A suddenly falling star reaches out to lift up a troubled newcomer in A WINTER ROSE, which takes a fresh twist to the timeless story of a musician striving against the odds to reach the top. Does a great gift demand to be shared? That question lies at the heart of writer-director Riz Story’s music-driven debut feature drama as a young singer wins a one-in-a-million competition only to find herself battling against the certainty that she’s not good enough, strong enough or deserving enough to take the prize. With a realism strongly rooted in Story’s extensive personal experience in the music business, fused with just a touch of a musical fairy tale, the film unfolds the story of how an idol transmits to her protégé the belief that she too can inspire.
Story is a first-time feature film director but has been passionately involved in music since early childhood, composing symphonies, producing records and touring with several rock bands, among other artistic pursuits. His insight into how musicians struggle – and find their voices -- and the poignant story of paying a lucky break forward that he created for A WINTER ROSE helped to lure actors well beyond the micro-budget of his premiere feature. Leading the tightly-knit cast are rising actress and singer Kimberly Whalen, a new discovery in the title role, Theresa Russell bringing a fresh addition to her roster of strong, intriguing woman and Paul Sorvino in one of his most stirringly emotional performances.
For Story, the film began with his fascination with a friend he calls “the real-life Winter Rose,” (Singer ETHEREAL) a woman gifted with a ferocious natural singing talent yet, ironically, completely unmotivated by fame or success and nonplussed by her own artistry. “She’s this amazing woman with an explosive voice that really wants nothing to do with the entertainment business,” he explains. “She’s very eccentric and charming, but she is totally turned off by the idea of celebrity or fortune, and she doesn’t really think her talent is anything special. I found her to be a really intriguing mix of characteristics and I wanted to write about someone like that.”
Simultaneously, Story’s friend and accomplished actor and singer in his own right, Robert Miano (DONNIE BRASCO), suggested Story had the right mix of skills to make a music-themed feature. The two began brainstorming about this reluctant singer character – and found that they were talking about turning her story around, taking her from isolation to the point where she is compelled to share the power of her music with others. Inspired, Story immediately started writing, coming up with a script that turned the plight of a wayward artist into the transformative tale of an orphan loner whose real triumph is not just winning a global song contest . . . but finding her place in the world.
“It’s a story that I hope reflects the reality of the music business, and at the same time is inspirational to anyone who is pursuing a hope, whether it’s in music, dance, painting or any field at all,” says Story. “I really wanted to write something that would speak to anyone with a heart and a dream.”
Miano -- who would soon come aboard as a producer and take the role of Jimi, Winter Rose’s frustrated but loyal first manager – was exhilarated by the results. “I was quite moved by the script – it’s such a heartfelt story,” he comments. “It follows in the tradition of the classic underdog story of someone down on their luck battling to survive and coming out on top, and I knew it was the kind of material that would attract artists. It wasn’t long before I was sending it out to actors I’ve come to know over the years, and they started responding.”
One of those actors was Gary Alan Kauffman, a student of Miano’s who read the screenplay and was taken by its universal themes. He immediately began working on the production and took on so many roles, he ultimately became a producer on the film. “This is a movie for everyone,” said Kauffman. “It is everybody’s story. It doesn’t matter what context you put it in, everyone has had a situation in life where they felt everything was a mess and their life was heading down the toilet. This is a great triumph over adversity story and I think everyone will be able to relate to Winter, who is so fragile and so challenged yet so strong and determined. She is reluctant to claim her destiny and she does everything she can to avoid the spotlight of fame.”
At the core of A WINTER ROSE’s story are two complex women whose fates become entangled: Winter Rose, who was abandoned in a church as an infant by her 13 year old mother and has drifted ever since, encased in banged-up armor, barely surviving on her talent and a side-line in adult clubs; and Rachal Love, one of the most celebrated and prosperous singers in the world, who faced with a health crisis, must find a last-minute replacement for what was intended to be the concert of her life. Though they seem to exist at utterly opposite ends of the artistic and financial spectrums, they turn out to have an extraordinary link that ties them together at the very roots.
Raised by a strong mother, Story concedes that he’s always been drawn to powerful female characters. “I’ve known women like Winter and like Rachal in my life and in the music business, I’ve observed them closely and I felt that they would be natural allies once they got to know each other. They are both orphans, both musicians, both very sensitive souls, and though the story is realistic it also has a mythic quality in that it’s the story of one orphan handing off her dream to another.”
With the script quickly garnering interest under Miano’s aegis, Story began assembling a cast that would set the tone for a film focused as much on raw emotions as on the long, gritty road to musical success.