The trilogy concludes: Part III of interview w/Hillary J. Walker, filmmaker

Hillary J. Walker. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Finishing up this week, here is the final installment of a three-part interview with the multi-hyphenate Hillary J. Walker — director-writer-star of ACTION!!!.  Walker’s film is a mockumentary of the “real” behind the scenes happenings on a big-budget Hollywood picture.

Hillary J. Walker tweets @Hillary_J and blogs at Altering Reality: The 2010 Project.  Click on any of the ACTION!!! links below to visit her film’s website.

Q: What are your goals as a filmmaker in terms of other topics, genres, etc.?

A: The next two films I want to make are both comedies that I’ve already written and that I mention as if I’ve already made them in ACTION!!!Happy Acres and 101 Ways to Kill Your Boss. And of course, I want to make the film that ACTION!!! is based on MLM, which I haven’t finished writing yet, but it’s all in my head, so maybe this summer I’ll finally plunk it all down!  I do like to pepper my films with messages. I feel that there are a couple in ACTION!!! And Happy Acres is actually rife with them, but I think people are more apt to enjoy a message if they are laughing at the time they hear it.

A couple years ago I was able to do something very cool with the improv troupe that I’d love to do again.  We went around to area schools and did a substance abuse prevention show using improv comedy. We didn’t create scenes about controlled substances, rather we let the limitations the actors faced in the scenes serve as metaphors for the limitations controlled substances subject us to.  The kids loved it.  Yeah, they were learning and being taught to respect their bodies, but they were laughing and interacting the whole time.

I want my movies to do that.  Sure, I might make some more serious films eventually, but as a cancer survivor I can honestly say laughter IS the best medicine.  It’s what got me through nine grueling months of chemo and a very painful surgery.  It’s what keeps me going even now.  So maybe some people see comedy as frivolous or pointless or a waste.  I don’t.  I see it as a highly challenging and infinitely rewarding way of story-telling that has the astounding power of making people feel good.

The other genre I know I have to eventually tackle is the MUSICAL! As I’ve mentioned a couple times, I really love singing.  According to my mom and grandma I could actually sing before I could talk.  And my first experiences as a performer all involved music.  I have a few ideas for musical films as well as stage musicals.  I’m just hoping to find the right collaborative partners to make it all come together.  Dang!  I’m going to be busy for the next 20 years or so!

Hillary J. Walker (second from left) at the Broad Humor Festival in Venice, CA, with fellow winners. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

“[My mother] has told me my whole life that I can be whatever I wanted to be.”

Q: What people (filmmakers or otherwise) have influenced you as a filmmaker?

A: Other influences… let’s see… well picking back up with the musical thing — Stephen Sondheim — another great master of both language and intricate ensemble story telling.  He was one of my earliest influences in writing actually.  I did my Senior English Thesis on his work.

My family has been amazingly supportive.  Not many mothers would encourage their 30-something daughters to just go full tilt following their dreams without a good financial contingency plan in place.  It’s kind of embarrassing, but my mother has been serving as my financial contingency plan ever since my separation from the military.  I do get some disability pay but it’s not remotely enough to live off of.  But instead of insisting I get a real job right now, my mom just offers to help whenever I need it.  Luckily, she is also an investor in the film, so she stands to make some decent money once we get distribution!  She grew up during the women’s movement and has told me my whole life that I can be whatever I wanted to be.  I know my grandpa was hoping that “whatever I wanted to be” would be a doctor or a lawyer, but hey, some of us look better under dramatic lighting!

My baby brother, who is a staff sergeant in the Army back from his third tour in Iraq has also been very supportive.  He and his awesome wife also invested in the company to help us get the movie made.

Another huge influence was Shelly Thompson, my high school Performing Arts (and German) teacher.  She really encouraged me but always made me accountable for my screw-ups.  She helped me to learn to take responsibility for myself and my actions and gave me countless opportunities to grow and express myself as a performer.  And then there was the multitude of people who didn’t believe in me.  I’m a little bit feisty, so the naysayers definitely pushed me forward — whether they meant to or not!

Hillary J. Walker on the green carpet at Dances With Films with Adam Richardson, Executive Producer of ACTION!!! and also cast member. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: What advice might you give to women, specifically, who aspire to work in film or who are set to debut as a filmmaker?

A: Well first and foremost for all filmmakers, if you don’t believe in yourself nobody else will.  But it always helps to know what you’re doing.  Get some professional set experience even if it means working as a PA or a grip or a stand-in for a few months.  See how the “big boys” do it and learn from the successes and mistakes of others.

Also, I’m a firm believer in “The Secret” aka “The Law of Attraction” aka “good old fashioned faith.”  Your beliefs truly do create your experience.  Not your desires.   Not your hopes.  YOUR BELIEFS.  If you think it will be hard, it will be hard.  If you think you’ll meet the perfect people and everything will fall into place, guess what?  That will happen, too. If you’re afraid you’re going to screw up and lose everything, stop what you’re doing until that fear is gone. (I really wish I could convince some of my friends of that one.)  But you need to learn to be honest with yourself. I’ve known too many people who qualify their statements with things like, “I know what I’m doing, but nobody else believes in me.”  Nope, not good enough.  Buts are great in a nice pair of jeans, but leave them out of your belief system.  Just say “I know what I’m doing.”  And believe it!   But don’t forget to see it all the way through to the end.  NO ONE will be more committed to your project than you are.  EVER.  If you lose interest, how do you expect anyone else to really care?  I think a lot of us are creative and we have great ideas, and we think, “well, I’m creative, I’m an idea person. It’s up to someone else to take care of the details.”  Okay, that can work, as long as you assemble a competent team of individuals and delegate each detail in detail.  This is why billions of people have ideas, millions of scripts are started thousands of movies are shot and only hundreds are ever seen.  Sure it’s art, but Susan diRende [@BroadHumor] reminded all the Broads that it’s also a business. And the truth is, without the business skills to market your art, no one will ever see it.

To women specifically…

Learn the difference between story and back story, (my journalism training really helped me with that) and the difference between making artistic choices and wasting time on screen (again, journalism really keeps me on point with story telling.) Truly listen to suggestions and different opinions WITHOUT getting defensive (still working on that one.) If you do manage to assemble a fantastic, experienced team, for goodness sake listen to them, especially when they’re advising you about their area of expertise. Part of being a good leader is being able to alter course when it’s in the best interest of the project as a whole. It doesn’t negate your power — it amplifies it and empowers your crew to do their best work.

Living the dream. Hillary J. Walker in Hollywood (2010). Photo courtesy of James Bok.

“Filmmaking should be like sex — if it’s not fun, you’re definitely doing it wrong!”

I think women are still to some degree socially programmed to feel threatened by people questioning their choices. This is perhaps our biggest stumbling block as a gender in leadership positions.  People question men, too.  The difference often comes in how we handle being questioned.  Listen objectively, weigh the options and proceed with the best course of action.  It might be yours or it might be theirs — the important thing is they are consulting you.  If someone is constantly consulting you, make sure they’re doing it “off-line” and not in front of the rest of the crew.  If they try that crap, make sure you have another “heavy” on your side around to deal with it until you can take care of it yourself.

Again, socially, women are more apt to respond emotionally in stressful situations. But in our society, a display of raw emotion by someone in power is frequently perceived as weakness.  Building a “character” to get you through the stressful parts — a role or persona you can play — can help shield you from feeling of personally being attacked if you find you are extra sensitive to criticism.

No matter what genre you choose, learn to laugh at yourself and your art.  Don’t take this so seriously that you forget to enjoy yourself in the process.  Filmmaking should be like sex — if it’s not fun, you’re definitely doing it wrong!

And for the love of all that’s holy, DON’T MAKE EXCUSES.  So it’s your first film.  So you’re a chick.  So you’re not invited in the “boy’s club.”  So what?  Make your own club!  And when the boys see how much fun you’re having they’ll want to come hang out in yours.  Being a woman is only a stumbling block when WE make it one. Sure, there are some men in power out there who won’t take you seriously.  So work with the ones that DO.  Or better yet – distract the good ol’ boys with your cleavage while you’re kicking their butts at the Oscars — The Hurt Locker anyone? (Not saying Kathryn Bigelow shows much cleavage, but she could if she wanted to!)  Right now is an amazing time to be a woman in film and television.  We have Tina Fey, Kathryn Bigelow, Oprah Winfrey, Betty White etc…. We’re still enough of a minority in the business that we can get press, recognition and funding that isn’t available to men, but attitudes are changing, doors are opening and 20 years from now all that special consideration that we’re getting won’t be available to our daughters because they won’t need it.  But just like us, they’ll be able to do anything they want to!

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Many thanks once again to Hillary J. Walker for her willingness to be interviewed about her work and her life.

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Part II of interview w/Hillary J. Walker, filmmaker

Filmmaker Hillary J. Walker (writer, director, star of the mockumentary feature ACTION!!!) joins Her Film again to discuss her background in comedy, influences, living & working as a filmmaker, and how to sell a film.

Hillary J. Walker on the set of ACTION!!! Photo courtesy of James Bok

Q: I read that you are involved in an improv comedy troup in Florida (blame google). Did that play a role in your preparation for “Action!”?

A: ABSOLUTELY! ACTION!!! needed actors who could improvise. In fact, I had a few people try to talk me into waiting to shoot until we could get more name talent for a few of the roles and my biggest concern was casting actors unseen, not knowing how their improv skills might compare. In the end, I decided to stay on schedule and go with the actors I had available. As I mentioned, I felt very confident about the people who I cast because I’d already worked with many of them on stage in improv and in film work. I went into ACTION!!! KNOWING I had the right people in the right roles and that’s what made the whole thing work.

Q: You’ve now tackled what some see as a difficult genre to get right — comedy (esp. the mockumentary). Not easy to do! I’m a huge Christopher Guest fan myself. What or who are your comedic influences within film specifically?

A: Well, obviously, Christopher Guest [The A.V. Club] was a HUGE influence for this film in particular.  In fact, less than a week before we began shooting Adam and I were able to attend a Spinal Tap Unplugged concert in Orlando and it was maybe the last little shot of self-confidence I needed to get through the project. All my life people have been telling me I should choose.  Do I want to direct OR write OR act OR produce OR sing OR write music (yep,  I do that too!) and there I was watching three guys who did it all, did it well and had used all their talents to create memorable characters on film and successful careers.  That concert really made me feel validated in a strange way.  Other influences have been Robert Altman [TSPDT] (Short Cuts, Ready to Wear) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill).  I really fell in love with ensemble films, intertwined short film anthologies, non-linear storytelling and ultra dark comedy. My favorite films are definitely character-driven, probably because I’m an actress and I’ve always seen great performances as what makes a movie memorable.

But I have to admit that since starting Random Acts, one of my biggest comedic influences are my troupe-mates.  They challenge me to laugh at everything that comes my way and see comedy from different angles and different points of view.  I’ve learned so much by working with them.

Q: What were the most formidable challenges you encountered on this film & how did you overcome them?

A: As a first-time filmmaker, a female filmmaker and a relatively youngish filmmaker trying to do something no one had ever done before I got a lot of opinions thrown my way.  A lot of “you can’ts” and “you shouldn’ts” and “what the hell are you thinkings.”  Fortunately for me, the cast had perfect and complete confidence in me.  Some of our more seasoned crew members, though, thinking they were helping, really forced me stand firm in my vision in a way that sometimes felt like I was being challenged in front of my production.  This is not the norm — although I have seen it happen once or twice.  Most of the directors who I’ve seen get “railroaded” like that tend to be non-confrontational (we are “creative types,” after all) and kind of back down.  I had way too much riding on the production as a whole and we really didn’t have time for the bullsh#t.

Walker (far left in pink) directing ACTION!!! in Florida in 2009 Photo courtesy of James Bok

Although some of the specifics are a little fuzzy, I’ve been told that I stood my ground with firmness, dignity and maybe just a smidge of profanity loud enough to remind everybody who was in charge.  But in a way, having to earn everybody’s respect was a good lesson for me, too.  I remember moments in my military career when I encountered some individuals who wore rank but did nothing to command the status they expected to carry.  Those people were difficult to serve with. The ones who kept their bearings, empowered their people to meet their expectations and had clear vision and direction, they were the ones who always made me feel proud to serve.  I hope that as a director and producer, I am eventually able to inspire that kind of confidence in my team.

Q: How did your perspective as a filmmaker change during the production process (including pre & post-production)?

A: Production is definitely “where it’s at” for me.  I like the doing.  The pre-production and planning can become a bit tedious but the details are sooo important and in our case, with only three weeks to assemble a full crew, a full compliment of equipment, a very large cast, all set amenities and props AND come up with all the money to pay for it — yikes!  It definitely kept me hopping that month. I had a terrifying phone bill… And no matter how much you plan or how well you think you’ve delegated the work, something always goes wrong.  We were supposed to have a bevy of really nice trailers to decorate the set with, but the group that was going to bring them got the dates confused and was out of town on a trip that weekend.  We wound up with this silly little trailer that had pop-out ends and picture of a grizzly bear on the outside.  As calmly as possible, I told a couple of my team members to fix it.  I told them I didn’t care if they went from door to door asking local neighbors if they had a trailer we could borrow —  that’s what they needed to do. That’s exactly what they did and we finally found ONE we could use!  So yeah — no amount of planning keeps problems from happening, but in the moment I am usually able to think fast on my feet (blame the improv!) and figure out ways around our dilemmas.  I was revamping scenes as we went along to cut down on set ups, maximize our time and still tell the story.  So by the time we wrapped I felt pretty good.

Walker (on left in pink) in costume and director-mode on the set of ACTION!!! Photo courtesy of James Bok

A few weeks later Adam showed me the assembly edit he put together and I wanted to cry — not in a good way. He had given it a rather linear construct and in trying to keep a few funny moments in, many of the scenes had been dragged out to a point where they held NO comedic punch.  The problem was, because we were relying so heavily on improv the script wasn’t a very good road map for the edit.  I knew what needed to happen to make it funny, it just wasn’t going to be much fun doing it.  Adam was from a corporate background where the bulk of his films were industrials — informational films commissioned by management who knew NOTHING about filmmaking. They told Adam what message to get out and he was pretty much unfettered in delivering something he was able to maintain creative control over. But he was ALL about pre-planning.  He always knew before he sat down to edit exactly which shots he had and exactly which shots he needed and exactly what order to put them all in to accomplish his objective.  ACTION!!! wasn’t like that.  Sure, we did have a lot of shots we planned on getting.  We also had a lot of great footage that just sort of  “happened.”  And, as with probably any feature, we had a few scenes that just did not work the way I had wanted them to.  But this really wasn’t a forum for linear editing. Actually, because the story is “a day in the life” on a film set, we do have a linear element as the day unfolds, but to punch up the comedy we had to make lots of quick cuts in and out interlacing the actual scenes with moments from the interviews (which were shot very last after all the scene work was done.)  Effectively, the movie edit became the second, more polished draft of the script.  Unfortunately for Adam, this meant he had to work in a way he’d never had to work before, with me literally watching over his shoulder telling him where we needed to go next.  THAT is a true test of fortitude.  There were definitely times we wanted to kill each other, but the funny thing was, in the end, most of our “fights” were us actually agreeing, just using different words to do so — blame Venus and Mars!  In the end, the edit looks pretty much the way I’d always pictured it.  I just found out after the fact that I was the only one who did!

Unfortunately that wasn’t the last of my worries.  After we were happy with the edit there were a few more issues – primarily a few effects that needed to be added, and then final sound mix. I got stuck in this hellish space of not being able to do anything but call people day after day to check on it.  The problem is, when you’re making a movie on virtually no budget and people volunteer to do things for cheap or free, your project takes a major back seat to anything that’s paying them full price.  I knew this going in, but the reality of waiting with my hands tied was maddening.  In the words of my friend Chris Nelson, in this business you can have something Fast and Cheap, Fast and Good or Cheap and Good. You can’t have all three. We opted for Cheap and Good… I can’t complain, because in the end we definitely got far more than we paid for!

Q: As far as festivals, “Action!” has been making the circuit and screened earlier this month at the Broad Humor Festival in California. What has the experience been like seeing it with an audience and schmoozing at fests?

A: Things are going amazingly well for us so far. We held our first Cast and Crew Only preview screening in Altamonte Springs in April during the Florida Film Festival.  The audience LOVED it.  In true improv fashion, many of my long-time troupe-mates said, “That was so much funnier than I was expecting it to be.”  Hey, at least they’re honest!  We got some great local press from the Florida Guard Online and the Daytona Beach News Journal focusing on the fact that I’m a disabled vet using my military training to launch a new career.  We submitted the final edit to a bunch of festivals and we’ve already been accepted to several including — yes — the Broad Humor Film Festival in Venice, California. I think it’s safe to say that they liked it too. Even though we had huge pause in the middle due to some technical difficulties (their DVD player didn’t like two of our discs – so we showed the remainder on our hard drive…) we somehow managed to win the Audience Award!  Festival director Susan diRende [@BroadHumor] commented while she was handing me the award that the comedic moments in ACTION!!! just kept people laughing all the way through.

Photo courtesy of James Bok

But that’s not all.  We have also recently been notified that we have been awarded a 2010 Indie Award of Merit and 2010 LA Movie Award Honorable Mention for Narrative Feature.  Other 2010 LAMA winners include people such as Andre Hennicke, Daniel Baldwin, Samuel Jackson, Hayden Christensen, Rosanna Arquette and Anna Chlumsky, meaning, of course, that we were up against “real movies” for that one, not just fellow low-budget indies.

We actually spent a week in LA including the time we spent at Broad Humor meeting with industry contacts, attending industry events and doing some great team building and networking on the other coast.  We even got some more local press while we were out of town for our Indie win in the Orlando Sentinel.  And since we’ve been back in Florida (less than a week) we’ve had a number of people interested in distribution contact us!  Talk about great surprises!  In August we’ll be back out in force at the Heart of England International Film Festival, followed by the International Film Festival Ireland in September and the International Film Festival South Africa in November. We’re also waiting to hear back from a number of other festivals as well so hopefully we’ll have plenty more U.S. screenings before the end of the year!

Q: A lot of first-time filmmakers fail to market their work or themselves effectively. Can you describe how you’ve tackled this “branding beast” that’s been known to plague many a filmmaker?

A: First of all, I think it’s important to note that publicity and marketing, although deeply intertwined, are two separate things.  Just telling people you made a movie isn’t necessarily a “news item.”  We really tried to get local press out to our Altamonte Springs preview, but no one really seemed to care that a few more Florida filmmakers had tried their hand at the big screen.  Our press came, as I mentioned before, from my ability to pitch a story about me as a disabled female vet using her military training to create a new career.  It probably didn’t hurt that my disability was from surviving cancer either.  Again, this was not “news,” but it does qualify as “special interest.”  People LOVE hard luck cases.

Okay, here’s the truth:  I never really wanted to be thought of as “disabled, cancer-surviving, female” filmmaker.  Of all the elements of my story the only one I had any control over and thus take any pride in is the fact that I served in the military.  Don’t get me wrong — I love being a woman — but I don’t think many of us that get into ANY career field strive to be a female anything (doctor, lawyer, garbage collector.)  We just strive to be successful in our field and being female is just a side-effect of our chromosomes.  That said, when it comes to getting attention for all the hard work all my friends and colleagues put into this film I’m doing everything in my power to get us noticed.  Sure, I’ve tried to “wow” people with the story of the three weeks of pre-pro and only three days of shooting, but to most “civilians” that doesn’t mean anything.  Improv?  So what?  I still get lots of people telling me that they love improv because they watch stand-up comedy all the time. (For those of you who don’t know, not remotely the same thing.)  So the story that’s selling right now is the nine-toed, quirky blonde, cancer-surviving National Guard vet.  So I’m selling it.  Or maybe selling out.  But I have so much confidence in the project that I truly believe that no matter why people watch it, when they see it all they’ll see is the funny and eventually all I’ll be is a filmmaker (who also happens to write, act and sing on the side!)

As for marketing…

Adam and I have been submitting to basically two categories of festivals — those with niches that we fit (comedy, first-film, and female) and those that are ridiculously high profile that true indies don’t get much recognition in (Cannes, Sundance, LA Movie Awards).  In addition to that, we’re tapping all the personal contacts we have for distribution.  What’s kind of crazy is the more you ask around, the more you find that people you’re connected to are connected to other people who can really make doors open.  You just have to keep asking, knocking and turning the knob!  We are still working on distribution, but we have some very important people and companies asking for copies of OUR movie and that feels amazing.

One of the best things I’ve done in the last few weeks was to lighten the load on myself just a bit by bringing on a very gifted young journalist as our publicity intern.  She’s been writing and pushing out press releases for us and created a beautiful very professional looking media kit.  She’d done a lot in a very short time to raise our profile, especially on the “inter-webs” as it were!  Don’t be afraid to delegate!  Sure, as a former journalist myself I know how to write and how to solicit publicity, but having a competent enthusiastic young writer do it for me gives me time I need to take care of other details.  This way so much more is getting done!

PART III TO FOLLOW NEXT WEEK…

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Interview in three parts: Hillary J. Walker, filmmaker

An improv comedian, writer, former military sergeant and broadcast journalist has turned her eye toward film and is currently on the festival circuit screening and promoting her new film.  Hillary J. Walker is the writer, director, co-executive producer and star of ACTION!!!, a new mockumentary film about what really goes on behind the scenes of a Hollywood film.   I found out about Hillary by googling for news of women filmmakers, and read a feature in a Florida newspaper which had given her project some good coverage.  (See below post.) I approached her and she was kind enough to do this interview (to be posted in three parts) through Facebook.

Trailer for ACTION!!!

ACTION!!! website

Broad Humor Film Festival

@Hillary_J on Twitter

Altering Reality: The 2010 Project (Hillary’s blog)

On to the interview…

BIO: Hillary J. Walker is the president and a co-founder of Poison Oak Inc. a Florida-based production company whose inaugural comedy feature ACTION!!! has already won three awards and is currently being screened at a number of different film festivals worldwide.

Founder and director of the Daytona Beach comedy improv troupe Random Acts of Insanity, Walker obviously likes to start things! Having survived cancer, military separation and marital separation, not much scares her any more, so filmmaking was a logical choice for this singing, dancing, acting, writing, blogging, self-proclaimed average goddess.  In her spare time she loves fostering new talent and encouraging people to follow their dreams.

PART I

Q: You have an interesting background having served in the U.S. military and worked as a journalist. What led you to become a filmmaker?

A: In truth it was actually my desire to be a filmmaker that led me to pursue journalism in the military. Before I was anything I was an entertainer. I started singing at two, dancing at four and had my first speaking role on stage at six.

In my 20’s I got frustrated by the fact that there weren’t a lot of good roles for women my age in film and television and I decided to try my hand at writing. But as I started to create these stories and characters on paper I found I wanted to be more involved in production to ensure the stories were told truthfully. I considered going to film school in Orlando, but it was very expensive and I wasn’t sure how to pay for it.

I finally decided to join the National Guard (a decision I’d considered on and off for years having grown up in a military family) about a year after 9/11. I was thrilled to find out there were openings in Florida for Broadcast Journalists because it enabled me to serve my country, earn a paycheck, assist with my education and give me a solid foundation for a career in media arts. When cancer cut my military career short (the amputation of left great metatarsal restricted me from the rigorous field work required in that career) I felt somehow it was a sign that it was time to go back to my initial goal of writing, producing and acting in films.

Hillary J. Walker at the Broad Humor Film Festival, June 2010. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: How do you see, or plan for, your filmmaking career (or in old timey speak, “your future in pictures!”)?

A: I love to do EVERYTHING! I’ve been directing my Daytona based improv troupe Random Acts of Insanity for five years now and of course I still love to act. I have several completed scripts that are ready to shoot as soon as we secure funding for them and several more “in development” meaning that the ideas are rolling around in my brain just waiting for me to sit down long enough to write them. So – I guess I’m shooting for a future in which I get to continue doing what I’ve already done – only making more money.

Admittedly my first loyalties are going to be producing the projects that I’ve written on, but I also write for hire and I would definitely love to mix it up by producing, directing and or acting in other projects as well. It’s just really tough to audition for outside projects right now since I’ve been so busy promoting ACTION!!! and working with my other Executive Producer Adam M. Richardson on future projects for Poison Oak Inc.

Hillary J. Walker with Adam Richardson at BHFF, June 2010. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: Your directorial debut came in the form of a mockumentay, Action!!! How did the film come to be and what were your experiences directing a feature for the first time?

A: ACTION!!! was actually the third project in as many years that I’d tried to produce. In fact it was only a few weeks before our first pre – pre – production meeting that I’d told co-producer and long-time writing partner Tami Anderson that I wasn’t going to work on any new projects until I got one of the old ones made. Of course, we’d been talking about ACTION!!! for a few years, but I hadn’t actually written the script yet. I guess she didn’t quite understand what I was saying because she set up a meeting with Adam to discuss the possibility of him coming on board to help produce the film before we even had a script. And then, in this little impromptu meeting in a Winter Park coffee shop he inadvertently threw the gauntlet down. He said he thought it was a great idea but we’d probably need a few months to get together the funding and resources required. I suddenly felt like that was some kind of dare and was compelled to prove him wrong. Don’t ask why – I guess after three years of coming REALLY close to getting a few projects off the ground it took just one more person saying “wait for it” to annoy me into action.

The inspiration for ACTION!!! came while I was working on film sets in Utah. I was a stand-in FOREVER (or at least that’s how if felt.) But it was a great job to learn about film. I was there in the middle of everything and I saw all this drama and comedy unfold everyday at work. Lots of times I felt like the stories going on “behind the scenes” were far more compelling than the actual script we were shooting! I became kind of obsessed with DVD extras and realized quickly that Hollywood never tells what REALLY goes on behind the scenes and I would watch people get up and walk out on the credits at the movies because – let’s face it – who really knows what a dolly grip or a gaffer does anyway? So I thought a Christopher Guest-style mockumentary that could entertain AND educate might be really fun to produce. I always saw improvisation as being a crucial element for that style of story telling and it was my insistence on using improv that got me “nominated” to direct it. Honestly, I hadn’t really considered directing it until that first meeting, and all of the sudden I felt like – yeah, I AM the best person for this job. It was exciting and scary and empowering all at the same time.

It’s not that I hadn’t considered directing. It’s just that I figured I’d do things in steps.  You know, write and act in one, produce and act in another and then EVENTUALLY direct. This just sort of put me on the “mega-fast track.” But hey – if you’re waiting your whole life to do something, when the opportunity finally arrives, you just HAVE to go for it. I’m so glad I did!

Hillary J. Walker (center) with Action!!! team at the Broad Humor Film Festival, June 2010. Photo courtesy of James Bok.

Q: As a first-time feature filmmaker, what were you most confident about going in to the project?

A: I was so very blessed with this project for a number of reasons. First of all, I had an AMAZING cast! I had worked with nearly every single member of the cast in some capacity prior to filming. I didn’t hold auditions for ACTION!!! – people had already auditioned while they were working with me. That’s something for all actors to keep in mind. Always do your best and be pleasant to work with. You never know when that PA bringing you coffee or that stand-in over by the craft [services] table will be the person you’re auditioning for on your next project! Always – ALWAYS put your best foot forward.

So I showed up on set knowing that if we could stay on schedule we’d have a great film. Luckily I managed to secure the help of one of Central Florida’s most experience Unit Production Managers, Craig Richards, who among a plethora of credits worked as the UPM on the Academy Award-Winning film Monster. He wrangled an amazing crew – some of the most experienced technical professionals in the business. I think a lot of them couldn’t believe that I was trying to shoot an entire feature in just three days and wanted to see if it could even happen. Thanks to their skill level, professionalism and work ethic we made it happen!

We also had an amazingly talented driven Director of Photography.  Scott Toler Collins was a Full Sail [film school] grad who helped with one of my prior projects (that is still awaiting completion) who I knew had good instincts when it came to filming improvised scene work.  I was also pretty confident that he had good improvisational skills himself. I met with some resistance when I insisted that our actual DP play a role in the film.  Several members of my production team tried to talk me out it, but I wanted a certain air of realism with the documentary element of the film, and I felt having the camera guy really interacting with the actors while he was shooting would be a better sell. Luckily my gamble paid off and Scott multi-tasked like a pro! So I guess the short answer to your question is I had confidence in every person doing their job which made my job way easier than it probably should have been!

Part II to follow next week…

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News articles on ACTION!!! and Hillary J. Walker:

Orlando Sentinel

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

Florida Guard Online

Hometown News