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On an afternoon before Thanksgiving, I left work, took a bus across the Hudson River, and stepped into an alternate universe: a production office that the filmmakers set up on the 23rd floor of a Manhattan skyscraper. A costume designer, set designers, producers, and accountants ran through a hallway wielding outfits, props, schedules, and scripts. It was humbling to meet them and surreal to spy receipts on a desk billed to Carrie Pilby. The office was bare-bones, with storyboards taped to the walls. Someone had strung Christmas lights across a Macintosh computer. They were handcrafting a movie.
After five years of raising money (including a climactic last-minute phone call to secure the last few thousand dollars), holding auditions, revising scripts, and cobbling together wardrobe and sets, the actual filming took only 20 days. Once a week for a month, I left my office to visit the set for a few hours. On the first day, cameras were crammed into a small building that was to be Carrie’s apartment; most of the crew had to watch the action on a monitor in a different room. To my surprise, everyone seemed relaxed, confident, and upbeat. “We’re happy,” Johnson explained.
Like the crew, the actors were very kind when I met them. When I was introduced to Lane, the Broadway legend showed me his copy of the book, marked up, and said dramatically, “It’s a beautiful book, and I think it’s going to be a beautiful movie.” I thanked him and said I was sure it would be. Filming was followed by six months of editing, including adding sound effects and the score, which was composed, to my delight, by Michael Penn of Boogie Nights.
While millions of dollars are spent on a film’s production and post-production, there’s another, crucial step—getting the finished product to viewers. The industry has changed drastically in the last few years, with some films going straight to Netflix and other digital platforms. The fate of indie movies in particular is often determined at festivals. There, distributors see a trailer or the finished product and decide how much money to invest and where to release it; they can speak with filmmakers and gauge audience and critic interest.
Almost exactly a year ago, Carrie Pilby debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, a launchpad for several Oscar-winning projects including Silver Linings Playbook and American Beauty. I made the trip to see the film screened before 1,500 people. It had been apparent to me during the process that the filmmakers really “got” the book, turning my 400 pages into a heartfelt 90-minute movie. Sitting in the audience, listening to the crowd laugh and applaud, it was clear to me that the audience “got” the film. And the next day, I was pleased to read a four-star review in The Guardian calling Carrie Pilby an “ambitious, upbeat, and surprising comedy.”