Sam Bisbee credits Sarasota investors for ‘Other People’ success

The audience for Other People gushed at a screening of the film on Opening Night of the Sarasota Film Festival, just as industry leaders celebrated the film when it opened the Sundance Film Festival in January. But Producer Sam Bisbee said the film a couple years ago seemed doomed to never be made. “It seemed like everyday, there was some crisis,” he said. But Sarasota investors in the film helped carry the project through the hard times, so it was exciting to bring the film back to Southwest Florida.

“This is very much a Sarasota product,” Bisbee told SRQ. “Two people from Sarasota helped us put this project out together. Every film requires someone to take a risk, to think it’s beautiful and love it.” And after the screening finished, Bisbee sat with those investors, Skip Sack and Franklin Carson, to celebrate the film’s ultimate success.

The movie, written and directed by Saturday Night Live writer Chris Kelly, tells the story of David, played by Jesse Plemons (Friday Night Lights), a comedy writer who returns home from New York to help care for his ailing mother, played by Molly Shannon (Saturday Night Live, Superstar), during the last year of her life. The film, based on Kelly’s own life, flips between moments somber and hilarious, sometimes instantaneously, covering David’s life as he deals with a breakup with a long-time boyfriend, a homophobic father and impending-yet-extended decline in his mother’s health.

In the works for years, the film was being already produced by husband-and-wife team Adam and Naomi Scott (The Overnight). Bisbee came on later to help develop the film. A talented cast, which also includes Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), boasts plenty of comedic and dramatic chops; that includes Scott, a popular actor himself in comedies like Parks and Recreation. And while this was the first film made by Kelly, Bisbee always had confidence in the filmmaker because of the closeness to the script.

“When a director is telling his own story, you know he will be able to communicate that to the actors,” Bisbee said. “There was a lot of emotion on set everywhere.”

But getting the film to that stage was sometimes difficult. At one point, Sissy Spacek was attached, ready to play the role of the mother, but scheduling conflicts made that impossible. Connections through Saturday Night Live ultimately bright Shannon to the project. But having the finance to endure the production process required outside investment.

Carson, who has known Bisbee for years, knew from the moment he ready the script that this project was worth the investment and the wait. “I just fell in love with it,” he said. “It was an incredible story and had an incredible cast.” Even during the period when the movie seemed lost in development, Carson felt a business intuition that this story would have an audience, and knew it had the emotional pull to hold viewers.

Sack’s investment was largely thanks to trust in Bisbee, whom he met at a President’s Dinner at the Sarasota Film Festival five years ago. Since that time, he has made four films with Bisbee. “Sam has a business model that takes the risk out,” he said. Bisbee, for what it’s worth, wishes that were completely true, but said having the trust of investors makes filmmaking easier.

Before the screening in Sarasota, a video message from Kelly projected on the big screen. The director apologized for being unable to attend the film; he has to be in New York tonight for an episode of SNL. “Thanks for letting us be a part of your festival,” he told the audience. “This film means a lot to me.”

In Sarasota, the film has been especially celebrated. Sack was awarded a Hometown Hero award by the Sarasota Film Festival during the Opening Night festivities for his investment in Other People. And this film already has found success. After a warm reception at Sundance, Netflix acquired Other People for distribution.

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