This Sunday, April 24, at 8 PM (EST), the Lifetime Movie Network will premiere Listen To Your Heart. The movie revolves around an aspiring musician who falls in love with a sheltered, hearing-impaired woman in New York, and the complexities involved with their relationship.
The film stars Kent Moran, who also served as producer/screenwriter as well as composer/second unit director. He took the time to discuss his film with me via email. In addition to discussing the many aspects of the film he was a part of, we discussed the film’s success at numerous film festivals, its popularity on Netflix (Average of 106,997 ratings: 3.9 stars, as of April 21), and working with a talented cast that included Cybill Shepherd. My thanks to Moran for his time and thoughts, as well as to Joy Phillips for helping to arrange the interview.
You wrote the music for the film. I am curious, did you develop the music after you wrote the plot? Or were they developed in parallel? I think part of the movie’s appeal is how well the script and music complement each other.
Thank you. Most of the songs I wrote specifically for the film, and I wrote them into the script. I knew when I wanted songs to happen in the film. Some songs I wrote while I was writing the script, and others I wrote afterwards and then plugged them in. Still Worth Fighting was a song I had written before [making] the movie and then realized that it fit well. Fight For You was originally written as a different song, to be played when Danny interrupts the dinner party Ariana’s mother throws for her, but after the film was edited, I decided that it didn’t work there and re-wrote it, slowed it down, and put it over the later montage where it now plays.
The film has a great supporting cast, do you recall when you decided you needed to have a character like George (played by Robert Ousley)?
The first draft of the script was very similar to the last. George is an example of a character that I always wanted in the script. I didn’t know that Robert would play the role, but I certainly wanted him to. Robert is a Broadway veteran and had played my father in a reading of my first screenplay. I love working with him and think he’s very talented.
Also, had you always intended to allow Roger’s character to undergo some growth in the film as well, or was that character development that organically occurred during the course of making the film?
I had always intended that. Most of the characters undergo some sort of transformation in the film and I wanted Danny’s character (whom I modeled after my cousin) to be the catalyst for every character’s change/growth. I wanted to show how one person’s positivity can affect those around him and in turn, they can affect others.
How hard were those early dating scenes with Danny and Ariana (portrayed by Alexia Rasmussen) in the film, with you carrying both sides of dialogue (by reading her notes)? And were you afraid you might lose the audience’s focus/interest if you did many scenes like that?
Those scenes were a challenge for us both; Alexia because she could only use her expressions to emote and me because I had all of the dialogue. I wrote the script knowing that the language barrier was a difficult one and so I wanted to do my best to keep the audience’s attention. So I gave the communication a progression that matched their relationship and Ariana’s character arc. When Ariana is introduced, she’s silent, then we see her start writing to communicate, then we see her use her interpreter, then she and Danny start signing to each other, and then she finally speaks and then hears. This progression was important to me, not only for her arc, but to keep the dynamic of the communication in the film interesting.
I love how you introduce Ariana’s interpreter in the film (She first “appears” offscreen in the restaurant) was that your idea?
Originally the interpreter was mentioned in the film before we meet her. During the edit, we cut a few small storylines and therefore had to introduce Marianne without ever mentioning her. The way we reveal Marianne in the restaurant scene was always intentional though. At that point, we’ve already seen Ariana communicate with Danny by writing. In this scene, we know that they are out to dinner again and so we are expecting to see more writing. I thought it’d be a nice reward to reveal the interpreter here and introduce a new form of communication.
The story takes you in directions you would not expect when we’re first introduced to the characters. In terms of pacing, did you set it up to play on traditional narrative expectations, so that when the twists happen, the viewer is even more surprised by the shift?
Yes. Screenplay structure was always, I think, subconsciously in the back of my mind when I wrote this, but I consciously decided that I wanted to write the film as organically as possible and have it come from a creative place. A lot of times, I had not fully fleshed things out before writing and ended up writting myself into a corner and that usually meant lots of rewrites. So in this case, I decided to dream about this idea and all of its elements and have every moment in my head before I started writing. I’d wake up and write some notes every morning or in the middle of the night. Then two weeks later, I was able to write the script in just 2 days. And I felt this really gave me the freedom to defy the conventional and come up with a storyline that I would want to see as an audience member myself. Some of the twists that arise in the movie are also twists that I had dealt with in a very real way in my personal life and I wanted them to happen sometimes out of nowhere, as they tend to in real life.
Not every screenwriter can say that they worked with one of the stars of The Last Picture Show, how was it that Cybill Shepherd joined the cast?
After finishing the script, we were just starting to talk about casting and knew that Victoria would be a role that we’d want a name actor to play. So we emailed a well known casting director. He really loved the script and decided to come on board despite our low budget. He helped us reach out to Cybill Shepherd, Ernie Sabella and others. Luckily, Cybill, who was our first choice, really enjoyed the script as well and decided to do it.
After all the film festival accolades, how gratifying is it to see the numbers that the film is pulling in through Netflix streaming online? Also, are you excited about the Lifetime Movie Network premiere?
The festival circuit was fantastic to us and it was always amazing to see each audience’s unique reaction to the film. And then to have the film get up on Netflix and have such a great response there as well has just been so rewarding, not only for the cast and the crew who all worked incredibly hard to bring this project to life, but also to be able to get the message of the movie out to a real, mass audience. We feel blessed that most people are really enjoying the film. We are all very excited about the Lifetime Movie Network premiere. We would love as many people to see this film as possible and it’s just another great opportunity to get the movie out there.
What were the biggest challenges of making the film, was it juggling the many roles that you had (producer/ screenwriter/ composer/ actor/ second unit director)?
That was certainly a challenge, but more of a reward really. I love every one of those jobs and every aspect of filmmaking is exciting to me. Being our first film, there were many challenges, just as there were many successes. It was my first time wearing some of these hats (it was a lot of our first times) and I think the biggest challenge was learning so much so quickly in the heat of it all. I think we handled it pretty well, everything considered, but I really look forward to using the experience I gained on “Listen to Your Heart” to benefit my next project.
You are currently developing Wishing Well Pictures’ next feature film – care to share any details or is it too early?
I can’t give away too many details just yet, but I can tell you that it’s an inspirational boxing drama about a rising fighter from the South Bronx. It was the first script I wrote.
Anything else you’d like to discuss that I neglected to ask about?
Just that Listen to Your Heart, like any movie, was a huge team effort and we were blessed to have such a hard working and talented team. I look forward to working with them in the future.