It was an acting workshop that led Mandi Riggi to buy a collection of John Patrick Shanley’s short plays, but it was only when she read “Down and Out” that she truly felt it belonged to her.
“The collection sat on my shelf for a few months before one day, a day when I was particularly feeling down and in a funk, questioning everything about my career and life choices, I picked up the collection and began reading” said Riggi, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who traveled the festival circuit with the 2003 short “Parallel Passage.”
While the title alone resonated, Shanley’s one-act about characters named Poet and Love, a penniless couple who are approached on a stormy evening by a stranger out to deprive them of the one thing they have left ‑ the Poet’s library card, particularly struck a chord with Riggi, who came out to L.A. to “make artful films that carefully ride the boundary of art and commerce” with her partner and producer Kevin Fitzmaurice Comer.
“When I read this play, I felt it paralleled our lives and also the lives of many artists of all mediums who are struggling to survive in a world that is constantly closing in on them,” said Riggi. “How do you hold on to your artistic integrity? Through love, and through love of what you do.”
Which is why Riggi and Comer have gone to such great lengths to bring it to the screen, a three-year journey that has culminated with a crowdsourcing campaign on United States of Artists that runs through February 12th. If it seems like they’ve set an ambitious goal for themselves, it’s because the two have already accomplished so much with the project, not the least of which was getting Shanley to sign off on the adaptation. After finishing a script in a matter of days, they tried contacting the playwright’s agent to no avail, leading them to a screening of Shanley’s film version of “Doubt” where he would appear to do a Q & A. With some slightly aggressive maneuvering, they made it to the front of the crowd that hovered around Shanley at the end of the evening, where Comer presented him with a copy of “Parallel Passage,” a literal “Dear John” letter and a copy of the “Down and Out” script.
Following Comer’s heartfelt speech about the project, Shanley told the duo to call his agent again, which led to an immediate and encouraging response, but still nine months passed before the adaptation got the stamp of approval from the legal department. In the interim, Riggi began to develop a trio of feature projects and started work on “Spade,” another short that she recently finished, featuring “Lost” star Jorge Garcia as a man who turns the tables on a detective (Michael Petted) during a murder investigation by confessing to be a serial killer in a surreal interrogation. Anyone familiar with “Parallel Passage” knows that nothing is necessarily as it seems in the filmmaker’s work, thanks to her unique visual style, and Riggi assures that “Down and Out” will follow suit.
“What is very interesting about [“Down and Out”] is you are not sure where you are in time because the language is not as we speak today,” said Riggi. “This poses interesting questions in terms of it’s mise-en-scène and production design. My ideas are high concept and I want to play with the juxtaposition of time where the characters are speaking in a poetic and rather old-world English, yet they are living in modern, or even in future time.”
As far as the timing of “Down and Out” is concerned as a whole, production should commence in March if the United States Artists campaign is successful and Riggi believes in spite of its short form, it’ll reach a wide audience.
“This is a film with heart,” said Riggi. “Its theme of love, struggle and survival is universal.”