LONG LOST SON – MEMOIRS OF A DIRECTOR
URBAN CINEFILE EXCLUSIVE
Expat Australian Director Brian Trenchard-Smith recalls the making of Long Lost
Son on a Caribbean island with a German dictator … er, producer, as his foray
into Douglas Sirk emotional melodrama territory, and including his Oedipal
decision … plus his special relationship with a stray dog.
DATELINE, MARCH 2006, THE GRAND TURK HOTEL, GRAND TURK ISLAND, CARIBBEAN:
“We can’t let them dictate the terms.”
In the bar of the Grand Turk Hotel after a tough shooting day, I was stating my
position about a troublesome location deal with 1st. AD Quentin Whitwell, and
German executive producer Andreas Hess, whose company was funding LONG LOST SON.
“No.” agreed Andreas, “ We dictate the terms…We Germans make the best
CLANG! That was the sound of my jaw hitting the bar.
Then Andreas’ face turned from Buster Keaton stone face to Cheshire Cat grin.
Andreas’ sense of humor was always taking us by surprise. I was tempted,
particularly after another couple of local brews to offer my John Cleese Fawlty
Towers goose stepping and don’t mention the war routine, but somehow I exercised
restraint Rare for me. Andreas is also an accomplished scuba diver, and a well
connected man across European television networks. His wife and business partner
Sylvia was the producer of his films. This was the second film I was making for
them on Grand Turk. They trusted me. (So helpful to a director when you feel
Our first film together THE PARADISE VIRUS, shot in 12 days, had been a big
foreign sales success. Now I was getting a leisurely 14 days to shoot LONG LOST
SON, a script pre-sold to the Lifetime Network in the US by a trio of talented
US producers. These producers and the German producers initially did not see eye
to eye on a lot of matters, and I sometimes found myself playing diplomat
between warring parties during prep and the first week of the shoot.
A Director For All Seasons. I am available for duty in the Middle East if
But once we got going and people liked the dailies, (which because of our
remoteness, we had to view via FTP site each night), things settled down.
Everyone could see they were going to get a saleable film.
I knew Grand Turk Island well - 4 miles long, population 2900 approx - from THE
PARADISE VIRUS, which I had produced and directed three years before. The writer
of LONG LOST SON was Richard Blade, a UK born Los Angeles radio personality, who
wrote himself the part of the island’s annoying hotel manager - as an Australian
(!) no less.
First I worked with him to adapt his script to the locations I knew were
available on the island Next challenge was that the first 20 minutes of the
story take place in Los Angeles , a certain amount of it in heavy rain, but all
14 days would be shot on Grand Turk. Stock footage has been very useful to me in
the past, and this project was no exception. I had an arrangement with the
Paramount Library for a special rate whenever I bought 25 shots or more. So,
coastal aerials/heavy surf/Venice at dusk with storm clouds/aerials of Marina
Del Rey at night (with digital rain added)/the whole shipwreck simulation/ the
search helicopter hovering over water at dusk, fireworks in the sky/ sharks
cruising for prey/diver’s POV of fish and reef/ and more - all that production
value, all the LA shots we could not get on Grand Turk, I had written into the
script, and ordered from the lab at the start of prep. This is the kind of
sleight of hand necessary when working at the $1.3M budget level. For instance
there are 56 stock shots in my TIDES OF WAR ( or USS POSEIDON: PHANTOM BELOW, in
Australian video stores, but the gay version is better drama).
Every director has his own way of working with writers and creative hierarchy. I
start by distributing a page by page analysis of any problems, and adding any
production changes and creative flourishes to the script that occur to me. Get
everyone to sign off and avoid misunderstandings later. Here are a couple of
extracts from my memo on the second draft.
Page 31. Eliminate the Boeing 767.That was my first response. However, there is
a great VFX shot of one in AIR FORCE TWO flying through a stormy night sky - the
first shot of the plane, the one my credit is over. Re-rendering the color of
the plane, changing the clouds slightly, and flopping its screen direction would
make it a new production value shot we own that is 90% built already. A tight
close-up of Karen in an airline seat panning up from her white knuckles to her
face would pay this off and gives us the Act Break.
We cannot do Miami Airport. Let's assume she flew direct to Provo which would be
Port of Entry for whatever country the island of Santa Alicia belongs to. (Still
British West Indies?) We can do an establishing shot of Provo airport. Then
stage the immigration officer scene in an appropriate location on Grand Turk,
not the airport (noise), doubling for a Provo interior. Such an interview would
have to have taken place before Karen would have been allowed to get onto a
puddle jumper for her hop to the Island. Let's try and keep Kristin’s obstacles
as real as possible. I suggest a speech by Kristin, fighting her emotions, which
persuades the officer to bend a little, as he does, but currently it’s his idea,
not hers. Make her active, not reactive, solving her own problems. Stars want
these hero building moments. Let's all think about this and revisit it.
Page 13. I am considering doing a more dynamic TIME TRANSITION to 14 years later
via a lock-off shot. If Kristin has her meltdown of grief in the living room.
Dolly back to isolate her in the fetal position on the sofa. Lock off. Dissolve
to totally new décor and furniture. Three new characters watching television.
Are these the people who bought the house? Then Kristin enters from a doorway
beyond, dolly forward to good presentation angle of her 14 years older. No gray.
As she moves deeper into it, superimpose title: PRESENT DAY.
Want to do a trombone shot for Kristin's reaction to seeing Mike is alive.
Placement of decor and lighting should be designed to enhance distortion effect.
I saw LONG LOST SON as a heart tugging weepie, dedicated to devoted mothers
everywhere, and I went all out for the emotional jugular. But I wanted to keep
the performances as real as possible. I was greatly aided in this by Gabrielle
Anwar, a highly intelligent actress, who loved the script, but advised 2 days
before flying to join us that she hated most of her dialogue and was re-writing
it herself. The two producer groups were divided on this issue. It took some
fancy footwork to lower the emotional temperature and persuade them to give her
a shot. Because she was going to do it anyway. I made sure that none of the lump
in the throat power of Richard’s script was lost in the re-write. Good actors
are good detectives. They analyze the whys and wherefores of every beat in a
scene, looking for inconsistencies. Gabrielle added a lot to her character, and
was thus totally comfortable with it from Day 1, which is what you need on a 14
The on-screen fractious chemistry between her and Craig Sheffer, playing her
estranged husband, was aided by the fact that they had lived together once for
many years and had a 13 year old daughter, whom they brought to the island.
Gabrielle’s then husband and their two children also visited. Chinese film
proverb: may you live in interesting dinner times.
As is the custom in American television, the network casts the leads. I was
allowed an opinion, and requested unknown Chace Crawford for the role of the son
based on his knock out audition via FTP site. Back in LA, the hierarchy chose
another actor, then happily dithered before making the offer. Suddenly their
choice was gone to another offer, I got Chace, and the movie got a future star
of GOSSIP GIRL, which will enhance its shelf life for years. From his first
scene, I could tell this lad has a future. Let’s hope the business doesn’t
destroy him as it has so many talented young people who get fame in their early
20’s. I found Chace to be very level headed so I think he will be OK.
Probably my most controversial decision was to make it evident that the boy
found the woman attractive that he did not yet know was his mother. The way
Gabrielle and Chace handled the chemistry and Oedipal tension of their first
meeting was masterful. The Lifetime network got a 2.5 rating for LONG LOST SON
with no paid advertising It is among the network’s most requested repeats. It’s
not perfect A few things make me wince a little. Critics will probably mock it.
It’s my venture into Douglas Sirk emotional melodrama territory with a Caribbean
flavor on a shoestring budget, but aided by a savvy music score from David
Reynolds, his fourth for me. The music really helps a lot. But I am proud of the
film; it delivers just what a particular audience wants. That’s my job, genre by
I have many happy memories of the shoot, not the least of which was being
adopted by this stray dog, (dog pictured above) who would be sitting at my door
every night I came back to my garden apartment. I would always bring enough
dinner for two. She would sit beside me on the sofa with her chin on my lap
watching CNN, as I did my shot list for the next day. There were wild dogs on
the island, one of which bit my PARADISE VIRUS continuity girl quite badly. But
this dog craved human companionship and affection. She would even go swimming
with me. Perhaps she knew she was dying, because I learned months later she had
a tumour, and had gone to that great kennel in the sky. True story. Sad but
true. We need stories that release our emotions Which is why I wanted to make
LONG LOST SON.
Published February 5, 2009
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Photos: Liane Hentscher
LONG LOST SON – SYNOPSIS
Written by Richard Blade
Directed by Briant Trenchard-Smith
Kristen (Gabrielle Anwar) has reluctantly made peace with the loss of her son
Mark (Chace Crawford) when her estranged husband Quinn (Craig Sheffer) took him
for the weekend and went sailing in a dangerous storm 14 years ago. She has
remarried and moved on. But while watching a vacation video her friends took
while on a remote island, Kristen sees a glimpse of two faces in the background
- faces, she is convinced, are Mike - and her long lost son Mark.
immediately flies to the small Caribbean island. She discovers that Quinn and
Mark have established themselves as "Captain John" and "Matthew" - and they
charter a boat to tourists. Mike has left for a few days, leaving Mark in charge
of the business. She plans to meet the next day. When Mike calls in to Mark that
evening, however, he is tipped off by an innocent clue - and he immediately
orders an unsuspecting Mark to pack up the boat and leave. This time she's not
going to give up.