Lauren Sowa’s April Series Installment Profiles the Director of the Award-Winning Feature Film Creedmoria
Alicia Slimmer is an award winning independent filmmaker whose debut feature film, Creedmoria, is being released in the spring 2018. The Hollywood Reporter said Creedmoria “boasts an exuberant comic vitality that keeps the viewer engaged and Dawson’s winning performance as the beleaguered heroine makes you root for her at every turn.” The movie won numerous awards, including the Jury Award for Best Feature Comedy at Cinequest, Audience Favorite at Brooklyn Film Festival and Best Director at the Manchester Film Festival, to name a few. The Village Voice calls it “a timeless lark: a rollicking, touching family yarn…Slimmer’s undying faith in these characters’ lovability gets under your skin and the movie stays warm and endearing throughout.” Slimmer is currently developing three TV shows and is a member of two prestigious groups of women filmmakers: NYWIFT and Film Fatales. Slimmer’s indie approach has been highlighted in The Wall Street Journal online, The Hollywood Reporter, Examiner.com, Crain’s and Indiewire, and countless blogs and podcasts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Clifton Leaf, Editor-in-Chief of Fortune, and their daughter.
Excited to chat with you after watching your beautiful film Creedmoria last year! Thanks for taking the time. You’ve said that Creedmoria is based on your experience growing up. Could you talk a little about that?
I wrote Creedmoria while pregnant for the first time and the thought of being a mother made me think a lot about my mother and growing up in Queens, outside the gates of Creedmoor Mental Hospital. Looking back on it now, I see the movie as a metaphor of how I needed to cut some ties, if you will, so that I could be the mother I wanted to be. I had to redefine the role for myself. And the movie is basically a coming-of-age story where Candy has to break free of the tie that binds her to her mother so that she can grow and figure out who she is and do it her way.
What has been your journey with Creedmoria over the last year?
The past year has been an amazing ride, traveling with my film all over the country and abroad to England. In fact, we took home some awards at the Manchester Film Festival and winning Best Director was incredibly special. I love producing and writing so much but making Creedmoria made me a director. Until then, I always thought about making this movie and doing what it takes, no matter how many years it takes, to make this movie. But I was most nervous about Directing because I knew that it would be the moment of truth. Producing, for me, is wrangling…it’s getting this location, hiring this crew member, finding the right GTO. Directing was scary. Being a writer/director, I was especially panicked that I would give an actor a line reading because I’ve been listening to the dialogue in my head for years and it sounded a certain way. It sounded perfect, to me, in fact. Luckily, I love actors and working with these incredible people made stepping into the role of director a joyous thing. My lead, Stef Dawson, just has a fierceness when it comes to the work and a generosity. She had set-chops and was constantly making sure that Boa (the DP) could see what he needed to see, when we were doing coverage. She was the first to ask to see dailies. She raised the bar on set and gave everyone permission to be heard, to talk and communicate, and the end result was that it became a very collaborative process. Rachel de Benedet, who plays the domineering mother, comes from Broadway and this was her first movie—but I tell you, Rachel was the easiest one to edit because she never lost her mark and was uber professional (plus, her talent is off the charts). And Ray Abruzzo was just the most generous actor to all the newbies on set, including myself. He encouraged me to get clean sound or to cover a part of the script I may have overlooked. He put everyone at ease and from the very first take I knew we were creating something special because I had managed to surround myself with the very best people. They are the best in their talent and who they are as people.
I remember you had to change your soundtrack—can you tell me a little more about that, and what is your advice for your fellow filmmakers regarding music?
Creedmoria is set in the 80s and everybody remembers John Hughes’s movies for the music of the Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds. My movie is probably closer in tone musically to Linklater’s Dazed and Confused because he used about the same number of big songs throughout. Creedmoria had a whopping thirteen big popular songs, from Cream, Traffic, Tears for Fears, Iggy Pop, The Cure, etc. An audience member from our very first festival took a picture of the closing credits and went home to create the Creedmoria playlist on Spotify. That was a proud moment for me because I’ve had this soundtrack in my head for years and now it’s on a big screen in a theater in San Jose and quickly became a playlist on this dude’s laptop. Amazing!
Listen, everyone cautioned me not to use popular music, warning that it would be too expensive and prohibitive. They weren’t wrong about the cost and all, but I knew from the start, a chunk of my budget would have to go to music. And once I found a badass licensing woman to help me out, she was psyched to do it. She said she had the most fun getting approvals for this soundtrack because she grew up listening to the same songs. And my sound editor, who I adore and will work with for life, was blown away that I got clearance on the songs I wanted. He still can’t believe it. So my advice to filmmakers regarding using popular songs in your movie is to do what it takes to make the movie you want. And just to be clear, the money I spent licensing these songs was for a two year festival run, not distribution. In order to have the same soundtrack for a theatrical release would cost upward of a million dollars. So I recently changed up the soundtrack for our release in May. And I’m stoked about this cut! I found the album, Shadows by New Division on Pandora a couple of years ago and fell in love with the retro vibe. I love every track and found myself getting really excited about laying it over Creedmoria. Last summer I found John, the singer/songwriter, on Facebook and messaged him. I think we spent a good hour on the phone talking music and movies, LA and pop culture. I loved talking to him so much and here we are, a few months later, with New Division as my soundtrack. It’s been interesting because it’s a different movie for sure, but I left myself open to the possibility that it could be a better movie with a more intimate soundscape. It feels more cohesive.
What is a lesson that you’ve taken away from this whole year, showing your film on the festival circuit?
I think I’ll be such a better director having the chance to watch so many movies, just being at the festival watching other people’s movies, and watching my own a million times. I think I see areas where I’ve shied away from conflict, which is like Screenwriting 101—you want to build conflict, not run away from it, and in movies you want to show it not tell it. I want to be braver moving forward and letting that stuff actually play out on screen. I’m excited to be better at running head on into the car crash, and with transitions. I’m always impressed by movies that do transitions really well, and a lot of it is for thought on the page. It’s a woman crying and then it sweeps to a sprinkler; just something that’s filmic and not literary. And I’ll try to be more gracious at the Q&As.
I love Q&As. It’s always interesting to hear the stories from behind the scenes. You feel like you are getting in on a secret.
Yeah, I think that’s why I became a writer. I always felt like no one wants to hear what I have to say, but I have something to say, so writing was the way to say it. But in those [Q&A] moments I’m not really a shy person either. I just feel like everyone just wants to go grab a beer because they’ve been stuck in this seat for ninety minutes, and they are done; they are hungry.
What is your advice for someone who wants to make her first feature?
I would say—just do it. Find the means to do it. Don’t let money stand in your way, or people, or casting. I had so many people tell me I couldn’t do it the way I was going to do it, with a skeletal crew. I knew I would never be able to get that huge budget, so I had to do it my own way. If you tell me “no,” I have a scrappy attitude. I’ll do it anyway. Some people aren’t built that way.
Do you have any advice for your fellow filmmakers?
Make your movie but have something else going on. Chances are you’ll be invited into a conversation with someone in the industry, invited into the room, and they always want to know what’s going on next. Too many people, especially women, they get in there and they’re so attached to their current project that they don’t have the next thing. Whereas men, they have their short at Sundance, and the next thing you know they’re on the list to direct something big because they’re already thinking about the next thing. And have fun! I kind of run my set like a dinner party. I have a rule that if the hostess is having fun, everyone’s having a great time. So, I always make sure I’m having the most fun at my own dinner party.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m working on a ton of projects and focusing on getting a manager to help me juggle them all. My latest labor of love is a limited TV series, set in the 15th century (so, I won’t need to be clearing Pat Benatar or The Marshall Tucker Band for that). Though music will play a huge role the way Dwadi’s score does in Game of Thrones. My new series is very close in tone and drama to Game of Thrones, which I love! I also have two comedy series in the works.
What are your biggest influences as a director?
Music is definitely my biggest influence and inspiration. There’s nothing better than coming across a new song or score that grips me and won’t let me go. I can obsessively play the same song over and over again until my teenager begs me to stop. When I get lost in a piece of music, my film brain opens and starts playing out scenes in my head and body. I’ve been dancing for over twenty years and a certain song can lift me away from my laptop until I’m dancing in my living room. It sounds quite hokey to write that, but the truth is I find a lot of my characters that way, through movement. Especially for the dark series I’m creating now.
What’s your favorite experience from the festival circuit?
We had a big Mazel Tov moment during the premiere of Creedmoria at Cinequest Film Festival. It was the very first time Creedmoria would be seen on a big screen and this screen, in particular, was mighty big. My whole cast was there and many of my crew, and for some of them, it was their first time seeing the movie. We all did the step-and-repeat, and I could feel the tension in the air; some of the cast was feeling nervous. I was just feeling excited, and as I waited in line for the theater to open, one of the young staff kids slipped out of the door to whisper to another staff kid that the ceiling just fell down. I looked behind me at the very long queue and had a Holy Sh*t moment. But then the producer came in me. Without boring you with the details, within five minutes the head of the Festival was at my side and she got a crew in there to clear the ceiling off the seats, make sure the ceiling was secure, cordon off an area, and get the show up and running. We had our premiere, and I consider that moment a lucky breaking of the glass.
The most moving moment happened last March, in Manchester, UK. After our screening, a teenager came up to me telling me that I made his favorite movie of all time and asking me for a copy. He said I captured his story on film. Words just can’t do that moment justice because I could tell he was very moved. He recently reached out to me on Facebook and asked how he could see it again. I’m so happy he has a chance now, seeing it will be out next month.
Creedmoria will be released May 18th on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. (Presale iTunes April 17)