Mailer Tuchman Media release The Second Sun at Village East Cinema on August 16th, 2019.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide what to omit and change from the play?
Jennifer Gelfer: The play is very insular. There's a lot of exposition and a lot of telling about what happened in the past. Instead of having them talking about it, I wanted to show it. The playwright took it to open it up and to show you what truly happened to these people instead of talking about it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: If The Second Sun were to take place today and Joy and Max were to communicate with each other via modern technology, how would that have affected their relationship?
JG: I don't think they could've saved one another through writing through modern technology and using emojis. I think that the human contact is what's so sorely needed in this world right now. I think that that's why people suicide is so high. I can't give a number on that, but from what I've heard and experienced with friends and loved ones, I think that the lack of personal connection to somebody has completely changed how we interact in the world and it desensitizes us.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I think that The Second Sun has truly special effects: the humanism within the conversations between Joy and Max. The CGI found in, I believe, is nothing more than standard effects, no special effects. What's so special about Hollywood's CGI?
JG: Well, nothing. What's special about my CGI with people connecting is just that we can't connect in any shape or form unless it's on a human level. Years ago, after 9/11, I remember a movie came out called The Sum of All Fears. It was about an atom bomb in helicopter going off over Baltimore. I didn't see the film; I just remember reading about it. I remember how incensed I was that it was so irresponsible of Hollywood to be putting out this kind of garbage right after something like that that touch our world and our lives in America. I just thought, "Why are we leaning towards doomsday? Why are we constantly reinforcing Armageddon as opposed to try to lift people's spirits up?" That was something that happened in the Depression when you had all these great movies that came out. Yes, they sort of glamorized life, but they gave people hope and it gave them something to aspire to whereas now we see with all this CGI the devastation of life. I don't want to rail against Hollywood, but in a sense I do because I think that they just don't make movies anymore that give people the optimism and the chance that things can get better.
NYC MOVIE GURU: I believe that although words can be powerful, they can also be limiting because there are intangible things, like feelings, that are beyond words. What do you think?
JG: I agree with you on that, but I'm a child of theater, so I love the use of words. If you look at a movie like Fences, I think that it's a brilliant adaptation of the stage play. [Screenwriter August Wilson] used those words and they were powerful and yet you still got to see what those people were feeling. So, without those words, I don't think that those feelings would've had the same impact than if those words were missing. I'm not somebody who's imagery-based in terms of film. I like to use words and for people to express their feelings. Yes, I can see it in a moment and I try to find that in The Second Sun, but I think that the words are very important.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How much of the plot would you like the audience to know before watching the film?
JG: I don't want anybody to know about the number on the arm. I do say at the very top of the film that it's based on a true incident, and that's the only thing that's true in the whole movie. That actually is how it was written. The writer was a 15-year-old boy listening to a motivational speaker in his high school and the man was very uplifting and had been through the Holocaust. He was just pure, genuine and sweet. You just wouldn't know that this man went through a terrible atrocity. At the end, he says to the boy that when he moved to America, the woman found that her telephone number was the number on his arm. The writer turned to his friend, and I know this because the friend came to the first reading of the play, and he said to him, "One day, I'm going to write a play about that!" That's how that happened. So, I think that that is the one element that I don't want to spoil for the audience.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Both Eden Epstein and John Buffalo Mailer exude plenty of charisma onscreen. How would you define charisma? I have yet to meet 1 actor with charisma who can fully detect his or her own charisma. An actor once even told me that those who think that they have charisma probably don't.
JG: That's fantastic! And I think that's so on-the-money! Well, I don't look for charisma; I look for talent. Because I was a teacher, Eden Epstein, who plays Joy, walked into my studio one day when she was 19-years-old or maybe even younger. She was just going to NYU and said that she didn't want to do the dramatic program there; she just wanted to study with somebody. So, she came into my class and I knew that she was gifted the moment that she walked in. I even said to her, "I'm not going to teach you how to act; I'm just going to, sort of, guide you." So, I worked with her for 5 years as a student and when I was handed this play to start working on it, I immediately thought of her. It was written for an older woman, but I wanted to fashion it for her because I just thought that she was so incredibly gifted. I worked with John Buffalo Mailer, who plays Max, when he was a writer and actor in the past on a movie called Blind. I just knew that there was something about him. Brian De Palma and Mike Nichols said that 90% of film directing is casting, and I think that's totally true. I think that if you find the right people, you have that kind of gift that they will bring to the screening whether it's charisma or magic.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that something would be lost by seeing The Second Sun on the big screen?
JG: One of my publicists said that it felt like a whole new movie when she saw it on the big screen as opposed to on the computer, and I thought, "I want everyone to see it on the big screen!"
NYC MOVIE GURU: How accurate would it be to say that NYC and the lighting both characters in themselves?
JG: I think that that's very accurate. It's very hard to shoot a period piece in New York City because the skyline is so dramatically changed. The bar that I used is outside of New York City in Nyack along the Hudson. It just had kegs which were true to the time period. I had a beautiful production designer who created the whole space. Everything was man-made except for those kegs. My DP put in all those practicals. Most of the lighting was shot with practicals. There's no other lighting.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you know not to cross a line that would make the story too dark?
JG: I don't have a pat answer. I didn't think in those terms of "Don't get too dark." I tried to find humor whenever that there was a moment for it. In drama, you always try to find the humor. At some point, people just need to let it go and have a relief. So, I think that I thought in those terms, but I didn't think about that it would get too dark. I wasn't working toward or against that. I was just trying to tell the story as best as I could.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Who do you think is ultimately responsible for opening the window into a character's heart, mind and soul?
JG: Those particular two actors. They were very willing to go very deep and to risk and to play hardball. They didn't hold anything back. They came to me with questions, but ultimately, it's them. I'd like to take credit for all of it, but I can't. [laughs]
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that the fact that Eden Epstein and John Buffalo Mailer are both not big Hollywood stars allows there to be an anonymity to the film that makes it easier for audiences to be fully engrossed by the film?
JG: I had this conversation last night about Big Little Lies with somebody. If you didn't put those women in it and it wasn't so star-studded, I would've liked to have seen those journeys told without putting the star power connected to it---they all were---but they brought so much baggage with them that I couldn't see the story; I only saw the stars. That's so funny that you would ask that question because we never have conversations like that! Part of my whole mission as a filmmaker is to find new talent. I'm an actor first, and I'm never good at business. So, because I didn't want to get into the business, I found another way in because I didn't want to deal with the business end of it. I didn't get to where I wanted do, and I felt and other people felt that I had the talent to do that. So, my mission is to find these talents and say, "Ok, I'm going to put you forward." Claudia, who's the mother in this. She's a young girl from New Zealand. She's doing conservatory and waiting tables. She's the star of my next movie because I see something in her and I don't want her to have to not be able to have that door open for her. Ciaran Byrne who plays the bartender is a very gifted actor from Ireland. I recognized his talents for many years. He's in my next movie in a bigger part. I see something in these people and think, "Yeah, they're probably going to have door slammed in their faces and nobody's going to give them their shot, but I have an opportunity to do that." So, I'm kind of paying it forward that way.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Max and Joy are both grown-ups who are still in the process of growing up. What is a grown-up? Is there really such a thing?
JG: I think that we're just evolving. I don't know if it's growing up; it's just that we should never stop evolving. We should always grow. We should always be looking to know more and to understand more and to expect more. I have a 90-year-old mother and I'm constantly trying to tell her that it's not too late because she's stuck in her ways. I try to tell her, "You can still change. You can still learn." She just doesn't want to. I don't want to be one of those people. I want to always be growing. I made my first film at an older age and I've already made a second film. This is probably the biggest growth spurt that I've ever had.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What film do you think would pair well with The Second Sun in a double feature?
JG: Two For the Road. It's my favorite movie.