Sarah Adina Smith is currently working on bird 37. In a project that hearkens back to the famous anecdote told by novelist Anne Lamott, Smith is planning to repay a hundred contributors to her directorial debut “Good People” on Kickstarter with an oil painting of one of our feathered friends.
“I hate asking for money, so I wanted to offer something that showed people I don’t take their donation for granted,” said Smith, who is spending six to eight hours on each sparrow and finch she paints. “That’s six to eight hours of quiet solitude I get per bird to think about the film.”
Ironically, the idea for “Good People” wasn’t born out of peace of mind. After having a “terrible, vivid dream” one night, Smith starting to pen the story of Diane and Patrick, a notable anti-war author and a musician, respectively, who retreat to a quiet neighborhood during the early 1970s, so that Diane can work on her book. However, the tranquility for the married couple is short-lived, starting when Diane meets her neighbor Eli, a young Vietnam vet who inspires her to change direction on her latest tome towards one of spiritual reawakening and ultimately drives a wedge between she and her husband that leads to murder.
“When a tragedy like that happens and they interview the neighbors, the first thing they tend to say is ‘They were such good people,’ said Smith. “I believe that there are no good people and there are no evil people, that we’re all capable of great beauty and great cruelty. So I wanted to take a couple that I believe in, and put them to the test.”
Although the psychological thriller will be Smith’s first feature, the writer/director has been working towards it for the past six years since studying philosophy at Columbia while doing painting and acting on the side.
“I didn’t always know I wanted to make films,” acknowledged Smith. “After graduation, it finally occurred to me that directing allowed me to ask deep questions like a philosopher, to make arresting images like a painter, and to think from the inside-out, like an actor.”
Being confined to just one thing is clearly not of interest to Smith, who co-founded the Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary studio Friend of a Friend with her husband (and frequent cinematographer) Shaheen Seth. The studio operates as a graphic design house, but has also served as the base for Smith to direct short films, moving seamlessly from a 2008 doc “One Cup of Coffee” on sustainable java farms to the gothic 2009 narrative “The Sirens,” featuring the Chapin sisters as a trio of siblings who looking to part ways with their youngest, who has cancer, at a mysterious compound by the lake and find the possibility of another reality.
“The Sirens” earned several accolades along the festival route — and before “Good People” has even started filming, it has too, the script already a finalist for prizes at the Nantucket Film Festival and Tribeca Film Institute — so it’s no surprise that Smith has reassembled much of the creative team to bring “Good People” to the screen. Jonako Donley, who was recently behind the coming-of-age-comedy “Dear Lemon Lima,” and Mary Pat Bentel, who last produced Joshua Leonard’s comedy “The Lie,” are onboard as producers once more, as is cinematographer Seth and composer Ellen Reid. Smith is also enthused about the arrival of Annie Sperling, an associate of photographer David LaChapelle’s, who will serve as the film’s production designer, remarking, “It’s almost eerie how in sync we are and I can’t wait to see what we create together.”
Likewise, Smith has already been heartened by the response on Kickstarter.
“It’s amazing, like somehow it makes the creative process feel less lonely,” said Smith, who plans to start “Good People” in the spring if all goes according to plan. And that isn’t the writer/director’s only plan. With two other projects in the works, including an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s short story “Monkey Hill” about an American couple in India, Smith has her hands full, even if she didn’t have a tall stack of canvases to paint. But there’s a reason “Good People” is taking precedence.
“The reason I want to make ‘Good People’ first is because I think it’s a movie I need to make while I’m in my twenties,” said Smith. “I can’t totally put my finger on why, but I think it takes a certain kind of naïveté to direct this film and I’m afraid if I get much older, I’ll lose it.”