JULIE: Eons ago I co-wrote the script for Breakin’ 2 is Electric Boogaloo, then life took me on a different path and brought me to New Mexico. Ten years ago, inspired by a project a friend of mine was working on, I realized that you could make a short movie just like you could write a short story instead of a novel, and that it would be possible to get out there and do it oneself. What a concept! I proceeded to make three no-budget shorts over the next three years. Meanwhile, I had written the screenplay for Warrior Woman, which everybody liked and nobody produced. After doing the three shorts, I decided I could just do a feature myself, too.
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?
JULIE: The story, though not autobiographical, is grounded in experience, both my own as a breast cancer survivor and that of other people I know. I’ve always been interested in dreams and the ways the unconscious mind often knows more than we know consciously, or at least knows things differently. So I mixed bits of experience with chunks of imagination to create the story. I wrote the first draft of the script about fifteen years ago, so it’s hard to remember the details about the actual writing, except that it came fairly easily.
JULIE: I begged, borrowed and deferred. Actually, my two fellow producers and I went through a rather long legal process to prepare a fundraising prospectus, planning to seek investors, but by the time we got it together we were deep in the throes of pre-production and none of us had time to talk to anyone. So I wound up financing the film myself, with money that I had and money that I borrowed. Some people were very gracious about deferring their pay or services. Plus we’re getting a 25% tax rebate from the state of New Mexico as part of their film incentive program.
We are hoping to recoup the budget by finding a distributor, creating partnerships with cancer organizations, and even four-walling the film ourselves. I had assumed I could always go door-to-door selling DVD’s, but I’m told that everyone is now streaming and the DVD is soon to be obsolete. But I’m sure there are dinosaurs like me out there who still go the old-fashioned route. We’ll see. We are just at the beginning of the marketing/distribution road, and are submitting to film festivals even as we speak.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
JULIE: We primarily used the Red, supplementing with the Canon 5D for night exteriors to save on lighting (plus our DP had one). We were trying to get as close to a film look as we could, and the Red gave us the range and flexibility we were looking for, while the Canon offered the speed we needed outside at night. No real downside to the Red. The Canon gave us less range to work with in post, but the results blended well with the footage from the Red.
How did you and your DP achieve the look of the movie?
JULIE: My DP, Corey Weintraub, had shot my three short movies, so we already had a good working relationship before we began. We talked a lot about the script, and how to achieve distinct looks for each of the three intertwined story elements – real time, flashbacks, and dream time. We watched movies together to show each other what inspired us. Partially for esthetic reasons and partly due to budget constraints, we were interested in seeing what we could do with a stationary camera and some medium and longer shots.
Corey is a talented artist as well as fine cinematographer, so he drew the storyboards as we talked over each shot of each scene. In the actual locations, which sometimes differed wildly from what we had envisioned, we of course had to adapt to local conditions and often had to change our original concept for a given scene. Still, the storyboards gave us a strong foundation and kept us on track for a unified look.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
JULIE: The smartest thing I did was pick great people to work with, from our lead actor, Karen Young, to our amazing editor, Sterling Grant. We had wonderful ADs, terrific DP and Production Designer, and many other people who gave their all to the project. In general, I like to find good people and turn them loose to do what they do best.
The dumbest thing was making a complex movie (lots of locations, lots of actors) on a miniscule budget, which led to various near disasters regarding locations, botched essentials, and the blind leading the blind. I’m told that the disasters come just as thick and fast on a big-budget project, they’re just about different things, and I hope to get a chance to see whether that’s true.
Another dumb thing was to schedule a six-day work week for the five-week shoot. It may have been the only way to get this done, but it was grueling for everyone.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
JULIE: I deepened my understanding that the two primary goals of a director are to work with the actors and to hold the core of the story. The film has its own momentum, and you have to be able to give yourself up to it at the same time you’re holding on to the vital essence of what you’re doing.
If you’re the writer, you have certain ideas in your head about who the characters are and how they look and behave. The second you cast someone, your ideas are changed. Then, on the set, everything changes again, because the actors bring themselves to the roles. So you have to find the time and space in a crazy, chaotic environment both to hold what needs to happen in a given scene in terms of the larger context of the movie, and to listen to what the actors are bringing with them in the moment.
The lesson is to know when to let go of some original concept or vision in favor of something that might work better, and when to hold on tight to what has to be – when to adapt, and when to insist. Holding on to the things you need at the same time you let yourself be open.