We have talked about this before [click
here], but bring us up to speed: Your new movie Frances
Stein - in a few words, what is it about?
is a nod to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but with an updated
premise, giving the scientist a female gender and a new, scientifically
plausible way to mess around with human life. In my story Frances Stein is
a brilliant scientist gone mad for all the right reasons -- she’s lost
her marriage, her job, and her reputation. Now she has plans for her
ex-husband and his new wife that will mess with their minds. Literally.
you also play the lead in Frances
Stein, what did you draw upon to bring her to life, and did you
write her with yourself in mind from the get-go?
always draw upon my own experiences for interesting female roles, whether
I’m going to play them or not. My protagonists tend to be smart women
who are underestimated by those around them, women with complex desires
and a strong belief in their own agency. You can imagine that I’ve been
in situations as a professional female where people deemed me crazy and/or
“a bitch” even though my behavior was no different from that of the
men around me. Writing Frances as a character who ultimately proves
everyone wrong was extremely satisfying.
her in the movie was wonderfully empowering. I actually looked at
casting others in the role, but in the end I decided the advantages of me
doing it outweighed the disadvantages. I have a great filmmaking partner,
Steve Hudgins [Steve Hudgins
interview - click here], who basically made it possible for me to be both the lead
in the movie, and the director.
“piano-playing” aspect of the movie was there from the beginning, and
I do, actually, play the piano -- which helped when it came to
“faking” those great piano themes. I
worked with a couple of different local musicians to create original
music. One of them wrote the melody and lyrics -- which are part of
the music video and accompany some of the credits at the end of the movie.
A fabulous local pianist took that melody and developed several lovely
piano pieces; we recorded her performance of them for the movie.
can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?
had Scott Cummings in mind for the ex-husband Patrick Stein early on. We
had worked together before, and I knew what he was capable of. Just after
we finished filming, he received a full-ride scholarship for graduate
studies in acting at Catholic University.
Hudgins was a natural fit for the Interrogator part, particularly because
we knew our two characters wouldn’t be filming at the same time and we
would always have a full director in charge without split duties. He can
always be counted on to give a solid and complex performance.
Rogers (Avery Newman) came in from Nashville, just a couple of hours away.
Jessica Leonard (Jayne Ellis) was a local find -- really a natural on
camera. They both came in for auditions and we knew right away they had
the right stuff for their roles.
connected with us on Twitter, and it didn’t take me a minute to consider
asking him to be in the movie. He is fun to work with and knows the
business, so he was a natural fit. I think he enjoyed being Victor, the
torturer. His character’s name, by the way, is a nod to the original Dr.
Frankenstein, whose first name is Victor.
if you had the means of Frances Stein, what use would you make of them?
a scary thought. The optimistic use would be to collect memories of those
about to die, or perhaps to implant our memories and brain functions into
a machine. The pessimistic use would be what’s suggested in the movie --
the intelligence agencies combing through memories for information for
their own purposes.
chosen a rather non-linear approach to tell your story - so how easy or
hard was it to not get lost in the narrative?
early drafts it was linear. I
knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be Frances’ story, as in the
novel by Mary Shelly, and not the story of her “victims”.
Creating a structure that would stay focused on her was my biggest hurdle.
In an early chronological draft, the emotional subtext was not where I
wanted it to be. I spent a lot of time finding the right framework, one
that would keep the audience focused on Frances even when she’s not on
camera. That’s how I came up with the interview/interrogator scenes.
These gave us a lot of freedom to jump around, to hit key scenes, but also
to keep the big question in the viewer’s mind: what happened to Frances?
Avery character started out as a secondary character, but by the final
draft he had become instrumental in telling the story, and being part of
it. One of the most central characteristics of his scenes in the
interrogation is the fact that he’s lying. I knew if I could set this up
right, it would create a fantastic element of suspense for the audience:
is he lying?
It’s a simple thing, but it moves the story forward in an elegant way.
spent a lot of time working out the dramatic transitions between
interrogation and story scene -- it’s one of my favorite things about
this script, and one skill I definitely learned during this process. I
have to give credit to Steve -- he suggested most of these. I knew I had a
good story, but he suggested many elements that made it a good movie.
for filming -- this film was no different than any other. Filming days are
usually grouped around locations, and that can get confusing if you’re
not careful. On one day of filming we did all Avery apartment scenes; on
another day we did all exterior house scenes; etc. The need for a clear
and updated spreadsheet is essential for keeping track. At least for this
movie the actors stayed in the same outfits throughout the main story.
you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
asked a questions about directing, I’m never sure whether to talk about
the vision for the movie or how I worked with actors. I will say that
Steve and I spent a lot of time in pre-production for this one, and had
very clear expectations for every day on set. Knowing exactly what we
wanted allowed us to move more quickly through each shot. However, the
non-linear format also allowed me some freedom to tighten or rearrange as
I needed in editing, which I did to a certain extent.
for directing the actors -- I feel pretty competent in this regard, as I
have been both an actor and director, on our sets and other sets. The
camera captures thought, and the actors must be willing to go to places in
their emotions that make them vulnerable. At the same time, they don’t
know if what they do works or not unless you tell them. I prefer directing
on small, intimate sets where I can really watch the monitor and dig into
character a bit more with the actors. Larger groups are fun, but also
harder to control. Those days I feel more like a choreographer than a
also have a “back-up director,” Steve, whom I call on for a second
opinion. We bring different skill sets to the table, and it’s always
good to get suggestions and confirmation from him about specific takes,
lighting, camera angles, etc. He directed me when I was in front of the
camera, and since he knew the story so well, he knew exactly what I was
looking for. He has a very good eye for what will work in the
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
had very positive experiences on Frances
Stein, in part because we planned
well and knew exactly what we wanted in advance. There were only a couple
of late and/or uncomfortable filming days. Some of the mad lab sequences
were filmed in June and the soundstage (i.e. the warehouse building) had
no AC. We used fans and tubs of ice to try to stay cool, but you can see
us sweating in a few spots.
cast and crew are just terrific, funny, intelligent and creative people,
and we love them all! It’s one of the best things about being
independent -- we get to make decisions ourselves, and create the on-set
environment as we see fit. We may not have the fanciest, most expensive
equipment, but we love collaboration and get the most out of everything we
had great cooperation from people who let us film in their locations, and
wonderful crew folks who gave their time and energy without complaint. I
can’t thank those people enough. We love all our piglets!
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Frances
Stein so far?
been terrific. We’ve cranked up the promotion of the movie with
the expectation of it coming out on Amazon Prime streaming soon, and the
positive reviews keep coming in!
it at the premiere with that first audience was very, very special. The
tone in the room was kind of magic. I always love that with all of our
premieres, but this movie has a special place in my heart and I think
it’s the best yet. I knew it would be tricky keeping an objective eye
while playing the title role, but I had great people to help me when it
came to making decisions about my own performance.
Any future projects you'd like to
Feeling lucky ?
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Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
was recently called Kentucky’s Scream Queen in a podcast, so I think
that’s pretty cool. :)
Thanks for the interview!