Smasheroo: from page to screen by Evan Marlowe at

Saturday afternoon found me squatting in my bathtub with a digital camera, distorting my spine and kicking up my sciatica.


My wife Kerry was on the toilet, Kaden was at the sink, and a hazardously thin girl named Jamie was struggling to reach in with a make-shift boom pole. This is the cast and crew of our short film, “Smasheroo.”

I chose this script among the fifty offerings that make up the 50 Kisses Competition because (like any script I work from) it spoke to me.  It was clear that its writer, James Howard, knew these characters. They were based on him and his wife, a snapshot of her recovery following a head injury that left her with a speech dysfunction called aphasia. While I also selected a couple other scripts to direct because they were fun or posed challenges, Mr. Howard’s script resonated with me emotionally. My own father has suffered from a similar condition as he has advanced into his 80s.

The author and I corresponded via email. He was ecstatic to have his script produced and had plenty of ideas to share, ideas cut from the script due to the competition’s two-page requirement. We agreed on several changes, and a revised script was drawn up.

As a filmmaker, I have only two aspirations. One, to connect with my audience. Two, to do the script justice. The purpose of every shot I select, every edit, every direction I give to an actor is to bring the writer’s words to life while being true to his or her intent. So it is vital that I can collaborate with any writer, and that he or she will be agreeable to providing changes I believe will help make their voice heard.  After all, the script is a blueprint. It isn’t the writer’s job to understand the mechanics of how the words will connect with the viewing public; that’s the function of the filmmaker. As such, the filmmaker often must partner with the writer to reshape the script in order to bridge this divide, to make the intent palpable and words meaningful.

I had two inspirations in my approach to “Smasheroo.” First, stylistically, was Julian Schnabel’s small miracle of a film, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” Second I drew upon the wisdom of John Cassavetes, who knew when it was time to step back and let the actors work their magic. The sensibilities of these two directors probably figured most prominently in my mind as I set out to make this short.

The film is divided into two segments by a flashback. Pre-flashback footage was captured with an 85mm lens using tight framing, each actor seen solo or with a little of the other actor blocking out the frame. At one point Kaden’s face is obscured completely by Kerry’s arm. The point is, he’s feeling stifled by her condition, a little resentful, exhausted, trapped. Following the flashback I went with a 50mm lens and placed both actors in the same frames, to unify the relationship and bring about a sense of understanding.

While many filmmakers are moving to ever more advanced machinery to acquire their images, I realized the flashback needed the opposite approach. Super 8mm film was used to provide an organic quality that is lacking in digital. It just felt right. Kerry’s character is suddenly revealed in good health, and the contrast, enhanced by the primitive film stock, is startling.

My two actors were amazing. Kaden at first gave me a tearful rendition, which must have been hard for him, but for me felt incongruent with his character. Withholding the tears created a tension that wouldn’t have been there had he let everything out. In the following takes he stayed stoic but on the verge of tears, and this was far more touching. Kerry’s performance was spot on every time. All I had to do was turn the camera on and keep her in focus.

I am fortunate to work with a great composer, Michael Daniel, who gave the short film exactly the music needed to pull heartstrings. The rest of the post-production was left to my own devices.

To my surprise, organizer Chris Jones emailed us soon after I uploaded the film, to inform us it had touched him and he wanted to present it during his keynote address at the London Screenwriters’ Festival. We were overwhelmed with joy, particularly after learning the great David Yates would be taking the stage immediately afterwards.

However, before the film would be presentable, some edits needed to be made. My concern was if too much were to be taken out, the emotional punch could be weakened. Chris however gave suggestions which kept the piece moving along without sacrificing kick. We sent the short back and forth, making changes over the course of a week, until both parties agreed it was much better.

I would offer a couple bits of advice to filmmakers. First, always look for the truth in everything you do. That may mean how you compose a shot, or the direction you give your actors, or the way you light the room. Does the decision you have made ring true? Because if not, the audience will feel it, and your film will suffer. I’d also advise any filmmaker to do as much of the work themselves as possible. Dispense with the crew and learn how to storyboard, revise the script, shoot, light, record audio, edit footage, mix audio and promote the product. Dive in there. Drive yourself crazy. Get your hands dirty. The result may flop, but there’s no better way to learn.

Comments: 9 (Discussion closed)
  • #1

    Evan (Friday, 21 December 2012 15:09)

    Here's the link to the first and second cuts of the film:

  • #2

    Anne (Monday, 24 December 2012 19:32)

    James Howard had written a very good script with 'Smasheroo'. It includes the line "and you're getting better every day", and I think this is an important line to include to show the mood, as it moves the story forward with a sense of hope in a positive way, and I notice that this line is removed in this version. I wonder whether the flashbacks are required, especially when there is an emphasis on a short duration from the 50kisses Producers. I like the way you have shot the film.

  • #3

    Evan (Wednesday, 26 December 2012 07:07)

    Thanks for watching and good points. I collaborated with James to develop the flashback section and felt it was essential to understanding these characters fully. The flashback lets the film breath given the claustrophobia of the first half. The 2 minute length wasn't a huge concern to me since it was only a suggestion, not a rule. I'd rather shoot more and let the producers make cuts if needed.
    We did shoot the "getting better" line and it's in the first cut if you watch it. The producers suggested we eliminate it and sure enough the emotional impact was far stronger without it.

  • #4

    Anne (Wednesday, 26 December 2012 11:00)

    I still think the line "getting better" should have been kept in the film you made, because she is getting better and this is how James wrote the script. The film without this line looks like she will not recover, and makes it depressing in my opinion. I wonder whether this is what the writer wanted to convey in his script, as I think I read an earlier blog he wrote that he questionned about this line being removed. I still don't think you needed the flashbacks. Good film though.

  • #5

    Evan (Wednesday, 26 December 2012 19:02)

    I see your point, but the producers and I agreed that it was more moving to demonstrate the opposite, that she was making little progress. Hence the addition of her muttering the counting at the end as we fade, to reiterate her lack of progress. In short, this is a devastating injury possibly with no happy ending. This can certainly be seen as depressing, but in many cases (including my father's) it is the reality. I honor to an extent whatever any screen writer has created, but I as a filmmaker must filter the words through my own personal perspective and interpretation.

  • #6

    Anne (Wednesday, 26 December 2012 20:01)

    Yes I agree that it is up to the filmmaker to interpret the script including the extent of the head injury. I guess I was expecting a hopeful ending because of how James Howard had written the script, but if you and the Producers made an agreement to move in the direction you did, then that's up to you I guess.

  • #7

    James Howard (Friday, 04 January 2013 02:18)

    Anne makes a good point, but the truth is, when I went through this with my wife, I wouldn't have known at this particular point whether she was really getting better or not. She did in fact recover completely, but it was a long haul, and in the early days of her injury, there were a lot of moments of despair when I simply didn't know whether or not I could hang with it.

    I'd like to see a line reading of "And you're getting better every day" where the actor says it more as a faint hope of his own (or even an outright lie) than as a statement of fact. But we have the takes we have, in the end. I think the second, shorter version is better than the first, despite the loss of that line. I understand why Evan cut it—and more importantly, I have total respect for the honestly of his intent.

    As to the flashbacks, Evan and I discussed doing them for precisely what he was able to accomplish with them. They deepen our understanding of the couple, which makes their situation more poignant. Without trying too hard, they cut to the quick of the story: When you swear "for better or for worse," you don't really know what you're signing on for—so, if worse comes to worse, and the life you had disappears, do you still stand by your vow? Would I still be married to my wife if she hadn't recovered from her brain injury? I really don't know. I would now have been taking care of her every day, in that condition, for 15 years. It's hard to imagine. When I do, I still don't know.

    I like that Evan faced that conundrum head-on and did some imagining of his own. The whole experience of "50 Kisses" has been splendidly collaborative, and I think "Smasheroo" is a great example of that.

  • #8

    James Howard (Friday, 04 January 2013 02:19)

    Um, that's "honesty" there in the second paragraph, not "honestly."

  • #9

    Anne (Friday, 04 January 2013 10:47)

    The reason I made my comments, is because your original script was selected from an enormous number of entries, to be made into a film. The script was good enough as originally written, otherwise it wouldn't have made the 50kisses final. In my opinion, the story has changed, and I do understand that the film-maker can interpret the script in his/her own way, afterall once the Producer/Director decides to take on a script, the writer tends to 'let go' of it. But I do think that viewers who had read your script you had submitted, would have expected a happier ending to your story on screen.