She got a taste for directing herself with the 2010 micro-budget two-hander "The Freebie," a real, sexy, funny and painful relationship comedy in which she co-starred with Dax Shepherd ("Parenthood") as her loving but randy husband.
"Mark was my ass-kicker," she admits. "I was convinced my phone was never going to ring again. 'Just make something on your own,' he told me. 'You can't say it's too hard.' He really was my champion in taking control. I drummed up the idea for 'The Freebie.' It felt simple and easy enough to attack on my own. It was less intimidating than a large story, it was really small, with a couple people."
The actress wrote a high-concept six-page outline about a long-married couple who decide to take one night off with someone else. "I had amazing time doing it," she says. "It was the biggest confidence booster. It's not rocket science to make a movie." Phase 4 picked up "The Freebie" out of Sundance. "It was so cheap to make," she says, "that it was one of those rare things where everyone who worked on it made money."
On her follow-up film "Black Rock," a realistic, believable and satisfying action thriller
that debuted at Sundance 2012, Aselton says she dug deeper with a larger-scale cast and crew and shooting days: "It was a larger adventure on all fronts." She came up with the basic idea of three women friends on their own in Maine, but Duplass wrote the first draft of the script during a 12-hour layover in L.A., complete with a juicy role that would allow his wife to show off her action chops. "I wanted to do something different as an actor," she says. "This was an ass-kicking kind of role I'd never been offered." Her series "The League" has yielded more comedy feelers. "I'm hoping to get different opportunities coming my way."
This time Aselton takes two girlfriends--she is joined by Kate Bosworth ("Superman Returns") and Lake Bell ("What Happens in Vegas")-- on a bonding vacation to a deserted island off the coast of Maine, where their isolated camping trip is interrupted by an encounter with three hunting ex-servicemen. Unfortunately, the women become their prey and must defend themselves in order to survive. "Things go really bad for them," says Aselton. "It's 'Deliverance' meets 'Thelma & Louise.' The story was so compelling to me. Once I had my girls I was ready to go. It happened so fast."
She raised $33,000 on Kickstarter toward the cost of the $40,000 Arri Alexa camera package, and shot the film in Mildridge, Maine, where she grew up, up the coast from Bar Harbor, in June. "It was freezing, truly uncomfortable, 43 degrees." She enjoyed picking camera angles, following all the character arcs from start to finish, and learning to put more trust in her collaborators, she says. "It was like a creative collective jumping off the cliff together."
While "The Freebie" was improvised and shaped during post-production in the editing room, "Black Rock" was fully scripted, prepped and shaped, she says, "so post was easier, it was clearer to see what the final film was."
"Look, if the opportunities are not being presented to me, I'm going to take the reins and do it," she says. "Brit Marling was not waiting for the phone to ring. The great roles are not there to be had. If you have an idea, do it."