12 Conversations in a Dozen Days
Jimmy Hall For the Leader
During the course of 12 days, a small crew of three Italian filmmakers, a band of creative minds and a pair of actors crammed the former underground Quimper Sound record store for principal photography of an independent film, “12 Conversations.”
To add to the tight schedule, the first day of filming coincided with the first day of construction for the Port Townsend Water Street reconstruction. However, any noise from construction crews and equipment didn’t affect the production of “12 Conversations” as they plunged into the work that was new to many of them.
It was screenwriter Joshua Scott’s first foray into that style of written form, but he isn’t a stranger to putting words together.
Scott, who has worked as a courts reporter in Kitsap County for the past 40 years, found the challenge after he worked with “12 Conversations” director Emanuele Valla. They came together when Valla was on the search for music for his first feature film he shot in Italy about six years ago. That’s when Valla randomly came across one of Scott’s songs online. Valla asked Scott if he could use his music, and it sparked a business relationship and friendship.
Scott didn’t have experience with screenwriting but agreed to help Valla direct and produce a script that was up to his standards. The result is “12 Conversations.”
Story in language
“It was an attempt to celebrate the art of conversation,” Scott said about the writing process. “It was a bit of a throwback and wistful look at what things used to be.”
The script features two major characters, Noah Cooper and Jane Addison, whose relationship sparks when they meet inside Port Townsend’s Quimper Sound Records. There are just a few supporting roles with minimal dialogue, so the weight of the production rests on their shoulders.
Sparse on action, the film can be compared to other dialogue-heavy narratives. Scott singled out Richard Linklater’s “Before Trilogy,” which features a man and a woman whose relationship grows as they walk around European cities. Linklater had the fortune of three settings for his films with iconic landscapes and architecture; Scott chose the opposite by having his characters interact in the underground record store instead.
“It’s about two people, originally from Port Townsend, who meet at this underground record store, and through a series of conversations, there is a mystery at the core of their relationship they don’t realize when they first meet,” Scott said about the story. “The mystery unfolds and reveals itself.”
The decision to use a cramped space as the singular location was to give the relationship a feeling of development, such as what can happen in a womb, Scott said. Between each scene there are breaks that show Noah and Jane in their natural environment, including one at dinner, one at the Rose Theatre and another at the Cellar Door, watching a band perform. Those locations, and others, are overlaid with Scott’s music, which is meant to be pieces Noah has written for Jane.
“I wanted to write about some aspect of relationships,” Scott said. “These are the themes I wrote about in my mind, and they slowly transposed.”
Six months after he started, Scott completed the screenplay and passed it around to his colleagues, who provided constructive feedback. One of those voices was Craig Smith, owner of the Firehouse Theater in Kingston, who said he knew a couple who would fit the main roles. They were Gabe Smith and Laurie Getchell, Craig Smith’s son and daughter-in-law, respectively. Both are recent graduates from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle.
Gabe Smith and Getchell, who live in Edmonds, had worked in Chicago with Second City, an improvisational comedy troupe. They auditioned for the “12 Conversations” roles at the Firehouse Theater with Valla and his crew. Scott said they were perfect for the parts, and it was a relief because he was worried about finding a pair who would be willing to spend two weeks in Port Townsend during the winter.
Valla flew in from Italy with Claudio Coloretti, the director of photography and lighting, and assistant director Dario Debiasio, who provided ideas for capturing the story.
Arendt Speser of Port Townsend is in the same graduate program at the University of Washington with Scott’s wife, Barbara Krystal, and connected Scott with potential actors. One willing couple was Robert and Janette Force of Port Townsend. Janette Force is the executive director for the Port Townsend Film Festival.
Janette Force said she’s known Speser for nearly his entire life, so watching him interact with the Italian crew, in their native language, was delightful to watch. At first, what was just a commitment to meet Valla, Coloretti and Debiasio turned into Speser asking if they could use the Forces’ kitchen for a scene. Then they got a cameo appearance in one of the breakout scenes.
The Forces weren’t afraid to perform for the camera — Janette has theater experience as well as small roles in short films, and Robert is a musician — and they used their backgrounds to improvise with Gabe Smith and Getchell.
“They were so fun to work with, and it’s always exciting to be a part of someone else’s vision, “ Janette Force said.
Mark Hering, who owned Quimper Sound at the time of filming, closed up shop for the crew to work. It was a sacrifice for the small business, but Hering was compensated for the down time. Scott said it was a “celebration of his store” in a sense, because it will be forever preserved on film.
As Poulsbo residents, Scott and Krystal are familiar with Port Townsend, and they have made countless retreats for the city’s many attractions. Scott also performed at the former Quimper Sound location on Taylor Street.
The film’s soundtrack includes about 18 songs of Scott’s original music, plus a few selections of an Italian rock band. He picked through his own catalog to complement the themes that resonate throughout the plot, and he wrote a couple specifically for the film.
Scott said the film and its themes were narrowed to what he could write about, how the two met and other experiences without making it an autobiographical tale.
“12 Conversations” will premiere at 6:20 and 8:40 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Firehouse Theatre in Kingston. The movie also will premiere in Italy with Italian subtitles thanks to Valla’s efforts.
There are additional plans to submit the film to various film festivals around the nation.
Twelve Conversations is an Indie Charmer
Michael C. Moore
Kitsap Sun USA TODAY NETWORK
Joshua W. Scott not only wrote the screenplay for “Twelve Conversations,” director Emanuele Valla’s involving indie film that has its world premiere Nov. 29 at Kingston’s Firehouse Theatre, he wrote the songs that seem to serve as a third main character.
The film, shot mostly in a since-defunct Port Townsend record shop (the legendary Quimper Sound), is a cobbled progression of interactions between two people who find each other (first conversation) and spend the rest of the film convincing themselves and each other that they belong together.
The interactions of Jane (Laurie Getschell) and Noah (Gabe Smith, the son of Firehouse proprietor Craig Smith) are linked together, gorgeously, by part-travelogue, part-music video sequences shot around Port Townsend, the Quimper Peninsula and the Point No Point lighthouse and featuring Scott’s original songs.
As seen through the lens of cinematographer Claudio Coloretti, the Quimper is every bit as breathtaking a place as all of us nearbys already know it to be. But Valla and Coloretti, through some creative lighting and lingering close-ups of their cautiously lovestruck subjects, find ways to make the subterranean, brick-walled confines of the record shop just as warm and interesting as the world outside.
Scott’s songwriting and singing echo, at various times, Mark Knopfler, Cat Stevens, John Wesley Harding (aka Wesley Stace) and/or Graham Parker. Snippets of lyrics from songs written a decade or more before the screenplay (his first, written at Valla’s suggestion) often find their way into Jane and Gabe’s dialogue, and bridge the time between the couple’s increasingly less-random meetings.
Even with those interludes, the film seems copiously talky, and perhaps a little too long.
But it is filled with redemptive charms, both as simple as a few words of dialog and as sweeping as the opening aerial shot (via drone) of the Port Townsend waterfront in all its Victorian splendor.
Jane and Gabe are both in denial — Jane of a recent, devastating loss, Gabe of pretty much everything outside the door of the record shop. Their first meeting is sweet, and awkward, and filled with promise that you know is going to be fulfilled some way or another.
One of the strong points of Scott’s screenplay is that it doesn’t give you the ending you expect, but one that’s both logical and satisfying even so. Some might argue that a plot twist or two concerning a history between the two of them is unnecessary, but at the same time, given the small-town setting, made perfect sense.
Getchell (luminous) and Smith (endearingly doofy) carry their massive workload effectively and believably. They’re a real-life married couple (Smith hails from Indianola), but do an admirable job portraying Jane and Noah’s what?-at-first-sight wannabe relationship. Port Townsend aficionados will appreciate the sprinkling of cameos — including since-retired Quimper Sound owner Mark Hering and even Valla himself, in a scene shared with Chuck Easton and the Blue Note Jazz Group — even though they don’t always up the acting ante.
Valla’s biggest achievement might be combining the film’s back-and-forth elements — the conversations themselves (and, no, I didn’t keep track to see if there were precisely a dozen), and the music-and-scenery sequences — into a cogent and credible narrative.
If you agree that he did, and perhaps even if you don’t, there’s plenty to like about “Twelve Conversations.” It’s a film locals will have a hoot watching, and folks around the rest of the world will peer at and wonder, “Where did they find this place?”
“Twelve Conversations” screens at 6:20 and 8:40 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Firehouse Theatre, 11171 Hwy. 104 in Kingston. Valla, Getchell, Smith, Poulsbo resident Scott and other members of the crew will be in attendance.
Information: 360-297-4849, firehousetheatre.com.