One Hour Photo - Production Notes

One Hour Photo
Production Notes

“When we look through our photo albums, we’re seeing a record of only the happy moments in our lives...No one ever takes a photograph of something they want to forget.”

- Sy Parrish

The casual shopper stocking up at the local SavMart may not pay much attention to the man at the photo counter. They may, in fact, not even see him. He is a fixture. Nina Yorkin notices though. She greets him with a smile and leaves him with - trusts him with - the precious moments of her family’s life.

Sy has seen the loving embraces Nina shares with her husband Will. He has witnessed every family holiday and vacation. He has watched their son Jake grow from infancy to a nine-year-old young man. Photo development is a responsibility Sy Parrish takes very seriously. He does not just mechanically thread negatives into a slot and print pictures. He does his job carefully, meticulously; taking care to see that each frame properly represents a moment in time.

A person’s life, after all, in its simplest terms is nothing more than moments strung together from the second of birth to that final instant when the last breath is drawn. If those moments, all so fleeting, should be preserved, they become memories to be cherished; the more memories, the more important the life. Sy Parrish treasures these moments more than most people do. Sy cherishes these moments even more than the people who live them. If anything, or anyone, should disrupt or interfere with Sy’s perception of the picture-perfect family, a family he feels so very much a part of, then he too feels the intrusion. Just as he takes responsibility for preserving the perfect moments, he feels obligated to correct the imperfect ones.

ONE HOUR PHOTO was created by Writer/Director Mark Romanek and stars Academy Award®-winning actor Robin Williams (“Good Will Hunting”) as Seymour “Sy” Parrish. Nina and Will Yorkin, whose family and lives become the object of Sy’s obsession, are played by Connie Nielsen (“Gladiator”) and Michael Vartan (“Never Been Kissed”).

ONE HOUR PHOTO was produced by Christine Vachon (“Boys Don’t Cry”), Pam Koffler (“Boys Don’t Cry”) and Stan Wlodkowski (“Slums of Beverly Hills”).

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Writer/Director Mark Romanek said his inspiration for ONE HOUR PHOTO emerged out of “a desire to make a contemporary film in the mode of the `lonely-man’ films of the 70s.” His influences were drawn from films like “The Conversation,” “The Tenant,” “Taxi Driver” and “The Passenger.”

After completing the script, Romanek sent it to Producers Christine Vachon and Pamela Koffler who instantly liked the story. Vachon remembers, “The script was intriguing enough for us to feel like we wanted to sit down and talk to him. That’s part of the process. Will a director convince us that a script we felt was good is even better? Do they make us excited about the journey from the page to the screen?”

Producer Stan Wlodkowski joined the filmmaking team after learning of the burgeoning project through a colleague. A longtime fan of Vachon and Koffler, Wlodkowski also found Romanek’s script “insightful as well as challenging.”

The team instantly set about the task of finding the right actor to fill Sy Parrish’s shoes. Koffler says, “We were driven to Robin by Mark’s vision. We thought to really elevate ONE HOUR PHOTO, to make it as great as it could be, we needed a real movie star in the role of Sy. Someone with that kind of charisma willing to play a character probably unlike anything they’d ever played before.”

Romanek said what convinced him that Williams was the right man for the part was the enthusiasm and empathy he brought to the character. “When we first met to discuss doing the film, we were so in synch about how `Sy’ should be played, I immediately started to see the incredible potential of having Robin take on this role.”

“To have Robin Williams in a part that is different than audiences have seen before was undeniably an important element in bringing this story to the screen,” Koffler explains. Vachon agrees, adding, “I think audiences will be excited by the idea of seeing Robin do something that they haven’t seen him do before, or not in a long time. Robin has done dramatic roles all through his career but they certainly aren’t Sy. He’s demonstrated in the past the range he has as an actor, so, in a way, all we’re doing is reminding people of that.”

Romanek agrees, “If you look more closely at some of Robin’s dramatic work, you come to realize that this character isn’t as far afield from his previous roles as you might imagine.”

Williams was enthusiastic about the unusual character. “I’m glad they sent it to me to begin with.” He explains, “People always say, ‘Oh, he plays such nice people.’ This man is nice, but with a dark side. It’s been exciting to play that. He does things that are creepy, bizarre. It’s interesting stuff to inhabit a real and very, very fascinating character.”

Romanek says it was also fascinating to watch Williams play the character. “The level of commitment, emotion and attention to detail that Robin brought to playing this role was truly amazing to witness.”

Connie Nielsen, who plays the part of Nina Yorkin, the central character in Sy Parrish’s idealized fantasy world, credits Romanek for his visionary character development. “I found that Mark had written a script that treated Robin’s character with humanity and understanding.”

Michael Vartan, who plays Will Yorkin, agrees, “One of the most interesting things was actually thinking of Robin Williams playing this character.” Vartan explains, “It's not a huge departure because he has played dramatic roles before, but in my head, when I think of Robin Williams, I think of someone very funny, very witty, very fast, and it's always more on the comedic side of things. So when I read the script, especially toward the end of the story, I thought, my God, he is going to be absolutely terrifying in this film.”

In addition to the complex nature of Sy’s character, Williams said he was also drawn to the storyline. “When I first read it,” Williams explains, “I thought it had so many interesting turns. You think it’s going one way, then it gets very disturbing…disturbing in a good way, if you can be disturbed in a good way,” he laughs. “His focus changes from one scene to the next and I found myself not knowing what was going to happen next, which is good. I found myself drawn into the character almost to the level of the thought process. That’s what fascinated me.”

Sy, who has always been an outsider, is drawn to the Yorkin’s picture-perfect existence, which seems so opposite to his own. Williams observes, “They’re not like a Norman Rockwell family but almost like families you see in advertisements now. They’re young, beautiful, and perfect in terms of that ideal image and they seem to have everything. And that’s what he finds fascinating because he is totally the opposite; not attractive, he lives alone. They are like the exact counter pole to the universe for him and he’s drawn to that.”

This duality of perception - the Yorkins’ appearance vs. their reality - also held intrigue for Nielsen. “I thought it interesting to play a character who has both this exterior side, which is the fantasy side, if you will. She is a housewife who, on the outside, looks as if she has the perfect life, and at the same time, we get to see the private side of her, which is anything but perfect. I love the dichotomy,” Nielsen says.

And Sy is certainly a character on the outside looking in Nielsen observes, “What struck me was that feeling when you’re 15 years old and you think, ‘If I could just be that person, or have that money or whatever, then my life would be perfect.’ Then you grow up and realize that there is no such thing as perfect. That is one of the things Sy needs to realize.”

Vachon observes that it is the fact that Sy seems so ordinary that is also disturbing. “What Robin achieves with the character is making you wonder about him, and feel for him, and at the same time, be kind of disgusted by what he is doing.”

“And disgusted,” Koffler adds, “because everyone has experienced Sy moments; the inability to connect with other people, of always being a little off, that kind of loneliness. The trick to Sy is making him sympathetic, without making him saccharin and that’s something that Robin’s really managed.”

Williams adds, “We talked about the character and that he views himself not as an evil character, just as a man who is righteous in his own way. A man who views himself almost like he is doing good, in a bizarre way.”

Playing the pivotal role of Detective Van Der Zee - the determined, yet compassionate police detective who tracks Sy down - is critically acclaimed actor Eriq La Salle (“ER”). La Salle sees the film as an exploration of “what it means to be damaged, what it means to be lonely and alone, what it means to be in such need of basic love that you have to create an imaginary world for yourself and that you have to kidnap someone else’s life just to feel whole and complete.” He continues, “It’s one of those films that should really make us all count our blessings.”

As for Williams’ own take on the course his character chooses, “He lives alone because of an inability to connect, to be the warmest guy in the world. He’s disconnected on some levels, hence the fascination with precision. Does he come away a better human being? He’s a different human being because of the things that have happened to him. He acted something out very much from within himself. I don’t think he’s the same person in the end, it’s not the same man.”

Sy Parrish and the world he lives in has a look that is very distinctive, created with very vivid images by Romanek. Williams describes, “The SavMart store is like hyper reality. It’s like a lot of those big market-type stores with surreal abundance and amongst that he sits in this little corner. But the store itself - everything is this kind of white, bright light all around and Sy blends in. He doesn’t stand out and could all of a sudden just disappear in his blandness. In the outside world he stands out, especially when you get near the Yorkin’s house which is very warm and incredibly beautiful, almost painfully beautiful because it is his idealized home.” Comparing that with the reality of Sy, Williams says, “In his own life, you know, things are very much in place. It’s very distinct; this is not someone who acts out. Everything is planned except for when things start to fall apart. And when his world falls apart, it falls apart big.”

To create the carefully crafted, meticulously ordered, picture-perfect world of Sy Parrish, Romanek turned to long-time collaborator and acclaimed Production Designer Tom Foden (“The Cell”). Using a soon-to-be-demolished facility, Foden created SavMart, a retail store that would be the foundation of Sy Parrish’s domain. As Robin Williams describes, “It’s designed to be Sy’s world and he is a creature that blends into the environment, I mean it’s the clothes, the hair, everything. It’s someone who is very, very dedicated to his job and for him it's an art form and he’s passionate about it. In that store, there will be music playing and I doubt that he hears it. He’s oriented toward photographs and everything is almost like a picture to him.”

The visual style of the film extends into the very specific look of each of the character costumes created by Costume Designer Arianne Phillips. As Michael Vartan observes, “I'm wearing all brown today. There's not an ounce of anything else but brown, it's very monochromatic. Everything is painted in this perfect picture. It also has to do with the fact that it's shown from Sy’s point of view, which is, at times, more of a fantasy than anything real. This family seemingly has everything together...even the dog matches the furniture,” he laughs.


MARK ROMANEK (Writer / Director)

ONE HOUR PHOTO is the new feature film from Writer/Director Mark Romanek. Romanek's groundbreaking music videos for such artists as Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, Fiona Apple, Beck, Lenny Kravitz, Macy Gray, David Bowie, R.E.M., Michael Jackson, and Janet Jackson among many others have received over a dozen MTV awards, two Grammys, four Clios, nine MVPA awards, and three Billboard Music Awards. Two of Romanek's music videos, Madonna's “Bedtime Story” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” have become part of the permanent collection at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

In 1997, MTV presented Mark with the prestigious Video Vanguard award honoring his unprecedented achievement in the art of music video. Other recipients of this award have included Madonna, Michael Jackson, Peter Gabriel, R.E.M., U2 and the Beastie Boys.

Romanek has also directed TV spots for Calvin Klein, Nike, Philips, and Cirque Du Soleil.


In 1999, Christine Vachon produced the critically acclaimed “Boys Don’t Cry” starring Hilary Swank in a performance for which she received the Academy Award in the Best Actress category. Vachon’s early works as a producer include Todd Haynes’ controversial first feature “Poison” which was awarded the 1991 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Video Artist Tom Kalin’s first feature “Swoon,” based on the infamous Leopold / Loeb murder case. “Swoon” received the coveted Caligari Award at the 1992 Berlin Film Festival.

Vachon’s other producer credits include Haynes’ “Safe” starring Julianne Moore; Steve McLean’s “Postcards from America,” which premiered at the 1994 New York Film Festival; “Stonewall” starring Guillermo Diaz and Frank Weller; and “I Shot Andy Warhol” starring Lili Taylor, Jared Harris and Stephen Dorff. She also executive produced Rose Troche’s “Go Fish” and co-produced Larry Clark’s “Kids”

Vachon and her Killer Films partner Pamela Koffler have produced numerous critically acclaimed films including “Kiss Me, Guido,” Tod Haynes’ “Velvet Goldmine” starring Ewan McGregor, Toni Collette and Christian Bale, which won Haynes a special Jury Award for artistic contribution at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, and received an Emmy Award Nomination for best costume design; and Todd Solondz’s “Happiness.”

In 1994, Vachon was awarded the Frameline Award for Outstanding Achievement in Lesbian and Gay Media and was honored for Outstanding Vision and Achievement by New York Women In Film and Television. Vachon’s best-selling book “Shooting To Kill: How An Independent Producer Blasts Through The Barriers to Make Movies That Matter” was published in 1998.

PAM KOFFLER (Producer)

Pam Koffler formed Killer Films with producing partner Christine Vachon in 1996. Their partnership grew out of a collaboration that began in 1993 with Tom Kalin's GEOFFREY BEENE 30, for which Koffler was line producer. She continued as line producer on the next three films Vachon produced: Larry Clark's “Kids” (1994), Nigel Finch's “Stonewall” (1995) and Mary Harron's “I Shot Andy Warhol” (1995).

In 1996, Koffler and Vachon produced Cindy Sherman's debut feature “Office Killer.” In 1997, Pam line produced Todd Solondz's award-winning feature, HAPPINESS, a Killer Films/Good Machine production. In 1998, Koffler and Vachon completed Bruce Wagner's debut film, “I’m Losing You,” based on his best-selling book, and Kim Peirce's directorial debut, “Boys Don’t Cry,” released by Fox Searchlight Pictures. “Boys Don’t Cry,” based on the Brandon Teena story, stars Chloë Sevigny and garnered Hilary Swank an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Killer's “Crime and Punishment in Suburbia,” written by Larry Gross and directed by Rob Schmidt, screened in competition at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. The film, which stars Monica Keena, Vincent Kartheiser, Jeffrey Wright, and Ellen Barkin was released by United Artists in September 2000, with whom Killer has had a first look deal since 1998.

Upcoming releases produced by Killer are “The Grey Zone,” directed by Time Blake Nelson and starring Harvey Keitel and Mira Sorvino, “The Safety of Objects,” directed by Rose Troche and starring Glenn Close and Dermot Mulroney; and “Storytelling,” a joint production with Good Machine and New Line Cinema, starring John Goodman and Selma Blair.


In 2000, Stan Wlodkowski co-produced the multiple Academy Award-winning “American Beauty.” Most recently Wlodkowski produced “Winchell,” which is slated to air on HBO in 2002 and executive produced the Paul Mazursky-directed “Knockaround Guys” set to release in Australia in 2002.

His producer credits include “Slums of Beverly Hills,” released by Fox Searchlight Pictures in 1998, Norman Rene’s “Longtime Companion,” John Madden’s “Ethan Frome,” and Todd Solndz’s “Fear, Anxiety and Depression.” Wlodkowski

co-produced “Imaginary Crimes” and “Golden Gate,” executive produced “Bad With Numbers” and line produced “Zebrahead.” His television credits include the American Playhouse productions of “The Sunset Gang,” “Ask Me Again” and “Blue Window.”


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