I can't believe it's taken us this long to get an interview done with you, especially given how much we loved Lunch Ladies and how we've managed to stay in communication over social media -- deeply sorry about that. But at last, here we are!
You guys have been so supportive, thank you so much for the interview!
So, what's been happening in your world? We caught wind of a book?
Oh.. not much. Hahaha just kidding. Yep, I’ve been busy. I have a lot of projects coming to fruition, and in between I wrote a book – I Made A Short Film Now WTF Do I Do With It (a guide to film festivals, promotion, and surviving the ride.) I really didn’t want to write a book, but so many people asked me about how I did things with Lunch Ladies and the director of Lunch Ladies – J.M. Logan kept saying I should write a book about everything I learned. So, finally I sat my ass down and did it! I had a HUGE learning curve as this was my first film on the circuit, and I wanted to help others and share what I learned.
Lunch Ladies is one of the best short films to ever be reviewed by our site. Everywhere we've looked—nothing but praise. Did the positive reception allow a parlay into bigger and better things? Collaborations? Maybe something more... important (heh)?
Thank you so much! I’ll tell you; I have been so lucky and thankful because you are right the majority of feedback has been positive. But, there IS negative feedback. Some just don’t get the film, and that’s okay because if we pleased everyone with Lunch Ladies I’d probably be worried – who wants to be loved by all? Not the flipping Lunch Ladies. HAHAHA.
But on the whole it’s been pretty amazing wonderful feedback. And yes, so much has happened for me – I like to say there was life before Lunch Ladies and life after. Just it opened so many doors with relationships and meeting people it is hard to describe how wonderful this experience has been.
Currently I am working on a project called Land Of Milk And Honey which is optioned by Gisberg Bermudez who directed The Whistler – a Venezuelan Horror Film that just got released theatrically in the USA. I met Gisberg because of Lunch Ladies! We were standing in line at Mórbido Fest in Mexico City for the international premiere of Lunch Ladies. I saw his film and knew he would be right for my script. He loved it and we are now working together to get it made.
Where did the idea for A Very Important Film come from? I could be reading it wrong, but it kind of feels fueled by frustration.
I wouldn’t say frustration but annoyance at snobs who think genre films and comedy films are not “art.” For example, at the Oscars it is twice as hard for a comedy or horror to win anything vs. a drama. There is an idea that drama is considered high art whereas comedy or horror, though enjoyed by many is not.
Having written and acted in both I can tell you that comedy is way harder than drama as is horror in my opinion. How I came up with the idea is, a friend of mine who did genre work too, was joking and she said the next piece she was going to do would be about a poor child with no shoes walking across the desert and suffering and she would be sure to win everything. We laughed a lot about that. I said damn you are right, we need to forget this “low-brow stuff,” we need to make some VERY IMPORTANT FLIMS.
I thought it would be funny to do a mockumentary about it – that I was a filmmaker who made a huge mistake making Lunch Ladies and regretted it but now would do an important film and could be respected. I made my VERY IMPORTANT FILM for fun - for my people in the genre film world who are frustrated by the lack of respect they get simply because they didn’t make a heartfelt drama.
As a side note, I love important films, I just don’t think they are better or worse than genre films and I’m sick of snobs putting them down.
What's next then? Lunch Ladies feature still on the table? If so, how're you planning to expand on the short?
Lunch Ladies the feature was written first. So, I wrote the short out of the feature as a proof-of-concept. It was not easy! It’s a tight 92 pages and trying to cut that down to 20 for the short took quite a bit of time to make it right. A couple times people have said “How could you make Lunch Ladies a feature?” If they only knew how hard it was to make it a short!
Several of the main characters had to go to simplify for the short. For example, there’s an arch nemesis, Ms. Crispin the Home-Ec teacher and head of the Crock-pot Club. She is mentioned in the short in passing, but you never see her. Lots of stuff happens in the feature that is not in the short.
I am hopeful Lunch Ladies the feature will get made! I want to direct it. I just need money damn that money. HAHA
Curveball — do you think it's getting harder nowadays to hold someone's attention? Could this be why short films are so prolific? If so, why bother with a feature?
I suppose it is harder in this day and age of short attention spans and social media. However, short films are made for many different reasons. As mentioned, I made mine as a proof-of-concept for the feature to get people to fund the feature – so they knew what it would look like. For most filmmakers I talk to, they make shorts because they can’t afford to make features. Features are much harder obviously due to budgets. Features are always what I think people strive for. I know I do. I’m not too interested in making another short, I’ve done it already and want to do a feature next.
The interesting thing is, though, that short films were how film started. Chaplin made short films and Keaton and many others. It’s in our blood and history, people like short films in general I think (especially in Europe where there seems to be more of a demand) because they are fun and if they aren’t they are over quickly – it’s a quick fix for entertainment.
Let's jump back a bit. Mind telling our readers how you got into this filmmaking gig to begin with?
I started as an actress, then realized through a series of events I was a writer, and that’s where my passion lay. I got into filmmaking when I wanted to make the short of my feature Lunch Ladies. Ultimately you write and write and write and if you don’t see something of yours made come to fruition, it can be upsetting – you want to see it actually come to fruition. So, I knew I wanted to make a short and Lunch Ladies became the choice from all my scripts to make into a short.
Do you write with certain actors in mind, or do you write the script and figure out who best fits the mold after?
The only script I ever wrote for an actor in mind is Lunch Ladies. Donna Pieroni who plays the lead has been my friend for many years. One night when we were having dinner she said that she wished someone would write a movie about Lunch Ladies because as a middle-aged actress there were few lead roles for her age and she was always in competition with one woman who she really liked but only one could get the role. If there was a movie about Lunch Ladies two middle-aged women could get the role! Donna was also in Sweeney Todd, the musical, at the time. So that’s how I got the idea to write the script and I always and only thought of Donna as the lead.
But otherwise, no, for me I just write the character never writing for anyone specific.
How do you push through writer's block?
With a martini? Hahaha often yes, a martini. But, usually what I do is just sit in front of the computer agonizing then I write one sentence in three hours and go to sleep annoyed. Then I wake up again and stare at the computer and do it again, and eventually I break through. I think 90% of writing is showing up, even if you don’t know WTF you are going to write.
Any plans to direct your own material? Someone else's perhaps?
I do have plans to direct! I don’t want to direct anyone else’s stuff simply because directing is not my main passion, writing is, and seeing my work come to fruition how I imagined it. I have a few scripts (including Lunch Ladies the feature) that I want to direct myself. Others I have no desire to. Land Of Milk And Honey as mentioned I am thrilled to have Gisberg Bermudez as the director. Stella By Starlight another film I have optioned I don’t have a desire to direct either. It depends on the project.
Every time we speak with you, whether it's through social media, DM, or email correspondence, your energy and positivity shine through. You're one of the most pleasurable people to communicate with. How do you keep it together — what's keeps you fueled??
Thank you! What a great compliment!
I think I’m positive and have a lot of energy because I am so passionate about writing, and filmmaking. The fact I get to do it and be part of this amazing journey and create things and talk to people that are interested in what I’m doing is magical for me and fuels my drive and excitement.
What do I have to be unhappy about? I got to make a film and people want to see it and talk to me about it!
Similarly, who or what are your muses? Where do you find inspiration for your work?
John Hughes – I think he is the most underrated screenwriter out there – he just made such wonderful three-dimensional characters. To this day no one writes teens like him. I am also influenced by John Waters, Tim Burton, Pedro Almodóvar, Kubrick… so many. Carol Burnett!
Also, I’m in the most wonderful screenwriting class for 14 years now called Twin Bridges. Joe Bratcher and Judy Farrell run the class. That special place taught me to write, continues to teach me to write, and gives me inspiration.
Let's close with something playful. Tell me your three favorite films, and then assign a school lunch food item that best matches their "flavor".
What a fun question! It’s hard to choose three but let’s go with these!
16 Candles – Sloppy Joes – (All American but kind of fucked up)
A Girl Walks Home Alone Tonight – Baked Goulash (exotic, but strangely familiar)
The Shining – Lasagna – (hearty, too many carbs, a lot of RED sauce)
Any parting words of wisdom for all the starry-eyed creatives out there?
Get in a great class or working group – find your people who want you to succeed and will support you but also tell you what’s wrong.
Oh, and a lot of people will tell you “you can’t.”
Clarissa, it's been more than a pleasure. We love you and your work and can't wait to do this again in the near future.
Thank you! I love you guys too!
Thirteenth Floor does not own the rights to any images used in this interview.