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An Interview with P.J. Woodside, Director and Star of Frances Stein

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2016

Films directed by P.J. Woodside on (re)Search my Trash

 

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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?

 

Frances Stein 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.

 

Since 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?

 

I 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.

Playing 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.

The “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.

 

What can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and why exactly these people?

 

I 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.

Steve 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.

Cody 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.

T.O.N.E-z 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.

 

Seriously, if you had the means of Frances Stein, what use would you make of them?

 

That’s 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.

 

You've chosen a rather non-linear approach to tell your story - so how easy or hard was it to not get lost in the narrative?

 

In early drafts it was linear. I knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be Frances’ story, as in the Frankenstein 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?

The 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: Why is he lying? It’s a simple thing, but it moves the story forward in an elegant way.

We 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.

As 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.

 

What can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

When 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.

As 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 director!

I 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 editing room.

 

Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

We 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.  

Our 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 do have.

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!

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Frances Stein so far?

 

It’s 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!

Watching 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 share?

 

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Funny you should ask! We are actually in pre-production on our 10th feature film, but details are under wraps right now. Join our mailing list and you’ll always know what’s coming up. http://bigbitingpigproductions.us6.list-manage1.com/subscribe?u=afeecb3b3f&id=e1654663ed

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Anyone can find out how to watch our movies simply by visiting this page: www.bigbitingpigproductions.com/WatchNow

Our Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/bigbitingpigproductions

Our Twitter account is: https://twitter.com/BigBitingPig

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

I was recently called Kentucky’s Scream Queen in a podcast, so I think that’s pretty cool. :)

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

Bauliche Angelegenheiten
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Michael Haberfelner

 

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