THE BLOG
09/04/2014 04:46 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

37: A Final Promise

"37: A Final Promise" is an incredible love story based on actual events that is about euthanasia, ALS and suicide. Joe Leydon of Variety calls this film "an old fashioned tearjerker set to a goth rock-soundtrack."

In a world of endless media and ways in which we can consume it, we must be circumspect when deciding which movies deserve our precious undivided 90 minutes of attention. We tend to give in to the barrage of thrilling images from the latest Hollywood franchise and are sometimes pleasantly surprised. But more often than not, our senses are numbed, and our expectations are raised for even greater spectacle (and numbness) on the next installment. So, how does a small film that deals with unpleasant issues like suicide, ALS and the right to die, stand a chance? After all, we see enough pain and suffering in the news and generally want to escape from such things in our leisure time. It is only by the sheer determination of individuals who are moved by such a story to the degree that they are willing to overcome all obstacles that stand in the way of making such a film and by the bravery of such distributors like Indy powerhouse Gravitas Ventures who believe such stories deserve a place in the market.

"37: A Final Promise" makes us think about many topics that are on people's mind today from the ALS ice bucket challenge to Robin Williams suicide. Says Batinkoff, "the film deals with some heavy issues like suicide and ALS, but it's ultimately an incredible love story. It opens up a conversation about many issues we don't want to talk about but which can no longer be avoided."
Actor Randall Batinkoff (School Ties, As Good as it Gets, Kick Ass) makes his directorial debut in a new film, "37: A Final Promise", which opened in theaters and on VOD everywhere starting August 8th.

The film is a psychological drama/love story based on the novel, How Angel's Die, by British musician, Guy Blews. It chronicles the remaining days of rock star Adam Webb (Batinkoff) as he prepares to kill himself on his 37th birthday. Twelve weeks before his birthday, and release of his final album, he meets and falls in love with Jemma Johnston (Skyline's Scottie Thompson) who has a dark secret of her own. In this partnership, doomed from the outset, they spend their limited time together a la Romeo and Juliet, living fully and loving unconditionally. How Angels Die is inspired by events from Blews' own life. His brother Adam died at the age of twelve from Batten's disease, leaving Blews devastated by the fact that the world just kept moving forward as if nothing had changed. Blews swore to end his own life at 37, before his body could begin its natural decline, a plan reinforced by something his grandmother told him, that "old age has nothing to commend it." Blews tattooed a 37 on his arm to remind him of his expiration date.

Batinkoff enlisted many of his friends and former costars to join the stellar cast, including: Oscar Nominee Bruce Davison, Tricia Helfer (Two and a Half Men, Battlestar Gallactica), Leon Robinson (Cool Runnnings) Scott Wolf (Perception, Night Shift), Kate Nauta (Transporter 2) and Shavo from System of a Down. "That was the most fun part of it, being able to work with my friends." The film and its subject matter are very controversial and beg the question of how far you would go to relieve the suffering of someone you love dearly. Says Batinkoff, "it's an important conversation that we all need to have."

Batinkoff and Blews produced, along with BAFTA winner Leila Djansi. Stephanie Winston Wolkoff of SWW Creative, who was the creative force behind Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Executive Produced. Indy powerhouse Gravitas Ventures, who believe such stories deserve a place in the market, is distributing the film in the United States and Canada.

HOW THIS STORY AND BOOK WERE INSPIRED

Batinkoff met Blews 9 years ago and was always intrigued with the 37 emblazoned on his arm, especially after he learned it was the age at which Blews planned to kill himself. "I tried to talk him out of it and enlisted a lot of my friends to do the same but he just laughed and said that there was nothing anybody could do, he said he was quite happy about his decision." Batinkoff was thrilled to run into Blews several years later. "He said he had too much to live for and that 37 wasn't as bad as he suspected." I asked him if he was still seeing his girlfriend and he told me that she had died. When I asked him what happened he told me she killed herself, and that he had been with her up until the moment she decided to do it. I got the chills and when I heard the details I knew that this was a story that needed to be told."

Blews wrote the novel, and he and Batinkoff collaborated on the screenplay. Many drafts later (and with the addition of writer Jesse Stratton) they were finally ready to pull the trigger.

I believe people need to see such films so they can contemplate things that are really important, like our mortality and how we deal with loved ones when they reach the end of their lives. A movie you think might leave you numb, but actually makes feel alive.

When my brother, Randall Batinkoff, told me he wanted to make this film, I was fully on board. In fact, so were our mother, Barbara Winston, and our oldest brother, Gordon Winston (who are also both Executive Producers). As a family, we have always been very supportive and respectful of one another and have embraced one another's careers. This time we all immediately committed to this film because of the impact this storyline had on us. When we watched Randall put his own life experiences and passion into this film we knew that through his eyes we would see the beauty of unconditional love come through on the big screen.

I INTERVIEWED RANDALL FOR THIS PIECE:

Why this film:

I've been talking about directing something for over 20 years, but could never find the right story to tell. Finally, I ran smack into a story that literally blew me away. I was in a club in LA about 12 years ago and met Guy Blews, the lead singer of this band called Monroe. His upper body was fully tattooed. One tattoo in particular caught my attention, the number 37 on his arm. I asked him what it stood for and he told me it was the age he was going to kill himself. I soon discovered he wasn't kidding. The tattoo was connected to the death of his younger brother when they were kids and Guy not wanting to ever get old and suffer. I tried to talk him out of it to no avail. He was 36 at the time.

Two years later, much to my surprise, I ran into him at Gold's gym in Venice Beach. He was 38 and admitted he chickened out. I asked him about his girlfriend, and he told me she had died. When I asked him how he told me she killed herself, and that he had been with her up until the moment she decided to do it. I got the chills. The details were staggering. It was an epic love story with a tragic ending that I felt strongly needed to be told. Guy wrote the book about his experience called "How Angels Die" and he and I began collaborating on the screenplay.

What was your budget:

We made the movie for $200k in 17 days. We had a very small crew and 1 Red Epic camera. I started out having 23 days but ended up with only 17 days. We had scrap scenes and rewrite on the fly to accommodate. Time was not on our side.


What do you like most about the film:

The story is incredibly compelling and provocative and it plays out like a myth. The very thing that destroyed his life is the only thing that can possibly save him from himself. These two tragic characters find each other and complement each other in a profound way. I love the notion that your greatest weakness can become your salvation and that only by persevering can you make sense out of things which otherwise seem to have no meaning.

What did you find so appealing about the story:

It deals with unconditional love and death. It asks uncomfortable questions and opens up a conversation about things we don't normally want to look at. This is a story about love, death, and feeling horrible for something you've done and looking for redemption. We have all done things in our lives I'm sure we regret- things that play over again in our minds. So now imagine if it was as horrible as feeling that you were responsible for killing your own sibling- you couldn't possibly even imagine that! This movie is really about the journey that he goes on to deal with it. It also makes you ponder how far you would go to relieve the suffering of someone you love dearly.

How long have you been working on it:
We spent a few years working on the script but I never felt it was quite right. My DP introduced me to writer Jesse Stratton, who helped steer the story in a much more poetic and cinematic direction. Once the script was ready we began production at the end of 2012 and now, nearly two years later, the film has been released.

Was it hard finding distribution:
According to distributors, there are no "big" stars in the film and the subject matter and genre is not an easy sell. One mini-major studio loved the film and the way we dealt with this controversial issue. They seriously considered releasing it for a while, but ultimately passed since the smallest film they release is $10 million. Our $200k love story didn't stand much of a chance. Luckily, my dear friend, producer Elliott Lewitt liked the film and introduced me the people at Gravitas, who released his film 123...Frankie Go Boom. They loved "37" and wanted to distribute it. It's a great company that really champions Indy films and filmmakers.

Where can we see the film:

"37: A Final Promise" is available on ITunes, Amazon and on every VOD platform.

What have you learned:

Making a film from conception to distribution is an amazing learning experience. I had no idea how much work goes into making a film. Every nuance, every sound, every second needs to be carefully considered. It's like running a marathon and you never feel that the end is in sight. I learned that you better like your story because you are going to end up watching it about 2000 times. Luckily, I never got sick of it. I made a lot of mistakes and learned tons. I can't wait to try it again with more time and more money.

Which do you prefer acting or directing:

They are both pretty awesome. I love acting because that is what I've devoted the last 35 years of my life to. I love the challenge of using my imagination to bring worlds and characters to life. I still am very invigorated by it. Once I have learned the role and acted the part I am done and able to move on to the next project. Whereas, after directing and producing it takes years until it's done.

Directing is amazing because you get to act through all of the characters in the story. I love using all the elements that help complete the story like camera angles, lighting and art direction. Ultimately you have more control over the entire storytelling process, which is pretty incredible. When you add music and sound design it's amazing to watch it all come to life. This experience gave me a whole new appreciation of film.


What was it like wearing so many hats:

Doing quadruple duty, even though I did have a lot of help from very talented people, was incredibly stressful. Not sure I'd do that again. I lost 15 pounds. It was the most challenging role I ever played, I had never directed before, I was dealing with lots of production problems losing a lots of days. We sometimes shot 10 pages in a day. Scenes were lost. Days were dropped. It was anything but smooth sailing. But I was determined to get it done. I channeled all of the difficulties on the set into my performance of the rocker who wants to die, so it all worked out.

Any advice to young filmmakers:

It's tough getting a movie made, especially when you are dealing with subject matters like suicide and Euthanasia. Most companies will run for the hills. But when you feel strongly about a story you just figure out a way to do it. If it moves you it will probably move others. Today you can make a movie for little money and there are platforms to help you raise that money. My advice is to find people who believe in your story and make a move. There are great little companies like Gravitas who will champion your work and get it out there so audiences craving a reprieve from another mega blockbuster can find it. In a world of endless choice, a niche passion project, hopefully yours, can be a breathe of fresh air.