TCFF Insider Series: BETTA FISH script reading & Interview w/ screenwriter Joshua Barsness

Next Tuesday, TCFF is hosting a screenplay reading BETTA FISH written by Josh Barsness, as part of its Insider Series events. This informal reading serves as a kick-off event for the Minnesota film project of the feature length script, it will be performed by a group of professional actors.

When TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper asked me to interview Joshua, I jumped at the chance! The fact that I just had a reading of my first script back in January, it’s always good to chat with fellow screenwriters and get insights on their own creative journey. 

Synopsis:

Betta Fish is a story that revolves around Danny Bishop, a mischievous, manipulative gambler who is known to be a prodigy con artist. Fresh out of prison and in trouble due to a large debt to Alex, a beautiful, elegant, malicious mob boss queen of the city. Motivated by the pain of her enemies and the destruction of Danny, she swears to kill him and his family if he does not pay his debt, putting Danny on a collision course with old friends and rivals to succeed. This socially progressive story involves a mixture of race and diverse communities, centering on family and the right to equality.

This event will take place:
St. Paul Athletic Club
Butler’s Bar and Cafe (Second Floor)
340 Cedar Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

The event is free and open to the public and will conclude with a short Q&A session with the screenwriter and cast.

How long have you been involved in the film community, specifically as an actor and screenwriter?

It feels like forever, but as an actor five years. As a screenwriter about two years.

How did you come up w/ the idea for the story? Does it have a personal bent on it, what was the inspiration behind it?

I was in between jobs didn’t have much going for me as an actor always was one step away I looked in the mirror and told myself it’s time to do something about it. I sat down at my computer then it hit me like a lightning bolt. The story needed to be socially current but have something to say and give the audience something they haven’t had before. I noticed many issues in contemporary cinema a major one being women do get their fair share. They may get parts but there not good. Writers in Hollywood are incompetent at writing quality parts for women. So due to that I wrote a very exciting and provocative role specifically for a women more importantly a women in charge.

The other inspiration was a lack of character-driven films however it is getting better Moonlight was wonderful. The other driving force was, I’m inspired by other actor, producer, writers like Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, and Denzel Washington. To be in there league would be a great achievement something that always keeps me up at night is pondering whether I will be.

What’s the significance of the name Betta Fish?

The title Betta Fish was inspired by a film called Rumble Fish directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the book by S.E Hinton. The story revolves around two brothers one of which walks in the others shadow. Furthermore, I used this as an inspiration to draw from for the dynamic between Arthur Bishop and his younger brother Danny Bishop who is the black sheep of the family. In addition, Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one in the same fish tank. This is the main draw of the story. The film will circle around Alex and Danny as they collide against each other in the criminal underworld resulting in a power struggle. Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one. They city they occupy and control serves as their fish tank that theme was inspired by a film called Heat directed by Michael Mann. Essentially he used the city as a third character that helped establish the battle ground and frontier for the protagonist and antagonist to duel over.

You said in the video that this is a socially progressive story that involves people of color, etc. What specifically is the message you would like people to get from your film?

Your film is better off drawing power from diversity then not. Whitewashing in Hollywood is an issue that we are tackling head on it’s the only way. The message is simple our film is flipping things on their head to make things right. Our film celebrates social change and diversity not necessarily to be rebellious but because it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing, but I have no fear.

What are your plans in regards to the film, are you planning on having it shot here locally or somewhere else in the US?

I would love to shoot in the Twin Cities that’s the goal! There’s plenty of untapped beautiful locations here that I have in mind. However, it is possible we shoot somewhere else.

Since your film deals with gambling, what are some of films about gambling or game-playing for money that have inspired you?

The Hustler starring Paul Newman no questions asked. One of the characters in the film Danny Bishop is based off of Paul Newman’s character “Fast Eddie Felson” from the film. Both characters share the same theme that their natural raw talent at times is simultaneously their weakness which is something as humans we struggle with but rarely ever identify with. As far as the climax is concerned it’s purely inspired by the film The Cincinnati Kid starring the King Of Cool Steve McQueen. It’s an excellent film that introduces the two opposing forces and builds to a terrific climax for the final card game and is executed perfectly shot by shot.

In one sentence, what would you say to people to convince them to come to the reading as well as support your film?

If you want to be part of a cause that will bring people together then attend our reading and please support our film.

Thanks Joshua for talking to me about the creative journey of Betta Fish


A quick blog update… and my first script reading session

Happy Monday everyone! As you might’ve noticed, I haven’t been blogging much. Well, this weekend I caught a nasty cold… y’know, the constant sneezing, runny nose, etc. Luckily I don’t have a fever or cough but still it sucks and my nose is raw as I forgot to buy Kleenex w/ lotion on them :\

Well, some of you might’ve heard about my screenplay that I finished last July. On the spur of the moment I made this graphic just for the fun of it… little did I know I end up using them for the script reading months later.

heartswant
So, I thought I’d share a bit about the reading. It pretty much came about when I met Joanne (JoJo) Liebeler at one of the TCFF after parties, who happens to be the president of MNWIFT (I mentioned in this TCFF recap) She kindly offered her beautiful home for the reading and almost immediately we started planning for a reading in mid January. Thanks to my dear friend Kirsten Gregerson who helped me with casting, and she also did a splendid job reading a few supporting roles!

I had gone to only one reading before and it was a pretty big one. I’m glad my friends and I decided to do a small reading, there were only about 23 people, including the talents. It’s such a privilege to have Lucinda Winter from MN Film & TV Board, and Andrew Peterson from IFP MN among the audience. I had been fretting about the weather as MN Winter is so unpredictable, but thank the Lord that Sunday ended up being pretty warm and sunny!

scriptreading
Top (from left to right): Shawn, Peter, David, yours truly, Kirsten, Sam, Holly, Noah and the narrator, Remy) – Thanks to my hubby Ivan for taking the photos!

We were so blessed to have been able to cast the seven talents plus one narrator. I’m especially thrilled to have Remy Auberjonois, an accomplished actor/filmmaker who’ve been in major Hollywood films and did theatre on Broadway with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman narrated the reading. I had featured him on my blog when he did the MN indie feature Blood Stripe (in which Kirsten also had a supporting role), one of my top 30 picks 0f 2016. I’ve also just seen him as Col. Brandon in Guthrie Theatre’s Sense & Sensibility last October. Remy added such gravitas to the reading with his commanding voice. The narrator is such a crucial role in the reading, and I couldn’t imagine anyone better to do the job.

The female lead Lily was played by Sam Simmons, a local tv host for EVINE Live whom I met back in April at MSPIFF. She happens to be from the UK who moved to MN a year ago. My story is set in the UK w/ British characters so it’s cool to get an actual native Brit as one of the leads. She’s absolutely brilliant as Lily. Not only does she look like who I pictured Lily to be, she also sounds lovely and conveyed the emotions of the character very well.

The handsome leading man Peter + gorgeous leading lady Sam
The handsome leading man + gorgeous leading lady

Again, thanks to Kirsten we somehow landed a massively talented Twin Cities actor Peter Christian Hansen as the male lead, Jacques. He’s starred in a bazillion plays in town in which he won two Ivey Awards, as well as a few film projects. He did such an amazing job as Jacques… he’s got a bit of a bad boy edge that makes him perfect for the role. Given his extensive theatrical background, he also gave a very expressive performance, complete with gestures, instead of just reading the script! There’s such a scorching chemistry between Sam and Peter too, which is electrifying to watch.

If you’re interested about the actors bio, you can view the flyer here

I absolutely LOVE every single actor who read the script… THANK YOU Peter, Sam, Kirsten, David Coral, Noah Gillett, Shawn Dunbar and my lovely friend Holly Peterson! It’s quite surreal to see my story came to live thanks to their performances. Thanks to Ted and D.J. for taping the reading. I’ve watched it a couple of times already and I’m still amazed at even the subtle performances of the supporting cast… even just saying a simple line of ‘Would you like a playbill?’ gets everyone laughing, well done Holly! 👍

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Now my plan is to make a short film of Hearts Want… hopefully to have it wrapped this year yet. It’d be awesome have the same cast from the reading, so fingers crossed that would happen.

Update:

We did shoot the short film in mid April. Here’s the blog update… and you can always follow the Hearts Want journey on Facebook!

In terms of blogging, well I will try to keep posting about once a week. But you will see more guest reviews for the coming months. Suffice to say, I may not be blogging about Oscar nominations tomorrow… it’s just too much going on for me right now to do so.

Wish me luck with the short film project, we will likely do the crowd-funding route to help with financing, so hopefully I can count on you kind and generous people to help out 🙂


Well that’s the scoop folks. You could say I have my work cut out for me.