INTERVIEW: Filmmaker Thomas Baldinger On The Making Of ‘Who’s Jenna…?’
Thomas Baldinger is an Independent filmmaker whose latest film Who’s Jenna …? is coming soon. We recently caught up with him and asked him about the film and what it took to get it made. Here’s what he had to say.
TMI: Hello Thomas. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s start with you. Who is Thomas Baldinger?
THOMAS: I’m a husband. I’m a Dad. I’m a guy who loves making movies!
Your latest film is called Who’s Jenna…?, a romantic comedy with a twist. How about a brief summary.
I like to call it a wacky rom-com. Jonathan, a financial advisor, falls in love with Jenna, a professional lawyer. That’s the Romance of the story. The Comedy comes in when Jonathan’s best friend thinks she looks like a famous porn star and he’s on a mission to prove it. The “Wacky” comes in when we find out Jenna’s brother-in-law is also Jonathan’s boss who is a bully and a racist and is blackmailing Jonathan because one of his accounts is that of a famous porn star.
So that’s an unusual plot, and as you’re both writer and director, I’m curious how the story came about.
Well, this sounds funny to say…but the original idea came from an article my father wrote a few years ago. He works for a financial news firm and in one of his articles he referenced a story where a large commercial bank was being sued by a number of adult film stars because the bank closed their accounts due to their professions. I thought, “Hey, this is interesting…how can I have some fun with this?” Plus, a few of the events that happen in the movie I actually witnessed in my life. For instance, the scene where one of our characters goes into a dumpster searching for his favorite adult films that his buddy just threw out … well, I actually witnessed that event. And NO, it was not me diving into a dumpster.
That’s funny. And what a cool backstory. What’s interesting about Who’s Jenna…? is that despite the themes, you handle this with a tame hand, keeping the movie more lighthearted fare, which I think works well. Was keeping the balance between it all any problem in developing the story?
It was tough toeing “the line” but the cast & crew made it easier for me. What I mean is making this film was a true collaborative effort. We would constantly monitor “that line” during production and post-production. The cast and I would review the lines and make adjustments to the script as we shot. And I had a certain method when it came to filming. I would want to get a few takes with what was written on the page and then we would shoot with changes and improvisation. To be honest, this cast lived and breathed these characters, so their input was extremely important. And at the same time my DP, AD or one of the crew members would make a suggestion to be sure we didn’t go over bounds and we ran with it! Even my editor spent hours on cutting different versions of a certain joke or line to make sure we kept a sense of reality while also not crossing “the line”.
Actually, you tackle a few serious social issues in Who’s Jenna…? with one character at the center of things like racism and homophobia. Could you shed some light on the motivations behind these choices and maybe how you ‘drew the line’ so to speak?
Well, first, I have to give a lot of credit to Garry Pastore who plays the character of Joe Barcia, the villain of our story that hits all of these stereotypes. Garry approached it in a very professional manner and I tip my hat to him for being the complete opposite of who he really is as a human being. Garry did a great job. Second, the rest of the cast did an amazing job in their approach to these topics as well. Each one of them would offer their input to make sure we weren’t offending anyone and that we got our point across.
Look, in this world we live in … it’s tough. I have two kids and we see examples of bullying, racism and homophobia all around them. I’m not one to make a political statement … but I guess, when it comes to people judging others because of their religion, or gender or color or sexual preference without really getting to know who they are is just wrong. You might not like everyone in you come across, but everyone deserves respect. I guess that’s what I’m going for here.
So I have to ask, considering the context, were there any concerns with the pornographic “themes” causing issues in getting distribution?
No, I was confident we’d get a distributor. Wow, I hope that doesn’t come across as being overly confident. But I felt good about our product. And in fact we did get a distributor. I wish I could say who we signed with, but I’m contractually obligated not to until they give us an official release date. But I will tell you that is a highly recognizable name who will be releasing our film very, very soon.
What I was concerned about and still am concerned about are audiences pre-judging our film before even watching it. Your review, along with some other reviews, really gets what our film is about and I thank you for that. But there are some people out there who won’t watch our film because they feel the “theme” is offensive or vulgar. In fact, 2 prominent film festivals here in the states (on the east coast) scheduled our film for screenings. They had us in prime time positions for their festival due to the cast we had, and the early positive reviews we were getting. But both festivals did a 180 on us. One festival moved the screening time close to midnight due to the “content” of the film and the second festival pulled the entire film from their schedule 5 days before the actual screening due to “profanity” and the “themes”. Now, some people might view this as a problem … but I don’t. I think it’s great that we are causing a stir in the independent film festival market. I said to my wife the other day, “Hey, I think JENNA could become the Howard Stern of the Indy Film Market!”.
Moving on, you’ve got a pretty cool cast, including Tracey Birdsall, who’s been gaining quite the following of late. Along with Bill Sorvino, the two make for an engaging on-screen couple. How was it working with the cast?
I was the luckiest guy in the world to have this cast! Everyone and I mean everyone in this film was just downright amazing to work with! It was interesting to have Tracey and Bill work out so well on camera b/c they never met each other prior to production. But on the first day as we rehearsed I could see they clicked right away. Then you got Joseph D’Onofrio taking what I had written on the page and elevating it to a higher and funnier level…he was hilarious! As I said before, Garry Pastore was a real professional in his approach to his character. Edwin Guerrero and Mike Tota were also a real pleasure to work with. They never missed a beat. Jen Jacob, Ronnie Marmo and Kevin Carr were in my first short film Two Sides of Love on Amazon Prime (shameless plug) and working with all three of them again was like clock-work. Precious Pia and Samantha Maisano were fabulous as the mother’s of our leading men. Jeremy Gilbert is a close friend of mine from college and it was fun to have him be part of this. Having Vic Dibitetto on set was a blast. I always admired his stand up and was fortunate to have him on set. It was also pretty cool for Amber Lynn to come out and have a cameo in our film. And last but not least, having guys like Vincent Pastore and Lenny Venito on set was a real honor. Actually, having all of these people part of this film was a real honor. And my crew’s dedication was a blessing. They worked incredibly hard. I tip my hat to each other them as well!
This is your first feature length film. As an Independent filmmaker, could you share with us some of the challenges you faced in bringing your film to screen? How about benefits?
Challenges … every filmmaker will tell you the first challenge is …MONEY. And they would be right. But I was fortunate to have a solid group of investors who believed in me, in this cast and in our crew to make a good movie. The other challenge was scheduling. We broke up the filming schedule into two separate legs. Because Tracey was the only actor coming from LA, we wanted to shoot all of her stuff first. Then we took a few weeks off and came back to film the rest. My AD, Brian Millard, did a fabulous job working our DP Jeff Seesselberg and Cameraman Brad Reeb in organizing the cast & crew schedules.
Another challenge was finding the right distributor. We were approached by three different distributors with all great strategies. I wanted to make sure the one we chose will give us the biggest bang for our buck. Now that we’ve signed, meeting all the requirements of the distributor is a challenge as well. But it is all worth it!
The last challenge was the content. As I mentioned before, we never wanted to cross the line and make the film “offensive”. Yes, there is foul language in the film, and yes the characters talk about pornographic films. But I wanted to be sure we always did it with taste. And I think we accomplished that. That’s why I’m so confused by why those two festivals did what they did. But oh well, more press for us!
Benefit: Shooting on two schedules. Because we took a few weeks off, my editor, Mike Cutrone, got working on cutting the film up with all of Tracey’s footage. This allowed us to put it all together a lot quicker after the 2nd leg of the filming schedule was done. We were able to have a 1st cut within a month after the 2nd leg of filming was complete.
Another Benefit and a really important one: My wife, my family & my friends. I don’t care what anyone tells you … without a solid partner in your life and a great family behind you … you will not succeed. This movie would never have been made without my wife’s constant support. And my family, wow…let me tell you a quick story: We held a screening of the film in Asbury Park last year. We sent out invitations to all of my family members and friends. Not knowing who would come and who wouldn’t. Let me tell you, everyone and I mean everyone who got an invite showed up to support our film. I was blown away! Sometimes I’ll skim over the photos from that night …to see the smiles and the enjoyment everyone had from our film … it’s what keeps me going. So for those who are reading this, thank you!
When can audiences expect to be able to see the movie?
As I am answering this question our film is being reviewed by our distributor. And I hope to announce who that distributor is very soon! But from what I am told, we are looking at the beginning of 2018 for the release of our film. In the meantime I highly suggest that everyone goes to our website: www.624-productions.com and click on the Who’s Jenna…? poster. You can see all the great reviews we’ve gotten so far along with trailers and clips from the film.
We dedicate a lot of content on the site to writing and talking about great moments in movies, discussing their influence and impact. How about you? Are there any movie moments that have had effect on you as a filmmaker?
The whole film of The Dark Knight. Not because I am a total closet comic nerd … the way that film was put together from the writing, to directing, to the performances, to the editing and to the score. It was such a great movie. I remember walking out of the theater inspired to make a great movie like that one. Now, don’t get me wrong, Who’s Jenna…? is nowhere near the caliber of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight but I like to think we’ve made our first step to reach that goal.