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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Directors Daniel Mentz and Julia Butler for SLIPAWAY (2017)

 Interview with Directors Daniel Mentz and Julia Butler for SLIPAWAY (2017)

Director/writer Daniel Mentz and director/writer Julia Butler co-direct 'Slipaway' (2017), a heartrending film about the unlikely friendship between an older woman, Fall (played by Elaine Partnow), and a young man, Adam (Jesse Pepe). Reminiscent of The Intouchables (2011), the film presents a story about the platonic bond between an elderly ailing woman at the end of her life and a young man beginning his.

Adam is a young homeless drug addict who dreams of becoming a musician but is fast spinning out of control and is close to losing all hope. Fall has just turned 80 but she still has two dreams to accomplish on her bucket list- learn how to play the piano and sail around the world on her sailboat The Slipaway. Sadly, she lives alone on the boat and is only days away from being put into a retirement home by her daughter. These two polar opposite characters cross paths and learn some of the most important lessons about life from each other.



I recently interviewed Daniel and Julia about 'Slipaway'. Here is what they had to say:


Is Slipaway based on a true story?

DANIEL/JULIA: Not really, but the initial concept came from something that actually happened to us. The story goes like this: It was on a warm spring day in 2015 when we decided to clean out our garage. Among the trash that we were sorting out, a keyboard nobody had used for years was collecting dust. Julia wanted to throw it away but Daniel found it too valuable and decided to put it on Craigslist for $100. A few days go by, and Julia suddenly notices Daniel packing the instrument into the backseat of his compact car. "What are you doing?" she asked. "I sold it and I'm taking it to this elderly lady in Beverly Hills," Daniel replied. "You're gonna spend fifty bucks on gas to drive this thing across town?" Julia exclaimed. "I already promised and she doesn't have a car." Daniel gave her a good-bye kiss and off he went. Many hours later, Daniel came back at night and told Julia about the fascinating encounter he had. The lady turned out to be Gwen Davis, a published author in her late seventies, who had just moved back to the States from South America. She showed Daniel pictures of her with Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe and many other Hollywood legends. Over cookies and tea, she shared many incredible stories from her life. Gwen had bought the keyboard because she now wanted to write a musical with a composer friend of hers. She had never done such a thing but it had always been a dream of hers that she now finally wanted to pursue. Julia was captivated and almost didn't sleep that night. At 5:00AM she suddenly sat up in bed and shook Daniel awake: "I know the story of our next script! It's about an elderly woman who wants to fulfill her life's dream and a young man who helps her. It's going to be called: Fall." Daniel's reaction to that name was much like Adam's in the movie. 

DANIEL/JULIA CONT'D: So, we put aside the romantic comedy script we had been working on and started writing "Fall." The title "Slipaway" didn't actually happen until post-production. As the movie came together, we - along with our producer Tigran Mutafyan, our actors Elaine Partnow and Jesse Pepe - agreed that "Slipaway" perfectly captures many of the themes that run through the story and characters.


What do you feel is the most important message you wanted to communicate in the film?

DANIEL/JULIA: To us, the most important message to our audience is not only to follow your dreams, but more so to invoke a sense of curiosity about life and compassion toward one another, no matter the age or background. Unfortunately, compassion is hard to find these days and yet it is so crucially important to our human integrity.


The casting on this is fantastic! How long did it take you to find Elaine and Jesse?

DANIEL/JULIA: Casting took us around six months. We really wanted to take our time and make the right decisions, because we knew how important it was for each lead actor to be able to carry the movie and have strong chemistry with each other. Our close friends at Glasscore Entertainment, the production company behind "Slipaway," put out breakdowns for all roles and auditions were held in their offices in Burbank, California. During callbacks we invited Elaine to do chemistry reads with three of our close selections for Adam, and at the end asked her who she liked the best. In her opinion, there was only one: Jesse Pepe. The next day, we invited Jesse for chemistry reads with two other close choices for Fall and at the end asked him the same question. His answer: "There's only one: Elaine Partnow." Both confirmed what we had felt, and so the decision was made. The following night we invited both to a sushi dinner and offered them the parts, which they happily accepted.


These days it's very hard to make indie films as distribution has become such a challenge. Was this very difficult to get financed and made? How long did it take?

DANIEL/JULIA: During summer 2015, we had found an investor who seemed determined and committed, so Glasscore and us started soft-prep. Our investor had to fly back to his home country at the end of August, but assured us that everything would be going according to plan and that he would transfer the money during the first week of September. The day he landed in his hometown, he sent us an email that a hefty lawsuit was suddenly filed against him and that he now had to put everything on hold. That was the last we heard of him. Needless to say, we were devastated. The crew had done work already that they weren't getting paid for. But we regrouped, had brainstorming sessions with our brilliant producer Tigran Mutafyan throughout October, and Julia ultimately decided to put up the money herself, pulling everything out of her pension plan, her 401(k), and several credit cards. The budget had to be cut, the script had to be rewritten and because we had booked locations and crew already, we were left with only 60 days to complete everything. Many sleepless nights later, we somehow managed and finally production was in full swing.


Have you had any offers for distribution?

DANIEL/JULIA: We are receiving offers from smaller distribution companies, but we are currently focused on expanding our audience and building a buzz since we have been selected at six upcoming international film festivals throughout April and May.


Almost the entire film is set on a boat. Did that facilitate or complicate the production?

DANIEL/JULIA: Both, actually. It definitely helped keeping the budget down, but on the other hand presented other unforeseen problems. We weren't aware that there was a Navy base across the bay, which was surprisingly quiet during our day of scouting the location. Needless to say, when it came to finally shooting, we quickly learned that jets and helicopters were taking off or landing every 15 minutes, which was quite difficult for sound. Our fantastic Director of Photography Yash Khanna often had to squeeze himself into the tiniest corners of the boat in order to get the shot, but he never complained and kept cracking jokes. 

On our second day out in the ocean, right after we had shot the last scene with daylight, the motor died. We were about four miles offshore and it was getting dark. Luckily, we had a sailboat and were able to catch some wind, but after a few minutes even the wind didn't hold up. Drifting in the Pacific Ocean at night, our captain-for-hire tried to communicate with the only rescue boat available but - as it later turned out - kept giving them the wrong coordinates. Half the crew was seasick at this point, and when the rescue boat finally found us, our captain blamed them for using wrong coordinates, using every name in the book. If it hadn't been for us to step in and calm him down, the rescue team would've left us out there for the night. But apart from that, and several head bumps caused by tight quarters, shooting on the Slipaway was quite easy considering the circumstances.


The film has its own score. Did your composer Tao Liu work throughout the production of the film to help pace the film or did the music come at the end?

DANIEL/JULIA: Tao was on board from the beginning, since we loved his work and had known him since 2013 when he scored a short film Daniel had starred in. But due to the investor complications, Tao was hired for other projects and so ultimately had to score our entire movie within three weeks toward the end of post-production, which he pulled off beautifully. The leitmotif that Adam plays in the beginning of the movie is actually a melody Julia and her brother came up with when they were young. Julia never forgot those notes and throughout the years kept working on it by herself, knowing that one day this melody would find its purpose. She got offers from renowned singers and songwriters for her melody, but always knew that this song was meant for something else. When it came to choosing a melody for Adam's song, the choice was easy. Julia sang the melody into Tao's phone during one of our meetings, and that's all he had to go on to construct an entire score around it. Obviously, our producer Tigran, Tao and us worked together for the spotting sessions, but everything else was up to Tao. We knew we could trust him.


You've been traveling to film festivals. How was your experience at the Sedona Film Festival? What other festivals have you screened at?

DANIEL/JULIA: Sedona was an absolute divine experience. From beginning to end simply surreal. We could write in superlatives all day and still would come up short. The people, the organization, the volunteers, the hotels, the sponsors, the nature, the food - everything and everyone was incredibly wonderful. And the fact that we were surprised with the "Audience Choice - Heart of the Festival" award made it that much more heavenly. The festival director, Patrick Schweiss, actually created this award just for us because audience members who had been to our screenings told everyone how much they enjoyed it, especially the Board of Directors. With the award came an additional screening, so everyone who had heard so much about our movie was finally able to see it in a sold-out theater. It's an experience we will cherish for the rest of our lives, and we will definitely be back next year, even if it's just for a vacation.

DANIEL/JULIA CONT'D: So far we have been selected by and won several monthly film competitions and online festivals. Screening at Pasadena International Film Festival and Magnolia Independent Film Festival, we took home "Best Feature Film" from both. Over the next two months, we'll be screening in Maryland, Georgia, Kansas, New York, Utah and Nice, France.


What have audience reactions been like?

DANIEL/JULIA: So far, audiences have always expressed a sincere love and appreciation of the film. It seems to resonate with a lot more people than we initially thought. Our core audience members are above 50, but we have now had many young people at screenings who expressed the same sentiments. It's hard to get people to see it because we have no recognizable names, but once they do see it, reactions have always been unanimous.


What will you and Julia work on next?

DANIEL/JULIA: We are working on a screen adaptation of Julia's novel "The Last Encore," which is an Amazon bestseller. It again has music as part of the story but deals primarily with a fascinating yet obscure psychological phenomenon that many might prefer to remain untold. It's a powerful love story laced with intrigue, lies, and mystery across time and continents. You can find out more about "The Last Encore" on Julia's website:

Check out their websites:

View trailer here"

Interview with Directors Daniel Mentz and Julia Butler for SLIPAWAY (2017)

Directors Julia Butler and Daniel Mentz.


Interview with Directors Daniel Mentz and Julia Butler for SLIPAWAY (2017)

Elaine Partnow as 'Fall' and Jesse Pepe as 'Adam'. 


Interview conducted by Vanessa McMahon; posted March 23, 2017.


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