Fleigner talks about making the film, investors, and how not having sex and violence in your films can be a liability

Every so often a movie comes my way that is outside of the mainstream but only because the mainstream is moving in the wrong direction. Recently, I watched Jim Fleigner's 1980s opus Rounding First. It follows a trio of 12 year old bestfriends who embark on an adventure during their last summer before junior high school. Filled with moving performances and universal themes, Rounding First is the kind of movie that has sadly been "walked" in today's overcrowded film marketplace. It's a shame too because it really is one of the best coming of age films I have seen in years.

Recently, Rounding First director Jim Fleigner sat down with us to discuss the long road to not only getting this film made but getting it seen.

How did you go about getting this film made?

Jim Fleigner: With great difficulty. From the time I wrote the script in 2001, it's been pretty much a personal commitment exceeding anything else I've done in my life. Most people don't realize that a very small percentage of your time is spent "making" the actual film when you do it independently. It is all of the other work involved in assembling all of the elements that account for most of the time and stress.

For example, I spent a year doing nothing but raising capital, which ultimately came from 38 individuals across five time zones. Before I became a filmmaker, I had worked in the business world a bit, so that helped persuade investors that I was different from the typical filmmaker who knew nothing about budgets or how to try to make the film successful from a financial perspective. But it was still brutally difficult, since I probably got turned down by thousands of people. It was a lot of rejection.

Because I knew we would not be able to raise all of the money that the film required, getting the film made also involved garnering assistance from 30 different vendors who provided free hotel rooms, audio mix, camera packages, production trucks, Avid rental and loads of other stuff. Add on all of the auditions, crew hiring, locations, etc. and it was pretty onerous. And that was just pre-production.

Why did you want to tell the story of Rounding First?

Jim Fleigner: My personal feeling is there is a complete absence of films for kids other than fantasies like Harry Potter, Spy Kids, etc.. Those films are certainly worthwhile and profitable, but you just don't see films that show real kids with their dilemmas and challenges in a manner that respects their intelligence.

I had directed short films before Rounding First, and one of them was called From the Top of the Key. Although a different story, it was a fourteen minute drama about a thirteen year old boy who has a tough decision to make. That film really took off - it was invited to screen at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and got a favorable review from Kevin Thomas at the LA Times, which is really rare. Clearly, it struck a chord, and it gave me confidence that people want to see those types of films.

Also, I'm a big fan of films that don't resort to gratuitous sexuality, drug use, profanity or violence. I'm not saying you can't use them in film, but you better have a good reason to use them. Most filmmakers just throw them in because they think it will draw more teens (and they may be right). But I always think those things are used as a crutch - it's the path of least resistance for filmmakers. I'd rather create a film that challenges yet is accessible to most people

What films inspired Rounding First?

Jim Fleigner: Our film gets compared a lot to Stand by Me, since they're both coming-of-age dramedies about boys on the road. I certainly think that is a great film, but I wouldn't say it was inspired by it. Instead, Rounding First was mostly inspired by the types of films I like, which are intelligent, character-driven films that mix comedy and drama. Films by Cameron Crowe or Ron Howard are always great.

I know what I like and don't like to watch. And I can't make a film that is in a genre that I don't really like, such as horror, sci-fi, action, or anything that blows up.

What was the production like? What do you think is the most important thing you learned?

Jim Fleigner: Honestly, it sucked. I hated it and I would never wish that type of experience on my worst enemy. We lost a key investor about one week before production began, and during the first three weeks I knew we were going to run out of money during the fifth week unless we found some way to plug the gap. I knew I couldn't really tell anyone in the cast or crew or else they would have bailed. It was so stressful. Ultimately, one of our large investors pumped in some more money to save us, but I had a lot of days when I cried because I had created this monstrosity and I didn't know how to save it.

In terms of what I learned, I'd say I learned I never want to produce a film in that manner again... I did what I had to do, but it was one of those things you chalk up to experience but you never want to do it a second time.

How long did editing take once the film was completed?

Jim Fleigner: I had a first cut of the film within about a month, but the fine-tuning went on and on, mostly because I was pretty much doing everything with maybe one or two others helping from time to time. It turned out to be essential, though, because I made some important improvements that I would have missed if I just tried to rush through it.

Aside from refining the cut, the editing process included scoring the film, which involved hiring a composer, working with him on each of the cues, and then sending him to Europe to record with an orchestra. That took a few months. The other major parts involved color correcting the film, which was tedious, and finishing the audio mix, which took many months because we ended up splitting the job among two mixing houses because we didn't have enough money.

We didn't completely lock the film until many months later, which included a four month break because my wife and I were pretty much broke and I had to take a job to pay the bills.

How has the journey been since the film has been finished and you've taken it to festivals and distributors?

Jim Fleigner: I had attended lots of festivals with my short films previously, so a lot of the novelty of festivals had worn off personally by the time this film came around. I didn't go to all of them, because they're expensive to attend and usually not much will come out of them from a business development perspective, but I went to a few and enjoyed the experiences of them.

Rounding First isn't really well suited for many festivals, which tend to like really hip and edgy stuff. Our film is not that. So I always viewed festivals as a means to an end, which was to try to get the film out there to the portion of the public for which it was intended.

As far as distributors, it is shocking to hear how much negativity exists with them, but I can't really blame them. Well over 90% of all indie films don't really deserve a release on any widescale basis, so the distributors spend most of their time just rejecting people. And we've been rejected as well, either because our film is too clean or because it doesn't have stars... I'm not sure who are the twelve year old stars these days, but we didn't have them.

Do you plan to make more movies for kids and families? Do you think it's important to make these kinds of films?

Jim Fleigner: I hope so, because I think these types of films are crucial and Hollywood doesn't make them anymore.

What do you have coming up next?

Jim Fleigner: I have a script called The Drama Club that I really like and it did really well in some screenwriting competitions when I submitted it. It's a romantic comedy about three teenagers in a high school theater group. It has the neurotic charm of Broadcast News. So many teen romantic comedies are just about getting laid, but I wanted to do one that went beyond that kind of stuff. I'd really like to make it, but I won't be able to unless Rounding First is a success. So everyone has to go out and buy our DVD.

You can find out more about Jim Fleigner and order the film at www.roundingfirstmovie.com.

Cinemark Movie Club
Evan Jacobs