By Linita Masters
Last year, I had the pleasure of interviewing the charismatic, funny, multi-talented, Actor, Writer and Director Ellen Gerstein, whose short film “Come Away with me” was screening at The 2015 HollyShorts Film Festival. Today, the endearing, bittersweet story of true love has since won a slew of awards, including: Winner BEST IN SHOW at the Best Shorts Competition, Winner AWARD of EXCELLENCE Best Shorts Competition, AUDIENCE CHOICE Award at The HollyShorts Monthly Screening May 2016, and was the Winner GRAND JURY SELECTION for Short Film ate the Gasparilla Int’l Film Festival 2016. The short film is now the Official Selection at California Independent Film Festival (CAIFF) held Sept 9-14 in the bay area.
Ellen’s passion for what she does and her affection for the human condition, is the driving force behind her work. When I caught up with her, she shared news about another project that has been 13 years in the making.
In 2003, Ms. Gerstein made a very impassioned debut as a writer and director with a short film titled “Waiting for Ronald”, which became an internationally award winning short. The film was about a young developmentally disabled man name Ronald, who leaves the institution he’s lived in most of his life, to meet up with his friend Edgar, to join him and venture out into a new world of independence. The film is infused with sweet, touching moments that invite us to see the world from their unique perspective.
Ellen is now on a mission to expand on the story of Ronald and Edgar and bring the story of this unconventional odd couple to television, as a half-hour dramedy series.
She sat down with me and exuberantly talked about “Ronald and Edgar”.
So tell me what’s happening with “Ronald and Edgar”?
Ellen: The project I’m working on now is a half-hour dramedy series, and it’s called, “The Adventures of Ronald and Edgar.” It’s adapted from my international award winning short film, “Waiting for Ronald,” which was about a developmentally disabled man who leaves the facility where he’s spent all his life and now he needs his best friend, who used to be inside with him. They now are living out of the institution and they get their own apartment. In “The Adventures of Ronald and Edgar” they are roommates.
Tell me a little about the characters of Ronald and Edgar.
Ellen: Ronald is an optimist, whose glass is always very full. And Edgar can’t even find the glass because he has so much anxiety. He’s like, “Where’s my glass”? They are total opposites in that way but they both have developmental disabilities. But, they are very high functioning and they live in an apartment house where they are coping with life just like everyone else. They have to cope with being roommates, which is a love-hate thing. Edgar has a lot of OCD, you know when he washes the dishes he puts them on the rack and Ronald dries them and then Edgar washes them again. So it could be an all-nighter.
Who are some of the other characters we’ll meet in “The Adventures of Ronald and Edgar”?
Ellen: Well there’s romance. Edgar has a crush on Kim Woo, who is, as she likes to say, an Actress / Waitress, but is more Waitress / Actress. She lives across the hall, and she’s always coming over and having Edgar read the sides with her for her parts. There’s Miriam, who is the landlady. Miriam owns the building Ronald and Edgar live in, but pretends she’s the manager, because if you ask for anything, she always says,”Well, I have to ask the manger.” She has her cat named, “The Jimmy Hendrix Experience”, but she calls him Jimmy. Then there’s Joe Williams, who is their counselor from the facility. Joe comes by to make sure they are ok. Edgar and Ronald are always trying to set Joe up with Miriam.
It’s funny, because Joe is just wonderful. You can see that Joe loves the people that he takes care of. He is a wonderful, wonderful caretaker, very maternal. But he sort of hides behind them and doesn’t take risks in his life. Ronald and Edgar are trying to push him out to live his life. They are trying to help him find love by getting him together with Miriam.
Will the cast be the same as the short film “Waiting for Ronald”?
Ellen: I made a sizzle real and I have interviews with Jodi Clark, who is in fact developmentally disabled who played Ronald in Waiting for Ronald and who will be playing Ronald in the series.
Some will be the same, and some that are different. It is a blended cast, which is exactly what I want to show, that society is a blended cast of characters. It will be cast with challenged and non-challenged. And it’s usually the challenged that help the non-challenged.
Can you tell me a little about their adventures?
Ellen: In the pilot, Edgar had the apartment first and then Ronald moved in. Ronald took Mikey with him. Mikey is the little turtle they used to have back at the facility. But, of course, Miriam had said no animals. No pets, No Pets, No Pets. Well, Ronald has a job interview the next day. It’s for a maintenance job that he really doesn’t want. He’s always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Even though he doesn’t want to go, he also doesn’t want to miss employment or to disappoint Joe. He knows he needs to do what he has to do. So he’s in the bathroom doing a fake interview with the turtle Mikey. Edgar hears him and finds the turtle. Edgar goes crazy, because he thinks they’re going to be kicked out of their apartment. Edgar breaks down about how he’s always wanted a pet. But Edgar never really had a home, so he could never have a pet. He always wanted the dog Lassie. So Ronald says,” no problem, we’re going to go to the pet store and get another turtle and we’ll name him Lassie and they’ll be besties like you and I are.” Perfect! It’s really cute. So they go to the pet store. So now Edgar is a nervous wreck because there’s more than one turtle. How’s he going to care for this turtle? He’s sweating, and he can’t breathe. How will I know which one is my turtle? Who’s going to love me? So Ronald says no problem. Ronald is one those “no problem’ types of personalities and Edgars the type where everything’s a problem. So Ronald says let’s put some of the turtles down, you go to the other end of the room, and you call Lassie and whichever turtle comes is your turtle. So he calls, “ Lassie”… nothing, her calls “Lassie”…nothing, now he’s panicking thinking no one love him. Just when he’s about to give up, one little turtle comes forward and collapses on his foot. And that’s Lassie.
Then there is Paula, who owns Paula’s Pet Store which is the store there in. Ronald says to Edgar, “I gotta go because I have this job interview and I’ll see you back at the apartment”. As he walks out, he sees that there’s a paper for employment sign in Paula’s pet store. So he comes back in and he tells Paula, “I want the job”, and Paula’s like, “ you can’t take that job…you know how people think about other people, they don’t realize what they can’t do or not, they judge you on what they see or what they think they see”. She thinks he’s kidding. Ronald says,” But I just made this sale.” So he gets the job.
The pet store is in the mall and Edgar also works in the mall at Big Al’s Tasty Sandwich Shop. So they can see each other at the mall and have lunch. That way if any guests come through, they can meet them at the mall, at the pet store, at the sandwich shop. Another character is Big Al, owner of Big Al’s Tasty Sandwich Shop, who is a single dad with an Autistic daughter, Connie, who Ronald has a crush on and of course they try to set Big Al up with Paula.
What else would you like people to know about this project?
Ellen: I’m just so excited. I made “Waiting for Ronald”, which won a slew of awards many years ago and it was Diversity with a capital D. People will now do projects like this but it was harder 13 years ago. This has been my passion, so now I’m even more excited to be able to come forward with this terrific show and I’m looking for a home for it.
The main thing in my projects, whether I’m writing, directing or performing is a sense of diversity and a sense of humanity and it’s really about people connecting to what’s happening with my characters. We are all going through the same things every day, hoping for the same things and wanting to be a part of society, or to take a place in society and not feel on the fringes. A sense of humanity is what’s necessary for people to connect with and even laugh about. I like it when it’s heartfelt and funny. You have to laugh at yourself sometimes, so you don’t feel isolated, and you see that others are going through the same thing.
Waiting for Ronald is such a beautiful film and it still holds up now as well as it did when it was released.
“The Adventures of Ronald and Edgar” is heartfelt and funny. It’s sort of the supposedly challenged showing the supposedly non –challenged how to live. You know, how to take a risk in your life. It’s so sweet, it’s all about relationships and bonding, it’s just what everyone wants. Everyone is all intertwined. It’s just all about relationships and living your life and coping with it, like everyone else.
Watch Ellen Gerstein’s “Waiting for Ronald” below:
If you haven’t seen the short “Come Away with Me”, it will be screening at Laemmle’s Beverly Hills Music Hall , 9306 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, Beverly Hills -Sept 2-8 .
Trailer for “Come Away With Me”