This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 158: Claire In Motion Writers / Directors Lisa Robinson And Annie J. Howell.
Ashley: Welcome to episode #158 of the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I’m Ashley Scott Meyers Screenwriter and blogger over at – www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today, I’m interviewing screenwriting and directing duo, Lisa Robinson, and Annie J. Howell. They just did a film called, “Emotion.” Which we talk though the years of their careers. And how they got this film produced. So, stay tuned for that.
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So, now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing screenwriters and directors, Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Lisa and Annie to, the “Selling Your Screenplay Podcast.” I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Lisa: Thanks for having us.
Annie: Thank you.
Ashley: So, to start out maybe you can give us a little overview of your background, where’d you grow-up? And how did you get interested in the entertainment business? Maybe Lisa, you can go first. And then Annie can follow up with her story.
Lisa: A, sure. I spent most of my younger years in California. I was really interested in photography, and in high school, and then I went to UC Berkley. And I ended up being a film studies major.
I had an opportunity to do some directing, and shooting while I was there, and fell in love with film. Fell in love with cameras as well. I thought 16mm was exciting. I loved the technical aspect of that as well. And then I worked in experimental film. And I really wanted to tell stories. And so, I went to MIU Film School. And from there I really booked and got into it. Merdith film making. And that’s where I started making short films and that met Annie, and you know the rest. And then went on from there.
Ashley: Perfect, perfect. Annie, maybe you can give us a similar cut from that background story?
Annie: Yeah sure. I am a Phoenix Arizona native. We’re both from the west. Although we both live in New York now. But I did not really find film until after my undergraduate work. I studied English Literature, and studio art as a student up at Whitman College in Washington State. And then I moved to New York. Kind of looking for an art form to explore. I had to look to the theater in Seattle for several years and really loved it. But, also I knew it wasn’t quite the right ft for me. When I moved to New York, I just started to see all these people making drawings on the street. In the street, it was like, what is going on here? How could this be so public. This art making, it seemed intriguing to me. Because in New York, taking some grad classes. Different program, sort of on a whim, but not really a whim. But, decided to apply to film school. And started really watching movies these things in my 20’s. And so, ended up in grad-school at NYU. And just like he sent me a series of shorts. We of course found each other. We were friends and made movies together. And then that lead to the two features that we made this most recent being “Claire in Motion.”
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So, let’s just get a little bit of sort of connect the dots on that IMDb page. There’s a short film called, “Breaker.” Was that something you guys did in film school? Or was that after film school?
Lisa: I think that was my short film that I made. And you know, we both made several short films with him. And that was one of the ones I made.
Ashley: I see.
Lisa: And so, yeah. And you know what? We were even in different grade levels, I guess you could say in the graduate program. So, we knew each other. And then it was only after film school. That we started hanging out. We were both working on getting art, and individual features made. And sort of playing the waiting game. And waiting for cash to complete, waiting for funds, waiting to complete. And so, that’s where we’ve gone from fire. We are doing something right now, let’s make something together. And pull out resources and do it right now. And so that’s how we made the web series “Ark.” And that’s the series that sort of I started collaboration. And inspired us to do a feature film on small moving parts. That we also made together. And since that was there trajectory between grad school and our future.
Ashley: Okay, and can you just talk about for a minute the logistics of getting those off the ground. Were they fully self-funded, did you go out and raise money. How did you kind of get the resources together to make those films and the web series and then the film.
Lisa: Exact, we solved it. So we green light these films basically. So, when we did the web series. It was, okay, help me through here. It was a while ago. Oh, I’m sorry, two thousand and something? Early two thousand, yeah, two thousand. I’m going to say 2014-15. There weren’t that many web series being created yet. And that was an intriguing, I was a pretty, you know, relatively easy piece with the resources we already had.
Annie: But we made it.
Lisa: I know. Very much to secure us in that after. And then, I think from there we saw that we could as the technology had been changing over the years. If we could really get a lot done with a small amount of people. So, our first film was shot was a DSLR had just been released. And that was sort of a new thing on the scene as well. We were a very small crew, for a small film for the most part being released. Partly for the fit, and for one vehicle we kind of laughed that, you know, it was a road movie. We really experienced the road. And we would pick-up crew and actors on the different stuff in the story. But then was piled back into the van and then kind of laughed because we knew it would be stand to one vehicle for us to make the film. So, it was really achievable kind of venture that was written for locations that we already knew. And having the confidence of how you make a web series. It was just the two of us. So, it was like, oh, we can do this. You just sort of expand slightly. And make something we can actually see how we can achieve that.
Ashley: I see, I see. And then just take us quickly through, so you have,
“Small, Beautiful Moving Part.” And then take us through how that would ultimately lead to “Claire in Motion.” Just in term of more of the logistics you get it as some film festivals. Did you have help getting an agent? Did he help you raise money for “Claire in Motion?” Just take us through maybe that sort of part of it?
Lisa: Sure, yes, “Small Moving Parts” first appeared at South By Southwest, and we had to literally roll on and win a film award, at the film festival. And some others as well. And we actually had a release set-up, which was amazing. You know, since it was such a small film to begin with. And so, it was released by film as meant. And so, you know, let’s see, we felt pretty good about that. And we were able to pick-up our next project. And so, “Claire in Motion” or something? That we started writing. While Annie was living in Ohio. Because she was in Ohio for a couple of years, in Akron Ohio. And so, while she was there we were writing it. I was here in New York, she was in Ohio. And we were sort of getting ourselves about the writing later. But in terms of logistics. We had some award money from our first film, obviously. And we pulled that with some grants to sort of get us going. And then we had a bunch of investors come in and help us, you know, make the film. And you know, many times lucky grants we tried to do the film. And so that all kinda came together. And again, it was a smaller sum, not as small obviously. And we were, for again, we were our resources in terms of shooting in a small town. We weren’t all present, and we did everything we could to make this come together. And yes, so we did that, and made a couple of bucks off of.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. So let’s dig into, I’m sorry go ahead.
Lisa: I just wanted our chances, just not sure I answered the question?
Ashley: Sure, sure. So, let’s dig into “Claire in Motion” maybe just to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a log-line for that film.
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the story of a small town college professor. She’s a math professor who, sort of think she knows. It’s the kind of character, she has a strong sense of who she is, and her work, and relationships. And that’s all completely turned upside down when her husband, who is also a professor. Goes on one of these survivalist hikes that he’s been training for. And just never comes back. So, at that point she starts to discover somethings about him that she didn’t know. And that kind of throws her into a state of questioning almost everything. Including her own identity. It’s sort of a psychological kind of twist on a Carson thriller.
Ashley: Perfect, now where did the story come from? What was sort of the genesis of the idea?
Lisa: A, really we bounced around a lot of ideas. We wanted to tell a story about identity. We were interested in telling a story about a woman who, was established, you know, in here career. In here late 30’s early 40’s. Kind of established in her life. And he wanted to, you know, see how she does with some kind of loss that throws her into a new state, you know. And the both the good, she plays a kind of interestingly. And so, you know, great at telling stories. And Annie, she was in Akron Ohio. To take some pictures of the town. And we were, there were some early photos that were inspiring. Where you know, coming from New York, I was looking at these pictures from a different perspective too. So, between both our dreams we started to build this picture. This kind of a dreamscape of what Akron Ohio really is. Kind of a Gothic tense to it. And looking at a small college town. You know, this part of the world. You know hasn’t been filmed that much, in particularly not in this way. Looking at the town and seeing, you know, like this fertile ground for a story. And so, that’s where the idea we came up with. Make her a professor in this town. Let’s make this having them live there. And then thinking about what kind of event, you know, would really sort of challenge her. Her sort of sick idea of what her life was, you know. And this was. Of course our two stories about what happens, you know people do change one way or the other. And you know, the people they leave behind. You know, they’re stories through interesting to us. The kind of certainty about creates you know, you can leave some guidance. It’s a kind of slow cooked story, over a period of time. And a lot of it came from, you know, Annie’s real life from ground, from walking around the town. Meeting the people, thinking about what is to live there. And then also Mike the professor looking in on that. And seeing it from other ways, you know. That was how it evolved.
Ashley: Yeah. So, let’s, you just said you were brainstorming ideas. I always like to sort of just get a sense of the scope of what of something like that looks like. How many ideas did you guys come up with before you landed on this idea you really wanted to flesh out. Was it a hundred ideas, a dozen ideas, what was it? A rough idea of how many rough ideas were discarded along the way?
Lisa: Oh, I would say like six months-worth. No, I mean, again this is on slow cook. We had been talking about doing a science fiction film for quite a while. And we sort of between moved away from that. In service, I think probably be more inspired by the landscape, and what that could give. It’s kind of this evidence of just kind of dream scaped this. But had a really good spit for this slow burn thriller.
And you know, there was this, some parts of this creation that you know concedes with us. Because there was always this professor involved. There was this element of small town. Because we obviously knew we were going to shoot there. For the genre kind of shift a little bit in this particular development process. With some hang-overs coming into this through the original ideas. That made their way into something difference. But there was kind of an interesting process to see it through height more last. But some of the scenes really hanged on. This sort of, what does it mean to be at a certain point in life. This was a more relatable stuff obviously. Because we don’t have an experience with you know, a die air of that. Such as a tragedy of going and losing someone in your life. But we did, working through a lot of our identity kind of after you hit a certain point in your career. Or your relationship, then your in those relationships for a really, really long time. And that situation is very interesting to us. Because you don’t see a lot of that on the screen in movies that make it to your local park house or theater. So, some of those ideas were always with us. But, that idea about one cost of really did cycle through genre a little bit. And definitely character. And then I think ultimately, desire. Mostly by a creation by our own hand and feelings about topics that are really intriguing.
Ashley: Yeah, yeah. So, let’s talk about your writing process a little bit. It sounds like you guys spent a lot of time just sort of mulling over the idea over. But, once you start actually, you know, you got to an idea. Do you guys then start outlining? And then, how much time do you spend outlining, versus, actually opening up Final Draft and writing the script.
Lisa: That’s a good question? You know it, I think it varies on the project. But, in this one, you know, we did spend a lot of time collecting ideas, and trying to get the main plot, figure it out. As a guide we had a strong sense of being. And yes, we did we, I just did with Annie. We got some opinions, some location scouting, also some you know, a lot of days in the room. With a lot of index cards I brought, on walls. We dinked around and see and figuring it out, you know, where we are going to begin and end. What we want to happen. I would say that’s just so, a couple of months, just figuring out whether we wanted to figure that out. I think that’s really, important where we’re co-writing and we’re ready to have that sense of, you know, some sense of strong’ish chances of where you’re going, even though that might change. And make sure they hear something creative, and that they know, are you really communicating. And then, once we start to write, we kind of traffic chain, so we go back and forth a lot. Like we’ll, like we won’t sit in the same room. Obviously we couldn’t get used to at that point in time. We, even before that, pop off, one of us writes that on that page. Junk, and then, I do the back story together. I guess that’s a little writing, and we form the chain. Neighbor and then continue the little, yes, over the top in keeping back and forth, at that point. And there’s improvements at first, I’m sorry. Our first script was written like, in a couple of months. You know, so, it’s really interesting to have these two projects have different gestation periods each. And I don’t know, just reminded me how much. As we put this really on it’s own, same thing
Ashley: Are there any particular tools you guys use, collaboration tools? I know a lot of the screenwriters using software are starting to do, get into the cloud. So that two people can work on it at the same project at the same time. How do you guys actually handle the logistics of sharing the work back and forth? Is it just little ways, just Emailing Final Draft files back and forth.
Lisa: Yeah, we’re pretty old fashioned. I mean, this is all pretty much Emails back and forth. We don’t really do any live co-writing. So, it was pretty traditional that way. But, then
in between the writing, the questions. It was like you know, thousands of text. We exchange about thinking out loud really. And that’s what’s fun about co-writing and co-directing. And sometimes the conversations make sure you’re having them with yourself, instead of a
co-situation. You’re kind of, you know, what you’re putting down to somebody else. To kind of just hear what they have to say about your immediate thoughts. Or your concerns, or your ideas.
Ashley: Yeah. And how do you guys handle differences of opinion? And I’m sure at some points. There’s some maybe different ideas. Maybe bump into each other. How do you guys handle those sorts of situations.
Lisa: I mean, it’s just sort of goes along with relationships. I feel like we have a lot back story with each other. Sometimes our opinions, so I think we would say, “Listen” and push back. I mean, we push back and forth, and I feel like that old we find some things more interesting. And it’s also good to have to defend ideas too sometimes. You know when you’re by yourself, you don’t have to do that. And I think that, that can be useful. Because, how can you discover something else in that process. Or, you know, you are convincing. And that’s good too, because like you know, I think that kind of process is pretty fruitful. I think that when we agree, we just keep working, like we just kinda keep working, and just keep pushing towards something. It’s kinda like an archaeological dig at times. Trying to find that like, the best story there. And then within like a year. And then it has to be a story that works. They’re both really interesting. And so, that’s a kind of given at the start. You know, so it’s interesting, that guides us in a way. Like this is a start, we both have to be really into. So they would price it, one of us is pushing the other. Put into it, we kinda keep shaping it, you know, and find it. And I think it’s really pretty interesting in outlining.
Ashley: How do you guys know when that draft is ready to start showing to other people? And then, what is your sort of feedback look like? Do you have a few trusted friends. Do you get feedback from, and then go back and do a re-write? How do you guys handle that?
Lisa: That’s pretty much how it works, you know. We just sort of in synch. till we arrive. No hard scientific formula for the draft that we thought was ready. And complete cause is for friends, part 2 invest and continue writing as well. We take a look, and I remember. Yeah, we had pretty significant rewrites on after that first time out. And then, you know, eventually of course, it was, we ran out of time. Not because that was like, they were going to shut us off. But, we felt pretty good about the script. So, we could finally tell together this time in a really nice way. Because we had, unlike the projects that are a little bigger, we are determining the schedule. We are really determining everything. And we’re both professionals, there was a period of time we both had pre, and you know, that month is approaching. And the time is getting ready to get a Casting Director. Because it’s about that time, eventually. So, when we arrive.
Ashley: So, how can people see, “Claire in Motion?” Do you guys know the release schedule?
Lisa: How can people see it?
Ashley: Yep, yep. Do you guys know the release schedule for it?
Lisa: Yes. A January 13th 2017.
Ashley: Okay. It’s going to be in Pennsylvania, these are Moore and in Ellington New York. And, this is not all the information, but it’s also in Philadelphia, New England, let’s see, Philadelphia. There’s more on the website – www.claireinmotion.com. The theaters will be up there. You know, there’s also coming out right now for the holidays. We are a premium DOD selection. So, the distributor will be the last, we’ll have a day and date as well. So, also on the 13th of January, it should be ON DEMAND. And hopefully on Streetscreens later on in the spring.
Ashley: Okay, perfect, perfect. I will get the website and I will put it in the show notes so we have that and people can just click over to that. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you are doing? Are you guys on Twitter, Facebook, InstaGram, do you have a blog? Anything you’re comfortable sharing. I will also put that in the show notes. And people can kind of keep up with you and what you’re doing.
Lisa: I think Facebook is our most active social media. And at this point, we are on Twitter, @Claireinmotion as well. But we are really most active on Facebook. So we see lots of people there. And executive @Claireinmotion.
Ashley: Okay, perfect. So, guys I really wish you luck with the film. And I really appreciate you coming on and talking with me today.
Lisa: Well Ashley, thank you so much.
Ashley: Thank you, talk to ya later.
Ashley: I just want to mention two things I am doing at “Selling Your Screenplay” to help screenwriters find producers that are looking for new material.
First I’ve created a monthly newsletter that will be sent directly to producers. Every member of SYS Select can submit one log-line per newsletter, per month. I went and Emailed my large database of Industry contacts and asked them if they would like to receive this newsletter of monthly pitches. So far I have well over 350 producers who have signed-up to receive it. These producers are hungry for new material and are happy to read scripts from new writers.
So, if you would like to participate in this pitch newsletter and get your script into the hands of lots of producers. Sign-up at – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com, that’s – www.sellingyourscreenplayselect.com.
And secondly I’ve contacted one of the premier paid screenwriting leads sites. So I can syndicate their leads onto SYS Select members. There are lots of great paid leads coming in each week from our partner. Recently I’ve been getting about ten to twelve high quality paid screenwriting leads per week. These are producers and production companies who are actively looking to buy material. Or are looking to hire a screenwriter for a specific project. If you
sign-up for SYS Select you’ll get these leads Emailed to you directly several times per week. These leads run the gambit from production companies looking for a specific type of spec. script. To producers looking to hire a screenwriter to write up one of their ideas. Producers are looking for shorts, features, TV and web series pilots, it’s a huge aray of different types of projects that these producers are looking for. And these leads are exclusive to our partner and
So, just to wrap things up, I just want to touch on a few things from today’s interview with Lisa and Annie. I think this is another great example of some folks who just went out and made their own breaks. Really listen to what they got to say, about their first film. It was just them and Annie driving around and shooting the film on a super-low budget. They didn’t have a large crew. They didn’t have tons of actors. Literally, everybody could fit in, in one car. If you’re not getting any traction with your writing. I think there is really no excuse to go out and try something like this. Camera equipment, is so cheap these days. If you’re listening to this Podcast, you probably have everything you need to make the movie. Between your computer your IPhone, maybe a small digital camera. They’re talking about these DSLR cameras. Those have come down in price. So, you can get some really high quality footage from these DSLR cameras now that are really very, very, inexpensive. Well less than $1000.00. Can buy you a nice digital camera. But again, even if that’s beyond your means at this point. You know, your IPhone or something like that on your phone doing something like that. Just with whatever assets you have. Getting something done. I’ve talked about this numerous times before on the Podcast. If you have absolutely no production experience. You should probably start with a short film. Just make it two or three-minutes short film. Starting out saying, I’m going to make a 90-minute feature. That might be a little much for someone without any production experience. But, if you start to do short films. A two, a three-minute short film? Over the course of a year. If you do
3 or 4 of them. These, you’ll start to build-up, you’ll start to understand sort of what it takes to produce a film from beginning to end. And again, a 2 or 3-minute short film. You really should not be out of the reach of anyone, or anybody who’s listening to this Podcast. So again, if you’re finding you know, you’re not quite getting the traction you want with your writing. Despite it’d be a great chance to take a step back. Listen to their story, listen to what Lisa and Annie had to say and it’s now starting to snowball for them. And their careers are growing. Now, their movies are, their next movie has gotten better, Claire in Motion is a bigger budget than their first one. And that’s just how things grow. When it’s this sort of organic process. You don’t really listen to Lisa and Annie and say, “Oh, they got really lucky.” Or that they did this, that, or the other. Just this other thing, it’s this one thing that you know, turned everything around. It was just a slow gradual process of them getting better as film makers. As slow going up the food chain. And again, it’s within everybody’s means, is the lesson to this Podcast.
Anyway, that’s the show, thank you for listening.