BEYOND THE DOOR, 12min., USA
Directed by Gregory Klino, MJ Palo
When a man buys a cuckoo clock for his wife, he discovers that there is more behind the cuckoo's door than just the cuckoo.
Get to know writer P. James Norris:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
I took Aaron Sorkin's Masterclass on screenwriting in 2018 and our first assignment was to adapt a short story as a no more than 10 page screenplay. I don't remember remember how I stumbled across Philip K. Dick's 1954 short story, "Beyond the Door"—I know I was searching for stories in the public domain, and I think I was searching for Philip K. Dick stories in particular as he has got to be the most adapted American writer, period.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
I wrote my first draft of "Beyond the Door" in 2018, and submitted three times to the Reno-Tahoe Screenplay Contest in the Spring, Summer and Fall of 2021—it was in the top three each time and finally won in the Fall of 2021. I don't think I would have continued submitting it if it weren't for the encouragement of MJ Palo who went onto produce and co-direct "Beyond the Door". It was filmed over two weekends in January 2023 but the editing wasn't completed until May 2023.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
Effing excellent! Perhaps this would sound arrogant if I was the actual filmmaker, but I'm just the screenwriter. But I am so very pleased with the final product!
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Being the bridesmaid twice before being selected as the bride. :-)
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
I was terribly pleased. I always heard that filmmaking was a collaborative process but hadn't really understood what that meant until going down to Reno for the second weekend of filming and seeing the finished product. There's a great deal in the finished film that isn't in my script. One of the feedback reviewers mentioned the depth of field through the banister rails evoking the sense of Dora (the wife, played by Ragen LoCricchio) being in prison with Bob (the husband, played by Greg Klino who also co-directed with MJ Palo) always in the background watching her interact with the cuckoo clock. None of this was in my script and was a result of MJ's and Greg's creativity given the location they wound up using for "Beyond the Door" which looked nothing at all like what I had written in the script. And, of course, I had nothing to do with the sound or music, for which "Beyond the Door" won. So...
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
I wrote my first script in the early-1980's—it was a spec script for Star Trek: The Next Generation. I had attended a Star Trek convention—yes, I'm one of them—and the MC was warming up the crowd for the next guest and asked the audience who'd they like to see at the next convention. All of the obvious names were called out, and someone in the back called out, "Will Wheaton!". The audience booed and hissed, and when it quieted down, the MC said something to the effect of, "C'mon, what do you think would happen when Will Wheaton stepped on to stage. As Murphy (the one tru god) is my witness, the audience, in ONE voice, responded, "Shut up, Wesley!" The spec script that resulted, "Yellow Alert", was an attempt to humanize Mr. Wheaton's character and to make Marina Sirtis's, Counsellor Troi less of just a Bridge ornament. Having written it over a couple of weeks, and rewriting over a couple of months, I went out to L.A. to find an agent as Paramount wasn't accepting unsolicited specs from unrepresented screenwriters. I found one, he submitted "Yellow Alert" to Paramount, and for a year-and-a-half, I heard nothing. Long story short, they didn't produce "Yellow Alert", but it made it into the top 10 of 110 specs left for the 3rd Season EP by the 2nd Season EP and resulted in a letter allowing me to submit future specs without representation. I wrote three more and none of them were produced.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
I don't know about films, probably the Matrix 2, but I can tell you what TV show I've watched more than any other: Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip". "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" was on for only one season (2006-2007) but rather being cancelled without warning, Mr. Sorkin—who is, in my opinion, the greatest screenwriter alive—learned it would be cancelled months before the end of its first season wrapped. As a result, he was able to write the last few episodes in such a manner that wrapped up the season's most important plot lines. Watching the series, which my wife and I have literally dozens of times, is like watching a 22 hour movie. And I highly recommend it to anyone who is Aaron Sorkin fan. And if you're not, I don't know what to say to you. :-)
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
I can't think of any.
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
They were just fine. No problems at all.
10. What is your favorite meal?
I just like food, period. There are very few things I won't eat, but there is one: uni. For those of you not up on your Japanese names for sushi, uni is the meat of a sea urchin. I put myself through my first attempt at getting an undergraduate degree—not being too bright, it took me five-and-half years to realize that I REALLY didn't want to be an Electrical Engineer—working as a waiter, bartender, and cab drive in Boulder CO (I was a student the University of Colorado, Boulder). One of my waiter/bartending jobs was at a sushi bar and every month or so, we would get in a shipment of what the chefs would invariably assure me was VERY fresh uni and they would force me to try it month after month. But the stuff tastes like the smell of formaldehyde to me, and I just can't stand it.
11. What is next for you? A new film?
I have two short screenplays I've adapted from two of my short stories, "Michael Is Coming" and "Angel of Death" that I'm working on. For "Michael Is Coming" I already have a producer who has expressed interest and I'm working on a pitch deck for it—the synopsis is causing me all sorts of grief; it started out at 1,200+ words and four pages of the pitch deck which is manifestly too long, but I've got it down to just over 700 words and only two pages of the pitch deck which I think might be acceptable. I just had a Skype meeting with a storyboard artist named Sabrina Deigert to try to get a handle on the VFX/CGI budget for "Angel of Death", and I'll be sending her a shot list for one scene of "Angel of Death" in the next couple of weeks—I've not done a shot list before, so this could be interesting and a whole new kind of frustration; we'll have to see.
But I've also got to get 150-200 word pitches to my manager for three TV series like, NOW! I REALLY want to get these series produced and I think that's where I'll be focusing my next several days.
And then there's my novel, "The Order of the Brotherhood', that I hope to complete—I've got nearly 19,000 words of it written—over the month of November as that's NaNoWriMo, _i.e._ National Novel Writing month.