Horace and Colt are stranded late at night in a foreign land. They have lost the key to their room and to each other. An enigmatic figure, Diana, provokes another journey. Erotic and harrowing, this forbidden underworld of yearning and confession permits the release of all that has been silenced.
Year: 2003, Length: 75min., Format: Sony PD-150, Origin: USA, CA.
Producer: Daniel Dubiecki, Director: Jenny Foster, Writer: Stephen Keep Mills, Cinematographer: Eric Steelberg, Editor: Jenny Foster, Costume and Hair Design: Maro Parian, Composer: Kinny Landrum, Associate Producer: Steve Diskin, Cast: Svetlana Efremova, Jennifer Griffin, Stephen Keep Mills.
It is late at night in a foreign land. Three guests are stranded in a hotel lobby. The tension of division perfumes the air. HORACE and COLT, a fifty-something married couple, are divided—they have lost the key, to their room and to each other. Another woman, DIANA, reads a book and is divided from the real world by fiction.
On the surface, their exchanges are trivial and stilted. Nothing really happens. But as each retreats into their private worlds of fantasy, a much livelier story unfolds—a story of confrontations that should have happened, of secrets that need to be revealed. HORACE seeks the repair of his masculine identity damaged by a partner who won’t make love to him. COLT seeks the repair of a femininity damaged by an earlier incest. DIANA seeks to escape the wasteland of lies she can’t stop telling.
The animus of the story derives from the interaction of these protected and intimate worlds. The brittle containment of the surface is no match for the volatile eruptions from the unspoken interior—a harrowing and erotic underworld of need and confession that permits the release of all that has been silenced.
“There is a trap between what I feel and what I do and the trap is called fiction and that’s where I’m caught.”
Hotel Lobby has been through more changes and more experiments over a longer period of time than anything else I’ve worked on (with the possible exception of the current project Love is not Love), and has become for me a symbol of re-invention, of never letting go of something you think has a chance.
It began its life in 1990, as a play, with isolated scenes being written randomly and read aloud around a table with a group of writers and actors I belonged to in New York at the time, Playwrights Anonymous, and evolved into an independent feature film completed in the Fall of 2003. Its growing pains along the way included different versions read at The Yale Connection, The Tracy Roberts Studio and a workshop production at The Fountain Theatre (with the spectacular Salome Jens playing COLT), all in LA. There was even an experimental multi-media “demo” version. The Lobby or “Surface” scenes were played live on stage and the fantasy or “Interior” scenes were projected on digital film.
Iris Stevens at The Westchester Film Festival provided us with a “research” screening at her March ’03 event in New Rochelle, across the Hudson from Rockland County and the town of Nyack. This proved to be a nice case of kismet. Nyack counts among it many past and famous residents the American painter Edward Hopper and back in 1988, I happened to be loitering through the town, thumbing through a calendar of Hopper’s paintings in one of the shops. I loved the raw and sexy ache of “Summertime” and “High Noon”, but when I saw “Hotel Lobby”, I got the story (and the calendar). All I had to do was write it out.
The intention was not so much to recreate the painting, but rather to spin a tale out of its essence. Its essence seemed to be in the pre-occupation and division of the three main characters. They were each somewhere else. They had retreated into a world of their own. They were living out in private a life they could never bring to the surface. I wanted to know what they were doing in their silences.
The first experiment was with language—to see if language (and HL is a very language-driven piece) could not only survive in a predominantly visual medium, but benefit from the use of images. On stage, a monologue is really a deal struck between the performer and the audience. The performer provokes the imagination of the audience, making the viewer “see” the story. In film, it’s just the opposite: the audience “sees” or is shown the story and by those selected images, we provoke the imagination. I like the starkly theatrical staged delivery, which tends to take the event to a size larger than life. But I also like the way filmic images can hone in on the interior and take the size down to an almost familiar normalcy. Each medium offers very different, and equally viable, dramatic impacts. Our producer, Daniel Dubiecki, suggested we perform each version, film and stage, in tandem though, for reasons of time and money (read ENERGY) I almost wish he hadn’t said it. It’s a tempting idea.
Another experiment involved double-casting, something more common to a play than a film. Instead of having a completely different actor playing COLT’S mother, for instance, what if something about DIANA reminded COLT of her mother and in COLT’S ensuing reverie, DIANA takes on the role herself? I believe in some ways and on a regular basis we all end up in each other’s fantasies playing different roles and I wanted to try that concept out. It seems “logical” also for DIANA to impersonate the “girl at the theatre” in HORACE’S nostalgic walkabout. Dramatically, I think it sustains the tension of the piece as the audience has to go no further than these three characters to get the full tale. Plus, having cut my teeth in repertory, I fully believe that when you get an actors like Svetlana Efremova and Jennifer Griffin, it’s fun for them and the audience alike to allow that versatility its opportunity.
The final experiment was with age. If the characters in the play/film were the same ages as the people in the painting, two things happened. First, HORACE and COLT (I named them), in their seventies, over-weighted the story with regret since most of their life was behind them. If, however, they were in their fifties, then their dilemmas became more immediate since they still had a shot at resolution. There was still a future for them. Second, DIANA couldn’t be that young. It made HORACE look like an “old goat.” Ibsen could get away with it in the Master Builder because HILDA is more of a cerebral Muse. But HORACE is viscerally engaged with DIANA. If she’s that many years his junior, then whatever I wanted his true issues to be became derailed by the visual stereotype of an older guy in heat over a younger woman. HORACE wants his wife, he’s not on the hunt for youth. Making the women contemporaries, with the man in the middle, gave a Strindbergian edge which keeps them all off balance and the story on track. This could be nonsense. I may have just wanted to play the part.
So, what’s it about? It’s about our secrets and how we remove ourselves from life in order to live them out on the plane of fantasy. The theme is best captured in DIANA’S line which is also the film’s Tagline: “There is a trap between what I feel and what I do and the trap is called fiction and that’s where I’m caught.”
Concepts aside, the project encountered some headwinds.
Footnote: I keep referring to the painting’s three main characters, but there is, in fact, a fourth. A clerk is actually behind the desk, but the way the painting was cropped for the calendar I first bought in Nyack, the clerk was cut out. I had almost finished the writing when I went to the Whitney Museum in NYC to a retrospective exhibition of Hopper’s works and was completely confounded to see this fourth character clear as a bell. I’m glad COLT didn’t see him. She would have demanded their key at once and left me without a story to FADE IN to. I conclude with this email of our first acceptance. The Hollywood FF became our World Premier.
Mr. Steve Mills
Congratulations! Here I confirm that we have selected your film "Hotel
Lobby" as a finalist in our 2003 Hollywood Discovery Awards(R) Features
Category. We will be showcasing your film at the ARCLIGHT THEATERS in
Hollywood during the Hollywood Film Festival(R) (OCTOBER 15 TO 20, 2003).
Please visit us at http://www.hollywoodfilmfestival.com
Once again, congratulations, and let's keep in touch.
Carlos de Abreu
The play remains unproduced. The story continues…