Sad Day!

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July 6, 1987
In the summer of 1987, on the heels of smash hits Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Purple Rain, Summit Pictures kicked off development to create a hybrid film that combined the charming comedy of the former with the spellbinding musical sequences of the latter.  They hired rising Writer-Director James Ryan (Little Misfits, Nocturnal Creatures) to write a treatment for the film. A notoriously swift writer, Ryan crafted a script in little over a month. Intent on capitalizing on the momentum of teen rom-com trend, the studio rapidly greenlit the project.
August-December, 1987
Casting Conundrum
Summit Pictures sought to cast undiscovered actors in order to create a fresh rival ensemble to John Hughes’ films. Accordingly, a casting call was put out nationally, with audition tapes sent from all corners of the country. For two months, the studio combed through piles of home VHS tapes until they landed on their four primary leads. The Romantic Co-Lead, Amelia Hartford (played by Camille Charles), the Heel, Rich Weinstock (played by Felix Paul), the Gawkish best friend, Graham Krumpels (played by Sam Cardinal), and the domineering older sister, Evelyn Gladwell.

There was only one part left to cast: their leading man, Ernest Gladwell. They were looking for a lead who could combine the laid-back charisma of Matthew Broderick with the musicianship of Prince. No small ask. As a result, the casting process for Ernest dragged on for several months.
Camille Charles as
Felix Paul as
Sam Cardinal as
Eliza Schmitz as
December 21, 1987
Discovering Ernest
After another unsuccessful day of auditions, Ryan stopped by a dive bar in West Hollywood on his way home. As Ryan entered, he noticed a long silhouette in combat boots glide across the stage and adjust a mic stand. Open mic night. Ryan despised them - “There’s only so many half-baked Kenny Loggins covers a man can handle”. As quickly as he entered, he turned to walk out. He had one foot out the door when the first chord rang out.  It was blistering cover of Squeeze’s “Pulling Mussels (From a Shell)".

The frontman, now illuminated by amber lights, had dark eyes and a swoop of chestnut hair. He was donning a plain white T-Shirt, brown high-waisted trousers, and mint nail polish. His voice pirouetted between a clear tenor and a rock growl as he attacked a white Jazzmaster. Ryan was captivated.

Coincidentally, the artist performed under the mononymous stage name: “Ernest” (legal name unknown). Ryan approached him immediately after the show and invited him to an audition. He remarked on discovering Ernest “It was a gift from on high…he played exactly like we needed. He looked exactly like we needed. And he shared the name of the damn lead character - I mean, come on! The stars aligned that night. I’m not particularly religious, but finding Ernest made me think twice about denying the body of Christ”
January 30th, 1988
Auditions & The Overnight Soundtrack
One week later, Ernest attended an audition for Violet Heights. Despite having no formal training as an actor, he managed to impress Ryan & Casting Director with his natural screen presence and warmth, While Ryan was willing to a gamble on the unknown actor, Studio Executives balked at the idea of offering the role to a newcomer with no acting experience and sought to extend auditioning for a month before making a final decision. Ernest, determined to secure the role, decided to covertly write a soundtrack for the film based on its early script.  In the remaining month of auditions, he independently wrote, recorded, and produced a full album. He delivered it on a Violet Cassette to the studio on the evening of January 30th 1988.  After listening to Ernest's soundtrack, the Studio Executives were convinced of his talent and dedication to the role and offered him the part.
April-July, 1988
Production: "Summer Camp"
Despite a lengthy pre-production period, the shooting of Violet Heights was remembered as a trouble-free period. Given that the cast was composed of all-new talent, Ryan saw it as an opportunity to cultivate a safe environment free from ego, where the Cast collaborated to develop each other’s respective artistic voices. Eliza Schmitz recalled, “We grew so much on set. I mean, none of us had done anything like that before. We all supported each other…we got really tight-knit in those months.” Felix Paul added, “We had such a dang good time making the thing, we kind of forgot we were being paid or that the thing would ever be released. I think we all would have shown up for free. It was like summer camp”
August 26, 1988
Limited Release: Beginning Of The End
On August 26, Violet Heights was released in select theaters nationally. To the delight of the cast, the initial film reviews were positive. Despite its tendency to play into genre-tropes, critics praised its adventurous cinematography, winning lead performances, and emotive musical sequences. Violet Heights was set to be a strong box-office contender, and Ernest was on his way to national stardom.  

At its premier in LA, a notoriously ruthless Executive, who we will refer to as Angus Doomheart (name redacted due to legal reasons), from a behemoth rival studio, which we will refer to as Doomheart Enterprises, viewed the film. A few days after, Doomheart filed an intellectual property infringement lawsuit against Summit Studio for settlements of up to $50M.
September 1988
The Lawsuit
Blind-sided by the lawsuit, Violet Height’s national release was put on indefinite hiatus until the case could be resolved. Given the scale of the Doomheart's studio and its limitless assets, the outlook for a speedy resolution to the lawsuit was grim. After months of legal wrangling and endless depositions and motions, the producers of Violet Heights decided to throw in the towel and shelf the movie indefinitely.

Ryan was furious. He repeatedly challenged Studio Executives to reconsider and to fight for the film. In an interview in 1989, Ryan said, "The big studio used its money and its clout to harass and intimidate a smaller studio. They knew we had created something special, and they wanted to stop it from being seen at all costs. I lost my taste for film-making and Hollywood. I saw it for what it really was - a few rich assholes doing everything they can to fill their coffers and kill independent voices.“ By October 18, 1988, all Cast & Crew were released from their contracts. Violet Heights was finished.
October 21, 1988
Fall Out
On the evening of Halloween 1988, Ryan invited the cast and crew over to his home to break the devastating news. Sitting around his living-room fireplace over white styrofoam cups of hot cider, Ryan informed the Cast that the film was officially cancelled.  As rapidly as they had been plucked out of obscurity, they were cast back into it. While a handful of Cast Members gave Hollywood another shot, most simply returned to their every-day lives lives. Camille Charles described, “Once the dust settled, it all felt like a dream. A wonderful dream where, for just a moment, it seemed like everything in our lives were about to change…then we had to wake up”

Ryan retired from film-making and worked as an Advertising Director in Chicago. Ernest retreated from performing altogether and withdrew from social life.  

Nobody knows for certain what happened to Ernest. Some think he returned to a quiet life as an Accountant. Others believe he fell into a cycle of drug abuse, found religion, and joined a monastery in Upstate New York. Others believe he found love in Japan and lives as an English Teacher in Shibuya. Aside from assembled footage and recordings from the Violets Heights era, Ernest Gladwell vanished without a trace.
April 5, 2022
The Heights: Rediscovered
A copy of the Violet Heights soundtrack discovered on a hand-marked cassette in a public Library in Evanston, IL. The soundtrack was discovered by a friend of the Mourning Dove label and was sent to us for publishing consideration. Thrilled by our discovery, we reached out to James Ryan for additional information and to verify legitimacy. Ryan was more than willing to support us in publishing the soundtrack, which he had bought the rights for from Summit Studios after the film's cancellation.

Unfortunately, to this day, no one has been able to ascertain Ernest’s whereabouts. Ernest, if you’re out there, we hope you’re as excited as we are for your music to finally reach an audience. Please reach out if you find this.