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Meliisa Martin
By Marie Asner

Melissa Martin is a screenwriter and director whose first major film, The Bread, My Sweet is now receiving national distribution (see Phantom Tollbooth archives for the film review). The movie played in my town of Kansas City in May 2002 as part of our Halfway 2 Hollywood Film Festival. Martin, plus Scott Baio, star of The Bread, were in town for the celebration and Baio received the Best Actor Award for the film. 

The Bread, My Sweet is set in contemporary Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The film is so popular there that it has been playing continuously at the Denis Theater since January 18, 2002. The longest a film played in Kansas City was when The Gods Must Be Crazy appeared at the Fine Arts Theater for over a year. It isn't just city loyalty that makes a film stay in one theater in one city, there must be substance to the movie and this one has it.

The story is that of Dominic (Baio from television's __Charles in Charge__ fame) who is a corporate bigwig by day and baker by night. He is no caped crusader righting the evils of the world, but rather a man who loves an older Italian couple (Rosemary Prinz and John Seitz) and wants to make them happy. Included in the mix are Dominic's brothers (Zachary Mott and Shuler Hensley). Hensley plays the mentally challenged Pino with sweet grace. This is one of those films that revolve around food. Watching the guys mix the dough and work the ovens is enough to make the audience drool. The movie’s tension revolves around marrying Dominic to the granddaughter (Kristin Minter) of the Italian couple. Would they be happy together? Are biscotti and coffee a mix?

Melissa Martin wrote The Bread, My Sweet from her own experiences. Her husband, Larry Lagtutta, gave up his corporate job to run the famed Enrico Biscotti Company. Melissa's partner in this film is producer Adrienne Wehr who was Associate Producer of the Emmy-award winning Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Wehr and Martin are also actresses. Whereas Wehr has acted in Inspector Gadget, Dogma and The Bread, My Sweet, Martin did her acting work earlier in college. She has degrees from the University of Illinois and Carnegie Mellon. Martin decided she was not the ingénue type and began writing plays with roles for herself. As a senior, Melissa wrote a play called Emerging From the Chrysalis which has characters from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Gloria Steinum. The production traveled around the United States thanks to a National Arts and Humanities grant. Melissa says that in working with a writing partner, you fill the niche in each other and have to trust and collaborate or there is nothing. When working on any project, you must surround yourself with good, talented working people. Her crew finished The Bread, My Sweet in 29 days. (Steven Spielberg thought he was doing well when he finished a small film in 59 days!) One day, they shot 11 pages of dialogue.

Martin took three weeks to write the first draft of the The Bread, My Sweet script. On a trip to Italy she lost her computer and all her disks. This disaster ended up being a plus, because she had already decided the first draft was no good. It didn't have all the characters she would eventually need. (Even now, she says, she forgets to back-up her computer and finds her children playing with it!) Melissa is a morning writer, usually starting at 5 a.m., and tries to get 10 pages a day done no matter how long it takes. Writing is really a constant process of rewriting, and she finds she cuts more than anything else. 

Before starting to film, Scott Baio had to learn to actually mix dough and bake bread. (Something he still does, according to Martin.) This comes across when viewing the film. As Baio's hands sprinkle flour on the board, it is with sureness and ease. Also, the correct accents are used from the region in Italy the people come from, instead of the Hollywood version of Italian, which is a Sicilian accent. This writer can relate to that as I come from Minnesota and Hollywood persists in giving everyone from that state a Norwegian accent.

Melissa Martin's next project is a film based on her play, The Shriveled Arm of Uma Kimball. It is an adult fairy tale and part love story. Uma is a 37-year old woman who is trapped in her bedroom by a raging flood. Originally, Uma was a stage play and the audience used its collective imagination for the water, but in filming, Melissa will have lots of actual water.

Eventually, Martin and producer Wehr would like to do a documentary called Toonga's Vision based on the true story of a young biologist who goes to Madagascar to observe the slash-and-burn methods used for clearing fields and forests. They meet a tribal medicine man (called an oomeya) who doesn't want all the trees burned down because then there would be nothing for the earth to repopulate. Since visiting and learning of this devastation, the biologist has seen 27,000 trees restored in that area.

Melissa Martin blends the careers of wife, mother, writer, actress and director with ease. This ease of writing and love of life comes through in the story of The Bread, My Sweet. Small wonder the film is gaining momentum around the country. Though there is no official rating, it could be PG 13. One regret, though, and that is that the soundtrack of the film by Susan Hartford, will not be commercially released.

Copyright 2002 Marie Asner
Submitted 1/10/2003


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