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Quilly's Reverie: Key Scene Study

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John Henry Redwood, Playwright

John Henry Redwood 
"When Quilly has to reveal her separation from Herman, that's a very tough moment for both sisters. Herman has been the bone of contention between these two for a long, long time. Remember, she comes into this household bearing a yoke of lies around her neck. And she comes very sorry that she has done what she has done. But there are some people who can't say I'm sorry. They try to show it in any number of ways, but they just can't say it. So this is big for her. It's also big for Elizabeth, because now she has her apology, and being the nurturer that she is, we know that she still loves her sister and that she is finally going to forgive her. All of those years there was a band-aid over this wound and now the band-aid has been taken off. The wound has now been healed."

"Where Quilly's revelation scene falls in the play is dictated by the fact that she is very vulnerable and she is going to be left alone. Throughout the play we have heard how Mama has taken care of her, Elizabeth has taken care of her, Herman has taken care of her. Now her sister is going to take off to be with someone. She is faced with the prospect of being left alone for the first time in her 53, 54, 55 years, to take care of Quilly on her own. That has to be a very scary thing for her. That is one of the things that prompts that revelation, that prompts that apology."


Behind the scenes
John Henry Redwood behind the scenes with cast members Phylicia Rashad and Debbie Allen


Shauneille Perry, Screenwriter

Shauneille Perry 
"In the play, the major problem between Quilly and Elizabeth stemmed from Quilly's seduction of the man who was to have been Elizabeth's husband. That's all that was said. In the revelatory scene Elizabeth said, 'You took him away from me,' and Quilly said, 'He didn't really love you.' I always felt that there needed to be an additional motivation for Quilly's strong behavior. Something had to be revealed to make Quilly behave the way she was behaving, otherwise it was mean-spirited. I had at one time done a whole history of Elizabeth having known Herman when they were young women in the South, but the history wasn't liked. Finally, it was revealed that Herman left Quilly, indeed she found him with another woman. That would certainly be reason enough for someone to be extremely bitter and small-minded. She did this act against her sister, but then had been betrayed on top of it. So was it really worth it?"

"I would say that The Old Settler is about growing old, about being lonely, about women. I think that Quilly is terribly afraid of being alone. She feels deserted by everyone. And I thought that in adding the Herman factor it's a double desertion. The parents died, there was no one else. And also I felt that Quilly felt Elizabeth got everything, because she was the younger sister."


Debbie Allen, Director

Debbie Allen 
"Working with the writer, I re-designed the scene where Quilly finally tells the truth about what happened between Herman and herself, because I wanted to create a scene that began with Quilly and then dissolved into a flashback. I wanted to see Quilly and Herman in the good times, and then see them in the bad times and then come back to Quilly in the present. This way we get to see more of Quilly's backstory."

"The DP and I designed it so that the camera went in and creeped on Quilly slowly, and when she talks about a storm coming the lights actually change and then we go to black. And when we come back to her the lights come back up. It's a beautiful sequence."

"For the scene where Quilly reveals the truth about Herman, I directed Phylicia to simply listen and to go deep into how she feels."


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Debbie Allen

Debbie Allen talks about the scene


Edwin Schiernecker, Gaffer

Edwin Schiernecker 
"Quilly's scene was backlit to make it a little more intimate and dramatic, with one key light coming in very softly so her face was softly lit, with a little bit of front fill to smooth out the face and minimize the wrinkles. And an eye light -- a little dot in the eyes which makes the eyes twinkle and makes the face come alive."


Quilly's scene is made more dramatic with lighting


Simon Edery, Producer

Phylicia Rashad as Elizabeth


Simon Edery 
"Phylicia said, 'I would love to shoot this show in sequence' [in the order they take place in the film.] It's practically impossible. You have to have a lot of money and a lot of time to do that. She wanted to do it because emotionally it's easier for an actor when there is a psychological progression in her character. I tried to schedule her scenes in sequence as much as possible. Four or five days it was in sequence and then we had a scene completely out of sequence. Quilly's revelation scene just fell where it fell."


Lillian Benson, Editor

Lillian Benson 
"Quilly tells her sister Elizabeth something painful about her past that she had kept hidden. Quilly is a person who likes to be the center of attention, she's self-confident bordering on pushy, she's got a good heart but she's kind of blustery. Her sister is the quiet one. In the show we always have empathy for Elizabeth, but in this scene we begin to have empathy for Quilly."


"The scene is supposed to take place in Quilly's head, and what we're looking at is what I call the template of the dialogue, against which we eventually cut another scene, which is her flashback. She talks about things starting out great in her marriage to Herman, he loved her so. And then things started to change. The change happens both in her voice and her performance, and it starts to happen visually. What was a bright and shiny memory darkens. There's actually a storm going on while Quilly tells her sister the story within the story."

"We've all had reveries, and the challenge here was to recreate the experience of going into someone's head, and you kind of see it at a distance. I wanted the audience to feel as if they were sitting in Quilly's living room, and she's telling them what happened to her, and it would resonate both visually and physically. And that's all a question of what picture falls against what dialogue at what time. I had to open it up a little bit because they had thunder in the background and the lights were flashing in the window, and obviously dialogue can't happen over that. I had to space it so her dialogue comes in in a certain way. Quilly comes in the door kind of bent over, holding packages. She sweeps through the door and I tried to get it up and down on the line. You fool around with it until it feels right."

"The whole sequence was one take. They did 12 takes, but only one was used. So the only thing that could change was the dialogue off-camera. So I manipulated and moved the dialogue around to better serve the picture. I didn't have a lot to do with picture, but I did do a lot with sound, which is a big part of editing. If the right word falls in the right spot it adds strength to it. I often say, two plus two equals six - it should be much more than you started out with."


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Debbie Allen as Quilly

The scene without the flashback cut into it


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