TCFF Indie Film Spotlight: Laura Gets A Cat + Interview with writer/director/star Michael Ferrell

Thanks to FC blog staff Laura Schaubschlager for conducting the interview with writer/director Michael Ferrell. I figure since her name is Laura and she has a cat, it’d be fun for her to watch the film and ask the interview questions 🙂

Laura Gets A Cat is a fun, relatable movie that makes some creative choices with the ‘young person trying to find direction and purpose’ storyline.

Laura is a talented yet unsuccessful writer in her early 30’s living in New York City. She has a boyfriend who provides little excitement. Her two best friends who seem to have achieved all their hopes and dreams, if only to spite her. Good thing she lives mostly inside her head, daydreaming about all the wonderful things happening in her imaginary life. After she starts an affair with Ian, the performance artist and local barista, real life proves too complicated. She packs up a suitcase and moves to a small beach town in North Carolina. Even as she gets involved with some guy who lives on a mattress in his buddy’s garage, she hopes that Ian will bolt from his life in New York and chase her down. Through this series of troubled relationships and disconnected friendships, Laura learns that peace of mind is not necessarily found by chasing it.

 

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Q: How much of this movie, if any, is inspired by real-life experiences?

The best way to explain it is: all of it. And none of it. It’s totally fiction. What’s most inspired by real life are the themes explored in the film. Laura and the people around her are in their 30’s mostly and dealing with the things that people in their 30’s are dealing with. There’s a thing I’ve heard often for writers; make it specific and truthful and it will be relatable. I strive for that. But still it’s all made-up make-believe.

Q: Why did you choose Wisconsin as Laura’s home state? How do you feel having a character who is a Midwestern transplant in NYC resonates with audiences?

Interesting that you picked up on that because it’s just mentioned in one line! Here’s the thought process when I’m making up something like that, my inner monologue as I remember it:

Hmmm, her childhood was probably somewhere specific. But not southern. Not California. Somewhere midwestern. But she threw off her accent a long time ago. She never quite fit in or felt at home. Somewhere she wanted to leave behind, but also somewhere that was encouraging, stimulating in some way. Maybe somewhere she took for granted. How about Wisconsin?

And there ya go, she was from Wisconsin. Also when I was younger I dated a couple girls from Wisconsin so maybe it was just that.

Dana Brooke as Laura

Q: The soundtrack for this film is excellent. What kind of work went into choosing which songs to include? What kind of music did you look for regarding creating a tone for the movie?

Thanks! The music we use in the film is entirely musicians that we know personally. We have my friend Melvyn Brown playing guitar and singing a song in the film. My friend Jeff Laughlin’s voice running throughout the film. David Mosey, who is friends with Chris Prine, our editor and co-producer. And Devin Sanchez, co-producer and actor, found the closing credits song from a friend in our neighborhood in Jersey City who heard the young woman playing on the subway platforms!

Even the background music in the various locations are all friends’ songs. So being able to collaborate with them and take their music around the country is a real honor for us.

Chris Prine is also the music supervisor. So the credit is his. He was also editor and music supervisor for our first film “Twenty Million People,” also featuring some great music. (Which you can watch online now: twentymillionpeople.com).

I think maybe the music fits the tone of the movie because it’s a lot of indie rock ballads. And if our film were a song, it would be an indie rock ballad. It’s probably just that simple.

And if it were a style of craft beer, I’d say it was a pale ale. Not too hoppy, but not super light either. I can think of these all day, this is fun.

Q: At the beginning of the film, Laura vents to her friend Heidi about how people seem to expect her to be more stable, exclaiming “I don’t even have a cat!” Why does having a cat represent stability or direction?

Well, it’s probably the first step for a lot of people, right? Being able to take care of a cat is like the bare minimum of adult responsibility. There’s also a line in the film that explicitly states that adulthood is NOT “steps on a ladder, like this, this, this, then this.” But if it were steps on a ladder, it might go:

Cat
Boyfriend/Girlfriend
Move in together
Dog
Marriage
Kids
House
Divorce
Just Kidding

Of course some people just don’t like pets. Or kids. Or houses. Or marriage. So there is no normal, and that’s definitely one of the themes of the film. But just because there is no normal doesn’t mean that when the time is right, one shouldn’t embrace these, or other, aspects of adulthood. Ah, the things people in their 30’s are thinking about.

Dana with writer/director/star Michael Ferrell

Q: In addition to writing and directing Laura Gets a Cat, you also co-star as Ian, the coffee shop manager with whom Laura has a relationship. Did you write the role specifically intending to portray it yourself, or did you consider casting someone else first?

It was the easiest role to cast! No, actually, it’s kind of hard to explain how I write for myself as an actor. But I’ll try anyway.

I always intended to play the role of “Ian” after I wrote the screenplay. But usually, if I’m writing something and think “This could be a part for me,” I’m not glued to that idea. I could keep writing and it evolves into, “Oh, actually this part would be better for my friend Josh,” or Ryan Gosling, or whomever.

Even after writing though, it doesn’t mean that the role is cast. Along with Devin and Chris, we have to make sure we’re objectively making the best decisions for the film. (Ryan Gosling is always the best decision).

But I grew up as an actor and have been acting in my own work for almost 20 years, so for me it seems natural. This will sound really pretentious but it’s how I express myself, artistically. I write and I act. A lot of my role models; Woody Allen, Ed Burns, Julie Delpy, Spike Lee, they write and they act in their movies. Not out of vanity or because they think no other actor could do it, but because that is how they tell stories, for whatever reason.


Laura Gets A Cat is playing at Twin Cities Film Fest on
Wednesday October 25th – 5:10 PM
If you haven’t got your tickets yet, get it
here


Thanks Michael for chatting with us!

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HEARTS WANT in the press – only hours left on Kickstarter

Ok here’s the last Kickstarter post you’ll see here… Y’know what, whatever happens I’ll be so relieved when it’s done. If you think it’s tough making a film, well, try launching a Kickstarter campaign 😉


We’re still only 75% funded with mere hours left as I’m done posting this. I’m a glass half-full kind of person so I’m extremely grateful for our backers! Of course I’m not gonna lie I’m nervous we won’t meet our goal… and if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an all-or-nothing campaign which means if we don’t meet our goal we’ll get nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

But hey I’m optimistic 😬 … [well what choice do I have]… and I’m super grateful for my friends who have been so supportive, both financially and also in spreading the word about my Kickstarter campaign!

THANK YOU again Paula, Shivani, MarkNostra, and Dan for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was invited to be a guest on The Film Pasture podcast [thanks Vern!] Link below:


I’m also honored to be featured on Top 10 Films site run by my pal Dan Stephens [thank you Dan!]. Read on if you’re curious about my filmmaking journey…

It’s fun being on the other end of an interview once in a while 🙂


If you listen to InSession Film podcast later this week you might hear about Hearts Want there too (thanks JD Duran!)

 


Just a quick note on what I’ve been watching…

Well I managed to see War For The Planet of the Apes and I LOVED it! The three ‘Apes’ films now stands one of my favorite cinematic trilogies ever. It’s such a compelling journey of this genius ape, living in two worlds whilst trying to save its kind from extinction… it’s such a heart-wrenching, poignant story that’s strangely relatable. Definitely one of my faves of the year.

I haven’t got around to seeing DUNKIRK just yet, for sure we will next weekend. The press screening happened to hit on the day I’m meeting with my composer for the film, so obviously that takes priority.


Ok folks, I’ll be sure to post a review sometime this week (from our awesome contributor Richard of Cinemuse Films). I also have a couple of interviews with a MN-based director and a female filmmaker whose film just screened at Edinburgh Film Festival. So stay tuned!

A film blogger’s journey into indie filmmaking – writing/producing ‘Hearts Want’ short film

It’s been forty plus years in the making. No, no, it didn’t take me 40 years to write the script, though if I had written something as an infant I might’ve been a literary genius by now.

Some of you know my life’s been consumed by my short film project lately. Well, I had just launched the Kickstarter campaign to help fund the film, so I thought I’d share the journey of how I got here…

It feels as though I’ve been wanting to make a film for as long as I remember. Even in grade school, whenever the recurrent question ‘what do you want to be when we grow up?’ came up, I always proudly answered that I wanted to be a screenwriter. Yep, even long before I knew what a screenwriter was! For some reason, I had always had this longing to follow my late dad’s footsteps, who worked in the Indonesian film industry long before I was born.

Life has an interesting way of working out. So no, I didn’t end up going to film school or anything remotely close to it. I had been a longtime film fan, but I didn’t even start blogging about film until well after I graduated college. Little did I know that this wee film blog finally led me to realize my lifelong dream!

How it all began…

Thanks largely to Twin Cities Film Fest and being a press member with a couple of PR companies, as a film blogger I had the privilege to interview various indie filmmakers. There’s nothing more gratifying and inspiring to learn from filmmakers who love making films and passionate about the craft. Whilst blogging about film, I’ve also been writing all kinds of film concepts, but nothing has been fully fleshed out until the one I started writing about a year and a half ago…

The journey of making Hearts Want truly has been a whirlwind… and it’s not over yet.

So yeah, the reading became the catalyst for this short. I still can’t believe how far we’ve come since the script reading back in January… and how well the two-day shoot went despite barely having any pre-prod time. When people say your first film is made w/ your blood, sweat and tears… well they aren’t kidding. This is a passion project w/ a capital ‘p’ and it’s a personal one for both Ivan and I. My hubby is not only the exec producer, he’s also a prop master, stage hand, behind-the-scenes photographer, video editor (for our Kickstarter video)… all that on top of juggling his full-time day job and lending emotional support during the most stressful times of making a film.

The people who’ve inspired me…

As I mentioned in my Kickstarter page, I’ve been a long champion of #WomenInFilm and am constantly inspired by female filmmakers who’ve thrived in a male-dominated industry… powerful filmmakers such as these…

and this…

I’ve also been blessed with meeting fellow directors in person whose work have inspired me… Emily Ting who directed Already Tomorrow In Hong Kong, Ashlee Jensen who co-wrote/directed Project Eden Vol I, Pamela Romanowsky who directed The Adderral Diaries, Rebecca Weaver who wrote/directed June Falling Down, and Kate Nowlin who wrote and starred in Blood Stripe, just to name a few. (Also shout out to Remy Auberjonois, Kate’s husband and Blood Stripe‘s director who narrated my script reading! I’m forever grateful to them for having inspired me to finally take the leap and make my first film!

My own film also wouldn’t have been made without the help of my two producer friends, Kirsten Gregerson and JoJo Liebeler

With Kirsten & JoJo at the script reading in January

… as well as my two amazingly-talented leads Sam Simmons and Peter Christian Hansen who’ve stuck by me despite all the various setbacks during pre-production…

I also have to thank Noah Gillett, another actor from the script reading who also reprised his role in the film.

… and of course, my phenomenal MN-based crew!! Thanks Jason & co! Check out the bio of our cast/crew on Hearts Want‘s IMDb page.

I also want to shout out to people who’ve lent support during filming, from helping with the company move, catering, being extras and help with networking, etc. I appreciate you Noah Gillett, Shawn Dunbar, Becky Kurk, Dani Palmer, Emily Fradenburgh, Whitney Khan, Holly Peterson, and Briana Rose Lee.

Special thanks to my dear friends Julie Tan and Vony Bedford for coming to set and be extras on day 1. Vony’s cutie-pie daughter Chloe is ‘Brigitte’ in the film (you’ll see who she is when you watch it) 😉

But the journey isn’t over yet…

If you’re familiar at all with the filmmaking process, principal photography is only half the battle. As I learned in my crash course, filmmaking is always more difficult and more expensive than you ever thought it would.

So yeah, consider helping us cross the finish line, even if it’s just helping spread the word that would mean a lot to us. The ultimate goal is still to make a feature film of Hearts Want, so if you help support us now, you’d also help bring us closer to making that huge-but-not-impossible dream a reality! 😀

Would you consider making a pledge or spread the word about the campaign?

 

MSPIFF Double Documentary Reviews: Chavela and Untouchable (2017)

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CHAVELA

Directed By: Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi
Runtime: 1 hour 30 minutes

Like most 20-something-year-old Midwesterners, I had never heard of Chavela Vargas. I might have heard some of her music in college, but I didn’t know her name-or her incredible history-until I saw Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s documentary chronicling her unconventional musical career, heartbreaking personal experiences, and massive impact on Mexico’s LGBT community.

Chavela tells the story of Chavela Vargas, a Costa Rican-born Mexican ranchera singer who gained popularity in the 50’s and 60’s, then disappeared into obscurity until the her career was revived in the early 90’s. Through a collection of interviews of individuals who knew her, as well as an interview of Chavela herself, we learn of her life-her lonely childhood with her loveless parents, per move to Mexico to pursue a music career, her struggle to find mainstream success due to her masculine style and being a known lesbian, despite not publicly labeling herself as such until her later years, her nearly crippling alcoholism, and her comeback in the 90’s that led to a huge, 2-decade-long success until her death in 2012.

I obviously can’t discuss this film without first discussing Chavela’s music, which acts as the perfect soundtrack to the story of her life, because it is so genuinely emotional. Every note in her strong, smoky voice carries a passion that you don’t realize is absent in other artists until you hear the real thing. It’s integrated so well into the movie too- each song, with its lyrics subtitled in English in a script-like font over concert clips and snapshots, introduce the different parts of Chavela’s life. It’s a beautiful and creative way of incorporating her music into the storytelling instead of just playing it in the background.

My only critique of this documentary is that, while for the most part it is very well-organized, it occasionally introduces a topic or piece of information in a seemingly unrelated spot, which can be a little jarring in an otherwise smooth narration. I understand there’s only so much they can fit into an hour and a half-long film, but that doesn’t completely excuse messy structure.

Despite minor organizational problems, I would highly recommend you see this fascinating movie if you get the chance, and if you don’t, at least listen to some of Chavela’s music, and if you don’t have tears in your eyes by the time you’re done, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am.

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UNTOUCHABLE

Directed By: David Feige

David Feige’s documentary Untouchable is a difficult film to review, mostly due to the painful and complicated subject content. Documentaries are difficult enough to critique since they’re more informational than entertaining, and one about the sex offender registry is even more challenging to discuss. As Feige said when introducing it at MSPIFF, “it’s hard to watch, but easy to remember.”

Untouchable explores the national sex offender registry, using the stories of individuals affected by it to show its intricacies. Interviewees include Ronald Book, a lobbyist who has been fighting for the toughest sex offender laws possible after discovering his daughter Lauren had been assaulted by her nanny; Shawna, a mother of two who has been on the registry since she was 18 for having drunken sex with a 15-year-old boy; and Patty Wetterling, the Minnesota mother whose son Jacob was kidnapped, assaulted, and murdered by a complete stranger who had no history of pedophilia on criminal record.

This film does an excellent job of showing all sides: the victims and their families as well as the sex offenders and theirs. They never try to excuse the behavior of the worst criminals, but they show that nothing about the registry is simply black and white, despite how a lot of the laws are set up.

Untouchable’s biggest problem is that they don’t explore sexual assault prevention; they make a point that it’s important but don’t really discuss it past some clips of Lauren Book reading her children’s book on the subject to a group of kids, and, as Patty Wetterling pointed out during the Q&A after the movie, just holding your hand up and loudly saying “No!” isn’t a solution. Granted, the majority of the film was about the intricacies of the sex offender registry laws, not sexual assault itself, but discussing prevention would have provided a good balance, especially since it is brought up during the film.

Despite this, Untouchable is an important documentary, and hopefully its release will lead to more exploration in and work on sex offender registry laws.

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Have you seen either one of these documentaries? Well, what did you think? 

MSPIFF Review: The Sounding (2017)

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Directed By: Catherine Eaton
Written By: Catherine Eaton, Bryan Delaney
Runtime: 93 minutes

Writing a story where the main character communicates solely through Shakespeare quotes could be disastrous. In the wrong hands, it could feel like a cheesy theater warm-up or a high school English assignment. Fortunately Catherine Eaton, co-writer/director/star of the independent film The Sounding, is able to take an idea that could have been so hokey and turn it into something unique and beautiful.

The Sounding follows Liv (Catherine Eaton) a woman who has chosen not to speak her entire life. Her dying grandfather, Lionel (Harris Yulin), who raised and cared for her, invites his friend and neuropsychiatrist Michael (Teddy Sears) to the island to protect and advocate for Liv after he dies, insisting that her muteness is intentional and not related to any mental health issues, although Michael is skeptical. Once Lionel dies, Liv finally starts speaking-but only in quotes from William Shakespeare’s works. This, coupled with Liv disappearing for three days to grieve for her grandfather, leads Michael to commit her to a psychiatric hospital, where she struggles to make the staff and Michael understand her new choice of communication.

The acting in this movie is exceptional, and while the entire cast is impressive, the film’s lead (and University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater Company alum!) Catherine Eaton is easily the stand-out actor. She doesn’t speak for roughly the first half hour of the movie and still gives a lovely, emotional performance. When does finally speak, it’s exclusively in quotes from Shakespeare’s works, which already requires incredible skill to do within the actual plays; making the lines come to life out of context takes serious talent. Harris Yulin also gives a wonderful performance as Lionel. During a Q&A after the movie, Catherine said that Harris wouldn’t perform a single line until he was absolutely sure he understood it, and that dedication shows in every moment of his screen time.

In addition to the strong acting, The Sounding is beautifully filmed with lots of intimate closeups balanced with wide, scenic shots of the East coast. These shots, paired with an incredible soundtrack, create a gorgeous tone. There’s one scene right after Lionel dies that might be one of my favorite shots in film I’ve seen this year: Liv is standing at the rocky edge of the water, her back to the camera, as she scatters Lionel’s ashes. It alternates between long shots of the crashing waves and closeups of the ashes smeared on Liv’s hand, all while this booming, echoing, a capella folk song (which we later see is being sung by a few of Lionel’s friends- including Roland, played by Frankie Faison– at the funeral) plays in the background. It’s stunning.

My biggest concern writing-wise was how accurately the psychiatric field and mental health would be portrayed in the movie, since it’s not an easy topic to write about, but fortunately my worries were unfounded. Catherine did extensive research on the subject, visiting several psychiatric facilities and having two professionals on set as consultants throughout filming. My one nitpick regarding this is that some of the conversations between Michael and his friend and fellow psychiatrist Ed (David Furr) definitely violated HIPAA, but I might only be bothered about that because I work in health insurance and I can’t suspend my disbelief where protected health information is concerned.

My one real critique of this movie is that the way Liv ends up in the psychiatric hospital seems a little contrived. Having Michael be the one to have her committed and then immediately regret it and try to get her out doesn’t make much sense, regardless of his skepticism of her mental stability. There are other ways Liv could have ended up in the hospital that would have still been believable, and Michael trying to get her out while at the same time trying to make sense of her behavior wouldn’t have felt so conflicted.

Overall, though, The Sounding is a fantastic film, and I’m looking forward to seeing more from Catherine Eaton in the future.

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Have you seen ‘The Sounding’? Well, what did you think?