- Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?
When I graduated from acting school at 22, I decided to produce and direct a short film so I could capture all the great acting I had seen in school, but for some reason that never made me realize that directing was my calling. I’d act in indie shorts and love it, but I’d spend my breaks thinking about how I would have directed it differently. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old, after I had directed three films and several performance art pieces, that I realized that my true passion wasn’t acting: It was how acting communicates together with color, space, light, and music. So since then, I’ve tried to figure out how to become a director and what my voice is. This is my first narrative film since I realized that filmmaking is my way of telling stories. So emotionally, it feels like it is my debut, even if it isn’t.
- Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
No, but I think it has many advantages. I loved going to acting school and I know all the big “dos” and “don’ts” of acting. When it comes to filmmaking though, I commit to my vision without knowing if that follows or breaks “the rules”. That too has certain advantages. Art is a personal process with more exceptions than rules. Some fantastic filmmakers have a ton of education and experience and some have neither. Art making isn’t surgery. If somebody makes great art -that’s it, the person is doing it. Whether she or he went to school for it or not is irrelevant. Film schools and other creative programs are often (on top of a place for learning), a great place for people to have equipment access, get into a routine, and make industry connections. I wish I had that when it comes to film, but I hope I will find my way as a filmmaker regardless.
- Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
I think it’s harder to keep going. It was very difficult for me to get investors for my short film. I got more rejection letters than I think I’ve ever gotten, so I had to commit to making it with or without a realistic budget. That was very disheartening to be honest. Then I started crowdfunding and it actually went great. I met about 140% of my goal and a few of my team-members also invested in the film. I felt that I built a great community of people who were passionate about this project. Post-production dragged into 2020 and the beginning of the pandemic, which made it really hard to finish the film. All of a sudden, it was near impossible to get stuff done, but by that time, I was 100% determined to finish the film no matter what. I was also pregnant, so I really didn’t want to mess with the whole newborn + pandemic + trying to finish the film scenario. Luckily, I was able to finish my film 4 days before our wonderful daughter was born. Of course, I got nervous about the whole festival submission process and feared that it would go as badly as the grant writing did, but it has gone very well so far and the film has gotten into several really cool festivals already and won a few awards. So starting was easy – that was all inspiration. To keep going was honestly hell at moments, but so worth it.
- What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
I learned a lot when I was crowdfunding. My biggest lesson was that reaching out to people directly in a personal way is always more efficient. Also, I learned that crowdfunding is a great tool for audience building. The success of the crowdfunding campaign led to around 100 people who were like additional co-producers in a way. These people have been excited to watch the film at festivals, vote for it, and continue spreading the word about it. This really helped me keep going whenever it felt hard.
- What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?
The only really big compromise was that it was a very low budget. That made the hiring process more stressful because I didn’t know what I could offer people and it was hard to ask people who are experienced and fantastic at their jobs to work for free or for very little. It also made it a lot harder to secure props and locations.
- What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?
How to begin the film. I re-wrote the beginning numerous times and I kept swapping the order of scenes 1, 2 and 3. A few months later, the DP and I spent ages trying to shot-list the first scene and it felt like such a struggle. Scene 1 and 2 were also in many ways the hardest scenes to shoot and the crew had a hard time getting along and seeing eye-to-eye when we were filming them. A few weeks later, we had about 5 different versions of the beginning in the editing room. Finally, when when I thought we were picture locked, we had a tiny test screening and realized that about 50% of the audience was confused by the beginning. Both the editor and I felt discouraged and bummed. In order to finally decide how to begin the film, I had to sit down with myself and stop taking in feedback. Instead, I asked myself what I wanted to establish in the beginning? Which genre and sub-genres was the film? What was the mood? Which color themes were critical? Which characters? With this knowledge, how could I begin the film in a way that made it more cohesive? How could I begin the film in a way that made the whole film better? Then I made a very rough edit of the beginning myself, sent it to my editor, and asked what he thought. He gave it a quick look and said: “yep, that’s gonna work”. After a few hours of him making my draft nice and shiny, we finally picture locked for real. That evening, I knew I was happy with the beginning when watching the film all I could think about was color grading and sound design.
- You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?
Most members of my team I’ve known for years. Elma, my production designer, and I have known each other for 26 years and she is like a sister to me. Jonathan (or Wing as I call him), the editor, lived with me in an artist collective for many years and he is like a brother. Dain, the graphic designer, lived in that same collective and is another brother/friend creature. Michaelangelo, my line producer and co-executive producer, is my life partner. Iris, my sister composed the vignette music. My mom, brother-in-law, two friends, and stepdad made other music for the film. My roommate and friend Ebba, did costume design and makeup. Sylvia Helena, who played the mom, I had known for many years and she reached out to me early on and wanted to audition. Eldina, who did standby props, and I had worked together before. Other people such as Marco, the DP, Victor, the sound mixer, the rest of the cast including Josefine, the lead role, were found through avid research. Marco brought his own AC and gaffer, he also recommended a great post studio for color grading. Lastly Teo, who played the dad, and a couple of the extras applied for the roles through a breakdown service website. Keeping relationships strong is something I really care about, both when working with old friends and new people. It’s not always easy since filmmaking can be quite intense especially when you are working on low-budget projects. As a director, I am very detailed and not always willing to compromise. As a person, I am somebody who always wants everyone to have a cozy and memorable experience and feel seen and heard. This sometimes makes me feel conflicted, but what I have learned from the projects I’ve worked on is that it’s extremely important to work with people with similar taste to you and who ideally also are people who believe in kindness whenever it’s an option. When the team has the same end goal, it doesn’t seem like a compromise when someone has ideas that I wouldn’t have thought about -it feels like a relief. Alone I’m very limited, but with a team of great artists who all are working together to make the project as good as possible, the possibilities are endless.
- What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?
No, I don’t think that should be your concern. I think it’s better to worry about making a film that you are excited about and then try to find your audience. But, you can also not forget about your intended audience. If you realize that the narrative isn’t making sense to viewers, I think you as a filmmaker should try to figure out how to clarify it to confer your ideas. Filmmaking and art-making, for me, is not about giving people what they want but instead, expressing something that I’m passionate about, which hopefully gifts people the great surprise of getting something that they didn’t know they wanted.
- What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
I’m not 100% sure. I’m a relatively new director and have only had my films at a couple of festivals before I made You Promise?. With this film, I have been a part of 7 festivals so for, as well as a couple of specialty screenings. This is an odd year though, and almost everything is being done remotely. I try to attend as much as I can either way. For me, it’s been important to try to get people to watch the film remotely and I share information about the festivals on social media. I’ve also used festivals as an opportunity to watch films from all over the world and have seen some amazing short films this year. I know there often are webinars and stuff too, but so far they have often been in languages that I don’t understand so I’ve skipped them. I hope I get to do the whole live festival experience as well before this run is over.
- Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?
Original – Yes, Fresh – sure (as long as you don’t compromise quality), Classic – Yes, (as long as that doesn’t mean boring), Safe -that’s not really for me. Ultimately, I like all types of films. If it’s good, it’s good. I am a sucker for a unique and original story that makes me feel and keeps me on my toes. If the same film also has delicious cinematography and production design, remarkable actors, and bold music -Then Cupid’s arrow hits me right in the heart.