Years ago, in grad school, I was part of an incredible arts class run by the esteemed performance artist, Karen Finley. In it, I met one of my most treasured colleagues (stay with me! This preamble isn't long!). He was putting together a cultivated magazine - he called it a curated print museum, issued quarterly. Although theatre and film are my chosen mediums, I contributed each quarter and was excited to stretch my creative muscle. The theme of the final issue I contributed to was "Blonde" and I wrote a short story that I was incredibly proud of. After having several people who read it tell me it should be a film, including an acclaimed, famous playwright and director at a Symposium I was a part of, I decided to bite the bullet and make a film!
And thus begins one of the most joyful, excruciating, difficult, stressful and exhilarating process I have ever been a part of!
So much of filmmaking is about connections - this is how you cast, fundraise, find locations, get the word out, etc. You must reach out to everyone you know. Some will have solutions, some won't, but you won't know at all until you try.
Let's start easy - casting. I knew I wanted Annabelle Attanasio. I directed her in a play while I was in graduate school and worked with her on two other shows. As the child of film producers, she has an incredible knack in from of the camera (and if you've seen her in The Knick or Bull, you'll agree). She is graceful and expressive - the grace being a part of her dance training. Annie is also very easy to work with. She takes direction well, she's intelligent and she understands more abstract direction than the average young actress. I knew I wanted to balance her with someone else who would match her. I didn't actually know an actor I would choose to use, so I turned to Daryl Eisenberg casting. She found Max von Essen for me and he was absolutely incredible. Also, he went on to be nominated for a Tony for his work in American in Paris! The rest of the cast I filled out from people I had worked with before.
Locations were all about the connections I had made (as I mentioned earlier). The office was the office of a job I had at the time. The bar was a bar that good friends owned that was always closed on Sunday (so we shot on Sunday). Her apartment was a find on AirBnB (yep!) and his apartment belonged to one of my closest friends. My crew was ALSO all about connections. Because I had obtained my Master's at NYU, the PAs, costume, sets and another actress were NYU grads or undergrads. One of my producers Tommy Craven, who is doing incredible work at NBC, was an NYU undergrad I worked with.
I held a Kickstarter to raise the money. I figured I needed about $25,000 and I managed to get $15,000 online, but my husband had to kick in the final $10,000. Filmmaking is a family affair. My parents donated to my Kickstarter, as did my sister and brother. My husband, who could have been a chef in another life, prepped all of our "craft services" food. We went to Costco and got a ton of platters and prepped it all, every night before shoots.
We made, essentially, two shorts. The first 2 minute short was the trailer for the film. I wanted something to use for my Kickstarter, but I needed it before we shot the film. The day we shot the trailer it was 100 degrees and I had spent the previous night in the hospital after a miscarriage. It was so important to me to get it filmed and to not cancel and, for me, art is always healing. That day long shoot, was glorious, despite the heat and my physical and emotional pain. I thrived. I loved it.
The shoot for Blonde was four days over two weekends. They were long, hard days, but each day was worth it. One day in particular, we were at two locations and racing against the sun. We were in Manhattan, but needed to get to the water in Astoria before the sun set. We cleaned up the location like maniacs, we hopped in cars and cabs and drove like bats out of hell. We arrived, threw everything on the ground and ran, actually ran, like crazy to make it to the waterfront location (where we were not supposed to be). We had lookouts for park rangers, people freezing (it was a cold day) while watching the stuff, and reset each take in record time to get what we needed.
One of my favorite memories is realizing we did not have a prop we had to have for the shoot. We needed the red dress the character wears to be discreetly thrown out. I was, coincidentally, wearing a red shirt. I took it off and stood outside in the cold in just my jacket. We had carefully covered the actual trash in the garbage can (which was on the street) to make sure when the shirt was dropped into the can it would be clean so we could do multiple takes (plus, I wanted to wear it home). As Annie walked to the garbage can, looked both ways and discreetly threw the "dress" out, a man on the street came right behind her and dumped his coffee in! I knew the shirt was ruined. I yelled cut and every PA and producer raced to the can. Luckily, he had thrown the coffee to the far side and the shirt was clean!
I have a ton of good memories from Blonde, but I also cannot forget how difficult it all was. It took far longer than I thought it would, it also cost more than I anticipated. My Kickstarter was a success, but the amount of begging and pleading I had to do was so very stressful. I cried almost every day as I constantly refreshed the campaign. When I got my first edit, I thought I was crazy. I cried. I thought I was a terrible director. My best friend reminded me there was shaping to do, music to add, cuts to be made. It was a long process, during which I was ill the whole time - my second pregnancy went the full nine months and I was sick every day!
I finished Blonde in April and then set about applying to festivals - that is a whole other blog post. You have to know the best festivals for your movie. As a woman with a short film, my list was fairly small, but I also cast my net wide to catch the more prestigious festivals. You can't be sad when you are rejected. Like the actors in your film, often the reason you get accepted into a festival is the same reason you may reject an actor - maybe your film is too short or too long. Ever not hired an actor for a height reason?
Blonde - Official Trailer
I got into and attended my first festival when Leo, my son, was only three weeks old. It felt like a real win. I had two babies, my film and my son! Both were hard, difficult times, but both were worth every tough moment.
I'm proud of being a mom at the same time I made a film. It's hard for women in this industry and I am pleased I managed to make it this far. Every additional festival is a big ol' win - just like with my son, it's another awesome milestone.
Written by Joanna Strange, Director of "Blonde"