Closet Land is not based on a play or a book, or a true life event. It is my original work, and a work of imagination. From the get-go, I conceived of it as a film, and I wrote it as a screenplay. I fully intended it to debut as a film—not as theatre. Because film is better equipped to take the audience directly into intense emotional states—be they of pain, or of joy. Closet Land, which indeed deals with torture and physical abuse, deals with pain. And my film, despite being about torture, also deals with the exhilaration of freedom and the power of human imagination—because my film is not only about torture.
My back-up plan was to fund my film on my own, using credit cards, if necessary. I was a film graduate fresh out of school, and a foreigner to boot. I was repeatedly told that newcomers with no track record had no chance whatsoever of obtaining financing to direct their screenplays. “Very well,” I told myself. “I shall fund this film myself, shoot it in my house with unknown stage actors.”
I submitted the screenplay to the Nicoll Screenwriting Fellowship, which is sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. I ended up being one of the winners. The late Julian Blaustein, a legendary producer, and the late Dan Taradash, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, were on the selection committee, and became staunch supporters of my work. Greg Beal, who currently runs the Nicoll Fellowship, became a big supporter as well.
That same year, the screenplay was selected to participate in the prestigious Sundance Screenwriting Lab. At Sundance, I met director Alan Rudolph, who encouraged me enormously, pushing me to not compromise or give up in my fight to make my film on my own terms.
I put in a cold call to director Oliver Stone’s office. To my amazement, he not only read the script himself but also called me in for a meeting. He became a powerful supporter of my work. On the strength of his generous recommendations, I started to pass the screenplay to talent agents. Very soon, I was meeting with actors and actresses who were interested in playing the roles. The very same Hollywood that was once out-of-reach soon came a-calling. I took far too many meetings to count, with producers and financiers who wanted the script but wanted me out of the way as director—they wanted someone famous directing my script. Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment gave me what I wanted: myself as director, with full creative control. I did my film with Imagine Entertainment, and remain grateful to Ron Howard and Brian Grazer for their faith in me and their support of me.
It has provided me quiet satisfaction that my tiny-budget film has endured steadily—purely by word-of-mouth. One viewer seeing it and recommending it to his/her friends. Democracy in action. Not a week goes by without my receiving letters from people from all over the world who have just seen the film, and who are moved by its power and its intensity. Everyone out there working hard to do something original, something new, something bold and innovative, should take heart from the story of my film: good work will endure, no matter what the odds. No matter.
I undertook to adapt my screenplay to stage when I started to receive offers from stage groups all over the world, who had seen my film and were moved by it, and who wanted to perform it on stage. The play version has now been performed almost everywhere in the world. On stage, the words have a lyrical force and sway. The film experience is, however, vastly different: hugely emotional and personal, with her pain and his madness intimately felt; a dream world where imagination is king.