In an exclusive interview, KingWolf speaks with Filmmaker Tess Harrison to talk about her about her latest drama film, "This Is a Film About My Mother".
What attracted you to create the movie "This Is a Film About My Mother"?
I knew I wanted to make a film with my brother about growing up and letting go of childhood. Then my mom got sick, she’s okay now, but it was the first time in my life I imagined my life without her. The loss of childhood I was exploring in the film, and the deep fear of losing her felt so closely related that it pushed the film towards grief.
Then covid happened and we were all scared that we’d never be able to make movies again! My creative producer and friend Stefanie Abel Horowitz and I were talking about what was possible during the pandemic and she suggested that this film could be just the two characters. The idea pushed the film towards it’s essence in a way I am so grateful for. The central relationship between Eve and Max is the heart of the film, so why not make that the entire film?
For my first feature, I wanted to make something distinct. I wanted to push myself as an actress and director to make a feminine, quietly transformative film.
What message do you hope audiences take away from "This Is a Film About My Mother"?
I hope audiences are reminded of the importance of patience. The pace of the film is slow, it draws you in and creeps up on your emotions. I want people to be reminded of the significance of their relationships. and remember they can lean on the people they love in hard times. And I want them, especially women, to remember that it is okay to just be sad and bad sometimes.
How did you approach casting for your "This Is a Film About My Mother"?
I act in the film opposite my real-life brother Will Harrison (Daisy Jones and the Six, Manhunt). We’ve worked together before with success. I think real-life siblings creates in inimitable tension on screen that adds a layer of meta-surrealism to the film that I love. The characters are decidedly not us, this is not our real dynamic or history. But we share a short hand as siblings and actors that is so exciting on set and in the edit.
Most of my films come from the idea that, I have access to this person or this location, what story could happen here? In the indie space I find it much for exciting to start from, this is what I have, then from, this is what I am trying to get. It gives you a bit more control as a filmmaker with little resources.
What do you look for in a script when deciding whether or not to direct a film?
I tend to look for a writer I resonate with. I find that no matter the scale of a project I want to hear the writer’s voice to come through. Writers are the beginning of all stories. WGA strong! Pay writers what they deserve!
I like to work with BIPOC and LGBTQIA folks as these stories deserve to be prioritized as we strive for parity in Hollywood. I love stories that create moments of incongruity. In film we can focus on all the moments that we might miss in real life and that is so exciting to me.
Can you describe a challenge you faced while making your film and how you overcame it?
One of the biggest challenges in making This Is A Film About My Mother was simply gathering the courage to do it. I am at the beginning of my career and I think myself, and other up and coming directors, can get stuck waiting for persimmon. It takes a lot of bravery to commit to making a feature film, to say this is the one I am going to make, with no money and no help. There is so much pressure on a directors “first feature” I was scared to even say, this is the movie I want to make. I was lucky to have a support system of friends and colleagues who championed the project in its nascent stages so that I could see it through to the end.
What was your favorite scene to film and why?
I think it’s a tie between the pizza scene and the spoon phone scene. Both shot on the back porch, I love a porch. It’s a space that isn’t quite inside or outside, it feels outside of time somehow. The pizza scene we shot two takes of, the light was fading and the storm was coming. The snow falling in the scene is 100% real-ass upstate NY nor’easter. I was SO excited we got weather. We woke up to three feet the next morning.
The spoon phone scene was challenging, it was scary to be in mourning in character, when in real life we were in fear of the unknown. We hardly rehearsed. I remember standing out front of the house smoking cigarettes while the crew was setting up and running lines. We couldn’t look at each other until the camera was rolling. We did two takes each and they were all as rich and nuanced as what you see in the final version. I loved pretending to talk to Mom on the spoon phone. We hear one side of phone calls all the time. There is a familiarity in the cadence of one side of a phone call. I was nervous that the scene wouldn’t work but I am so happy with how it came out.
What do you think sets "This Is a Film About My Mother" apart from other films in the same genre?
I think the scale and pace of This Is A Film About My Mother make it incredibly unique. It is short for a feature film, almost a long episode of TV. I call it a snack of a feature. Because it is a two-hander, the stakes hinge on the breath of each character. The intimacy and subtlety of the performances set the film apart from other, maybe more general, stories of grief and growing up.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmaker looking to make it in the industry?
You have a story to tell. Look around your every day and try and see it like a movie, suddenly you will see drama and stakes and locations and characters all around you. The industry can seem inaccessible but I encourage people to just begin. Write. Everything starts on the page. I’d also encourage people to ask for help! People like helping other people. It is not a sign of weakness or inexperience to say, hey I’d love to get a coffee and hear your perspective on the industry.
A practical bit of advice that changed everything for me, leave every meeting with at least two more meetings. People connect people and these connections create the community that is the film industry. Hearing, “it’s all about who you know” can sound like, if you don’t know the right people you are screwed, but I think it is more about creating relationships and fostering them to bring opportunities and support towards you.
What is next for you, any new projects in development?
I am in development on another feature, The French Movie. It is the story of Sasha, an American teenager studying abroad in the south of France in 2005 who finds herself in an uncanny position between her host mother and father. It is about sex, shame and culture. It is based on my own experiences.
I’m also writing a pilot about an artist whose parents unexpectedly move into her back-house, her father is a mail man and her mother thinks she will birth the next messiah. Needless to say it stresses her and her partner out.
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