Hello readers, Ruth here! Welcome to another interview edition of MN-made comedy series The Groomsman, featuring two Minnesota filmmakers, Nick Hansen (writer/director/actor) and two producers Lindsey Kolar Martinson and Anne Hansen (who also co-wrote the script).
The Groomsman is a rom-com about the perpetual groomsman. We’ve all seen movies about the perpetual bridesmaid…always the bridesmaid, never the bride… well this time it’s told from the male perspective just as he finally finds the woman of his dreams.
Check out the trailer:
Episode 1 of The Groomsman is now streaming on Hieronyvision or HV for short, a subscription-based space with content by indie artists.
Interview with director/co-writer/
star Nick Hansen
Q: First, can you tell me what The Groomsman is about?
Nick: Will Knight is the perpetual Groomsman. He has been in all of his friends and family’s weddings, over 15 of them. He has always been The Groomsman, and never the Groom. He has finally met the woman of his dreams, Courtney, and now he just has to propose. And that is where we pick up our story.
Q: I’m always intrigued by what creative people are inspired by. How did you came up with the idea for the series?
Nick: I went through a period of being a groomsman in a ton of weddings and Lindsey Kolar Martinson is my cousin and she was at a lot of those weddings. Eventually we started writing down all kinds of ideas about a possible movie or tv show involving weddings. We talked about it for about five years and then finally saw our opportunity to make it and teamed up with my mom Anne Hansen and talented filmmakers and crew from the Institute of Production and Recording and actors from the Twin Cities and went to work.
Q: Why did you decide on a tv series format vs a feature? Was the original idea always been a serialized storytelling?
Nick: We decided to make it a tv pilot because we originally made it to submit to the Catalyst TV Festival. Making a twenty-four minute tv pilot was a tremendous amount of work but was more manageable then an entire feature. Eventually, we came to realize that it works better as a pilot and we are looking forward to making more episodes.
Q: Tell me a bit about your character Will Knight, how much of your own persona is depicted in his portrayal?
Nick: I don’t think much of my own persona is depicted in the portrayal but I think the one thing we have in common is looking for love, and that’s universal, and I believe that’s what the audience has been connecting with.
Q: What do you like most about playing Will? Who are your comedic/ dramatic inspirations?
Nick:I had a phenomenal time playing Will, I usually get cast as a drug dealer, or bad cop, or someone on the edge in some way, so it was amazing to play an average guy trying to make his way through the day and find love. Ultimately, I feel like the audience connected with this character more then any other because of the relatability. My comedic inspirations are Dick Van Dyke and Jim Carrey and my dramatic inspiration is Kate Winslet.
Q: As a writer/producer/actor, what’s been the most challenging part about making this pilot happen?
Nick: The most challenging part about this one is that we decided to start filming in early april and it was due to the Catalyst Festival I think on June 1 or July 1 of 2019 so it was a very compressed timeline-this made it exhilirating, but certainly stressful at times!
Q: I always enjoy filmmaking trivia, can you share a particularly memorable bts snafu that you can still laugh about today?
Nick: This is actually quite sad, but we filmed a scene at Lola’s on the Lake, the restaurant and gathering area on Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis. It was an amazing location and we were happy to film there, but it burned down about a week later in a terrible fire. Hopefully it will be re-built and when we are through this pandemic it will be returned to it’s former glory.
Will wooing Courtney in Episode 1
Interview with producer
Q: When did you come on board as a producer? Did Nick pitch you the idea or were you involved from its inception?
Lindsey: I was involved since inception!! However, our idea was for The Groomsman as a feature. I was on vacation in Florida when I got a call from Nick and Anne pitching The Groomsman as a tv pilot and they would like to start ASAP since we would have a tight deadline to enter into the Catalyst festival. I was happily onboard with the idea!
Q: How’s your own profession as a small business owner prepare you to do this producing role?
Lindsey: I feel as a business professional I had many strengths to bring to the table as a producer. Due to my work background I am very organized, work well under pressure, I can easily figure out logistics of a day for scheduling and have the foresight to know when different tasks need to get done to move us to the next step. I also work well with others and am able to adapt to most situations.
Q: What did you enjoy most about working on The Groomsman and what’s the toughest part?
Lindsey: What I enjoyed most was working with my cousin Nick and Aunt Anne. They are both so talented and I felt so grateful to be apart of the team. We created memories I will never forget.
The toughest part for me was having to let go of not having some of the scenes be as perfect as I wanted. I quickly learned there is a lot that goes into shooting the scenes and can’t just be easily redone if you don’t like what you get on the first shoot being that you only have access to the actors and locations for limited amounts of time.
Q: Does this experience make you want to make more tv/movies
Lindsey: This answer is easy. YES! The whole time I was thinking why I am not doing this for my career. I love the work as a producer! I felt it was very challenging and exciting. I did have the best mentor..my cousin Nick who paved the way. I learned a lot from him!!
Q: What’s your fave shows and actors?
Lindsey: Too hard to pick just one! I love Friends. I think the writers are brilliant! I have seen all of the episodes so many times it’s always just as funny as the last time I watched it. On a whole other genre I love Peaky Blinders and would love to create something similar. I love the cinematography, the music, the actors…I just think it’s the coolest show! I also love Vikings and Game of Thrones!!
Q: What’s next for The Groomsman?
Lindsey: We are working on episode 2! We feel people want to continue watching Will Knight…will he ever find love?
Brief note from producer/
co-writer Anne Hansen
I am Nick’s mother and Lindsey’s aunt. I’ve been involved from the beginning! Since Nick made his first feature film in college, I have been involved in many of his filmmaking endeavors in various ways. The Groomsman was my first time, though, as an official producer and writer. Lindsey, Nick, and I have been compiling lists for years about ideas for The Groomsman. We had always planned to make it into a feature length film, but never found the time. When we finally decided to make it into a television pilot, we were off and running with it immediately.
The Groomsman is definitely a family affair. Working with Lindsey and Nick is a dream come true. Nick is the artist and Lindsey and I are pragmatic perfectionists. We make a fantastic team!
Lindsey (with the clapper board) on the set of The Groomsman
Click to see a larger version of the photo
The filmmakers are editing episode 2 now and will be filming episode 3 this summer!
Hello all! Welcome to another interview edition featuring the award-winning writer/director of the critically acclaimed ArbitrageNicholas Jarecki. His sophomore film CRISIS has just been released in select theaters and VOD. Check out my review of the film if you haven’t already. It stars Gary Oldman, Greg Kinnear, Evangeline Lilly, Armie Hammer, Luke Evans and Michelle Rodriguez.
Synopsis: A drug trafficker arranges a multi-cartel Fentanyl smuggling operation. An architect recovering from an oxycodone addiction tracks down the truth behind her son’s disappearance. A university professor battles unexpected revelations about his employer, a pharmaceutical company bringing a new “non-addictive” painkiller to market.
Set against the backdrop of the opioid epidemic, their stories collide in this dramatic thriller from writer/director Nicholas Jarecki.
In his acclaimed feature debut, Arbitrage (starring Richard Gere, which I gave a high rating in my review), the NYU graduate Jarecki set a suspense-thriller about love and loyalty against a backdrop of fraud and murder in the world of high finance. With Crisis, the writer-director now turns his attention to the opioid epidemic.
Writer/director Nicholas Jarecki on the set of CRISIS
I had the pleasure of chatting with Nicholas (Nick) Jarecki over Zoom to talk about his film, from the process of making CRISIS, casting, acting in his own film, and the personal crisis of Armie Hammer and how it affected his film’s release. Read on:
Q: Why did it take you so long from making Arbitrage (released in 2012) to this one? It’s almost a decade long.
A:Yeah, it was two years ago now. Because of the pandemic. We had to wait to bring it out. Yeah. I suppose, you know, making these films, these kinds of serious drama type films that ask questions, provocative questions, there isn’t as much support for that as you might expect.
But you know, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. So you’ve got to get it done. But it just requires a lot of tenacity.
Q: I learned that you had lost some people who are important to you, to this epidemic, to this opioid crisis. So is that the driving factor for you to make this, or was there any other inspiration for you to make this film?
A:Well, you know, I mean, look, you always want to make a good film that’s entertaining. First and foremost, it’s my job to entertain you. Write me your seven dollars and you want to have a good time to see something interesting, most dramatically interesting. But you know, what I would say is with this film, I had lost a friend many years ago to opioid abuse, gotten into pain pills and then went to heroin.
And we didn’t understand anything because he was such a nice, bright young man. Good family and all that. So I filed it away in the back of my mind. And then about five years ago, I think there were some reporters from the Los Angeles Times I teamed up with. And and they started to look into the role of opioid manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies in this issue.
What did they know or what didn’t they know? You know, was the product perhaps more dangerous? People had been led to believe, because now you see we’ve had this terrible epidemic in the country. You have these regular, normal people who are getting addicted in record numbers, hundreds of thousands dead. You know, they took a pain pill that was prescribed to them. But the way their body reacted, the way they developed independence, those are things I thought that was worth exploring.
Q: The way these big pharmaceutical companies were being portrayed in the film, it’s as if there’s so much at stake in terms of profit that they even didn’t care when they’re told their product were not ready to hit market. All they cared about was the bottom line. Is that based on your research?
A:I mean, I think we wanted to look at that. You know, this film is very based on real events, real and very heavily-researched. So that is how drugs are developed and tested on mice. And, you know, it’s a fascinating world. And obviously, you know, I don’t think anyone set out to make a harmful product. So that’s not the issue here. The issue is, you know, were these pills overprescribed? Were they over-marketed? Were questions about their safety ignored? And so I wanted to put that into a thriller context, really see what Gary Oldman’s [character] eventually did, Armie Hammer’s and the rest of the great supporting cast… Michelle Rodriguez, you know, all these people. How do these drugs interact with our society? And, you know, looking at it from these different perspectives of the user, the criminal criminal smuggler, and the manufacturer inside.
Q: So it was originally called Dreamland, is that correct? And then it was re titled to to Crisis. What was the significance of that first title?
A:It was a working title. There was another film called Dreamland, so we couldn’t use that one. But, you know, we don’t want it to be confusing. But I might I just kind of like the idea that, you know, we were all sort of living in a fantasy. I think that’s a very American thing. I actually like that title, but I do love CRISIS. I think it’s very strong. And I like these one word titles like. I believe there hasn’t been a film with that same title since Cary Grant’s crime thriller in 1950.
Q: Now, in terms of timeline… how long did it take from, when you were writing the script, like, how long did it take you to work on this film, as there was a lot of research that you had to do. So how long is that process?
A:I wrote this pretty quickly. I wrote it over the course of about six months in 2017. So about a little over three and a half years ago. And then, you know, I had met Gary Oldman and I took him the script and and he liked it right away. He said, OK, let me let me come on as a producer and help you put the film together.
And then the film came together pretty quickly and took, you know, maybe six months to to get the other actors together, and then we started shooting in 2019.
Q: And then so that was kind of that’s a good segue to talk about casting. Since you met Gary Oldman when you already finished with the script, are you one of those writers who have somebody in mind when you were writing the script? Because I feel like he’s so perfect in the role of Tyrone. So did you have someone in mind when you were writing this?
A:So I met Gary and then I was writing the script at the same time. This is kind of how this happened with Arbitrage. And so the character started to take shape a little bit in my mind. When I’m writing, it’s sort of like you only just see shapes, black, black box, you know, kind of shadow figures because you need the actors to bring it to life. So it’s kind of you know, it’s a strange process.
It’s a bit of an alchemical process, I would say. And but then, you know, once I have finished the draft and I gave it to him, then I really could see only him. And we worked together on this quite a bit, to tailor it. And I like to do that with all the actors. I like to rehearse for a few weeks, really get their perspectives on the character, get kind of deep into the research with them, go to labs, you know, with Veronica Ferres playing the [Pharma company] CEO, Armie and I also went with the undercover cop to go look at these pill mills, etc.
Q: OK, so how did the Evangeline Lily came about? Did you you know her before making this film?
A:No, I didn’t know her. I sent her the script. I had been a fan of hers since I had watched all of Lost. I was obsessed, just like everyone else, with that show. And what I saw in her was she was an actress with a great range. She had really showed so many different sides of the persona, and I think she gives a tremendous performance in this film though she hadn’t really done dramatic work in a while.
You know, she had done she had a little part in The Hurt Locker, but she then kind of got into this Marvel world. Yeah. And I think she said that she really wanted to stretch her dramatic muscles again. She really came came hard on the film, and she went very deep into the characters, kind of method and, you know, she had to go to some very dark places to give you that performance.
Q: I didn’t even know that was you who played Stanley the DEA agent (Armie Hammer’s partner) until I looked up my IMDb. So what makes you want to be involved in front of the camera? Because I’m not sure that’s hard to be directing and acting at the same time.
A:Well, you know, it’s all you have to blame. Lenny Kravitz, the musician. Four years ago, he was making a music video in California and he wanted to cast a director, a real life director, to play a director directing him and going crazy. Yeah. So he cast me and and then we did it. And I had such a great time. People were saying to me, like, hey, you were really good.
And and I thought, oh, my God, it’s like maybe that could be something fun to do. So we’re doing this film and I didn’t have anyone for that part. It’s kind of a comic relief type part. And so then somebody said like, well, how are we doing with that casting? And I said, you know what? And I thought, here’s my big moment. And, you know, I said, well, maybe I would do it. Well, there’s one less person to cast anyway, so you save some money. And then they were like, okay, great.
Q: I have to kind of bring up this elephant in the room. Surely you know about the personal crisis in regards to Armie Hammer. Did his involvement affect the reception of your film? How do you feel about the whole issue?
A:The thing is, you know, in terms of the audience, I think the film has been extremely well received. We’ve been number one rented movie in America when it was iTunes for two weeks. We opened up in 216 theaters. We were the number one independent film, the country, the number two per screen, second to Tom and Jerry. The number one film in limited release on less than a thousand screens. So audiences really sought out the film and continue to seek out the film that were opening around the world. We were doing, I think 900 theaters in the Middle East, we do a couple hundred in Australia this week, Canada. So, and audiences have rated the film very highly, we’ve had some very nice reviews, but we did take some heat from a lot of critics.
And it was, it was frustrating because I think you can look at something through lenses and you can say, okay, well, I appreciate where this is coming from. And you know, no film is perfect, it’s got its issues, whatever, but you can also really rip into something. And I think, unfortunately the timing of Armie’s personal problems, which I really know nothing about, I mean, he’s not my brother, he’s an actor that I hired to do a role and he did a great job. But you know, I think that [his involvement] may be colored some of the media. It’s frustrating, but I think, you know, all things have their moment. But I think people are starting to discover the film audiences are discovering the film and film writers are discovering the film and have been reacting more positively to the film.
That’s really the goal with this film. We just, we wanted to make an entertaining movie, uh, thrilling movie that you feel and captivate to with some great performances. And I think we did that, but then secondly, we really wanted to get this issue out to the public and get people talking about what are the responsibilities of these pharmaceutical manufacturers? How should law enforcement be done? How do we treat addicts? Do we treat addicts as the enemy, or do we treat them as our brother and sister our, you know, and understand that this is crossing all walks of life. It’s like a category five hurricane. And what we really need to do is to have some understanding, put some money towards treatment and to de-stigmatize and take away the, ‘oh, they’re bad people’ mindset.
Q: Now, in regards to the multiple narratives. I feel like all these different three different distinct story, but yet related could be its own film. What was the biggest challenge for you to try to tell their stories in just two hours and make sure the story is coherent?
A: And it was, uh, it was a very interesting question that, I mean, I asked myself all these questions, you know, two of the stories, me, one story doesn’t mean, but in a way it does, because you understand that Gary’s up here, you know, it’s like almost like he’s fighting with the gods on Mount Olympus and whatever decisions are made in that room, in that board room or in the lab, then they come down and they touch these other lives. So for me, you know, it was, it was valid to have a metaphorical connection or an allegorical connection as opposed to ‘Oh, they’re students in his class or whatever, something that would have felt totally unrealistic.’
I liked the idea, you know, that the characters are struggling and then they can all help each other in some way. Gary helped them by the fight that he gets into, they help each other. So, certainly editorially putting all that together, a lot of time and effort went into that because you need to see, well, how do these stories inform each other, how do they touch each other? You know, how do we make a connection? That’s both for image based, story-based, you know, we move scenes around and, you know, take the script and I take some scenes and montage them and use these kinds of pre-lab dialogue. Like Robert Altman used to do or later Steven Soderbergh, they’re kind of the masters. So, some of it is trial and error, some of it is your instinct… it’s a kind of dance. And then also what is the footage and what are the actors, what are they giving you? Sometimes they can do things you don’t expect that are very beautiful.
Q: My last question relates to the theme in your films. It seems your previous film deals with the wealthy, powerful people, and that’s also the case here both in the Pharma company and also the privileged school trying to maintain their place in society. I notice that power is kind of a running theme in your stories, so is that something that you like to explore more in your films? I was wondering maybe there is a third film that you’re doing, that its almost like a trilogy with these kind of similar theme going on.
A:Well, I think you pick up on that very well. Um, I mean, I think I’m interested in looking at, you know, there’s, there’s certain moral questions in here, right? And then there’s also like a balance of hearts. So Greg Kinnear, who’s been a friend of mine for many years, I asked him to play this role and he plays the dean of the university. And he’s obviously in conflict with Gary Oldman’s character, because he has discovered what he thinks is damaging information about this product and he wants to go public with it. But then he’s agreed not to do that. And this could really hurt the university because the pharmaceutical company provides the university endowment. So you can really see his point of view… and I said, we got to have Kinnear because he’s such a sympathetic person.
So to see the dean in this conflicted situation, you know, I like those moral gray areas. It’s a balance of and saying, okay, are you sure you’re right about this thing? You know, maybe it’s science who knows, maybe you’re not right. Uh, you know, maybe it’s that experiment translates here on the, on the animals, but it doesn’t work for the humans. I mean, these are all complicated questions, but what you are going to do is you’re going to endanger the university and the university is serving its community of students. And it’s got tens of thousands of students that I’m looking out for. And I have responsibility to those people. So in the balance of harms, this may not be the one to do. And by the way, I don’t think you can win. And then, you know, whether or not (Gary’s character) Tyrone does win or not in the end, we have to leave for, for your viewers.
I like exploring the corrupting role that capitalism plays in the American society because it has, it’s so great and it encourages innovation and all that, but you know, when we go too far away, when we get to free market and we do whatever you want, well sometimes that encourages bad behavior, you know, safeguards. It’s like, you know, you have a runaway train, right? You’re supposed to have some circuit breakers, make sure the train doesn’t go off the tracks. And I think that’s the role of us, the public. So that’s part of why we make the film is to say, Hey, take a look at what’s going on. You know, maybe you don’t want to do anything about it, but at least you should be aware of it.
Check out the trailer:
CRISIS is now available on Video On Demand. It’ll be released on Blu-ray and DVD in the USA on Tuesday April 20th
In the late 1940s, Soviet researchers kept four patients awake for thirty days using an experimental gas-based stimulant. The researchers were cut off from the world and asked to do a series of tests on the subjects for the benefit of the Red Army. What started as a purely scientific research study soon escalated to insanity. What happened next will change the way you view humanity.
The Soviet Sleep Experiment had its world premiere at Twin Cities Film Fest last Friday. Many of the cast/crew were present (many are Minnesota-based) for the red carpet interviews. It’s fitting that the film has a Minnesota premiere, given that it was filmed in the Twin Cities’ southern suburbs of Lakeville (check out this article from the set visit).
FlixChatter media correspondent Holly Peterson had a chance to chat with director Barry Andersson (whose film The Lumber Baron won TCFF’s Best Audience Award last year) and actor Chris Kattan (of Saturday Night Live and A Night at the Roxbury fame). Check out the interview below:
A few bts photos filming The Soviet Sleep Experiment*:
*Photos courtesy of IMDb + The Soviet Sleep Experiment FB page.
Review of The Soviet Sleep Experiment
The Soviet Sleep Experiment is directed and produced by Minnesota native Barry Andersson and written by Michael Patrick McCaffrey. Andersson is back at the Twin Cities Film Fest in 2019 after a successful 2018 Twin Cities Film Fest, where his feature narrative film The Lumber Baron, a period drama about the heir to a failing lumber business and the enduring rumors of a treasure left behind by his grandfather, won the 2018 Audience Award for best feature. The Soviet Sleep Experiment stars Eva De Dominici as Dr. Anna Antonoff, Rafal Zawierucha Dr. Leo Antonoff, and Evgeny Krutov as Captain Yegor Sokolov. It also stars Chris Kattan as Subject 3, Michael Villar as Subject 4, Charles Hubbell as Subject 5 and Paul Cram as Subject 6.
The movie was filmed in and around Lakeville, Minnesota (per IMDB) and is a psychological thriller based loosely upon the urban legend which follows a married research team — Dr. Anna Antonoff and Dr. Leo Antonoff (De Dominici and Zawierucha) who, under close watch of a Red Army Captain Yegor Sokolov (Krutov) , and they set out to study the effects of forced sleep deprivation on four patients locked inside an observation chamber for 30 days. These four patients are given the names of Subject 3 (Kattan), Subject 4 (Villar), Subject 5 (Hubbell) and Subject 6 (Cram) and are placed inside a controlled tank where anti-sleeping gas is pumped into the chamber and each of the Subjects are mentally tested every eight hours, with their reward being a small earing ration about the size of a hockey puck.
After several hundreds of hours inside the chamber, the Subject start turning on each other and the doctors and Soviet Captain are forced to shock them using implants that are surgically implanted inside their necks to give them a jolt of electricity to have them calm down. The hundreds of hours outside the chamber also pays a toll on the doctors performing the experiment, with their also lack of sleep and mental exhaustion. This is brilliantly portrayed by Argentinian actress Dominici (of the 2018 film You Shall Not Sleep) and Polish actor Zawierucha (Roman Polanski in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood) acting against Russian actor Krutov (Stranger Things Season 3). Soviet Captain Sokolov, who represents the overshadowing Red Army back in Moscow overseeing the experiment, is compelling and alarming at the same time — making a perfect antagonist to the already tense story!
The actors inside the chamber, most notably Kattan (of Saturday Night Live and A Night at the Roxbury fame) and Villar (of the 2018 film Skin) are featured much more prominently than Hubbell (of the 2013 film Walking with the Enemy) and Cram (of the Minnesota-made film Wilson, which was first shown in Minnesota by TCFF in March, 2017). All four actors portray the victims/subjects of The Soviet Sleep Experiment quite well and make for one bombastic showcase of horror and gore. They act opposite each other very well inside the isolated 1940s Soviet testing facility. The set design team who put together the chamber must also be commended as it is quite believable that such a “deep sea” diving chamber could be used for such a callous experiment. Overall, this is a very creepy and worthwhile movie to see in the lead up to Halloween season.
Synopsis: When spoiled rich girl Sasha Li blows through most of her trust fund, she is cut off by her father and forced to go back to China and work for the family toy business.
Review of GO BACK TO CHINA
When I first heard of the title, I did a double take. It has that anti-immigrant sentiment, but yet that provocative title works perfectly in the context of this film (read below on my Q&A about how director Emily Ting arrived on that title). This is the first time I saw Anna Akana (I wasn’t aware she’s a famous YouTube star), but the casting is spot-on as she brings a natural whimsy and playfulness to the drama. Although her character Sasha spoiled and even delusional at first (as illustrated in the hilarious opening scene where she goes on a job interview at a fashion house), you can’t help but empathize with her and wants to see her do well.
This is a coming-of-age story of sort, with Sasha being forced to terms with her father’s wishes of working at his factory, and finally finding her footing in the family business. The fact that the film was shot in Shenzen, China definitely makes the film feels very authentic. There are some tough moments between her and her old-fashioned father (Richard Ng), especially in regards to him constantly getting divorced and remarried. Naturally they differ in what each consider familial duty, with Sasha’s loyal step-sister Carol (Lynn Chen) sometimes caught in the middle. At times the story feels like an adaptation of the prodigal son from the Bible.
If I had to nitpick however, at times the fact that Sasha gets acclimated in the business and excels as a toy designer feels too good to be true. Somehow the toy factory crisis in the third act is resolved all too conveniently as well. But those are small quibbles in an otherwise charming and entertaining familial drama. Having grown up with an entrepreneurial, head-strong grandmother who’s Chinese-Indonesian, I can certainly relate to the story.
This is a terrific sophomore feature from Emily Ting. I really enjoyed her debut film Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, and here she stepped up the game with a more complex story and also a bigger cast. I particularly enjoyed the scenes between Anna Akana and Lynn Chen, two strong Asian-American performers I’d love to see more of. I also have to mention the extremely-underrated Kelly Hu as Sasha’s mother, I wish she had more screen time but glad she’s part of the cast.
It’s wonderful to see more Asian-American stories coming out the past few years. Emily Ting is a gifted filmmaker I hope would continue making films. Oh, and after watching this, I suddenly got the urge of getting a bunch of stuffed animals! 😀
Interview with Emily Ting
1. Go Back To China was inspired by your own experience and certainly felt personal. Would you share a bit about that experience working in Shenzen at your dad’s company?
I feel like everyone has one story that has shaped the trajectory of their life and defined who they are today. For me, going back to China to work for the family business is that story. I learned a lot about myself in the 12 years I spent working for the family business, and making this film was a really cathartic experience. When I decided to go back to Asia, I thought that meant giving up on my filmmaking aspirations forever. But ironically, that experience ended up inspiring all the films I’ve made since.
2. How did you decide on making the semi-autobiography into a comedy, has that always been your vision from the start?
This was actually my attempt at making a serious drama! But I naturally have a very light touch, so this is just my filmmaking voice coming out. Also, I think that a lot of the comedy is a result of Anna Akana’s performance. She is a comedienne, and she brought a lot of her comedic chops to the role. I don’t think the film would be as funny if someone else had played Sasha.
3. The title is certainly quite provocative, and it’s perfect for this story. How did you come up with that?
I finished the whole script without any idea on what to call the film. I was playing around with some more mundane ideas for the title, like “The Family Business” or something like that. And as almost a joke, I slapped “Go Back to China” on the draft as a working title, since this is a film literally about a girl who goes back to China. But I didn’t think that we could actually call my film that. I think that my manager was the first person I sent the script to and he took to the title right away. And then everyone else that I sent the script to told me they loved the title and that I shouldn’t change it. So it just stuck! I still can’t believe that I got away with making a film called Go Back to China!
4. I LOVE the cast here, esp. Anna Akana & Lynn Chen as the sisters. How did their casting come about? I’d love to hear about Richard Ng & Kelly Hu’s casting as well if you wouldn’t mind sharing.
At the time when I was working on the script, I was doing a lot of general meetings at digital companies and Anna Akana’s name kept coming up. I wasn’t familiar with her work, so I looked her up on Youtube and went down a rabbit hole watching her videos. She is immensely watchable and embodied who Sasha is. Even though she has a huge following on Youtube, she hasn’t acted in a lot of traditional films. I took a leap of faith and made an offer. She responded to the material and came on board. I still can’t believe that this is her first lead role in a film!
After Sasha was cast, the role of Carol was much easier to fill. I had been a fan of Lynn Chen for a long time and knew that she would knock the role out of the park. I asked my friend Dave Boyle (who worked with her on several films) to pass the script along to her. She responded in a few days that she was in! Even though I already knew Lynn could act, her performance in this film still blew me away. She made me cry behind the monitor on set many times!
The hardest role to fill was the father. I had to push the production several times because we couldn’t get the role cast. The father’s casting process was in a way very reflective of a film about daddy issues! I had wanted a name Asian actor for the role. Actually, one of the first people I thought of was Richard Ng, who is a very beloved veteran Hong Kong actor, and we had worked together on Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong previously. But the internal consensus was that, at almost 80, he was too old for the role. We started sending offers out to younger name Asian actors. But we just couldn’t get anyone to read the script! After months of this, I returned to my initial idea of Richard. I thought, what if we just aged him down through HMU and wardrobe? My producer was on board with this idea, and I wrote an email to him. He read the script in about two weeks and agreed to take on the role. We gave him a new haircut and a more stylish wardrobe, and he was transformed into Teddy instantly. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve just followed my gut and could’ve avoided months of anxiety.
We were really lucky to get Kelly Hu for the mother role. It is a very small role and my casting director didn’t think any name actors would want to take on what is basically a glorified cameo role. But I thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask. We sent the offer to her on a Thursday, and by the following Tuesday, she signed on. Even though her role would be small, she loved the script and wanted to help the project any way she could.
5. Some of the toys featured in the film are adorable. How did you get them, did any of the ones you designed make it to the movie?
The sloth was actually from our family’s toy company’s Christmas line! I did come up with an idea for a Christmas sloth in real life, and the item was sold at Dollar General, Kroger, and some other stores. All the other toys that you see in the movie were products that were being manufactured at the factory on the days we were shooting. We went around the production line and picked toys that fit with our pastel color palette to appear on camera.
6. What are some of the challenges you faced making this movie compared to Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, which also has elements from your own personal journey?
The two movies are such different beasts, and both had totally different challenges. Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong was shot in very uncontrolled environments and situations (running around the streets of Hong Kong). We didn’t have any control of the weather, traffic, or the people on the streets. Every day was unpredictable. But it was a very simple movie in terms of coverage, because we just had two people walking and talking. We shot the film in 14 days and only worked 6 – 8 hours on most days. For Go Back to China, the locations were all very controlled, since we shot mostly in locations that my family owned, but it’s a much more complicated film in terms of coverage. This is a much bigger story, with a lot more characters and scenes. We just had so much more to shoot in order to get all the coverage we needed. We shot for 21 days and worked the maximum 12 hours every day. And this is also a much more personal film for me than the last one. This film is about my family and not just a random encounter. It felt more meaningful and the stakes higher.
7. Lastly, with the release of Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell in the past couple of years, and the ongoing diversity/inclusion discussion, do you think the cinematic landscape has changed for Asian filmmakers?
I definitely think that Crazy Rich Asians opened a lot of doors and the industry is more receptive to Asian American stories. At least now, they can’t use the excuse that Asian stories can’t attract an audience. I have been having a lot of general meetings with companies that are actively looking for Asian content or Asian filmmakers, and it’s certainly an encouraging trend. But at the end of the day, Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell are still the rare anomaly and not the rule yet. However, I’m much more optimistic about the future than ever before.
Thank you for chatting with me, Emily!
TCFF screening times of Go Back To China: Wednesday October 23rd 12:15 PM
Hello friends! Ruth here. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you know that here on the blog we care about diversity in filmmaking, both in front AND behind the camera. So I love highlighting female filmmakers, both locally and internationally, and today we’ve got a veteran MN artist Cynthia Uhrich, founder of In The Moment Films, who constantly wear many, many hats: Writer, Director, Filmmaker, Casting Director, Producer and Educator.
Two of her short films, Oh My Stars and Everyone Goes In The Lakeare both Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2019 Official Selections! So read below on my conversation with Cynthia on her journey as a filmmaker and making the two films.
You have been in the film business for a long time, and you have a BA in theatre. Would you tell me a bit about your journey from acting into filmmaking?
Well, it’s been an interesting transition…pretty much facilitated by the fact that I fully grasped about 12 years ago that there were so few roles for women 40+. Since I love every aspect of the entertainment business, I decided that I needed to reinvent myself. I’d been acting since the 3rd grade when I wrote and directed my first play. I was a member of SAG and AFTRA for 26 years, and had worked in the Twin Cities, then Florida, then Los Angeles and then came back to the T.C. at 40. I did some acting when I got here and started teaching acting classes. But, I realized that I needed to shift gears so I started teaching a class called “I Got The Part: Now What?” which took actors through the process of preparing for a role–and I did 3 showcases of the actors work (on stage) for the public–both to help the actors have a chance to be seen, and to sharpen my own directing skills.
I then transitioned into creating acting classes that were for film prep and used those classes to teach actors what I knew about film acting and made a few shorts to expand my knowledge about directing for film. While I’d been on a lot of sets over the years–both as talent and in Hollywood also working crew as assistant coordinator on commercials and working as a production assistant–I needed to start to understand how to plan and direct films. So basically, I’m self-taught and I still rely very much on having a smart, knowledgeable crew around me to help with the things that I’m still figuring out. I looked around and noticed that so few women were in crew roles…so I applied with Springboard for the Arts and created my non-profit film production company, IN THE MOMENT FILMS. The mission is to create employment opportunities for women both in front of, and behind the camera. And to make films about women’s stories and to make socially significant films. As a non-profit, I am able to secure funding for projects and those contributions are tax-deductible for individuals–that’s helpful to incentivize individuals to contribute to film.
I first saw your film Robert in the Bedroom (that you wrote and directed), a heart-wrenching short about a woman dealing with memory loss. I’ve since seen two more short films that you directed. How do you choose your projects?
I have known a few people with Alzheimer’s and started to notice that more and more individuals and families were grappling with this disease. When I started to research, I discovered the statistics for the future are frightening. The percentage of the population that will develop Alzheimer’s and Dementia is expected to grow exponentially…and is going to impact families enormously. Family members are often the caregivers. The financial burden will also be catastrophic to some families…let alone the emotional burden. My experience with a friend’s mother was so profound–it left a real mark on my heart. When I learned about people having to re-live a loss over and over because they weren’t able to recall that it had happened (such as the loss of a spouse) it broke my heart. I didn’t feel as though people were fully grasping just how devastating the illness was to families…and to the person experiencing memory loss. I felt it was a compelling topic to explore.
“Code Green” is based on a true story about a young woman’s (Kayla Coffland’s) battle with her eating disorder. She had been a long-time student and is extraordinarily talented and interesting. She shared a monologue with me that she had written about a specific period of time in her life and it struck a chord with me. I asked her if she’d be interested in making a short film about her illness–and she said “I was kind of hoping you’d ask me.” We had many, many conversations about her struggles and I wrote the screenplay based on those talks. It was a painful film to make. The cast and crew who were there know how much love and support was needed…emotionally one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. We captured really raw, naked truth from Kayla, who stars in the film. Not nearly enough people have seen it–it’s still on the festival circuit and I hope to screen it for the public early next year. Her story is important. I screened it to a group of teens and their parents–and the response to it was overwhelming. It really touched people. It is hard for me to watch. I love Kayla and I think she is incredibly talented and courageous.
I love that your projects often feature women and actors of color. As a casting director, how important is diversity and inclusion in your projects?
Diversity in casting is SO important. I recall living in Los Angeles and I was dating a Hispanic man for a year named John Vargas. He was an actor, and shared the statistics with me. Being a Caucasian, it had never really occurred to me that there was an inequity in casting. So, it was the mid-90’s and he told me 20% of all roles were going to actors that were African-American, 7% to Latinos and only 2% to Asians. (Native Americans weren’t even in those stats!) He shared with me how he would ask his agents or casting people to ask directors to please consider a non-Caucasian for roles–because there wasn’t enough opportunity for him to audition. It was such a frustration for him–and he was a really hustling, talented guy. I never forgot that. So when I started casting…I made a point of asking directors or writers to consider seeing people of color. I also like to point out that certain roles don’t need to be cast as male…to open up more opportunities for women, too. But, at the end of the day, it always must be the best individual for the role, regardless of gender or race. That’s paramount.
The last two projects I’m focusing here, Oh My Stars and Everyone Goes In The Lake, were both written by someone else. How’s the filmmaking process different from directing something that you wrote yourself?
Oh, it’s easier in some ways, and more challenging in others. Lorna is an amazing writer…prolific and so hard-working. She wrote two screenplays for us to choose from, both approaching the story from very different perspectives. One of the screenplays had far more of the protagonist (Violet) as the older woman on-screen reliving her past. Greg Winter (my cinematographer) and I both preferred the piece with more narration. It just felt more active to see more of the protagonist’s struggle as a young woman on the screen…and it felt more like a memory, using the narration as the thread weaving through the story. I also really liked the way 1979 served as book-ends to the film. We also used chocolate filters and pushed towards sepia in those 1930’s scenes because my vision was to really give those early years the feeling of memory–and the sepia just felt like the way to go. As the film goes on, the chocolate fades and as Violet’s life changes, more color comes into the pictures. These ideas were in my head from day one and Greg was onboard with the ideas. It was fun to expand scenes visually, though, on bits of the dialogue in ways that I don’t think Lorna had expected.
With “Everyone Goes in the Lake,” Rudy Pavich had written a funny screenplay (’cause he’s a funny man) that just needed a bit of fine-tuning so I recommended that we get my former MCTC colleague Jeremy Bandow’s eyes on it. Both Jeremy and I weighed in with notes and Rudy was open to making adjustments and that collaborating really helped me to hone my vision for that project. When it’s not my script: It’s much easier to just focus on the actors and to not stress about the dialogue and wonder constantly if it’s working. It’s one of the monkeys that’s off my back!
Oh My Stars was adapted from a novel by Lorna Landvik who also wrote the screenplay. Can you tell me how that project come about?
I had been teaching a commercial class at the Sabbes JCC and met a woman named Jan who happened to be in a group that Lorna was a part of. Lorna had been sharing with the group that many of her books have been optioned for films (one as a vehicle for Ashley Judd) but that none had ever made it to the screen. Jan suggested Lorna and I meet…we did, she looked at some of my other projects, we met again and I (of course) ran out before our first meeting and bought and read 50% of the book so I could really talk to her about “Oh My Stars” and it worked out.
The trend now is to make “proof-of-concept” short films to pitch a longer feature. I suggested we do that–and build a platform via festivals and word-of-mouth and here we are! It was also important to me that our proof-of-concept was more than a “pitch” but also a stand-alone film…one that piqued the viewer’s interest and that made them want to see more. I think we succeeded in that. It’s the most amount of money I’ve ever had to raise for a film. Fundraising went on for a full year on that one. Both through GiveMN.org and we did special fundraising events. Lots of heavy lifting to get it finished. And more work now shepherding it through the Festival gauntlet.
Have you ever done a period drama before? What is your favorite genre to watch and to work on?
I had never done a period piece before…that element made pre-production terrifying. Truly daunting. I started 4 months ahead of filming to prepare…for a short film! I couldn’t sleep at night for all the thoughts of the details running through my head…it’s amazing what a motivator fear can be in the creative process! I wanted to get it right. I knew this was an extraordinary opportunity for me as an artist and I didn’t want to fail Lorna, the cast, or the crew. Lots of pressure. Then, things fell through in the 11th hour–specifically—two vintage vehicles. That was so disappointing and we had to scramble to re-write and conceptualize those scenes to accommodate for those missing elements.
I remember after I saw the film, the amount of voice over is perhaps the most extensively-used in any short (or even features) I’ve ever seen. How did you come to such an approach, was it something Lorna specifically wanted for the film?
Yes, that was the way she wrote one of the two scripts…and I thought it was a really interesting way to tell a story. I knew it was a bit risky—but it makes the film special, I think. To primarily see the emotions coming from young Violet, but the narration from older Violet works, and here’s why: distance (as in time) creates a bit of an emotional disconnect—so while Violet’s narration is somewhat “these are the facts” all of the emotion from when the original events occurred are living in the depiction of Violet as a young woman experiencing the events in the moment.
Now, as for Everyone Goes Into The Lake, is this the first comedic film you’ve worked on?
No, I wrote and directed a short called “M4W” that screened at the Bryant Lake Bowl as part of IFP’s Cinema Lounge (now “Film North”). I didn’t submit that one to festivals. I simply didn’t have the confidence in my work at that time. It has also screened on MNC6 now. I learned so much making that movie. I realized doing that one that I had much to learn—but again—I had amazing people around me to support me. These projects are never just “mine.” I’m always a little bothered when I read a director/producer/writer indicate in a posting “come to see MY film.” I try to always write or say “our film” because it is such a team effort. Every single person is working hard, tired, fighting the elements, working with small budgets, doing the absolute best they can in their positions—it’s kind of like going into a battle. As an introvert, I have to put on a special pair of pants when it comes to directing. I’m not entirely comfortable with being at the helm, but someone I suck it up and get it done. I always have a strong sense of what I want, but I’m working on having more ease about making a film. I want to enjoy it more and stress less.
The cinematography is beautiful, but I was really in awe by that cabin. How did you come to find that location, and how involved are you with the location scouting?
I am very hands-on with location scouting—mostly because I don’t have the budget to hire someone to do it! Charlotte Ariss was an incredible help on “Oh My Stars” really pointing me in the right direction and offering wonderful suggestions. I’m so grateful for her help. I have to see and feel a place before filming…places have energy and I need to walk the space myself to be able to block and visualize the pictures for a film.
The cabin in “Everyone Goes in the Lake” belongs to dear friends of mine (Dan and Marie Hilliard) I had been dating Marie’s brother for 3 years or so, and finally got up the courage to ask if we could film there…to my amazement she said “yes!”It was able to sleep our entire cast & crew and has an incredible kitchen where my significant other at the time (Michael McColl) was able to cook up some incredible meals for the team. He also made some meals for “Oh My Stars.” We were all lucky to have someone on the team with such amazing culinary skills. I will forever be grateful to that family for their help with my projects.
Lastly, just for fun, can you share an anecdote from filming either one of the TCFF shorts that you find particularly memorable?
On “Oh My Stars” we had rain off and on our final (4th) day of filming—all outdoor shots. It was the longest day of my life…by the time we got to our very last set-ups of the day (the bus crash) I was beyond exhausted. I will never forget driving in pitch-black to our location—a remote country road…and seeing the headlights from around 20 cars with all the cast and crew following me…I was so oddly moved by that…and so nervous that I would miss the turn-off in the dark and the mist. There were so many roads we shot on and I’d scouted them 3 times over and made maps and did everything possible to make sure we weren’t all driving out in the country, lost. I prayed the entire time I was driving. I almost cried when I saw the little graveyard that was on the corner—that was the marker I needed to see. So, it’s been a funky day and it feels like maybe the rain will clear…and we have all these extras who’ve been waiting on us all day due to the rain delays—and my gut tells me we’d better shoot the dialogue with the leads first…and then we’ll get all the sweet extra’s bits. So we shoot the dialogue—and I swear, the moment we got the take we wanted—the skies opened up and it was a torrential downpour. I miss those little vignettes we’d planned with some wonderful actors. For the sake of the film, I’m grateful I listened to my gut—but sad we had to sacrifice some background artists to the fickle movie Gods.
Check out this BTS video of Oh My Stars
(courtesy of IN THE MOMENT FILMS)
Thank you for chatting with me, Cynthia!
Everyone Goes In The Lake is screening as part of the Lost & Found shorts block Tuesday, October 22nd 5:00PM
Hello FC readers. It’s Ruth here. Today we’ve got another MN film and MN filmmaker whose film Only Dance Can Save Us is premiering tomorrow at 7:20pm.
I got to see the film last week and I’m really impressed! Kudos to John Kaiser on his feature film debut–it feels like a personal film which highlights the artistic process and the struggle of an artist. Even more impressive that he chose dance, which apparently is an uncharted territory for him, yet he’s able to capture the beauty of that world.
I like that that the film didn’t spoon feed everything to the audience, it’s not drowned by exposition. The pacing could’ve been improved a bit however, but overall it’s a terrific film that gives me an insight into the world of dance that I’m not familiar with. As someone working in the creative world, I can relate to the challenges of making a living as an artist.
The acting, especially Larissa Gritti (Sophie) and Matt Bailey (Alan) are strong and believable, which is important in a dialog-heavy film. The dance sequences by choreographer Berit Ahlgren are lovely to watch, and it works wonderfully with the music by Sarah James Elstran. The dynamic camera work by DP Tim Schrader also highlights the dance sequences beautifully.
It’s one of the most unique and creative indie films I’ve seen at TCFF, worth seeing on the big screen so don’t miss the screening tomorrow at 7:20pm! Get your tickets here.
Synopsis: Following the death of her estranged mentor, contemporary dance choreographer, Sophie Florence, seeks to make sense of their relationship through her art. As she faces her past, she can’t help but be influenced by her present. By weaving performance and narrative, Only Dance Can Save Us creates an interdisciplinary portrait of the artistic process.
Interview with John Kaiser
1. The film explores the ups and downs of the artistic process. Was the story inspired by your own journey by any chance?
As an artist it’s impossible not to infuse a little of yourself into your work, nor should you ever resist that urge. For this film in particular I wanted to incorporate that sense of insecurity that we artists feel around our work. Those questions of, “Why are we doing this? Should I be doing something else with my life?” Like our protagonist Sophie, I definitely have had those moments of self doubt. We all have. Maybe a project doesn’t turn out how we thought, or we get rejected from festival after festival, and we question why we’re dedicating so much of ourselves to art. Then we have another great idea and we’re pulled right back into that cycle.
2. You’ve written quite a bit of shorts and a few features, including DARK CLOUD that I covered last year. What made you decide to direct this story in particular for your debut?
For this project I really wanted to explore that artistic process. That self-doubt, that inspiration, how the world around us shapes our work. The key was finding the right medium to explore on film. Dance was an uncharted territory for me, I’ve grown to appreciate it over the years and it felt like the perfect vehicle to showcase that process.
Having written and directed a couple shorts, I knew I wanted to try my hand at a longer narrative. With all films, sometimes things just come down to timing, finding the right project at the right time. This was a story that had been bouncing around my head for awhile and felt like the right project to apply for a Jerome Foundation Artist Grant with. Low and behold, much to my surprise and delight, they liked the project and funded the majority of the production costs.
3. I love the dance sequences. Can you talk a bit about the process of casting those dancers, in addition to casting the actors for the film?
When it came to casting dancers, I leaned completely on our choreographer Berit Ahlgren. I gave her carte blanche to bring in anyone she thought would be a good fit. In this case some of our restrictions acted in our favor. Due to some scheduling issues not everyone was available every day. So Berit developed pieces that required only a handful of performers and other pieces that required a lot more. She herself performs an incredible solo at the beginning at the film, so it’s a little like you never know who’s going to show up in the sequences. As the film progresses we see the pieces grow and become more complex, with more and more dancers joining in.
In terms of casting our actors, one of the challenges with some of the roles was finding individuals who could both act AND dance. This requirement really helped narrow our field and gave us a more strategic pool to focus on. And we were lucky in that we had enough talented people express interest that we didn’t have to sacrifice quality on either front.
4. I also notice that the music seems to appear in the dance sequences, while it’s mostly music-free in the dialog scenes. How was the process of incorporating music into this film?
I often joke that when characters in this film aren’t talking, they are dancing. And that was sort of the approach with the music as well. I personally like to let the dialogue (and there’s a lot of dialogue in this film) speak for itself and not compete with the score. I like to find a rhythm and pacing with the actors that feels musical at times.
This also gives our dance sequences their own energy and feel when we finally do add music into the film. The dances and dancers are there to act as a Greek Chorus of sorts and really portray Sophie’s mental state. We were incredibly lucky to have Sarah James Elstran (The Nunnery) contributing the music. Her work sounds like nothing I’ve heard and that’s what jumped out to me when I was exploring composers. It’s haunting at times, celestial at other moments, but it’s also incredibly catchy and upbeat when it needs to be. It really gives the film its own unique sound.
5. The film practically takes place in a single building, save for a couple of scenes. What has been the biggest challenges of setting a film that way?
As a writer it’s always a fun challenge to create something with as few locations as possible and this piece for the most part takes place not only in one building but one room for the majority of the film. So it’s this fun little challenge where you give yourself limited resources to work with.
As a director though, focusing your story on one particular space presents a different set of challenges. Namely, how can we keep that space fresh for the audience. We were able to do a lot with lighting, playing with the time of day the scenes are set in. I also wanted each corner of the room to feel more like it’s own space. There’s a space for socializing, one for business, one for reflection, then of course a big empty space for the dancers to move in.
6. When I first noticed the dancers’ costumes, I thought I noticed the specs of blood in them. Is that just my imagination thinking that perhaps it’s hinting at the ‘bad blood’ between Sophie and her recently-deceased mentor, or just a coincidence?
Oh that’s a very interesting observation. I hadn’t thought of that before, but that’s the fun thing about getting this film out in front of an audience. Everyone brings their own interpretations to things. Part way through the production I noticed the blood-like spots. For me that represented the dedication and passion these artists have for their craft.
The costumes themselves were created by the incredibly talented Caroline Sebastian. She and I shared vision boards and had several discussions about what these pieces should look like. We wanted something that made them stand out from the rest of the world. We drew a lot of inspiration from dancer costumes of decades past. In particular we were both drawn to those used by the choreographer Merce Cunningham in the 1970’s and 80s. Caroline had the brilliant idea of adding this tie-dyed pattern which gave the outfits a texture that stands out in the space and on film.
7. How excited are you that your first feature is premiering at TCFF, on its 10th anniversary no less?
I’m ecstatic. TCFF has always been a great supporter of the local film community and it’s always fun to play to a hometown crowd. There’s just a different energy when you know your friends, family, collaborators, and colleagues are in the audience. It gives the screening a Sunday dinner kinda vibe.
8. What’s next for you? Would you share about some of your current/future artistic endeavors?
The next thing on my agenda is to breathe and to unplug for awhile. This project has been my life for the last year and a half and now it’s out in the world. We’re hopefully going to focus on taking it around to other festivals across the country and get it in front of as many eyeballs as possible.
Beyond that, I’m writing for the fun of writing. Playing with new ideas and seeing what the next story to take root in my mind will be.
Set Visit – Fall 2018
I had the privilege of visiting the about a year ago in St. Paul MN, thanks to writer/director John Kaiser, executive producer Jay Ness, and producers Ellie Drews & Kirstie House for arranging the visit. Jay, Ellie and Kirstie, plus DP Tim Schrader + costume designer Caroline Sebastian were actually part of the crew of my own film Hearts Want). I really enjoyed the visit and meeting some of the cast/crew, here are some pics from the fun visit:
Thank you for chatting with me, John!
TCFF screening times of Only Dance Can Save Us: Tuesday October 22nd 7:20 PM
On its 10th anniversary, more than 60% of Twin Cities Film Fest’s 2019 program are driven by female filmmakers. It’s something I’m happy about of course, but I wish the general statistics about women in Hollywood is something to cheer about. As of right now, according to Women And Hollywood stats, women only make up for a mere 4% of directors.
So naturally I’m intrigued by documentaries that highlight women filmmakers. I featured the doc Be Natural about Alice Guy-Blaché (the Mother of Cinema). This time I had the privilege of chatting with Cady McClain, the director of Seeing Is Believing: Women Direct.
It’s a documentary film which emphasizes the opportunity for women to use their voice through media to change the social and political landscape and achieve full equality. Focusing on inspiring and uplifting young female storytellers through the mentorship and leadership of four diverse directors, Seeing is Believing: Women Direct opens the conversation up to ask “What is the broader role of storytelling in our society and how can women use filmed media as a unique opportunity to catalyze progress?”
The best documentaries are entertaining, insightful and fascinating. Well, this is one of those documentaries and then some. I love that there are clips from their projects along with the filmmakers’ interviews. I also adore the the stunning animation by Chilean artist Xaviera López that supports the themes of the doc.
I learned that Cady McClain is planning of turning this doc into a podcast series with female filmmakers and I really hope that would happen!
Check out the trailer:
Q&A with Director, Producer, Editor Cady McClain
1. What triggered you to make this film as your first feature? I read that it had started off as a 28 minute short, then an 58-minute version before this one (84 min) doc feature?
I actually started out with the idea of doing a feature. But there were two other women who wanted to make a similar feature and we each have our own vision. We all wanted to support each other but also wanted to have our own journey of going about it, which is kind of crazy but that’s how it turned out. So I didn’t want to compete by making another feature, so I thought I’ll make a series. So the short was supposed to be the first episode, the pilot. So I sent it to Soho Film Festival and they called me and said, ‘you should make it into a feature because they think it would be really competitive in their feature doc category.’
When a film festival called you, it was the encouragement I needed. I mean I never made a documentary before, I’ve never trained in documentary, but at least the short helped me understand what documentaries are. Plus I could build it from there, and the 84-minute film ended up winning the Audience Award at Soho International Film Festival which was amazing.
Then we also had a distributor come around who said, this isn’t long enough for iTunes (because it was under an hour). Now I have a little more understanding of how to make the doc feature I had wanted to make in the first place. So I went back and added more women [filmmakers] that I had wanted to but I hadn’t figured out how to fit them in. It’s like weaving a giant quilt to form a certain pattern, and you’re making the patterns as you go along.
2. Out of the filmmakers that were interviewed, I particularly love Lesli Linka Glatter, Li Lu and Sarah Gavron… I love their stories and the way they tell their stories. So how did you choose your subjects?
A lot of it was happenstance. It was who I knew and who people I knew knew… you know, how certain people connect me to certain people. Suffragette [movie] happened while I was making this film, one of my friends who was a member of the DGA invited me to that screening and I was so blown away by it that I wrote to her agent. She said she was too busy touring for this film, but if you fly to London she’ll make time. So I flew to London to interview Sarah Gavron. I was also so inspired by the careers of the people I interviewed.
One was Joanna Kearns (best known for Growing Pains), who was an established actor before she became a director. Some people said it might be easier the fact that we started off as actors, but it’s still very hard to make that transition and to earn your place [as director]. And also with Lesli Linka Glatter, there is a lot of happenstance that comes in any one’s career. As she said in the film, if she hadn’t met that one man in the coffee shop in Japan, she wouldn’t have gone into directing. I learned that no career is a straight line. It’s helpful for me because intrinsically, you don’t just go to film school and then have a film career. It’s a lot to do with the people you’re in school with, the connections you made there, what’s being made now, what are you inspired to make, how you craft your forward movement, etc. Nothing is guaranteed And if you didn’t go to film school and want to be a director, you really have to look around you, what resources are available to you, who are the people you know and what stories you’re inspired to tell. You really have to work with the circle you have around you instead of thinking it’s out there or you’d have to come to LA and expect things to happen.
3. How has your background as an actress help you as a director?
I feel like I could help comfort the actors, even when they push back. Some actors could get very insecure and some deal with their insecurity by becoming very tough. I learn not to take it personally, and just read it as total insecurity as that’s all it is. They need me to be the one in control, to be the strong one. If I’m not the strong one then they get afraid and nervous, ‘oh she’s not in control.’ So they need to know that ‘I’ve got it. You can be nervous and I’m holding the line here for you and I’ve got your back. Everything’s gonna be fine.’
4. Seeing the grim statistics about women in film, what do you think, from your perspective as a female filmmaker yourself, needs to be done in the industry level?
I think there is a comfort factor for the guys. When they work together there is a code of behavior, I don’t know if I would call it a pack mentality, but there’s an unspoken code of behavior. They call it the ‘Boys Club’ for a reason, it’s like in an athletic club you know, if you think about it like that, there is a code of behavior that’s been long held that they’re comfortable with. So when you introduce a randomness, which is the female into that space, they’d have to get into a learning curve. So is this a friendly person, is she going to judge us for our code? What’s their take?? So as a female leader, I feel like I have to be kind about that, and not be like ‘I’m coming in to blow your game away.’ The way I’d do it is to say, ‘I’m coming in to make your show great, to respect the work that you’ve done thus far and respect your set up here, but now I’ll bring in my intelligence, my talent and ability to the story.’ It does take a certain kind of crafting in that conversation, so we can move from a gender conversation but more about ‘let’s talk about the work.’
5. I’m glad you included Alice Guy-Blaché in your film. I watched her doc Be Natural last year and I felt so guilty that I hadn’t heard of her. So who’s been your fave female filmmakers, or those who have helped path the way for you as a filmmaker?
I saw the film ORLANDO, directed by Sally Potter and I was so blown away by it. It’s such a huge production and it’s a stunning story about gender… a person, a being, moving through bodies, through time… yet there is something so inherently similar no matter whether she was a male or female.
There was a glimmer of me ‘Could I do that? Is that possible?’ I was trained intensely by my mother that no, it isn’t something I could do. ‘She [Sally Potter] was British, it’s different over there.’ That old argument… You see, my mom was, you know the 1950s mentality, where if you’re going against the patriarchy if you will, the consequences would not be small. You’d have to have a lot of resilience to buck the status quo. I don’t think she felt she had that external or internal support, she was fighting different battles. She wants us to be safe, you know, she wants us to be happy, to survive. Unfortunately, her understanding of the world of what is possible is so limited. I think for her, standing up for what’s right is more satisfying for her.
What’s next for you? I saw you’re in the process of directing two dramatic features (Paint Made Flesh and Journey to Now)?
I’m afraid I can’t say anything about the projects I’m working on, but yes I’m definitely excited to be working on a narrative feature. Storytelling is what I’m about. Although I enjoyed making a documentary, I don’t want to be branded that I’m only doing certain type of things. I like to jump from medium to medium, I’m glad that these films found me and it resonated in our conversations. It worked out, they like me and then I got attached, so now we’re in long conversations of developing something into being. It all came about in a happenstance way, someone I met while making the doc recommended me for one, and someone else I met through the the process of finding more women directors recommended me as a female director, ‘hey think about Cady McClain.’ I think people who saw the documentary thought ‘oh she could tell a good story.’