divided the space into six areas. I worked out some general blocking for each character so that different beats in the scenes took place in different areas of the apartment--- treating them almost like different locations. "
The rest of her time was spent in rehearsals with her main cast where Mira and Tammy had a week to become 'sisters'.
At this point, veteran Assistant Director and Co---producer Glen Trotiner stepped in to create the shooting schedule. The story was written to take place over three days and nights -- the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving Day itself. The apartment location had several drawbacks, not the least of which was that it had three walls of windows that were seven feet high. That meant that the shooting schedule would have to be approached as if the movie was being shot outside based on the amount of daylight streaming into the room. Again, came the lesson of turning lemons into lemonade. Trotiner was able to craft a schedule that allowed the movie to be shot virtually in script order so that the first scene in the film was the first one photographed and so on. It is the rare film that has this luxury since most movies shoot out of sequence. Savoca was thrilled. This would mean that the actors would be able to keep emotional continuity in their performances. In the end, this would also provide the foundation for being able to shoot so quickly -- as Savoca explains, "It was incredibly 'organic'. The actors and I always knew where we were in the story. There was no guesswork of 'How did we get here? We haven't shot the previous scene yet.'" Shooting in sequence, along with the preparation that director, cast and crew had done, helped the production shoot an average of 9 pages per day.
Shooting presented its own challenges for director of photography Lisa Leone and Camera Operator Kerwin Devonish. Both had worked with Savoca on various projects but, like everyone else, had never attempted to shoot a feature film in ten days. Leone had the added pressure of having to light scenes with tremendous time constraints then, shoot a mix of designed and improvised shots. Savoca, for the most part was directing two performances simultaneously since there was no time for single camera coverage. And, because two cameras were shooting, she had to work without the benefit of monitors (the Canon 5d cannot accommodate an external monitor) meaning that an enormous amount of trust was placed in the camera operators.
Production Designer Sarah Frank and Costume Designer Liz Prince also had their work cut out for them since they barely had a budget to work with. Frank had the task of doing not one, but two dinner scenes, with one of them being a "raw foods Thanksgiving". Product placement allowed for a good part of the design of the film. As Frank explains, "Sometimes on small films you need to ask big and see what happens." Local vendors, especially ABC Carpet, came through in a big way with the loaning of furniture and other set dressing. Of course the production employed another popular indie film technique -- "buy and return" which often saved the day for both the wardrobe and art departments. Said Prince who was doing her first film after 20 years of working in the theater, "I was an army of one so anything wardrobe was done by me: shopping, returns, hauling all the garment bags + suits cases in and out of the location, steaming, stitching, hanging out on set... that was all just me... not a pretty site at the end of the 2 weeks!
The film wound up taking twelve days, not ten but enthusiasm was high. Producer Neda Armian said it best, "A group of amazing artists --- both in front and behind the camera ------ gathered together and really made the film happen." The spirit of the production was always one of a shared experience serving the needs of the film. Mike Doyle (Bill) remarked, "It was great because everyone was prepared and working at their top game, so you had to make choices and commit." Cinematographer, Lisa Leone added, "Working with such a small crew and in such a confined space you really depend on each other...whether you're crew or an actor."
"Union Square" went into production without a definitive plan for post---production so a solid organized workflow was crucial. Editor Jenny Lee, who started working six weeks after production wrapped said, "We were operating under a lot of the same constraints shared by many low budget films on a really fast shoot, but we had the benefit of a really forward---thinking and tech---savvy co---producer, Peter Bobrow, who made sure that the workflow for post production was very smooth." The final phases of post---production saw the addition of many talented people who, now able to see the film's quality, were able to find the time to work on it during their downtime. Mishel Hassidim at The Post Factory NY did the color correction and Coll Anderson of CA Sound in Woodstock mixed the sound.
The music for Union Square is all source and used sparingly. Often, in post ---production, Savoca would say that she didn't "hear any music" because "there is so much going on in these scenes, music would be a distraction." The songs that made it into the film, like Lisa Lisa's "Can You Feel The Beat" and "All Cried Out", along with Edyie Gorme's "Colpa della bossanova" are all highly character specific. The end credit song was a challenge to find but from the early days of pre---production Savoca hoped to find a way to use songstress Madeleine Peyroux in the movie and as cutting progressed, it soon became clear that she would provide the perfect closure for the story. Savoca and Peyroux met for the first time after screening the film and they immediately connected. In that meeting, Warren Zevon and Jorge Calderon's "Keep Me In Your Heart" was discussed and within days, the two had agreed that this would be the track Peyroux would record.
In the end, as Mira Sorvino points out, "Union Square" proves, "...that a terrific movie can be made in an unbelievably short amount of time, with no trailers, no trucks, a skeleton crew, etc... It kind of proved that a great director, script and willing cast are all you really need to make a powerful piece of cinema."