In making her feature-directing debut, a film editor wanted to get the story of a rape victim right.
Mainly because it was her own story.
After cutting such popular movies as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and "The Big Easy," Mia Goldman called the shots on the drama "Open Window," which follows its screenings at a number of film festivals -- including Sundance -- with its Showtime debut Monday, July 16.
Robin Tunney ("Prison Break") plays Goldman's alter ego, newly engaged photographer Izzy, who is brutally assaulted at home by an intruder (Matt Keeslar). She then withdraws from virtually everyone, leaving her fiance (Australian actor Joel Edgerton) distressed at being unable to help her get past her trauma.
So are her parents, portrayed by acting veterans Cybill Shepherd and Elliott Gould. Shirley Knight appears as Izzy's therapist, who strives to bring her to an emotional breakthrough.
All told, Goldman spent 12 years on "Open Window." She cites director Lawrence Kasdan, for whom she worked on "The Big Chill" and "Body Heat," as her main cheerleader. "I wrote it while I was editing other films," she says, "then I'd take four or five months off to write another draft. It's been six years since we really liked it and started trying to sell it. A lot of people were interested."
As personal as "Open Window" is to her, Goldman says professional instinct took over once she began filming it.
"People ask me, 'Was it a cathartic experience?' but what really is interesting is that it was just work," she says. "When you've done as many films as I have, working closely with directors and seeing what the stresses are, getting behind the camera was just the most exciting moment for me. I felt so relaxed and happy."
Tunney says she considers the film "a love story, not just a movie about rape. It's about a couple overcoming a huge obstacle. A million things could have happened to them, but a random act of violence affects everybody in the victim's life. Everybody's a victim; it doesn't just stop with the person it happened to, and I like that about the film."
"Open Window" doesn't dwell on scenes of the assault, something else that appeals to Tunney. She and co-star Keeslar went into the expectedly intense sequence without rehearsing it, she reports. "He wanted me to be surprised -- and I was surprised, all right. He's never spoken to me about his feelings about having to do all of that, and before doing the scene, I didn't really know him. Mia wanted to keep it that way, so that we weren't too comfortable with each other. And that happened."
It happened twice, actually. "We had to reshoot it because it was out of focus," Tunney says. "It was the one thing you really didn't want to have to do again. I was like, 'You're kidding.' It took two days, and the whole shoot was 22 or 23 days, which is incredibly quick.
"Mia had edited movies for my friend Andy Fleming, who directed 'The Craft' (in which Tunney starred), and he had every faith that she was going to be just fine. And she was. She has a really great way with people, and she gets what she wants."
In casting Tunney, Goldman recalls, "I felt I wanted someone fresh, in the sense of somebody who was a wonderful actress but hadn't done this kind of thing before. Robin was offered the role very early on, and she was with us for four years before we got all the financing together. I just thought she was perfect for the role."
Goldman also was sold from the start on Edgerton ("Kinky Boots"), a relative newcomer to American audiences. She says he has "such range and such depth, he can play anything. We never discussed it, but I felt he had a personal understanding of the film and its message." So did Goldman's brother-in-law, fellow filmmaker Todd Field ("In the Bedroom"), an executive producer of "Open Window."
Until shooting was completed, Goldman didn't get too specific about how much "Open Window" was about her. "I sort of assumed when I read it that it had actually happened, but I didn't ask," Tunney says. "I got the very broad strokes, and maybe three days after we finished, Mia and I had dinner, and she told me a little more. From what I've heard from women who have seen the film, people really identify with the stages of grief that Izzy goes through."
Tunney hopes to do more work on the order of "Open Window," believing she has more leverage after her broad exposure on Fox's "Prison Break." She remains surprised by some fans' reactions to the murder of her character, attorney Veronica, in season two (which arrives Sept. 4 on DVD).
"It's an odd thing," she says. "The week after I 'died' on the show, I was celebrating a friend's birthday in Texas, and we went to a spa. The woman at the check-in counter started crying and said to me, 'I am so sorry!' She was just so upset, I said, 'It's not real, you know.' That character had her run, and there wasn't anything else she could do. We all knew that going in."
Goldman already has two more movies in the works to direct, and she hopes those prove as collaborative as she found "Open Window" to be.
"I was buoyed by my producers, the cast and the crew," she says. "Everybody was a partner on this."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times