Making a “Wish”: An Interview with Writer-Director Susan Walter

susanwalter

Susan Walter is a writer and director who got her start as an assistant to directors on various TV series and talent manager before making the transition to screenwriter and eventually, directing herself. Her latest film, All I Wish, starring Sharon Stone and Tony Goldwyn, comes to select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on March 30 from Universal and Paladin.

World Film Geek had the opportunity to talk to Walter, who wanted to be an honorary WFG (and got her wish granted!) about the film.

Thank you Susan for taking the time to talk about All I Wish. Now, I have to admit, romantic comedies aren’t usually my thing, but the way this story turned out, it made me want to keep watching and I ultimately enjoyed it.
Oh great! Thank you for sticking with it!

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Susan Walter’s all-time favorite film, which helped inspire her feature film debut.

What was the inspiration behind the film?
My all-time favorite movie is When Harry Met Sally… and I aspired to tell a story in which you meet two characters early and they don’t get together immediately as in most romantic comedies. So, I thought about, ‘How can I expand the time they meet and actually learn about each other as they are learning about themselves and realize that they belong together.’ So, I wanted to create a structure that allowed me to set it over many years. That was the goal. Then I put my little homage to When Harry Met Sally by breaking the fourth wall in these little intermissions, to get to know the characters in their monologues, about things that they wished for.

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Sharon Stone as Senna, a woman in her fifties who finds herself, in All I Wish (Universal)

The film has some great performances by Sharon Stone, Tony Goldwyn, Ellen Burstyn and well, the rest of the cast. I read somewhere that the central role of Senna was meant to be a much younger woman originally. What brought the change for Sharon Stone to take the central role?
Yeah, you’re right! Sharon was the one to convince me that making a coming-of-age movie about a woman in her twenties was well, boring. Like who cares if you don’t know who you are by the time you’re thirty. You have plenty of time to figure it out. She said the stakes would be higher if the woman was older and she lived the life and she failed a lot and is deeply entrenched in her own failures. And she is convinced that she will never become more than what she is. She said wouldn’t it be more triumphant if the character was fifty instead of thirty.

She totally talked me into it and I originally offered her the role of the mother of the 25-year old. She convinced me it would be a more exciting movie with higher stakes and fresher to the movie marketplace for a woman in her fifties to find herself and I’m so glad that she did.

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Sharon Stone, Susan Walter, and Ellen Burstyn on the set of All I Wish

It clearly looked like everyone had this comfort level in the film, despite Senna’s issues in terms of finding herself. It all felt natural and not forced. What was it like on the set with such a cast?
Well, I gotta tell you, as a first time director, you think you’re going to have amateur actors and you’ll have to sort of figure it out together. However, for me, being a first time director and working with this cast. I mean Sharon’s done 70-plus films and Ellen Burstyn at least that many. These are veteran actors. They knew their craft, they knew what to do.

So, for me, it was pretty much stand out of their way and support their choices. Giving them freedom to do their work because they do it really well at this point. I would be on set with them, they had a process, they would let me know what they needed from me and it was really an ideal situation and I learned so much from them.

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Caitlin FitzGerald, Liza Lapira, Susan Walter, Tony Goldwyn, Sharon Stone, and Jason Gibson on the set of All I Wish

You mentioned the homage to When Harry Met Sally… and one thing that struck me in the film is use of the fourth wall breaks, where some of the main characters express a birthday that sticks out to them. How did this idea come about as I found it ingenious to put this as a break in between Senna’s birthdays?
You know for me, it was an opportunity to reveal a secret. For instance, Famke Janssen’s character of Vanessa is introduced and she’s not very cool to Senna. I mean, she fires her on her birthday. There was a risk of the character being arched, so I thought early in the film, we see she has a story too. And we realize that part of brittleness comes from the fact she has pain. And then, as part of the audience, you feel differently about her. You feel like she has a point of view and not just seeing her from Senna’s point of view. I really wanted to open that up and enter somebody else’s point of view so that when you see them again, you realize, I understand why she is short with Senna.

Like Liza Lapira’s character [Darla, Senna’s best friend], you understand where she is coming from because of her unconditional support for Senna. It’s because she’s sure of herself and is full of gratitude that she can be such a rock for her best friend. So for me, it adds another dimension and it brings both sympathy and empathy towards the characters.

Exactly and this is why I felt it was not your typical genre film. The added dimension actually made me feel I was in line with those characters and that’s why I ultimately enjoyed the film.
Well, thank you! And like even with Tony Goldwyn’s character toward the end, his monologue is a critical plot point. They have this big fight and his monologue basically talks about what happened in that year and the plot theme is that they broke up.

What really surprised me is a monologue coming from a character who doesn’t appear in the film until after the monologue appears. It made me guess who that character was in a sense and lo and behold, I was right about who the character was.
You got that? (Laughs) I got so much heat for that from some of the producers because I had shot some alternate monologues, including Gilles Marini’s character. But, I wanted to challenge the audience as to who this character was and I’m so glad most people got it and I’m glad you got it as well.

I think this was a smart move.
Right? Because don’t you want to be engaged in the film? I mean here you are 75-80% into the film and here’s this character that comes out of nowhere and all of a sudden, your brain is engaged and you say, wait! Who is that? As a director, you want people asking questions still even that late in the film.

Finally, what’s next for you in terms of upcoming projects?
The next project I’m doing is an R-rated female ensemble film called Baby Moon. I wrote this with a friend who used to be an actress and she is the funniest person I’ve ever met in my entire life. So, I don’t know if you know what a “baby moon” is, but it’s typically when a husband takes a wife who is pregnant on a last honeymoon before the baby is born. But, in this case, the woman here is a single mother-to-be.

So she goes on a baby moon with her sisters and they don’t get along well. So, just imagine five sisters, one of them pregnant on a Mexican vacation, and crazy things happen. Think of something along the lines of Girls’ Trip and The Hangover in this exotic location.

I’ll definitely be on the lookout for that one. All I Wish will be coming to theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on March 30. This is quite a different take on the rom-com, with some great performances as well as some great storytelling. Thank you again Susan for talking about the film.
Thank you so much, and I will be an honorary World Film Geek going forward!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Susan Walter for talking about the film. For more on Susan Walter, check out her official Twitter page.

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