Actor/director/writer/producer Wonder Russell joins Shaun to talk about her upcoming short film “See You on the Other Side,” which is crowdfunding until May 20, 2015. Wonder spoke eloquently about her acting process, her transition from actor to director, and the loss of her father inspiring the film.
The following transcript has been (lightly) edited for clarity and ease of reading.
How long had you been acting before you got the first itch to be a director? And I want to make clear that you still do both, correct?
Yes, I do. Yes. I love both sides of it, and I have an interesting story…
Look, I’ll be the judge of how interesting it is, okay?
…I have a really blasé story to tell you about some of my director prep. [Laughs] It’s funny when you said that about, like when you started and I kind of laughed because I totally flashed back to being in the formal dining room, my house when I was little, not really little though, I don’t know, young, I don’t know, ten? I had put on this after-dinner theater where my mom and dad were sitting at the formal table, and I used the formal space because it was the closest to like, theatrical, it’s like a stage because it was enclosed.
I thought you’re going to say the lighting was better there.
[Laughs] I didn’t know anything about that at that time. I had written this spy play, and I made my brother be in it with me, and we had rehearsed in my bedroom, but I did the whole thing. And I think that might have been the first time I was an actor and director. But I would say that it just came not out of a compartmentalized like, “Well, I’m an actor and now I’m going to try this other discipline.” It was an incredibly organic development of desiring to create things, and having an idea, and then bullying people in a good-natured way into following me.
Right. So, having that idea of creating not only using a performance, but also by directing others, do you feel like even in the beginning as an actor, you were looking to your directors to learn direction?
I would say it depends. It’s really changed for me at least, if I come really from the acting side of things, it’s changed for me a lot. As I have grown and developed and just finding my own path, like when I was a younger actor, I was extremely interested in surrender and being a vessel in a way where I came to roles as a blank slate a lot of times. At least this is in my mind. I’m sure the other directors would be like, “Oh my gosh. She didn’t know what she was doing, couldn’t stand, blinks too much; so green.” But for me I was like, “Oh, I just want to be guided. I want to understand everything and have them tell me what to do, and then I’ll do it.”
And that’s really changed, and not in a bossy way, because I still feel that film is a director’s medium, and that actors are there to serve that vision. We are not the storytellers, when we are actors, we are vision supporters, we have to allow a story to be told through us and not be attached to the outcome. But I also have learned to bring the depth of my own life to the roles that I step into, and the depth of my imagination, and I approach things much more differently where I am looking to my director, but more as a collaborator in a way that I seek to incredibly understand and inhabit their vision.
When that shift from where I was to where I am now as an actor happened, that’s when I started becoming, I think, more interested in directing because it was also frustrating to have directors that felt like they were directing a chess set instead of inspiring people. They’re able to be very competent and tell you, “Point A and point B, and then this happens, and this happens.” You’re like, “Yeah. I can pick that up from the script you gave me six months ago.”
I’m looking for something; I’m looking for a very deep connection here, and that’s just a difficult thing, I think, for directors. And I speak for myself there too because I think it’s difficult to communicate a state and a mindset in a way of being, especially on the fly if you haven’t put in a lot of work. I think it’s like an ongoing practice to develop that vocabulary with actors to be able to give them the space to have the absolute best performance that they can.
Would you say that as an actor, it’s kind of your job to do… I’m trying to think of a good analogy. This is not a good analogy, but I’ll use it anyway. You’re using the paint roller, like you’re painting the house, you’re using the paint roller, and what you’re really relying on a director for is to do the detail work with a really small brush and guide you that way, is that accurate?
I’ll actually tell you, my painting analogy with acting is, take-to-take, is trying to use a slightly different brush, or a slightly different color. And giving them a huge array to chose from in the edit. Because for me as an actor, I need that feedback, I rely on it to be able to shift a little bit and have every take be the feeling of being alive instead of just being the exact same thing over, and over, and over.
I mean, obviously, I never worked with someone who was like Fincher, who makes people do 40 takes of picking up a water glass, I would probably lose my mind, except for I’d be getting a big fat paycheck, so I’d be like, “I will put my artistic concerns about this on the back burner.”
We’re not ruling Wonder Russell out for any David Fincher roles if anybody’s listening.
Come on, no way! I’ll be like, “Sure, I’ll sit here for a 150 takes and say the same thing over and over.”
For me, it’s just like bringing that, I want to say, spontaneity without meaning, going off book or off script, or off on a tangent…
Yeah. Just bringing something a little bit fresh to every take. I mean, that’s where I think the collaboration is so important. I think we build the life of the character from take to take, but then as an actor, I know that the performance that people see at the end is not a performance that I will have ever given in any one time and space. It’s a performance culled from thousands of moments in a dark room, and so it’s in my best interest to provide a lot of moments that are true to the character and true to the story, but that have a range for the director and the editor to choose from. And that’s where the character will actually be fully realized.
See, this is why I wanted you on the show, because everything you just said just now is brilliant.
Well, I stole it all from my acting coach, who is incredible. Steven Anderson is his name, and he teaches in L.A., and he comes to Seattle every couple of months, and also in Dallas, and I’ve taken workshops both places. He’s absolutely amazing. He’s like the Zen master of being a human.
One thing I think that is really fascinating, that I think you’re connecting for people who are listening, hopefully, is that I think when we go to the theater and we see a take, or we see a specifically dramatic or telling scene, we look at that and we say, “That’s definitely what the director had in mind when the director was first going over the script, or maybe even writing the script in the case of writer/directors,” and think the film is kind of a monolithic thing that represents exactly what was in the director’s head the entire time.
I don’t have really a question to hook onto that, I just think it’s super, super fascinating. It makes a ton of sense when you say it, but I think that as consumers of film, and as people who are moved by film, and people who want to understand how and why they’re moved by film, it is really important to know that an actor, like you said, is creating… I don’t even want to repeat it because you put it so perfectly, that the character is created out of those thousands of moments that you didn’t…
Yeah. It’s like you never lived that actual performance in consecutive time and space, it’s sewn together, in as many colors as you can give, give a range, as long as you’re obviously… I mean that with the caveat of yes, staying true to the character.
Right. When I first listened to you on Film Reverie, it had occurred to me there’s a performance I love and I film that I love, but there’s one particular scene… and I’m going to try, I think I can make this valid without remembering what the film and actor was, but there’s one particular scene that I felt completely took me out of the character portrayal, and I think I’ve gone my entire life feeling like, “Well, I would call this particular actor great except for that one thing that they did.”
Oh, yeah. That’s a common thing, I think, in people to be like, “Oh, they were good in this, they were bad in this.” It’s like, probably they put in the exact same amount of work, but they have zero control over the outcome, or how it’s then packaged and released and marketed. And that’s a whole other ball of wax.
Yeah. Well, we find ourselves saying… and when I say, “we,” I mean… nerds that talk about film without having been involved in it at all. People speaking out of love, but ignorance, right? Just saying, “Heath Ledger’s Joker was perfect except for that one scene where he made this face,” therefore, Heath Ledger was a bad actor. And what you’re saying is no, that’s- and again, not speaking about anyone specific actor or performance- that may not have anything to do with the way that the person, the actor, inhabited the character on screen.
I think that’s why it’s so important at least for me as an actor in maintaining my love of acting, and sanity, is to not attach to the outcome, which is so difficult because you are judged harshly on the outcome. I don’t mean “harshly” necessarily, I mean …
No, but all the focus is on you.
Yeah, and I just mean, very black and white, like they’re going to pin something on the actor. And director probably, right? Whether a movie was good or not. Most audiences are going to come down pretty hard, yes or no, good or bad, thumbs up or thumbs down, there’s not a lot of middle ground.
As a movie-consuming public, we love our directors, right? We know Hitchcock, we know Spike Jonze, we know Kathryn Bigelow, but we always seem to feel that the actor is solely the one responsible.
And it’s kind of a trick of human nature, right? Because the character that you see, it is the actor, like there’s no separating that from the fact that that’s an actual human being, whose job you understand maybe only marginally, but they’re visually representative and sonically representative for the performance that you’re seeing.
It sounds like what you’re saying is that the level of responsibility that an actor has towards that is much lower than people may think? Responsibility is probably a loaded term here, but I think you know what I’m getting at?
Yeah, I do. And without saying, [pitiful voice] “Well, I’m not that bad, it was the writing and the editing, but I needed the money,” I think that it’s true that they have less control than the public perceives.
Do you feel like it’s even worth it? Again, we’re not trying to screw you out of…
Sometimes? No. [Laughs]
I don’t want to lose you any acting jobs, obviously, but I’ve heard, “The paparazzi are after Brad Pitt, but he makes a ton of money and that’s kind of hazard pay for that kind of thing.” But even in artistic level, even if we’re not just talking about being bothered by cameras, we’re talking about blame or sainthood based on artistic decisions that are largely out of one’s control, which sounds terrifying.
Yeah. I think that’s why trust is so important between actors and directors on set, and even before. I know that that’s true for me. If I’m getting into something, I want to make sure that I’m being taking care of. If I’m going to be leaping of the cliff, and being completely vulnerable, and putting myself out there, which is, by the way, what I want to do as an actor, I want to leap, but you have to tell me that you’ve already scouted the cliff, and you’ve thrown the dummy off twice, and stuck the landing, and the net is massive and wide, and everything is going to be okay.
Actually, I had to have this conversation with the director once where I said, “I’m not in a really great trusting place right here.” I need a little bit of give and take. It was very, very new director and he was asking me to do something really specific, this while we were in negotiations for coming on board, but it was just like, “I have a body of work that I can show you. You don’t have a body of work.” And it’s not that that’s the only criteria for me, because I have worked with people that haven’t made a lot of films before. I did a featurette with a first-time director, and it turned out really great.
But it’s also like, if you’re not showing me that you can put together something that I’m going to be comfortable jumping on board with… I know for me that’s an incredibly important environment, is something where I feel like I have a lot of trust with that person’s vision and that person’s ability to say they will do what they say they want to do, which is really frustrating especially with first time directors, or just people getting off the ground, where you take a chance and then the film never gets finished.
I have this one where I had this great scene that I really loved, and they overdubbed my voice in one particular scene with ADR because I couldn’t… Literally, they asked me to record it from home, and I said, “No, that’s ridiculous! One, I don’t even own a computer,” and I had nothing to loop it with. And they were like, “Well, we’re just going to find someone to ADR it, who’s not you.”
Okay! Thank you for letting me know that I should never work with you again! Cool! [Laughs]
I want to transition to talking about your work as a writer/director. How long do I have you for?
Here for as long as you need me. The plans are loosey goosey tonight.
Okay, cool. If you don’t like talking to me, then you can hang up too. That’s always an option.
I’ll be like, “GOOD-BYE.”
I say good day, sir!
I said good day!
So, I guess, wrapping up the questions on acting, we’ll kind of take it all the way back to the beginning about me arguing with other people about what a good performance is. Now, you said that you can’t really answer that, and I totally respect that from an artistic point of view, but maybe I can get into your brain a little bit by asking you about a favorite performance of yours and why you like it so much?
Oh, man. This is like my thesis statement. “My Favorite Performance and Why, by Wonder Russell.” Let’s see. I would probably point to a short film that’s online now called TEN YEARS LATER, that, actually is the last project that I did with Lisa Coronado, who is in SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE. We were both actors in it, and we played sisters. It’s a very dark short film about my character getting out of prison after ten years to track down the person who put her there and kill her…
Oh, cool. This sounds…
…which is my sister.
Yeah. And I really appreciate that, even watching it, there’s maybe a few things where I’m like, “Ugh, I see Wonder there, boo, ew” but that’s very specific for me. I have a really difficult time watching my work. There’s been several times where I was like, [sarcastic voice] “Well, I watched that and I’m thankful that now I know that I need to never act again, and I appreciate knowing, I’m just sorry that no one have the guts to tell me sooner. Thank you and good night. I will no longer trouble you with my terrible fake pretend.”
[Laughs] Let me stop you really quick, because every interview that I’ve done for this show- I’ve interviewed musicians, I’ve interviewed a Hollywood director that you may have heard of, I’ve interviewed a cinematographer- impostor syndrome or fraud complex comes up in every single interview.
And I think all of us at one point, we feel like we were alone in it, because I have a creative background; I have felt that maybe as early as 11 or 12 years old. That might just be my upbringing though. I’m just really happy how widespread it’s become, especially in the past like three or four years, that everybody is now talking about impostor syndrome, fraud complex, whatever you want to call it.
Right. We understand this is a phenomenon that occurs, which is essentially the voices in our head.
The first time I heard it in mainstream usage was, I think Tina Fey had it in her book, and it’s one of those things where it’s like, “Well, if Tina Fey thinks that she sucks, then…”
Then we’re all off the hook.
Yeah, then fraud complex must exist. Anyway, yeah. I interrupted you just to let you know that… fraud complex, you’re not alone.
No. You’re totally right on. I’ve definitely I had that reaction before watching work, but just as a caveat, I do think that it’s really difficult for actors to ever be truly able to judge their own work. Because you’re so close to it that it’s difficult to be objective, and knowing that it’s difficult to be objective, because it is a subjective thing, it becomes even more tricky. Because people will say like, that was good or wasn’t good, and you’ll be like, “Really? It was? I wonder what about it was?” You do obsess over it, so I try to just avoid that altogether.
And, coming full circle, I think TEN YEARS LATER is a really great film that I’m a really proud of, and part of that is because I can watch it and I just feel really good about the whole thing.
I had a family member watch and say that I scared the shit of them, and that they didn’t recognize me at all, and that’s the highest praise I could receive, especially from someone who’s seen all my work and knows me very closely.
I also love it because Kris and Lindy Boustedt who are the writer-directors, really took a chance on me because my personality is the opposite of this character. I’m a pretty lighthearted person who likes to keep people laughing and keep the party moving, kind of a thing, and instead it’s incredibly dark, driven, broken character, and I was just thrilled to jump in.
I guess it seems hard to cast somebody as dark and murderous if their name is Wonder.
[Laughs] “And the part of the serial killer will be played by… Miracle!”
“Everyone knows Miracle Miller. The nicest girl, the cheerleader who’s in drama class, as… THE KILLER.”
You’re more like the, “She seemed so nice though,” you know, like the neighbor they interview afterward.
That’s what they would all say about me later. “Well, she wasn’t quiet, but she was nice.”
I mean, the quiet ones really, are the ones you have to worry about. So I guess you’ve got a bright future as a serial killer, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say.
For all we know, I’m already hiding it successfully!
Do you have a performance that you admire that somebody else has done?
Okay, you might have to give me a sec because so many. I think, watching, when I’m really blown away by someone’s performance, it’s more about the whole and less about, “Well, this scene was really amazing.” I think we can do that with some people who are more movie stars then actors, like everyone when they reference, that Tom Cruise can really act, they talk about Magnolia, and the scene where he’s breaking down by his father’s bedside.
But I think if you can have a really quiet role and inhabit a lot of power in it… Felicity Jones holding her own in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING. I thought she almost have a braver role because she doesn’t have an intense physicality to embody, and yet she’s still portraying a living person. And the responsibility that that is, when you have to have so much grace for yourself and for someone else, to just allow yourself to be seen. I think she was excellent in that. Yeah. And when I think about Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rooney Mara, and Carey Mulligan, it’s really how simply they are able to be on screen in a way that feels so effortless compared to the last film that was so different, and that also had such an effortless feeling.
It’s like erasing your work as an actor, you like, erase all the pencil lines and blow away all your eraser bits, and all that’s left is the perfect equation. And I think that’s when a performance really is truly beautiful.
Oh, that’s a great way of putting it.
So, transitioning into your work as a director: first of all, it sounds like you came at directing from the angle of a very conscious performer. Somebody that wanted to understand the craft and the emotional… science, I guess, behind giving a good performance. Do you feel like that is common? And again, it’s hard for you to speak for other people, and you hear that cliché, “all actors want to be directors” kind of thing, so I guess I’m asking you to just present the most broad generalization you possibly can. [Laughs]
And again, I don’t know anything about the business and I haven’t been in it, but to me, it’s always felt like actors want to be directors because… not power in the sense of financial power or power over other people, but just kind of more artistic control?
It sounds like part of what you’re saying is bearing that out, but it also kind of sounds like it would be really natural for an actor who feels like their soul is part-performer but also part-storyteller, that they would really want to up their level as far as storytelling is concerned and direction is really the most obvious place to go from there.
I think anyone who wants to do it, makes sense from a… controlling, control freak point of view. But I would say because it can be so much work, that people who are doing that are probably also have a really strong vision. And I think that’s what makes a lot of the difference between just wanting to be in charge, because if you want to be in charge, you could boss a lot of things around a lot easier then pulling a film together.
But I think if you’re driven by a vision, I think that definitely changes things, but I also think that there’s probably… I know there are actors who want to try it because, “Well, I’ve done this so many times and maybe I can direct myself better, and how hard can it be?” And then they give it a whirl.
I think it’s great, and I think we need to… I feel like there’s often this idea that people shouldn’t overlap a lot and, “Well, not all people should do this, or not all people should do that,” and I was just like, “Well, how about you just let people try, and explore and create things? Wouldn’t that would be cool?” instead of telling them what they can and can’t do. That’s just me, though.
Unreasonable, totally unreasonable.
I know. Diva!
You spoke earlier about your start as a ten year-old director. So we can start your entire adult career from this one incident?
I think I should just rebrand everything as, “Wonder Russell, child prodigy.” [Laughs]
Do you remember the title of that play?
I don’t. I remember that it was about spies, though, and it was about double-crossing, and it was very- in my mind- very hard-boiled, and very noir. Very Humphrey Bogart-y, because I grew up on old movies, so that’s what I wanted to do. It’s definitely not a rom-com. That’s something I’m not good at. It’s really funny.
I started getting into noir probably about ten years ago, so a lot more recently. I’m just jealous. I’m just jealous of, like, everything, right now. I feel like my life would have made a lot more sense, because my exposure to noir was… did you ever read Calvin and Hobbes?
Oh, heck yeah.
Yeah, okay. I always assume that that’s a cultural touchstone and someone’s like, “What is that?” and I’m like, “I… am never going to talk to you again.” [Laughs] Calvin had a detective character. It was like a parody. Of course, I didn’t know what the source material was referring to, but you didn’t really need to. But yeah, that was my first exposure.
It’s just, [old-timey voice] “the dame walked into my office, a brunette, always trouble…”
I’m looking down to my notes. I feel like if I asked you all of these questions, we’re going to be talking for another like two hours, and I don’t want to do that to you, so let’s quickly switch gears into…
We could do speed round.
No, I don’t want to go too quickly through your project because I am a supporter of your film, SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE…
Yes, you are! Thank you so much!
I watched the campaign video, and first of all, having heard you, again on Film Reverie, I’m going to give them as many plugs as possible because…
They are. They really are. They’re such great guys.
I’m back with them in a week.
That’s what I heard. I think they heard that that you were going to be on this show and they were like, “Well, we gotta have Wonder twice. We gotta stay above No, Totally! in the Wonder Russell rankings,” which is fine. I’m not territorial, so it’s okay. [Laughs]
[Laughs] “Oh guys, don’t fight over me, okay fine, fight over me just a little bit. Just a little.”
I also kind of believe I could kick both their asses, so that helps. That helps.
[Laughs] It’s highly likely.
[Laughs] Yeah, but then you’re going to go on their thing and you’re going to say the exact same thing to them!
I’m going to be like, “Guys, you can totally take Shaun on. Don’t worry about it.” [Laughs]
All right. We’re going to have to prove it one day. If you make a boxer film of any kind, you can cast… Brad and I are probably around the same height. I’m not a tall man. Well, I shouldn’t say that, I don’t know how tall he is.
[Laughs] How tall does he sound?
Well, audio can be very deceptive.
“You’re taller than you sound, huh!” [Laughs]
I’ve actually been told, people who’ve met me in real life, that I’m much, much shorter than I sound.
[Laughs] Oh, that’s such a funny thing to say!
Yeah. If by funny, you mean hurtful, then yeah. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Hurtful, funny… synonymous. Aw.
No, I’m… fine with it. So, let’s see. Your film, which people can now support at seedandspark.com- it’s a long website address, and we’ll give it out in the show notes- the campaign video, totally won me over.
Again, listening to your interview on Film Reverie, taking a look at your website, looking at your reels, following you on Twitter, and then seeing the campaign video… which, I agree with one of the things you say in the video, that everyone can relate to this feeling of loss.
Not only loss, but the intense longing that accompanies it. I feel like one of the things that it really made me think about is that there’s two sides to loss, because if you lose something, presumably the other side of your loss isn’t missing you. Especially when we’re talking about death, specifically.
But that never makes you feel better about it. It almost intensifies the amount of longing that you… it’s almost like you’re feeling loss for both of you. And I feel like, based on your campaign video- which obviously doesn’t tell the whole plot of the film, but it does give a series of visuals and lets you know what the tone of the film is- I feel like the thing that’s drawing me to it is really that I had never thought of loss as being comprised so much of that longing. Hopefully that gives you a way into talking about your project.
No, absolutely. No, I appreciate that. This film… I think that everything that we do when we’re creating comes out of a personal place, or personal inspiration. Even if it transforms, it has to come from some place deep inside. For me, this came out of my dad dying three years ago, almost three years ago, on Father’s Day. It was, as anyone knows who’s survived that, it’s awful. I didn’t even know I was capable of that much grief. It’s so painful and so difficult, and it put my life into this tailspin for several years. And, well, there was a lot of other things that happened around that time that made it extremely difficult. I had a relationship that ended right at the same time.
You just got to a place where you just hated being alive. That it was really, really painful to do the mundane, stupid, and pointless things that comprise being a human being. It’s stupid to wear clothes, or brush your teeth, or do anything, or get out of bed in the morning, so dumb. I’m sure I scared the shit out of a lot of people because I would say, “Look, it’s not that I want to be dead, I just don’t want to be alive anymore.” [Laughs] And that’s a really deeply depressed state where it’s like, “I’m not a suicidal, I just don’t want to wake up ever again.”
Yeah. I have a long history of depression, which I’ve really gotten under control in the past few years. But I have said that to people, I’ve been like, “No, no, no, here’s the thing that’ll really calm your nerves about me.” And then I’ll say that, “It’s not that I want to die, it’s just that I just don’t want to be alive.” Then people are horrified and I’m like, “That was supposed to make you feel better. Sorry.”
I know! It’s really difficult. I think you feel that you’re at the… for me, I always thought like I was at the bottom of a well, the deepest well that I could’ve ever seen, completely underwater, where the light from another world that everyone else seemed to be going about their life is just this incredibly far away light that was coming through all the blue all the way down to the dark where I was. It didn’t seem like there was any point for me to try to even swim up, like the effort it would take might kill me anyway.
I remember, gosh, it was really raw right after dad had died and I was alone with my mom, and it was just the two of us, and all the family had left, and everyone was gone, and it was just the two of us, and I was staying with her, and we didn’t know what to do. We were hanging out in the living room where we haven’t hang out for months, where his hospital bed was, and that felt so empty, and we felt so empty. We put on video tapes, old VHS tapes, that dad was in, just to be able to sit there and watch him and hear his voice, and, like, tears streaming down.
I remember I just couldn’t stop wanting to just say, “Come back. Come back.” And I felt so strongly that I was living in, like, an alternate reality that I had never imagined, and never dreamed, and never wanted. And that’s what made it so hard and like be alive day-to-day. It was like, “I don’t want this life.” Very ‘DAYS OF FUTURE PAST:’ “I don’t want your future! I don’t want your suffering!” [Laughs]
It’s so difficult, and it took a really, really long time to not just feel that way all the time. And then, when things kind of started turning a corner, and not that you’re not still full of grief and missing that person, and longing for them, but getting back to not hating your existence?
I started writing and just kind of toying with the ideas of people coming back in its different ways. A very early draft that I had of this film, probably a year ago, it was very kind of RETURN TO ME, where someone had been an organ donor, and all of a sudden this woman who has received the heart of this widow’s husband shows up, believing that she is her husband. It was very comedic, actually, but trying to deal with our intense need to not be parted from people that have such a massive presence in our lives, and dealing with that incredible separation. Like you said, it’s hard for us because we’re the ones who stay. It’s always harder to be left than to go. In many senses.
So, there’s a lot of wish fulfillment, which I think is one of the great things about films is they are wish fulfillment and fantasy. Even if they’re realistic movies, they’re still fantasies of how we either see ourselves growing, or overcoming, or being challenged, or changed, and so this story kind of poured out of someone who can get what she wants back, but then realizes, or is faced with, the truth that even if she could get everything back, it’s going to come at too high at price because it’s not where she should be.
It’s going to deny the path, that she has been denying herself, that she’s been avoiding, stepping in to her mission. And it’s only with incredible, great tragedy that you have that catalyst that provides the transformation that you needed and didn’t know that you needed. And wouldn’t have chosen if someone had told what the consequences were going to be.
Your film is categorized on Seed&Spark as romance sci-fi?
Yes. I don’t know if you would say sci-fi? Fantasy? That one’s a little bit mushy for me because it’s a little bit of both. I think magical realism has been what I’ve heard the most that I really appreciate because I love that genre, where it’s just like, “What if it could, you know, just nudge it in this direction?” Where it’s not like, we’re not fantasy, with, like, elf ears, or anything, and we’re not setting this film in space.
You’re talking like the third act of FIELD OF DREAMS.
Yes, exactly! That kind of thing where it’s like, “This can’t happen, this doesn’t happen,” but we are along for the ride because this is so exciting, and so beautiful, and fun. Yeah, that’s a great comparison.
One thing I think about this campaign that I think our listeners might really enjoy is the fact that when I contributed, I started getting emails introducing me to some of your crew members. I find that the crew interviews have been really wonderful and helpful as far as understanding from a non-film person.
That’s awesome! That’s excellent. I’m so glad. I love updating people and bringing them into the world, but I never know, does anyone actually care? Or they’re all like, “Yeah, yeah, we get it, we know how it works. There’s a man over here and he does this, and that’s wonderful. Calm down.”
Well, at least for me, part of the project of this show is from me personally, and kind of a selfish thing, but it’s for me personally to understand more about this art form that I feel has impacted me so much, even though I have nothing to do with it, and so when I can…
Well, it sounds like you have a lot to do with it! You run a show devoted to it!
But I kind of think of this show as the “‘blank’ for Dummies…”
Yeah, that, but also, I did an interview recently with someone who is ethnically Indian but he moved from India to America when he was six, and so he is very American but he’s also following through on the tradition of arranged marriage.
I have a ton of “for Dummies” questions related to arranged marriage because it’s totally one of those things where it’s like, “Okay, I know that exists, but the more I think about it, the more I realize I have no idea what it is.”
Right. No, I would have a thousand questions too! I’d be like, “Hold on, hold on, back up! I’m not going to try to talk you out of it, I just want to understand!”
Yeah, and that’s the hard thing, right? Is that a lot of people feel like there’s an agenda once you start asking questions. So that’s the kind of interviews that I like to do. We’re doing less and less film stuff, to be honest with you, just because it’s great big world, and a lot of people to ask interesting questions of. But I also feel like I gravitate towards talented artists in some way…
People who are expressing themselves.
Yeah, and it’s because you have to have that experience expressing yourself to really even be able to talk about what it is that you do. You know what I mean?
Yeah, sure. You have to have the courage, or vulnerability, or both, to take a risk and put yourself out there in the first place.
Right, or even the vocabulary. The vocabulary of introspection. You can almost tell when you’re talking to somebody who doesn’t really look at themselves, right? Someone who isn’t really aware of their own ideas or inherent beliefs, or that kind of thing.
Um… what in the world that I start this question with? We’re so far away at this point. Oh, I was just saying how much I love the emails.
Okay. Let’s see. Maybe we can go into talking about rewards from the campaign?
Yeah. I think with any campaign that you’re running, obviously the most difficult question for anyone is “Why? Why this? Why now?” I think it’s been easier, I think, it always is with people who know the person running the campaign. Sometimes it’s just like, “Hey, I know you. I want to support you.” That’s really awesome, that’s a wonderful thing.
Then there’s bigger things, and some people are like, “Are you for sure going to be able to do this?” That’s always my question for other creators when I’m coming on board, and I’m always happy to say I have a great body of work on bellawonder.com, my website, you can see bunch of projects I’ve been involved in, producing, writing, directing, acting in.
I want to be able to give people that confidence that, yeah, this film is going to get made, this is going to be beautifully done. We’re going to put more money into it than just what we’re raising, because I’m hiring really excellent people who are at the top of their game in the Seattle film community. If we do have to cut corners here and there, it’s going to be with things that are not going to end up differently on screen.
Like, maybe we’ll ninja one location, but we’re not going to skimp on post-production, we’re not going to skimp on the sound design, we’re not skimping on costumes, make-up, we’re putting incredible people in all those leadership roles. I firmly believe in surrounding yourself with people smarter than you are to help bring this vision to life, and I really feel extremely lucky that the crew that we’ve assembled are really excellent, professionals. I feel really lucky that they’re all people who really love the script. That’s really important because we are paying them, but far, far below what they make in their professional jobs.
Our cinematographer, Jonathan Houser, is full-time, adventurous Director of Photography for REI, so he’s always traveling and shooting these incredible places, and people doing incredibly athletic things. But he resonates with the script, he’s excited to make it, he loves the people working on it, and he wants to help put it together. I love to tell people, “Look, we’re going to make it. Not only we’re going to make it, we’re going to make it right. It’s going to be really lovely.”
And then, another deeper reason is, if you like films that resonate with you, if you have lost, and you have been hurt by loss, but you’ve also been lifted up by love, because ultimately this is a redemption story. This is a story with, I wouldn’t necessarily say happy ending, but this is a redemptive, “triumph of human spirit” story, this is a story with magic in it. If you like to see things in cinema that you wouldn’t see in a play, do you know what I mean?
This is not a play, this is not mumblecore, this is not people talking in a room; this is magical realism. We’re going to be doing lots of manipulation of the shots and visual effects to make it really beautiful, and to bring a lot of the vision through of… just, some of the things that we have, like pulses of energy exploding out of a person, and laying everyone flat, like wheat. Things like that, you can describe in books and novels, but you can only really see in film, in cinema. I think it’s really exciting to be doing a project that is specifically… this vision can only be realized on film.
And then we have a bunch of really fun things where it’s like, trying to keep things in tone of the project, and also things that we can do, we’ll serenade you with the song of your choice, or we’ll create a magic spell, you tell us what you need and we’ll say, “Okay, it’s a dash of this, and a pinch of this, and we’re going to make something potent for you.”
I think the most popular perk right now is Lisa- who is in the film and also my best friend- she and I, we’ve kind of stopped doing it, but we used to have this show. I say that extremely loosely because we would just record things and put it on YouTube without any production, whatsoever.
But we would drink and take a ton of shots, and watch a movie, and then do a junk review of it, immediately after, and it’s… ridiculous. For a long time I was like, “Mom, do not watch these. Do NOT watch these. We swear, we were talking about the dirtiest stuff… I don’t want you to know about this.” And she finally watched one and she was like, “I think you think you’re funnier than you are.” People love them. That is far and away the most requested perk in this campaign.
You’re talking about Hose and Shows, right?
Hose and Shows! I don’t know, we probably came up with that when we were drunk. And for some reason, our logo was the leg lamp from A CHRISTMAS STORY. Fra-gi-lay! I think it was because it was a play on words and like, “We’re not hoes, it’s pantyhose!” Ah, Hose & Shows.
So we’re saying you suggest the liquor, and the movie, and we’ll watch it, and do a review in your honor, kind of a thing. That one is hilarious. We have so many of those right now. I remember texting Lisa a while ago, I was like, “We are going to be drunk the rest of the year. I hope you realize that.”
When you expect the film to be finished?
So, we are shooting the very last weekend in May, over a couple of days, and then our editing team are going to be pretty much tied up until late summer. So we’ll start really in earnest probably late summer, then we’ll go into deep post-production, I’m doing air quotes around that, because that’s all the visual effects. So that’s going to be a lot more time-consuming, because the people doing that for us are really excellent at what they do, but because of that, they have full-time jobs doing visual effects. And they’re doing it a great discount for us, which is really amazing, but because of that, we know that we’re kind of being fit in around their better paying jobs, which is, I support 100%.
So I’m hopeful that we’ll have a finished film by late fall. Early winter, probably, at the latest. I’m hopeful more for late fall because I would love to be able to start hitting the festival submissions that open up then, that take us into 2016. But it might just be, like, final tweaks, so by November or so. We’ll see.
It is a short. Is it on the “short” or “long” side of short, as planned?
It depends on if you ask a film festival programmer. The film festival programmer would say, “It’s too long.” That’s such a funny thing with shorts because a lot of the festivals are like, “A short is anything under 50 minutes,” but it’s almost impossible to get programmed if you are anywhere near that length, so we are a little bit on the longer side. I think we’re running, right now, 15 minutes.
Okay. I think that’s a great length for storytelling, even if not for programming. So how much longer do people have to get in on this?
It’s over on the 20th, which is on a Wednesday.
Okay. I am super excited about seeing this film, and, obviously you’re here, so I think I would probably lie? Just to be really honest with you. I think even if I wasn’t that excited, I would probably lie. [sarcastic voice] “Ugh, that Wonder lady.”
[Laughs] [polite voice] “Oh yeah, she’s great.” [mean voice] “Oh man, can’t get her to shut up.”
So sorry! I was just walking around and I hit a spot in the condo with terrible service, and I ran back, but it was too late.
Well, what’s funny is that earlier, I was like, “You know what? If you have to go, you could just hang up on me, and that’s fine.” And then you hung up on me and I was like, “uh…”
[Laughs] “Not literal, gosh!”
My point, my major point, is that I’m trying to live as a podcaster, which is… literally the worst idea? In the history of humankind? I don’t have access to a lot of money. I donated a very small amount of money to your campaign, but…
It meant a lot to me!
I’m not in the position to do that and I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t super, super excited about this film, and… Just personally, because listeners maybe will trust me more than this Wonder person that they’ve never heard of, based on this conversation, hopefully, you hear Wonder’s incredible passion and intelligence for film as art, and will support what she does, and help get this film out… so that I can get what I paid for.
Yay! Please, help me not let Shaun down.
Yes. That would really be the worst thing.
I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to let that happen.
Thank you so much. Where can people find you on Twitter, because you are a great follow, by the way, on both Twitter and Instagram, although I didn’t follow you on Instagram because I forgot I had an account, but I’m going to do that.
And your website is bellawonder.com, as well.
Yes, it is.
So if you want to support Wonder’s project on Seed&Spark, couple of different things you could do: Go to her website and find the link. You can go Twitter-stalk her because she has been posting it fairly frequently. You can check the show notes for this episode. You can check our website at nototally.com.
If you can’t find Wonder on Twitter, you can check us on Twitter @NoTotally. Twitter-stalk us and we’ll eventually retweet something from Wonder because we do that frequently as well.
Thank you, thank you for that.
And basically, you have no excuse to not support the project except if, A, you don’t like it, in which case your opinion doesn’t matter, or… B… there isn’t a B. There’s no B!
B is “refer to A.”
Anything else you want to talk about before we hang up? Before I hang up on you? I really appreciate you coming on.
Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it so much. It was great!