Jane Cusumano - Writer/Director
James A. Cusumano, Ph.D.
Executive Producer, WHAT MATTERS MOST, ONE TOUGH BISCOTTI
President & CEO, Chateau Wally Films
Charla Driver - Producer
Marc Leif - Writer  Director  Editor
Michael Goi - Director Of Photography
Sean Morris - Music / Original Score
 
 

"WHAT MATTERS MOST"
Jane Cusumano
Writer/Director

A Tribute by Jim Cusumano
The first time I asked Jane out on a date she gave me a categorical, "No!" But I persisted again, and again, always with same response. I suppose I just wore her down, she finally conceded, probably out of pity. I took her to the nicest restaurant in town and I dressed to the nines in a new hand-tailored, monogrammed shirt. Over dinner we spoke about everything from Dostoevsky (which was one of her casual reads at the time) to rock n' roll. Her breadth of knowledge impressed me. I first met Jane at work where she had been so unassuming. Who would have guessed?

All through dinner, Jane kept staring at the monogram on my shirt. Finally, I inquired with a big smile, "Like the shirt?" She coolly replied, "Not really. I know who you are, you know who you are and God knows who your are, so why the monogram?" I have not worn a monogram since then. Jane was an incredible human being, not just striking and beautiful on the outside, but also special and magical on the inside. She taught me the true meaning of humility and what it means to do service to others. She inspired those around her with her incredible, quiet, unassuming creativity, always willing to help, never seeking anything in return.

She was an accomplished artist, musician and writer and a very promising screenplay writer and filmmaker. But you would never know it unless you pulled the information from her. Jane's piano playing was magical. I learned only after we were married for several years that she had played Rachmaninoff in concert at the age of nine. It was also some time before I realized she was an accomplished artist. Just married and I a struggling entrepreneur with a newly formed company, we had challenges making ends meet. Jane solicited and acquired several commissions to paint multi-million dollar racehorses for very handsome fees. When our youngest daughter, Polly went off to Vassar, Jane bought a horse and became an accomplished equestrian, winning numerous ribbons in competitions. She wrote a novel under the guidance of her agent, Al Zuckerman, who also managed Ken Follet and Stephen Hawking, among other best selling writers. The novel remains unpublished, an indication of her drive for personal excellence. She wrote a number of screenplays, the first of which was recently produced as her first movie, WHAT MATTERS MOST, which she directed as well.

Jane was my wife, my best friend and my teacher. As my wife she provided unconditional love, constant encouragement and sound counsel. I was most fortunate to found and grow two successful public companies in Silicon Valley. This was not an easy task and required millions of miles of travel and many more hills than valleys along the way. Jane was always there to help me through the darkest hours and to show me how to celebrate our successes. She listened to my dreams. Five years ago, at age 55, I confided to Jane that since I was a boy, I fantasized about climbing mountains like Whitney, Rainier, and Kilimanjaro in Africa. She encouraged me to 'just do it!' And I did. Every one of them. The echo of her voice pushed me to the top as I struggled through thin air on each of those mountains.

As my best friend she is aptly described by a several verses from a poem we shared together, "What Is A Friend" by C. Raymond Beran.

What is a friend? I will tell you. It is a person with whom you dare to be yourself.
Your soul can be naked with her.
She seems to ask of you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. She does not want you to be better or worse.
When you are with her, you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent.
You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think,
so long as it is genuinely you.
Through it all ---- and underneath --- she sees, she knows and loves you.
A friend? What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare be yourself.


I could always be me with Jane. She did not always agree, but she was never judgmental.

As my teacher, she taught me to listen. "Bud (her affectionate name for me)," she would say, "you learn so much more when you are listening than when you speaking." Like an in-house 'Mother Theresa,' she taught me to serve all people, no matter who they are. Once, while crossing the border from San Diego into Tijuana for a cancer treatment she could not receive in the U.S., she saw a disheveled lady, holding her baby and begging. She asked me to give her five dollars, and so I did.

The next day upon our return, the same lady was there, begging again. "Please give her ten dollars, you clearly did not give her enough yesterday," was Jane's request. She taught me to give talent a chance and to build on the strengths of people, a lesson that served me well in building my companies. Every actor she hired for her film gave incredible performances, and they did it for her. "We don't need stars, we need talented, committed, hard-working actors," she would say. And she found them.

On the day before Jane died, after a courageous four-year battle with metastatic breast cancer, I lay sleeping on a cot in her hospital room. She awoke miraculously out of pain, the first time in weeks, and the doctors still have no explanation. She sat up excitedly on the edge of her bed talking about life and death, about her children, her grandchildren, her movie and that she wasn't afraid to die. She had two last wishes. First, she prayed that her efforts to make her movie, above anything else, would inspire young filmmakers to be true to their passion. "Be tenacious and find a way to make the movie you want, no matter what," she implored. Jane also asked that I create a foundation that would be managed pro-bono by qualified friends. She asked that the foundation provide financial assistance to needy children and older folks in Ojai. She loved her community.

On June 1, 2001 at 10:30 a.m. Jane died quietly in my arms at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, California. All I could think of was the song she chose for our first dance as husband and wife, "Always And Forever." Janie, I will miss you dearly.

Jim Cusumano
June 11, 2001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James A. Cusumano, Ph.D.
Executive Producer, WHAT MATTERS MOST, ONE TOUGH BISCOTTI
President & CEO, Chateau Wally Films

James A. Cusumano has worn many hats throughout his highly successful and eclectic career; starting out as a 50s rock n' roll recording artist, then moving on as a research scientist, and finally a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded three public companies. Now he is a film producer, who with his wife, Jane, formed Chateau Wally Films. Chateau Willy's mission is to establish a reputation of producing high-quality independent feature films that reflect the human condition and touch the heart.
WHAT MATTERS MOST is Chateau Wally's first feature. It also marks Cusumano's return to the entertainment world after his successful run in the energy and pharmaceuticals industries. As a rock star, he sold several million records in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His iconoclastic repertoire includes "Short Shorts," "Short Shorts Twist," "Lovers Never Say Goodbye," and the successful album, "Newies But Oldies."

Cusumano was intrigued at the prospect of returning to the entertainment industry and applying the entrepreneurial skills and experience he acquired in building three public companies. He found it similar to the situation that existed when he entered the energy and pharmaceuticals industries. He sees the film business as one that is primed for change and offers unusual opportunities to new players who understand the dynamics and timing of impending changes. Capitalizing on his wife's skills in screenplay writing and her desire to direct films, he launched Chateau Wally Films as his fourth entrepreneurial enterprise.

He is also executive producer for a new documentary, "One Tough Biscotti: A Woman, A Film And A Fight," which chronicles his wife's journey simultaneously fighting metastatic breast cancer and creating her first feature film.

Born April 14, 1942, Cusumano obtained a BA in 1964 and a Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1967 from Rutgers University. Upon graduation, he served at Exxon Research and Engineering Company from 1971 to 1974 as the Director of Catalysis Research and Development at their Corporate Research Laboratory. He co-founded Catalytica, Inc. in 1974 in the heart of California's Silicon Valley. Under his leadership, the corporate mission was and is to significantly improve the way manufacturing is carried out in the pharmaceutical and energy industries through economically advantageous and environmentally friendly catalytic technologies.

Catalytica Pharmaceuticals, Inc. manufactures numerous drugs for other major pharmaceutical companies at its plants in California, Michigan and North Carolina. Examples include AZT for treating AIDS, Zyban for smoking cessation, Wellbutrin and numerous over-the-counter drugs such as Sudafed and Neosporin. With the sale of Catalytica Pharmaceuticals, Inc., he gave up his position as chairman to focus on his efforts in Chateau Wally Films.

Dr. Cusumano has authored more than 50 papers, 20 patents, 8 book chapters, and a book entitled Catalysis in Coal Conversion. He has lectured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. Dr. Cusumano appeared in the PBS TV production on nanotechnology, "Little by Little." He has been a lecturer at Stanford University and is the 1989-1990 recipient of the Charles D. Hurd Lectureship at Northwestern University.

Dr. Cusumano is an advisor to the Fulbright Scholar Program and is listed in Who's Who in America and Who's Who in the World.

On the personal front, Jim enjoys hiking and mountaineering and has had the good fortune to ice-climb 14,160-foot Mt. Shasta in Northern California, 14,410-foot Mt. Rainier in Washington and 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, among many others. He has two grown daughters, Polly Cusumano and Doreen Nelsen, three grandchildren, and lives on a horse and citrus ranch in Ojai, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charla Driver - Producer

Texas native CHARLA DRIVER had the rare opportunity to produce WHAT MATTERS MOST right in her own backyard of Vega and Amarillo. For the past ten-years, Driver has firmly established herself in an entertainment industry career working in various production capacities including producer, second unit director, assistant director, production manager and director on a number of feature film projects. Her chosen career path has also brought her in front of the camera with cameo roles in several productions. Most notably, her latest cameo appearance is as a nurse in WHAT MATTERS MOST.

Driver has line produced numerous independent productions including the upcoming award-winning drama The Visit with Billy Dee Williams, Marla Gibbs, Phylicia Rashad, Hill Harper, Obba Babatundé and Rae Dawn Chong; Lesser Prophets starring Michael Badalucco, Amy Brenneman, Scott Glenn, Elizabeth Perkins, Jimmy Smits, John Turturro, and Scar City with Stephen Baldwin, Chazz Palminteri, Tia Carrere and Michael Rispoli.

Since 1990, Driver has line-produced or associate produced more than 20 projects that include such diverse titles as Deadlock: A Passion for Murder; Galgameth; Evil Obsession; Texas Payback; Alien Intruder; Intent to Kill; Private Wars; To Be The Best: CIA Code Name: Alexa and Street Crimes.
As an actress, Driver has appeared in Deadlock: A Passion for Murder; Texas Payback; Living to Die, and Night of the Wilding.

 

Marc Leif - Writer  Director  Editor

Marc Leif has been writing, producing, directing, and editing film and video for more than 25 years.  His work has been seen on the screen, on most of the American television networks, on many of the premiere cable television outlets, and on home video. 

Most recently, Mr. Leif edited Keep the Faith, a biography of the colorful and controversial Adam Clayton Powell for Paramount Television and Showtime.  The film stars Harry Lennix and Vanessa Williams. 

Just prior to that film he edited the independent feature What Matters Most for Chateau Wally Films. 

He edited the suspenseful Showtime film Who Killed Atlanta’s Children?, the untold story of the Atlanta child murders, starring James Belushi and Gregory Hines.  The film was the highest rated broadcast of the year for Showtime. 

He was the editor of the powerful Showtime character driven thriller The Fixer, starring Academy Award winner Jon Voight; a film the Hollywood Reporter called "a classic".  The film has garnered top honors at the US International Film & Video Festival, the Chicago International Television Competition, and a CINE Golden Eagle. 

Mr. Leif was also the editor of the film Vanishing Point for 20th Century Fox Television starring Viggo Mortensen, Christine Elise, Steve Railsback, Keith David, and Jason Priestly.  The film was named Best Action-Adventure at the 13th Annual International Festival of Television Movies. 

He was the editor and second unit director of the charming hit film comedy Who Am I This Time? for multiple Academy Award winning director Jonathan Demme.(Philadelphia, Silence of the Lambs, Beloved)  It starred Academy Award winner Susan Sarandon and Christopher Walken. 

Marc Leif was the writer, producer, and director of the poignant, award winning film A Steady Rain, starring Tony award winning Joe Mantegna. 

He has also written several screenplays for upcoming features; among them the exciting, true-life science adventure story, Daedalus, the sexy comedy Breaking the Rules, and the literate and sultry film noire thriller, Fatale. 

Another of his films, Fighter Ace, was nominated Best Adventure Video by the American Video Conference.  This award, co-sponsored by the American Film Institute and Billboard magazine, is considered the academy award of home video.  Mr. Leif wrote, directed, and edited this exciting documentary, seen frequently on the Discovery channel. 

Marc Leif was the director and editor of Voices, the compelling documentary about the plight of refugees around the world.  The film features an appearance by distinguished international actress Liv Ullmann. 

As a writer, Mr. Leif has written a number of programs for the Nickelodeon biography series, Against the Odds, winner of the Peabody Award for Best Children’s Programming.  In addition, he has edited literally dozens of television programs and science documentaries and has produced and directed dozens of industrial films, videos and commercials. 

Mr. Leif's knowledge and interest in space exploration led to his serving as supervising editor for NASA's official daily science report produced at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory during the historic Voyager 2 encounter with the planet Uranus.  

Mr. Leif also served a number of years as adjunct film professor at Chicago's Columbia College.  Many of the students he taught there work today in Hollywood themselves as successful writers, editors, and cinematographers. 

He is married and has two children. 

 

 Michael Goi - Director Of Photography

 After earning his B.A. in film production and graduating as valedictorian of his class at Chicago’s Columbia College, Michael began teaching cinematography and lighting techniques there.

Early work in the industry included feature documentaries for PBS such as the Emmy Award-winning "Fired Up: The Story Of Public Housing In Chicago" and the multi-part series "Wrapped In Steel" which documented the decline of the steel industry in South Chicago.

From 1980 to 1988, Michael filmed many commercials for clients such as Quaker Oats, Chrysler, SaraLee, Dairy Queen and Good Morning America.

Michael has photographed over 45 features including "Judas And Jesus" for Paramount television, the Showtime Original Movie "Who Killed Atlanta's Children?”, and received an ASC Award Nomination in 1999 for his work on "The Fixer" starring Jon Voight.

His documentary roots still run deep with recent assignments including "Welcome To Death Row" which documents the rise and fall of Death Row Records, and a film which explored the relationship between a man dying of AIDS and his son.

 

Sean Morris - Music / Original Score

 Sean was the winner of the Peter David Faith prize in composition in 1997 and a winner of the 1998 New Music for Orchestra Competition at USC in 1998. His most recent compositional effort, a short film entitled “Yo, Tyrone,” was recently accepted at the New York Independent Film Festival and is in consideration for Sundance.

Sean has done orchestration and transcription work for many national TV commercials, for clients such as Accenture, Chevy, Principal Financial Group, and The Lending Tree.com. He also worked as an orchestrator on the short film, “The Sharktank Redemption,” which is currently airing on HBO and Cinemax.

Sean works as an assistant to Paul Chihara (Crossing Delancey, China Beach, The Morning After), for 100 Centre Street, (the series on A&E). Sean was also the teaching assistant to Jerry Goldsmith, (Academy Award winning composer), in a recent film music course at UCLA.

Sean had the following to say about working for Jane Cusumano, “Working for Jane was an experience unlike any other that I have had in my career. I was afforded a level of independence and artistic freedom that I have not been given in the past. It is my feeling that Jane’s personality, attitude, and her ability to foster the strengths in everyone that worked on the film made the picture what it is, and allowed those involved to take pride in the project.” 

 

 


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