Sunday, November 6, 2011
Elijah the Prophet
In every family, there’s that one relative. You know, the one who means well but ends up drinking far too much alcohol and embarrassing himself at holiday functions. Too bad that relative doesn’t usually win his family $1,500, an iPad and the chance to make a short film.
But for university alumnus and former Diamondback deputy diversions editor Zach Herrmann and his brother, Jesse, the mythical Jewish figure of Elijah did just that. Their script, Elijah the Prophet, won the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition (CSSC) in May and will be shot next March — if they can raise $20,000 to fund it.
The figure of Elijah is based off the Jewish tradition of leaving a cup of wine for Elijah — a prophet from the Hebrew Bible who would visit rabbis to help them solve difficult problems — at Passover. After years of joking about where the offering of wine disappeared to, the Herrmann brothers transformed Elijah into a pathetically lovable alcoholic who tries to visit multiple houses in Santa Claus fashion but is pulled over on a drunk driving charge.
“Most scripts I consider directing are features,” said director James Cooper, who interned with Zach at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. “In 14 pages, they made me laugh out loud several times where 90 pages have inspired a chuckle out of me. There’s this wit and humor to it that was kind of irresistible.”
That cleverness has attracted big names: producer David Cormican, who founded the CSSC; Melanie Nicholls-King from Rookie Blue and The Wire; Tonya Lee Williams, who starred in the soap opera The Young and the Restless; Brian Markinson, who had a major role in Charlie Wilson’s War; and many more.
Since so much talent is involved, the team wants to make sure the film lives up to the hype. On Oct. 12, Cooper set up a campaign on Kickstarter.com, where donors can give as little as $1 toward a project and will receive different levels of prizes based on how much they donate. As of Sunday night, the “Elijah” campaign had raised $8,688, or 43 percent of the $20,000 total needed by Nov. 26.
“Our whole feeling was that we didn’t want this to be a backyard, nonunion production,” Zach Herrmann said. “We wanted to do it right, and doing it right costs money.”
Cooper conducted extensive research on successful (and unsuccessful) Kickstarter campaigns before launching the project. He concluded the failed campaigns did not reveal everyone involved in the process, while the best pitches included a simple video explaining the meaning and purpose of the project.
“We’re in this age of media that’s dominated by things like Twitter, where all you have is 140 characters,” Cormican said. “It’s like moths on crack. Our focus is to try and remain relevant.”
Zach Herrmann has the same goal for himself. He works as an assistant at a New York talent and literary agency in order to pay the bills, but follows his heart by screenwriting on the side.
Though he started at this university as a communication major, he eventually switched to journalism, a field he said is “infinitely helpful in translating to screenwriting.”
“It teaches you to be very direct,” he said. “You never want someone to reread what you wrote. It’s not like Virginia Woolf, where you’re rereading the same sentence for 10 minutes, and you’re like, ‘What the f—’s going on?’ You can’t do that for a screenplay, or a newspaper or a website.”
Co-writer Jesse Herrmann joked that Elijah the Prophet marks the only award his brother has ever won in three years of screenwriting, while this is Jesse Herrmann’s first try. Zach Herrmann, in turn, said his brother is simply going to provide the financial backing when they become the next Coen brothers (the fraternal duo behind The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and No Country for Old Men).
“I mean, I’m batting 1,000, and he’s one for however many here,” Jesse Herrmann said. “I’d rather have some creative license than be a blank check.”
To donate to Elijah the Prophet, just type the film’s name into the search box on www.kickstarter.com.