"We grew up watching these actors on our favorite shows. Working with them was a dream come tru
Although David Storch and Abby Walla knew each other for a few years through acting class, their writing partnership began when they randomly bumped into each other at Sundance. After sneaking into parties together, and having too much fun, David exclaimed “We should totally write something together!”. They started swapping stories and Abby remembers: "We pretty quickly realized we both come from large dysfunctional (and loving!) families and there was a ton of material".
Abby called one of her favorite directors, D.W. Moffett (who worked with her in an ABC Family show), and asked him if he'd like to direct "Holiday Hostage", a short comedy about a dysfunctional Jewish family ("That was a very short conversation. I said yes"). Together, the three started a successful fundraising campaign, and decided to cast some of their favorite actors: Maggie Wheeler, Don Stark, and Bunny Levine.
A year later, Holiday Hostage won Festigious' Best Picture award, as well Best Comedy, Best Actor (Don Stark) and Best Ensemble.
Abby Walla, D.W. Moffett and David Storch
Tell us a bit about your backgrounds and your career paths. How did you get into acting and visual storytelling?
David: I got into acting because my mom bribed me and said I could have a beat-up used car if I did the high school play. She knew I was interested in acting but was too afraid to take the leap. Once I did my first play, I was hooked! (Mama knows best.) That led me to NYC where I went to college and began my career doing stand-up comedy and improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade. Soon after, I formed my own production company with some college friends called “Sans Pants Productions” where we wrote, produced and acted in our own comedy sketches. We had a bunch go viral which got our work on multiple television outlets and blogs. That eventually led me to LA and I’ve been acting, writing and producing ever since.
Abby: When I was little, my dad would take me to all of the plays at The Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis and I was just mesmerized! But it wasn’t until middle school when I was in a production of “West Side Story” at my Temple that I got hooked! I later ended up graduating high school early to move to LA to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts conservatory. After I finished school, I started writing mainly as a way to create work for myself and then realized how much I love writing… so I’ve been living in LA acting & writing since!
DW: I quit my day job in 1978 and joined a theater company in Chicago. One year later I started my own company, Remains Theatre, and produced every play we did for the next 10 years. That led to NYC...that led to Hollywood...and THAT led to David and Abby.
Congratulations on winning Best Picture. Holiday Hostage is such a fantastic comedy. How did this project come to life? When did you meet, where did the idea come from, and what was the inspiration for it?
Abby: Thank you! Holiday Hostage was David and my first project as a writing team. So it started out as a lot of swapping stories to land on an idea that we were excited to write. We pretty quickly realized we both come from large dysfunctional (and loving!) families and there was a ton of material. We also loved the idea of a family being stuck in one place together so it’s a bit of a pressure cooker situation and the longer it goes on, the more family truths and conflicts come out.
David: As far as how this project came to life, Abby and I knew each other for a few years through an acting class, but our writing partnership began randomly when we bumped into each other at Sundance. Abby was there networking and I was there on a ski trip with friends. We all snuck into a Youtube Party and two hours later of free drinks and hilarious photo booth pictures I drunkenly exclaimed, “We should totally write together!” One week later, Abby (the sober girl who takes drunken ideas seriously) texted me saying, “When are we going to write?!” And for the first time in history, a drunk guy and a girl formed a long-term, non-sexual, work relationship built on trust, determination and Stella Artois.
Abby: We should really be brand ambassadors for Stella Artois. We’re a fairytale story.
DW: I had the great pleasure of directing Abby in an ABC Family show in 2015 called Switched at Birth. She was fantastic. We hit it off. One year later she’s on the phone asking me if I’ll direct her and David’s short film. That was a very short conversation. I said yes.
Maggie Wheeler in Holiday Hostage
How did you recruit this all-star ensemble, including the legendary, household names Maggie Wheeler, Don Stark, and Bunny Levine, and what was it like to work with them? What was your rehearsal process?
Abby: From the beginning, we knew we wanted it to be an ensemble piece with veteran actors. So we purposefully did our best to make all the characters appealing to play so we could lure in amazing talent like Maggie, Don, and Bunny! Working with them was a dream come true because we grew up watching them on our favorite shows. And they all blew us away not just with their talent, but because they are the most incredible and kind people to work with.
David: After we wrote the film, Abby and I made a wish list of who we would love to play these roles. Obviously Maggie, Don, and Bunny were all at the top. I mean if you’re going to have someone play a Jewish Mom, it’s got to be “Janice” from Friends! So we contacted all of their representation, sent them the script and crossed every finger and toe and prayed.
D.W.: We were all attracted to the good material. The cast were all pros, so rehearsals were effortless and smooth. We were all in awe of Bunny. May I be doing it at her level at her age!!!
Don Stark in Holiday Hostage
Was anything improvised or was it shot the way you had it in the screenplay?
D.W.: David and Abby were very open to tweaks, but we went with the script almost 100%.
David: We definitely mostly kept to the script as D.W. said. I’m a big believer in improv though. It’s my background, so any project I work on as a producer I always try to make it that once we have the scene in the can, we let the cast do a take where they have fun. I personally think that’s where the real comedy magic can happen. So we were definitely open to improv.
Abby: And Don went crazy with it. He had us cracking up!
D.W. Moffett directing
What was the most complex scene to shoot, and why?
D.W.: The initial “home invasion” was tough as we needed to keep the energy up, but also needed to see everyone’s reaction AND see who this new maniac was!! We shot a ton of coverage. We shot with two Alexa-minis hand-held the entire time, which made it easier to get LOTS of footage.
Abby: And the bathroom scene! That left David and me pretty emotionally scarred! We were literally tied to each other in a bathtub on a scorching hot day in LA with Don Stark’s undies at eye level.
David: I wouldn’t really call that scene complex to shoot, Abby. Just horribly disturbing.
Abby Walla and David Storch in the bathroom scene
In order to raise funds for the project, you conducted a successful Indiegogo Campaign. Do you have any tips on how to get a project funded this way?
David: Abby and I did three months of prep work for our campaign and brought on multiple people to create a stellar crowdfunding team. We have so much information on how to do a crowdfunding campaign, it’d be impossible to put it all in this article. So I think I can speak for both of us when I say our best advice is to hire the amazing crowdfunding coach Justin Giddings aka “The Kickstarter Guy”!
Abby: Justin has helped people raise millions of dollars for their projects and has a 97% success rate. So he taught us his secret sauce! I would also add that David and I really tried to make an entertaining campaign that had a similar tone to our film. It didn’t have a desperate “give us money” vibe, but was more about trying to make people laugh (often at our expense) and enjoy our campaign so they felt excited about what we were doing and want to support us.
Festigious' Best Ensemble winners
What is the most memorable character each of you portrayed?
D.W.: Felix Turner in the original production of The Normal Heart at The Public Theater in 1985.
David: Honestly playing “David” in Holiday Hostage is the most memorable to me. I just had so much invested in the character and project. Every detail of the script and character came from Abby’s brain and mine, and we got to do everything we wanted. That’s pretty rare in Hollywood. So it’s hard for me not to feel super attached to it.
Abby: I’m right there with David! I also really loved doing Switched at Birth, where I played an openly gay teenager fighting to be able to wear a tux to the prom. I had a lot of young people reaching out to me on social media about their own experiences and that was really awesome to have a character that people connected to in that way. D.W. directed that episode, which made it extra special!
Abby Walla and David Storch
What is your dream role, and which filmmakers/production companies do you wish to collaborate with?
David: Starring in my own sitcom loosely based on my life and stand-up. As far as filmmakers and production companies I’d want to work with there are so many, but I’ll only list a few: Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, Mel Brooks, Robert Zemeckis and Spielberg.
Abby: David and I have pretty similar goals - hence the working well together! I’m really drawn to what people like Pamela Adlon are doing - creating and starring in her own series. I love acting, but have always wanted to be a bigger part of the creative process with writing and producing as well - both for myself and for others. It’s such an amazing time in the industry with so many platforms that there’s space for a lot of different kinds of stories to be told. And I want to be part of telling them!
D.W.: I would love to play King Lear. I would love to work with Soderbergh again. I would love to work with the Brit Marling.
If you could speak with younger versions of yourselves, what advice would you give them?
D.W.: Trust yourself. Don’t do shit work just for the money. Trust yourself.
Abby: Just breathe! (Ironically the same advice I give myself now!)
David: Always wear a condom. Wait, what are we talking about?
What's next for you? Are you currently working on other independent projects?
D.W.: Currently I’m recurring on Chicago Med and How to Get Away with Murder and I’m also on The First on HULU.
Abby: On the writing side, I have a ½ hr comedy pilot that I’m writing and then also projects that David and I are doing together.
David: One of our projects together is a comedic coffee table book based on our “Moms Take Over JDate” stunt that we did during our crowdfunding campaign where we let our real-life Jewish Mothers create & run JDate accounts for us - chatting with potential matches and everything.
Abby: With zero interference from us! And for the whole world to watch unfold on Facebook. It was miserable for us, hilarious for them!
David: On the individual side for me, I just completed a ½ hr comedy pilot and am now working on a feature film that I’m really excited about.
Where can our readers follow your work?
Holiday Hostage: www.HolidayHostage.com