Spotlight: An Interview with Abigail Bruley, "Main Absolves"
Abigail Bruley. Photo by Bridget Badore
Abigail, before we chat about the film, we'd love to learn more about you and your filmmaking background. What made you interested in it and what were some of your first steps in the industry?
I think in pictures, so I felt really drawn to the art form of film as a way to make my point-of-view into a tangible thing. I had the chance to discover what kind of stories I wanted to film in college and they always had a comedic bent to them. I think this probably stemmed from the fact that I was using my friends to fill out the cast and crew and I just liked laughing with people. As I got older, I realized that I liked writing comedy into my films because of its pureness, I guess you could say, it's closeness to the truth of the thing. So from there, I started studying it more closely.
After studying comedy writing and performing at Upright Citizen’s Brigade and People’s Improv Theater, you created the cult web series 'Down the Show', for which you earned a Writer’s Guild nomination. In your opinion, what makes a great comedy?
I think Tina Fey said something like 'You need to earn your fart joke. And you only get one.'
You noticed! Indeed. I have a series in mind and these two shorts live in the world of that series.
You've also written and directed the short film “On the Dot" about a funny and relatable brain-injured patient. Can you take us through your creative writing process, and how do you approach writing about personal experiences?
I start with what I'm most excited about and fill in the gaps from there.
You were recently invited to participate in the Los Angeles Cohort of RespectAbility 2022, a prestigious program that selects 20 individuals after an extensive research and interview process. Can you tell us about that, and also were some of your main takeaways from participating?
My time in the Respectability Lab keeps on giving! I left with the reframe that my authentic lived experience was my superpower. I met my colleagues and future collaborators who are brimming with talent and ideas about flipping the storytelling world upside-down. And, I connected with people in the industry who are passionate about including diversity in their output, which is the cutting-edge of all interesting stories, in my opinion.
Let's chat about Main Absolves, which won Best Dark Comedy at LAFA. Why did you choose to tell this story, and what inspired the inclusion of a cognitively disabled character performed, written and directed by a cognitively disabled filmmaker?
Following the evolution of the characters (and, by design, myself!), if the first short film in this series, Main Blessings, was about the struggle to find your place in society after a rupture took you away, then Main Absolves is about the process of dropping that struggle.
I wanted the lead to be cognitively disabled because, well, I'm cognitively disabled, and there just isn't enough time to NOT make the characters in your film a member of a vastly underrepresented group. I think we're ready for something new. I think we're ready to get an intimate look at the life of those with invisible disabilities who appear just like everyone else, but are experiencing life differently, even, more vividly than others. What does that look like? I trust myself the most to convey that experience!
What were the tropes you were hoping to avoid?
With cognitive disability, there are many and very few. I didn't want the character to be portrayed as an idiot savant, a pitiful patient, a slow stoner, or an adorable stooge lacking recall and recognition. I wanted to show that Main, my main character, is self-possessed and reflective just as much as she is impulsive and distracted. A full human being.
The characters are very original and colorful. for example, a shiftless, unemployed young woman, her ponzi-scheming little brother, and their warlock-wannabe neighbor. How do you normally write your characters? Do you come up with general ideas for them, then create a backstory?
Thank you! I love my characters. They are a result of the process of assigning my interests and past experiences to personalities I find fascinating. This short lives in the world of a series in which I had preconceived an ensemble of characters and their histories, so I was already intimately aware of everything about them when I wrote this film.
The ensemble of Shane Barbera, Julie Chapin, Terence Gleeson, Randall Gort, Richard Templeton and yourself did a wonderful job. How did you go about casting and what was the rehearsal process like? Was there any room for improv?
Thanks so much! I was so lucky to have previously acted with Richard Templeton in sketch comedy and I always knew I wanted to work with him in one of my films. Shane is a jack-of-all-trades on this project. I was impressed with his work on his own web series and I knew he could deliver this character. Julie, Terrence, and Randall were a special gift that sent amazing rehearsal videos. Their banter on camera is so natural and warm, that was all improv!
How did you prepare for your role as Main Bellvue, and was it tricky performing while you're also directing?
As the writer and creator of Main Bellvue, I didn't think any preparation was necessary UNTIL I worked with our acting consultant, Amy Frear, who opened my eyes to all the new ways I could think about and discover her. The trick to making the performing-while-directing thing work, I believe, was ample preparation with my DP, Drew Saracco. We painstakingly went over inspiration photos, storyboards, shot lists, philosophies I was looking to convey, etc beforehand, so I knew on production day we were in complete concert without needing much meddling.
What stylistic references did you talk about when you discussed your vision for the film? Were you inspired by any other films or filmmakers, style-wise?
Stylistic references ranged from ancient Occult texts, to Wes Anderson-particularities, to Jungian diagrams, to Hitchcock technicolor, to Judd Apatow character flaws, to the wonderful absurdity of Andrew De Young and surrealism of Luis Bunuel. There was also a good bit of eighties sci-fi and clothing which I grew up on and will always find exciting.
Tell us about your musical choices in the film, and what went into these decisions?
My music supervisor, Dave Sutton, was brilliant in this regard. I told him I wanted the soundtrack to be all female-led, psych-rock and he delivered the perfect artists.
What were some of the struggles you had to overcome during the making of this film?
This was filmed early on in my recovery, when a fourteen-hour production day was out of the question. So one of the biggest struggles was condensing everything down in pre-production to make eight-hour film days. No one can believe it, but it can be done!
How was the film received so far, and what message were you hoping to convey to the audience?
Well, I won Best Dark Comedy, so not half bad! The message received is all up to the audience, but I do love hearing all the different ways it's been interpreted.
What are you currently working on?
Expanding the world of Main! New moving pictures coming soon.
Where can our readers follow more of your work?