by Ernest Thompson ~
People often ask where stories come from and I don’t always know but in the case of HEAVENLY ANGLE, I do: Twenty years ago, I moved to New Hampshire, where we shot my movie ON GOLDEN POND. I raised my kids here and, with my partners Morgan Murphy and Lori Gigliotti Murphy, built a company, Whitebridge Farm Productions. Through our acting and writing classes and workshops, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing up close and personal some genuine and extraordinary talent far from the meccas of LA and New York. We offered our first project, TIME AND CHARGES, as on-location training to anyone of any age interested in any aspect of filmmaking and more than 500 people showed up, and we made a very cool and very, very inexpensive movie. In the nearly two years of Sunday shoots – people had day jobs, but we got four seasons, twice (!) – I was so taken with the level of creativity and skill, commitment and enthusiasm, from the actors to the designers, cinematographer and editors, composers, crew members and volunteers that I wanted to write about it.
HEAVENLY ANGLE is the result. In the film, I play Linus Van Scooter, a Hollywood filmmaker who comes to a small town in New Hampshire to make a movie. If that sounds vaguely autobiographical, the similarity ends when Linus’s real plan is revealed: never to shoot a frame of film and instead separate the locals from their money and hit the road.
To heighten the excitement already in the air, Linus and his longtime traveling companion, Miss Dibble, hold auditions. The contenders they see could make Simon Cowell crazy but there’s no denying the infectious spirit the actors and singers, gymnasts and jugglers bring to the party, and even Linus seems charmed. It’s only when Lucien, the high school English teacher, wonders where Linus’s script is exactly, that his conscience gets rattled. He tries to produce one, but just because Dibble still believes in him doesn’t mean that he does; storytelling doesn’t come easy to the jaded and cynical and, for a minute, Linus seems shamed into trying to resurrect the artist he once was.
The scam takes on a life of its own. A crew materializes; the town is in a tizzy, no one more than Emily, a troubled girl determined to exorcise her demons (and played by the aptly named Emma Starr, an amazing young actress well on her way, I believe, to becoming one). When hundreds of dreamers break into a spontaneous song and dance number, Linus conducts the choir, looking, briefly, as moved as Dibble does watching him.
But the con is on. When Linus tries to work the perpetually inebriated mayor into kicking big bucks into the cause, Dibble has seen enough; she packs up her disappointment and goes home to LA, leaving Linus in a classic filmmaker’s nightmare. The mayor decrees that if Linus wants money, he’ll have to make the movie he’s promised. With no credit card, no license and no hope, Linus sees no choice but to lead his ragamuffin army of amateurs into battle, assisted by a recent film school graduate as his first, the English teacher as co-writer, and, because he announces that anybody can be one, three winos from the park as producers.
In the funniest movie I’ve ever made, Linus discovers what I have: that there’s a lot of talent in the boondocks, and a lot of heart, too, a lot of kindness and generosity and the opposite of the mean-spirited competitiveness and greed and runaway egocentricity that can sometimes rear their heads in the business of entertainment. As his confidence begins to return, Linus finds himself surprisingly unhesitant to squander more of his shrinking budget by flying in Destinee Del Rey, a faded movie star he feels can give the movie gravitas. That Destinee brings her own baggage and wants Linus to relocate the film to Paris is almost beside the point for a man getting his mojo back. And when the young girl, Emily, pushes him even further, Linus is ready. He’s making his movie; all is right with the world.
Even when Miss Dibble arranges a Hollywood directing job for him and Linus reluctantly abandons ship and heads west, he leaves his own heart behind. HEAVENLY ANGLE is about a lot of things but it’s mostly about that – connecting, or reconnecting, with your passion and the integrity that comes with it. And while it’s clearly a very low-budget movie about very low-budget moviemaking and unashamedly a valentine to the joy and challenges of film in general, it’s also a story anyone, in any walk of life, can relate to.
HEAVENLY ANGLE makes people laugh but it proves remarkably touching, too. It’s the kind of movie I, as an audience member, love, regardless of its size or pedigree. And now I feel as if I’m living the sequel, the aging filmmaker trying to figure out how to upload a movie to submit to Sundance and find distribution so that an ever larger audience can experience what I have.
HEAVENLY ANGLE has been submitted to Sundance. It’s a completed film seeking domestic and international distribution. The writer and director Ernest Thompson, winner of the Academy Award for ON GOLDEN POND (perhaps the most studied dialogue in modern times), is a favorite with American and European audiences alike. The film features established stars and exciting new talent.
To read this article in Imagine magazine and see photo spread, click here.