Prince Charming. The name has stuck with us for ages. The earliest appearance of it may be in Catherine D’Aulnoy’s “The Blue Bird”, in which a character is referred to as “the Charming King”. Later, when Andrew Lang retold D’Aulnoy’s “Story of Pretty Goldilocks”, he transliterated the name of the prince Avenant (meaning “Fine” or “Beautiful”) into “Prince Charming” and changed “the Charming King” in his translation of “The Blue Bird” into “King Charming”. Since then, the name Prince Charming has become the catch-all term for the fairy tale prince. Whether they’re from “Snow White”, “Cinderella”, “Sleeping Beauty” or “Rapunzel”, they’ll all get called “Prince Charming” by someone. But as time has gone by, we’ve seen the character depicted, reinvented and lampooned. He’s been a paragon of virtue in some stories, but he’s also been reimagined as an unfaithful cad and a vain, spoiled narcissist. Now, a new award-winning independent short film is coming out soon that places Prince Charming in a much more unusual role: the hopeless romantic. And through the magic of modern internet technology, I got to have a chat with the co-writer, director and star of this film, Mr. Tom Albanese:
Q. So, how did you get the idea for Charming?
A. I was studying in New York City at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in 2012, and we put on a production of 'Into the Woods'. I played Cinderella's Prince, had a blast and wanted to know more about who this prince dealing with the 'agony' of his love not wanting him was. So I took the screenplay I was writing about a guy whose heart had just been torn into pieces by the girl of his dreams and made him Prince Charming. It suddenly had a great hook and I was stoked to write it.
Q. You mentioned 'Into the Woods'. I've noticed that some big media projects like 'Into the Woods', the 'Shrek' films and 'Enchanted' take a bit of a dim view of the Prince Charming character, making him either a cad or a fool. That's why I was quite impressed seeing that your film went another direction and made him a hopeless romantic. Was that ever in your mind while making the film? That you were depicting the character in a way that was a little bit different?
A. Good points, well when my writing partner Chris and I were originally writing 'Charming' as a feature, we wrote the character as a big ego, bufoon, Gaston-type character. A lot of it was really funny, but it's tough to get an audience to really connect with a spoiled guy like that, which is why that type of character archetype is usually better suited for a supporting type or villian role. We had a note from the producer we worked on with the feature (when it was optioned in '13) saying that "Prince Charming has to be charming". He was right. Chris and I turned him into a hopeless romantic type a la Hugh Grant back in his rom com prime. He was Prince Charming, but still a bumbling guy trying to find love, which both ourselves and an audience could connect more with.
Q. As I understand it, it was a bit of a long road getting Charming made into a film. Is there anything you can tell us about that process and what you learned from it?
A. Yeah, it got stuck in development as a feature and we ultimately got the rights back. I then took elements of the story and turned it into a short film. Biggest thing I learned was 'just do it'. You can always hope someone with more connections finds the passion for it you have, wait around for more money, etc. But you've got to keep moving forward. There's never going to be that 'perfect time'. You've got to create it. And I didn't want this story to sit in someone's inbox anymore. So I asked for some help from the people in my life and took the resources I had to make 'Charming'. And I'm very happy I did.
Q. To be fair, the market's a bit saturated in fairy tale films at the moment. I hear there are two other Prince Charming movies in development right now. Anyway, are there any scenes in the film that are your favorites? Doesn't matter if it's in terms of writing, acting, directing, etc.
A. True, but for good reason. Most of these stories are in the public domain and established IP, so studios and companies realize they've already got a built in audience. And as long as the movies are good and entertaining, people will keep seeing them. "Beauty & the Beast" will gross over $1B. Yes, one of the Prince Charming films has been in development for a while and the animated one is trying to find distribution. There's a ton to explore with that character.
As for a favorite scene? Well, I love the scenes by the tree with Charming and Gus, as well as the transition to Hook’s bar and the scene with Cinderella. I remember rehearsing with Karla (Cinderella) a few days before we shot, saying if that scene didn’t work the movie wouldn’t. And she killed it. There’s some funny stuff in there, but my favorites are always the ones that poke at a theme and tug at the heartstrings.
Q. Now, how about more of a fun question? Fairy tales are kind of a staple of our culture, especially when we're young. Did you ever have a favorite fairy tale?
A. Haha, absolutely. For me as a kid it was mainly Aesop's Fables and the Disney fairy tales. 'Beauty and the Beast' was my number one. I've only recently got to reading all the originals, and while there's much more fantastical stuff like monkey butlers and evil fairies in 'Beauty', it's still a great story with great characters. Most of the classic fairy tales were originally geared for adults, right?
Now I'm curious about you! What's your favorite fairy tale?
Q. You've read my blog at least a little. You've got to know I've got at least a half dozen. But my philosophy has always been that most people should have at least two favorites. One favorite that is well known and popular, and one favorite that takes a little more digging to find. My standard childhood favorite is always "Jack and the Beanstalk". I liked it as a kid because it didn't waste any time on romance. But it's ultimately about a kid trying to crawl his way out of poverty and do right by his mother at the same time. My favorite obscure one is a Grimm story called "How Six Men Got on in the World" which is about a soldier who recruits five men each with a specific super-power to trick and defeat a cruel king. There are others too. I'm partial to some stories that come all the way from China and Japan. There are so many great fairy tales out there that you can't find in movie or TV form because they just won't work that way. Either they're too weird or they follow their own fuzzy "fairy tale logic" or they just don't fit standard cinematic story structure.
Now, another question: Are there any other classic stories you'd like to tackle in film form someday?
A. I like that thinking. I've got to check out 'Six Men'. And yeah, you're absolutely right on how many work on paper and not film. I've got a ton of reading to do.
Re-imagining classic stories and characters excites me. I have a feature I'm working on that puts a twist on Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Not sure if it'll be the next thing or not due to budgetary reasons, but the odds of my next project having some fantastical creature or element is pretty good.
Q. Okay, well I know you’re a busy man what with acting, directing, writing and all that. So, I think we’ll wrap this up with one more question. I know you’re just about set to launch Charming online. Where and when will my readers be able to see it?
A. Charming will be released next Tuesday, April 4th. Go to princecharmingfilm.com and it'll be available via Vimeo.
It was a real pleasure to talk with Mr. Albanese.
As for the film itself, I have watched it and liked what I saw. It’s a little rough, as independent films tend to be. If you’re used to watching Hollywood films, you’re going to want to check your expectations for production values at the door. This film was made by a group of friends with the resources that were available to them. I’ll also say that the film may rely a little too much on the Disney incarnations of the characters than I usually like. However, I understand the need to play on familiarity. But one thing the film really has going for it is piles and piles of heart. I’m also just glad to see a film that takes a different approach to the Prince character. I think as our culture has taken a fresh look at these stories, the Prince has become a bit of an easy target for parody and ridicule. The cliché handsome prince is too easily turned into a vain, womanizing jerk. And we’ve seen that in Into the Woods, Shrek 2, Fables and a whole host of others.
So, check out Charming when you get the chance. Also, go over to The Willow Web to read Amy-ElizeBrown’s interview with Tom Albanese. Amy’s a friend and true blue fairy tale fan and I’m sure she’s thought of some great questions to ask Mr. Albanese.
See you in the next tale.