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J. Neil Schulman on...the Making of Lady Magdalene's

GARY YORK:  Personally, the most interesting question for me is, "Why?"  Why did you make this movie?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  For my entire life I have been at least as interested in film as an expressive medium as I have been in the purely literary forms I've written in, novels and short stories.  My dad, as a concert violinist, was a performing artist, and that led me to an early interest in the performing arts.  I always tried to be a dramatist when I was writing novels and short stories, so it was a natural transition for me to become a screenwriter. Then I spent two weeks on the shooting set of the produced Twilight Zone episode I wrote, "Profile in Silver," and I was hooked. It's only this year, though, that I determined to direct one of my own scripts -- and that required me to produce as well.
So, I wrote a film outline for Lady Magdalene's early this year, and Nichelle Nichols -- my producing partner in the development of Escape from Heaven -- agreed to play the lead role. Prior to writing the script, I did location scouting -- even doing some Handicam shooting of possible locations-- then I wrote the script with those locations in mind -- in effect, using my location footage as storyboards.
I started pre-production of the film as soon as I had a completed screenplay, and we started principal photography on May 23rd, wrapping June 12th. We just completed editing a rough cut and intend to have the film completed in September.
I made Lady Magdalene's for the same reasons I write novels. It is interesting, though, that the part of the process where I felt most like being a novelist wasn't writing the script or even directing the film, but in the editing of the movie.  That felt to me like being an author.
And, I should mention that I learned editing a movie is the best training for directing one -- and directing a movie is the best training for writing one. The later stage tells you what you need to be looking out for in the previous one, so you avoid making silly mistakes. You should have heard me during editing, cursing out the stupid writer and the idiot of a director!
Now, with one feature film under my belt, I look forward to producing and directing my screenplay of Escape from Heaven.


GARY YORK:  If such a thing were done, would Lady Magdalene's bear a label "Warning: strong libertarian content!"?  I'm really asking, I suppose, if I might particularly like to see the film; I should be asking, rather, why should anyone want to see the film -- or, perhaps, who do you see as it's audience?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Well, let's see. In Lady Magdalene's, the heroes are two federal agents -- one of them from the IRS -- and the madame of a legal brothel. On the surface, I'm only batting .333 from a libertarian standpoint!
But this is, after all, a movie written, produced, and directed by the same guy who wrote Alongside Night, The Rainbow Cadenza, and Stopping Power -- the same guy whose favorite writers include Ayn Rand, C.S. Lewis, and Robert Heinlein. You might expect that surface appearances can be deceiving.  On the surface, it might be hard to find any political point of view in Lady Magdalene's.  But beneath the surface lies the heart of an iconoclast raised on Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift, who loves Monty Python and the Marx Brothers. Lady Magdalene's contains a lot of comedy, a lot of irony. Some of the early reactions have compared me to Fellini, and the phrase "black comedy" has shown up a few times. Shakespeare's tragedies -- Hamlet, as the best example -- contain some of Shakespeare's best comedy writing. So even when I have an overall serious purpose, it doesn't mean you're in for a somber time.  Does Lady Magdalene's have strong libertarian content? Let me answer this way: if you don't know what to look for, my political point of view is buried under the comedy -- just the way it should be.
As for who the audience is? As a writer I've never targeted a specific audience. The only category I ever wanted to be in as an author was "best-seller." But I'm doing some unusual things in Lady Magdalene's.
To begin with, for a movie centered around a brothel, there is not a single sex scene and the F word is never heard. I think the sensibility of this movie in many ways is more 1956 than 2006. The movie is cut more the way Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick, or Orson Welles would have cut it, rather than any contemporary director whose sense of timing comes from TV commercials and music videos.  I believe movies should be both suspenseful -- which means that you have to give the audience things slower than they want it -- and poetic -- which means you don't cut to the chase. I hope there's still an audience out there that's not so addicted to fast food that they can't take a leisurely meal when I lay the whole seven courses in front of them.


GARY YORK:  Was the film inspired by I Met God, or in some other way related?  Is it more like a "finger exercise" before tackling the film version of Escape from Heaven?


J. NEIL SCHULMAN:  Lady Magdalene's was not inspired by I Met God, however both projects reflect what inspires me.  As far as being a finger exercise -- no way.  I've never approached any of my long-form projects with limited expectations or with less than a full head of steam. Now, it's true that if Lady Magdalene's succeeds, Escape from Heaven stands a better chance of getting made, and I stand a better chance of the money people allowing me to direct it. But the reverse is also true: if Lady Magdalene's fails, I'm less likely to get the chance to make Escape from Heaven.


Back to Gary York's interview with J. Neil Schulman






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