Chris Gerolmo – Writer of Above Suspicion!
Today we chat with writer Chris Gerolmo about his new movie Above Suspicion!
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Interview scheduled by Jeffery Haas
Theme music by Ardus and Damn The Cow
Announcer: Nathaniel Perry
Chris Gerolmo – Video Interview
[00:00:00] Jeff Haas: Hello, listen to the spoiler country today on the show. We have the fantastic Mr. Chris Geromo. How’s it going, sir?
Chris Gerolmo : Fine. Thank you. Thanks for having me. I did I
Jeff Haas: get the name right? That
Chris Gerolmo : you got
Jeff Haas: it? One out of three. Isn’t so bad. So one question I always like to ask my guests as kind of like an initial question, especially the creative on the show is talking about their craft.
So what is it that you love about writing? And do you remember what inspired you to become a writer?
Chris Gerolmo : Gosh, that’s a great question. I, I, I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I still really enjoy it every day. I really, I feel like I spent at least a few hours in the flow state every day, by which I mean that state where you like playing basketball and everything’s going in, you know, and that’s just a wonderful feeling to have.
I can’t remember why I started writing, but the reason I fell in love with the movies is is because. I saw on the waterfront when I was 12 years old. And I just thought that was [00:01:00] so fantastic. I wanted to do that then of course, about a year later, I saw Jimmy Hendrix for the first time. And that was it.
That was the night that I decided I had to become an artist of some guy.
Jeff Haas: So, as you mentioned, being in the flow for you, what does that mean? What does that feel like?
Chris Gerolmo : It feels like I can just keep working for an hour or two without even really looking up. You know what I mean? I just feel like I’m going good and I’m totally involved in what I’m doing.
And and you know, it’s really rewarding on that level. You know what I mean? I, I just think it’s the people who write about happiness. Talk about being in the flow state a lot, you know, as, as an element of happiness. And I think it. If you do something that you love, but you know, you’re really, you’re a lucky man.
Jeff Haas: Is, is that something that you can force to happen or does it just either comes to you or doesn’t
Chris Gerolmo : that flow state? Dang. I know that I know this. You can [00:02:00] force yourself to work every day, which I do, and that’s where it starts, you know? So that doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great day every day or, or feel, you know, fantastic or plugged into the universe or the sources of creation or whatever those are.
Every day, but if you can force yourself to work everyday, is
Jeff Haas: that what helps you like, is it necessary to maintain a schedule, a fixed schedule to write well or to find yourself in that moment?
Chris Gerolmo : It’s the only way I can do it really. I mean, I remember when I was young, I went to Harvard and I remember being a student at Harvard and being up at two or three o’clock in the morning writing things.
But you know, now I, I would never do that. I just, I don’t even roll over and wake up in the middle of the night and make a note, you know what I work from like 6:30 AM to about one o’clock or so. And that’s it, you know,
Jeff Haas: that is awesome. [00:03:00] So I read that both of your parents had, or have a history in the production business.
Chris Gerolmo : They’re they’re theatrical producers. Yeah. My dad passed away, but my mom’s still alive, but they they produced about, I don’t know, 50 plays off Broadway. And in in London,
Jeff Haas: did they tell you about either the nature of Hollywood itself or the nature of being a creative individual? Like you, can you remember what advice they gave you on the subject?
Chris Gerolmo : I don’t remember the advice, but I remember seeing, watching my dad all my life, you know, that he would have an idea for something, or he’d read a play by a young playwright that he liked and he would say, I’m going to do this. And then, you know, a year and a half later it’d be done. And that’s just an amazing.
Process to watch and an amazing way to live in a wonderful thing to learn is that you can just decide, you know what, I want to do this and find some other people to do it with you. And, and, you know, and within a [00:04:00] couple of years you’re making a movie fantastic.
Jeff Haas: It’s an amazing level of focus to be able to find a goal, pursue that goal and make it happen.
Chris Gerolmo : I would say I’m pretty goal oriented. I’ve always been ambitious on a certain level plan. A has never worked out. I really wanted to be a film director, but plan B is working out fine.
Jeff Haas: Were they supportive of your pursuit of a career in Hollywood? They
Chris Gerolmo : were absolutely. I mean, I, I I, as I said, I went to Harvard and then I taught at Harvard.
I taught the first year of filmmaking course for three years. And then I came down to New York and started working with my dad and we produced two plays together. And it was during that two or three years that I wrote, you know, I decided I was going to write my way into a chance to direct and Hollywood.
And I wrote six screenplays in a row. And the first, the fourth one was called miles from home, which was made into a movie with Richard Gere. And then the sixth one was Mississippi burning. So that’s how I kinda got started. That’s [00:05:00] how I taught myself to write screenplays. I wrote screenplays in my father’s office.
When I wasn’t working with him on the plays we were doing. I mean, your background
Jeff Haas: is really amazing. I mean, you’re a graduate of Harvard university that with a bachelor’s in writing and filming, I mean that, that’s a nice pedigree to have it in your pocket.
Chris Gerolmo : It’s nice. And you’d be amazed. How many people out here, you know, Ivy league kind of guys, you know what I mean, men, women, it’s, it’s quite amazing how many people in the movie business went to Harvard or Yale or something, you know,
Jeff Haas: what did you learn, do you think at Harvard about right about the essence of writing that you would have, what you want to be able to have gotten through sheer experience and it was something you think you got there.
That is something that is unique of getting to that level of university.
Chris Gerolmo : Well, here’s the thing. I was in the writing program in the English major. And that was a very small and very precious writing program. And there were only five kids admitted every year. And the [00:06:00] great thing about it was that I worked one-on-one with three writers during my junior year, for instance, I had two real courses and then three directed writing courses with writers who were attached to the university either permanently or temporarily.
And so that was great, but it was more really like watching how writers work and think then anything they specifically told me, you know what I mean? It’s just, if you want to be an artist hanging around with artists, you know, and so that was a, that was a great way to learn was, you know, hanging around with really articulate artists too, you know, that’s fantastic.
And I watched some filmmakers there too, is Eddie was my filmmaking teacher and a great Yugoslav director called the Dushawn Maka bay have came to teach there for one year. And so I was his student and and those guys are, you know, that really, really accomplished. And they really work hard and they make a lot of movies and they’re really smart.
And and it was [00:07:00] just a wonderful way to. I don’t know, rub elbows with people who were really doing it. You know what I mean? It’s fantastic to do that out here at UC USC, UCLA, with people who are really doing in Hollywood. I mean, I was talking to people who were really doing it in other circumstances,
Jeff Haas: I’ve done a good job.
I mean, you are an award-winning screenwriter and songwriter. I mean that, that’s, that’s a nice little gamut to run from screenwriting to songwriting.
Chris Gerolmo : It is. It’s really nice. My, I, I woke my wife up, you know, about six months after we got together in the middle of the night and I played her a song I had written for called burning down.
It’s building a love song. Written in the persona of a of someone who burns down buildings regularly and she loved it, you know, and she made me put together a band and, you know, get into a writing song writing group at McCabe’s, which is a famous kind of [00:08:00] guitar store out here in LA. And and I ended up, you know, she was just so goddamn encouraging.
It was amazing. And then I ended up getting nominated for an Emmy for best song for this. So I put in the TV show, I did with Steven Bochco. That’s the only way I’ve ever gotten to put a song in a show when I was either producing it or directing it.
Jeff Haas: W is there what’s is the, is there a similar skill or are they completely different skills, songwriting and screenwriting that the, the skills that tasted good at one, is it the same as being good at the other form of writing or is it all universal?
Chris Gerolmo : I think that they’re similar in that they’re very strict. I understand there’s there really tight rules about writing at least a popular song, and they’re really much tighter rules about writing a good movie. Then you might think, you know, and I’ve been learning them for a long time. Shoot. I, I must’ve been writing screenplays for [00:09:00] 15 years before I learned from Ron Howard walking around in Connecticut with Ron hour and talking about a movie that about sequences and how he approached secret writing sequences.
And I had never really learned that. So I’ve been learning for a long time. And on that level, if you’re willing to subject yourself to the formal domains of very strict forms like the screenplay in the song, well then great. You know what I mean? And I really, really wanted to learn how to write. So I, so I listened to a thousand of them, as you know, I saw Jimmy Hendricks for the first time when I was 13 and I rock and roll her ever since, you know, so
Jeff Haas: yeah.
Well, if you’re gonna, someone’s gonna aspire. Jimmy Hendricks is a good one. His, his music is phenomenal.
Chris Gerolmo : Oh yeah. He knocked me out.
Jeff Haas: Well, when you say for, for those of us who are obviously are not in the business, when you say sequencing, what do you mean?
Chris Gerolmo : Mean that movies are made up of, for the most part, most good movies are made up of eight or [00:10:00] nine or 10 sequences that are about 10 or 11 or 12 minutes long.
And that make a turn at the end. Okay. So, and I really understood this for instance, once when I was helping this woman, I knew who was trying to get a one woman show together, write about her experiences as a model when she was very young in Paris and she had a boyfriend who was a photographer and he, he beat her and she wanted to do this woman, one woman show about this.
And I had to explain to her that here’s the thing, even though that’s all fascinating. You can’t tell the same story over and over. You can’t say he beat me. He beat me. He beat me. He beat me. He beat me because eventually, even that will grow old. So a sequence in a movie is something like he beat me. He beat me, he beat me.
I shot him. Well, okay. Now you’re telling me a story. And then I [00:11:00] ran. I ran, I ran, I met another guy. Okay. Now you got you’re hooking me again. And that’s the way the movies work. You, they tell you stories in big chunks that then jerk on your chain again every 10 or 15 minutes and get you back involved in the story and surprise you.
So that’s really what I learned from Ron.
Jeff Haas: Well, he’s a hell of a teacher too. I mean, you you’ve had an amazing, I mean, this, this would be burning. It is a very, very, I mean, it literally is considered a classic.
Chris Gerolmo : I don’t know about that, but it’s had an incredible life on TV. I think it ended up when, when the company Ryan that made it fell apart.
I think all their movies ended up with Turner. And and so it was immediately in the rotation on Turner classic movies and, and TNT and TBS. And so it must have been on TV 5,000 [00:12:00] times since it was made. So, and so many more people have seen it on TV, then saw it in the movie theaters. It’s it is amazing that it’s had such a nice life and I’m very gratified that it did
Jeff Haas: now.
No, my interview people I should, I do. I obviously I researched them who they are, what they’ve done. And when I researched you, I really did a lot of elements that surprised me the most. Was your career as a songwriter. I mean, obviously I knew you were a screener. This is why, which is why we’re talking to you.
You’re a screen. You were a screenwriter of our movie above suspicion that we’re gonna talk. And I enjoyed it, but also that you’re a songwriter was to me, it’s a surprise. And you wrote the song I’m tired on the album heritage, is that correct? And I really love that song. I listened to it a few days back in preparation for the interview and it’s such a wonderful song.
I I’m I’m I’m gonna say one thing that’s negative to me was that I couldn’t find it on iTunes or Spotify or any, or, and I really, really wanted it. I wanted all my, my iPad, my iPad, because it’s such a great [00:13:00] song. It’s it’s amazing.
Chris Gerolmo : Fantastic. I’m glad you did so much homework. You are very rare in the business.
That’s fantastic. I like that song too. We don’t play it live currently cause I’ve been working with a trio. That’s kind of an acoustic trio, a great, great, great young bass player called chance on the piano. The piano player I’ve been working with for about 15 years is also my family Dr. David Barron.
So we don’t play that cause that’s really a rock song you need, you need to do.
Jeff Haas: And the name of that band is God. Was you mean GABA? G period. Oh, period. D
Chris Gerolmo : yeah. That’s like kind of group of drunks.
Jeff Haas: Oh, I wasn’t sure. Cause I said it was like, God, like a weird, I was like, wow, that, you know but it means group trunks.
That’s what good for this way. Funny that I thought it was going to
Chris Gerolmo : hear something I’ve been sober for 22 years. Right. And in AA, you know, they, they, they talk a lot about God and I’m not a believer at [00:14:00] all these acronyms for things you could, you know, think about instead of God. And one of them is the group of drugs.
With whom you associate in the meetings at AA and from whom you learn how to live, you know, sober and whom you, you know, teach how to live. So, you know, we all help each other. So that’s where that phrase comes from now. Once upon a time, the band was all sober. Everybody in the band was sober. But now you know, that’s not quite true.
I would say two of us are sober and one is not, but it doesn’t really drink. You know, my lights. When you say you’re sober, that means you use or take drugs to access and you quit. That’s fascinating.
Jeff Haas: My, for, for my day job, I’m a high school teacher at a therapeutic and recovery school for students. And some of my students are ones who are in recovery for drugs and alcohol.
Chris Gerolmo : That’s fantastic.
Jeff Haas: And, [00:15:00] oh thank you so much. And like we’re, we kind of have in September recovery week where we’re celebrating. Kind of recovered or recovering individuals. And I want to talk to about talk about you later, but if you ever want to talk to some kids who probably could use some tips for someone who’s successful, they would love to talk to you.
Chris Gerolmo : I’d be happy to do that. Absolutely. I mean, in, in the in the, you know, anonymous organization of which I’m a member, I’m not even supposed to say the two letters I guess, but they, they always say that any sobriety related request, you have to say yes to. So I’m going to say yes, absolutely.
I’ll I’ll I’ll talk to them anytime you want me to.
Jeff Haas: I think you agree with PTA. Well, we’ll talk a little bit off, off air about it and it, and let me know if you’re, if you can do it. But going back to that song especially like I said, I’m tired, which, like I said, I was listening to it on loop after I heard the first time I was and I just got replaying it.
And one thing I was fascinated by is, I mean, I was trying to think of a way to describe the feeling. Oh, that song, which the closest phrase I could come to was an ex, an [00:16:00] existential exhaustion that you felt like deep inside yourself. It’s just being so tired and you go through a list of things that you’re just sick of.
And it’s so strong and powerful in my opinion that I couldn’t help. But what was the Headspace you were in that you wrote that,
Chris Gerolmo : oh man, if you work in Hollywood, you can get so exhausted by the experience it’s so draining sometimes. And the bureaucracy is so installed applying sometimes that that’s really where it comes from.
I wrote and directed this a movie for HBO called the citizen X about a Russian serial killer. And a lot of the story turned on the kind of turgid and impossible Russian bureaucracy and the era of the Soviet union. And I remember one of the actors or Romanian actor came up to me and asked me, how do you know so much about, you know, the [00:17:00] bureaucracy of the USSR?
And I said, Hey, man, I I’ve worked in Hollywood, you know, your accuracy. And so it, part of it is from that. But you know, the great thing about first of all, thanks a lot for listening to it. So intently and forgetting the picture, the idea, but that’s really great. The thing about being an amateur singer songwriter, which is what I am, even though I’ve been, I got paid to write a couple songs, but I’m still an amateur.
And the, the thing that’s great about that is that I can write about strong feelings that aren’t just love. You know what I mean? I can write about strong feelings that. Difficult or bleak or, you know hopeless or, you know, with part of the struggle of daily lives, you know, so that’s, that’s great. And that’s the difference between what I do as a screenwriter.
And what I do as a song writer is really that I write screenplays often for myself, but often for money. And [00:18:00] so that’s, it’s a totally different job than writing songs. I never write songs for money, really. I just I’ve sold a couple after I’ve written them, but I don’t, I don’t, I would never write a song for money.
I just want to, I wanna write a song about a feeling and and that’s, you know, so there’s a kind of freedom in that. That’s like a vacation from mining screen.
Jeff Haas: Do you find yourself feeling more exposed in your songwriting or than your screenwriting?
Chris Gerolmo : You know? Yes and no. I mean, on a personal level, I’m much more exposed in my song writing, but there, I always find my way into these movies, scripts, you know what I mean?
If you’re going to write a movie script, that’s good. You have to put yourself into it. You know, you have to throw yourself into it in some ways, you know, you find yourself in the strangest ways and you find out things that you didn’t don’t particularly like, you know, I mean, let’s face it. I, I’m a, I’m a bit of a shouter, you know?
And and [00:19:00] that’s been terrible in my marriage, in my, with my kids, but yeah, I wrote this art, this character in the T the, a war show that I did with Steven Bochco called over there was Sergeant screen and He was so-called because he yelled almost everything he ever said to his soldiers, but it was because he loved them and they were 18 and 19.
And that the only way to reach them through the miasma of kind of testosterone that they live in, when they’re 18, 19, you got to shout at them if you want him to do anything. So I find myself in the shows too, even though I didn’t know, at the time that I was partly writing about neat, you know what I mean?
It took 10 years before I realized, oh, you know what? That’s why I did that.
Jeff Haas: Well, I found interesting when I was researching your songs. The last album I other most recent album I saw of yours has the last song named goodbye? Is that because you no longer are going to do anymore [00:20:00] new songwriting or releasing, or was that just goodbye to the album?
Chris Gerolmo : know, it was really because I had written this song goodbye, cause I always wanted to end the show with a song that was called goodbye. So we, we, I wrote that song and we played it live, you know, 25 times and we always ended the show with it and it was really fun. So when we made that record, we ended the record with it.
It’s not, you know, I also wrote a song called thank you. You know? And I thought we didn’t really start playing that live. We’d never really played that live. I always thought that if I ended a show with goodbye and then thank you, that would be fantastic. But, but you’re not
Jeff Haas: done then. Right? I mean,
Chris Gerolmo : you still gonna need more.
I’m not done. I mean, we’re about to go in. So we’ve been re we’ve only started rehearsing again since, you know, the. Pandemic with that a little bit, but we’re about to go into the studio and make some videos right now. We’re going to make some videos with the acoustic trio and we, so we’re not really making an [00:21:00] album quite so much as just making videos.
I, I, I guess I’m moving into the modern world items.
Jeff Haas: Well, I will say as, as, as a newfound fan of yours, if you can get heretic on like iTunes or Spotify, I would greatly appreciate it so I can record them and put them on my
Chris Gerolmo : on my phone. You can’t do that. I mean you know, I haven’t really chased around those outlets, but I should, because I just got, you know, the thing about doing the show over there about the war in Iraq was that people still communicate with me about that show regularly.
They write me letters. They write me emails about it, about their experiences and how much they liked the show, because it was honest about, you know, what the soldiers went through. And and I just had somebody write me who was deployed in Iraq, I guess, twice who was pissed off. Cause my, the song over there wasn’t on Spotify.
So I guess I have something about it. The city that
Jeff Haas: you’re being urged on by somebody else, get it on Spotify, [00:22:00] get it on iTunes. We want your likes and your music. I just found it I was amazed by how good the song was, the sound, the lyrics. They were just great music. And I didn’t expect it. When I started listening, I was like, well, I’ll give it a listen.
Cause I was going to interview the guy should hear some of the songs, but I didn’t know that was going to keep looping the songs after I heard it the first or the first time. So yeah,
Chris Gerolmo : the drummer on that record is also fantastic. Don’t Perry is one of the great rock and roll drummers. He was the drummer for Jethro tele for 28 years.
Really fantastic. And I’ve known him since he was 15.
Jeff Haas: That’s thick, that’s thick as a brick, right? The the band,
Chris Gerolmo : right?
Jeff Haas: Yeah. Wow. I mean, how did you get in touch with all these people?
Chris Gerolmo : Well, I’ve known Don since he was 15, we kind of grew up together in Manhattan. Don’t and and one of them, I guess my best friend, Tony Cunniff was the bass player in a band that Don was the drummer of.
And two other guys were in called scout. It was like the best, [00:23:00] you know, kind of high school band in Manhattan at that time. So, and that’s how I knew Don and, and he was already teaching drumming when he was 15. You know what I mean? He would be over at your house and then he’d suddenly say, oh shit, I gotta go teach a lesson.
Jeff Haas: Well, it’s, it’s just amazing. You did such a good job. So we’re gonna move this a little bit to the screenplay that you wrote for above suspicion which I thought was a fantastically well done. And it’s based on a book by Joe Sharkey. Can you tell our listeners your pitch for the movie?
What is it?
Chris Gerolmo : Above suspicious a movie about a part of America. That’s been left behind a place where, you know, the big companies came and took all the copper and all the timber and then, and all the coal and left, you know, parts of the landscape of Eastern Kentucky are so barren. They look like the moon and in some ways this is true of the people there too.
And this movie is about a woman called Susan Smith. Who’s, you know, who says right away in the beginning of the movie, you strip away everything. That’s worth a [00:24:00] damn where what’s left. You know, she’s just a, she’s a loser. She just didn’t get the world the way she wanted it. And when this guy comes into her life, who’s an FBI agent and wants her to, you know, inform on the criminals she associates with regularly.
It suddenly looks like a way out of Pikeville and Kentucky and the trap that is her life.
Jeff Haas: Well, w w when you first heard about the story of MARPOL, well, can you remember the first time you heard about mark Putnam and Susan Smith?
Chris Gerolmo : I heard about it when the lady producer Colleen camp asked me if I would read the Joe shark, these book and write this, write a screenplay based on it.
And I have to admit that one of the reasons I finally wrote the screenplay was together to stop asking me one of the most relentless ladies in Hollywood. Yeah. So she’s, you know, you really need one, at least somebody like that in a movie project, [00:25:00] particularly an independent movie project to get the thing going, you know what I mean?
She’s just relentless. And Joe Sharkey’s book was fantastic, man. It was just fantastic. He, he spent a year in Kentucky with the people who were really involved and it’s not, not Susan Smith who had passed away by then and not mark Putnam who had gone off to prison and then started a new life. But everybody else and the town and, you know, the sister.
You know, the other people associated with Susan Smith. So that’s really a treasure trove
on a story. It’s just, it’s a smorgasbord that you get to choose from as a writer.
Jeff Haas: So what, what was your way into the, like what, what was it that you about? So you were able to connect into and start writing it.
Chris Gerolmo : I think it was because I was writing about someone who was trapped. You know, [00:26:00] I, as I said, I I’ve been sober 22 years, but I remember when I was a drug addict and I couldn’t stop taking drugs, you know, I just, it’s, it’s an amazingly bleak and hopeless time.
And and Susan Smith kind of found herself there, you know, a lot in her in her life, she was you know, she had divorced, her husband was who was a drug dealer, but she didn’t have anywhere else to live, but in the, in the house with him. So she was trying to get out of the life of being the wife of a Coke dealer and a drug addict, but she wasn’t able to even start.
So I think that’s really. That really spoke to me at a certain level, you know, it really did. And I also, you know, I just really like stories about guys with guns and stuff.
Jeff Haas: So the, the book by Joe shark is about 370 pages long, which is takes [00:27:00] place over, I think, three years almost if memory serves. And obviously the movie itself is 90 minutes. No, no, no, not, it was an hour and 50 minutes, I think. I don’t know, 50 minutes. How do you decide which elements of the true story to keep in which to cut or witch or alter?
Chris Gerolmo : Well, you know, I, I follow my nose in that department, you know, I kind of, I try to figure out what the through-line of the story is. And I keep the events in moments that kind of stick to the through-line and I kind of let them. The things that represent a kind of a, a left turn or a right turn too much, you know, I leave those out.
So it’s it that’s basically the process. And and then when there’s a director involved in this case Phillip Noyce was involved. You know, he’s always doing the same thing. He’s always trying to make sure that the story is moving forwards in such a way that the audience can follow it and [00:28:00] get involved with it, and then be surprised and the, and stay involved with this new part of the story.
And so that’s really how you kind of we kind of make these choices as you go along because some stuff sticks and some doesn’t, you know, and some, sometimes you really love a scene that you’ve written and you realize, you know, it doesn’t. It’s not part of a story anymore. You know, you have to cut it because the story is going in a different direction at that point.
Or, you know, it’s a complicated process, but it makes a lot of sense to the people that do it,
Jeff Haas: be hurtful when did the senior really loved, but you know, you gotta take it out because it doesn’t exist within the movie
Chris Gerolmo : properly. Yeah, and it would just be a kind of a rock in the stream, you know, and that happens all the time.
You know, it’s really it’s. It’s so I try to recycle those scenes 10 years later, if I can.
Jeff Haas: Now, when you were writing the [00:29:00] script, did you, would you in contact with Joe Sharkey as you’re doing it or are they, would they, did they exist separately from each other?
Chris Gerolmo : Right. I wasn’t in contact with them in part, because I had everything he had done about it.
You know what I mean? In the book, the book is great and I didn’t really want to be influenced particularly about, by his opinion about the movie. Now later on, he kind of took exception to that. He thought I was, you know, kind of being snooty or something. And we add a little bit of a TIFF on the phone.
The first time we spoke. But as it turns out, we almost immediately became friends and I’ve actually visited him and his wife in Tucson since then. So that, that worked out fine. But at the time I just, you know, I, I, I’m not one of those screenwriters who goes out and interviews everybody himself. I’ve just not.
The the screenwriter who reads what the, someone else, you know, gathered [00:30:00] and organized this, that so I really need somebody like Joe Sharkey on a project. You know, for instance, Mississippi burning was tough because there wasn’t that much about the story written at that time, there was a book called attack on terror, the KU Klux Klan versus the FBI and Mississippi in 1964.
And and that was just about it. Now, since the movie, there’s a lot of material about that case, but at the time there wasn’t that much. So it was, that was a tough one. I had to make up more of that story than I had to make the story. Well, when, when,
Jeff Haas: when, when you’re thinking about the screen, the writing the script, cause obviously.
The story is based on real people. And it’s some of which are even still alive to this day. I mean, well, at least mark is not Kathy or Susan about, but they’re so alive to this day when you’re writing it. Is it more important to be true to the events or to the essence of who these people were?
Chris Gerolmo : Or are neither, I would say the most important thing to be true to is the [00:31:00] story.
You know, you want to create an experience using all this material and all these people and all these events that makes a story for that people can attend to and get involved with and feel good and then feel bad about, and then feel good about again, you know, that’s what, that’s what I’m here to do. So it’s really the story that rules all those questions.
And if I, if I need to screw around a little bit with reality, well, you know, that’s why I’ll do it where now when I do it, that’s why for instance, a lot of the events in above suspicion actually occurred, but not all of them occur at exactly in the order in which they’re presented, you know, because as I was talking about it, When I was talking about sequences, sometimes when this one, this part of a movie is about, you know, Susan’s decline, then all the things associated with her decline are in [00:32:00] that part of the movie, even though something may have occurred in reality, that was fantastic for her at that time.
But that’s been in another part of the movie when you’re trying to take people on the ride of her, you know, ascending, fortunes.
Jeff Haas: It’s kind of funny that in a very real way Fiction makes more sense than reality. What I’m saying, like in fiction, you know, there’s a, a sensible trajectory, you know, the character gets better or gets worse at a certain, in a certain method.
But in reality, people, you know, they’re up, they’re down, they’re forward, backward, take steps forward and backwards though. So it’s kind of funny that that fiction is makes more sense to us as viewers then reality actually does.
Chris Gerolmo : Sometimes that’s absolutely true. It’s one of the, one of the things that I felt really strongly when I was 12, when I saw on the modern front, I thought that movie made more sense than my life
Jeff Haas: th that, that, that really is going to be in carb.
And it’s amazing how much these fictional stories do [00:33:00] impact us.
Chris Gerolmo : Oh, I think so. There there was a great Canadian critic. I can’t remember his name offhand. It might come to me, but at Harvard when I was there and I took both the courses that he taught and he would. First of all, we had all of the history of literature in his head, you know what I mean?
He just said in his head Chaucer and Kafka and joys, he knew it all. And he would always talk, no, he’s like go to the board and draw a quarter of a circle on the board. Talk about that part of the circle of human life, you know, like from the depths to you know, return the return to consciousness and all the imagery that associated with that and all the stories that have been made about that.
And then he would go up and draw another part of the circle, where it goes from the top down to the side, and he would talk about, you know, the fall of the hero or, you know, the [00:34:00] tragic fall. And and by the end of the hour, He wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t have written any words on the board. There would just be all these different size circles.
That’s cool. And it was fantastic. And I would sit there at the end of the hour and go, you know, look at that. That’s that, that’s what he thinks life is. And that’s why all this literature makes so much sense to him because it all. Adheres to these ideas of like the rise and fall of our fortunes. And, and, you know, there are great stories about the sense where you come back again at the end of this terrible experience of the netherworld.
And they’re great stories about, you know, princes who become the king and then fall because of some terrible, you know, a character flaw.
Jeff Haas: And when you’re, when you were approaching writing the script of a bus suspicion, did you have that same mindset, the way you kind of dealing with the tragic [00:35:00] fall or tragic flaw of your characters, then you view them?
Chris Gerolmo : Yeah, I would say it’s not as, quite as simple as a part of an arc of the circle in the case of a movie, you know, but, but it does have that strong feeling of kind of, particularly in this case, in above suspicion as a kind of strong feeling of tragedy, you know, it’s as though these two people are trapped in a situation where.
It’s just not going to work out. It’s not going to go the way they want it to. It’s not, they they’re, they’re acting out these, this dance. That’s just going to go poorly in the air now.
Jeff Haas: Well, one question I was thinking of, and I actually had the fortune of interviewing Joe Sharkey yesterday. I’m going to ask the same, same question, because I’m curious about your perspective as someone who likes that, and who’s an English teacher in high school I usually think in terms of things like the climax of the story and once again, even those based on true story, it feels like the climax.
Or the way it’s defined is the way the part of no turning back [00:36:00] where at that point of the story, nothing can, everything is kind of stuck on a director. Now you can’t go backwards at your climax. And it seems like an easy answer would be the death of Susan is the climax where there’s no point in turning back.
Do you view that as a climax or do you think there’s an earlier moment where the characters reach a point where everything after was interrupted?
Chris Gerolmo : I would say that that you picked the right place for the climax, but I think that there’s a strong sense of inevitability earlier in the story. So maybe the definition that you’re using for climax is not exactly the same definition that I would use for it.
So, because. In most tragic stories there that’s that sense of inevitability starts pretty early on. Like for instance, let’s go back to on the waterfront, the beginning of one of the waterfront, Terri Malloy takes a pigeon to this guy, you knows and says, you know, Hey, one of your business came into my roost [00:37:00] and we want to meet me on the roof.
I’ll give it back. And and of course waiting for him on the roof for two wounds who are going to throw him to his debt. Now, Terry Malloy didn’t know that that was going to happen to him, but he was part of the setup. And he goes to Johnny friendly, the mobster and says, you know, I, you know, I don’t feel so good about this.
And Johnny explains to them why it had to happen. I mean, it gives them a hard time and says, come on yell, you’ll be fine. I’ll give you a better job in the ship. And and by the end of that 10 minutes sequence, Everything that follows in the story has to follow the way it does. You know what I mean?
He’s been used in a setup of to kill somebody and he didn’t want to be used that way. And Johnny friendly doesn’t want to hear it. And it’s just going to go the way it’s going to go. It’s going to go well and poorly at the same time. And so I would say that that kind of [00:38:00] inevitability, that feeling of, you know, faded newness and being unable to escape the forces that you’ve set in motion arises earlier in the story.
But I would say that you are you’re right about where the climax is
Jeff Haas: now. At what point do you think it became inevitable? Do you think literally the moment mark needs, Susan, everything, it is inevitable that the end of for Susan was going to come, or do you think there was a point at knowing each other where there was a time to turn?
They could turn back.
Chris Gerolmo : I think if, if they hadn’t gotten involved, you know, it wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t gotten romantically and sexually involved and it wouldn’t have been so bad, he might’ve still really disappointed or, you know what I mean, in terms of her wish about getting out of there, but if they hadn’t gotten involved romantically I just don’t, I don’t think so.
It’s sort of, it takes a long time for them to get involved and, and you can sense that, well, maybe you shouldn’t do this more. [00:39:00] You know what I mean? Maybe this is a bad idea.
Jeff Haas: I, I, I bet when I’m watching the movie, there’s that moment, you’re just like, don’t do it. No, this is not going to go well, like, you know, like you, you can almost hear the drums of impending dude, like just started kicking over like, oh, this is not good.
Chris Gerolmo : And if, you know, if you can get an audience to really feel that way, it’s just fantastic. I remember when Again, when I was a student at Harvard, I guess they, they brought the first Halloween to show it to us, to show to all the film students at Harvard. And when they loved it, they loved it. They were crazy for it.
And and there was one moment when I don’t know, the girl gets up and, you know, leaves the knife on the bed and walks away. And the whole audience yelled don’t leave.
So that’s really, if you get, and you know, you can get people caught up that much, man. You’re, you know, you’re ringing the bell.
[00:40:00] Jeff Haas: Fantastic job. The one thing I found was very interesting is that having read the book about suspicion, I felt like Joe Sharkey definitely focused on the perspective of mark while the movie focuses very much on the perspective of Susan.
How do you think that change in perspective altered how you approached the story?
Chris Gerolmo : Oh, I really, it, I did a lot. I really think that that, and it’s a really different story when it, when you look at it from Susan’s point of view and, and in a way my, my heart goes out to her, you know? And that’s really, I think that’s where the center of the story was to me.
And I think the Philip noise too. So and in a way we, you know, I don’t know how much to spoil for the audience, but the fact that there are two versions of the things that happen at the end is because. Some people like it. For instance, when you talk about Joe’s Aboriginal perspective, [00:41:00] some people took kind of Mark’s side and believed that, that his story about the way things went and other people took Susan’s and didn’t.
And so that’s one of the very, very interesting, and kind of oddly original things in the screenplay. And it was Phillip’s idea, but I think it really responded to, it was a way of responding to the fact that there are two views of these events by these two particular people were so different. It was amazing.
Jeff Haas: Yeah. That actually, I was about to ask you a question on that. A little bit later, the idea that there, the moment we would say the climax of the story happens is that that’s the two perspective you have Mark’s version of what happened, which is obviously the more jaded skewer to his perspective.
And then you have Susan making a comment about what she says really occurred. And I thought that was really interesting. And I, the part I really wonder about and kind of what you brought up was that it implies that mark [00:42:00] lied, which when you read Joe Sharkey’s book, it seems taken as gospel. That what he says actually happened that way.
And the movie seems to say, well, no, keep in mind, he’s still the killer. And the perspective has a skewed. Did that mean that when you were looking about the store or the director thought about the story that you felt that maybe mark wasn’t as straight with what he was? The events
Chris Gerolmo : I don’t I don’t think I would say that he lied, but I would say that he saw things in a kind of self-serving way and remembered them in a self-serving way.
And And but I think that maybe it’s possible that Phillip kind of thinks he lied. So at that may feeling that you have may come from, you know, what the director was doing. Cause I w Philip and I disagreed about some of the, some of the elements and towards the end of the story, but that’s one of the reasons that we ended up [00:43:00] making two versions of it.
You know what I mean? So I don’t know. It’s not, it’s hard to say in real life what really happened. It’s very hard to say now, of course, the movie is narrated by Susan, so we kind of ended up believing what she said. I’m not sure. I’m not sure that, I mean, when you’ve read the book recently, right? I haven’t read it in many years.
Would you say that it’s clear in the book that Susan got pregnant by mark, or is it possible that she got pregnant by somebody else?
Jeff Haas: That’s a fantastic question. And when I read it, part of me was leaning towards the fact that it was somebody else. Cause he kept going back to how, how she looked. She didn’t look five months pregnant, but as the movie suggests, that’s not that’s because of her, I guess it was drug addiction or whatever.
That’s, wasn’t all about odd. So, but in the book, I’ve kind of felt very strongly that Susan was [00:44:00] bullshit when she said it was Mark’s baby, because of the
Chris Gerolmo : timetable I felt, but I think Phillips sort of Phillips heart not only went out to her, but he also believed. And I did not quite, I, I believe that she was kind of manipulating the situation and not only that she had been kind of doing a little hooking by the end, you know what I mean?
Jeff Haas: just was kind of fun and exciting. I got to talk to Mr. Sharkey yesterday and I asked him the same question. Do you think she was very apparent with his baby? And he said, yes. He said, I believe a hundred percent. That was his baby. And she was fully, really pregnant. And I was surprised because I haven’t read the book.
I thought the opposite. I was like, no. Yeah. But apparently according to Jewish heart, he said, he said what do you understood of Susan from the stories that she was in a weird way, I’ll be faithful to mark. So it’s definitely his baby. I was like, I didn’t get that out of all, but damn okay.
Chris Gerolmo : I don’t know how he can say that he was, she was faithful to mark.
I thought she was kind of you know, doing tricks for money by [00:45:00] the end with, you know, for drugs.
Jeff Haas: I understood it as well. So it’s very interesting. How three people, two of them, two of you literally involved in the writing of it. It had totally different perspective than me as a reader who has read, read and watched both came out with a toolkit for first.
Chris Gerolmo : That’s one of the reasons we set up the ending, the way we did it was because there was just this very interesting possibility that what we had been told. And what, in fact we’re being told in the movie is not true.
Jeff Haas: And, and I did feel part that also changed. And I w I was very curious about having having read the book.
I felt that mark was being developed as a very sympathetic type character, even though he’s the killer, you almost feel bad of how things play out in the movie. You don’t quite have the same sympathies towards mark goes of the Susan perspective when you were writing it. How did that impact you? You did you think [00:46:00] because Susan’s perspective and also as the victim, that sympathy would automatically go towards her from the viewing audience or, you know, saying like how, how, how did you set up that dynamic.
Chris Gerolmo : Part of it is what I did in part of it is just the influence of Amelia Clark on the character, you know, and mean she’s such a great actress and so sympathetic. And and she, she just has, she just looks like there’s something she’s been wounded and she needs some help. You know what I mean? And your heart goes outdoors.
So one of the things she can really do in the movies, you know, it’s a gift. And so she kind of skewed the movie a little bit, even more than I already had written it as a kind of her point of view. So and it, I think in the movie, it looks a little more like mark was manipulative. Then when you hear Mark’s version of the story where he’s just, you know, doing his job.
An FBI agent, but [00:47:00] your job as an FBI agent is to manipulate criminals like Susan Smith, you know,
Jeff Haas: for criminals and the primary nurses in the book, you kind of get into that market is just extremely naive. And, and in the movie you get a sense that it’s Susan who was naive. And understanding that
Chris Gerolmo : situation.
That’s interesting. I’m not sure. I, I thought that that clearly, but I think that’s very interesting.
Jeff Haas: But, but yeah, we’re going back to me in the car. Her performance is outstanding. It, it, it is. I mean, having been a big fan of game of Thrones, there’s that part of your mind that you’re thinking you know, the nearest that’s who she is and you as our auditor to kind of take connect that, but very quickly you forget completely that who she is.
She became Susan, I think almost within a few minutes of her acting, you felt she was this other character. And it was, it was absolutely tremendous. When, when you envisioning the character of Susan, how close did she [00:48:00] Amelia come to your vision? And was there ever a concern when you first heard that? So a British person was going to try to play the Appalachian accent and roll.
Chris Gerolmo : I, I don’t, when I write characters, I have a strong idea about who they are inside and what they, what makes them tick, how they talk and what they do. But I don’t always have a strong image of how they look. So I would say she surprised the heck out of me. You know what I mean? Cause she didn’t look like the Susan Smith in my mind, but my, my image of Susan Smith wasn’t terribly clear, you know, it felt like she got that Jack Houston did kind of look like mark, but
Jeff Haas: but, and I was, I mean the accent that Emilia Clarke used it, I mean, someone who’s not from Kentucky Pikesville it’s to me, it just sounded dead on, I mean, it, it sounded genuine a hundred
Chris Gerolmo : percent as far as I know it [00:49:00] was.
I mean, she worked very, very closely with an accent expert and that, that woman was on the set every day and throughout the movie and, and working with her every day. So, and she was really, really hard working about that. I mean, she really wanted to try to get that right. And of course it’s, it’s hard, you know, it’s hard to.
It’s really hard and not only ends in a way, some people like it because it’s very, it’s a very specific accent. It’s not that they’re saying she did it poorly. They’re just saying, you know, if that kind of 20 is a little off putting and sounds weird, you know, to a lot of Americans, it’s amazing how, how different people sound in America, you know, section of it to another, that’s kind of funny
Jeff Haas: to have an issue with the action.
It, if it’s genuine, it’s like, well, that’s how it sounds. You can’t eat versus out different than, or you shouldn’t make the person’s on different than how the area would sound a bit odd if she attempted a Yankee type Northeast accent and for playing on Kentucky perse, that wouldn’t make any sense in my
Chris Gerolmo : opinion, no, but at the same [00:50:00] time for instance, in citizen X, when I directed that we kind of really soft pedal the Russian accents, you know, they, everybody did a slight Russian accent, but it was like, because if you do.
A real Russian accent, like a heavy Russian accent, then it just sounds, you know, then people kind of get lost in the accent and they’re not, they don’t see you. So, you know, the one point at there a lot, there’s a sliding scale of how much accent you should use in the movies. I
Jeff Haas: think I, I never even thought about it though.
That’s literally something that never even occurred to me, but it makes sense what you’re saying. I mean, I guess if the accent is too thick, it becomes difficult to understand what’s being said, which absolutely we’re backpedaling, trying to figure out what was said. You can understand the story going forward.
Chris Gerolmo : And, and sometimes even the people who are great at that, like, you know, Meryl Streep, if she does to visit an accent accent, you know, you’re kind of thinking about how great she’s doing with her [00:51:00] accent. And if you’re thinking about that, you’re not thinking about the movie
Jeff Haas: that’s, that’s, that’s what she’s hearing so good that it becomes distracting.
That that’s pretty cool. Now the one other aspect of the movie as well that once again, the people in the movie, a lot of them are still alive. Just like Susan’s since I think, oh, Shelby, I think it was the sister’s name and so forth. Where have you spoken since to any of the people who exist in the movie in real life?
Chris Gerolmo : I have not. I understand that people from the production did try to reach out to mark Putnam, you know, to let them know what was happening and what was gonna happen. And when the movie was going to come out and stuff like that, he, I don’t think he really wanted to have too much to do with it. You know, he, he started a new life and and, and a family and, you know, he spent disproportionately one amount of time in prison for this crime.
And and I don’t think he wants to look back, you know, and I don’t think he was one of the movie to come out really, but, you know, he knew he didn’t have any control over that. So he just kind of [00:52:00] kept, he’s just kinda kept his head down, which I, I think sounds perfectly reasonable.
Jeff Haas: I would as well. I mean, I guess I’m not sure how if he had, I’m not sure how you would ride a beam you want for you to do well.
I mean, it’s about a, you know, somebody that you’ve murdered. I mean, I guess in many ways there’s no good reaction to a movie about you killing somebody. You know,
Chris Gerolmo : I can’t imagine it, you know what I mean? And I, and I, and I hate to on a personal level, you know, I hate to dredge up everything that happened so long ago, but at the same time, it’s a heck of a story, you know?
Jeff Haas: I mean, I think it was a fantastic, the other thing I, I noticed that was interesting is that this and I may be wrong, so correct me if I’m wrong, but this is the first time I saw it. Of yours, of executive producers. Is that correct?
Chris Gerolmo : Yes, it is. Yeah. So just the norm. I, I hate to tell you, but a lot of times in the movies, they give you an extra credit like that because they didn’t give you all the money that you really should [00:53:00] have gotten, you know?
Jeff Haas: That’s what happened.
Chris Gerolmo : Works that way. Like for instance, if you see a director’s name in a box on the ad, he didn’t get paid as full fee.
Jeff Haas: Wait, what? I’ve never heard that before. It was that.
Chris Gerolmo : Well, they would give you those little boxes. They say, ah, well, you know, we can, we’ll try to, you know, make sure your credit pop.
Jeff Haas: Oh, I’d never heard that before that. That’s awesome. I never, I literally have never heard that before.
Chris Gerolmo : Yeah. I’m not sure out how consistently it’s true, but I know it it’s sometimes true at the very least.
Jeff Haas: So, so the excellent, the executive producer thing, it was an add on. Kind of, you
Chris Gerolmo : know, I, I didn’t really do any producing on the show, you know?
So I, I don’t, I, you know, I guess I’m, I’m kind of adding to the kind of clutter of, of you know, producer credits on movies, you know, in the modern world, they’re often 15 producers.
Jeff Haas: I mean, I was going to ask you, I mean, I’m not even sure [00:54:00] exactly what an executive producer does. I know that idea of producing something, but as executive, I mean, I’m not sure exactly what that position does.
Chris Gerolmo : Well, I’ll tell you in television, the executive producer is the boss and that’s totally different job in a different world. So Dick Wolf was the executive producer of the S SVU, you know, of a law and orders. And. Steven Bochco was the executive producer, Steven Bochco. And I were the executive producers over there in the movie business.
It’s a little bit of a catchall credit for people who made, you know, substantial contributions to getting the movie made. And, and I think in my case, it was really just, you know, the work that I did. I mean, I’ve worked on it for seven years, so I guess they, you know, they were doing me a favor.
Jeff Haas: Well, I think you did a great job with that movie.
I found it highly entertaining. It, it was, it was a pleasure to watch. I [00:55:00] mean, I don’t know if pleasure is the right word, because obviously it’s about a murder. So, but, so I thought it was a fascinating movie. What are you working on next?
Chris Gerolmo : Well, what can I tell you about there? Everything is kind of secret while it’s in the, in the works, but yeah, we just got Phillip noise to meet with a, a movie store.
Oh wow. Last week. Right. They had lunch and they, they agreed that to do this project together and they liked each other and everything is hunky Dory. So that, I think that is going to be the next show of mine. That gets me is another noise movie quite different. It takes place in a different country.
It’s it’s, it’s also suspenseful and there’s a lot of you know, destruction in it. But, but and I’m really happy to be working with Phillip again, although it’s hard to work with Filipino. He, he makes you write every possibility. He really does. He wants to see what, what this [00:56:00] would be like. You know, if, if you wrote, what, if you wrote the scene like this, how would it feel?
Well, then you got write it and the end up writing seven different scenes versions of everything. So it’s a lot of work, but but he’s an outstanding director and a great guy. Really he’s a charmer. So
Jeff Haas: I know you can’t tell me too much about it, but it’s not gonna stop me from trying it’s this movie also based on true events or is this a complete,
Chris Gerolmo : it is based on true events.
Yes. It’s based on relevance.
Chris Gerolmo – COMBINED: Is
Jeff Haas: it based on a book that’s already out there or is this
Chris Gerolmo : it’s not based on a book, although there is a book out there but it’s not based on the book. It’s based on what the guy to whom these events occurred told me. And and I’ll give you some more information about it.
I wrote about a combat photographer, went to Syria to photograph the rebel. With whom he was. In sympathy [00:57:00] and their struggle against the sod and the Russians, but a little subgroup of the rebels kidnapped them and kept them for 81 days. So the story of how he, how he got through that and how he got out.
Jeff Haas: that sounds awesome. Do, do, do we have any sense of when it’s going to be turned around into filming
Chris Gerolmo : or boy? I don’t know. I, but I, you know, the writer gets paid off on the first day of production, so I am very eager to have had that movie start single, you know, see, I don’t think it, I don’t think it’s going to be in the next month or two.
I think it’s going to be at least probably six months, maybe more, you know, you never know in these kinds of situations, because it’s an independent movie again, we’re making independent movies and it’s a really like you know, you’ve got to push the rock up the hill. It’s really hard to do. W w
Jeff Haas: well, when it’s time to start promoting it, I do truly hope you come back and talk to me about it.
I’d love to, [00:58:00] it was, it was a great pleasure talking to you, sir. I really enjoyed hearing your insights into writing and songwriting and introducing me to the album Ameritech, which I’ll be listened to again, probably today. Thanks a lot. Thank you so much.