First-time director Marc Fienberg describes his new film “Play the Game,” as an “intergenerational ‘Hitch.’” The independent film teaches dating tricks and tactics for seniors and singles. The film opens Friday.
The new independent film “Play the Game,” was a real labor of love for first-time director Marc Fienberg.
His wife was nine months pregnant with their daughter and she was having contractions while shooting on the set. “I told her only half-joking, 'This is our third kid, but our first movie, so you’ll have to go to the hospital by yourself. She totally understood. She’s just as invested and involved in this as I am,” said Fienberg, who started writing the script while living in Brookline, Mass.
Luckily, the couple’s third daughter held out until six days after filming wrapped.
Fienberg describes his new film “Play the Game” as an “intergenerational ‘Hitch.’” The independent film, which stars Andy Griffith, Paul Campbell, Marla Sokoloff, Liz Sheridan and Doris Roberts, teaches dating tricks and tactics for seniors and singles. It also tells the heartwarming yarn of a grandfather and grandson who are both looking for lust and love, respectively. It was written, directed and produced by Fienberg, who was inspired by his own Papa Joe’s re-entry into the dating pool at age 89.
In “Play the Game,” 20-something David (Campbell) schools his grandfather (Griffith) in how to win at the game of love. Fienberg draws on his conversations with his grandfather and anecdotes from his life to tell the senior side of the story. Fienberg, who’s married with four children, called the single-guy plot “reverse autobiography ... The ladies’ man character in the movie was based more on the guy I tried to be growing up in my single life than the guy I actually was.”
“Play the Game” has already opened in Florida and had success on the film festival circuit, winning the Audience Awards at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival and the Santa Fe Film Festival. It opens in Boston on Friday.
Q: Your own grandfather was the inspiration for “Play the Game?”
A: Yes he was. He started dating again when he was 89. He came to me one day and he said ‘Marc, I kissed a girl.’ He whispered that in my ear. I gotta say, my first reaction was TMI – too much information. I really didn’t want to hear details of his love life. As time went on, I realized how nice, cute and endearing it was to see an 89-year-old man go though all these emotions, like a school kid again. You know, the ‘Will she call me? What should I say? What should I do? What if she likes me? What if she doesn’t?’ And so I thought ‘What a really nice story to tell.’ And that was sort of the beginning of it.
Q: How much of the dialogue is based on these actual conversations?
A: Most of the fun lines that come out of Andy’s mouth were spoken by my own grandfather. As a writer I’d like to take credit for all those funny lines; you can’t just write that stuff. A lot of the funny situations that the senior characters get in were also based on some of the stories I heard from my grandfather and his friends at the retirement home, so a lot of it was based on reality.
Q: How much of the main character’s love life is inspired by your own?
A: I’m sorry to disappoint. I’d love to tell you that I was as suave and debonair as the ladies’ man in my movie. The ladies’ man character in the movie was based more on the guy I tried to be growing up in my single life than the guy I actually was.” But the dating tricks you learn in the movie are definitely based on the tricks my friends and I developed. And they definitely did work.
Q: Let’s talk about the cast – Doris Roberts, Liz Sheridan, Andy Griffith – what was it like working with such seasoned actors?
A: It was fantastic. It was also nerve wracking. It was a huge learning experience for me. Andy, Doris and Liz and even the younger actors, have all been in the business a lot longer than I have. First and foremost when you have actors of that caliber the best thing you can do as a director, is get out of their way and let them do their thing. I’m a first-time director and who practiced on short films, so I came very prepared … But, I soon realized that when I got out of the way the magic happened. The first day was very scary, I gotta admit.
Q: You’re probably the first director to have pimped out Andy Griffith and made him say “horny?”
A: Not only did he say horny but he said “erection” – not once but twice. The whole sexual nature of it and the way we were open with it was really what attracted these people to the parts. Andy told me he took the role for two reasons. Number one, he got to do a bedroom scene and number two, he didn’t die in the end. I think he was only half joking. This is a part about seniors living and I think most roles offered to people in their 70s and 80s have them dying in the end. Andy died at the end of his last movie, ‘Waitress.’ It’s refreshing; they all were excited and embraced seeing the vibrant nature of senior love and even sex.
Q: This is your first feature film and it’s an independent film. Would you like to do a studio film someday?
A: I think I would. If you see the film you’ll realize it’s not a typical artsy independent film. It’s very commercial in the way the story is told. People have said that they can’t tell it’s an independent film. My tastes in movies just sort of run toward commercial. That’s not to say I like the typical Hollywood ending. ‘Play The Game’ has a very non-Hollywood ending even though it ends happily. There’s a twist at the end that surprises people. My career will probably move toward studio-type films. But the only goal in my career right now is to make another movie.
Q: You started writing the screenplay for “Play the Game” while living in Boston, so why did you have Julie wear a Brian Urlacher (Chicago Bears) jersey instead of a Tedy Bruschi jersey?
A: There is a funny story behind that. I have been so focused on the movie for so long that I completely dropped out of the sports world and I didn’t even know who the big players were at the time of making this movie. I had to call my friend and ask what jersey I should have this girl wear. He told me Brian Urlacher. You asked me about a Patriot? Isn’t it a shame that I didn’t even know it was a Patriot. Please don’t tell anyone. I’ll be so embarrassed. But, I did location scout for Boston, even though we had to shoot in LA for logistical reasons. I did want to come back and shoot it there.
Reach Dana Barbuto at email@example.com.