On April 17, byteclay.com was on the red carpet for the world premiere of “Custody” at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. The film stars Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hayden Panettiere, Viola Davis, Tony Shalhoub, Raul Esparza, Dan Fogler and Ellen Burstyn. It tells the story of one woman’s battle to get her children back after child protective services deem her an unfit parent. In addition to starring, Viola Davis is a producer on the project. On working with James and her character’s journey Davis told byteclay.com, “James is just a fabulous writer—he’s a great man, by the way; great man. He’s New York. I love New York. It’s my city. And he’s generous. He’s generous enough to explore the personal lives of all these characters. I’m a woman of Color, I’m a woman. There are so many people who are disenfranchised, who are put in a classical narrative and are just used as a device, a stereotype. And it becomes a reflection of our mindset, of how we don’t want to explore them as human beings. James didn’t do that, every life is explored. And so by the time you finish this story, you see the full scope, the full scope of this issue of this woman literally losing her child. You see the full scope of it and it’s impossible for you to make a judgment. Hate that word—judgment. But, that’s … judgment.”
Shaina Moskowitz: Speak a little bit about why you wanted to produce this project.
Lauren Versel: Well, it was a real thrill for me to be able to do a film with James Lapine and the cast that he was able to put together. I felt like it was a privilege to do this film with this cast and just record the story.
SM: Tell us a little bit about the story.
LV: The story is the lives of three women and how their lives intertwine in family court. It really shows that nobody, no matter who you are, has it easy. No matter if you’re on the upper echelon of society or at the very poorest, everybody has their own problems. I think it brilliantly portrays that.
SM: As a producer, how do you like to choose your projects?
LV: I do independent movies, they’re commercial, but they have to be something that really moves me and that I care about, that I’m passionate about.
SM: What was your big start in this industry?
LV: I’ve been doing this since I was 18 years old, so quite a while by now. I’ve been an editor, a director, a writer, and now a producer. I went to film school at the American Film Institute and came out of there. I guess that was my start.
SM: Speak about this emotional journey and diving into this woman’s mindset.
Catalina Sandino Moreno: Yeah, it is a very emotional journey. I have a seven year old and I just wouldn’t know what to do if they take my seven year old away from me. I think I would do the same thing as this character. She will fight with everything she has. It’s very inspiring that this mother doesn’t have a lot, but the one thing that she has in the world are her kids and she’s fighting for them. There are so many single parents out there that do the same thing. They try to be their best example for their children. It was beautiful, it’s a beautiful experience, apart from the people that I was able to work with. Viola, Dan Fogler, Hayden Panettiere, it’s just a great room of people. I love it.
SM: Speak about the writing, what you admire about James as a writer and director.
CM: Well, James is something unique, I would say. As an actor, you take a script and you’re like, “I don’t feel comfortable saying this, can I say it the other way?” Then he will give you an explanation why this certain word is very important for you to say. You’re like, “I’m sorry. Of course. I’m so sorry that I was trying to take that word away.” It’s nice to be working with people so professional and so on point.
SM: How was working with the the young actors?
CM: Fantastic. I’ve worked with kids before and usually I’ve been very lucky with kids. These kids are amazing. They were ready and they just kept doing it. They’re going to be fantastic actors if they keep pursuing this career.
SM: How did you get your start in acting?
Jaden Michael: Well, my mom put me in when I was two and then when I was able to talk I said, “I want to do this. This is awesome.”
SM: What has been the highlight for you? Is it this movie?
JM: I don’t know. A lot of people ask me that. I’m like, I can’t answer that question because there’s just so many things that I’ve learned over time. Every one of them has their own equivalence of amazingness to them.
SM: Speak about working with Viola.
Jaden: Viola was very nice, especially Julius, her husband. They were very accommodating and very lovely, like what you expect a really nice person to be times ten.
SM: Tell us a little bit about the role you play.
Karen Pittman: I play an attorney that represents the children, and the court process when they go through the custody/legal situation. I spend a lot of time in court with the other actors who represent the families, Hayden Panettiere, Raul Esparza, and of course Viola Davis as the judge.
SM: Speak about working with James and what you enjoyed about that process.
Karen: James is a fantastic writer. He’s a great director, who brings a lot of heart and compassion to the storytelling, and one of the things I love about him is he gets to the heart of all the stories that he tells, the relationships.
SM: What about Viola, who’s on fire right now?
Karen: She is a warm-hearted, down-to-earth woman who I was grateful to work with. I watched her work, and had some laughs between takes; and also, great to meet her husband, who was on set, Julius Tennon, so it was a great time.
SM: What do you think makes this drama unique?
Karen: In these court stories, they talk a lot about what the families go through, and this of course is part of what the movie “Custody” is about, but we also hear a lot about what the judges go through. What their lives are like, when they’re not in the court room, the challenges that they deal with, and how they manage it. They’re human beings like everybody else. I think Viola brings a lot of heart, and a lot of compassion, and a lot of relatability to the character; so you’ll walk away with a sense of a real human being, and you relate to her because of it.
SM: So tell me how did you get involved with the project?
Antonio Pinto: Actually James called. He looked for me because I did the music for “Amy,” the documentary. He called my agent and he’s an amazing director, he wrote it and so it’s his baby. It was a really beautiful collaboration between two artists. My daughter she’s 15 and I wrote a song together with James for the end credits and she’s singing on there.
SM: Tell me about your vision for the music.
AP: The reason that he looked for me is that it’s a New York drama, and he was looking for something fresh for the music because … the film is a very beautiful drama, but he wanted to have some sort of special spice in the music.
SM: Tell me a little bit about your roots in composition. How did you get into scoring for films?
AP: I’ve been scoring for 25 years. I was really lucky. I’m from Brazil, and I scored the three biggest films of Brazil, in the last years: “City of God,” “Central Station” that went for the Oscars too, and another one called “Behind the Sun.” Thirteen years ago I started to work in America. I was contacted by agent who is still with me. We did a lot here. Then I did a lot of work for Nicholas Cage. I did films with Michael Mann, Mike Newell… Luckily since I started to work, I never stopped.
SM: Tell us a little bit about the role you play.
Dan Fogler: I play Keith Denholz, who is a family court-appointed lawyer; he basically fights for kids’ rights all day long. He sees a lot of tough stuff. He’s a by-the-books kind of guy. He’s seen some families’ situations go very sour, so he just wants to make sure that everyone’s making the right decision—he’s a really sweet character to play. I had a blast. I got to play with Viola and Hayden and Catalina and do a lot of court drama stuff that I don’t normally do, which was awesome. I got to work with James Lapine again.
SM: What did you previously work with him on?
DF: I worked with him on a bunch of stuff, but, “Spelling Bee” was the first thing. I did this show on Broadway called “The Twenty-fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” And he’s just been a huge influence on my career, just keeps on coming and calling me up and saying “do you want to come and do this?”
SM: Speak about working with the wonderful lead actresses.
DF: So, Viola… that was just like a master class. Watching her just manipulate these monologues that she has. She’s a judge and she had these long, long monologues and she’s just captivating. That was just a master class with her right there. Hayden is great, she and I really get along well, and it was hard to act like we don’t like each other. And Catalina was amazing, man. You’re dealing with these issues … I got two little girls and I’m playing a character in the movie where I don’t have kids but I fight for kids all day long and, man, some of those scenes…if you have kids it’s going to rip your heart out.
Viola Davis, Catalina Sandino Moreno, James Lapine, Ellen Burstyn and Dan Folger celebrated the premiere at an official after-party sponsored by Effen Vodka at Jimmy At The James. Earlier in the evening, model Coco Rocha and DJ Vashtie Kola celebrated Tribeca Film Festival’s first Tribeca Snapchat Shorts competition, sponsored by Samsung Electronics America at Samsung 837 Flagship Store.