Mark Kassen & Chris Evans / Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment
Puncture, which premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival (and secured distribution out of TFF), is based on a true story, centering on Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), a talented young Houston lawyer and a functioning drug addict. Paul Danziger (played by Mark Kassen, who also co-directed the film with his brother Adam), Weiss’ longtime friend and partner, is the straight-laced and responsible yin to Mike’s yang. Their mom-and-pop personal-injury law firm is getting by, but things really get interesting when they decide to take on a case involving Vicky (Vinessa Shaw), a local ER nurse who is pricked by a contaminated needle on the job.
As Weiss and Danziger dig deeper into the case, a health care and pharmaceutical conspiracy teeters on exposure, and heavyweight attorneys move in on the defense. Out of their league—but invested in their own principles—the mounting pressure of the case pushes the two underdog lawyers and their business to the breaking point.
On the eve of the film’s release, we asked Adam Kassen to share some behind-the-scenes insights into the turning of this harrowing, based-on-true-events story into a film. If you have more questions for Adam, you can catch him at the 7:20 screenings of Puncture at Landmark Sunshine this weekend in New York. If you’re in LA, catch his brother Mark—along with co-star Chris Evans (aka Captain America)—at the 7:30 screenings on Friday and Saturday at the Westside Pavilion Landmark Theatre.
Adam & Mark Kassen / Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment
Telling True Stories...
We shot our film in Houston, Texas, a place we had never been to before. Houston is actually an amazing city, one of the largest in the USA. Incredibly diverse, they have the first openly lesbian mayor in the country, the biggest small town cowboy you will ever meet, and everything in between. They have amazing restaurants, really cool bars, and an awesome music scene. My brother and I have spent our entire adult lives in NYC and Los Angeles, and have I got news for you: Houston is the real melting pot of America. Everybody down there welcomed us with open arms, and it was a great place to shoot.
We spent a lot of time of time talking to the many local lawyers, doctors, judges, nurses, and families involved in our story. After about a year of traveling down to Houston and working with our writer Chris Lopata, we finally got our script to where we felt we wanted it. We moved on down to Texas, and with lots of help from the local community, we prepped for a few months, and then finally started our shoot.
One of the reasons my bro and I first connected to this story is that with our Mom and Dad—a nurse and a pharmacist for over 40 years—we’ve seen firsthand what an important role our front line healthcare workers play. In our much-debated health care system these days, too often these people are left out of the discussion.
On our first day of shooting, we shot the needle stick scene, where our character Nurse Vicky (Vinessa Shaw) was stuck by a needle; she eventually contracted HIV. We shot the scene in an actual working ER, with many real nurses and doctors watching over us, making sure the accuracy of this common occurrence was kept true. After our first take, one of the nurses came up to Vinessa and me and recounted, in great detail, how she saw her friend get stuck with a needle and then as result die of AIDS some years later. She got very emotional as she told the story, finally breaking down and crying. It reminded us that while we were just making a movie, to this woman, what we were doing that day meant much more.
Houston lawyers are an interesting, dynamic bunch. Many are from small firms, or work on teams of two lawyers who relish the chance to take on the big “white shoe law firms” in NYC—none more so than top trial attorney Mark Lanier. As one of the most feared and respected trial lawyers in the country, he rarely loses, he’s always smiling, and he always seems as though he is having a good ‘ole time.
Lanier was gracious enough to let us shoot a scene on his 30-acre estate just outside of Houston; it was a pivotal scene where one set of lawyers tries to get the opposing counsel to agree to a settlement. On the day we were shooting, Lanier just “happened” to be walking across his expansive lawn with a stern-looking, dark suit-clad young woman at his side. Lanier walked her up to our camera, and with a big smile said, “Oh, I forgot you guys were doing this today… This is the defense attorney of a case we are trying to settle right now. I just flew her and her team in from NYC!” He then turned to the seemingly confused woman: “These guys are just making a movie about one of my old cases. Come on, lets keep walking. Me and the guys made y’all some bagels, they’re delicious…” And as the two walked on, Lanier turned back to us to let us know that the negotiations were going “well.”
He later settled that case for millions of dollars, and sent the young woman and her law team back to NYC on his plane. Talk about life imitating art! Or in our case, maybe art imitating life imitating art. We asked Lanier to play himself in a small part in the movie, and after some reluctance, he agreed. And he’s great.
The story was originally sent to us by Paul Danziger, one of the original lawyers involved in the case. We worked very closely with Paul throughout the script stage. During production, Paul was there almost every day… as were his parents, wife and four adorable kids. They were a breath of fresh air to have on set, excited about everything from the actors to the sound mixer to the script supervision. Having them around was a great reminder, even in the most hectic of moments, that making a movie is pretty cool.
My brother played the movie version of Paul in our film, and let’s just say their fashion sensibilities are a bit different. My brother lives in NYC, and his favorite clothing store is John Varvatos. Paul lives in Houston, and is a conservative dresser, appropriate for court. On the first day Paul came to set, my brother Mark (dressed in character) walked up to him with his hair neatly parted, a blue oxford shirt tucked into to his pressed khaki pants, and Paul looked him up and down. “Mark, why are you dressed like that? You look really dorky,” Paul said, almost despondent. Mark looked at himself, and then gently pointed at Paul, and shrugged his shoulders. Paul then looked down at his own outfit, realizing he was wearing the exact same thing as Mark. Since that day, we’ve noticed Paul trying out different wardrobes; he has definitely upped his fashion sensibility...
We had so much help from so many of the real people and members of the community of Houston, and we really wouldn’t have been able to make this project without them. In particular, we very much want to thank the Weiss, Danziger and Lanier families for letting us into their lives, and for trusting us to bring their story to the screen. We can only hope that others will be as moved by their humanity and as inspired by their quest for justice as my brother and I have been.
Now, go see the movie this weekend!
Puncture opens Friday, September 23, in New York (Landmark Sunshine and AMC Empire 25) Los Angeles (Westside Pavilion Landmark), and Houston (River Oaks). Find tickets.
Catch Adam Kassen at the 7:20 pm screenings on Friday and Saturday at Landmark Sunshine in NYC. In LA, Mark Kassen and co-star Chris Evans will do Q&As at the 7:30 screenings on Friday and Saturday at the Westside Pavilion Landmark.
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Watch the trailer: