Greetings! I’m pleased to introduce you to one of the most versatile writer-producer-directors in the entertainment industry, Charles Murray. Charles has spent the past decade racking up writer-producer credits on a variety of TV shows, including Castle, Third Watch, V, Sons of Anarchy, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. How’s that for an eclectic oeuvre? Recently, he accomplished a lifelong dream. He directed his first feature film, Things Never Said, which was acquired by Lionsgate via Codeblack Entertainment.
Things Never Said is an evocative film about an aspiring poet in a troubled marriage. The film stars Shanola Hampton (Shameless), Omari Hardwick (Sparkle, Dark Blue), and two-time Obie winner Charlayne Woodward (Unbreakable, Law & Order: SVU). Industry veteran Michael Beach (Third Watch, Sons of Anarchy, Scrapper) and Elimu Nelson (House of Lies, ‘Til Death) bolster the film with solid supporting roles.
Hampton plays Kalindra Stepney, a woman caught up in the cycle of domestic abuse. After she unleashes her voice in the local spoken word culture, she breaks free from her destructive relationship and forges a new one. As she finds her voice, she is reborn.
A film like Things Never Said demands a writer who can deliver the signature, power-packed emotional poetry and a director who can achieve tour de force spoken word performances. In the case of Things Never Said, first-time writer-director Charles Murray gracefully creates a captivating film where the “special effects” are the wonderful poems that give us access to Kalindra Stepney’s pain.
“To me, writing and directing are twins. Twins miss each other when they are away for too long,” Charles told me in a recent interview. For too long, the script for Things Never Said languished in the proverbial desk drawer.
“I wrote the script in 2002,” Charles said. “I took it to my manager and said, ‘I want this to be my directing debut.’ It’s a fairly dark script. The thing that spurred me to write it was my mom. I’d seen her go through some difficult times with my old man. I also saw a woman whose life wasn’t as fulfilling as she wanted it to be.”
Charles said he wanted to raise $500K to shoot the film, but his reps wanted to secure more, get a bankable actress attached, do the Hollywood thing. “It’s kind of the thing that slows down a lot of filmmakers because we’re right here in the industry where millions are being spent, so it makes people think millions need to be spent.”
While his reps were first shopping the script, Charles said he kept hearing a familiar refrain. “I was constantly hearing black dramas don’t make money.” This is a common lament in Hollywood. Filmmakers are pushed to make films within the system, but the system will only make a limited number and type of films.
“Through it all I thought, if I keep the budget simple, I have a better chance of getting it made.” Charles’ logic proved sound. Although the script was shopped and well-received, he still didn’t get the money to make the Hollywood version of the movie, so he went back to his original budget of $500K. And that’s when things started happening.
“I started asking people I knew in the business, if I did a film, would they invest in it?” Charles said. “There were quite a few who couldn’t give much, but they gave what they could. That got me part of the way there. Then I talked to an old great childhood friend. I told him what I was doing. He said it sounded interesting. I talked him through it. He had no understanding of filmmaking, but what sold him was the fact I was still doing at 40-something what I used to do at age eight. I was writing scripts. Because of that he jumped in with both feet.”
So a lifelong dream was made possible by a lifelong friend. Wouldn’t that be wonderful to make someone’s dream come true? I saw firsthand it was wonderful for Charles to finally direct his first film.
I’ve known Charles since we were both on the staff of the Fox show Killer Instinct. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Charles’ career evolve. I’ve seen its highs and lows. His friends often call Charles (affectionately, mind you) “grumpy old man.” Charles has a reputation for being a glass half-empty kind of guy. Honestly, it’s part of his undeniable charm. However, much like the main character in his film, he seemed like a man reborn while directing this film. I’ve never seen him more fulfilled, exuberant, and comfortable with himself than when he was directing Things Never Said. It was a joy to watch.
“You know, I’m Mary, Mary quite contrary but you’re talking to a cat who has wanted to do this since he was eight years old. I was always writing and directing. I was that 10-year-old reading about Orson Welles who at age 26 directed the greatest film ever. I was totally in love with Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder,” Charles said.
Charles’ enthusiasm and confidence were palpable on the set. “It’s funny everybody thought I’d directed something else. The only thing I could tell them was I had – in my head,” Charles said. “There was virtual directing going on for decades. It was like finally being at home when I was on the set directing for 20 days surrounded by a great cast and crew.”
Charles’ journey to this moment has taken his entire career. He started as a bike messenger on the Disney lot and worked as an assistant for several years. He wrote scripts in his down time. In 2000, he broke into TV as a writer on the Steven Bochco show City of Angels. He has worked steadily as a TV writer since. This is one of Charles’ greatest assets – his writing. He honed his craft so when he wanted to make the jump to directing, he had a script that begged to get made. When people read it, they saw his talent, passion, and vision.
“That was my game plan. I was going to have to write my way to directing,” Charles said.
If you want to follow Charles’ game plan, write, rewrite, and perfect your script. So many young writer-directors write a script to direct, but the script is seen merely as a means to an end. However, the script is the ticket to the director’s chair. The script you’re shopping is as important as your reel. People have to love your script to believe in you. They have to want to see your film.
I read Charles’ script in 2006 as it was making the Hollywood rounds. As with all of Charles’ scripts, the language – raw and visceral – jumped off the page. His characters brought you into their lives and into the world of spoken word poetry. Based on feedback, Charles continued to work on the script until shooting. He was determined to craft the best script he could. When principal photography commenced, he transitioned seamlessly from writer to director.
“Hitchcock said it and it became my mantra: I want to be the first audience for this film,” Charles said. “When I’m standing there watching the actors perform, if it’s a funny scene, I want to be the first dude to laugh. It’s almost like getting a sneak preview of the film.”
As Charles’ friend, I feel like I’m getting a sneak peak at his future. He’s a person who completely deserves and owns his hyphens. An impeccable writer with the eye and artistic sense of a director and the business savvy of a seasoned producer, Charles has many more wonderful projects in store.
Things Never Said is tentatively slated to open in Los Angeles September 6, 2013, and enjoy a limited theatrical release starting September 13, 2013. Check out the Things Never Said website for more details. Make sure to put it on your must-see list!