ALL THESE SMALL MOMENTS: The Fearless Writing of Melissa B. Miller Costanzo

(L-R) Brendan Meyer as Howie Sheffield and Jemima Kirke as Odessa in Orion Classics’ drama ALL THESE SMALL MOMENTS. Photo courtesy of Orion Classics.

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Writers know the value of small moments. Observing the simple, often forgettable minutia of life and being able to offer insight about it connects us in ways both conscious and unconscious.

Melissa B. Miller Costanzo has made a career out of observing the details. Her ability to do so has afforded her the opportunity to coordinate the art department on projects such as If Beale Street Could Talk, PreciousThe Fighter and Showtime’s The Affair. In her own debut feature, All These Small Moments, which she wrote and directed, Costanzo is daring in submitting moments great and small, personal and universal, for our consideration.

“So many moments in the film either came directly from my life or were heavily inspired by things I or someone I know experienced,” Costanzo told LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher.

While the film looks at infatuation, first loves, and how the pain we experience is a source for projection on those we encounter from day to day, Costanzo doesn’t shy away from more complex and rarely examined topics of taboo and forbidden love. In the film, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last year, Howie (Brendan Meyer) deals with romantic feelings for an older woman named Odessa (Jemima Kirke) that he sees on the bus each day on his way to high school. When the two actually become acquainted, confusion and curiosity compound into possibilities and realities.

While the story centers around Howie, Costanzo uses the character as a lens for exploring three different phases in the lives of the women Howie has relationships with, embodied by Odessa (Kirke); his mother, Carla (Molly Ringwald); and a girl named Lindsay (Harley Quinn Smith) he meets in study hall. “Specific experiences each one of those characters have are taken from my own life,” Costanzo said. “There’s a rumor going around school about Lindsay that went around school about me. Carla has a tense moment about ordering bread at a restaurant that my husband and I also had. And I saw a group of high school boys every day on the bus on my way to work and sometimes wondered if they ever thought of me in that way,” she chuckles.

Costanzo has had to face many of those whose lives make appearances in the film. She still knows the man who spread rumors about her in high school. He attended a screening of the film in New York and likely noted that the character having an affair with Howie’s father shares his last name. Costanzo’s husband has rolled his eyes about less flattering moments from their lives that ended up on the screen as well. In taking such chances, Costanzo has demonstrated that she’s willing to pay the artistic cost of speaking about reality – that it can be messy and you must be willing to open yourself up in a revealing way to the audience.

Her willingness to do so makes scenes that are crafted in the imagination feel real as well. A particular scene, where Howie discusses a film with his brother while they brush their teeth, feels like an occasion Costanzo must have shared with one of her own siblings. However, she admits the moment is only what she imagines two brothers in this situation might talk about.

Coming of age narratives are a staple of storytelling. With such a sizable number of writers having explored this theme, they can be difficult to bring originality to. Costanzo’s story resonates because of the chances she takes, the courage she demonstrates in bringing herself into the characters, and the insistence she maintains throughout the film that people are complex and never binary.

All These Small Moments comes to theaters on January 17 and On Demand and Digital HD on January 18.

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John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.

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