Mensch’s indie drama with David Oyelowo airs on HBO

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Frederick Mensch

On a lark in February, 2013, Frederick Mensch, who runs MovieBytes, a market resource for screenwriters, posted his own one man dramatic screenplay, “Nightingale,” on Blacklist.com., a direct-to-producer site, thinking it would be months, if ever, that his work would be selected and read.

Instead, two days later he was contacted by executive producer Josh Weinstock, who brought it to the attention of director Elliott Lester. They took it to BN Film’s Katrina Wolfe, who along with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, produced and financed “Nightingale” bringing it to HBO where it will air May 29.

It stars David Oyelowo (“Selma”) — who is collecting raves for his performance after an LA festival premiere — as an Afghanistan war veteran who has murdered his mother. Emboldened by his “change in circumstances,” Snowden obsesses over an old Army buddy with whom he hopes to be reunited.

Filming of the 85-minute, “shoestring” budget indie drama shot in June, 2013 in Tarzana, California, wrapping in 16 days. 

Mensch tells Reel Chicago some of the backstory on the drama as well as what’s in his future.

Blacklist seemed a long shot. What made you post “Nightingale” on the site?

I posted the script on a Tuesday and on Thursday, Weinstock, the producer, called me. I had no idea how long it would take, it was a shot in the dark and I had no idea whether the service would work for me. “Nightingale” I felt, was the perfect indie film because it was so small, it could be produce with a small budget. But at the same time, it had a compelling and splashy role for an actor.

What was the inspiration for the story and Oyelowo’s character?

Here in Palatine, there was an actual case where a man lived with his mother and he murdered her. The circumstances were different. I walked my dog past that house all of the time.

Did you have a clear picture of what Snowden looked like when you were writing?

Snowdon could be played by anyone, any ethnicity. There were no color lines in particular when I was writing the script. I wasn’t involved in the casting. When the director and producer read the script, they thought David was the best guy for the project and he did a fantastic job. We are catching him at a great time in his career.

You were present for two days of filming at a house in Tarzana. What was it like to see your work come to life?

There’s a climactic part of the story where Peter goes crazy in the house and takes a baseball bat to a chandelier and I was there for that scene. It was an unreal experience to walk into a home that I had described and see the props and accessories that had existed in my imagination made real by set designers. It was cool.

Elliott Lester spoke of being fearful of meeting you, given the darkness of the script and character. In person he found you delightful and friendly. Were you aware of his trepidation?

It’s flattering when someone says something like that, it means the writing came alive for him. The screenplay has nothing to do with who I am. I’m not a homicidal maniac like Peter Snowdon. Some of my emotions are expressed in the script, but no particulars. My mother is fine.

Are new doors opening up for you and what’s next?

There’s a film project in the works, a dramady, “Supreme Ruler,” from a script that I wrote and I’m working with (director) Duane Edwards on raising money for it.

I’d like to do more character-based, small indie films and maybe some television as well. I don’t see myself writing another one-person show.

One thing I forgot to mention is that I’m also a playwright, and there will be a staged reading of my play “Pursuit of Happiness” in Chicago on April 20, about a one night stand that turns into something more dangerous and destructive than either of the participants could have expected.

Given that you run a contest site, have you ever entered your work on MovieBytes?

A few months back, I entered the CineStory Competition with a script called “Leonard Spurgeon,” in which an early draft the Peter Snowden from “Nightingale” appears as a supporting character. I was selected as a semifinalist and attended the CineStory retreat in Idyllwild, California in 2010.

What do you love most about script writing?

The process of creating characters! It’s a way to have more control over live than you do in reality. You get to play God.

Lori Rotenberk is a Chicago-based journalist who writes for publications nationally.

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