Last Call is directed by Paolo Pilladi from a screenplay by Greg Lingo and Pilladi. The film stars Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Taryn Manning (Orange is the New Black), Jamie Kennedy (Scream franchise), Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull), Jack McGee (The Fighter), Zach McGowan (Black Sails) and Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live).
A local success story and real estate developer, Mick (Jeremy Piven), returns home to his offbeat blue collar Irish neighborhood in the shadows of Philadelphia for a funeral and is obligated to stay to ensure his parents’ ailing family business gets back on course. Amidst all of this, he grows closer to his childhood crush (Taryn Manning) who is also back in town, while enduring the constant ridicule from his old hometown crew. As Mick begins to reconnect with the neighborhood he grew up in, he finds himself at a crossroads when forced to either raze or resurrect the family bar.
It’s a time for firsts with the writing team behind Last Call. I had the opportunity to speak with director Paolo Pilladi and his co-writer Greg Lingo about how they connected over the material and story, working with an all-star cast and the two provide insight about what makes a collaboration succeed from a directors point of view and from a first-time writer’s perspective.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: How did you to connect to write the script for Last Call?
Greg Lingo: So, originally it was me and a couple of my buddies Billy Riley and Michael Bond, [we] started compiling the stories. We were fortunate to have been introduced, a friend of a friend who actually ended up doing a little bit of B roll photography for us, he introduced the two of us. And really, I was really fortunate to meet Paolo because he was able to help take this script, and really develop it, develop the characters and kind of bring it to life.
Sadie: Is this based off of a true story, or is it something that's just from the area that you grew up in?
Greg: Yeah, it's really more just, you know, we really wanted the neighborhood to be a character in this. The neighborhood is pretty true to what the neighborhood is.
The characters, I think it was Paolo that said, “Write what you know,” so a lot of the people in the stories are tangentially related to what ultimately got shot on the screen.
Sadie: Greg, is this your first project that you've written yourself or do you have a filmmaking background?
Greg: Yeah, this is the first time and I do not have a filmmaking background. This was completely unchartered territory for me, and it was really fun and exciting and different.
Sadie: Can you dive into what your writing sessions and what the collaboration was like with having a director and a filmmaker who's been doing this for a while? Was that kind of like a film school session for you?
Greg: Oh yeah, completely. I learned everything I knew about writing the script from Paolo. I didn't appreciate the budget in the initial writing, I didn't appreciate the time it would take to film different scenes and the night and the daytime and kind of how it all could flow together, such that it was also a manageable project for us to take on because it was an independent film with the kind of limited budget in that respect.
It took us a while to get to where we felt comfortable to go out with talent and once we did, we kind of knew we had something there because we really received great feedback from not only the cast that came on, but also other people that had an opportunity to read it as well. So, we were so overjoyed with ultimately the cast that we got in this movie.
Sadie: Paolo, as a director, what's your approach to putting words on the page and collaborating with another writer?
Paolo Pilladi: Yeah, so I typically write my own projects. And I'm a big believer in if the writer is also a director, they should be directing the words that they write. And I tend to write that way, and I oftentimes remind myself that I tend to be a lean writer. And so, you know sometimes it's not always on the page, right? Sometimes it’s in your head. This was the screenplay that I had collaborated on outside of just kind of getting notes from a producer or talent. After you know I was pretty much locked and kind of making some tweaks. It was great. It was as they all tend to be you know, it was long and complicated at times but ultimately, it was absolutely for the best.
When you have a partner, there's an opportunity to get outside of your own, you know. The way I tend to write, it’s in large chunks. So, you know, sometimes you can't see the forest or the trees. So, it's nice to kind of take a step back and, you know, kick a draft, in our case, kick a draft back out to Greg. Put it aside for a little while. Let him kind of chew on it, send it back with notes. You know a little bit of time to breathe in between. And so, yeah, it was a great experience.
Sadie: Were you both working in the same room constantly or were you writing virtually? What was that routine like?
Greg: Yeah, we were mostly just kind of alternating. Paolo would write, shoot it back to me. I did the same shoot back to him. I would say mostly remote, and we've kind of met in person a handful of times.
Sadie: How long did it take for you guys to write your first draft?
Greg: Once Paolo got involved, it was much quicker than what I was accomplishing with my buddies. What would you say a couple years back and forth?
Paolo: Yeah, yeah, a few years. You know as script’s go, there's a million different ways to tell the same story and so we had a couple of different ideas. I think, ultimately, once we got to a place where we were like, “OK, Jeremy's character, he's a real estate developer he hasn't seen his family in X amount of years. He's going back home, and now he has an opportunity to either raise or resurrect the family bar.” Once we kind of locked in on that, we were in a really good spot. It took a while to get there though, you know, we were kicking around different story ideas. They were also good. I don't think we were hitting it quite on the head. And, you know, all part of the process and ultimately, writing is rewriting.
Sadie: Greg, during production, were you on set? If you were on set, did you find moments you were rewriting dialogue or scenes just to fit location or time constraints?
Greg: Yeah, that’s a great question. I was on set. This was kind of my first time on set, so I was a little bit in awe and overwhelmed by the complexity and the project management portion of the production. Paolo did a great job of allowing the actors to kind of insert dialogue where they thought it was better. For sure from Bruce Dern and Jamie Kennedy really couldn't really be kept to their script. They went off on tangents and made the story a better story and a better film. There were definitely sections where we really can't do this, this shot, the way we thought we could, so let's change it here, let's change it there. And there was a lot of changing on the fly, wouldn't you say Paolo?
Paolo: Yeah, yeah. You know, with independent filmmaking [there’s] this mantra of embracing your limitations and that was a case I think here too. And it relates to the script, you know, as a writer and as a writer first for me like you know, you fall in love with your words, right? You fall in love with them. You fall in love with the characters. And as a filmmaker and director, you learn you can't be that precious again, because there's a million ways to say something. And then you're staring at a script for so long, and I'll read the dialogue out loud to myself, it's not nearly the same as when it's up on its feet with professional actors and kind of playing it out and so you have to be to be open to, you know, you have to be smart enough to realize that something either is not working or can work better. And then ultimately trust your players, and, you know, again, we had an all-star cast so that was easier for me to do.
I remember talking to Greg this one time about the first time someone changed around a scene, I don't want to say hurtful, but it was like ‘oh wait.’ You got to let your ego go and that's the same thing with directing. It's not about my ideas, it’s about the best idea, right? And so, you're giving these characters, and these words over to a player. You got to give it over to them. I remember having a quick conversation with Greg over one thing, and I was like, “OK, this might go a little different than what's on the page,” just to kind of point [it] out. Like Greg said, 10 times out of 10, it was for the better, you know, 10 times out of 10 it was never a situation where it went too far off the rails.
Sadie: What was it like seeing some legends saying your words?
Greg: It was amazing. It was incredible. Probably the thing that was most impressive to me was how we had, we have Bruce for really just a short period of time, I believe he was only there for three days and he was in at least 18 of the scenes, so we had to kind of take the script apart and make sure that during the time he was there, we were able to capture everything else that we could. But it was really exciting and rewarding to be able to see kind of the words come to life. And after that, was really seeing what Paolo was able to capture, it was amazing.
Sadie: Taking a step back, this one is for you Paolo, what was the moment in time, or let's just say the movie that gave you the glint in your eyes to become a filmmaker?
Paolo: Initially? This kind of goes back to this story, you know Greg and I grew up in neighborhoods, didn't know each other, but we had very similar kinds of backgrounds, very similar kind of working class, blue collar immigrant neighborhoods. And I was always surrounded by storytellers. I had two neighbors on both sides, I felt like they were 2000 years old, and I would sit there when I was young, five, six years old, and just listen to their stories. I always love listening to stories, and then kind of telling stories and embellishing them and, you know, making them be kind of like grander and so I think it started at a very, very young age.
And then specifically filmmaking, I didn't go to a fancy film school but in high school, I think it was 10th grade I got my hands on a hi-8 camera, and I just convinced, anyone in the entire neighborhood to just get in front of it and I would just make these little short films. And I just literally took that camera with me everywhere I could go and made stuff up. Filmmaking is hard as you know, it's hard, it’s an elite sport, and it’s expensive and it’s not easy to kind of pull off.
You know growing up in the 80s as a child, those films were so big. I remember seeing Jaws or one of the Jaws movies in the theater and Indiana Jones and all these great big, kind of blockbuster movies and just being like, growing up in neighborhoods we grew up in, Greg had mentioned a little earlier that these bars were like a place where the parents can kind of go and escape and for me it was going to the theater for two hours. I was on that boat in Jaws or, you know, trapped doing adventures with Indiana Jones or whatever and it just so blew my mind.
Sadie: Greg, your background isn't necessarily filmmaking, but I feel like there’s a sense of love for film as well there for you.
Greg: Yeah, I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that had a really, really strong theatre arts program, and my admiration for the dedication and talent and skill level of the folks that participate in it is really kind of respect that I had for them and for the industry. And then we've just been fortunate through my parents would take me to the theatre, my mother would take me to the ballet and introduced me to a world I didn't really see that I could ever have that there was ever really going to be a fit for me in it.
I think what we were able to accomplish with this film was kind of bringing comedy to the screen again in a time where people really just need to laugh. The economy's bad or the pandemic, the politics. Here you have a reason to laugh for an hour and 40 minutes. And I think that's exciting that we're able to create that and offer that.
Sadie: Greg, do you see a future in film for you? Are you going to keep writing?
Greg: For sure. I've already started the next one.
Sadie: Do you see yourself ever directing?
Greg: No, I don't think so. I think I know my limitations and I know that there are more talented people than me at that. So, I think I'll kind of stick to what my strengths are. I really enjoyed the post-production work, and kind of that side of the business as well and when also ultimately in sales and marketing in the film. I was lucky to have been introduced to IFC Films. We didn't hire a sales agent necessarily for a domestic sale of the film so that whole process was invigorating.
Sadie: Paolo what's next for you? Are you writing and directing something soon?
Paolo: God willing. Hopefully COVID aside, headed to Italy this summer for my next feature, which is a long gestating passion project. A whimsical folk tale about immortality that’s set in the Italian countryside.
That’s next on my slate and also developing some other projects. Yeah, writing always right, always writing. Franklin Leonard tweeted this morning like with all of these Oscars that came out, each one of these started with a writer. And, you know, that's coming from a writing perspective, it’s what I do more of. I always will have love for the word. So, always, writing.
Sadie: Filmmaking overall, it’s a big collaborative process. Paolo any advice or insight for filmmakers on how to navigate the collaboration process?
Paolo: Well, I think first and foremost it's a commitment. Much like directing, you have to build trust. And so, in order to do that you have to be open to be vulnerable and you have to be honest with what what's on the page, what you're doing, and then being open to constructive criticism. That's different than getting notes from a producer or from a studio or whatever.
And I think, from a collaboration standpoint it’s really that give and take. You know, if you do it right and you find the right partners, it's brilliant. Also, I think, not being afraid to get it out there. Knowing when to put the pen down, because a script is just, you know so much different than a poem or a novel. It’s just the blueprint, this is the blueprint for what's to come. So, you then you give them the room in there to grow. the actors to grow throughout the screenplay and actually grow into the roles. I think it's a really important lesson I didn't quite grasp when I was a little bit younger. Last Call is a perfect example of this. We have an all-star cast that I never, never dreamed of having a really for any project - you don't know until you get it out there.
Sadie: One last question for the both of you – we’ll start with Greg first, do you have a writing routine?
Greg: For me, I don’t yet have it down to a daily routine. I have a book with me all the time that I'm jotting down ideas [in], a lot of stuff kind of comes to me through the day. So, I kind of just get all my thoughts down and then I try to carve out quiet time to sit in front of the computer. How about you Paolo?
Paolo: I have a routine, and I kind of mix it up a lot but, I'm a big fan of habit stacking. And so, one of the habits you get into this place to go and write, and that was kind of a benefit for me personally, because I've worked from home for 20 years, more or less. And I have two children that are in elementary school. So now my workspace became our collective workspace, and so that was a challenge in terms of my typical routine. But yeah, I tend to write in blocks though, so I know what's going good for me when I'm walking down the street ordering a sandwich or something, and I'm thinking about how the character would do it versus myself.
Sadie: Yeah, and then having to adapt to the new normal, definitely throws a wrench in everything but I'm glad that you're both keeping at it. Thank you guys so much for taking the time today to speak with Script!
Greg: Great, thank you so much.
IFC Films will release the comedy Last Call in theaters, on Digital and On Demand on March 19, 2021.