For the Love of Rick
Melanie Lentz-Janney followed her dream and made a movie about dreamy rocker Rick Springfield.
There's a room in her Winter Park home that is the seat of Melanie Lentz-Janney's addiction. It's filled with posters, memorabilia, a shrine to a mania that goes back more than 30 years, a musical monkey she's never shaken off her back.
Hello, she says. My name is Melanie.
"I'm a recovering Rick-a-holic."
"Rick" is Australian rocker-turned-actor Rick Springfield. Ever since that night in 1981 when Lentz-Janney caught him in concert at the Bob Carr Auditorium, the singer-songwriter of "Love Somebody" has been her guiding light. She hung onto her fan's obsession—through her 20s, 30s, and into her 40s. Not content to wait for Springfield's yearly theme park concert visits, she traveled to his shows in Vegas, New York.
She realized there were many others like her, women who never gave up being "Jessie's Girl." Women with husbands, families.
"We feel he's not some cheesy soap star/singer you should write off," says Lentz-Janney, 46. "We all feel we have a special connection with him. How does he do that? I still don't know."
A veteran publicist and marketing consultant who has, among other things, worked in movie publicity through her company, Doverwood Communications, Lentz-Janney didn't really think, "There's a movie in that." But on meeting DeLand-based director Sylvia Caminer, a veteran of the documentary world, she recruited another convert.
"Melanie got me tickets to go see Rick over at Universal Studios a few years ago," Caminer remembers. "I had no desire. But I was stunned. He wasn't a nostalgia act, and the fan interaction was everything she'd said it would be."
"Let's make a movie," Caminer said. Sylvia would direct, Melanie would provide the heart—produce it, be the connection for that fan world and obtain access to The Man himself. Like her other idol, Oprah, Lentz-Janney was determined to follow her bliss.
"It's surreal, when I think back to my 15-year-old self," she says now. "'Are you serious? I'm going to get to hang out with Rick, make a movie about him?'"
It wasn't going to be easy. She'd need to raise money—under $500,000 but still a lot of cash.
And then there was Springfield himself, a guy with a book—Late Late At Night—about to come out, a confessional autobiography about his depression that was sure to get him on the chat shows. Did he want a film crew capturing that?
"Sometimes, you just take a chance," he told me in 2010. "Giving permission to them to make the movie was just like diving into the book. You just say, 'Yeah, let's try this.' And they seemed committed. Really committed."
With a director and Springfield's permission to be "a fly on the wall" for a year of his life, that film, An Affair of the Heart was a go. Lentz-Janney, who says she had seen Springfield "maybe 25 times, and that's nothing compared to some of these women," and Caminer would hire pickup crews and follow him all over the world—to concerts in America and Europe, to the Today show, on a Rick Springfield cruise. They'd capture him visiting his biggest fans. Lentz-Janney used her public relations skills to drum up newspaper, trade magazine and TV stories. She tied together her two passions—Rick Springfield and The Wizard of Oz in her publicity and in the name of the film's production company: "Follow the Yellow Rick Road."
"She was a total fan, but she was totally professional around him at all times," Caminer says, laughing. "When he'd leave the room, sometimes she'd freak out, but just to me. Those first few months, I had to pinch her a lot."
Springfield indulged them on the movie. By the time it was finished, he was wholly on board, appearing at the Florida Film Festival premiere last year, showing up at other festivals and doing TV interviews about the movie.
But now, three years since that first “let’s make a movie” moment, the Yellow Rick Road is at an end. An Affair of the Heart played, to acclaim and awards, at a dozen film festivals, from Orlando to Amsterdam. It had a well-reviewed theatrical run in New York last October.
It has "just the right number of people who think the whole thing is nuts," John Anderson wrote in Variety. But "for the Springfield loyalists, there are no apologies, no explanations, no questions."
There were hopes of a wider release in theaters, but those have faded. However, An Affair of the Heart was close to a TV deal at press time, and it’ll be out on DVD later this year. And the Enzian theater in Maitland will have a special screening of the film on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
"He's the hardest sell," Melanie says of Springfield. "You have to get people past [what] they think they know about him."
The film does that selling for him, showing that the rocker, now 63, is still a "Working Class Dog," still putting on a great show. Any performer who can count "I've Done Everything for You" and "Don't Talk to Strangers" among his hits—really a soundtrack to the '80s—is going to have an audience, even if it's only as a nostalgia act.
Watching the crew film him as he performs at Disney's Epcot outdoor stage, you see the hardcore fans up front—women with flowers, tossed for Rick to thrash his guitar with. But casual passersby stop, by the thousands. They know the words to "Jessie's Girl" and all the rest.
You'd think Lentz-Janney would have gotten her fill, filming 25 more shows, hanging out with Springfield, doing interviews with the star, sitting on film festival panel discussions about him and appearing on TV with him talking about An Affair of the Heart. But the married mother of a 10-year old son named Drake, after Springfield's General Hospital character, has grown to regard Springfield as a brother, somebody she wants to help, to promote.
"I don't know if I would put this much energy into a documentary again," she says. "It required every fiber of my being to keep it in motion, to get it finished. Since it was Rick, it was worth it. But anybody else? You lose balance in your life when you dive into something like this. There were sacrifices. I think I missed half my son's football games this past season. That's been the hardest. You feel guilty for the family time you've missed.
"There are few times in life when you have the opportunity to pursue a dream."