Written by Simplyscripts’ very own Mark Lyons, the short film The Ephesian recently made its theatrical debut at the Maryland International Film Festival. Greeted to an enthusiastic reception by the audience, the film nonetheless deals with a rather serious topic: the death penalty: When a long-grieving father lobbies to visit a killer on death row, he walks into the chance of a lifetime to come face-to-face with the man who murdered his infant son. (Script available to read here.)
In this interview, STS’s Sean Chipman sat down with Mark Lyons and Producer Koran Dunbar to discuss the making and distribution of the film…
Sean Chipman: Well, thank you both for joining me this morning.
Koran Dunbar: Thank you.
Mark Lyons: Thanks for thinking of us.
SC: Let’s talk about the big story of the day: “The Ephesian”. Were you guys surprised by how well the film was received?
KD: The film was received very well. We were up against VERY talented filmmakers.
ML: I knew the talent behind [production company] Rags to Riches, so I knew it was going to be a very high quality film off the bat. But there was nothing like walking out of the theater and everybody saying how well they liked the film and how much it made them think.
KD: That was the key… Made them think… These days too many filmmakers are trying to change the world. That’s next to impossible. You need to allow your audience [to] think… And it was a very thought-provoking screenplay.
SC: What was it, Mark, that compelled you to write that script?
ML: Two different situations that happened to me in real life. One was a couple years ago, when my son was one, and I took him for a walk to get a gallon of milk. On the way back, we got to the corner of our street and there were gunshots a couple blocks down. They didn’t stop and were heading our way. I shoved him behind a bush and stood in the way and hoped for the best. Luckily, they had turned up the street before ours and it stopped a little after that. Then, not too long after that, I was held up, this time way down at the other side of the street. He was arrested and I had to go to his trial months and months later. At the trial, I could truly tell that he was sorry for what he had done and after thinking about it, I really had forgiven him. I truly think he’s going to be a good guy. That got me kind of putting the two scenarios together and if a terrible thing had happened to my son, would I be able to forgive the person if they were truly sorry.
SC: Which begs the question, “Would you?”
ML: That’s so hard to answer. I’d probably say no. It’d be too hard. But, of course, our system takes years and years to put people to death, and I don’t know if I could hold that much hate in me for that long of a time. I’d have to let it go at some point to move on.
SC: Now, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Koran, why “The Ephesian”? What was it about this script that you knew you had to make it and did you know from the moment you opened the script?
KD: I really like scripts about humanity… Since Greencastle, I get “Freshman Scripts”. Scripts that are so contrived and dark just for the sake of being dark. This was different. I have to like the actors… They need to be believable. In this case all of them were. Michael’s character grabbed me so much I wanted to portray [him]. However, there was a better person for that role… Then, I saw another actor that blew us all away… I’m about a good project not putting myself where I WANT to be… I sat back and wore the producer’s hat…
ML: That’s what really made me stand back and go, “Wow. Koran was definitely the right person for this film”. It’s not too often you’ll see somebody step back out of a role and do what’s good for the story. It really showed Koran’s passion for the vision he saw in his mind.
SC: And it seems like it was the right decision as well.
ML: Lol. Of course, we’ll never see Koran in the role. I heard he has some chops.
SC: Well, I’ve seen him in action, so I can definitely vouch for that.
KD: I am all about working with people that are NOT divas… And, honestly, 50% of things don’t get created due to ego… When I talked to Mark, I felt he was sincere and wanted things to happen…
SC: That’s the first step in getting a film to screen. So, what were your favorite and least favorite parts of filming?
KD: My favorite parts of filming is the cast and crew. They become family for life regardless if you fight or not. The worst part is the sacrifice and time from family and friends. And, of course, budget and red tape from locations… There is so much I would like to do if it wasn’t for budget…
SC: Did you have any specific negative and positive experiences with this shoot?
KD: Honestly, no. Wait, there was a drunk extra that came to the set. Other than that, nothing.
SC: Ah, those random drunk extras. Seems like there’s one in every shoot.
ML: [Laughs] Dave [Vanderveer] was telling me about that! I heard she ended up getting a copy of Greencastle [A 2012 film written, directed by and starring Koran Dunbar], though!
KD: Yes. [Laughs] How do you know?
ML: Dave was telling me and Tanya Chattman about it at dinner at the after party. I wanted to be there so bad for the filming. I tried like crazy to get there. Which is another rarity to see from a production company. Unless it’s filmed local, I doubt any independent film company invites and offers to pay the writer to come to the filming. It’s just a testament that Koran likes to build close-knit families with the people he works with.
SC: That does make me curious, Mark, about the level of involvement you had with the production.
ML: As most writers know, it usually goes that you get an E-mail asking for permission to film your script, then you don’t hear from them again. If you’re lucky, you might get an E-mail in a couple of months saying it’s filmed and to check it out on YouTube. Or, if you’re really lucky, an E-mail that it’s been filmed and won an award at [a] festival. But Koran and David kept me up to date and talked to me and asked my opinions about things throughout the whole process. Early on, they even asked me to do a read-through with the director. That’s another rarity that I think writers don’t get the privilege of. At least not that I’ve seen or heard of. The best part is, all the changes and directions they wanted to go, like adding more lines for Michael’s wife, played by Tanya Chattman, those were things I had already thought of when I wanted to turn “The Ephesian” into a feature. It’s rare to be on that same thought-level as someone.
SC: When everyone’s on the same wave length, good things are going to happen.
SC: Now, Mark, we spoke briefly about how Koran had initially been interested in the part of Michael. I’m curious how the look of the actors compared to how you visualized them when you were writing the script.
ML: That’s one thing I try not to do while I’m writing a character, is pigeon-hole them. It seems natural I know for a lot of writers, especially new writers to read their character’s dialogue in Kevin Spacey’s voice. (I still do it, though only under certain circumstances.) With “The Ephesian”, and you can probably see from his description in the screenplay, I left a very open interpretation to the casting. I’m a very firm believer in let the actors do their magic and let the dialogue only serve as a blueprint. That being said, I can’t see anybody but Joseph Mills III in that role, now.
SC: It’s amazing the effect it has when you see someone perform a role really well. The actor becomes that role.
ML: That, and he’s got a tremendously strong voice, which is what I’m sure Koran saw in him.
SC: Are there any more scripts in your immediate future, feature or otherwise?
ML: Oh, yeah. Right now there’s not a lot of time to write them between working two jobs and spending as much time with my kids as I can, but I’m constantly thinking about new stories, or how to make old ones better. Thanks to the two jobs, I have a little more money I can sink into the script contests and film festival contests this year. I have one I’m working on now I’m really excited about entering into Shriekfest this year, and I’m getting a feature together for Bluecat in the fall.
SC: What about the big job? Can we expect you to hop in the director’s chair at some point or are you content to stay behind the scenes?
ML: I’d of course need a lot more experience on set before I’d even consider hopping into the big chair! But, ultimately, it is a goal of mine, because a lot of stories that I have, I’m pretty sure I’ll be the only one who’ll make them without any fear. Unfortunately, Youngstown doesn’t have much going on for it, so it may be a while and I’ll probably have to do a lot of traveling to get the experience I need to make the kind of film I want to make with the quality that I want. I’d feel comfortable with gearing the story and the actors, I believe, but I’d need one hell of a cinematographer to make me look good.
I think we’ll chalk that up to a “Yes, if…”.
SC: A big congratulations to you both on getting “The Ephesian” filmed. Thank you for your time and the best of luck in the future.
ML: Thank you very much. I appreciate it!
KD: Thanks, a lot.
Mark Lyons is a screenwriter from Youngstown, Ohio. He’s written several scripts, most notably ‘Best Film’ award winner “God’s Empty Acre”, which was filmed as ‘Girl(s)’, at the 2013 Winter Shorts Film Festival and Best Drama at the 2013 World Independent Film Expo. He has also written the feature “Thistles” which was a Quarter-Finalist in the 2013 Bluecat Screenwriting Competition and the short “Ginger” which was a Finalist at the 2013 Shriekfest Film Festival. He can be reached at markielyons “AT” yahoo
Koran Dunbar is a Jack-of-all-trades, working as a director, producer, screenwriter and actor from Greencastle, Pennsylvania. His directorial feature film debut, “Greencastle” won ‘Best Feature Film’ at the 2012 Indie Gathering Film Festival as well as nabbing him a ‘Best Actor’ award at the World Music and Independent Film Festival.
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