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Susan Seidelman, best known for her film Desperately Seeking Susan, explores the singles scene – among ageing baby boomers. The idea for the film came from real life, via her mother Florence, who soon was made Producer of the film, Susan explains to Andrew L. Urban.

Susan Seidelman’s mother Florence has often come up with ideas for a movie for her filmmaker daughter to make, but Susan (now in her early 50s) never got enthused by any of them. Until Florence told her stories about the single-again ageing baby boomers at Boynton Beach, who were once again looking for a relationship after the death of a life long partner, or divorce. “When my mother’s best friend died, her husband, Dave, was devastated,” says Susan from her summer house in West New Jersey outside New York.

"These are characters we never see in Hollywood movies"

But in the retirement community at Boynton beach in Florida, Dave found a group of people who were in the same boat. “The stories my mother heard were either amusing or sad, but they all seemed good stories,” she says. Susan was editing her previous film at the time, so she told her mother to buy a script writing program and write a screenplay. Much to Susan’s surprise, Florence soon delivered a 100 page script, which was “a mess… she had never done anything like this before so she didn’t know how to structure a screenplay, but I saw, too, that there was a movie in there. These are characters we never see in Hollywood movies …”

Indeed, Hollywood producers all turned it down, even after Susan and co-writer Shelly Gitlow had rewritten it from start to finish. “They all said it was good material and interesting but people over 55 don’t go to the movies … but I was still convinced it would find an audience. I was sure, too, that we could get some of those wonderful actors who are no longer getting any substantial parts, yet who have plenty more to give.”

With the help of a financial expert, Deborah Van Eck, Susan formed a limited partnership and sold shares in the movie. The budget was kept to a remarkable US$3 million, and mum Florence became producer Florence, using her Boynton Beach network of friends to arrange cheap locations, extras and props.

Oscar winner (for MASH) Sally Kellerman was signed first. “I always thought of Sally for the role of Sandy,” says Susan. “She has that strength and sensitivity…” For Lois, Susan wanted someone who was sexy and funny; Dyan Cannon loved the script. And Brenda Vaccaro, with whom Susan had made the film Cookie, in 1989, was keen to play Marilyn, the latest wife to be made a widow. “We cast the women first, then the men…we were very lucky all the men wanted to do the film, and they’re all terrific actors.”

At Boynton Beach, Susan shot the film in 35 days and saved money at every opportunity, including staying at her mother’s house. “That was weird…one minute she was Florence the producer discussing business, the next minute she was mum and we’d be having arguments like ‘Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink!”

But when the film was finished, “my mother was absolutely thrilled to see the film, her idea, up on the screen. When the film first opened, you could see it was attracting people around 60, but a few weeks later, you saw the audience get younger … the 40 year olds were coming to see what their parents’ generation were experiencing.”

"the first kiss, the first sexual encounter"

The film deals largely with the positive aspects of daily life for the retired age group. “We made a conscious decision not to deal with health care issues, with loss of memory stuff…all those predictable issues. We wanted to focus on the way these characters negotiate the same things in later life that they did as teenagers: the first kiss, the first sexual encounter, looking for companionship, and so on.”

There aren’t many mainstream films dealing with stories of romance among single retirees – and Susan was anxious to stay true to life. “I spent a lot of time talking to people in Boynton Beach and learning about them and their experiences. Then we made composite characters and used many of the real stories.”

Published August 23, 2007

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Susan Seidelman

Directed by Susan Seidelman
Australian release: August 23, 2007
Marilyn (Brenda Vaccaro)'s world comes tumbling down when her beloved husband is killed in a car accident. Angry and alone, she goes to the local bereavement club in Boynton Beach, Florida, where the locals offer each other emotional support after having lost a loved one. She makes friends with Lois (Dyan Cannon), a caring but flirtatious neighbour, who has just begun a relationship with Donald (Michael Nouri). Jack (Len Cariou), who recently lost his wife, reluctantly responds to Sandy (Sally Kellerman), but finds the pressures of dating so soon after his wife's death rather overwhelming. Meanwhile, Harry (Joseph Bologna), starts online chatting in search for female company with unexpected results. And all of them are trying to put their best front forward, even if it isn’t always the real one.

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