CongestedCat Productions LLC and Millennial Renaissance Media bring you a FREE night of premieres. We'll be screening CongestedCat's two latest shorts and premiering the trailer for their 2nd feature About a Donkey, as well as a sneak peek at Millennial Renaissance Media's upcoming series "Boss Moves," including an episode focused on CongestedCat Founder Christina Raia
It was a great night! A rain storm led to a tiny turnout, but we still had 20 people in the room & got to enjoy our work together with a few new friends!
Now here's the About a Donkey trailer!
Logline: On a common girl's night, two adult women with burdening secrets can no longer keep them from each other.
Like most of my more recent projects, this script originated from a creative discussion between Christina Raia, Ryan Kramer, and myself. For a while now I've wanted to direct a short, mostly to improve my writing. I love to try new things, probably because I have a real fear of becoming stagnant in life. And I am obsessed with lesbian content as well as representation of adult women beyond the usual "husband left/cheated on her, then she xyz" narrative.
So, I knew I wanted it to be about two women with secrets. Does that sound vague to you? Because yes, yes it is. Which is probably one of the reasons it took me about five variations to get to the final script. At one point I had a revelation be that one of the women was Catwoman and the scene took place in an apartment in Gotham City. I was so excited about it until Christina pointed out that one needs to buy certain rights to use trademarked names and places... so, I started over. Not completely. But mostly.
Once the script was completed I figured I would take my time (this was mid-March) and SLOWLY build my cast and crew. But Christina (thankfully) had other plans. Her shoot for her upcoming short "The Gaze," got pushed back, which is why the week my script was in a finalized form she let me know "Great! I'm free May 12th, let's lock it down!"
And so we locked it down.
Since I did not study film and this was my first time directing I had a lot of questions. Because I have been on a couple of sets (mostly by CongestedCat) I thought I was prepared to do this. But once the date was set in iCal-stone my deficiencies became palpable. It was invaluable to me that Christina agreed to produce the short.
It was also Christina's idea to choose a DP who I could grow with. So, I was ecstatic when Kim Whiten, our IndieWorks videographer, agreed to come on board. We have been friends for a while and she assisted on the About a Donkey set, but this was her first time as a DP and it was a fantastic fit.
We alleviated some of the day-of stress by testing the lighting a few days prior to the shoot. I always had a vision of a very blue-pink look. I made a Pinterest page which helped me share the vision with others. I was very inspired by Janelle Monae's "Make Me Feel" video as well as the "San Junipero" episode from Black Mirror.
I had written this short with Katherine Wessling in mind. She was phenomenal on About a Donkey and I was hoping to work with someone that I knew and trusted. I was worried it would be incredibly short notice but thankfully, she was free, allowing me to determine half of the cast about a month out.
Finding Lina, the other half, turned out to be a little more difficult. We'd already seen how difficult it was to find women who are non-union and of a certain age while casting for About a Donkey. As I became pressed for time I had to loosen the age restrictions and luckily cast the talented Dana Scurlock, who also played a role in About a Donkey!
The three of us met up the Sunday before the shoot to go over any questions and do a reading to see if all the dialog felt natural. And once that was done, we were ready to go to production.
Having seen how Christina operates during production I was convinced I wasn't going to get any sleep the night prior to the shoot. Then I was reminded that the thing that gives me the most anxiety in life is the fear of not getting enough sleep. So, I slept.
Then, on May 12th, we did it. After some initial sound issues, we started shooting at 9 am. The full scene takes place on the couch, so blocking was easy. I honestly could not have wished for a smoother shoot.
We wrapped early(!), getting the tentative shots we had added. And we were still able to see daylight as we ripped down the garbage bags from the window.
It was an incredible experience. And it never would've happened without everyone involved.
I have to thank everyone mentioned above as well as Matt Gershowitz who agreed to be my Assistant Director. His input and ideas helped me pin down my vision. Also, huge thanks to past collaborators Erin Clayton and Adnan Malik, who helped make the look come to life. Thank you Chelsea Frati, who agreed to do set make-up and nailed it. And thank you Marlene Eric, Christina's mom, for catering.
I could not have wished for a more talented and kind cast and crew.
Last weekend was the Blackbird Film Festival, where "Enough" screened and was nominated for the Foreboding Film Award. I had never been part of this fest before but decided to submit because I had heard good things from filmmaker friends last year. It was about a 3.5 hour drive from the city, which presented an opportunity to spend some time with my mom (since she drives and I just like taking her to fests with me)!
The festival was really enjoyable. I love that tickets were free (a perk of being sponsored by a university) and in a beautiful venue with super-prepared interns from the college who were genuinely helpful and enthusiastic about the films & filmmakers. It's rare that I feel a festivals programming is completely solid, both in terms of production quality and story -- but I felt that here. I saw 65 out of 117 screened shorts. I did think some of the blocks (and films within those blocks) were too long, a couple hitting 2.5 hours; but overall the films were well selected and curated into thoughtful blocks with insightful Q&A's. And another benefit of being sponsored by and held at a university is that screenings were never really empty. Students and families of students came out, even if they didn't know anyone with a film in the festival. Opening night had about 80 people in attendance, and I think 45 was the average throughout most other blocks. Mine was the R-rated Foreboding block at 9pm Saturday night (really started at 9:30). The blocks began at 9am Saturday, so it was a long day for anyone who stuck around. Thankfully, many did. I did a headcount and we had just under 50 people in attendance. By the time the block ended, it was 11:30pm and people were clearly tired. So we, unfortunately, didn't get the nuanced and personalized Q&A I had seen other filmmakers get throughout the day, which was my only real disappointment of the festival. But we did get a moment on stage to each speak once about what inspired our film. And I found the audience, the next day, had some lovely things to say about how it resonated and what they thought of the ending (I won't spoil anything here). During the screening, I heard a gasp at the end and "woo" during the credits (I don't believe from someone I know). And a couple people told me "Enough" was their favorite from the block of 10, which was really nice and surprising to hear because all the films were intriguing and well done.
We stuck around for 2 more blocks Sunday morning before hitting the road in the afternoon. I couldn't stay for the awards ceremony but glad I got to stay for the bulk of the fest. I didn't end up winning anyway, but it would've been nice to meet more of the filmmakers and congratulate the winners. (I was actually rooting for another that I was disappointed didn't take home our category. It's titled "Childer;" definitely check it out at a horror fest near you, if you can!)
Other than the films themselves, it was also just a nice time in Cortland meeting and chatting with people. I not only got to spend time with my mom but also got to see a couple IndieWorks alumni who also made the trip from the City, including friend and frequent collaborator Jeanette Sears ("Night In" DP), whose sweet film "Happenstance" played. And I even got to have lunch with my cousin Shivanna, who goes to Ithaca just 20 minutes from Courtland. All in all, I had a great weekend and will definitely be submitting new work for next year. It's rare for me to find a festival in or near NY that I feel has integrity, is well run, and doesn't just program anything & everything to get butts in seats. Other than Queens World, this may be my other local(ish) go-to each year.