MEREDITH: I've been involved in film and theatre in one way or another for the past ten years, but it wasn't until I moved to New York in 2008 that I took the reigns and started creating my own career opportunities.
Before Imagine I'm Beautiful, I co-created, directed, produced and starred in a full length multimedia play entitled Degeneration X that ran over two months at The Living Theatre in Manhattan's lower east side. The play merged live theatre and film to tell the story of a young man's psyche as he is faced with a rare and degenerative eye condition.
The film portions represented half of the experience and served as vignettes, transitions and hallucinations caused by the syndrome. We shot over 13 days in the scorching Brooklyn heat of summer, 2011. It was juicy guerilla-style filmmaking and the content offered much freedom on set and in the editing room. It was a wonderful learning experience and playground for me. I had also made project trailers for both Degeneration X and Imagine I'm Beautiful (then titled, Under Her Skin). In my gut, I felt ready and confident to tackle a feature film next.
How did you come to be a film director?
MEREDITH: I'm not a film director just to tell stories nor am I anywhere near a film buff. I'm a film director when I feel like a story is aching to be told. Then my vision becomes very clear. The story not only needs to be meaningful for me, but a message that I deem meaningful, needed, and useful to bring about for others and the world.
I'm constantly asking myself, "why?" -- why does this particular story need to be told? And if the answer is overwhelming for me, I know I must tell that story. If not, it's not my story to tell. I consider myself an empathic and compassionate person. I think that helps in molding a story and working with a team of collaborators, which is what every filmmaking endeavor is.
How did you get connected to Naomi McDougall Jones' script and what was your working process to get the script ready to shoot?
MEREDITH: I sat across from Naomi at a mutual friend's dinner party. We were both talking about our current projects and she mentioned her new screenplay was a psychological drama. That's when my ears first perked up, as that's kinda my thing. She followed that by saying they (she and her producing partner, Caitlin Gold) were looking for a director.
The script ended up in my inbox. I remember reading it very critically because I was head over heels in another project and had no business sniffing in another script at the time. But destiny took over and after reading it, I knew this was also my story to tell.
Over the course of the next two years, the script, the story, and the team continued to evolve, making the film what it is now. Naomi and I had countless meetings, phone calls, and email exchanges about character and story journeys. When the director and writer are two different people, which can be rare in indies, the story becomes a shared one.
After I came on board, there were then two baby mamas. And since Naomi was also a producer and starring in the film, she still had her hand in the pot versus a screenwriter who flies away once the script is out of their hands. Naomi was fantastic in allowing me to do my job as the director all the way from pre-production to post. She trusted me whole-heartedly as her director, and her two producing partners, so that she could engulf herself in the role of Lana, which is what it deserved and frankly the only way it would work.
We were also working in the constraints of an extremely low budget, which was a great challenge that I think helped the film in the end. I remember just weeks before production day 1, myself, Naomi, Caitlin, and our third producer, Joanna Bowzer, had an epic meeting in which we had to face the reality of our budget. We were forced to cut locations, cut characters, cut story days, and in doing so, we cut the fat and made the story so much clearer and tighter. Limits and boundaries in this way can be a really good thing.
MEREDITH: Being a character study psychological drama, casting was probably the most important part of this film. We had several casting sessions over months leading up to the production, because we never settled until we knew it was right. Especially important was the role of Kate, our anti-heroine playing opposite Lana. Katie Morrison was a Godsend. As soon as she spoke the words off the page, the story lifted, took form, and it was very clear we had our other leading lady.
You really have to trust your gut and intuition during casting. It was important to me to cast actors with a wide range of flexibility and courage, as these roles were no walk in the park. All our actors were hungry to go deep; they loved rehearsals, they wanted to talk about it, question it, the roles excited them. To me, that's what makes the work juicy.
Like any film, I think the vision inevitably changes once your cast is in place. It's one of the most exciting evolutions in a film's journey; watching the story come off page and out of the mind's eye. The script was dissected much more once embodied by real human beings and we adapted to whatever came out of that. I think it's important to allow space for that molding within the infrastructure of the story.
MEREDITH: The smartest thing I did during production was the way in which we handled the more intense and dramatic scenes of the film on set. We would rehearse the scene all the way through on a closed set (with only myself, the actors, and our DP, Piero Basso), so that the dynamics, levels, and flow were in place.
Once the set opened and shooting began, we maintained those levels until the scene was wrapped. You could feel the temperature change and our entire set adapted. These scenes were physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding of our actors and creatives, and I wanted to respect that. We had an intimate crew and in doing so, this process connected us all so much deeper into the story. I believe this helped us get the performances and shots we needed.
As for the dumbest; well, I'm reeeeeally into the subtle details. They can make all the difference. But, in the editing room, I realized I probably spent way too much time on some of these details. I had Joanna (who also served as our first assistant director out of the goodness of her producer heart, god bless her soul) arrange the folds of a white blanket on our red couch one too many times between takes. There was also this little elephant statue that became a constant point of communication between Joanna, myself, and our script supervisor, Patty. I think we see its little trunk one time in the whole film. Hahah, ahh this makes me laugh.
MEREDITH: The producers raised the budget from an even split between private investors and two crowd-funding campaigns (IndieGoGo) that ran a year apart. We have been fortunate to now sign with a distribution company, Candy Factory Productions, whose strategy will be ideal for marketing this kind of film. Because of this deal and because we were able to keep costs very low on this film, we have every expectation that we will recoup our investors' money and then some through a theatrical tour driving online sales.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
MEREDITH: If you allow some space around your project’s core so that it can breathe, move, and flow as it will, your project will take on a mind and heart of its own and that, to me, is the magic of filmmaking.
It’s easy to get caught up trying to maintain full control over the project and your vision for it, but that’s where things get convoluted and uninspired. From pre to post, you will be faced with many surprises, many unforeseen turns. If you can find a way to embrace rather than resist, you come to realize every step is all a part of your project’s unique growth and journey, ultimately leading to what it is and will be. That’s kind of an overarching life philosophy that I abide by, but it very much applies here as well. Why wouldn’t it?
Also, act off your intuition rather than your instinct, responding vs. reacting. As a director, you make many decisions, and most of them very quickly, so communication is key. The more connected you are to your intuitive self, the better you are able to respond rather than react to manage the needs of your project.
And finally, I’m constantly reminded how finding the right team, the right collaborators, is the most important thing. If you have that, you have everything you need.