"I have to feel I want to spend a huge amount of time on it"
There's always a story behind a photo. Sometimes, the story becomes a movie... "Snapshots", our BEST PICTURE winner, is a stunningly beautiful film, with a great sense of nostalgia. It includes such a memorable performance by Shannon Collis, who won Best Actress for her role, as well as a strong ensemble cast, led by three-time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie, Brooke Adams, Max Adler, Brett Dier, Emily Baldoni, Cathy DeBuono and Emily Goss.
Jan, you've lived in the bay area for over 25 years. Why there, and not Los Angeles?
When I moved from the Midwest to California I chose the Bay area because a majority of my family lives here. I love the Bay area but also love the ability to easily fly back and forth to LA.
Jan, you've been involved in many productions, as a producer and a consultant. You executive produced I'll See You in My Dreams (2015), Raven's Touch (2015), Anatomy of a Love Seen (2014), Times Like These (2013), Whittier Boulevard (2015), Out and Around (2016), AWOL (2016)- all of these are excellent movies. I certainly recognize a pattern here! Why do you choose to mainly work on LGBTQ content?
Actually LGBTQ found me. I’ll See You in My Dreams is not LGBTQ but many of the others are. Over my 20 years being involved with films I’ve made half mainstream and half LGBTQ. For me, great stories are great stories no matter what the characters are labeled. I was drawn to a number of LGBTQ stories at a time when I wanted to learn about the intricacies of filmmaking. The directors of those films were and are open and welcoming to the “newbies”.
Jan, you're a published author and playwright, but this is your very first time as a screenwriter. Can you share about your creative process with the screenplay? For example, how did you come up with the story? Was this inspired by your personal experiences, or.. family photos? How many drafts did you write? Would you say there's a big difference between the first version and the last one?
Snapshots began decades ago as a play called Three Women in a Box. It sat for many years until the death of my mother and a story she told me prompted me to re-work the play into a script. It was a complete mind shift as film is so different than the theater. So too is the format. The story didn’t actually change dramatically from the first draft until draft #16. Yes it took sixteen tweaks to get it camera ready. And I have to thank Katherine Cortez who polished a number of aspects of the script.
Melanie, you've got such an impressive background (that includes an Emmy award for your performance on Thirtysomething) and been involved in so many tv productions, both as an actress and a director. Can you share some of your highlights from the set of Jane the Virgin? And what were some of the most defining moments in your career so far?
The indie film GIRL FRIENDS by Claudia Weill put me on the map in 1978. It made a splash here and in Europe and was an amazing experience all around.
Working in Pennsylvania on the set of PLAYING FOR TIME written by Arthur Milller and starring Vanessa Redgrave. I played her best friend. It was a three hour special for CBS about the true story of Fania Fenelon, a French singer who was taken to Auschwitz and pulled into the orchestra to entertain the SS in the evenings. It was based on the book, Playing For TIme, meaning playing for time to live...
And shooting the film by Costa Gavras, MISSING with Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek in Mexico City for three months was amazing. We were telling the true story of Charles Horman who went missing during the coup of Allende in Santiago, Chile in 1973. We won the Palm D'Or at Cannes. That night was magic.
JANE THE VIRGIN is a labor of love for all concerned. Gina Rodriguez's talent is immense. She walks the delicate line between comedy and drama effortlessly as do the rest of this amazing ensemble cast. The best times are, I feel, when we rehearse a scene for the crew before we start lighting. Jennie Snyder Urman, the show runner, is brilliant and when put the a scene up on its feet, the crew is the audience. There is such joy for the actors to hear the crew laugh. That's when everyone knows how lucky we are to be working on such an amazing, and on many levels, groundbreaking show.
Melanie, as an in-demand actor and director, how do you choose the stories you want to tell?
They have to touch my heart. And I have to feel I want to spend a huge amount of time on it... because when you direct a film, you are spending at least a year of your life. So you better believe in the message of the story you are telling.
How did you two meet each other? And how did you recruit the rest of the key crew?
Melanie: I was introduced to Jan by her producing partner, Leeanne Matusek. She had given me the script Jan had written and wanted to see if I would come aboard.
The three of us sat outside at the Farmer’s Market and by the time lunch was over Melanie was on board as the director. The team came together thanks in big measure to Melanie’s contacts with incredible people.
Would you mind sharing a little bit of the technicalities behind the film? How long was the shoot? How did you find the locations? How many cameras did you use?
Melanie: We shot the film in 15 days, 12 days at a property in Encino and 3 days in someone's back yard in Lake Malibou. Also some shots were done in Missouri. One of our producers found the locations for us which were perfect. Our Encino location where we were for 12 days became like a mini studio. And we used one camera.The Alexa Mini, 3.2k resolution, in pro rez 4444, and the Canon 5D Mark II.
The biggest challenge was filming during one of the hottest temperature times in the Los Angeles area. With all of the days at the 100+ degrees temps, cameras needed protecting, cast and crew needed to be closely watched for response to so many hours in the heat, and the need to stay hydrated was a huge focus for all.
Shannon Collis was simply mesmerizing in the movie. The entire ensemble did an amazing job, but she definitely stood out. How did you work with her and with the rest of the cast to achieve your directorial vision?
Melanie: We had a table read of the project. I knew Brooke Adams from years ago. We met in the 70's on the film CAR WASH and have been friends ever since. I cast Brooke in my first feature, The Babysitter's Club. Piper I of course was a huge fan of, for so many years and had met years ago. That was a real honor and thrill to work with her. I knew Emily Baldoni through her husband Justin Baldoni who I had directed on Jane the Virgin and always liked her and knew her to be a terrific actress. When the film got a green light I thought Emily would make an amazing Allison. She read for all of us and... well... we all agreed she was our Allison. Brett Dier I had also directed in JANE THE VIRGIN and just thought him one of the most versatile actors I'd ever worked with. I thought Brett would be fantastic as Zee, Louise's husband. Max Adler I had directed on a highly reviewed episode of SWITCHED AT BIRTH about campus dating and drinking. I was knocked out by his talent and had always wanted to work with him. Shannon Collis and Emily Goss had been brought to my attention by Jan Corran who had done her research on finding our Young Rose and Louise. They auditioned for us separately and then we did a chemistry read with both of them and said at the end, that's it. We're cast.
You manage to capture a strong sense of nostalgia, and it must have been difficult to achieve at times. What was the most challenging thing about creating this movie, and what were some of the considerations you had in mind when planning the time-transitions?
Melanie: The transitions back and forth in time itself is tricky and done differently in many films. We also had the challenge with the scenes in the past of when they were in time, as we were back in time, so we could move and track the relationship over the 6 years. I decided that just as I was going to out a title over each day of the weekend that I should also put a title of the season and year we were now watching. At first I used Rose looking at the photos to go back. But then Rose seeing something on the ground and as she looks down at night, we cut to day, to the ground, to a feather and a young woman's hand picking it up. And then we are in the past. We tried to find some natural and non gimmicky ways to go back and forth and then eventually trusted the audience knew the story was now living in two time periods and we could simply then just cut between the them.
Jan: Knowing that Rose had carried this all encompassing love of Louise for over fifty years was the catalyst for taking us back in time to be a voyeur as such to see why. What was it between them that could be so impactful that you just never could let go of that kind of a love. We had to see it and not just talk about it.
What was your favorite part of the process?
Melanie: I was hugely supported by Jan and Lee Anne to bring the story to the screen the way I saw it, with the people and actors I wanted. That support and belief in me is rare and has been so well appreciated.
Jan: There are many, but the moment I knew Melanie would direct my film was a memorable moment. Securing a director who understood my story and had shared passion for it was monumental.
What's your perspective on the need for gender parity in filmmaking? Many female filmmakers push for a female crew on their productions. Would you go the extra mile to find and hire a lady?
Melanie: I hired many of my friends who I knew would give me just what I wanted. I hired men and women, but mostly friends whose work I knew and respected. They included women and men. I would go the extra mile to hire a gal too, as people have always done that with me.
What is something you wish you knew before getting into the business? Do you have any advice for beginners?
Melanie: People had told me and I had read in so many books about how difficult the business of "show "really is. But I was quite lucky when I started to get a top manager in NYC after acting school and be able to get cast in movies right away. I worked in films all through my twenties... jobs seemed very easy to get. So I was lucky; very very lucky. Luck plays a huge part in having a career. I mean, you have to have talent, and you have to be fearless and fierce in your wanting to do it... and passionate in order to stay in it. My advice was always this, as it always is a hustle. Here I am after all these years and it's still a hustle for the next job. I have always said, if you can see yourself doing anything else, then do that. But if you can't see yourself doing anything else, if you cannot at all see yourself doing ANYTHING else, then do it. Because the life of an actor is hard, harsh at times, but also so incredibly rewarding.
Jan: I came to filmmaking in my forties and I didn’t live in Hollywood. So my experience is one of a commuter to sets and locations. Doing it this way gave me the years to have a frame of reference in regards to work ethics, the drive to succeed and the need for integrity to make those successes happen. Everyone who steps on a set for the first time, picks up the camera, composes the first score or writes that first script is a beginner. To me it is taking those moments to recognize that if you love the film business then you are on a great adventure that will elevate you to new heights and bring you at times to the point of chucking it all.
Melanie, as a mother of 20 y/o twins, how do you balance between career and family?
It is a big life I seem to have had the last twenty years, that's for sure. Raising the kids has been an experience I would never trade, and working as I have done acting and then directing has given me such validation and joy and a way to grow. Actually being a mom of a young man and woman and being an actor and director has given me such joy, challenges, and new experiences, I must say its' been a lot to juggle, and time has been precious, but it has fed me in a way I could never have ever imagined. All the roles I have played as an actor, as the director and captain of the ship, and as mom... have been all consuming and the most gratifying of experiences.
Would you like to share a bit about your upcoming projects?
Melanie: I am attached to a few more indie films that we are currently in the process of casting and finding the funds.
Jan: I am currently attached to a project as a producer. At the same time I have two scripts ready to go with one slated for 2019 to film.
Is there anything you wish to add?
Melanie: I am just so grateful to Jan and Leeanne for trusting me with their project. They have given my soul a much needed gift to be as supported as I was in bringing my vision of this beautiful and very special story to the screen.
Jan: Imagine sitting down and writing a script then 18 months later the incredible Piper Laurie is bringing my words to life, Melanie Mayron is directing, and audiences are loving SNAPSHOTS. See. Dreams can come true.
Snapshots - Trailer
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