I had the privilege last night of being at a screening in New York of director Alex Merkin's new feature film, "ACROSS THE HALL."

It was an astonishing and very heartening experience for me, as a movie lover and as an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker.

Across the Hall was astonishing not simply because it was an edge-of your-seat, adrenaline-draining thriller, or because the shooting style and editing made me imagine what Alfred Hitchcock might be doing today if he were young and alive and had his hands on today's technology. Nor was it astonishing mainly because the actors, particularly the two main characters, played by Mike Vogel and Danny Pino, were encouraged by Merkin to maintain a level of close-up intensity that never burned out and never burned the audience out. All of those elements made the film great, but what made it astonishing was that this was the first feature by this director, and it was shot in seventeen days on a very low budget, and it was still great!

Across the Hall was heartening because like my hero as a writer, Alan Ball ("American Beauty"), Alex Merkin clearly made the film he wanted to make, not the film that an aspiring director might think the Hollywood money people would want him to make. (Praise to producer Stephen Fromkin for giving Merkin the latitude to express his budding creative genius in this project.)

Filmmaking is not just a business, folks, and while there is always pressure to make it so from the suits of Hollywood and Wall Street, it cannot ever become only that because storytelling is a practice necessary for human evolution. From the earliest cave drawings and sand-paintings to today's webisodes, we communicate not just through language, but through the metaphors of story that convey our deeper yearnings and common experiences, and give us pause to laugh, cry and ponder.

As I watched this film last night, I couldn't escape having a couple of thoughts: Alex Merkin is going to become a household name soon, and I want this man to direct one of my films!

Congratulations, Alex!

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