Interview with Tom Albanese: Director and Writer of Fairy Tale Film Charming

Charming is an independent short film about the ever-present fairy tale hero, Prince Charming. In many popular stories, he swoops in to save the princess by aiding her escape from a tower, providing true love’s kiss, vanquishing the monster, or finding the foot that fits the slipper. But what about his story? Why does he save all these princesses, and what is his happy ending like?

charming short film

Pondering these questions led Tom Albanese to write and direct Charming. After no success with the script in Hollywood, he wasn’t about to give up. Instead, he recruited help from some friends to bring it to life. If you ask me, this was infinitely better than anything Hollywood could have done! Charming is the result of a dedicated, caring, and passionate group of people, and whilst watching it you can see their enthusiasm. This film was made because they were determined for it it to exist, which is a story just as inspiring as Prince Charming’s quest for true love.

I was able to interview Tom about his journey with Charming to learn more about his ideas behind the film and his thoughts on fairy tales and storytelling.

So Charming was originally a feature length film. I’m assuming it had to undergo a lot of change to become a short film. What was that process like? How did you go about rewriting the script?

Yes, my writing partner (Christopher Jones) and I got the rights back to our feature script Charming after optioning it to a production company several years ago. It was tricky adapting a 105 page feature to a 15 page short, which ultimately became a much different story. What I wanted to keep in tact from the feature was intertwining characters from different fairy tales, the King’s pact with the witch (which kicks the story into gear) and the theme of ‘true love’ coming around in an unexpected way. 

In some ways, I think writing a short is more challenging than writing a feature because you have such a short amount of time to A) Develop your characters and B) Tell a good story. Things that worked in the feature weren’t working in the short because while we had 105 pages to explore Charming’s problems, now we only had 15 to wrap that all up. But there’s nothing I love more than figuring out how to solve a story problem (besides the possibility of a date with Daisy Ridley), so I had a blast figuring it all out.    

What was it like working alongside with friends to make Charming? Do you think you will work together again on other projects?

Totally. I have a production company with Tiago (who Assistant Directed Charming) and Francisco (Captain Hook). We have several projects in the pipeline. Joey Long (Charming’s Assistant Director & Aladdin) is my story guy, so whenever I’ve got something written that I need some thoughts on besides my own, he’s the man. We brainstormed how to frame Charming so we got more of Charming’s POV in a clever way, which ultimately led to the story being told to his big fan Gus (Lucas Royalty).

Tom Albanese Charming
Tom Albanese as Prince Charming and Lucas Royalty as Gus

From watching Charming, it’s clear that you all had a lot of fun making it. I really enjoyed the funny, creative scenarios, like the witch pretending to be an estate agent and King Triton in his retreat. What was your favourite scene to film, and why?

Thank you!  Ah, favorite to film. Well, haha there was a lot of stress that came with directing/producing and acting in most every scene (you can’t make it too easy for yourself), but the most fun was shooting the Snow White bits. We had a full day for that, so it allowed us to joke around and come up with stuff. Poor Bea (Snow White) had to put up with me kissing her for 8 hours, but I think she understands that it was all in service of a beautiful story  (love you Bea!) And poor Joey had to try to move that day along in between all the outtakes. But at least I had fun!

I love the idea of Prince Charming being the same person in multiple fairy tales, just going around trying to save princesses. What made you think of this? And what first interested you in Prince Charming as a character?

I was studying at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City when we put on a performance of Into the Woods. I played Cinderella’s Prince. I had a blast and was shocked to find out not many people had really tackled the Prince Charming character or given him a well-rounded backstory (save for maybe Shrek) on screen. I loved the idea of taking existing public domain stories and their characters (Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, etc.) and tying them into his own tale. Because really, what the hell is going on with this guy who’s running around kissing all these princesses? 

Charming Lex Kilgour
Lex Kilgour as Rapunzel

Charming makes references to many well-known fairy tales, including Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Beauty and the Beast. Why did you choose to use these particular fairy tales?

It came down to “how many references can I get in here without being annoying?”  Haha, the ones I chose had to be well-known enough for people to get quick references, could somehow tie into the story, and, most importantly, be affordable and/or doable. We had to skip The Frog Prince.  

What is your all-time favourite fairy tale, and why?

Ah, tough one, but I have to go with ‘Beauty & the Beast.’ The original is much darker (as most of these fairy tales are) than the Disney version most of my generation grew up with, but I love the idea of two people who are at each other’s throats, have a million outside forces keeping them apart and absolutely shouldn’t fall in love… still do. In my mind, that’s a fairy tale and a great story. And that prologue from Disney’s version in 1991 still blows me away.  The music, voiceover, images, everything.  It’s an incredible introduction to a fairy tale. 

Charming Matt Cordova
Matt Cordova as the Beast

The set design of Charming is very realistic, but also unmistakably fantastical. For example, you can tell the buildings and rooms are just ‘normal’ places, but the decor, props, and costumes give them an unquestionable fairy tale feel. What were your artistic decisions behind the sets? Did you have a vision for them, or did you just create them naturally with your given resources?

The apartment complex I lived in at the time was built in the 1920s (give or take a few years) and a bunch of creatives/artist types made it their home before Hollywood’s Golden Age, so it naturally had that ‘fairy tale’ feel to it.  It was one of those things where the pieces were all there and I thought ‘it’s stupid not to do this’. We had nickels and dimes to shoot the film, so, yes, while I would’ve loved an actual ‘castle’ and spinster’s shop, we took advantage of the resources we already had, or else the film probably never would have never been made!  

Also, a major shout out to our costume designer and make-up designer Irving Green.  He went above and beyond putting together the wardrobes and greatly helped give the film its ‘fairy tale’ feel.

The witch is a great character, and I would have liked to have seen more of her! Why didn’t you expand her role, or show her defeat? Personally, what do you think happens to her at the end of the story?

I love the witch. Particularly in that she’s not your typical, evil villain. She’s really a hot mess who just wants to get out of her crappy hut. My friend Patricia Castello-Branco nailed it on the head with that role. She plays a much bigger part in the feature version Chris & I wrote. As for not expanding her role — in the short, she’s a villain, but needed to get the plot rolling. She’s like the bad boss in a romantic comedy, a thorn in the hero’s side, but the real problem is the hero’s relationship with his co-star(s). Expanding her role would’ve been fun, but ultimately unnecessary to Charming’s quest for true love. We shot a longer scene with her trying to trick Snow White with the apple that’s hilarious, but at the end of the day it stopped the movie instead of pushing it forward.  

I think at the end of Charming, she throws on a bunch of make-up, goes to Captain Hook’s brothel, downs ten fairy dusts and tries to seduce a Merry Man.

Charming Lucas Royalty
Lucas Royalty as Gus

Regarding the ending, without giving away any spoilers, I love that you left it so open. Why did you choose to leave the story like this, instead of going for the traditional fairy tale ‘and they got married and lived happily ever after’ ending?

I love stopping a story early. I read Dracula a couple months ago for an upcoming project, and it just ends. I wanted more, but eventually realized, yeah, that’s it. The story’s over. (Dracula spoiler alert) It’s called Dracula and Dracula’s dead. The rest is just filler. Leave the audience to fill in what happens afterwards. There’s nothing worse than watching something knowing it should’ve ended 10 minutes ago.

I think whatever your ending is, it needs to solidify the story’s theme and wrap things up in a way we didn’t see coming but makes sense.  Whether that be ‘happily ever after’ or leaves an ellipsis or is a combination of the two, which I think Charming is.  

Karla Bucker Charming
Karla Bucker as Cinderella

What are you planning to do in the future – another fairy tale project, or something different?

I’m shooting a comedy pilot in May/June that my prod. co’s planning to pitch to networks later this year. It’s called No Actor Parking and explores the hysterical madness of the ‘wannabes’ stuck on Hollywood’s bottom rung as they all struggle to ‘make it’. As for fairy tales, I’ve got a short about a demon, a feature about a vampire, and one about a mythical creature. We’ll see who bites first.  

____________________________________________________________________________

A massive thank you to Tom for providing some wonderful creative insight into this project!

After months spent touring international film festivals and racking up awards (just look at how many are on the poster alone!) Charming is now available on the Charming Short Film website and you all totally need to go and watch it! You can also follow @CharmingTheFilm and Tom Albanese on Twitter, and check out Adam’s post on Fairy Tale Fandom and Gypsy’s post on Once Upon a Blog for more behind the scenes information.

Blog Tour: Inspiring Blogger Award – 7 Favourite Fairy Tales

I was recently tagged for the Inspiring Blogger Award and received a shout out from Adam over at Fairy Tale Fandom. Thank you for thinking of me, and here is my post in response!

The idea of this tag is to post 7 facts about yourself that other people may not know. Since this is a fairy tale blog, I’ve decided to list 7 of my favourite fairy tales instead.


1. The Little Mermaid 

Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen. Read it here.

I love ocean stories and mermaids, so of course this had to be on the list. I also love the ending, because I feel so conflicted about it. Part of me thinks ‘GURL what are you DOING just stab him & get the hell out of there!’ but also, I understand her decision. I’ve had my heart & soul ripped out by people, but if someone gave me a knife I plonked me at their bedside then I’d totally become sea foam, too.

Little Mermaid Ivan Bilibin
Little Mermaid by Ivan Bilibin. Image in public domain – source


2. Habitrot

George Douglas, Scotland. Read it here.

Since I’ve studied ‘Sleeping Beauty’ so extensively, spinning wheels and stories associated with them really interest me. ‘Habitrot’ is one of the more comedic ones I’ve found, with a group of mysterious old women living underground and spinning. Their work makes them ugly, and so the husband of the heroine forbids her from spinning to preserve her beauty. Which is exactly what she wants, because she is lazy and hates spinning. Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm also collected a similar story called ‘The Three Spinners.’


3. Petrosinella 

Italy, Giambattista Basile. Read it here.

This early version of ‘Rapunzel’ is much exciting than most of its successors. Petrosinella is a gutsy heroine, who doesn’t hesitate to plan her escape from the tower. The ogress (read ‘witch’) has Petrosinella under a spell, which requires her to retrieve three gallnuts to break it. As she flees with the prince, she throws them on the ground and they transform into animals. The final one eats the ogress, and the young lovers marry and live happily – ‘one hour in port, the sailor freed from fears, forgets the tempests of a hundred years.’

There is another, more crazy, version of this story entitled ‘Parsley Girl’ in Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales. It involves cannibalistic nuns and a talking frog. Enough said.


4. White Bear King Valemon 

Norway, Asbjørnsen & Moe. Read it here.

I saw a fantastic performance of this story a few years back called The Girl with the Iron Claws. I was so enthralled by it that afterwards I sought out the original story, and found this Norwegian tale. It’s similar to ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon,’ but instead of having winds for help the princess meets old ladies and children who give her magical objects. Also she has to climb a mountain (hence needing the iron claws. Also in some versions the mountain is made of glass).

White Bear King Valemon Theodor Kittelsen
White Bear King Valemon by Theodor Kittelsen. Image in public domain – source

5. Ricky of the Tuft 

France, Charles Perrault. Read it here.

I love the message this story has, that beauty is only what you perceive it to be and when you love someone they are beautiful to you no matter what. I also want to know what happens to the stupid princess’s sister, who disappears from the story halfway through. Someday I’m going to write her ending!


6. Little Brother and Little Sister

Germany, Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm. Read it here.

My spirit animal is a deer, and this is the first fairy tale I encountered that features one. A brother and sister are out in the forest, and the brother drinks enchanted water which turns him into a deer. I like how this story incorporates both familial and romantic love, and think it’s an all-round cute little tale which is sometimes rare in the world of fairy tales!

7. Vasilisa the Fair 

Russia, Alexander Afanasyev. Read it here.

I just love Baba Yaga stories! This one was collected in Russia by the folklorist Alexander Afanasyev, and published in his collection of fairy tales in the mid-1800s. Vasilisa is the ultimate fairy tale heroine. Brave, beautiful, clever, and resourceful. She gets on with things, and gets her happy ending. Not even a house on chicken legs surrounded by glowing human bones can stop her.

Vasilisa at the Hut of Baba Yaga Ivan Bilibin
Vasilisa at the Hut of Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin. Image in the public domain – source

 

Fairy Tales: An Evening with Kate Forsyth

Last year I encountered a novel called Bitter Greens (some of you may recall the review of it I posted on here). You know those books that you just cannot put down? Bitter Greens was one of those. So when I found out that the author, Kate Forsyth, was coming to the UK to do some events, it wasn’t a case of if I was going it was a case of choosing the easiest to attend. Even the 4-hour train journey to get there & back didn’t dissuade me!

The book club at Waterstone’s in Bluewater, Kent, had read Bitter Greens and Kate went to visit them to discuss it. The talk was open to the public, not just book club members, but it seems that I was the only gatecrasher!

Bitter Greens is a retelling of the fairy tale ‘Rapunzel.’ It has three narrative strands: One for a young girl named Margherita, who is the Rapunzel figure, one for Selena Leonelli, who is the witch who imprisons her, and one for Charlotte-Rose de la Force, the real-life author of a version of ‘Rapunzel’ entitled ‘Persinettte.’ Altogether, this novel is a unique blend of fantasy and historical fiction.

Kate talked about her process of writing Bitter Greens, from the initial desire to retell ‘Rapunzel’ to how the idea developed. As a child, she spent a lot of time in hospital due to an accident which damaged her eye. Her mother gave her a book of fairy tales to read, and being so shut away from the world she found it easy to identify with Rapunzel. However, she always wondered about the fate of the witch. Did she ever get out of the tower? If so, how? What did she do afterwards? It was this line of thought that led Kate to wanting to write her own version of the story.

As a children’s author, she initially tried retelling ‘Rapunzel’ for a YA audience as a fantasy novel. However, she realised that it was never meant to be a story for children, because when you stop and analyse it there are some dark themes present (such as violence, sexuality, and madness) which could only reach their full potential in an adult novel.

Kate explained how fairy tales can vary depending on the country they’re from. Italian fairy tales tend to be very bawdy and lively, with blatant sexual references. French fairy tales, on the other hand, are more sedate and less explicit. Many were told by aristocratic women, like Charlotte-Rose, in literary salons. Women were heavily restricted by society, having their marriages arranged which often led to miserable lives. To them, thoughts of charming princes and true love were daydreams; a welcome escape from their harsh realities. Fairy tales are constantly borrowing motifs from one another, making many of them similar no matter where they’re from. This makes them both recognisable and different, because not all retellings reuse the exact same set of motifs every time.

Fairy tales also lack what Kate called a ‘crystalised’ form. There are so many variations of the same stories, it’s impossible to pinpoint a definitive ‘original.’ Therefore, when working on a retelling, it’s possible to decide for yourself which version is going to be your source.

After the book club meeting, I got the chance to speak to Kate for awhile. I had emailed her a few days before explaining that I’m a fairy tale fanatic and currently writing my dissertation about them, and asking if we could have a chat. She agreed, which made me stupidly excited followed by nervous. What was I going to say? Where fairy tales are concerned, there’s always too much! But it turned out that I didn’t need to worry, because once I got to that moment everything I’d prepared fled from my brain. I just started mindlessly babbling about Sleeping Beauty and my degree. But Kate was lovely and reassuring, and gave me some fantastic advice.

I confessed that I’m struggling with my Sleeping Beauty retelling at the moment, mostly because I’m not sure what I want to keep from my crystal and how it will all fit together. She told me that there are two different types of retellings:

  • A pure retelling, which more or less follows the fairy tale exactly (like she did for Bitter Greens)
  • A new retelling, which takes themes and/or motifs from the fairy tale and reshapes them into something else

Whichever type you’re doing, the problem with any retelling is that readers already know the story. As a writer, it becomes your job to surprise them. Make it fresh, and make them feel that perhaps they don’t know what’s going to happen after all.

Kate Forsyth The Wild Girl signed

It never ceases to amaze me how versatile fairy tales are, and how many people they captivate for all kinds of reasons. I’m so new to all of this — writing, studying and retelling, and hearing/reading other people’s experiences with fairy tales is rather daunting. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. We’re all just people with a common interest, and we all have our own opinions to bring to the fairy tale table. None are right, and none are wrong. And there lies their magic.

A massive thank you to Kate for agreeing to meet me, and for sharing so many writing tips and ideas. You can visit Kate’s blog to find out more about Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and her other projects here.

Also thank you to Bluewater Waterstone’s Book Club for being extremely welcoming, it was fun to meet you all!

Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Last year I began to feel as though I was inhabiting a literary desert. Of the many books I read, nothing grabbed me enough to warrant recommendation. I wanted something to restore my faith in the power of stories. Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth was that book.

Kate Forsyth Bitter Greens

‘Rapunzel’ is one of favourite fairy tales. I have encountered so many versions of it that I thought I had seen everything, until I picked this up. The tagline says it all: ‘You think you know the story’. Well, think again. Even the most avid folklorists could not predict the plot twists and beautiful, extra details given here. Kate has taken the classic tale and made it her own, fleshed it out, and given it new meaning. It’s so much more than just a girl locked in a tower, it’s about redemption, love in its many forms, and the acutely human fear of passing time which all of us can relate to. A beautifully woven three-strand narrative follows Rapunzel, the witch, and one of the real-life tellers of the tale, Charlotte-Rose de Caumount de la Force, making it informative as well as fantastical.

It is one of the great mysteries of literature, how Charlotte-Rose came to know Giambattista Basile’s tale ‘Petrosinella,’ published many years before she wrote her own version entitled ‘Persinette.’ Kate offers a plausible explanation for this in the form of a nun at the Abbey of Gercy-en-Brie, where Charlotte-Rose was sent after being exiled from the court of Versailles by King Louis XIV. Readers discover the stories of the girl in the tower and the witch who put her there at the same pace as Charlotte-Rose, creating scandalous cliffhangers that make you keep reading.

The main characters are unquestionably alive throughout, despite each of their stories vastly differing from one another. It is easy to identify with them all, and the triple narrative is not at all confusing. In particular the witch, named Selena Leonelli, comes across strongly. Whilst not presented as the most desirable person, her motives are clear and I found myself sympathising with and hating her at the same time. Few writers can create that contrast effectively, and Kate is definitely one of them. Selena’s ambiguous personality makes her exciting and controversial; a great discussion point for book clubs.

Whilst it is somewhat of a fairy tale, Bitter Greens is definitely not for children or even the lower tier of the young adult genre. Many of the themes and issues raised, such as religion, politics, and prostitution, place it firmly in adult fiction. But overall, this is a seductive read which fans of both historical fiction and fantasy will not be able to resist. Kate has also written another fairy tale novel called The Wild Girl, which I have reviewed here. I highly recommend this one, too!

You can find out more about Bitter Greens and the research Kate carried out for it on her blog.