WaH: How were you able to get such an amazing cast led by Kathleen Turner for your debut feature?
AR: I feel so blessed by the incredible cast! Our casting director, Ronnie Yeskel, got the script to Kathleen Turner’s agent. Kathleen showed interest in the lead role of Eileen Cleary, and was willing to have a phone meeting with me to discuss things. There were certain elements she felt still needed further development in order for her to agree to the project, so we ended the call with some excellent notes from her for us to work with. Then we immediately went into another rewrite. During the rewrite process we found out Kathleen was going to be in LA, and she agreed to have an in person meeting with me. Remember, this was before the rewrite was done, so it was wonderful Kathleen was so open to chatting with me. She and I discussed the script and how our team was integrating her notes. And we also chatted about directing etc. At that point she told me she would be willing to say yes if the rewrite was strong enough. It took 2 months of diligent work until we felt ready to send her the new rewrite. She luckily really liked the work we did and said yes to us if the project would work around her schedule of upcoming theater performances.
Once Kathleen was on board we focused on the roles of her characters children. Our producers worked with Jason Ritter in the past and we all agreed he would be a great choice for Eileen’s son. Jason happened to be available and enjoyed the script, so came on board. At the same time we were interested in Emily Deschanel for Eileen’s daughter. My producers swiftly got the script to her manager. Emily read the script and liked it. We then had an in-person meeting in which Emily and I discussed the project and her character at length. Luckily we were shooting during her hiatus from BONES so as the timing worked for her. She was also very interested to work with Kathleen, which was another contributing factor to her agreeing to the project. It turns out too, Emily and Jason are childhood friends, so the idea of playing brother and sister was also exciting to her.
Ronnie Yeskel and I did intensive casting sessions for the other roles. It was so fortunate for us that Ronnie had such long-term relationships with many agents and managers and had such an affinity for the project. With Kathleen Turner cast in the lead as well as having a solid, likeable script, many very talented and experienced actors showed up to audition.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
AR: There were many challenges in making this film! I think the biggest one was being on an indie budget and having to shoot in 19 days. There was only time to shoot what was on the page and sometimes barely time for that!! I definitely think having experienced actors made this possible.
WaH: There was a lot of women power on this film from the writers Paula Goldberg and Claire V. Reily to the producers Cora Olson and Jen Dubin. What was it like to work with so many women on this project? Do you think you got a shot at your directing debut because the writers and producers were also women?
AR: It was wonderful to work with so many women on the project. I actually optioned the script initially and brought on writer Paula Goldberg. We worked together with a wonderful script consultant Ruth Atkinson. Paula was amazing and worked tirelessly on many rewrites. Cora Olsen and Jennifer Dubin from Present Pictures produced the film. Connie Cummings executive produced the film with her company Certainty Films. I was looking to team up with hands-on creative producers who had the experience working on this level of independent film. Cora and Jen are extremely talented producers and were definitely very involved creatively from the moment they came on board the project from script rewrites right through editing and all aspects of post production. They are now overseeing the distribution team we are working with. I feel so fortunate to have worked with such a committed team of women.
WaH: What is your advice for other directors?
AR: My advice for aspiring directors would be to make your film! It is important to get the script right first though as any problems in the script phase will only be magnified when shooting and editing. I was fortunate enough a few years ago to be mentored by an A-list director. His biggest piece of advice was so very simple: “Collaborate with a writer and make your film”. This was the best advice ever as that is exactly what I proceeded to do. So that is what I would pass on. Whether a short or a feature, just get out and do it. You can read books and study of course. But until you actually get out there and do it, it is all theory. You will make mistakes along the way. Learn from them and constantly refine yourself as a filmmaker and a better human being.
WaH: What are you working on next?
AR: I am in the process of optioning a book I am interested and I am in talks with a writer about a project he is working on that I am very excited about. I also just found out last week I was accepted into the Disney ABC/DGA directing program, which is a program to shadow and be mentored by veteran directors in television with the goal of ultimately directing in that medium. It is a diversity program and women are still a minority in television directing.