Wait For Your Laugh director Jason Wise talks his experience with Rose Marie
When documentary film maker Jason Wise heard about the storied career of entertainer Rose Marie, he knew he had a fascinating subject for his next feature. What he didn’t know is that the over three year journey of making Wait for Your Laugh would create a bond between Wise and Rose Marie that would go beyond the usual director/subject relationship.
With a career spanning 90 years, Rose Marie saw all the changes to the entertainment industry in real time and navigated her career from stage to radio to television and film. In her later years, she became a popular social media presence bringing joy to fans old and new. While Wise started off thinking Rose Marie would just be navigating him through the history of entertainment what he discovered was that she would impact him personally, leaving him with life lessons that he says he’ll carry with him forever.
Below, Wait for Your Laugh director Jason Wise discusses his film and friendship with Rose Marie.
DECADES: What led you to Rose Marie?
"I feel like my entire career as a filmmaker has led me to Rose Marie. My experience releasing my first film SOMM made me incredibly interested in the strange process that is working in entertainment and I am a huge history buff, so I began to look for a person who could be the subject of a story about the history of entertainment. While working as a camera man at Yahoo, I met Rose Marie's publicist Harlan Boll, who I told about this idea. But I thought I would do it about Mickey Rooney, and it was he who told me about Rose Marie's career beyond the main things people knew. I could not believe what I was hearing from him. I became obsessed and luckily hit it off with her daughter and then her."
DECADES: What was it about her story that made you feel you were the right director to tell her story?
"Every film I start is a leap of faith that I am good enough or prepared enough, but this one was different. There was a lot of weight with this, but I became very close with Rose Marie. I think she helped convince me I was the right director. That, and my wife Christina is the best producer I have ever met, so she really made me look good."
DECADES: What was your first meeting like with Rose Marie? Did you go to her home? What were your first impressions?
"The first meeting was like a jousting match. We were feeling each other out. I think I was worried her memory wouldn't be sharp enough or something being in her early nineties. Boy was I wrong. She turned out to be a thirty year-old in a ninety year-old body. She was tough as hell and very caring at the same time. I fell in love with her immediately."
DECADES: How much did you know about Rose Marie before this project was presented to you? Had you ever seen her on Dick Van Dyke or any of her earlier work?
"Dick Van Dyke played on Nick at Night when I was a kid so yes, I knew her from there. But honestly I can say now that I have navigated her whole life using her own materials I can say, I had no idea who she was."
DECADES: After the initial pleasantries, what was the first thin Rose Marie said to you? Do you remember?
"The first thing she said to me was also the last thing she ever said to me: You need to calm down, relax a little.
DECADES: Let’s talk about your process as a filmmaker. With a career spanning 90 years, how did you decide you were going to present Rose Marie’s life story?
"Christina and I tried many different ways to structure the film, but in the end it was easier to use her vast materials she saved as a bibliography to cut to and just let her tell the story. She was a tremendous performer even just talking, so it felt natural to not mess with that."
DECADES: The documentary includes reenactments and a bunch of old footage. Where did that come from? Was it all from Rose Marie (I heard she saved everything!) or did you have to dig for it? The reenactments make for some fine moments in film. Tell me about that creative choice.
"It came about for two reasons. One, she did the voices for every person she was talking about and two, there was no way she could have filmed herself with Bugsy and Al Capone. A lot is her footage cut with ours, but a lot is also footage we shoot on film with period lenses and cameras so it would be able to cut with her footage."
DECADES: How long did it take to make the film?
"About three and a half years."
DECADES: Did you have trouble getting folks on board to produce the film?
"No women would talk to us in the film. I won't names, but we were told yes, then cancelled on by several very famous people who have professed a lot of respect for her helping their careers. The men were wonderful and knew she needed a film. In the end, Rose was surrounded by men in her film as she had been in her career."
DECADES: What’s the most interesting thing you learned about Rose Marie during this process?
"That very few people really knew her. She was an incredibly kind and giving person. I miss her so much."
DECADES: One of the things that struck me while watching the film was the love story between Rose Marie and her husband Bobby. You gave that part of Rose Marie’s life such beautiful and touching arc. Was that a deliberate decision from the beginning or was it something that was organic that came about during the process.
"I wanted this to be a mob film, my wife saw a love story. Luckily she was right, and it is the glue of the film. This film evolved very organically, we didn’t want it to feel like a standard biopic film we so often see."
DECADES: I was struck by how honest Wait For Your Laugh is. Sometimes actors like to gloss over or minimize the more unpleasant parts of their history. How did you get Rose Marie to put it all out there?
"I think it started with trusting me, which I do not take for granted. It ended with her being totally fearless. She was adamant I made an honest film and so was her daughter. They truly wanted a real film. They gave me the tools to make it that way."
DECADES: It seems Rose Marie remembered everything from her career, even it’s earliest days. She seemed so proud of her work and career. Is that a fair statement?
"Definitely. She had very little bitterness for someone who did so much. I am bitter she isn't mentioned as much as she should be, but she never seemed to have that attitude. She was still great friends with everyone she worked with, Doris Day, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke and on and on."
DECADES: During your time interviewing Rose Marie, did you get the sense or did she share with you she had any regrets about how she approached her life and career?
"She wished she had been on Murder she Wrote and always wanted to perform Gypsy. But honestly I think she kept working and didn't take a lot of time to look back. Her regrets were always that she wasn't working at certain times."
DECADES: Watching Wait for Your Laugh it feels quite intimate at times. As a director, did you find your relationship with Rose Marie grow from director/subject to something more personal?
"Extremely personal. She knew both my children and my youngest was born during production and has the middle name 'Marie.' This type of relationship is good and bad during a film because you have to edit the movie and try to forget you know the person, which of course, was impossible."
DECADES: Decades honored Rose Marie in early December 2017 with marathons of some of her television work. She participated by tweeting her memories about the shows. It was a level of participation that’s hard to come by with celebrities these days. Is that just who she was? Always willing to share?
"That is definitely the way she was. Once you were part of her world, you were family, and she loved your network."
DECADES: A few weeks later on December 28, Rose Marie passed away and even though she was 94, it still came as a shock. She was so active on social media, so present. Were you shocked?
"Yes, she was so strong, I forgot she could go away. It was a complete shock which may sound strange. I cannot tell you how much I miss her, I felt like part of her family. Luckily for those who miss her, the apple didn't fall far from the tree with her daughter."
DECADES: Rose Marie’s Twitter timeline was filled with so much joy. Did you find that joy infectious when you were around her?
"What I found was a born performer and storyteller. She was one of the most gifted talkers I will ever meet. Magnetic in person."
DECADES: Were you with Rose Marie when she saw Wait for Your Laugh the first time? What was her initial reaction? Did she have notes?
"I was with her and it was the single scariest moment of my life. Luckily, she loved the film. She laughed and cried through it. Her only complaint was that I made her father look too good, and I made him look terrible."
DECADES: Has the experience of working on Wait for Your Laugh affected how you approach subjects and storytelling for your future projects?
"Definitely. My next film is the third in a trilogy of wine films I have directed and I decided to go to the people who made the industry what it is today because of this film. I will take her and Wait for Your Laugh into every film I make for the rest of my life."
DECADES: After this experience of working on Wait for Your Laugh and spending so much time getting to know Rose Marie, what will stick with you for the rest of your life?
"The fact that older people are a lot smarter than younger people. I think people forget to ask them the right questions."
Jason Wise asked Rose Marie all the right questions and you can see what she has to say when “Wait for Your Laugh” makes its television premiere on DECADES May, 1 at 9pm EST.
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