Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Hidden Secrets," Revealed, Part 5: Aftermath



I had less to do with the post-production of "Hidden Secrets" than any other feature film I have been involved with.  When the rough cut was completed, Tim and I were emailed a link to the film.  We watched it and contributed some notes.

I was generally happy with the rough cut.  The film had the feel and look of a made-for-cable Hallmark film, which was not altogether a bad thing.  I had also noticed that, as the various subplots and characters were trimmed to focus on the romantic plot, the film had become a chick flick.  I called David A.R. White had told him that.  He laughed.  He felt the same way.

I had two major problems with the edit.  The first problem was that they had cut a scene out of the first act at the cemetery where Tim and I had set up the major conflict:  That Jeremy and Sherry had dated for years and everyone expected them to get married before they mysteriously broke up.  Now, at her brother's funeral, Jeremy was seeing Sherry again for the first time in years, and bringing his new almost-fiance Rachel.  As I have lectured endlessly on this blog, I feel it is crucial to hook the audience early in the first act.  You have to let them know what they are watching.  Therefore, I felt this scene was incredibly important.  I knew they shot it, because they used flashbacks from it later in the film.  I asked A.R., as I like to call him, why they didn't use it.  He said they cut it to keep the movie moving.  I think it was a mistake.

Here they are at the cemetery (Hollywood Forever)
I have seen the film with many audiences -- at festivals and during its limited theatrical release.  You could see that audience really doesn't settle in and understand what the movie is all about until much later -- during the scene when Rachel and Sherry talk.  That's a pity.  Now, the significance of a lot of the nuanced conversation between the major characters during the wake sequence is lost.  Oh well.  You can't always get what you want....

My other problem was that the director, Carey Scott, a well-known acting teacher, seemed to be pushing the actors toward bigger emotional moments.  He wanted tears, from the actors if not the audience.  As a writer, I had always aimed toward smaller dramatic moments.  I felt smaller moments were more naturalistic.  However, this time and on this project, I might have been wrong.  Our audience seemed more than happy to go with the characters emotionally.  People cried right along with them.  It was the first produced script I had written that provoked tears from an audience -- in a good way.  (I do have an unproduced horror script that a couple of my readers said made them cry.)  I'll never forget the look on the face of one of my cynical, college-aged nieces who I took to see the film at a festival outside Pittsburgh.  During one of the emotional scenes, she glanced around the auditorium then turned to me and said, "They're sobbing, people are actually sobbing."  Indeed they were.  Thanks, Carey and company.  As a result, I am not as afraid to reach for emotion in a script anymore.

However, there was one big surprise with the film:  The attempted suicide opening.  When the film started, I was, like, "What the heck?"  Actually, I didn't use the work heck.  Apparently, someone at PureFlix decided we needed a stronger opening so there it was.  Okay.  If that's what they wanted....  Still, I wish they would have asked Tim and I to incorporate that into the film.  As it is now, the audience is supposed to assume Christopher Hayden, Sherry's unseen brother, committed suicide, only to shockingly reveal in the third act that it was instead Michael attempting to commit suicide.  The only problem is now that the audience wants know how Christopher died, and whoever made the changes didn't think to include that information.  And that's the biggest problem when producers or actors start making changes with a script.  They think of something to address an immediate need, but they do not take into account how that "little" change will affect other things.  After screenings of the film, invariably the first question I am asked is:  "How did Christopher die?"  The answer, for the record, an aneurysm.  Not that you'd be able to tell from the movie!

Speaking of screenings, the film played at a number of Christian-themed film festivals around the country where it was extremely well-received.  It was gratifying to see the film connect so emotionally with its intended audience.  Despite that, I was still happily surprised when "Hidden Secrets" got an limited release in 200+ theaters across the country.  Here's how it happened.  If you've been to the movies in the last couple of years, you've probably been bored senseless or irritated by all of the commercials they play before the trailers.  Well, the company that creates those commercial packages, NCM Fathom, also does special events like live opera from the Met, documentaries about dead Nascar drivers, and quirky Christian films.  They played the film in 23 markets on February 28th and March 1st.   Tim and I went to see it both nights.  Once in Washington, DC, and the next night in Bowie, Maryland.  Our theaters were rather sparsely populated, but apparently the film did much, much better in the Bible belt.

Discretion prevents me from telling how much the film grossed and netted during those screenings -- although it was more than Brian DePalma's heavily-publicized Iraq War film "Redacted."  However, between those two nights and a lucrative television deal, I am sure the investors were very happy campers indeed.  Now it was time for the DVD release.  The question remained:  Who was going to release it?

PureFlix produced the film, and they were also distributors, but they were in the process of looking for a distribution partner.  This was at the beginning of the faith-based film craze where Hollywood was looking for a way to capitalize on all the people who went out to see "The Passion of the Christ."  I have to be very discreet here, but it seemed that practically all the majors expressed interest in distributing PureFlix's upcoming slate of films of which "Hidden Secrets" was the first one to be produced.  (But ultimately not the first one to be released.)

These discussions were all very exciting until someone mentioned The Weinstein Company.  Whenever that happened, I wanted to shout, "No, No, NO!!!!" 

I had just read "Down and Dirty Motion Pictures" by Peter Biskin.  The lesson of this book on the independent film industry was that the Weinsteins stayed up late at night and woke up early every morning to find new ways to cheat filmmakers out of their profits.  Every time someone mentioned the Weinsteins.  I would recommend that they read Biskind's book before it was too late.  They said not to worry, they had an iron-clad contract.  Unfortunately, I already knew that mathematical equation:

(Ironclad Contract) + (The Weinstein Company) =  (No profits to filmmakers)*

How did the deal actually work out?  All discretion allows me to say is that the film seems to have sold a boatload of DVDs.  A very respectable seven-figure gross.  Overall, to date, the film is, in theory, the most financially successful one of my career.  My wife also thinks it is the best one.

Overall, the making of "Hidden Secrets" was a fabulous experience and opened the door to making more films with the mighty David A.R. White and company.

*BTW, PureFlix films are no longer distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Read about the making of my other features:

21 Eyes
Holyman Undercover
Sarah's Choice
The Encounter

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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