Tyler's Q&A "This Is My Sister"

Frank G. Caruso continues to widen his breadth of work, with his documentary “This Is My Sister”, is a film that tells us what is right in the world. If you are expecting to see a documentary that tells you what’s wrong with the world or a portrait of someone that is suffering, then this film is not for you. 


This Is My Sister logline:

"This Is My Sister" will spark the humanity that lives within us all. It will redefine the meaning of unconditional love. A precious look at what happens to a life when love is the guiding factor.

TM: Why a documentary?

FGC: Watching my daughters grow into young adults, I would often remind them during their times of adolescence that they would know each other longer than any other human in their lifetime. Therefore, be kind to one another. Sisters have a unique bond that I was witness to and wanted to tell that story.

TM: Why these sisters?

FGC: About four years ago, I was on a news assignment filming at an elementary school where they celebrate their annual pioneer day. I was about to begin filming four women teaching quilting when the teacher stood and introduced all but one of the women. Immediately, one of the women from the group stood and said the words that I could not get out of my mind and noted them on a pad I had with me, "And this is my sister, Mary; she is also a part of our group.”

The woman stood in defense of her sister Mary and in defiance of a world that dismisses those that are different; she did so with such devotion. I left the classroom that day thinking about the sisters and thinking about my daughters and unconditional love. This past year as I was preparing to send my oldest daughter off to college, I was reading to my daughter from one of my journals on things that she had said over the past 18 years. The reading turned into a discussion when we came upon the pioneer day celebration. I told her about that day with the sisters and how it had affected me so deeply.  I told my daughter I was thinking about a documentary on the sisters. She responded with, "You should dad."  That night I made a call and two days later I met the sisters.

TM: Did you know what the tone of the documentary was going to be?

FGC: The tone was going to be set by the sisters. When I initially told them about that day in the school, they were very surprised because it was a natural part of their life’s fabric to support one another. I liked not having all the answers, not pushing the direction of the story.

TM: Many documentaries tell us what is wrong with something or ultimately uncover something dangerous. Were you hoping for something akin to that?

FGC: I had no preconceived notion of what path this would take. I just wanted to tell their story. Whatever goes in the camera will come out. I believe a documentarian is not interpreting, but recording history. In my fictional film work, you interpret through words, light, composition and the way you move the camera, along with a host of other factors. Now I just lied because even shooting a documentary you are trying to convey a story. For instance, the black & white clips I created to take the viewer momentarily back in time. Ken Burns does it better than anyone without corrupting the facts of a story. I did not want to get in the way of the story--whatever happens in the moment happens. In the end, the sisters told their story with little fuss.

TM: Mary's mother and father did this in 1957 when the world said no. What do you think about that?

FGC: I'm grateful, so grateful, for the way Earl and Marion showed the world what it is to stand up for what you believe in and live your life in that vein.

TM: How many people were there on shooting days?

FGC: Trust is so imperative with all the sisters and I knew from the beginning that Mary had to feel comfortable and trust me. She has an innate sense about people that is razor sharp. So, it was just me. Mary and I would start the day often singing songs from a musical that she loved. It was quite fun.

TM: What would you like people to come away with after seeing your film?

FGC: As a father, "This Is My Sister" has profoundly changed my life, getting to know Mary, Kathy, Nora and their mother and father. Before I began this film, I had my definition of what unconditional love was, and then I met the sisters, who have redefined the definition evermore. My greatest hope for “This Is My Sister” is for the viewer to walk away as I have, knowing that love is the great leveler of life. With it, you hold the key to the universe ... and without it the stars above are just flickering lights without a soul.

Tyler's Q&A "The Red Umbrella"

Hello, I’m Tyler Mackie, and I work for Frank G. Caruso, or as he likes to be called, Mr. Caruso.  No, not really…just Frank. When I first interviewed for the job, Frank asked me to recall my very first dream of what I wanted to become in life.  The dream I had as a little girl.  He then asked me, “Did you make it come true?”

He then handed me “The Red Umbrella” script and said, “Read it, you should know who you’re going to work with. Then you interview me and ask me every question you would like.”

I am so delighted to share this, my first interview, with you today.


Frank G. Caruso is the author of one of my favorite scripts, "The Red Umbrella." Taking an entirely different method that has not been explored, crafting a tightly woven fast-paced relationship made up of young girls, all of whom have suffered a brutality in their respective homes that is unthinkable. They are all protagonists, miraculous, smart, courageous and hopeful. Their antagonist is a formidable adversary, genius, brutal, sociopathic and evil. While the world sees them as hereditarily deviant children, the girls know that birth and circumstance are only temporary elusions.

The Red Umbrella, Logline:

In 1951, idealistic America was at its peak, though at the Lawrence School for Wayward Girls, a dark secret lies in the ground. Five gifted girls fight to find the truth and sanity at the hands of an insane warden. What is about to be uncovered is a truth that should never be told.

This is probably my favorite interview so far because Frank speaks from the heart, with no bars, no reservations, coupled with some terrific advice. Hope you like this.

TM: How long have you been writing, and how many scripts before “The Red Umbrella” have you written?

FGC: I told stories before I could walk, at least that is what my mother keeps telling me. Apparently on my first day of school, I came running through the kitchen door, grabbed all the chairs in the house and piled them up against the door.  Then I stood with my arms spread out warning my mother not to go outside or near my school.  My mother, in her calm voice, says “Frankie, what is it? Tell me your story.” So I didn’t just tell my stories; I started acting them out. I've been making up stories forever; I do it every day of my life. While I haven't been writing screenplays all that long, I've always written short stories and my versions of poems and songs. It’s really about putting words in an order that has never been done before.  I'd written two complete screenplays before “The Red Umbrella.”

TM: Because the script is about teenage girls and it takes place before you were born, how do you get into the minds of those girls from another era and write with such clarity?

FGC: I think people are surprised when they discover that a man wrote “The Red Umbrella,”

not a 30-year-old woman who has lived the part. However, who better? If you’re a man and if you have been paying attention to the human experience, observing all that grows and all that withers in life, you can turn that into magic. It also helps to have two teenage daughters. The era is easy if you have read books of that era like “The Catcher In The Rye.” Everything you do in life adds to your knowledge base.

TM: What inspired you to write “The Red Umbrella”?

FGC:  Inspiration...It comes to me everyday. On this particular day, “The Red Umbrella” came about, as all my stories do, by observing the world around me. I had been part of a program called “Read To Me” where I would go into a correctional institution and videotape inmates reading books to their children.  The tape and book would be sent to the child in an effort to reconnect fathers with their children.  In between video takes, five or so inmates were waiting in line. I asked the inmates about the door that led to the school. I had installed enough doors to know that the height from the floor to the handle is about three feet. When I went to open the door to the school it was considerably lower. I think anyone would have felt that difference, but for me it left a question that needed an answer. The inmates told me that the prison was once a school for wayward girls. That was all I needed. When I got home that night, I retrieved a new “Brain Book” and wrote the words “The Red Umbrella.”

TM: This writer’s block, have you had it? How long did it take you to write “The Red Umbrella”? Were there any difficult moments where you thought it wasn't good enough?

FGC: I have the opposite of writer’s block and I think this is why.  I usually work on two scripts at once. I mentioned my Brain Book.  That is where I do my outline, brainstorming, even dialogue and then research for the next script.  I'll be writing one and prepping for the next. So while I’m writing and if I come to a place where, say, a character does not know what to say, I switch gears and go to my Brain Book to clear my head. The actual writing for “The Red Umbrella” took around 32 days.  This I know because I wanted to enter it into a contest.

TM: You made a trailer from one line of your screenplay. Why?

FGC: Yes… I’m a screenwriter.  I’m really a filmmaker who writes, directs, produces, etc.  I’m very visual and wanted to see my words come alive, to see if it works on film. The response to the trailer has been more…much more!

TM: Your script has a wonderful emotional component that resonates in layers in places, yet never goes over the top. How did you approach the emotion in your screenplay, and how did you know when to stop?

FGC: Thank you. This is what I do.  I remember when I was a kid and piled those chairs up against the door, I was acting out the scene. My approach is to write the scene, then act it out and ask myself, does it work?  I do that over and over and over.  The Red Umbrella is very much an emotional story.  I was well aware of not wandering off into melodrama, knowing the emotional beats and staying true to it, saving the story from becoming overwrought with emotion.  I think that when we talk about emotion in film, we’re talking about being moved in a way that takes us through a range of emotions. The very best films do that to us and we remember them forever. The very first film that did what I just described for me was “The Wizard Of Oz.” It made me laugh, it made me scared, and it made me cry. Seventy years after its release, it still works, even though most of us know what’s coming.

TM: The RULES of screenwriting.  Do you follow a set structure when you write?

FGC: Rules slow creativity and the flow of your story. That being said, rules have a place in the world of screenwriting and they work. You need to know them.  Of course, you can break them to fit your own writing style. Right now I have a propensity to write in three act structures. I feel it’s clean and works. I like that it came from the theater and has worked for thousands of years. Above all, do not let rules stop you from writing your story.

TM: What's your process?  What comes first, character, plot, dialogue, etc?

FGC: Story…will I sit and read it without stopping? Everything else will find its place. Also, minimalism. I really like simple, well-designed scripts. I like scripts with a clear goal of the obstacles. At the end of the day, I want people to read my scripts.