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