Friday, April 30, 2010

"Mister Rogers & Me" To Premiere Alongside Tom Hanks, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, More

The official Nantucket Film Festival lineup was released today, and it's stellar.

"Mister Rogers & Me" will premiere alongside a small but impressive list of films, including Tom Hank's "Toy Story 3," Bill Murray's "Get Low," and Patricia Clarkson's "Cairo Time."

Frankly, I can hardly believe it. But there it is in The Hollywood Reporter.

I knew the lineup was coming; I've been sending synopsise, clips, bios and photos for weeks. Word of the official release from my colleague, MTV Movies Managing Editor Josh Horowitz. I was fresh off an overnight train from New York to Sheldon, South Carolina, which I boarded fresh off a red eye from Los Angeles to New York. I clicked tentatively, as if the call from the festival organizers a few weeks ago was some sort of dream.

There it was in black and white alongside films by Spike Jonze ("The Birth of Big Air") and Davis Guggenheim ("Waiting For Superman"), and actors like Kevin Kline ("The Extra Man"), Katie Holmes ("The Romantics") and Anne Meara ("Another Harvest Moon"). Ben Stiller will once again bring his All-Star Comedy Roundtable, and the festival will honor Barry Levinson's "Diner."

Oh, and Christofer and my little film. I emailed him right away, my heart racing.

The NFF lineup is truly, truly impressive. It's amazing that we're a part of it. Amazing! Chokes me up. Congratulations, dude.

In the program, the color photograph of Mister Rogers and me in his modest, well-loved living room is wedged between the documentary "Last Train Home" and John Lennon biopic "Nowhere Boy." The documentary company alone is staggering: "The Birth of Big Air," "Bill Cunningham New York," "Freedom Riders," "His & Hers," "Smash His Camera," "The Tilman Story," "Waiting For Superman" and "Last Train Home."

I stepped outside into the sun-dappled South Carolina afternoon, and went for a long run. The sky was bright blue and streaked with wispy clouds. The Pocotaligo River was strewn with diamond-shaped reflections. Egrets and eagles soared above me. Alligators scattered in my wake. I alternated between fantasizing about meeting Tom Hanks, imaging a neighbor-filled premiere party, and missing out on the whole thing on account of my new son or daughters imminent arrival.

I met Mister Rogers nearly nine years ago on the cusp of my "Crash Site" CD release. The album was full of songs inspired by my parent's divorce. I wrestled with it affects daily. And then, on that fateful day in September, Mister Rogers said to me, "Tell me about your parent's divorce," gently making manageable the unmentionable.

Through the passing of time, and the making of the film, I came to reckon with that wreckage. I met my wife. And now we're expecting out first child just a few days before making good on his challenge to "spread the message" that "deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex." That's the real story: how Mister Rogers helped me heal, become more-whole, get married, and bring a child into the world. And the tools he gave me to do it all. What a miracle.

Chris and I have been working on "locking picture" (that is, finalizing our edit) for weeks. We have just a few more narrow windows to tweak the film further. A few filmmaker friends have screened it, and shared their notes. Everyone is feeling it, and most had suggestions that will only make the story deeper and simpler. The best note so far? "I cried!"

Whatever happens with the premiere, I am blessed. I am grateful. I feel dozens of guardian angels hovering over me, helping lift this project off the ground and into flight. Who knows what will happen next. All I know is that we've almost done it! We've almost made good on our pledge to Mister Rogers. And it feels amazing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Mister Rogers, HD & Me

I don't honestly remember when Chris and I shot our first footage, but for years now, I've been stashing "Mister Rogers & Me" master tapes away in a tattered, brown box in the back of my closet.

Wednesday morning, I dragged it out, and spread the tapes across the dining room table: seventy six HDDV tapes. 4, 560 minutes of deep and simple. Three whole days. (To say nothing of the footage we licensed).

I bound the tapes in rubber bands, stacked them carefully in my messenger bag, and set off towards Times Square. I dropped the bag with Christofer, who -- just a few hours later -- had re-digitized the tapes, up-res'd the files, and sent me a link. "The HD file is up. It's a big file!"

Big, yeah. But beautiful. Have a look.

Next up? The rest of the 85-minute film.

It's gonna be a big file, yeah. But it's going to be beautiful.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Mister Rogers & Me" To World Premiere At Nantucket Film Festival

It's official.

Our documentary, "Mister Rogers & Me," will world premiere at the Nantucket Film Festival June 17-20.

Of course, the film was born on Nantucket in September, 2001, when -- during a chance encounter with my actual summer neighbor (my mother rented a tiny cottage on on the island's West End just next door to Mister Rogers "Crooked House") -- America's Favorite Neighbor asked me about my job at MTV.

"I feel so strongly," he said, "That deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex."

The following summer, I told Mister Rogers how frequently I'd considered what he said.

"Spread the message, Benjamin. Spread the message."

Eight years later, with stops in Durham, NC; Fredericksburg, VA; Washington, DC; Boston, MA; Pittsburgh and Latrobe, PA (plus hours upon hours in our New York City edit, one marriage, two births and a third expected within days of the films' premiere), my brother and my documentary is returning to Nantucket.

The film features interviews with Mister Rogers' friends, neighbors and collaborators: Tim Russert ("Meet The Press"), Susan Stamberg (NPR), and Linda Ellerbee (Nick News), Marc Brown ("Arthur"), Davy Rothbart (Found Magazine), Dr. Susan Linn (Campaign for a Commerical Free Childhood), Amy Hollingsworth ("The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers"), Tim Madigan ("I'm Proud of You"), Bo Lozoff ("Deep & Simple") and Beverly Hall ("My Nantucket").

The call came Friday afternoon. I was at work.

"Tell me where you are with your film," Artistic Director Mystelle Brabée asked.

My pulse raced. My heart throbbed in my ears. I turned towards the window, put my feet up on the radiator, and endeavored to remain calm.

"Well, last night we moved an entire segment from the last third to the first," I stammered. "Yunno, to increase stakes. But that's about the last, big change we can make; we don't have the time or money to do anything drastic, just voice over, music, trimming... stuff like that."

"Are you interested in a few notes?" she asked.

"Absolutely," I said, "Four people have seen this thing. I'm more than happy to hear your thoughts."

We talked a few minutes more. The entire time I wondered, 'Are we in!?!'

Finally, Mystelle said, "Let's move forward with this."

Inhale. Hold...

"Daniela will send you a confirmation letter..."


I called Christofer a few seconds later.

"We're in!" I said before thanking him for following me all over the Northeast and working into the wee hours night after night after night.

And then I called Abbi. My wife is due on June 9, just eight days prior to the start of the festival.

"I find it hard to believe this is just a coincidence," I told her. "A film festival on Father's Day Weekend with a film by a brand-new father about the grandfather he wished he'd had..."

Walking home, my excitement began to turn to anxiety. What about that last piece of footage? What about the music? What about the web site? The premiere party? Will the baby be born in time? Where will we stay? How will we get there? Who will come? Will we finish it in time? What about the end? Will anyone like it?

I looked up beyond the buildings to the stars, and heard Mister Rogers clear as a bell.

"You're doing fine, Benjamin. You're doing fine."

Sunday, April 04, 2010

One Stamp & One Step At A Time

It wasn't until standing at the counter of the U.S. Postal Service last week that it dawned on me just how large the "Mister Rogers & Me" neighborhood has become.

It took Abbi and my imminent move from Hell's Kitchen to the Upper East Side to finally get all of those Kickstarter envelopes out the door. And it took me three trips to the Radio City Postal Station to get it right. But there I was, finally, placing each of the fiftysomething hand-packed,written and seeled envelopes on the scale one at a time, reading all the labels and ticking off cities like a FedEx commercial: Asheville, NC; Jupiter, FL; Littleton, CO; Little Elm, TX; Seattle, WA; Berkeley, CA... the list goes on and on.

I love the idea of all of those photos and cds and thank you notes making their way to the edges of this great country, and I love the idea that -- as Fred showed me -- "There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person."

That small collection of addresses is nothing, of course. Mister Rogers' legacy lives in the hearts of thousands upon thousands of friends of neighbors. I hope we can activate just 1% of them to spread his message to 1% of their friends and neighbors. That's how a legacy grows, one story at a time.

Work continues on our story, of course. Here are a few random updates:

We're still making tweaks to the film, including one, major segment move, additional voice overs, and ...

We've commissioned local pianist Chris LoPresto to add some incidental music.

We're working with our friends at Conure Studios to relaunch this site (as you can see in the associated image).

Finally we're doing everything in our power to premiere at the Nantucket Film Festival in June, including (but not limited to) crossing our fingers and toes (which makes it tough to type and walk). Meanwhile, the film remains in consideration for Seattle and Toronto, and we'll be submitting to SilverDocs, Kansas, Hot Springs, Heartland, Hamptons, Santa Fe, Chicago and more in the coming weeks.