Actress Joey Lauren Adams debuts as a director
"Come Early Morning," marks a new frontier for its writer and director, Joey Lauren Adams. The film is her directorial debut, but she does have some significant big-screen experience.
Before this year’s Sundance Film Festival, most people knew about Adams for her work as an actress. With major roles in films like "Dazed and Confused," "Mall Rats," "Big Daddy," and perhaps most importantly "Chasing Amy," she spent years in front of the camera, but several years ago, she said she started looking for something to fill the time between acting jobs.
"I was getting a little frustrated with my downtime," she said.
When she wasn’t reading scripts or working on a film, she noted, she simply felt unfulfilled.
"I just started writing between jobs," she added.
The result was the script for "Come Early Morning," which will screen in the American Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival. A tale of a woman in a small-town in the rural South, the film follows Lucy, played by Ashley Judd, through her life there and her path to self-discovery.
The script took about a year to complete.
"Writing it, I’d go off and film a film and go back and write," said Adams.
The process was difficult, she said.
"It’s definitely hard work, but the story’s very simple and very subtle," Adams noted.
Emotionally, she said, the story was inspired by her time growing up in North Little Rock, Ark. At the same time, she said the narrative was a story she created.
"Originally, I wanted to act in it," she said, "I didn’t even think about directing it."
But, she said, she wanted to maintain control over the piece, so, at the urging of her friends, she decided to try her hand behind the cameras.
The project went though a series of false starts over the next few years, according to Adams, gaining funding and then losing it, but eventually one of the deals came through and the project started with Judd, Adams’ first choice for the role, in the lead, accompanied by actors Jeffrey Donovan, Laura Prepon, Tim Blake Nelson and Diane Ladd.
"I don’t think I believed that it was happening until the first day on the set," said Adams.
After so many tries, and so many of her hopes raised and then dashed, she said she never expected the money to come through.
"I kept expecting it to fall apart at any moment," said Adams.
The project shot for five weeks in Arkansas. According to Adams, she organized the crew to help her where she needed it most.
"I had been on a lot of sets," she said, "I knew what my strengths were and what my weaknesses were."
So, she hired the best cinematographer she could find, Tim Orr, to make up for her lack of knowledge there, and operated similarly in other areas of the film.
"The movie is so much, to me, better than the script," Adams said, "because the cinematography and the costuming and everything all came together and elevated the script."
The final step in the process, she said, came when she first showed the film to an audience.
"The first time that we screened it was for some friends of mine," she said. "And a few people were crying and a few people had smiles on their faces, and I knew it worked then."
Afterward, she said she cried on and off for two days. Over the course of selling the idea, making the film and learning the editing process, she said she could never show any emotion, and then it all came out.
Speaking before the film’s premier on Friday, Adams said that while she wanted to sell the film and find funding for another project, her ultimate aim was simple.
"My intention," she said, "is to show the movie, and whatever happens, happens."
She added, she didn’t want to return to acting exclusively; when asked if she saw herself as a director now, her reply was direct.
"Absolutely," she said. "I want to do it again, definitely, but more importantly, that’s how I see myself."
And with "Come Early Morning," she said she was happy with her work.
"It’s the movie," she said, "that I wanted to make."
"Come Early Morning" will screen on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 8:30 a.m. in the Library Center Theatre in Park City, and on Friday, Jan. 27 at 11:30 a.m. at the Racquet Club in Park City. For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org.
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