Rollercoaster Ride from Script to Screen

Spiritual Cinema Circle

Mark J. Gordon is a screenwriter, filmmaker and former sit-com writer with a particular passion for history -- finding untold stories and unexplored milieux, taking a true incident or event, then weaving a fictional story around that kernel of truth to create a "factional" world which both illuminates and entertains.

As an American, how did you end up writing and directing a film about New Zealand? Did you have a personal connection?

I had always been fascinated by the perception of New Zealand as an idyllic, pristine, Shangri-La, as the tourism board does a fabulous job promoting the rich and diverse topography of this undeniably beautiful country. In fact, over the years, quite a few friends I had spoken with had the same romantic notion of: “quitting my job and moving to New Zealand.” So it always seemed to have this powerful and mystical attraction. Truth be told, I was not averse to its charms. After a planned dream vacation was sadly cut short, I vowed to come up with a story and write a screenplay that would perhaps one day get me to New Zealand. My research confirmed some of the things I knew, but also exposed me to the importance of Maori history, culture and spirituality, as well as the dynamic, often turbulent past between New Zealand’s indigenous peoples and its Pakeha/European settlers and descendants, which ultimately became a key component of the story.

Additionally, I’ve always had a love for and appreciation of foreign films, especially charmers from the early days of the independent movement, like My Life as a Dog (Sweden), Cinema Paradiso (Italy) and The Gods Must Be Crazy (South Africa) which draw you into their own unique and specific worlds. The feeling of “discovery” that envelops you when you come out of the theatre after experiencing one of those gems is unforgettable. You immediately want to tell everyone you know. My challenge and dream was to try and come up with a story and ultimately a film that might inspire viewers in a similar way.
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What would you say the theme of the film was?

Primarily, I’d say it’s about identity. How we often learn some of the most important things about ourselves through our relationships with others. How seeking the truth with an open heart, as Elizabeth does with Hira in the film, can lead to enlightenment. Also courage in the face of adversity -- standing up for what you believe in despite overwhelming odds, especially when popular opinion or peer pressure may be against you.
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Was the trip from script to screen a smooth one?

Well, the journey was thirteen years, including a rollercoaster ten years of allowing several other people the opportunity to try and raise the financing and/or produce the film. Eventually, when I realized I didn’t really have to wait for permission and could be my own best champion, as it were, I teamed up with two like-minded executive producer-moms, instrumental in helping me raise the funds. Afterward, the addition to our team of veteran producer Walter Coblenz made a world of difference in terms of the personnel we were able to attract and the production value we were able to achieve. Plus we were extremely fortunate to partner with a wonderful New Zealand co-producer, Judith Trye.
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How was the film received when it was first released?

From the earliest festival screenings/awards and our limited theatrical releases (U.S., Canada, NZ), we had a pretty good sense that Her Majesty was going to be an audience-pleasing film. It was a pretty cool feeling to sneak into the back of various theatres and hear applause at the end, which supposedly doesn’t happen that often.

Another interesting thing we quickly noticed was the multi-generational appeal. We often had three generations -- mother, daughter, grandmother -- coming to see the film together, with each person taking away a different meaning from the story, but most importantly having a memorable shared experience they could all discuss afterward.

The challenge we had, as many indies do, is that we did not secure a deal with a major distributor, although several flirted with us. Because the film is layered and doesn’t fit neatly into one genre box, from a marketing standpoint that sort of becomes a blessing and a curse. The curse is that distributors may be hesitant to put a ton of advertising dollars behind your film, especially without any major U.S. or international stars, not withstanding our fabulous all-NZ cast...The blessing is a long-term piecemeal rollout with an ever expanding footprint where the film is constantly being (re)discovered by new viewers. Considering the fate of most independent films, we’re happy to be a hearty marathoner.

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What’s happened to the girl who plays Elizabeth?

Our wonderful star, Sally Andrews, who plays 13 year old Elizabeth in the film is, of course, all grown up. After Her Majesty she won some additional roles on TV in New Zealand, but then focused more on her passion for dance, eventually graduating from the University of Otago with a degree in Theatre and Media Studies. Karmically, she fulfilled one of the destinies of her character in the film and did make it to London, where she’s now working as a casting director. No word yet on whether QEII has reached out to her, or vice versa. But if it happens, we’ll be there (again) with cameras!
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What are you working on now?

Thanks for asking. I’m currently raising private equity for another prestige style indie project which I wrote to direct entitled Paper Son. It’s a triumph of the human spirit bittersweet love story about a young Chinese woman’s struggle to reunite her family by entering the U.S. through the notorious Angel Island Immigration Station in the early 1900s. Similar to Her Majesty, it’s fiction based on fact and features powerful personal and political themes and issues, such as immigration, human rights and social justice which I hope will resonate with discerning adult audiences and viewers around the
globe, like SCC subscribers.
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Comments

Females only?

In response to the question: "How was the film received when it was first released?", Mr. Gordon replies that "We often had three generations -- mother, daughter, grandmother -- coming to see the film together." Why no men? Is this a "chick flick?"