Behind the scenes of The House of Tomorrow... delivering an insider’s look at geodesic domes, intermingled with punk rock and a unique coming of age story.
Cheryl Laughlin reads for the Nashville Film Fest, grass-roots hustles for 20K Films documentaries... and it's possible she ran through the house with her Top 10% in the Nicholl Fellowship announcement like Anne Hathaway with her Oscar (cuz she's geeky like that.) You can follow her on Twitter: @cheryllaughlin
I love a bit of tabla rasa when I see a movie. Maybe I see a trailer or film title, then I'm ready for some film magic. So when I walked into the theater for The House of Tomorrow, I only had a handful of images and this IMDb logline:
“This film tells futurist, architect, and inventor R. Buckminster Fuller's incredible story through two teens hoping to get laid, become punk gods, and survive high school.” Consider me intrigued.
Of course, the possible downside to my cluelessness? Total film annihilation. I could stumble out of the theater lamenting all that lost time. But that didn’t happen once at this year’s Napa Film Festival. I found myself immersed in fun and thoughtful films – especially writer-director Peter Livolsi’s The House of Tomorrow.
The House of Tomorrow delivers an insider’s look at geodesic domes, intermingled with punk rock and a unique coming of age story. Funky science, beloved music, and the awkward nuances of growing up – yes, please.
In speaking with the writer-director afterward, I learned more about the serendipities that led to the film. If you delight in synchronicities, read on.
Spoiler on Peter – just days after the film’s initial screening at the Napa Film Festival, he won the Jury Award for Best Screenplay for his adaptation, adding to his repertoire of award-winning commercials, short films, and selection to the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. Plus, Shout! Factory acquired the film for an April 2018 release for their new Shout! Studios.
The Script of Tomorrow
I’m always curious how filmmakers find the source of their scripts, especially when it’s an adaptation.Since House of Tomorrow is an award-winning novel, how did you discover the book?
Peter: The producer Tarik Karam brought me the novel. And it’s been five years in the making since I first read the book, while directing lots of shorts and commercials in between.
Where there any major changes from the original? How did the author feel about it?
Peter: In the novel, Jared’s character (played by Alex Wolff) has a single mom. But I kept thinking about my own dad and wanted to explore that different dynamic where a father can also tap into a maternal side. So Alice turned to Alan. Without ruining it, the big finale in the film is the same in spirit but also different from the novel’s version. Thankfully Peter (Bognanni) was really supportive and liked the film. He was a wonderful sounding board who understood that the movie had to be its own thing and gave me free reign.
Any tough elements to wrangle from the novel into the screenplay?
Peter: Trying to put Bucky Fuller into soundbites! He was many things but concise wasn’t one of them. So I did my best to distill his big ideas into something an audience could digest, while also investing themselves in the emotions of the story. It felt like when I’m editing. You find the true moments and work from there.
The Serendipity of Filmmaking
Breaking Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller into screenwriting soundbites is indeed a masterful undertaking. A bit of background on Bucky – turns out Bucky Fuller was a bona fide architect of functional futurist domes from the 1930s up until his death in 1983. (Watch closely in the film for a funky fun Dymaxion car created by Bucky and captured in found footage.)
I was delighted to discover Bucky Fuller was a real person. What was it like writing his presence into the film and through the sheltered character of Sebastian?
Peter: The biggest challenge was crystallizing Bucky’s global ethos with the punk ethos that brings the main characters Sebastian and Jared together. Strangely, the two ideals share quite a bit in common.
You mentioned after the screening that beloved actress Ellen Burstyn (playing Nana, a devote follower of Bucky Fuller) actually knew Bucky. How did that inform your rewriting and filming?
Peter: Yeah, when I finished the script, it went to Ellen but I had no idea she knew Bucky. Soon after, she came on as a collaborator and producer and even shared some never before seen movies of the two of them that were shot by a PBS doc crew, which I ended up using in the film.
Shooting in a Dome and Surrounding Yourself with Smart People
You talked about shooting in actual domes for the 18-day shoot. How did real domes bring the writing to life?
Peter: Well, I learned about the acoustics in a dome! We actually had access to film in two different domes in Minnesota and created the exterior in CG.
Screenwriter and filmmakers are always curious how to actually get films made. Any shared insights to pass along?
Peter: Be open. You will always have what you wrote, just continue to explore when you rewrite, when you film, and when you edit.
Screenwriters tend to be introverted. Any advice for those screenwriters who want to become writers/directors?
Peter: It can be done. Just surround yourself with smart people, listen to them, and always remember you’re there to protect the story but not dictate every detail of it. Your team has a lot to offer if you let them.
To keep up with Peter’s film projects, visit:
- thehouseoftomorrowfilm.com and peterlivolsi.com.
- Plus, twitter.com/peter_livolsi and www.instagram.com/livolsi/
BONUS FUN: Check out Peter’s absurdly fun short Leonard in Slow Motion starring Martin Starr.
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