May 20, 2018
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  • In “Chappaquiddick,” Jason Clarke portrays a confused and weary Ted Kennedy who balances ethics with political gain.
    In “Chappaquiddick,” Jason Clarke portrays a confused and weary Ted Kennedy who balances ethics with political gain.
  • In “Chappaquiddick,” Jason Clarke portrays a confused and weary Ted Kennedy who balances ethics with political gain.
    In “Chappaquiddick,” Jason Clarke portrays a confused and weary Ted Kennedy who balances ethics with political gain.
  • Kyle Convissar served as co-producer for “Chappaquiddick.”
    Kyle Convissar served as co-producer for “Chappaquiddick.”

Severna Park Native Jumps Into Chappaquiddick Debate

Zach Sparks
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May 2, 2018

Kyle Convissar Co-Produced New Film About 1969 Tragedy Involving Ted Kennedy

Forty-nine years later, we still don’t know what happened.

We know Ted Kennedy drove his Oldsmobile off a small wooden bridge, plunging into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts around midnight on July 18, 1969. We know Ted escaped, but his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, died in the car as she struggled to breathe.

Why did Ted wait several hours to report the tragedy? How was he able to escape but Kopechne was not? Was he drunk when he mistakenly steered his car onto the wrong road and into the pond?

Severna Park native Kyle Convissar served as co-producer for “Chappaquiddick,” a new film exploring the tragedy. John Curran directed the film, and Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan developed the script. Jason Clarke brought nuance to the role of Ted, a senator distraught by the assassinations of brothers John and Robert Kennedy.

Following a party with friends and the “boiler room girls,” six former campaign secretaries from Robert Kennedy’s campaign, Ted became embroiled in the aftermath of Kopechne’s death.

“It was a great character study. What would you do in this situation?” Convissar said.

“We wanted to stay with the facts as much as we could,” he continued. “Every movie has some artistic license. We portrayed [Ted] and the relationship with his family. We showed how he wasn’t sure he wanted to stay in politics or resign, because he’s the last Kennedy alive at the time and his dad pushed him to stay in politics.”

Convissar found a fairly unexpected path to his role as co-producer for “Chappaquiddick.” In high school, he was a star shortstop who helped the Falcons clinch a state championship in 2009. At the University of Maryland, he played second base and outfield, ultimately becoming a CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) Academic All-American. He studied finance but was also interested in business and projects that allowed him to be creative.

Film was always an interest. “Movies were a way to escape,” Convissar said. “I enjoyed being in a theater and watching the art.”

After graduating, he contacted former University of Maryland pitcher Mark Ciardi, the president and CEO of Select Films, which made the movies “Invincible” and “Secretariat.” That connection led to an internship for Convissar. About a year later, Ciardi entrusted Convissar with reviewing the “Chappaquiddick” screenplay and making edits on the film.

Campbell McInnes, a “Chappaquiddick” producer, said Convissar was an integral part of the film.

“When the script was originally submitted to us, Kyle was the first to read and advocate for the project,” McInnes said. “As an independent production, our company produced and financed the film without the support of a studio, which put the responsibility for developing, producing and delivering the film solely on our shoulders. Kyle was involved in all stages of process — from script notes, production logistics, financial analysis, and ultimately to being very integral in the delivery of the film to the distributor.”

Convissar said, “A producer is involved in all aspects of filmmaking. It’s a lot of putting out fires.”

Putting out fires is a good metaphor for the actions of Ted Kennedy’s legal team in “Chappaquiddick.” As they battled to protect Ted’s public image, they relied on public attention shifting to coverage of NASA’s Apollo 11 moon landing.

Convissar located much of the footage used in the film.

“Walter Cronkite was used a lot,” he said. “Because [the accident] was the weekend of the moon landing, one of the Kennedys’ biggest achievements, we wanted authentic archival footage.”

The team behind “Chappaquiddick” also wanted to portray Kopechne as more than the “blonde victim” as she was described in the press following the accident.

“History seemed to blow past her, and we didn’t think that was right,” Convissar said. “She was a bright woman … and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay in politics because [Robert] had just died a year before. And there was a lot of speculation over what may have happened between [Kopechne and Ted] that night, but we didn’t focus on that. They were just two hurting people.”

As for the future, Convissar and the team at Select Films are exploring several potential projects. “Many times, it comes down to, can you get the right actor or actress and do you have the right budget,” he said.

Until then, “Chappaquiddick” will provide plenty of fodder for people questioning what really happened on that July night in 1969.

“This wasn’t a piece to exonerate Ted or lambast him,” Convissar said. “It’s right down the middle.”


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