I went to the screening of Wonderwell last night at Cinecittà Studios in Roma.
I took my seat in the back of the theater as Director Vlad Marsavin addressed the crowd in Italian.
The lights dimmed, and I expected to watch a movie.
I expected to have the same viewing experience any producer or filmmaker has in a screening, especially before a film is released … you enjoy the movie, of course, but typically, that enjoyment is accompanied (or marred) by the fact that it is near impossible for any filmmaker to “turn off” the critical and analytical side of your brain. You find yourself thinking about various aspects of production, whether or not any given aspect succeeded or failed, what could have been done better or differently, blah blah blah …
And of course, we filmmakers always fool ourselves at least once, the thought goes something along the lines of, “I would have done “X” differently, and the film would have been better.” Which is a thought devoid of reality. Like looking at the Mona Lisa and thinking how much better it would have been if you worked on it, because you would have added a genius golden halo or whatever. Any filmmaker who says they never have this thought is lying. It’s just how our brain works when you make movies for a living.
So, the opening credits rolled.
And frankly, as a producer of this film, I expected to be overwhelmed. I sat in the back, because I thought I might even cry. But I didn’t.
When my name came on the screen as a producer, I didn’t get emotional. I was in awe.
And my sense of awe grew and grew, until I felt like I had a front row seat to one of the greatest events in the history of mankind. Which is a ridiculous thought, because it’s only a movie.
But that sense of profound awe did not leave. It only grew.
FLASHBACK – AUGUST 2016
I was working in LA as counsel on a film that was to shoot in Italy.
Unfortunately, this film was experiencing extreme preproduction turbulence, as Hollywood movies do from time to time. Insert a series of ugly events, and an epic lawyer vs. (former) producer fight, a legal street fight that could have easily ended up in court. But happily, it did not.
When the dust settled, I “won” if you want to call it that, and my client was safe. But from my POV, it looked like the film would not happen. My wife was begging me to quit because she thought the stress was going to kill me.
So, I decided to quit. I was not happy with anything or anyone, including myself, and least of all — Hollywood. I was very very very very angry, and considering a career change.
Then came the fateful phone call.
“We need your help. Can you come to Rome?”
“When?” I asked.
“Right now. We’ve changed producers, we need you to help put it back together.”
So, in one of the more cinematic events of my life, I jumped on a plane and flew to Rome hours later. I barely knew where Italy was, I had no idea of the situation that awaited me, but I was going there for 10 days.
What transpired in Italy on that production was nothing short of miraculous. A 10 day business trip lasted five months, and when all was said and done, my life, career — even my approach to being a lawyer, had been transformed by my time in Italy, all for the better.
I can not explain it completely, definitely not succinctly — but I left Italy a different person than had arrived.
My approach to transactional law went from pushing hard to get the terms a client wants — to ‘connecting’ with the other side first, and closing deals with an enjoyment, proficiency and speed I could never dream of before, and leaving both sides to the transaction feeling happy and respected. For the first time as a lawyer, I was having fun!I also made more friends in Italy than I had ever made before, anywhere, with the possible exception of college. And as a result of that ‘Italian transformation,’ my career in Hollywood (finally) began to take off. And life got more fun and more rewarding. Now, there is much more to the story of “me and Italy”, it has many other facets — good friends, religion, music, art, learning to speak Italian, and even a chaotic mission to Tokyo. Suffice it to say, for purposes of this story, Wonderwell changed my life — it changed me — for the better, in nearly every way.
It made me a better person, and it made me a better lawyer, simply put.
BACK TO THE MOVIE SCREENING
Wonderwell is fantastic. I could not be more proud of it.
But with one exception — my personal viewing experience was different. Every scene brought back a memory for me — whether it was being on set, the preproduction combat that brought me to Italy, deals I negotiated, or one of the many magical places in Rome I discovered … Technically, Wonderwell, on screen, has nothing to do with me — but sitting in that theater last night was like watching the greatest movie about my life.
And the only emotion I could muster, was a sense of profound awe … and I was humble, and grateful that God brought this movie into my life, an experience which brought about so many positive changes in my life and career. It has been a total transformation … which is what Wonderwell is about.
THE FINAL SCENE
Then came Carrie Fisher’s final scene, and my viewing experience changed yet again.
You see, Carrie passed away on a plane, a few days after we shot her final scene. I know she was more or less brought back to life via special effects in Star Wars, but Wonderwell is, in fact, her swan song.
And that final scene took my breath away. It’s unbelievable.
In fact, if you were an actor, and you knew with 100% certainly this was your last day on Earth, this is a scene you might design to say goodbye to your fans. Carrie’s last line is about life itself — I won’t spoil it here, but it is genius, if not heart breaking.
Finally, a tear ran down my cheek.
And then Carrie disappears…. Princess Leia is gone, forever.
And then, in that theater last night, I had goosebumps like I have never experienced in my life. The scene is golden, a magical final curtain call for a very special actress and woman who left this Earth far too soon.
As I write this story the day after, I find myself completely unable to think about Wonderwell as a motion picture. It’s not a movie, it’s a life experience, a monolithic gift from God that gave so much, to so many.
The reason this film happened was Director Vlad Marsavin. Without Vlad, there is no Wonderwell (period), it is his debut feature, and he knocked it out of the park.
Whether or not the critics like this film when it is released, is not important.
Because whether that evaluation results in an Oscar or ridicule, or something in between … Wonderwell was meant to be, it’s supposed to be here, and the significance to Hollywood, and to all of us, transcends Hollywood and motion pictures, it’s 700 levels beyond that. I truly believe that.
And to Vlad, and to Carrie, and everyone else who worked so hard to bring Vlad’s vision of Wonderwell to life … and to Italy …
I only have one thing to say.