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Perfectly Prudence

COM’s Paul Schneider on filming with Jane Seymour

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Paul Schneider, an associate professor and chair of the College of Communication’s film and television department (foreground), on the set of Perfectly Prudence. James Keach (below), Seymour’s real-life husband, plays the head of the TV network that carries her show. Photos by Dan Irving

It might be expected that after directing more than 40 films for television over a nearly 30-year career, there wouldn’t be much new to learn. Not so, says Paul Schneider, who was surprised by how much he learned filming his latest venture, Perfectly Prudence, starring actress Jane Seymour of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman fame.

“I picked up a lot of things on this particular movie, such as financing and producing on a low budget,” says Schneider, an associate professor and chair of the College of Communication’s film and television department. “And I learned insights about how to work with actors, scripts, locations, and how to tell a story successfully.”

Schneider first worked with the Emmy-winning Seymour two years ago on another television film, Dear Prudence, a prequel to their latest collaboration.

In Perfectly Prudence, which airs on the Hallmark Channel in January, Seymour reprises her role as Prudence MacIntyre, a successful, Martha Stewart–like media personality with a popular TV show. The new film is a romantic comedy, in which Seymour’s character is pressured to make her show “sexier” after her network dispatches new producers to revamp her image. Prudence fights back to keep her show intact, but complications ensue when one of the producers turns out to be an old flame and the other a seedy womanizer who tries to seduce Prudence’s daughter (played by Seymour’s real-life daughter, actress Katie Flynn). Making the film turned out to be a family affair for Seymour. Her husband, actor and director James Keach (right), also appears.

The film, which was shot in September, debuts on the Hallmark Channel January 8. BU Today spoke with Schneider, who has directed episodes of Baywatch and Beverly Hills 90210 as well as numerous television films, about his latest project and how he balances directing and teaching.

BU Today: Do you have a certain directing style?
Schneider:
That’s a tough question. The style really has to deal with the content, and this particular movie feels like a Restoration comedy, in that there’s a lot of dialogue, quip, and banter. So the pace has to be quick, meaning you can’t sit on anything. If you were doing a suspenseful thriller, you might be doing longer shots, creating tension by not revealing everything in the shot, such as a mood or an atmosphere. Your shooting style can vary a lot according to the project.

What did you try to do that was different in terms of style and look from the first Prudence film?
The big difference is that this is a romantic comedy, while the other film was a mystery, so it had more of a visual storytelling element to it. What we tried to do was have the piece float along, almost more of a dessert than the main meal.

What’s the challenge of filming a sequel?
The tough part about doing a sequel is that you don’t want to feel like you’re repeating yourself. You want it to be fresh. Because Perfectly Prudence is a different kind of script than Dear Prudence, it wasn’t too difficult. We gave it fresh characters, like her daughter. I think the tone and the style of the piece is so different, so it wasn’t too hard.

How long did it take to film?
This was the shortest schedule I’ve ever had while working on a film—13 days. The script moved very fast. The script was actually quite long because the pace was so swift.

Where did you shoot?
We shot in Grand Rapids, Mich. It is crawling with film companies because of the large rebate they offer, which equaled almost 40 percent of our budget. On a modest budget movie like ours, it’s a big deal. You have to bring in people and train the locals to work on the movie, especially with a modest budget film. If you have a big budget you can bring people in. People there were willing to learn, but those in key positions, such as the director of photography, were very expert. People were very nice and very cooperative.

Did you expect to make a sequel when you shot the first film in 2008?
You never know. There was a strong hint. Because the network wanted to work with Jane, we were told that if things went well, there would be a sequel.

What was the budget on this film?
Approximately $1.5 million. For a normal feature, the mid-range budget is $15 million. There are plenty of independent features that can get made for $1.5 million, but it’s difficult to do a TV movie for that amount because you can’t defer salaries. On indie films, people are sometimes asked to forgo their salary and get paid later, when the movie makes money. You can’t do that on a TV movie because it will be broadcast, so the network can’t defer the payment.

How did you manage on such a tight budget?
One of the most important things when you’re producing and directing on a low budget is not biting off more than you can chew. The results will be half-baked. It’s much better to scale what you’re doing to the money that you have, to do a smaller, more efficient story really well than try to climb Mount Everest and not have enough oxygen. That means reading a script and really understanding its challenges. Your time is very limited, so you have to learn how to use it efficiently—working things out really carefully, anticipating difficulties, not leaving problems to be solved when you get on the set.

What was it like working with Jane Seymour?
She’s extremely conscientious, very practical, and very even-tempered. She knows what she knows, so no one will tell her what to do, but she’s very open to suggestions and thoughts. She’s good to have around because she’s one of the people who understands the situation we faced, which was we didn’t have a lot of money or a lot of time. She’s a real team player and has a sense of humor and is fun to work with.

How does it benefit your students that you work in the field you teach about?
I think it’s a huge thing to have some professors in the film and TV department involved in the industry. I think the students appreciate being taught by people who have actual experience and insights about things you can’t learn in books. I learn more every time I do one of these films, such as how to work with actors, scripts, locations and how to tell story successfully.

There are some things we are learning as we go along, with the digital revolution. We thought millimeter film would dominate for longer than it did. Movie directors are now making the decision to go HD digital. When you’re a director and a storyteller, you work the same way—there’s not a different way to work with an actor just because you’re using a different camera.

I picked up a lot of things about a particular movie, such as producing on a low budget and financing. I’ve directed many films, and you discover all kinds of things to help the students with. I think it’s very valuable.

Perfectly Prudence airs on the Hallmark Channel on Saturday, January 8, at 9 p.m.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Perfectly Prudence

  • Anonymous on 12.17.2010 at 10:15 am

    A poetic description

    “almost more of a dessert than the main meal.” – That’s a great line for describing a fluff piece – “dessert” minimizes without demeaning. Good quote, Amy.

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