Some say production teams are like family. But for the cast and crew of independent feature film Rounded Corners, it was quite literally a family effort.
Paul Check, the director and writer of Rounded Corners and founder of Upper West 80s Productions, was able to sit down with us amid the hustle and bustle of the 72nd Cannes Film Festival. We discussed in detail what it was like breaking into the film industry with his family and producing his first feature film.
After 22 years in finance, Check decided he wanted to build something with his wife and their three children, and where better than the city of New York to create a film production company? He added that “[they] weren’t quite sure where [they] were going to be with the children and school, so one of the nice things about film production was how it could be a very mobile business. You could film in all these different locations.”
Rounded Corners is Upper West 80’s first production. The film follows the story of a highly-intelligent young girl (Marie Check), raised alone by her Wall Street father (Paul Check), who learns about life from her babysitter (Tinuke Adetunji). The two embark on a personal journey together through the summer, and despite their differences, learn invaluable lessons from each other. “I wanted it to be fairly light,” Check explained, regarding the film’s narrative elements. “But it has tie-ins to things that all sorts of people are familiar with.”
The film is “easy to digest,” incorporating lighthearted and funny moments yet not shying away from the more serious issues that it discusses, especially with the core mystery in the film being the circumstances surrounding the protagonist’s missing mother. Rounded Corners is a film that “lifts people up, rather than weighs them down,” and through the main character’s experiences, inspires audiences to face their fears and empower themselves. It is a film that emphasizes the need for balance in life through the positive and the negative, as well as a well-roundedness – hence the title – that can only be achieved by opening up and connecting with others.
“What really inspired me to create this film was all the fear and division in the world,” Check answered, when asked about what compelled him to tell this story. “I wanted it to be a representation of how we can overcome all this fear and division.”
But the film’s family focus doesn’t end there. What makes it stand out is that production was a full family effort, with Check’s younger daughter starring in one of the two lead roles, his elder daughter acting as assistant director, his son assisting with location sound and his wife working as production assistant. They also had a lot assistance from experienced actress Tinuke Adetunji – a babysitter for the Check family years prior who also coincidentally plays the co-lead role of the protagonist’s babysitter – and her husband. While the family dynamic on set helped to foster a sense of closeness as well as convenience – coordination was much easier as a family unit – it did come with its own issues. There was a fair bit of pressure to make the film the best that it could be, as well as navigate the new work environment. “We got a lot of experience from doing all that, though, for sure,” he laughed. “But for people not working with film, they don’t realize just how hard it can be to make a film.”
Filmmaking, however, is not just about the creative process. Check has brought his film to Cannes this year to be screened at the Marché du Film, a film market for producers, sales agents and distribution companies to come together and converse with each other. Distribution is an often-overlooked but important aspect of the filmmaking process, and for Check, it has certainly been an educational experience. “It’s a whole other marathon to run,” he admitted. “The film’s certainly gonna land somewhere. There’s no question about that. It’s just a question of where it’s gonna land, what type of distribution it’s gonna get, exactly how the distribution’s structured, and so on so forth.”
At present, the cast and crew are very satisfied with the completion of their film, and the priority for Upper West 80s now is to get the ball rolling and for Rounded Corners to find a home in the ever-growing film market. Through this entire journey, Check has very much put himself through a crash course on filmmaking, and the only way for Upper West 80s is up. While his family may not be as involved in his future endeavors, he is determined to continue with his budding craft and see what the future holds for his production company and its future projects.
I asked for a little teaser on his next project, to which he answered, “It’ll be a little about conspiracies. Let’s put it that way.”