Memphis Film Forum should be proud. Day One of the 4th Annual Memphis International Film Festival was a big success. Following a private get together with the various filmmakers in town for the festival, the scene shifted to Malco’s Studio on the Square where Ed Solomon’s “Levity” made its mid-south premiere on two screens. On hand for the viewing were director Ed Solomon and stars Morgan Freeman and Holly Hunter. A capacity crowd was treated to an hour long O&A by the three filmmakers. Your humble reporter was too busy writing to ask any questions. The good news is the audience asked great questions and the stars responded spectacularly. The topic of conversation was Solomon’s “Levity.” In addition to co-starring in the film, Morgan Freeman was one of the executive producers.
“Levity” stars Billy Bob Thorton and Manuel Jordon. Jordon spent 23 years in prison for a murder committed while still a teen. Jordon has placed himself beyond the pale of forgiveness. He doesn’t want parole, but has it thrust upon him anyway. While Jordon says he doesn’t want redemption, redemption is what he really thirsts for. He carries the faded newspaper clipping with the picture of the boy he killed during a robbery.
The real reason Jordon has returned to this town is to look for Adele Easely (Holly Hunter). Adele is the sister of the boy Jordon killed. Adele is a poor, single mother with her own troubled teen, Abner Easely (Geoffrey Wigdor). Abner was named after his late uncle.
I shouldn’t go any further into the plot of “Levity.” Ed Solomon’s story is a powerful tale of redemption and forgiveness, or at least the thirst for it. The movie has a few too many fateful moments to be a really good film. It is an interesting near miss. There are certain plot devices used to bring characters together which border on implausible. This complaint aside, “Levity” is a well-acted and directed film, which will spark discussion. The film doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat bow.
My other complaint has to do with the subplot between Jordon and Sofia. I felt the film would have been much stronger if this part had been eliminated altogether. Certain issues were raised and not dealt with. While I praised the film’s ambiguity above, I felt this plotline should have either been developed more, or discarded. Ms. Dunst holds her own among this cast of heavyweights. The problem lay with the script. “Levity” rated 2 ½ Stars in my book. I enjoyed the themes explored and the great performances.
A NIGHT OF QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The filmmakers fielded a variety of questions from the audience concerning all aspects of “Levity.”
ED SOLOMON: There were artistic and production reasons. Artistically, it was the right move. It had the right look. From a production view, we had to bust ass to make the movie…
MORGAN FREEMAN: Six million dollars American is Ten Million in Canada.
ES: While there were some ethical considerations, when it’s the end of the day, One Million dollars is huge as far as what we can actually get on the screen.
Did the characters develop through rehearsal, or was everything in the script?
HOLLY HUNTER: There was no rehearsal. I arrived while the film was in production. The script was a done deal. All of the character was in the script.
ES: The actors were instinctive. They read the script and knew what was expected.
ES: I wanted it to look like the films of the 70s. We shot on film. It was transferred to digital and we edited it on an AVID. It’s a huge computer. You conform your shot to a time code and transfer it to film. We were shooting so fast that I didn’t have time to look at dailies except once a week.
At what stage did Morgan come on board?
ES: I got the idea in 1976. I was a tutor at a prison. There was a boy I taught who had killed someone. He kept pulling a picture of the victim out and looking at it. While looking at this two-dimensional image, something would happen and it would come to life. I wrote 30 pages in 78. Another thirty pages in 1990. I put it aside. In 1996 I was working on a movie that looked like it would go. I thought that now I might be able to get this (Levity) story told. I committed to finishing the script. I finished it and gave it to Morgan in 1997. He made some notes. The story was moving in some untrue directions. I agreed and rewrote it in 1998. I went to Morgan again in 2000. This time I had Billy Bob. Before I was just a schmuck with a script, now I was a schmuck with a script and an actor. Morgan came on board with his company Revelations Entertainment. His partner, Lori McCreary did so much work, practically for free.
ON WHAT DREW THE ACTORS TO THE STORY
MF: Acting is my work. I look for work. I’m primarily looking for work! Some work pays financially, some spiritually. Some is more gratifying in what you get to chew on, as far as the craft is concerned. It is also nice when someone is begging you to do it! And throwing in perks like Holly and Billy to work with!
HH: I thought the script was great. And working with Morgan. (Morgan kisses her). The scripts had unanswered questions. Most movies have nothing but answers. This had innate mystery. I found the unexplained tantalizing and it remained so during shooting.
ES: I met the kid twice. I remember his eyes and smile. I was writing about the idea that we act like our actions have no consequences. But they do. They effect others. I thought about that boy who had killed, about what he had done. I also thought about this idea. If you do one very bad thing, can you do any number of good things to make up for it? Of course you can’t answer that question. I only met that boy twice. I have no idea if he even remembers me, or if he is alive. He got life in prison. In that one chance encounter, he had a huge effect on me and doesn’t even know it.
ON MORGAN FREEMAN’S CHARACTER
ES: Morgan and I talked about what his character might have done in his past. Morgan said, “I’m working on that.” We never talked about it again.
MF: He (Miles) is the kind of guy who will try to do everything he can to help others, but he will not look in the mirror himself. He just keeps running. Billy on the other hand looks in the mirror and confronts the truth about himself.
ON GAINING ACTOR’S TRUST
ES: I didn’t have it at all times. I didn’t trust myself. I was intimidated. I was confident in my vision, but not in my ability to express that vision. I had to rise to the occasion and grow up. This was not the time for imaging the movie anymore. I was now involved in turning it into something real and hopefully better than what I imagined. I accepted my place, learned to trust myself, to have no hesitation. I used to do stand up comedy. A comedian once told me to "“step into the room, knowing I was the funniest man in the room."
ON GAINING THE DIRECTOR’S TRUST
HH: I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors. I made the worst mistake of my life. I would audition every day on the set. This came from the director’s lack of trust in himself. It was a mistake on my part. It was a destructive position to be in. Since that one experience, I found the greatest way to foster trust: communication. I had great communication with Ed. He was very open. Trust grew quickly. Working with Ed was a real pleasure and a healing experience.
MF: Working with a first time director? I don’t like it, especially if they wrote the script. If they write it, they’ve acted out all the parts in their head. It leaves little room for me. You have to get the writer off the set. In Ed’s case, I just ignored him!
MF: I’ve played comedy on stage. Be true to the situation and it works. I guess I haven’t done comedy on screen because I have to damn much Gravitas!
MAINSTREAM MOVIES VS. INDIES
MF: One sucks and the other is a lot better.
ON PAT BOONE, THE GAURDIAN ANGEL OF “LEVITY”
ES: I put up my own money to get this movie going. Billy Bob and I hadn’t agreed on an out date, a date that he would be finished. Billy said he had a family commitment on March 1st. He had to be finished by then. I was getting in over my head. I asked Billy if there was anyway he could work until March 9? Billy said he was flying with his family to Namibia. If he worked until the 9th, he would have to fly there himself. It was a long flight. I asked Billy if he would do it if I got someone real nice to fly with him. Billy said, “What are you going to do, get Pat Boone to fly with me?” I called up Pat Boone’s office. They said he was having root canal. I pressed them on the matter. I mentioned Billy Bob Thorton. They asked if it was an emergency. I said it was to me, but probably not to the rest of the world. Later, I’m in Montreal. It’s 1:45 in the morning and I’m asleep. The phone rings. “Hello.” “Hello, this is Pat Boone. I hear you have a really strange request for me.” I can’t believe he called. I explain the situation. “If it will save your movie, I’ll be glad to fly with Billy Bob to Namibia to keep him company.” I call Billy. “Hello.” “Hey Billy, Pat Boone said he will fly with you to Namibia!” “Bullshit!” Of course, everything worked out and Pat Boone didn’t have to fly with Billy, but that’s why we gave Pat a “Thanks” in the credits, why he was our Guardian Angel.
The hour was getting late. Morgan Freeman abruptly said he had to go. After a round of applause, the crowd dispersed. As I left, I watched Mrs. Bobal, her husband Ron and many of the volunteers. They had exhausted smiles. Day One was a complete success. One down, three to go!