Directing in his DNA: A Discussion with “At Middleton” Writer/Director, Adam Rodgers

After my involvement with the LCFF, I decided that putting on a film festival must be a small slice of what it’s like to make a movie. I mean, there are similar timelines and stages such as pre-production, location scouting, casting, production schedules and of course, budgeting. But never having done the latter, I took the opportunity to speak to Adam Rodgers who has – and to much success. The writer/director of “At Middleton” discusses his personal journey, and I couldn’t help but draw another conclusion: this man’s got storytelling in his DNA.

At-MiddletonAdam was the child of two career journalists, Joann Rodgers and George Rodgers. They met in the 60′s and attended Columbia’s school of journalism together in New York. Each eventually went on to great success in their respective fields. Looking back, Adam believes their influence may have laid the groundwork for his own creative pursuits. He recounts a childhood full of endless discussions and debates, a home filled with books and newspapers, and ultimately, a keen interest in ‘story’. “My mom recently emailed me a memory of back when Kennedy was shot…and what that was like,” says Adam. “There was this feeling of mourning, but also something every journalist is interested in – doing their best work and following the story. Their innate curiosity of things, I think, is what rubbed off on me.”

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This liberal upbringing, plus an undergraduate degree from Duke and post-graduate degree from NYU’s film school created a solid work ethic that would serve him well on the “other” sunnier coast. “Duke was a great place to try things,” he says. “They had a little film club called ‘Free Water Productions’, where you could write a grant, get a few hundred bucks, some film stock and make a movie.” One of these rogue movies and a letter of recommendation from family friend and noted New York producer (Grease, Agnes of God), Ken Weisman, helped Adam get accepted into NYU’s elite film school.

At NYU, Adam made several short films. He and some fellow students formed a ‘gang’ of sorts, each helping the other complete their film projects. Learning a variety of roles – from producer to director to writer – Adam says, was invaluable. Turns out, the most valuable thing he would create was his friendship and eventual working relationship with Glenn German, who co-wrote and produced “At Middleton”. “Later, when I got to Los Angeles, we decided to write a script together because we remembered that NYU experience,” says Adam. “Those were crazy days because we both had full time jobs, but we would write 5 days a week from like 9pm to 7am in the morning. I remember, we actually finished a script at Cedar Sinai the night his child was born.”

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Sounds like a tall tale you’d recite after a night of no sleep…or maybe the pitch for his next feature length script? Thing was, it was true. Adam and Glenn forged a writing partnership that has spanned almost two decades and led them to their greatest film accomplishment, which Adam emphasizes, did not come easily. Like most movie projects, studio or independent, financing is a big issue that can change on a dime. “All the stories you read and hear about getting an indie movie off the ground are true,” says Adam. “You get half the financing, then part of it falls through, then you have to scramble and get someone else, then the actor gets another job so you have to put off filming….all that happened to us.” He goes on to quote his writing partner: “I think Glenn said it best…It’s like trying to throw a football through about 15 tire swings all moving at different speeds.”

That’s not something they teach you in film school, but there’s a saying in Hollywood: Story Is King. This implies that a great story rises above all else. I can’t help but think of this when considering how “At Middleton”, or any other great independent film gets made. I’ve been told numerous times that ‘no one will ever have as much passion for your story as you, so do something meaningful and that passion will carry you through the highs and lows’. Adam holds a similar sentiment: “I’ve always believed that anything you try to do in film or TV is, by nature, incredibly difficult,” he says. “It makes sense to pursue projects you really believe in and love. Glenn and I just loved the script and project, so we were continually inspired.”

Inspiration comes in many forms, so I couldn’t help but ask what it was like working with an American film icon. Adam tells a story that answers the question at hand, but also speaks to a deeper inspiration and sense of self:

“I first saw Andy Garcia in person when I was in film school. I was working with a doc crew from Russia. My job was to show them around New York and help them take footage. We all found out that [Frances Ford] Coppola was shooting in Little Italy, so we sort of snuck on the set. I first saw Andy on horseback in a scene where he assassinates Joey Zasa, played by Joe Montegna. So my first, early opinion of him was of this amazing, charismatic actor murdering another character. For most, Andy was this somewhat mysterious and captivating, slightly-intimidating person. But when we met him at his Paradigm Agency, he was as gracious and funny as ever. We all sat in the office and drank coffee, and he was just this charming and open and warm person. I think I was fortunate because Andy and I got to know each other and establish a relationship for 6-8 months before we made the movie. As a director, that allowed us to create a way to communicate. A language. The director’s I’ve always admired were those that strived to create a certain atmosphere onset, where everybody can do his or her best work. Andy and I were already doing that before we ever got onset. Once we started shooting, there was a shorthand in place. Not to say we didn’t have to work through things, but he made me feel comfortable, never made me feel like a first-timer. I learned a lot and had a great time, even when I made mistakes.”

In my opinion, this sounds more like the kind of banter and easy-going familiarity one observes between a father (or mother) and son. Or a long-time friend. Not a first-time (feature length) director working with an A-list icon. Family, friendship…maybe those early childhood experiences were embedded in his DNA after all. And maybe it’s end result, “At Middleton”, is just the beginning.

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Written by Laurie Nelson
Laurie is a freelance journalist, essayist and screenwriter.