Artist interview: filmmaker Bryn Woznicki
Bryn Woznicki is an indie filmmaker who is across it all. She directs, acts, produces, writes, and anything else you can throw at her. I caught up with Bryn to talk about her latest project, Her Side of the Bed, creating a safe set, #metoo, and all things filmmaking. [blog cover image by MJ Katz]
You’ve been doing this filmmaking stuff forever, right? Why? What keeps you going?
I knew I wanted to be a part of "the business" from a very young age. Growing up, my parents were kind of hands-off, so I spent a lot of time parked in front of a TV set. I was educated and affected profoundly by what I saw on screen, learning about life from the characters I saw, learning social mores, and how to break them. I just kind of naturally started creating. I'd write poems and short stories. I wrote a screenplay at age eight. I shot comedy sketches on my dad's camcorder at age ten. Much to the chagrin of my high school teachers, I'd beg them to let me turn in book reports in video form. Now that I've lived a lot of life, I have more stories to tell. I work in many mediums, but moving pictures is where I devote a good amount of my energy.
What keeps me going? I love to tell stories. I LOVE to make people laugh. Everyone wants to feel seen, feel important. When you're telling a story and you see a flicker of excitement in someone's eye, or you tell a joke and make someone bust a gut laughing... it's confirmation that you exist, that you're making a mark. There's also a certain catharsis that all artists get from creating work. It's channeling the whirlwind of emotions we all experience into something productive, something tangible. Filmmaking just feels right to me. It's not easy, far from it. It takes a ton of hard work, determination, and a thick skin; I'm always hustling and I've put myself out there only to be rejected countless times. But to see a set being erected based off of a sentence I wrote on on a piece of paper, to hear words from a script I wrote having life breathed into them, to watch dailies after a grueling day of shooting, to hear an audience laugh at just the right time while watching something I've directed: it's worth it. There's nothing I'd rather be doing.
You’ve written a very honest and transparent piece on the Bitch Flicks blog about the long road to premiering an indie film. I loved hearing about all the ups and downs and the space that lack of funding gave you. Can you tell us a bit more about how you and Chelsea Morgan moved from musical theatre classes in community college to tackle the roles of producers and writers?
I was taking film classes at Santa Monica College, and the community that was built by the film students was very inviting. They were so full of energy, everyone wanting to create, to work on new projects, seemingly getting high off this creativity and camaraderie. We were shooting indie and student films nearly every weekend. I'd finally reconnected with my love for filmmaking, which was something I'd lost sight of for a while because I was too scared to pursue it, and I didn't think it was practical (I still don't, to be fair).
Before attending SMC, although I'd pressed pause on filmmaking, I never stopped writing. I'd been working on scripts and had been doing some standup comedy. On set with the film students, my Boss Lady-ness came out; I'm diplomatic, and good at taking charge, so I kind of fell into the role of producer in the SMC film community.
In the musical theatre class where Chelsea and I met, it was clear from the get-go that Chelsea was a very gifted actor and was especially good at comedy, which is my lifeblood. We'd hang out and make each other laugh, we had a really good dynamic of "yes, and"ing each other's jokes.
I was directing and producing a web series called Love On-The-Line. The show's creator, Fiona Bates, and I brought Chelsea onto the cast, and her great comedic instincts made her a total scene stealer. I knew I wanted to work with her again, so I developed a pilot, Free Lunch, which starred both of us and our friend Stevi as a merry band of narcissists who think they're living the high life only to find out: there's no free lunch.
High off shooting the pilot, we wanted to shoot a feature. So, one summer, we just sat down and started writing. We were both excited about the project and were obsessed with getting the script done. The project eventually became Her Side of the Bed. With my indie producing experience, I decided diving in head-first was the way to go, and though that may not have been the smartest approach, I learned a hell of a lot more making that film than I did in my post-SMC film school studies. It was a long, arduous process through which I learned to become a much better filmmaker all around.
What else have you and Chelsea been working on together?
Nothing lately, we're mostly working on our solo stuff. She's doing her standup and shooting comedic shorts. I finished writing a pilot called Good Girls Don't with my writing partner, we're both really happy with it and we're trying to shop it around; if no one bites I'll probably shoot it, indie style, later in the year. I'm also currently collaborating on two feature scripts that I'm excited about.
Jim Jarmusch reportedly said “I never talk to actors as a group, only one at a time. I talk to them about being their characters, never, ever, about the meaning of the scene. I don't want the actors overladen with research, so they grow stale." When you’re both in front of and behind the camera how do you keep that pure intuitive focus on character and prevent yourself getting distracted by research and meaning?
Being on both sides of the camera at once is tough. When I'm wearing my director hat (beret?) and giving an actor adjustments, I encourage them to focus on emotion and intention. How is the character feeling in the scene? What are they going through? What are they thinking about vs. what they're actually saying? And perhaps more important: what do they want out of the other person in the scene?
When I'm directing myself, it's difficult not to get distracted by research and meaning, because as the director and writer, I've already thought of all the bigger picture "whats the purpose of this scene" shit in great detail. So I try to get out of my head and into the moment. I try to actively listen to the other people in the scene and genuinely react, rather than observe the scene from the outside looking in. It's hard to go from being the watcher to the watched, I'm still learning how to achieve that balance.
How do you create a set that supports other actors to have that focus on character too?
I find it really important that my actors feel taken care of. I want them, as human beings, to feel looked after and comfortable so that they can focus on their character. I've been on some volatile sets; on my sets, I value kindness, respect and open communication. I'll check in, make sure the actors aren't wanting for something. If they feel taken care of on a human level, then they don't need to worry about what's happening on set, they can focus on what's happening with their character in the scene. Of course, sometimes, we bring baggage to set. You didn't sleep well or you're fighting with your partner or you just don't feel like being here today. If the actor can't let go of those things to be present as their character in their scene, I encourage them to use it, to channel that energy they've brought to set and convert it into something that fuels their character.
Her Side of the Bed has been accepted into a number of great film festivals. What has the submission process been like for you? What sort of documents and assets do you need to get together to convince festivals that you’re the real deal?
The submission process was rough. We were rejected far more times than we were accepted. So at first, it was discouraging. After so many rejections you wonder if it's even going to happen at all. But that's the nature of this business. It only takes one "yes," but on the road there you encounter many, many "no's". But then we were accepted into one. Then another. So far, four. That was validating. One acceptance after all the rejections has you thinking, "ok, maybe this was a fluke". But after four, it brought me back to my original thought which is "no one film is for everyone. But Her Side of the Bed is a good film and the right audience will appreciate it."
In regards to the tool bag needed to get into a festival: a finished film is helpful. Some fests accept works in progress, but we weren't accepted into any fests we submitted our unfinished film to. We have some beautiful press photos, a solid trailer, some write-ups from various publications and a passionate, honest, vulnerable cover letter. And as I've said before in this interview, not just for festival submissions, but for this industry in general: you must have a thick skin. You just have to. You're going to get rejected. It's going to suck. You need to be able to feel those feelings, process them and let them go. You need the drive to persevere and a strong will. A good support system is helpful as well, for life in general, but someone (or several someones) with whom you can share your successes and failures, and someone to whom you can return the favor. Not a MUST as far as festival submission materials go, but it helps.
This story has a firmly female focus and when you were first telling me about it you said it more than passes the Bechdel test. This really seems to be a moment in filmmaking where women’s rights are being celebrated. Do you think the #metoo phenomenon and other manifestations of the movement are going to bring about lasting change for women in film?
I sure as hell hope so. There is strength in numbers, and because of the #metoo movement, now women have a real voice in Hollywood, maybe for the first time. But even still, the power in Hollywood is disproportionately skewed toward men. There are less women on screen, less diverse women, less speaking roles for women, and more sexualization of women on screen. So it's up to the people at the top of the food chain to recognize that this is what the people are calling for and to make a change as well. I think it will bring about a lasting change. I think it will happen slower than we'd like. I hope it's big. We're all part of it too. Your voice matters even if it feels small. We have to be the squeaky wheel. Squeak loud, squeak proud, don't stop. Squeak so that those in power cannot ignore us, and help enact the change that is so desperately needed.
To find finance for Her Side of the Bed you used Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. Did you have other funding sources and do you have tips for other filmmakers about building a supportive community for screen projects?
The film ended up being a much larger budget than first anticipated. We quickly learned that feature films are exponentially more expensive to produce than smaller projects. So I did the old "beg, borrow and steal" bit, but we still couldn't make budget. So I did what they said you should never do: I put my own money into it. Like, all of my money. Plus some I didn't have (put it on my Visa, please.) I guess that's what Kevin Smith did for Clerks, so maybe it wasn't the worst idea?
If you're crowdfunding, keep it interesting and fresh. I know a badass group of lady filmmakers producing a feature called Darkness in Tenement 45, if you want an example of a kickass campaign, check theirs out. They have well thought out "goals" to achieve, and have given contributors some really fun incentives to keep them interested, including the producer eating scorpions or the director getting a tattoo if they reach a certain goal.
Running a fundraising campaign and keeping fans interested via social media is a full-time job. It's great to have a team to help with it, or to hire someone who does it professionally.
And don't be afraid to ask for help, monetarily or otherwise. Ask more than once, someone might want to donate but they forgot and need a gentle reminder. Ask in different ways; maybe some people like to laugh, maybe some like their heartstrings pulled. Be thankful and grateful to those who contribute. Pay them special attention and make them feel seen. Support other people's projects, do unto them as you'd have done unto you.
Finally, where can people see Her Side of the Bed?
It's currently being distributed with Summer Hill Films. We just made our first foreign sale in Europe, and it will most likely be distributed in the US later this year. If you can't wait 'til then, we'll be screening in New York at NewFilmmakers NY on June 6 at the Anthology Film Archives in New York, on Second Ave and 2nd Street.