Former Federal Bar Council President Alan J. Hruska has made the transition from the practice of law to career as writer and director of film. His first film – "Nola" – has reached the final post-production stage and will be ready for distribution soon. Hruska describes the film as a romantic comedy set in New York.
Following graduation from Yale College and Yale Law School, Hruska spent 44 years practicing law at Cravath Swaine & Moore as a litigator. During that time he represented clients in antitrust, First Amendment, white collar, patent, securities and tax matters in what he describes as the "most interesting civil cases in the latter part of the Twentieth Century." Always present in this successful litigator’s mind, however, was the idea of writing. Although he majored in economics at Yale, he took and audited many English and writing courses, and really wanted to be a writer and to make movies. However, realizing that he would one day need to support a family, in his senior year Hruska talked to the dean of the law school and was admitted. Following graduation he went to Cravath, where he remains today as Senior Counsel.
Hruska began his writing career in the mid- l980s when Doubleday published his first novel, "Borrowed Time." He wrote the first three chapters during a long trip back from Philadelphia or, as Hruska says, "the chapters wrote themselves." Following the publication of his novel, Hruska yearned to continue his writing career, but was totally involved in the practice of law.
Now, with the opportunity to retire from the active practice of law, Hruska has turned to making movies. Hruska, an avid movie goer, has wanted to make movies since he was ten. He has participated in every phase of "Nola," beginning with writing the script, and his enthusiasm for the process of creating "Nola" is infectious. The movie is a romantic comedy about a precocious 18 year old girl from Topeka, Kansas, who comes to New York to find her father. The story takes place mainly in New York with brief scenes in Kansas. All the filming was accomplished in New York, and all five boroughs were used. Hruska considers the City of New York a character in the movie. They filmed East Village scenes in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Astoria, and the Bronx Supreme Court substituted for the New York Federal Courthouse. Even the Kansas scenes were filmed in New York-in Staten Island. The production used a location expert who was able to find locations that gives this low budget movie an expensive look.
Hruska began his efforts to transform his screenplay into a film about a year ago by looking for a producer. He found Jill Footlick and Rachel Peters (granddaughter of Irving Berlin) through a Cravath partner who is Jill’s brother-in-law. Jill read Hruska’s screenplay and agreed to work with him. Preproduction activities included scouting locations, interviewing and hiring crew members such as the director of photography, production designer, art director, editor, script supervisor and casting. Next, during the preproduction process the crew scouted locations, blocked scenes and listed all shots of all scenes. As a first time film-maker, Hruska threw himself into all aspects of the process. He soon became aware of the importance of each of the players in transforming his screenplay into a film.
Pre-production occurred in January and February 2002, followed by five weeks of shooting for 12 to 16 hours per day, six weeks of editing and many weeks of post-production. In total the film, about to be completed, has taken ten to eleven months.
Hruska found the casting world particularly fascinating. He saw Emmy Rossum, the young woman who plays the main character in "Nola," in "Songcatcher" and knew immediately she was the woman for the role. He contacted the producers who watched "Songcatcher," and they agreed with him that Emmy was perfect for the role. So they contacted her agent, sent the screenplay and she agreed to accept the part. Other actors in the film include Mary McDonnell, who appeared in "Dances With Wolves"; Steven Bauer, who appeared in "Scarface" and "Traffic"; and James Badge Dale, son of Anita Morris. Hruska and the other production members auditioned 15-18 actors for the part of the young man in the film, and all agreed that Dale was the right one.
Another job that Hruska found fascinating was that of script supervisor. Michael Taylor, the script supervisor, made sure that the shooting was faithful to the script, i.e., the costumes were the same from one shot to the next or the same amount of food was on a plate. Taylor determined whether each shot contained what the script required.
The editors-Peter Frank and his assistant Mark Laub-transformed the daily product of takes into a tape of all shots from the prior day. The production team looked at it the next day to make sure they had gotten all the shots they needed. Frank then put together a composite rough edit. The final edit performed by Frank, Laub and Hruska took six weeks and reduced 2 hours 35 minutes of film into a 93 minute movie.
The post-production manager, composer, sounded editor and looping editor, each performing his or her separate tasks, have worked together to put the film into its final form. The four people in the "loop group" provide background noises, line up the dialogue for extras and otherwise put in missing dialogue. Some of the actors redid lines during the post-production period. Also, the sound mixers integrated 75 separate tracks to provide a sound track containing a balance of sounds, none of which drowns others out. The last step will be to transfer the edited tape into a reel of tape and digital numbers, which will then be converted into a negative and cut into frames. Finally, the negative is sent to the technicolor processor, which will print a positive frame by frame. At that point, the 35 millimeter film will be ready to show to distributors. Hruska has been fascinated by the complexity and organization of the film making process, remarking that each participant has an assigned job and stays within the boundaries of that job.
Hruska has written eight screenplays, and hopes to begin production on the next one in April 2003. His assistant director-Amanda Slater-is working on setting up a tentative shooting schedule, preparing a budget and starting to cast. Hruska’s transition from lawyer to filmmaker appears to be off to a solid start.
Bennette Deacy Kramer is a partner at Schlam Stone & Dolan.
[This article is reprinted with permission from the December 2002 issue of the Federal Bar Council News. Copyright © 2002 Federal Bar Council. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.]