Rachel Winter is an Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker and producer whose feature directorial debut, The Space Between, starring Kelsey Grammer, premiered in select theaters on April 23 and is out now on VOD/EST through Paramount Pictures. Winter also serves as producer on the drama through her Tangerine Pictures. Winter received an Oscar nomination for producing the award-winning drama Dallas Buyers Club and also produced William H. Macy’s directorial debut, Krystal, and the indie drama Stealing Cars. Winter also has several projects in development including an untitled LeBron James biopic for Universal, which she will produce with LeBron James and Maverick Carter, and a feature based on the life of daredevil motorcycle icon Evel Knievel at Paramount. Her previous film credits include the films Brooklyn Rules, Wayward Son, Bury Me in Kern County and The Lather Effect. (Photo by Kurt Iswarienko.)
I keep hearing a lot of good news: “Things are finally coming back!”, “It’s a great time for women!” or “You have a movie coming out from a major studio – you’re in the catbird seat!”
Yeah, well, I just lost out on a directing job I wanted.
It’s not a situation that I’m used to, as I only tried to direct one movie before. I got the job and we made the film.
When I was asked to write a piece for Talkhouse related to my new movie, The Space Between, which I’m so proud of, I had no idea how to approach it. But now, I’m processing this feeling of rejection and have realized that maybe this assignment has come at a perfect time.
As a producer, I had been trying to get Space made for about 15 years. I had first read the script by the late, great Will Aldis in 2002 and flipped for it. I loved that it was set in the ’90s, a critical time in music and technology. I’m endlessly fascinated by how nothing was ever the same after that decade in terms of how we experience music and art because of technology, and how we didn’t even know, at the time, we were saying goodbye to a life without it. I really fell for the main characters who are at cross purposes from the start: Micky Adams, a faded singer-songwriter from the ’60s, and Charlie Porter, a young guy in the mailroom, desperate to move up and change his stars. Charlie gets his shot when he’s tasked with going up to Montecito to drop Micky from his record contract. One problem: Micky is nuts and Charlie doesn’t know shit about music.
Well, I immediately got behind that boulder and starting pushing The Space Between straight up the hill. A few years later, I was joined by my producing partners, Steve Samuels (who had purchased the script years before), Milan Popelka and Michael Roiff. Those were still the days when you did the dance of attaching a director, then got cast members who had some foreign marketability to bring in international financing. Boy, we went through the wringer. We got engaged to A-list actors, who then jilted us at the altar. We went down the road with directors who couldn’t ultimately stand the cycle of work and disappointment. Who could blame them? Director after director, lead actor after lead actor, we’d get close and then have to start all over again.
The thing about failing in the movie business is, it tests your love of your material. I remember a conversation with Will Aldis. I had already produced two of Will’s screenplays by this point, when Will confused the name of one of the lead characters from Space with a different film of his. I corrected him and we both realized that after 15 years working on his stuff, there probably wasn’t anyone who knew these characters and this story better than me.
This became one of my chief talking points when I met with Steve Samuels in the Lobby Lounge of the Mandarin Oriental in New York City in 2015. About a month before that, I’d woken up in the middle of the night and thought, “Oh fuck, I’m supposed to direct the film!” That morning I told my husband, “I have terrible news. I want to direct Space.” I wanted him to tell me it was a bad idea and that I should stay in my lane. Fortunately, though, he gave me the encouragement I was afraid of, completely believing I could do it, and pushed me until I ran the idea by Milan and Michael. They both supported the plan.
Armed with my look-book, I met with Steve, who said, “Yes!” There was a mutual relief that we both felt so confident in the decision. I’d shot the movie in my head about 20 times over the years, so I had a specific idea of how it should look and feel. The hardest part about Will’s unique voice in his writing was always the tone. He was like Brian Wilson on an acid trip, using Aaron Sorkin’s brain to write. The world of the movie was a planet you wanted to live on, even if no one really talked or thought that way. Looking back, I think some of the people we’d tried to get this movie made with over the course of a decade got nervous about the tone, which was tricky, for sure. But I wasn’t scared – probably naively so. I always felt like, “Screw it. Can we please get some entertainment with our entertainment? I need my soul to smile. Doesn’t everyone?” (And that was before November 2016!)
As a producer, I have always found the casting process both thrilling and terrifying. You have to get it right; there really isn’t any room for error. When I first met Kelsey Grammer, I knew instantly he was supposed to play the film’s protagonist, Micky Adams. He was open, emotional and totally game for wherever the ride would take us. He gave his all to the role and to the film. I’m blown away by his talent, how easy he makes it all look. His professionalism is astounding. Jackson White, a brilliant young actor, has a sweet, vulnerable kind of strength, a timeless quality that made him perfect for the role of Charlie. I could tell Julia Goldani Telles was a dancer by the way she carried herself – she almost floated – and her grace and intellect haunted me. The character she plays, Micky’s daughter Julia, was written to be impervious and self-assured, with a touch of her father’s eccentricities, so I knew with her warmth and talent she could deliver a performance with that complicated blend of qualities with heart. Additionally, I still can’t believe we got the kind and hard-working Paris Jackson in her first film role, along with the pitch-perfect, ridiculously talented William Fichtner.
I cried when I found out I’d gotten my three first choices – Kelsey, Jackson and Julia – to play the main roles in the movie. We were finally off to the races.
In the summer of 2018, the cameras started rolling and I was directing my first movie. The film’s wonderful D.P., Matt Irving and I had shot-listed the shit out of the film; without enough time or money, we wanted to be crazy prepared. Matt only ever made me feel heard and that my ideas were possible or even good. We laughed a ton and traded off each other’s energy and excitement.
When we shot our last scene – which is also the last scene of the film – Heather, our kick-ass A.D., called out, “That’s a wrap on The Space Between!” Michael gave me a hug and I cried on his shoulder. We had done it, we’d shot the movie, and it was joyful. In that moment, I was the luckiest woman in the world.
Flash forward to 2021, a time when getting distribution from a major studio is like finding a unicorn with glitter shooting out of its ass flying over Congress passing bipartisan legislation … and Paramount Pictures is releasing The Space Between! Kelsey fucking Grammer, who I watched as Frasier for 20 years, stars in the movie and is beyond transformed and fantastic. Thanks to our miracle-working music supervisor, Tricia Halloran, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer created Micky Adams’ music and filled my heart every time he sent me a new song. I worked with a beautiful group of actors and crew who delivered every single day and my producing partners in crime are still my good friends!
As I reflect back on the experience of getting this movie made, I’m crying again now and still feeling pretty damn lucky. I’d like to think the next time I’m given the honor of directing, I’ll still know the script inside and out, know how to deliver on the tone, and love every minute of the work, both the disappointments and the triumphs. It would be great if it took less than 17 years this time, but the truth is, when you are deeply passionate about the stories you want to tell, even the time you spend in limbo somehow just gets woven into the fabric of the film in a beautiful way.
So OK, I didn’t get this new directing job. I think a big director, whose movies have made money over the years, who has worked hard and helped give a voice to younger members of our community, seems to be the one they want. She’ll do a good job, I have no doubt. I now realize that the film isn’t right for me and I’m not right for the film. I loved what it could be, but didn’t love what it was in the deep way I, as a director, need to in order to give it everything I have. It’s what every film deserves and it’s what The Space Between got.
And you know what? When I found out, I didn’t cry.
Featured image shows Rachel Winter with Kelsey Grammer during the filming of The Space Between.