Seth Fisher Interview – Blumenthal – UK Jewish Film Festival

Seth Fisher’s Blumenthal received it’s UK premiere during the UK Jewish Film Festival 2013. This dark comedy follows a family in mourning after it’s highly successful playwright patriarch dies unexpectedly. We had time during the festival to catch up with Fisher and chat about his feature length debut.

Check out our review here – This is a fast paced, hilarious film with a good message and an even better outcome.

1.Would you mind telling our readers a little bit about yourself, and how you came to the decision to make a feature film?

I was an actor in the theater scene in New York. About as soon as I started working professionally as an actor, I started making short films in my free time.  Over the next few years, my focus shifted to writing. I was already an avid photographer, so getting behind the camera was a fairly easy transition once I decided to direct. At a certain point, a filmmaker has to rip off the band-aid and get the first feature over with. That’s Blumenthal.

2. Who are your inspirations?

Hm. I’d say Mamet, Roth, the Coens, Chayevsky…lots more.

3. What does it feel like to have Blumenthal play the UK Jewish Film Festival?

It’s awesome. Half of my family lives in London and I grew up visiting nearly every year. In fact, my Granny’s flat was just up the street from the East Finchley stop next to the Phoenix Cinema where we screened the film.  And the great thing about a Jewish film festival is that its audience transcends national culture. If a film has a Jewish element, Jews anywhere will connect to it.

4. Where did the story of Blumenthal come from?

I’d had the characters swimming around in my head for some time. I knew I wanted to do a New York film about family tethered to the theater world, even if only peripherally. I am fascinated with people’s quest for happiness in this day and age. Myself included. That’s what Blumenthal is about for me: the expectations we have in life.

5. Did you always plan on starring in the film as well as writing and directing?

No, actually. After I’d written the first  draft,  I realized that it would save me a lot of logistical grief to just play the part of Ethan. I figured, if I couldn’t get a famous version of me to play the part, I’d just as soon screw it up myself.

6. How do you act in a film that you are directing?

You set up the shot, do all the director stuff you need to do, then you do your takes. After a few takes you watch a little playback of the scene. One trusted voice I had on set was Alex Cendese, who plays Isaac.  Alex is my real life best friend, and we have worked together since drama school, so he was a huge help in making sure I gave the performance that he knew I was looking for in myself.

7. What was the process of writing the script for the film?

It was quick. A mixture of yellow pads covered in scribbling, a stack of note cards, and several ugly drafts. Eventually, I got it to a place that I felt good enough about it to go out and film it.

8. What goes through your mind when you chat with people who have seen the film?

All sorts of insecurities. I’ve written so much since I wrote Blumenthal that I feel a bit distant from it. That said, just when I think I’m sick of discussing the film, someone makes an insightful observation that both flatters and humbles me. Seeing your intentions as a filmmaker succeed in reaching even one audience member is a wonderful thing.

9. How did you cast the film?

Sabrina Hyman was my casting director. She’s excellent. Some characters were written for specific people. Alex is my real-life best friend. I had worked with Brian Cox previously on Broadway. There was always something about him that struck me as sort of “rabbinical”. Scottish rabbinical? And then I wrote the character of Fiona for Nicole Ansari. That is her real accent and she’s just incredibly talented.

10. How much of you is in your characters?

A good deal I would say. I’m just as much Cheryl as I am Ethan.

11. I am especially interested in the ‘Jewrosis’ – can you tell us a little bit about that?

I wish I could understand it! I think Jews are inclined to question things at first glance. With that inclination comes the tendency to over-analyze things. We focus so much on the cerebral that we forget the emotional. Ethan, for instance, is too busy judging his life to enjoy it.

12. How much of the old school, traditional Jewish humour affected your writing?

Nothing consciously, but I’m sure something seeped in there.

13. What do you say to those (including myself) who see similarities between your writing/acting and Woody Allen’s?

Thanks! He’s the greatest, although I think the comparisons are overly generous. For me the thing to emulate from someone like Woody is his unyielding work ethic. He makes a movie every year and doesn’t stop to read reviews or even accept Oscars. He just keeps going.

14.  What is next for you and what is it you are looking to accomplish?

I have a good deal of television writing on my plate right now. Aside from that, I’ve got another indie film. It’s a road trip comedy about a would-be novelist who chases his muse, a Mexican day-laborer, across the desert.

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