Film and TV

Late Bloomer: At Long Last, Director Julia Dyer Is Making Sister's Screenplay, Set in 1975 Dallas

I just had the pleasure of re-reading Jimmy Fowler's 1997 feature on Gretchen and Julia Dyer, who, long, long ago, took their movie Late Bloomers to Sundance, where it garnered raves and, finally, national distribution. I was reminded of it after reading a piece in Variety about The Playroom, which Julia is directing and brother Stephen is producing. The Variety story says the film -- which is being shot here, and which is set in Dallas in 1975 -- was written by Gretchen. But it does not mention that Gretchen died in June 2009 after a years-long battle with heart and lung disease. Julia has been wanting to make The Playroom for a long time, but especially now, in tribute to her sister.

Variety, oddly, used the piece to announce casting: John Hawkes and Molly Parker, both formerly of Deadwood (among myriad other projects, of course). They are playing husband and wife, and parents to four children -- among them Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts graduate Olivia Harris (a singer and actress making her feature bow) as the eldest, Maggie. Lest I foul it up, the film's website describes the film thusly:

THE PLAYROOM unfolds like a dream wrapped around a family drama: four children in their attic hideaway make up a fantastic story, while downstairs their parents weave a drunken intrigue of their own. In a lyrical but gripping dual narrative, the story of the children's life intertwines with the story they make up about their life-until the two stories collide and the delicate family structure collapses.

The action plays out through the eyes of Maggie Cantwell, a tempestuous teenager who turns reality into a game and make-believe into a life-or-death undertaking. But Maggie is getting too old to believe in the tales she spins for the younger children. Before the night is over, she must confront the truth and make a terrible choice.

Emotionally riveting and surprisingly funny, THE PLAYROOM is the story of how Maggie and her siblings survive the most fateful night of their lives.

Janis Burklund, head of the Dallas Film Commission, tells Unfair Park that Julia and cast and crew have been shooting here for a month, the actors long in place before the announcement hit the trades. The filming, which will actually wrap shortly, has been done "quietly," Burklund says. But not without making some noise: The filmmakers are keeping a blog to which behind-the-scenes videos have been posted, including one from the first day of filming on December 11. And then there was this post, not long ago, from Julia:


My favorite Christmas present was lying in bed this morning thinking about some of the scenes we've already filmed in our first two weeks on THE PLAYROOM: Donna smoking and frying bacon in her icy blue Chanel...Maggie and Janie's drill team routine ("grapevine,, pony!")...Christian falling off the roof...Christian falling off the roof...Christian falling off the roof...(we shot it three different ways).

After living with this dynamic, ever-evolving script for nearly twenty years, it's a strange feeling to wrap a scene and know that it's done and will never change again. Surprisingly, there's a small sadness in letting go of that infinite potential and committing to the individual and concrete. But that bit of loss is far outweighed by the delight of finally realizing this long-held dream, and awe at the artistry that's coming together in front of the camera to tell our little story.

My directing technique has always consisted of falling in love with every character in the movie, and then letting the chips fall where they may. I don't want to seem lazy, but our extraordinary cast of actors is making my job pretty easy. How could my heart not go out to our amazing kids, Jonathon, Allie and Ian, who effortlessly let us see the child and the grown-up in the same body at the very same moment? How hard is it to have a little crush on Cody Linley when he gives that shy grin, or to lose yourself in the dark, flashing eyes of Olivia Harris when she doesn't get what she wants? As the Knotts, Jonathan Brooks and Lydia Mackay are bringing it in that naughty way that makes you like things you're not supposed to like; and finally, watching Molly Parker and John Hawkes through the lens is simply intoxicating...

On second thought, maybe my best Christmas present is getting to do this for two more weeks! - Julia Dyer