Based in New York, the independent film The Cobbler brings a taste of magical realism to modern-day Manhattan. Produced by Mary Jane Skalski and co-written and directed by Tom McCarthy, The Cobbler features Adam Sandler in a wholly different role. Playing the titular shoemaker, Sandler’s character Max Simkin gets to live vicariously through the lives of his customers by wearing their shoes.
Producing from her New York home for 20 years now, Skalski noted that Sandler brought the necessary weight and presence to the modestly-budgeted effort. “Adam Sandler is incredible to work with and sets such a great tone on set,” she said. “It’s impossible to not work hard and have a good time doing it.”
Being wholly independent, having worked with such directors as Gregg Araki, Ang Lee and Edward Burns, Skalski only participates in projects which appeal to her particular tastes. “I look for things that speak to me,” she revealed. “One thing that’s nice is that I don’t have to justify my choices to anybody. If I want to do it, I do it.”
Given many projects that she’s developed with McCarthy as director, Skalski typically undertakes films within a very specific niche. “For me, the situation and world need to feel real,” she expressed. “Thematically, things will interest me. I like films that feel like they are about real people in somewhat extraordinary circumstances. There’s a bit of that same kind of real humanism behind all of Tom’s films.”
Surely, a spiritual bond between producer and director can lead to multiple projects, but in the fragile new world of independently produced films, such relationships are rare and special. “I bristle when I hear people say, ‘That’s my director,’” said Skalski. “I love to work with Tom and would be surprised if I didn’t produce a film of his. But I don’t take it for granted.”
Certainly, in the lower-budgeted indie realms, one needs to capitalize upon private financing when it initially comes together, necessitating a fast-track methodology. “Sometimes, you talk about the strategy of how it will get set up,” Skalski noted. “What are the priorities? The financing plan comes together around that: we want to shoot this in three months in New York City. Then, we can put a plan in place to finance it. The size of the movie gave us the infrastructure we wanted.”
Naturally, attaching an actor of the bankability of Sandler would make any film coalesce in advance of production, and The Cobbler was no exception. “As [Tom] was writing it, he was thinking of Adam Sandler,” Skalski explained. “That felt really right. Then, it came together pretty quick. We wanted to get it shot before the end of the year. That became very important, getting it up and running. We all wanted to move very quickly.”
For McCarthy, the high concept nature of the film came to him fluidly. “I do remember sitting at my desk thinking, ‘You don’t know a man until you walk a mile in his shoes,’’’ he recalled. “Where did this come from? I kept thinking about it. I lived on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan above a shoe repair place. The neon sign in the movie was very similar to the real one. I brought in co-writer Paul Sado very early with a fragment of an idea.”
Since McCarthy was delving into the domain of magical realism – noteworthy in the work of the recently deceased author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the co-screenwriters knew that they had to establish the basic tenants of their story. “We got to a place where, we had to ask, ‘How literal can we make this?’” McCarthy explained, going on to point to the film’s prologue which features a flashback to Simkin’s ancestry. “A cobbler was a revered figure at the time, someone to go to if you had troubles. We spun off on the idea. Let’s establish rules and remain true to it, and see where the story takes us.”
After contacting Sandler through a mutual friend, writer-director Judd Apatow, Sandler was excited about the idea and worked with McCarthy not only to develop the character but also to streamline the film’s foundation. “Adam and I had a number of conversations about it,” McCarthy explained. “We had to figure out the timing. We started getting more and more into it; we hit it off. He trusted me and our relationship. He knew it wasn’t a Happy Madison film; it wasn’t even a Tom McCarthy film. It was something in between.”
Without question, key to The Cobbler’s success rests in the tone of the story, and McCarthy knew this project would be challenging in that regard. “Tone is ultimately one of the harder things to get,” he stated. “It’s supposed to be a fun ride. That’s what really challenged me about the film.”
As The Cobbler is now behind him, McCarthy is already looking towards future projects. “My next film will be very different from this,” he affirmed. “Big directors have to think about how their work is packaged. I try to find a project I’m excited about and go for it. Everything else is beyond my control. The fun is in doing it, and making it, and moving onto the next thing.”
The Cobbler was released digitally on March 13 plus in theaters in Canada and the U.S. on 15 screens through RLJ Entertainment.