WHQR and Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts routinely add a touch of culture to the port city through their Cinematique film series. This week they bring “A Short History of Decay” back to Wilmington, after its debut last November. Thanks to the Cucalorus Film Festival, the production actually gained its footing locally.
Writer, director and filmmaker Michael Maren began his career as a journalist. Even as a child he harbored a desire to be in the film industry. Having a knack for envisioning stories on the screen, he recalls being in Uganda in the ‘80s. Stationed in a bush, he read “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” He could keenly picture ways to transform the book into a movie.
“It was that notion of seeing the film within things,” he says.
Toward the end of Maren’s journalism career, he began getting into television production in the late ‘90s. His ventures spanned from “60 Minutes” to “Nightline”; he also shot some freelance videos. As he embarked on crossing over his talents, he found how reporting and screenwriting have staggering similarities.
“It’s really a question of organizing material that doesn’t have any structure and giving it structure,” Maren describes.
A large catalyst for his career transitions came when he got married and had a child. It was right around the time he turned 40. “Getting shot at [didn’t] seem so sexy anymore,” Maren quips about the fast-paced war-correspondent life.
The momentum behind his trajectory change came when HBO optioned a book he wrote in Samalia called “The Road to Hell.” HBO expressed interest in buying the rights, but he had already sold the script to an agent. However, he proposed another idea to them. They offered to purchase the rights and bring in a writer, but Maren insisted he maintain control over the script.
From there Maren began writing whatever he could sell. Though his creations proved lucrative, he still longed for the opportunity to retain complete control—producer, writer, director. From there, “A Short History of Decay” was born. “I spent a number of years selling screenplays that came to me based on things on the outside,” Maren details.
With his newest idea he turned inward. His mother, a strong-minded business woman, had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He observed his father’s dedication to her. Taking inspiration from their story, he developed characters that had a lot of heart. With a tight budget, generating parts that actors could sink their teeth into seemed essential. “A Short History of Decay” tells the story of Nathan Fisher (Bryan Greenberg) who is a struggling Brooklyn writer. He visits his family in Florida, after his mother (Linda Lavin) has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. And his father (Harris Yulin) just had a stroke. Delving into intricate relationships and tough subject matter, the film still manages comedy.
North Carolina’s film incentives and homegrown production crews brought Maren’s production to Wilmington. As well, it was just by chance that Lavin, whose work on Broadway he had admired, had lived here, too. The warmth from Wilmington toward its burgeoning film industry definitely charmed Maren.
“It’s amazing the way that Wilmington comes out and supports the movies that are filmed there,” he states.
Maren recalls arriving at Thalian Hall and seeing a line outside the door during Cucalorus. He pondered what they could possibly be seeing before realizing they were there for his film. “A Short History of Decay” bears the ability to speak to people with declining relatives in a relatable, heartfelt and comedic manner. Tonight marks the last night folks can see it as part of Cinematique.
A Short History of Decay
310 Chesnut St.
Wednesday, May 21st, 7 p.m.