Exclusive interview with Elise Plakke — director of ’14 Minutes’ Shorts

Hello everyone! As promised today we’ve got an exclusive post courtesy of Filmmaker Elise Plakke. Her short film won Best Short Film Award at Twin Cities Film Fest last September, and have won several other festival awards since. She even had her film screened at Cannes earlier this year!

I met Elise at the Women Filmmaker panel at TCFF and asked her if I could interview her about her film. Check out the film poster & trailer below and read about her journey to film.

14 Minutes:
An engaged American girl sets off on a road-trip to decipher her decision to get married in a few weeks by meeting up with a gruff, Canadian photographer whom she has never met to assist her in questioning standard notions of happiness.

At TCFF you mentioned that your profession has been a creative director. Then in 2009 you entered the Manhattan Short Screenplay competition where you won first place. So is writing been a longtime passion for you?
Since I was a child I have always enjoyed writing and have kept a journal. Since 2000 I have established an unpublished personal blog for poetry and short stories. I started writing 14 Minutes as a novel but my experience with the power of imagery from my graphic design and photo art direction lead me to want to show the story more than to describe it. After reading Syd Fields’ Foundation of Screenwriting, I turned my novel into my first screenplay, which won first place in the Manhattan Short Screenplay Contest. So yes, I have always enjoyed writing but screenwriting is new terrain for me.

What made you decide you wanted to make a short film out of your screenplay? Is it meant to be a stepping stone to a feature film in the near future? 
I decided to make the short to show my talent as a filmmaker before venturing into feature territory. I’m using it as a calling card for the feature, I’ve written the feature version of 14 Minutes and am seeking investors and striving to make the full next year.
Even from the trailer, it seems like it’s a deeply personal film… how did you come to write a screenplay from your own life experience?
Writing the script was a creative exercise that was cathartic. I came to realize what I thought I wanted in a relationship was not what I wanted at all. I began questioning what is considered standard notions of happiness, a marriage and a white picket fence at an early age was not my version of happiness. Moreover, I began to realize that in accepting relationships that would provide me the idealized notion of happiness — I was losing my voice in relationships. This became the theme of the film, to challenge people in relationships that are safe but not satisfying and to encourage them to listen to inward to themselves. The story line came from my own experience in meeting with a photographer who became my catalyst for change. People can enter your life for a very short amount of time and impart influence on our personal choices because they hold no preconceived narratives of us that would impede their judgement.
What has been your most memorable experience from making this film?
I had already had many opportunities directing large photo shoots from my experience at Hanson Dodge Creative in Milwaukee as a Sr. Art Director and as Sr. Photo Art Director at L.L.Bean in Maine. While these experiences were great, they were always for a corporation and the primary goal was to sell products. Directing my film was the journey to a new personal expression of my ideas armed with the experience of creating compelling imagery. Leaving behind the myopic revenue-generating corporate focus to fully pursue a creative endeavor has been fulfilling to myself and an unexpected payoff, it has served an inspiration to others who admire my leap of faith and are taking bold new steps in their lives.

What was the Cannes experience like? Was it a dream come true for you?

Yes, Cannes was an event I previously only followed through the media. It was an amazing hub of creative people and likely the largest international party scene. What I enjoyed the most was the networking day and night with the opportunities to interact with all levels of filmmakers, actors, writers, producers, executive producers. You were free to mingle in and out of pavilions for each country all along the beach. We were at the Calvin Klein party, Uma Thurman walks by — it’s just like that at every moment there is a celebrity or a whirlwind excitement of activity. Even with the all the excitement of seeing celebrities it wasn’t the reason I was as excited, I was excited to have my film there.

I believe you’ve just wrapped your feature film script for 14 Minutes, what’s the next steps for you to get the film off the ground? Who’s funding the film and do you have a cast in mind or will you be using the same cast as in the shorts?
We are working on the breakdown of the script to create Union and Non-Union budget. We are looking at shooting the film potentially internationally and comparing states to gain the best tax credits or rebates. The cast still remains in question but Jessica Embro is on the top of my list.
Now, as a female filmmaker, what do you think of the state of women filmmakers in Hollywood? It seems as if there just isn’t enough women filmmakers working today. What’s your reaction to such a sentiment?
I recently read that women now outnumber men at both medical school and law school. It is taking a lot longer for women to catch up in filmmaking than in medicine or practicing law those examples give me hope.  I am also optimistic because women tell different stories and we tell them differently. There have been many films expressed by men in every genre and an enormous amount of money used to create “masculine” films with insane action and special effects. As stunning as they are, it’s as if they have mollified an audience to an expected boredom. I feel the public is ready for different cinematic voices to beckon them to the theaters and provide thought-provoking, relationship-based stories. Now with opportunities for independent filmmaking it is truly a more accessible field for women to bring their fresh cinematic voices as feminine story-telling to make their films.

On a side note, although I didn’t intend to hire a majority female crew, it made more sense to be telling a “women’s narrative” to hire women. The women that were key talent on my film were Writer/Director, Cinematographer, 1st Ad, Lead Production Coordinator and let’s not forget Jessica Embro, lead actress.

Lastly, please share your top five favorite feature films directed by women and why.

  1. Lost in Translation directed by Sofia Coppola
    Having travelled to Japan in college I could relate to the anonymous feeling of “being” half way around the world and not being able to participate in the language and the sense of how it alienates you to a state of non-stop thinking without being able to talk to others. I connected with the searching that both main characters were going through — a search for a more involved partner and/or more nurturing, fulfilling relationship. Sofia Coppola shows how lonely someone can be even in a stable relationship and starved for affection in a way that has nothing to do with sexuality but an ambiguous calling to another fellow (random) human being for emotional understanding.
  2. An Education directed by Lone Scherfig
    This film tells a familiar story of a girl planning her life’s goal to enter college and study a subject that will (hopefully) become a career path and at the very same time shows the dream of a young girl falling in love for the first time. Lone Scherfig masterfully shows the naivety of young minds wanting to be independent but getting caught in the web of love. This film is placed in England in the 1960’s but is relevant today for all women who have had to self-sacrifice a career to be in love. By Lone putting this story in the past she creates objectivity and shows how confined women’s roles were then (their education consisted of gender-identifying roles of domesticity, dancing, proper etiquette, and posture) and calls us to look at the confinements today on women striving to have both careers and relationships. It’s a positive story that shows in retrospect how far females’ education have been equalized; and secondly provides the lesson how women should not rely on another person to bring them happiness and not reduce their own ambitions for love.
  3. Boys Don’t Cry directed by Kimberly Peirce
    The courage to tell an authentic story, and one that showcases desires from an under-represented population (in film) is why I admire Boys Don’t Cry. Kimberly Peirce brilliantly directs this film so that the audience finds compassion and begins to understand people with different sexual orientations than what our society is more familiar with understanding. The haunting performance delivered by Hillary Swank and Chloë Sevigny build fear, acceptance, rejection of many stereotypes that should be questioned in our society. Because this film challenges what we think we might have known to be true and creates empathy for people who would otherwise be less “relatable to ourselves”, it is one of my favorites.
  4. Whale Rider directed by Niki Caro
    Whale Rider is a favorite flick of mine due to it’s unique questioning of roles men and women play in society. In any society, the rituals for a culture have been established over hundreds or thousands of years and has deeply shaped our expectations for the traits and behavior pattern of our gender. Niki Caro beautifully portrays the quest of Pai to be the next whale rider when in the past it has only been a boy. She lures us into an important cultural rite of passage to be chosen as the next successor by the tribe as well as a whale by showing the continual determination Pai must face to be accepted in this traditional male role. She paints a picture to root for anyone with the gift who is overlooked due to gender biases. I commend the magnificence of this story previously only passed on verbally or in words, Niki creates a remarkably beautiful film that maintains it mysticism as an ancient fable that still holds lessons for modern society.
  5. Folle Embellie directed by Dominique Cabrera
    This film in English translated, Embellished Mad, takes place in France where an asylum opens it doors to evacuate its patients during WWII and the patients leave the chaperoned group to begin a misadventure of their own. The film has a sense of fairy tale unwinding as the characters walk into their unknown future. It shows hunger for exploring limits in one person’s capacity against another, as well as the wants and unknown desires felt as human beings for love, loyalty, independence, dependence, and self expression.

    The director, Dominique Cabrera, shows how ambiguous human beings are at having a double-sides; wanting freedom but needing protection, yearning for companionship but needing to follow your own compass, having habits and memories shape our present life more than the potential of what the future could bring. She intertwines our spirituality versus our nature or destiny. She leads the audience to root for people written off from the norms of society and how they hunger to reacquire what is interpreted as a “normal working life”. This feature builds vast emotions within all the characters without a lot of dialog, but with subtle expression and human gesture. I feel this a feminine interpretation of showing human nature, and teaches us how much we can learn by observation.

Check out 14 Films on Facebook or email Elise if you’re interested to see the full short film

What do you think of 14 Minutes’ trailer and poster? Please share your thoughts on her top 5 list as well.

21 thoughts on “Exclusive interview with Elise Plakke — director of ’14 Minutes’ Shorts

  1. Vince

    Great interview Ruth! This is why FC is awesome – great platform for upcoming filmmakers to speak their minds. Great questions as well. I hope you do more interviews in the future.

  2. PrairieGirl

    Wonderful interview. I’m very interested now in seeing the 14 Minutes short and the feature-length film. Also wonder if the short was really filmed in Winnipeg.

  3. The short was not shot in Winnipeg but in Maine. Maine offered a very authentic feel. We will be planning to shoot the feature in Canada or a portion of it there. EP

    1. It’s really beautiful, Elise! I love the scene of them swimming in the lake… the water splashing, the sun shining on the water, it creates such a great atmosphere that’s perfect for the film. Thanks for granting me the interview. Pls do keep me updated on your future filmmaking projects!

  4. While i can’t say 14 Minutes looks like my usual cup of tea i will certainly give it a chance. Right now i am trying to gather people for a short film i want to do for a film contest…i am hoping it will work out

    Perhaps one day soon you will be interviewing me 🙂

  5. Ted S.

    Very informative interview Ruth and good luck Elise on your film making career. I’m trying to get my first feature film made too and after reading about your background it definitely motivates me even more get going with my project.

  6. Interesting questions and insightful answers. The trailer certainly is well cut and visually pleasing. Best of luck in getting the feature film off the ground!

  7. Fantastic Q&A session Ruth! Always a fun thing to talk to filmmakers. And how awesome that she agreed to do an interview with you!

    I like the trailer for the film and it seems like what one would expect to see at a festival. I hope she continues and sees great success.

    Thanks for the spotlight!

  8. Hi, Ruth and company:

    Great, well thought out interview!

    Ms. Plakke has a great eye for color, locations and its lighting to enhance the mood of the moment. Great potential in following her instincts and own course in the independent arena.

    Would like to see her take on an ‘On Golden Pond’ like film, since water seems to favor her.

    PS: For all of those who have been wanting me to get my feet wet and review a film. Last week, Nostra invited me to guest review one of my choosing for his ‘My Filmviews’ site

    All are invited to drop by. Take a look and opine, be it good or bad, to their heart’s content.

    1. Thanks for reading, Jack, you are so right indeed about your comment about Elise.

      Ooooh, guest blogging on Nostra’s blog, awesome!! Yeah I’ll definitely check it out. So when are you gonna do one for me, Jack? 😀

  9. Naomi

    Great interview with Elise! Thank you for blogging for the Twin Cities Film Fest. We’d be happy to have you do this again later this year! It was a pleasure meeting Elise Plakke during the festival. I wish both of you ladies future success!

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