Interview by Christine Thompson
AMFM: Congratulations, A WINTER ROSE is a touching, emotional film. The music business is a tough one and most people have no idea how it really is. Usually they assume it’s glamorous, and while they listen to their favorites for free on YouTube, or pay a small portion on iTunes or another platform, behind the scenes it’s a different story.
RS: I’ve been in music all my life, and it was a natural thing for me to do my big screen début all about it. The girl who inspired the movie is Ethereal. Ethereal is one of the many artists on the soundtrack, there are 26 songs in the movie and four or five of them are by ethereal.
I’ve known her for 10 years, met her when she was 17. She inspired me to write this, it’s her story. She’s very reluctant, she doesn’t want to be famous. She actually turned down the leading role of the film.
When she did that, I was forced to find somebody super beautiful and super talented to take her place. I went through 2500 submissions from around the world to find Kimberly Whalen. I needed an unknown star. Those are her real vocals, she blew the roof off when she auditioned…
AMFM: So it’s sem-autobiographical of your ex, but it speaks to a lot of people who should be able to do something, but are so put down by the world that they are unable or too frightened to express themselves in front of others. Is it fear of rejection? Is it fear of failure or just the opposite, fear of succeeding? Lot of psychology behind that.
RS: It’s a classic rags to riches tale, but yes you’re right, it speaks to those who are afraid to pursue it. But all the complications, the clichés always point to an eager ham, or arrogant selfish people who want to “make it,” when in actuality… a lot of the geniuses you meet, great artists like Ethereal, are actually reluctant to become famous, rich, or known. It’s almost as if the better they are, the more likely they are to be very private, and almost recluses.
That’s what the real life Winter Rose was like, I’d be in tears in the studio listening to her. She was so emotive, and then she’d stop and say “that was terrible” – and it was the best thing I’d ever heard.
Now she’s got a single from the movie out, the first she’s ever had in her life called “Scattered Time,” and it went to #5 on the Billboard Hot Singles chart. And Kimberly Whalen’s debut is now #4 on the Billboard Hot Single’s chart for the second week. I do a little singing on that one. There’s a total of five singles out from the movie that charted on the Billboard Hot Singles. One of them is Country, by a 19 year old country guy, one of them is Hip-Hop, with a white hip-hop artist who’s 18 or 19. One of them is rock (that would be my band ANYONE currently on the charts with “Fly Away”) and Kimberly has an adult contemporary Celine Dion “ish” vibe one.
They’re all different styles, and there’s so much music here. We’re just getting started and a lot of it’s geared to be radio singles of various styles. I’m extremely excited about the reception of the music, we’re a minor record label competing with the majors and kicking their butts on the charts.
AMFM: Congratulations, that’s amazing. So, has the real Ethereal seen the movie, and if so what did she think of it?
RS: Well, we’ve just finished her début album, and four of the songs are on the movie soundtrack. So yes, she’s seen the movie, and the biggest regret in her life is not taking the leading role. She loves it, so she’s probably going to be the star of my next film.
AMFM: You think you can coax her to do that?
RS: Yes, I think so. She now has a taste of being on the charts, and is feeling the reward that’s portrayed in the movie. In that scene where Rachel says “It’s not about you or me.” We sing and express ourselves, but it’s not about that, it’s more the people. It’s a triangle. There’s the inspiration/creation, then there’s the actual performance. But it’s not complete without the other side, the audience, to receive the performance.
In real life, I was the Rachel character, constantly trying to urge Ethereal out of her shell, and to get her to show her music to people. Now she’s got a taste of it, and I think she likes it a lot.
Kimberly Whalen is the same way. Very humble, very self-effacing individual. She’s loaded with talent. But she’s A-list. I really see her becoming like a Barbara Streisand or Bette Midler, becoming known for both her acting and singing. So this is her debut and she’s playing opposite Billy Zane from Titanic, Paul Sorvino from Goodfella’s, and Theresa Russell, who’s just legendary.
AMFM: So how did you get those amazing actors?
RS: I really have to give credit to two producers, Gary Alan Kaufman and Robert Miano who had a lot to do with casting. Robert Miano has been in Hollywood since the ‘70s, and he’s had some amazing roles too, you’ve seen him in “Johnny Carrasco” as Johnny Red. He’s actually the one who said let’s make a movie. (He stars as “Jimmy”)
So I wrote the outline for the script in about 12 hours. When I sent it to him he said he was moved. He’s the one who got the actors, he was key. In the end…Paul Sorvino? He’s one of the finest actors – and he’s an opera singer, spent his entire life in music, it was his first love. And Theresa Russell? I’ve been a huge fan of hers since the movie “The Razor’s Edge.”
Here’s the thing, we started out with a $10,000 budget. You can’t make a movie on that. So I took that and shot a scene. I had to do it myself. Write, shoot, edit…it’s not really done that way. Then I sent it to him.
AMFM: Which scene?
RS: The one where Robert Miano’s character (Jimmy) is in the studio talking to Winter Rose’s love interest and they’re coming down on her really hard.
AMFM: The movie is so heartfelt, it’s authentic. It comes from the place of someone who really knows what they’re talking about. That’s why I think it’s so effective and so emotional. So many attempts to portray the music industry are over-glamorized. This was raw and honest, the drug use, the alcoholism, and people getting in their own way.
RS: There’s a reason for that. I signed my first record deal in 2000 with Roadrunner Records. My band, although we were never really mainstream in America, in Europe we were huge. I had a drug addict in the band who died. I had great friends who were alcoholics.
And again, I’ve been in this my whole life, I was a child prodigy who was taken out of school to study classical music. I’ve spent my life in that world. So when you go into a recording studio in this movie, it’s a real functioning recording studio. There are no sets in this movie. Winter Rose’s house is an actual house of a struggling musician that I know. So yes it’s authentic. Many of the words uttered by Kimberly Whalen are Ethereal’s exact words. So it’s drawn from my life, and I had the advantage of living it.