AN INTERVIEW WITH GAY RIBISI, Producer of "Some Girls"
by Susan Royal
"Some Girls," the film that won Rory Kelly the Best Director award at the last Los Angeles Independent Film Festival, was somewhat of a family affair. Gay Ribisi, who has managed actors and writers in Los Angeles for 15 years, chose as her first producing project, a script co-written by her daughter, actress Marissa Ribisi ["Dazed and Confused," "The Brady Bunch"] which would star Marissa (and her friend Juliette Lewis) and feature Marissa's brother, actor Giovanni Ribisi ["Suburbia," "The X-Files," "Saving Private Ryan," "The Other Sister"].
In this interview with Gay Ribisi, the proud mama/producer tells how it all came together as a film.
Juliette Lewis and Marissa Ribisi ("Some Girls").
Gay, how did "Some Girls" come to be?
My daughter, Marissa, has been an actress since she was nine. She had just finished a film, "Changing Habits" produced by Abra Edelman, who fell in love with Marissa. I met Abra at the wrap party and discovered that we're both two of a kind in that our kids are our top priority and yet we're both businesswomen. When I met Abra, Marissa was writing a screenplay with her friend Brie Shaffer.
But had either of them done any writing?
Some poetry, but no, not really.
And how old were they at the time?
About twenty-two. Brie was an aspiring actress and Marissa had acted for years. Both of them are very artistic. They just wanted to create something, they sat down and they did it. They struggled through, wrote a first draft, and while they were writing it I said, "Guys, I want to produce this." What really made me want to produce with Abra was when she said, "The money is the easiest thing to find in this business. It's the scripts that are hard to find." I felt that that probably was true, though I hadn't experienced it yet. So I told Marissa, "We're gonna work with her. This is the lady. She's got the right attitude." And now I know it's totally true. I kept saying, "Girls, finish your script, finish your script, finish your script." In the meantime, we kept getting to know Abra better and knew I wanted to work with her. She has a son and I helped him.
What did he do?
He's an actor, and he's also a writer and a director. He's awesome. He's funny.
What's his name?
Shane Edelman. I asked Abra to help produce the movie with me. She said she would love to do that. And so I said, "Okay, as soon as the script is ready we'll give it to you." And she said, "I don't even care if I hate the script, we'll just keep on going until it's right. And if I have to, we'll just get every one of my friends and your friends to pitch in $1,000 and we'll do it in my backyard."
She had the right spirit.
Yes. I loved this lady and I still do after working on a film with her, so that says something. So they wrote the script and it had no structure. It had to be rewritten. It had some great elements, though. It had some real nice elements.
What did it have originally that still remains?
It had the craziness of Claire, and that's the only thing that remains. It was a murder mystery originally. Abra was so tactful, she brought another writer she had been working with to the meeting because after she read the script she didn't even know where to start with notes. She brought him, and he was young like they are. So she let him say it, "There's no beginning,
there's no middle and there's no end. Now what are we gonna do about that? You still have to tell a story." So he gave them the name of a book to read.
A screenwriting book?
Yeah, it's called, How to Make a Good Screenplay Great.
By Linda Seger.
Yes. So Marissa read that book and knew immediately what to do. They rewrote it and I read it and we loved it.
Right away, on the first rewrite, huh?
We loved it. There was another polish after that. And then Marissa sent it to her friend, Brandy Lewis, Juliette Lewis' sister who was in Florida at the time with Juliette. And before Brandy could read it Juliette picked it up and started reading it.
Now for the next two days here was our message machine-- Juliette calling Marissa saying, "Marissa, I'm on page four and I love the script, this is such a great script, I can't believe you wrote this." "Marissa, I'm on page eight now and oh, my God, this is so good." By the time page 15 came she said, "I'm sorry, I have to be a part of this script, I have to be a
part of this." And Marissa had wanted her to be in it, but she didn't want to ask her, because she didn't want to cross that friendship thing.
So Juliette called after finishing the script and said, "Who's playing the part of Claire? I know you probably are." And Marissa said, "Yeah." Juliette said, "Well, if you're gonna play Claire--I wanna play the slutty girl," which was April.
And then we met with Abra who was thrilled that Juliette wanted to do it. Before we had gotten Juliette attached, Abra had read in the trades that Nu Image, which had been doing blast 'em, blow 'em up, kill 'em kinda movies, were now going to do art movies. So she called them up and said, "What, is this a buncha B.S. or are you really gonna do that?" And they said, "No, we really are." So she sent them the script and they loved it immediately and
said, " If you can get us two names, we'll give you the money."
So then Juliette almost simultaneously said she wanted to be a part of it and the Abra called them up and said, "Well how about Juliette Lewis?" And they loved that. And then they gave us a list of guys that we had to get, and oh, my God. We had to stalk Michael Rappaport.
They wanted Michael badly, huh?
Well, they gave us a list of five guys and some of them we either didn't want or they were not available. We really wanted Michael.
Michael was perfect for that character he played.
Yeah, and we loved him. So we had Juliette, but now we need a guy name. Michael's the only one on the list that we can pursue. We were going to have him play Chad, the lead role.
I like him in the role he ended up playing.
Yeah, me too. He was shooting another film, we knew where he was because Abra knew the first A.D. on the film where he was, so we kept track of wherever he was and we kept calling him and leaving him messages. Finally Juliette called him one night. He said he was interested, but he didn't want the Chad role, because he was interested in playing opposite
Juliette. So when he said he's interested in the Paul role, we were relentless. One night Marissa called him, but he was sound asleep--woke him up and she hung up the phone because she got so scared. And you should have seen her face, she turned pale and almost started crying because she thought she had messed up our whole movie because she hung up on him.
Marissa Ribisi ("Some Girls").
But we called him back the next day and we just made a big game out of it and finally he said yes. It took us a month of every day waiting. He would say, "Let me call you right back," and then two days would go by. And Marissa wouldn't leave the house. It's the worst thing to go through. And finally when he said yes you could have heard her scream all over this city. And I was sitting in my room going, "Oh, my God, oh, my God." It worked and we got him.
So Marissa had to do the closing. She closed Juliette, she closed Michael. But Abra was the force behind it that was keeping us going, because we'd never produced a movie before.
And what had Abra done?
"Changing Habits," "Bulletproof Heart," and two other films. Now we had to cast the other roles. We hired Pamela Siegel to play the role of Jenn, who could sing, because Jenn was supposed to sing, too. And we got all the rest of our cast, but we had a hard time casting Chad. And Jeremy Sisto fit the bill, I think he was perfect in that role.
Yes, he was.
Charming and yet sorta cheesy and it was really perfect. We had Josh Woodward and John King, who are really producers, but they said they would "line produce" this. They're friends of ours, and they did all the line producing and put together the whole budget and we just started. And we did it within four weeks.
You shot it all in L.A.?
All in L.A.
I recognized my magazine stand.
Kings Road. You know the Kings Road Cafe? That guy, when we were there that day he came screaming out, really pissed, wanting to close us down, standing in our shots, not letting us finish. He was a bear. And I had to think fast on my feet and I just said, "How much money do you think we owe you? How much money do you think your business is losing?" He said, "Last week I made $6,000 on a Tuesday." And I said, "Okay, go get me the receipts to prove that and bring it to me." It took him two hours, and by the time he got back we were finished.
It was clearly good publicity for him, since your film plays to his public, all the twenty-somethings who hang out at Kings Road.
I said, "Look, this is your public. Half the people working on this film are patrons of your cafe. What are you doing?"
Unfortunately that's L.A. People have gotten really greedy about it. You're lucky you didn't have guys start in with the lawn blowers.
We had to deal with a black preacher who hates film people. He owned everything else except for the house we were using and the house across the street. And he didn't want anything parked in front of his property-- even though we had permits and everything. He started walking through our shot. He had some people yelling and screaming right when the camera was rolling, walking through the shots, blocking traffic, ridiculous stuff. But what I
realized is that filmmaking is just problem-solving.
I would go to the set and every day there would be more problems, and I'm pretty good at problem-solving. And by the end of the movie I would just listen to them, to their problem, then I would say, "Okay, so now what would you do to handle that if you were me?" And they'd say, "I'd blah blah blah," and I'd say, "Okay, good, now go do that," and it would be
You had a third producer, didn't you?
Yeah, Boaz Davidson. He's part of Nu Image, and he's a director, really. He's the one who read our script and loved it so much and pushed it through the big guy, Avi Lerner. And he's the one that told Avi, "You have to do this script." He had also worked with Marissa before and thought and still does think, that Marissa is just wonderful. He's an amazing guy and
just flowed so much support to us.
You had a great DP -- the woman who shot "Eve's Bayou," right?
Yeah, Amy Vincent.
How did you get the director?
Deciding on a director took a whole eight months. We went through maybe five or six directors-- not through 'em, but wanting them. We looked at Alan Taylor, who did "Palookaville." Oh, we wanted Vincent Gallo. Vincent Gallo almost did it, but with his schedule he couldn't do it. He came and met us. He fell in love with Marissa and Juliette and the whole team. And we liked Spike Jones, who's a music video director, and he was very
interested at one point and then he couldn't do it. I wanted Lili Taylor, and she wanted to direct our movie, but we missed her by two weeks. So anyway, the whole finding a director was tough, too.
How did you decide on Rory Kelly?
Marissa knew his work. She's a friend of Parker Posey's and Parker was in his movie, "Sleep With Me." We contacted Rory and sent the script to him and he read it and loved it, just fell in love with it. And that was really a plus, we liked that. We had several directors fall in love with it, but he just seemed to have the right sensibility. We really interviewed him and, you know, "What do you think about this scene and how it should work?" He really understood what Brie and Marissa were trying to do, and so that was the reason we chose him.
What was the biggest production problem?
There was a situation that was kind of antsy. We were only getting 13-17 set-ups a day at best. So every single day I'd get up early and be there, first one, saying "Where's the shot list?" and "Are we on schedule?" and "Are we gonna make it?" And a lot of the movie changed. Even the time track of the movie changed in the editing. The last scenes that were
written in the script aren't there because we just never got 'em, but it still works.
When you were getting to the end, did you then make adjustments based on what scenes you could do without and still keep the story going forward?
That's exactly what we had to do. The first day we were using a wig with Juliette. She wanted a long, blonde wig and we didn't have the budget to go out and get her a $15,000 wig, which would have looked better. They tried to get her a good wig, but it didn't work. When we saw the dailies the next day it looked awful. So we lost the whole first day, and that's always bad, to start out behind and then have to catch up.
Did Juliette agree that it looked terrible?
No, but Juliette agreed that she would do whatever the DP and director wanted to do. And so we took it off and started over again, and that was rough. And then we were behind the whole time, so that's a tough one to deal with. And so Rory was constantly adjusting the scenes. There was supposed to be a desert fantasy. We shot a whole day out in the desert and some of the most beautiful footage you'll ever see, but we had to cut it out because we didn't have enough of it.
You had a number of directors interested in your film.
Yes, having Juliette was a great thing because you mention Juliette and everybody wants to work with her or people want to direct her. And we got the director that way.
Let's talk about Giovanni for a minute. A lot of what he does did not appear to be written. Did he come in and create that character?
When I read the script, that character was invisible. I couldn't figure out who that character was. I kept saying, "We're gonna waste Vanni on this character. What is this character?" And Abra, who's very smart, said, "No, I think Vanni can create this character."
Giovanni Ribisi ("Some Girls").
The part wasn't created for Vanni, Vanni created the part. He went out and bought those glasses that he wore. He brought 'em on the set and Rory said, "No." And he said, "Yes." And Rory said, "No." And Vanni said, "Yes." And he said "No," and he said, "Yes." And they kept on going and that's the way it was the entire time they were on the set, and finally Rory Kelly, after seeing the whole movie put together says, "Giovanni Ribisi can do anything he wants to in my universe from now on because everything he said was right."
We had to go back and do some reshoots, we knew we needed some more scenes. And Vanni stood out so much in our test screening before the reshoots that they wanted more Vanni, more Vanni, more Vanni. So all that-- "What a man, what a man, what a man, what a--" That's all reshoots.
How much was written and how much did he improvise?
A lot of it was kinda written. That's where you get what I used to call Vanni's "extras" when he was young and I was managing him. God, I remember this now. I was kind of a-- not a slave driver, but if somebody's going to do something I want them to do it right. So when he was young I would make him go over and over his lines until the words were his own. And at that time, and only at that point he could then add in his "extras," like rolling his eyes and going, "Tsk." But before that point it would be all attention on the words.
I'd tell him, "It has to get to the point where you have made the lines your own and you can then add your extras in there. People can't write that stuff, you put it in there." So I remember that, and he is still doing it only now on a much larger scale!
So was he cracking up people on the set when he would do this stuff?
Oh, my God. People could not believe him. He was hysterical, especially with those glasses, because that's not him. He's beautiful and he was like, looking like a nerd with his hair all coming down in front and the glasses. He just went in and went away, came back with a character. And I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, Vanni, what are you doing?" But look at his
Marissa is another one. Her acting blew a lot of people away in this film! I love that she created this beautiful role for herself and then did such a wonderful job in pulling it off!! She's been an actor for a long time, but her ability to write is blossoming "big time" now. Marissa is very sane. And she really helped to push this whole project through. And I saw her put this movie together. Abra and I could have done it, but not as easily without Marissa's contacts. She's got a lotta friends and they, like Juliette, really wanted to be a part of this, and that helped us out a lot. But Marissa stayed on Michael Rappaport until he agreed. And as a writer, she was willing to have her script changed. Writers have to be willing to go with the flow. That's Marissa's beauty. She will go with the flow on anything. Like the next screenplay that she has written, she wrote with Shane Edelman, that's Abra's son, and he's going to direct it.
And Abra will produce it with you?
Yes, the reason I was so passionate about this script was because my kid wrote it. I did love it, but my kid wrote it-- I'll do anything.
I'll overcome anything someone puts in my way, and the same with Abra. Now we knew that she was looking for a vehicle for her son to direct, so I said, "Well, why don't Marissa and Shane write the next one together and he can direct it?" So they wrote a script and it's a great script, and we'll have it finished, polished next week, and now William Morris represents
them as a writing team.
How would you characterize your first producing effort?
All I can tell you is that it was exhilarating. We had fun. There was really no nastiness on the set. It was great.
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