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– by Nancy Tapia

While we are making great strides in equality in the workplace, the reality is that we’re not quite where we need to be just yet. In many cases, women aren’t taken nearly as seriously as their male counterparts, and it’s something that’s held back a lot of women over the decades.

LRM Online had a chance to speak with John Susman, who wrote and directed the new film Game Day, which deals with those very issues. Along the way, we talk about the corporate world and the difficulties women face.

Below is the official synopsis for Game Day:

“A basketball-savvy teen reluctantly agrees to coach a self-centered tech whiz who lost everything when her start-up went under. At her new job, Ricki must become a team player, in the office and on the court.”

Game Day is available now on On Demand and Amazon!

LRM Online: Can you tell me how you came up with the concept as the writer for the film and it was kind of surprising that in this case you decided to go with a female versus to usually having the male in this sort of a situation being so driven career-wise and neglecting everything else around.

Susman: Sure. The way that came about was originally the script was written for a male lead and it won some awards and a scriptwriting contest, screenplay contest, and was selected by the IFP for their film market in New York. And after I hooked up with my producing partner, several people had suggested that it might be more interesting to make the protagonist a female. And I was having a hard time accepting that a woman could hold her own in a basketball game with a bunch of guys. And so my producing partners, Stuart Wolf, took me to a training session for a woman who was trying out for the Chicago Sky, which is the WNBA team in Chicago. And not only was she a terrific basketball player, but she was playing with a bunch of guys and just making them look really, really bad. I mean she was terrific and she more than held her own against these guys and they were pretty good players, better than a bunch of corporate jocks. So I thought, this could be possible. So I went back and I started to change the scenes, scene by scene.

LRM Online: Mm-hmm.

Susman: It was just a really interesting exercise, which I would recommend for a lot of writers, because the changing the gender of your character… You can’t just make it female. It actually changes the dynamics of the whole scene. Every scene changes. It’s amazing how that works. And you probably have heard about a female Hamlet or a female King Lear, but that’s probably doable. And maybe they do some clever cutting of lines and things like that and staging to make that work. But because it’s Shakespeare, it just works.

LRM Online: Mm-hmm.

Susman: But for a screenplay, and I think for most plays, if you change the dynamics of the play… by changing the character’s gender, everything changes. It’s amazing.

So it was a really eyeopening experience for me. But I think ultimately it worked and I think that it made it more interesting. I started to read about women in the workplace and about stories about female entrepreneurs and I just became more sensitive to all that and how much of a struggle it is. And I work with women who are constantly telling me how men don’t listen to them. They have problems in the workplace because they’re a woman. They’re just not taken as seriously. And so I’ve come to believe now that if a woman in a place of authority, she’s probably got to be as good, or probably way better than a man in her position because it’s such a struggle just because of our preconceptions and we have a lot of innate kind of biases. So anyway, that’s a long-winded answer for you.

LRM Online: No, I mean glad that you actually were open to the idea and making the change because I feel like it makes, in this case, the audience a little more open minded. It helps become open minded and vulnerable that just like males and females also they struggle with as the same regardless of the level.

Susman: Yeah, I mean I can just tell you anecdotally, I’ll just tell you real quickly that I was trying to find some films that had strong female protagonists in them. Because my wife’s involved in a charity for women who are involved in sex trafficking and, it’s like a home for these woman, and so they have every quarter or so they show a film to show how women can be strong and empowered. And I’m telling you it was a challenge to find films that had really strong women protagonists in them. It’s just really incredible. I mean I made a short list but it’s a very short list. So it’s amazing. It really is amazing. I mean the whole marketplace is very, very geared towards men. As I’m sure you know.

LRM Online: Yeah. And so in the film there’s a scene where you have Ricki who thinks it’s going to be… Meets her boyfriend for coffee, assuming, thinking that it’s going to be like some great news, and a new chapter in her life but yet, isn’t. But the boyfriend mentions something but, the sad part, the whole neglection, not really knowing what’s going on. Always working and mentions about support groups for entrepreneurs. That’s something I was not aware of, if that’s the case. Was that something that you added as when it came to changing to the female character or did you already have that in for the male character as well?

Susman: I think that was already in. I think that I had read somewhere in an article that they… I mean, they probably have support groups for everything, but I think that there was… I read about some group for families where the entrepreneurs… I mean, they’re usually just never there. They’re 24/7 and they have family issues because they’re just not around. And I’ve known entrepreneurs who, they’re working 18 hour days and their families never see them. It’s causes a lot of personal problems.

LRM Online: And then there’s also FailCon convention? I mean-

Susman: Yeah. It’s a real thing.

LRM Online: It’s a real thing?

Susman: That is a real… I couldn’t believe it.

LRM Online: I feel bad for laughing, but I was like, “Wow, that was pretty creative.”

Susman: No, it’s absolutely real. I found it online and we talked to the woman who… I mean, apparently in Silicon Valley, I think this is mostly where they do it. I mean, you can imagine there’s Googles and there’s Amazons and Apples. But there’s a lot of companies that just don’t make it, or sort of semi make it. But there’s a lot of companies that they go bankrupt, they just don’t catch on for whatever reason. And it doesn’t mean that they were bad ideas or that the people were incompetent or inept. It’s just something went wrong.

And so this FailCon thing was a way for people to get together and sort of share their stories and maybe try to figure it out and walk around wrong and share the stories of why things went wrong. And meet people can go there and learn. The old saying is “You don’t learn anything from success, you learn from failure or mistakes.” And I think, for these people it’s a learning experience. But it was funny, this woman who put this thing on, she was really flattered that we contacted her and she sent us all that FailCon stuff. The banners and everything are real.

LRM Online: Oh wow. That’s impressive.

Susman: So she was just delighted, “How’d you find me?” And all that. But if you Google them, I mean it’s a real deal. I mean, I think that at least at the time when we did the film they were still doing it.

LRM Online: Okay.

Susman: Yeah.

LRM Online: So I really enjoyed Ricki’s transition when she starts to kind of have more contact with people. Not so much, maybe her work teammates but her neighbors, for example, Sindy and Max. Max was lovely. And then when Lucas comes in, I mean that was a nice… That’s when you’re really feeling for Ricki and poor thing. Getting that soft side out of her and how Lucas pretty much gives her lessons on basketball, but yet relating it to how it relates to real life. But yet he’s a little stubborn too, just like her, and it’s like a reflection of her, right?

Susman: Yes. In a way. In a way he’s never really wanted to accept help from anyone cause he’s sort of closed off cause he’s sort of lost his dad. He doesn’t really have a dad. I think there’s a lot of anger in him. And also he wants to show how independent he is.

And with Ricki, Ricki is very, I mean, socially inept. I mean, she really doesn’t know how to handle people, which I mean you kind of see that at the beginning of the film where she… She’s always been a really smart, able person. I think we’ve known people like that. At least I have and people who do really well in school they’re brilliant at what they do, but they just don’t know how to handle people. And they have what I think psychologists call a low emotional IQ. And I think Ricki, at the beginning of the film, certainly has that and she has to learn by failing how to negotiate in a world, how to deal with people. And because really at the beginning of the film she’s alienated all of her investors, by either not responding to them or responding to them in a way that’s inappropriate.

LRM Online: You also cover the corporate lifestyle, the corporate life, which it’s not the greatest, but it’s always about teamwork, but yet when Ricki is accelerating here, then there’s this whole better teammates seat. I mean that’s a little hypocritical there for the corporate world, right? But that’s part of corporate.

Susman: Yeah. Having worked in the corporate world, that was just kind of a thing that I saw that went on. All of these little tiny perks that people do for… That give them more status in an organization, whether it’s having a large office or going from a cubicle to an office or just having a door on your office or a window, or the corner office or two computer monitor screens instead of one, or whatever is made to be. These little things that give people status in an organization, they get kind of ridiculous. And so you’ve seen this probably where now they have these, what they call flat organizations where everybody works in a cubicle, nobody has an office and everything. They tried to get away from that. But, in my experience when I was working in that environment, there was all this little stuff that was just so… It was just these little tiny things that just drove you crazy.

LRM Online: Mm-hmm. I agree. I think we’ve all been there at one point in our life.

Susman: Yeah.

LRM Online: So to kind of start wrapping it up, I am very curious about this film. So how long did it take to film it? Because there’s one part where you saw the calendar for 2015 but then I saw different dates. I mean it just came out on Friday if not mistaken. So how long did it take to develop this film?

Susman: Well from the beginning of principal photography or the beginning of when I first wrote it?

LRM Online: Yeah, photography. Yes.

Susman: Yeah. Oh, and the word I was looking for both before about these things in the workplace is trivial. There’s all these little trivial things that just make you crazy. But anyway, as far as the film goes… I think I wrote the first draft of the script in the early 2000’s and then… And the reason I wrote it was because I’d worked in The Chicago Theatre for a while. I had plays produced, I’d worked at theaters and I had been writing screenplays and I wanted to write a screenplay that could be produced at any budget level. So for almost nothing, you don’t even shoot it on a handheld home movie camera to full fledged production.

So I wrote this film and, and then it won some awards and it went to the IFP film market and then I had a producer that was interested in it and then it didn’t do anything for a while. And finally when we started on principal photography, we shot the film at the end of 2015 and we finished editing the film in, it took us about a year to edit it, so 2016. And I think we finalized it in 2017. Because what we did was we did several versions of the film and then we tried them out. We did audience screenings and we got feedback from the audience and we would go back, we would tweak the film and then we would go back and do another screening and tweak the film again. So that was a process that took several months.

And then we locked the film in 2017 and at that point we started submitting it to film festivals. And from that point we got picked up by our sales agent who then hooked us up with our distributor. And then it just took time, as you can hear, it just takes time for these things to fall into place. And we finally got our domestic distribution deal at the beginning of this year. So it took a while to get this all locked into place. And, and the foreign deal is ongoing. So, it’s been kind of a long haul. It’s a long process. And part of the reason that it took this amount of time was, I think we got caught in this inflection point between regular film distribution, like in the theatrical and video and streaming.

And what I mean by that is that used to be where an independent filmmaker could make a film, sell the video rights to it and sell it at Blockbuster and get their budget back. And all that’s gone away as you know, Blockbuster doesn’t exist anymore. And so that source of financing where you would sell the video rights to get sales through that are no longer there. So the market now flooded with films like it never was before. And the choices are like they never were before. So it’s such a different environment and it’s changing everyday. And it’s become a really challenging environment for independent filmmakers. And it’s changed the economics of independent filmmaking radically. And I think that you may see fewer in independent films being made because it’s very difficult. It’s very difficult to be economically successful in that kind of environment.

LRM Online: Well, I say you continue the good work. I mean, I love these and I really enjoy these independent films. I feel they have more content versus too many that are big budget, but yet the content is just not really as great. So I mean, I think you should continue doing your work.

Susman: Well, thank you. I appreciate that and I appreciate your interest.

LRM Online: Up to you to finalize anything you’d like to share that you might be working on at the moment or considering?

Susman: Yeah, I’m working on a script right now. It’s sort of from The Game of Thrones genre. And it’s about a Prince who’s denied his rightful place. Because of an evil omen. He’s thrown in prison and his father, the King, decides to release him for one day to test the evil omen, if it’s true or not. And the son has one day to to claim his rightful place in the kingdom.

LRM Online: Oh, nice. That’s something that’s really something good. I mean, especially for Game of Thrones themed fans. I’m one of them.

Game Day is available now on On Demand and Amazon!

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