MINNEAPOLIS — Tales of Hollywood’s ups and downs are no better than this: “Flag Day” tells the story of Jennifer Vogel’s life and there would be no way she could exist without her. Even so, she was edited out of the movie.
Based on the memoir of the Minneapolis writer, “Flim-Flam Man: The True Story of My Father’s Counterfeit Life,” the film portrays Vogel’s adolescence and young adulthood, much of it lived with his father, a arsonist and counterfeiter who disappeared for long periods of time.
The book generated enough buzz that producer Bill Horberg wanted to make it into a movie before it was released in 2004. Even then, Sean Penn, who ultimately directed and starred in this movie, was considered Vogel’s late father. (Penn’s daughter Dylan plays young adult Jennifer.) Just 17 years later, moviegoers can see him doing just that as “Flag Day” opens this weekend in Toronto at Varsity.
“I remember Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth, who are the writers, coming to visit me,” Vogel said. “I took them around the city and tried to show them some places that were important to me and my dad. It was a glimpse into the future, that first trip, showing these real things – my old school, our hut, these iconic places – and thinking about how they could be represented in a fictional way.
Vogel got his first idea of how this might work when he was sent a first draft of the script. Her husband, journalist Mike Mosedale, performed it on the way to their cabin near Bemidji.
“He was reading it to me while I was driving and we had to pull over at the side of the freeway because we were both crying,” Vogel recalls.
In the 17 years it took to make the film, Horberg stuck with the project. This was still an “exciting possibility” that Vogel didn’t want to think too much about, knowing that many books are chosen by the movies and never made. Coincidentally, she was out of town again, vacationing with three buddies in a cabin in January 2019, when things got real.
“We had been hiking in the snow,” recalls Vogel, who returned from the winter hike to find a voicemail message from Horberg. “He said, ‘I’m sticking to that original promise.’ And he’s a guy who never lived up to your expectations in a way that wasn’t realistic, so I knew it was really happening. I have to tell you that my face has turned completely white. It was an explosion of excitement, then acres of terror.
Part of that fear came from knowing that she would have to see heartbreaking scenes from her life replayed onscreen multiple times. But Vogel says Penn welcomed her to the film, which was shot in and around Winnipeg, in the summer of 2019.
“I didn’t want to spend my life there. I have other things to do, but I’ve been there three times, I guess as an observer. I would give a lot of marks. I was a reality test, ”said Vogel, whose third trip to the set included filming a small role as one of his high school teachers.
“I’m not a person who likes the attention and the spotlight very much, but I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready,'” said Vogel, recalling being hassled by artisans in the field. hairstyle, makeup and costume while eating lunch.
Finally, the scene was cut. “It wasn’t my fault, I don’t think so,” Vogel joked. But she knows her on-set experience was unusual in a business that typically devalues writers.
“I have been treated so well and so respectfully. Guess that’s a big deal when you’re playing against someone and the real person shows up. Daughter Jadyn (Rylee), who plays between me, would say, “WWJD? What would Jennifer do? ‘ Vogel said.
What Jennifer would do is take it with a grain of salt. Vogel was dazzled by the Hollywood magic – she was on set for an “incredible” scene of a burning building – but she remains puzzled by the whole process.
“All this giant team and all these actors and Sean, playing and directing at the same time. It was so much effort. And so much care has been taken in telling this story, ”said Vogel. “I can’t help it, I was like, ‘Is all this worth it? It was a bit too much. “
Audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, where Flag Day received a standing ovation last month, thought it was worth it. So ask people who contact via Twitter to tell Vogel that they can relate to his story of surviving childhood trauma.
Survival is a key theme of the film, which ends with a title card that assures viewers that Vogel is doing well, living in Minneapolis with her husband, and working on a novel.
“It was fun to visit the set but also a little stressful to watch people perform painful scenes in your life. It was sometimes very difficult,” said Vogel, moving to second person to discuss the disconnect between s sit in the present and relive the past. “But I could still go home.”