CANNES 2021 INTERVIEW
1. Your film is entered in our Cannes Film Awards. What is your film
First of all, thank you so much. This is a lifelong dream come true. I am part French, I love France, and this film is my love letter to France. “The Saints of the Rue Scribe” is the story of Joseph and Marie Charpentier- a carpenter and an opera actress living in 19th century Paris who are extremely wealthy philanthropists and are in the rare position of being two consecrated perpetual virgins preparing to be married. Their goal is to help Paris, and anyone they can, in recovery from the war. But others around them, formerly friends, would rather get the two of them out of their way so they can try to manipulate the situation to bring themselves into glory and power. As the wedding of Joseph and Marie draws near, the plots against them build. When their lives and all that they love are threatened, the unthinkable happens and true triumph emerges.
2. What are your ambitions with your project?
I wanted to make a film that showed Paris in all the glory and beauty of the Grand Era and that told the story of how strong love can be. My ambition with this project is for it to be seen all over the world through worldwide distribution. I am the writer/director/lead actress/editor and more on this film. It was truly a product of passion and of my giving of myself to a story and a project that I deeply cared about. I wrote the novel in 2012, the screenplay in 2013, started pre-production in 2015, filmed between late 2018 and early 2020, and finished editing in mid September of 2020. Every moment was worth it and every detail was crafted with love. It was an honor for me to make and a joy for me to share it with you. After worldwide distribution for “Saints,” trust me, there’s plenty more where that came from and I’m looking forward to giving of myself again and again in my next projects, too.
3. How was the shooting? What pleasantly surprised you?
The shooting was amazing. The majority of the scenes involving a lot of characters were filmed in a three-week period of time. It was beautiful chaos. Controlled chaos, of course, but leaving plenty of room for the “movie magic” to happen. A lot of things pleasantly surprised me about the filming. The house that we filmed the majority of the interior scenes in, is actually a real house that was owned and decorated by a Florida entrepreneur in the 19th century who loved and purchased all French furniture that happens to be from the era the film takes place in. The house is currently a museum, wedding venue, and bed and breakfast. The owner of the house let us film there. This film would not have been possible without her. Another absolute blessing was the weather. We filmed in Florida- a lot of the scenes were shot only five minutes from my house. We got perfect weather and the sunshine was always favoring the natural beauty and brightness of the trees and grass and sky. One of our effects editors asked us “what filters did you use on the composite for the fence scene?” We told them the truth- the fence scene is not a composite, it is unfiltered, and it’s around the corner from my house. We got a rainstorm when we needed to film the scene in the rainstorm. We got a perfect sunrise for the final scene when we drove out to the Atlantic Ocean at 3am in order to capture the exact, unfiltered, apex of the sunrise. And a different kind of surprise occurred as well. On the day we filmed the ballroom sequence, it happened to be my birthday. In between scenes, the cast and crew surprised me and my mom showed up on set with a huge birthday cake (and she agreed to be an extra in the scene)! There was so much love on this set.
4. For what target group is your film?
Adults 18-49. Maybe also younger. Maybe also older. The film is very relatable. Of course, it does deal with themes- like assault, suicide, and attempted murder- that are not readily accessible to the youngest of people- although everyone could enjoy the lighter scenes like the music and the party games. If everyone looks, everyone will find something that is for them. But, in general, adults 18-49 is our target audience group. It is an adventure of love and a story of finding true strength and true triumph.
5. Why should distributors buy your film?
Distributors should buy this film because it is as broad and expansive as it is unique and specific. It is a film about two people helping others, but it is also a film about two people learning how to help themselves, how to be strong, how to stay the course and not give in, how to be able to overcome the worst of situations, and how to find more to give even when you think you have nothing left. It’s the eternal human story of finding the triumph in one’s own life. Trust. Love. Triumph. It is not just for Joseph and Marie Charpentier. It is for every person who has ever loved, who has ever felt, and who has ever wanted to be all that they can be. It is the story of the choices people make along the journey. It is the story of seeing beauty even in the face of tragedy. No matter what. It is the story that every person lives out in their own lives to some extent- the story of finding life. That is a story with universal appeal.
6. How would you specify your work? What characterizes your film?
My work is very much a marriage of theatre and film styles. I am equally a daughter of the theatre as much as I am a daughter of cinema. I love to be able to do things with the camera that can only be done in a film. Yet, with my actors, I love to set things up so that they can have the same freedoms they’d have on a theatrical stage. I marry the two styles. I throw in some unique twists and turns. I use music intricately. I call it “Cinétage”. I see what I can do, then expound upon it, and do more. My work is characterized by intimate character details, grand visual details, extensive one-shot (often one-take) scenes, intense dialogue, and a penchant for discovering every possibility- both old and new. I am never afraid to take chances- in front of the camera or behind it. For example, from day one, I told everyone that we were going to film the performance scenes live. They told me that they had never tried to film singing before with a camera. I told them to think of it as no different than talking but also to make sure to use the camera’s mic so as to pick up the true sound of the room and just let the music fill it. Perhaps it had never been done before, but that didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to try. We tried it the way I’d laid it out. I was right. It worked. And it made the film more genuine because the cameras simply captured my (Marie’s) genuine, live performances as I gave them. “It’s talking.” That was the explanation I gave. I always love to see what is possible, and then do more. There is no limit. The world of creativity is opened and free. And I love to explore and see it all. And, when something doesn’t exist, I create it. That’s me. I also did all my own stunts.
7. Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
I knew since as long as I can remember, that I wanted to create. I wanted to share stories. I wanted to show stories. I wanted to take the “possible” and go beyond. I wanted to be able to share my very heart with the world. As I grew up, I learned that there was a name for what I always wanted- that name is “filmmaker”. Thus, I am a filmmaker.
8. Who is your greatest role model?
Charlie Chaplin. He did everything. He put his art out there. If something was “impossible”, he made it possible. He wanted to do something that “couldn’t be done”, so he did it anyway. He didn’t believe in “can’t”. Only “do”. He was a pioneer, a true artist, and a truly passionate creative. He believed in himself. The rest came from there. If you are something, be it. If you do something, do it.
9. Which movies are your favorites? Why?
“The Gold Rush”, “Top Hat”, “Citizen Kane”, “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Titanic”, and “The Walk”. “The Gold Rush” because of the physicality and choreography involved with both Chaplin and the camera. “Top Hat” because Fred Astaire (whose talent I adore) taught the camera how to balance between letting him dance and “dancing” with him. “Citizen Kane” because it proved that rules were only rules until you found a new way of doing things. “Days of Wine and Roses” because it is one of the world’s greatest examples of two incomparable actors just having at it in a poignant and intimate story. And also because of Jack Lemmon in the greenhouse scene- to see a character entirely unravel until there is no remaining shred of themselves- that is what true filmmaking (and true acting) is all about. “Titanic” because, during the 12 times that I saw it in theatres during its first run, I realized that filmmaking wasn’t just about the power to share stories, but that it was also about the power to create, share, and transport people to, other worlds. Thanks to the genius of James Cameron, I felt like I was right there in it with them when I was watching it. I knew that that was what I wanted to do- bring people into my worlds and make them know that they are involved intricately in them. “The Walk” is my favorite use of visual effects in the history of film. I was born and raised in New York and I love watching “The Walk”, not just because Philippe Petit did such an amazing thing and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave an incredible performance, but also because I like to see the Twin Towers alive and in all their beauty. It’s been 20 years since 9/11. But, thanks to the amazing visual effects on “The Walk”, I can see the city I grew up in, can remember all the good things, and can look ahead to a future of new hope, new beauty, and new glory.
11. Which topics interest you the most?
Choices. Human nature and the choices we make. To me, it’s not about the beginning or the end- it’s the journey and what we do thereon that makes us each unique with a story worth sharing.
12. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I could say “making a film with nothing, doing everything, and getting selected in 47 film festivals”. But that would be inaccurate. My greatest achievement was getting a hold on my own life. When you have the gift (the talent) of having the voice to say something, you could spend years trying to say what you think other people want to hear, or you could realize that your voice is the only one that can say what is in your heart. When your own voice speaks your own words, the harmony is unmistakable. When people hear it, they know that it is true and, because of the harmony, they want to hear it and enjoy the sound thereof. It took me years to realize that “Angel Katherine Taormina” was “Angel Katherine Taormina”. Do what you love and they can’t help but listen. Do what is true and the audience will know it. It was my gift to give and, when I finally started giving it, I understood myself, everything fell into place, and the harmony of the gift flowed out to do exactly what it was meant to do. Loving myself is my greatest achievement.
13. What do you consider most important about filming?
Trust. The cast and crew need to trust themselves and each other and feel free to “fly”- to experiment, to try everything, and to let the “magic” happen. It is my honorable and deeply loved duty to be the supportive foundation upon which we can all be free to let that all happen.
14. Which film technique do you consider the best?
Letting go. You slave over your work for weeks, months, even years. You know what you’re doing. You know what can happen and you’ve worked out a million different scenarios and how to make any one of them work. Now, you come to the moment of filming. You’re ready. Let go. Cast and crew alike. Be prepared. Perform flawlessly. But allow yourself to lose yourself in the moment to the unknown and beautiful variables of existing in the present moment. This is where the film truly comes into being. Let go. And it is a fun and thrilling feeling to see what happens when you’ve done everything and then release yourself to “the more”.
15. How would you rate current filmmaking?
As long as I am creative, I fully love everything that I do. I think that is the case with most filmmakers. Currently, filmmaking is making a change toward new explorations and I like what I’m seeing. If we can blend modern technology with tried-and-true talent, we are limitless.
16. What can make you angry in a movie?
I wouldn’t characterize it as “anger”, but there is one thing on a movie set that I certainly would not tolerate- negativity. We are here to support each other, and there is always something positive to say. There is always a “yes”, always a way, and always something we can excel in for the collaborative greater creative good.
17. Who supports you in your film career?
My mom and dad. Since day one. They never questioned me, were always positive and encouraging, always cared, helped, and supported, were wise and wonderful and understanding, always loved me, and still always love me. And I love them. I thank them every day. Having Mom and Dad in my corner makes all the difference in the world to me for the good. We can always count on each other. I love my family. It’s truly a circle of trust.
18. What are the reactions of your surroundings to your film?
People around the world like it and I am thrilled. We had a private movie theatre screening back in October 2020 and we’ve been selected in 47 different film festivals in 11 different countries with 23 wins. I got all of my reactions virtually because of this unique year with the pandemic, but I was still able to know how much people enjoyed the film and I was able to appreciate their connection with my work. I look forward to emerging from the pandemic and meeting all the people around the world who love Saints. They’ve met my film virtually. Soon, we will all get to meet each other in person. I’m looking forward to the very-near future and to what is next.
19. Have you already visited any of the prestigious film festivals?
All of my “travels” to 46 of the festivals in the 11 different countries with the 23 wins to date, have been virtual rather than in-person because of the pandemic. However, that is soon to change. The closest I have gotten so far to human interaction was the Zoom Awards Ceremony for the Golden State Film Festival where we won Best Ensemble Cast. Would we have all rather liked to have been walking the red carpet at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre like they do every normal year? Yes. But, did it make for an unexpectedly wonderful experience to meet everyone via Zoom? Also yes. I dressed up anyway, because I always said I’d wear Marie’s gold gown on the red carpet. (So I wore it on my home studio’s blue carpet.) I’m looking forward to doing that in person. In the meantime, though, my film has “visited” some amazing places. We won Best Picture in two different festivals in Rome (Roma Film Festival and Film Today). I won Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Editing in Hong Kong (Hong Kong Indie Film Festival). I won Best Lead Actress in London (London International Cinema Festival). We’ve been in Chicago, Miami, New York, L.A., Toronto, Montreal, Tokyo, Venice, Sweden, Seoul, Berlin, and beyond. Prior to the pandemic, I’d visited Paris three times and loved it beyond words. I’m looking forward to being able to hop on a plane and visit Cannes.
20. What are your next projects?
I’ve told a lot of people that I am planning to film a production of my “Cinétage Stagebooks/Showbooks Series”, which corresponds with Joseph and Marie Charpentier and the style of “Saints”. I still plan to do that, soon.
My next project, however, is a film adaptation of my 2019 novel “The Anniversary”. To describe it, I’m going to here quote myself from something I wrote in an interview I recently gave that can be found in this week’s issue of Variety Magazine and on www.thesaintsoftheruescribe.com. “I wrote the novel and the screenplay in 2019, thinking about how it had been 18 years and how saying 18 years was like saying 20 years. And I thought- “wow, 20 years…”. In March of 2019, I was on a trip up to New York City- where I’m originally from. I was sitting in downtown Manhattan on a bench near the pools at the World Trade Center site. There was a sense of hope and recovery in the air and I decided to finally write the story I had always wanted to write. Now was the time. I wasn’t a frightened 12 year old girl anymore. I was a writer imbued with hope and courage, and I could finally be a voice for the voiceless. 18 years earlier, there was a strong chance that my dad and I would have both been there that day- and probably at Windows on the World at that. At the time, we were physically living on Long Island but my dad and I were over in Manhattan at least once or twice a week. September 11th, 2001 was supposed to be my hair appointment- but I’d moved it to two weeks earlier. It was also the day that my dad was going to look at office space in the North Tower- but food poisoning prevented him from getting on the train. That was also the day that we had planned to add a stop at Windows on the World to our visit. I had only been up there once as a kid- when you live there, you take it for granted and don’t always do the “touristy” things. But I wanted to go again because my dad had just been up there a week earlier- getting a carton of milk in the early hours of the morning before breakfast was served. But we weren’t there. It wasn’t- as Valentina puts it in the story “my moment”. But, for my city, it was Hell. Some people came out alright. Others have never been the same. Some people have been living that day over and over for the past 20 years and can’t escape. It didn’t go without affecting all of us. Everyone has a story worth telling. My job, with “The Anniversary”, was to include every emotion and to find a way for everyone in the entire world who was ever affected to connect through the characters of Jace Hudson and Valentina Vey. I had to pick a storyline that was “impossible” for anyone in order that unique connectivity and healing could become possible for everyone.
“The Anniversary” is the story of Jace Hudson and Valentina Vey- the most powerful couple in Hollywood and the biggest celebrities in the world. Both dealing with survivor’s guilt- to say the least- they are forced to confront their pasts head on when the most powerful director in the world- Martina Jameson- works on a film project with them in Manhattan and unknowingly sets them out on a journey of re-discovery of self- innocently meant as an intervention for their hard-partying, self-abuse, and alcoholism- that ends up opening long-locked doors to the truths of their past and their true connection with that day. Being two of the most recognizable faces in the world, they have a good and unique opportunity. They have found a truth. Will they run from it? Or will they use that truth to help those around them?
I love my city fiercely. That is why this film has to be nothing but the best. We all deserve to be free.”