Some weeks ago I sat down with Michael Patrick Kelly, Director and Producer of "Isn't It Delicious?", a film starring Kathleen Chalfant, Keir Dullea, and Alice Ripley.
Connecticut Bob: The film “Isn’t It Delicious?” is currently in post-production. Tell me what it’s about.
Michael Patrick Kelly: “Isn’t It Delicious?” is a film about a woman (“Joan Weldon”) who learns she is dying of cancer and so she sets out to reconcile her dysfunctional relationships with her three adult children, her husband, and her ex-best friend. Along the way, we discover that many years earlier Joan had an affair with her husband’s brother, and that her ex-best friend is her former sister-in-law. We witness Joan dealing with her illness, her relationships and along the way, many skeletons come out of the closet.
Her children are for the most part highly functional but chemically-challenged adults. One is a Wall Street banker who is addicted to cocaine and drinking, and is living with his stripper girlfriend. Joan’s daughter is a lesbian who’s an advertising executive and also has issues with partying too much and with her relationships, and the younger son is a medical school dropout who moves back into the house with his mother when he finds out she has cancer.
The film should be considered a dark comedy; it’s very humorous in Joan’s attempts to reconcile her relationships and ultimately set her children on the right path before she leaves this world.
CTB: Where did you first come across this script?
MPK: I was working with the filmmaker/writer, Kathleen Kiley, on a separate project and we discovered that we were both screenwriters, and she said she would send me her script and I gave her one of mine. She actually sent one half of her script, about fifty pages, and I read them and found them intriguing, and I wanted to find out where this Joan character ends up.
We both became very busy over the next couple of years and the project was sidelined. Then Kathleen told me she was getting frustrated over trying to get the script read by producers. At that point she gave me the entire script and told me “if you can do something with this, it’s yours.” So, I took it home and read it, then I called her up and said “I think you need to make a few changes,” which she was initially reluctant to do, but I told her if she made some minor changes, I would hand the script to Kathleen Chalfant personally. So she agreed, and I did just that.
Kathy Chalfant read the script and said she liked the character very much, and would absolutely love to play the role. At that point, Kathleen (Kiley) and I began rewriting to tailor the script to Kathy Chalfant and the other actors we had in mind.
CTB: So you’ve known Kathleen Chalfant for a long time. How did you meet and begin working together?
MPK: I first met Kathleen in January of 2003, when I was making a documentary film about the Lysistrata Project, and Kathleen was part of a star-studded reading of the play Lysistrata, to protest of the upcoming war with Iraq. Kathy was doing a reading with a cast that featured F. Murray Abraham, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgewick, Mercedes Ruehl and David Straithhairn. Kathy allowed me to film her and agreed to be interviewed for the film. Over the years, we saw each other at political and anti-war protests and at plays, and finally in 2009 the script was ready and I handed it to her. Once Kathleen read and liked the script, I felt confident enough to send it to Keir Dullea, whom I met along with his wife Mia Dillon also during the filming of Operation Lysistrata.
At this point, this project began to snowball quickly. I first envisioned that I would do this movie on an ultra-low budget with Kathleen Chalfant as my star, and every other role would be portrayed by relatively unknown actors. Than, all of a sudden I had Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon, so I sent the script to veteran actor Malachy McCourt at 8:30 one morning, and I got an email back from him by 11:30 that same morning, saying “I LOVE THIS!”, so now Malachy was onboard, and Malachy immediately suggested I call Jay Patterson.
Then, my wife (actress Suzanne Hayes) was to play Caroline (Joan’s daughter), and so we had a reading of the script here in New York, and Kathleen Chalfant’s agent was in the audience. Suzanne did an amazing job with the part; at the end there were people crying and applauding her performance. During the following Q&A session, we stated that Suzanne would indeed play the role of Caroline unless we were able to secure a bigger star, who would help us sell the picture and get the financing we needed.
The next morning, we got a call from the Kathleen’s agent, who said that he also represents Alice Ripley (the 2009 Tony Award winner for “Next To Normal”) and he said she would be perfect for the role of Caroline. And so, Suzanne graciously accepted the role of Caroline’s best friend Rosemary. We were all thrilled to have Alice come aboard and she was just wonderful to work with, she brought a whole new dimension and was magical in the role.
CTB: This would be a good time to talk about the budget of the film. With all these notable stars lined up, you probably had a budget in the millions.
MPK: Typically it would be, and when I first proposed the budget of $200,000, many people in the film-business told me it couldn’t be done. I was told that to make a film with this scope I would need a minimum of three million, and that it should have a budget of ten million. But all the actors agreed to work under the S.A.G. (Screen Actors Guild) Ultra-Low Budget contract, which allows indie-movie producers to employ SAG actors and pay them just $100 a day. I couldn’t believe that Keir Dullea, Malachy, Mia, Alice, and Kathy would work for such a rate, but it resonated how good the script was and that if these actors felt that strongly, then I felt I had to go forward.
So now I hand this wonderful cast, which grew to include Jay Patterson, and Robert LuPone, and it was at this point that our initial investor pulled out. We were devastated. I felt as if I had built this tremendous house of cards and it was all about to come tumbling down. Then as they say; when one door closes, another one opens. On the day after we received that dreadful news, an old acquaintance, Alfred Caiola, called me up, and Alfred was someone who had considered investing in a documentary idea on car racing. This phone call led to a meeting over espresso that very afternoon and I pitched the script and the actors who were attached and Alfred showed a great interest immediately. Alfred’s family had long been patrons of the arts and shortly after our first meeting, Alfred agreed to be executive producer. Beyond financing the film, Alfred has also been very helpful with creative input.
CTB: There was definitely a feeling of camaraderie and teamwork on the set, where everyone involved seemed to feel that we were working to create something special despite the budgetary constraints. What about the production values with such a low budget?
MPK: Ah, well, we made sure we had great actors and seasoned veterans of stage and screen added a sense of maturity immediately on the set. So I think everyone else was trying to work up to that level. The young crew felt a sense of privilege to be working with Keir, and Kathleen, Malachy and Alice.
In addition, my friend Director of Photography Axel Fischer, who worked on my previous documentary film over in Germany ("Behind The Wall" 2011), agreed to shoot the film. Axel is an amazingly talented cinematographer. Axel instilled a sense of security that made the cast and crew comfortable that the finished film would have the same production values as one shot for five million dollars.
Our budget allowed us to shoot with a Sony PMW F-3, which is the competitor to the Red camera, and to have that camera and this DP and this cast and a bunch of young eager filmmakers, everything just kinda clicked and flowed almost effortlessly even though we all had to adhere to a grueling shooting schedule, that even managed to weather a hurricane. It worked like a well-oiled machine and people were happy to go to work each day.
CTB: It was definitely that. Most of the time it went great, and those times it was a little bumpy, it seemed that everyone’s enthusiasm and team spirit helped us get through it.
MPK: That was apparent from the first day of the shoot, when we were shooting in the church and the camera went down for several hours after an already long day, and the actors and the crew and the extras hung in there until well after midnight, and when we started up again, the actors got up and danced and acted and performed as if it were noontime. We didn’t wrap until 4:30am; it was very special to be a part of that moment.
CTB: How did rehearsals go before the shoot?
MPK: Suzanne and I had gone over the script many times, rehearsing her for Caroline early on. And then, at the first script reading, Kathleen and Keir came through the door in character. Suzanne and all the other actors complemented each other very nicely.
We had called in Vanessa Morosco to read the part of Laura. I had seen Vanessa on stage a couple of years previously with Suzanne in a play called “The Rape of the Lock”, and when we were looking for someone to read Laura, Suzanne suggested Vanessa, I said sure, bring her in for the reading, I was thinking we just needed a warm body for that purpose, but Vanessa ended up winning the part at that first reading.
We did three readings of the script, and that was it pretty much for rehearsal. The rest of the communicating with actors took place via e-mail and during the casting calls. Our cinematographer Axel, originally intended to join us for three weeks of pre-production, but he was committed to another film that was shooting in locations such as Mumbai, Morocco, Hong Kong, Poland, Germany, and South Africa. Whenever I emailed him, I had to ask which continent was he on, and at first he was planning to have three weeks with us to prepare, then two weeks, and eventually he wasn’t able to come to New York until two days before production was scheduled to begin.
We really knew we were going to have to hit the ground running, and when he got here, we had to do a quick tech scout and went over what I already knew about the locations, having previously visited them. So a lot of blocking was done on the spot, and our actors rallied and were amazing to work with. We felt lucky that we had such an incredible top tier of actors: Kathleen, Keir, Alice, Mia, Malachy, Robert Lupone, and Jay Patterson. And we had a great cast of supporting actors, Nick Stevenson, Alexandra Mingione, Jonah Young and others who worked tirelessly with us.
CTB: The film was shot almost exclusively in Connecticut. What were the benefits of working here?
MPK: Of course we took advantage of the tax incentive that Connecticut offers movie productions. And I had known Tom Carruthers from the Connecticut Film Festival and he turned me onto the FITP (Film Industry Training Program) and the FITP ended up being a great resource for hiring quite a few crewmembers, including yourself and David Pisani, who right now is in the other room editing as we speak. David is an FITP graduate and he worked very hard during production and now is continuing to work as co-editor.
Jeanne Gibbs was recommended as our unit production manager, and she turned out to be a tremendous resource as she is a long-standing Trumbull resident (where much of the movie was shot), and along with another Trumbull resident, screenwriter Kathy Kiley, they were able to access areas of the community that normally would have been closed off to us. And we used those resources to our great advantage.
CTB: Along with the many great locations that were made available, the production had use of some amazing items, such as a $200,000 Ferrari, a 51-foot sailboat, and an S-Class Mercedes.
MPK: Well that’s just it. The sailboat and the Ferrari were worth more than the entire budget of the film, if you think of it like that.
CTB: But you had to give them back at the end. (laughter)
MPK: These were in-kind services provided by friends of the production. I told Kathy Kiley that she had to find us a sailboat because it was so important to the story. Kathy has a friend, Rich Vaughn, who works around boats. We went to see Rich, and he introduced us to Gary and Carol Hohimer. They own the sailboat we used, and they were just fantastic and they loved the script, especially after being there for the second reading. They were enthusiastic and generous with their time and the use of their boat.
Early on when we were securing locations, we tried to cast as many of the actual owners or workers of those locations as possible. For example, Kevin Lesko from the Lesko Polke funeral home and Roger Boroway, owner of the jewelry store. I could have cast non-union actors in those parts and they would have been fine, but going with someone who stands behind a counter selling jewelry and having him act at what he does all day made sense, so we tried it and it worked out really well. The policeman, Phil Hines, was terrific in his role. He was one of those poor souls that was stuck in the church that one night until 4:30 in the morning, and he hung in there and was really generous with his time, just like so many others on this film.
CTB: What’s the current state of the film?
MPK: We have a great rough-cut put together, and we’re preparing to start the color correction and then we’ll record the original score by veteran composer David Amram (“Splendor in the Grass”, “The Manchurian Candidate”). When David saw the first cut, he said: “This is the ultimate film about family's enduring bonds, in a society that has gone nuts. I’d love to do the score.”
After we record the score, we’ll do our final sound-mix and then start submitting it to festivals. Right now, I’m very involved in the editing. Every day I can’t wait to wake up and get down to the studio to work on the film, seven days a week. I feel like so many people helped me make this film that I have to make the best possible film that we can make. That is the only thing I’m focused on right now.
CTB: I’m sure we’ll speak again as we get closer to the movie’s premiere, but in the meantime, good luck with everything, and thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
MPK: Sure thing, thanks Bob.
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