PERFECTION: Interview with filmmaker Christina Beck

BIOGRAPHY

Los Angeles native, Christina Beck, is a director, writer and actress who began her career acting in such cult films as Suburbia, Boys Next Door and Dudes all directed by Penelope Spheeris.   She went on to New York City and studied at Playwright’s Horizons and formed her own theatre company, POW productions, where she wrote, produced and starred in “From the Heart,” premiering at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, along with several other off, off, Broadway plays.  After writing, directing and acting in numerous Los Angeles theatre productions, Christina wrote and starred in her first short film, Disco Man, then went on to make the black and white noir comedy, Blow Me, which screened in The New York Underground, The Chicago Underground and The Seattle Underground film festivals.

Christina was accepted into Fox Searchlight’s new director’s program, Search Lab where she directed, wrote and starred in the short film version of her feature film script, Slice which screened in Cannes.  The American Cinematheque screened her short So hot for you, in the Focus on Females directors program along with Miranda July, Sofia Coppola and Andrea Arnold’s early work. Christina’s The Ophelia project can be seen on Youtube and  her short LONE screened at The Ballston Spa Film festival in New York.

Slice the feature screenplay now titled Perfection, was one of five contenders for the IFP Best screenplay award. The project was a part of the IFP market, selected for the IFP rough cut labs and chosen to be IFP’s “Spotlight Screening” sponsored by Time Warner and SAGindie.

Perfection on set: actor Jackson Davis with director Christina Beck

Her Film:  What is your newest film, Perfection, about?  Do you think that perfection is attainable or that it even exists?

Christina Beck:  Perfection is an unlikely love story about a woman Kristabelle, who is living with her narcissistic mother, Sally (Robyn Peterson) and cuts herself to feel some sort of connection. Things fall apart when she finally cuts too deep, their small world cracks open and from that Kristabelle starts to heal from her past and allows Simon (David Melville) a British stand up comic see beyond her scars and into her heart.

I believe that perfection is an illusion, an “idea” that sets up a belief that there is something wrong with us and the truth is, we are all perfect!

HF:  While self-injury has a negative, shameful connotation, plastic surgery (for aesthetic reasons) is pretty much a socially sanctioned practice.  What are your views on the unacceptable nature of self-injury versus the acceptable practice of plastic surgery?

CB: From my understanding, self imposed harm is a cry for help, and there is usually some sort of past abuse or neglect involved, and it is a private suffering. Plastic surgery has different extremes and someone who is so unhappy with the way they look and has the resources to change that is an act of free will. I personally feel that both forms stem from a misperception of self, and in public or private, I believe true healing has to come from within.

Christina Beck - Perfection still

HF:  One key component of your film seems to be the revelation “that love can be more than skin deep,” to quote your synopsis.  How would you define love when it comes to self-acceptance, or how do you think your characters in the film would define it?

CB: It’s very humbling to be human, and for me, self love ebbs and flows. The good news is that my tolerance for suffering at this point in my life is low and I have learned that to not love myself fully is defying nature and I love nature!

In the film, Kristabelle is just following her mother’s lead as Sally comes from a generation where women were only about their outer beauty. So, in the shadow of her beautiful mother and without positive mirroring, Kristabelle was left to feel ugly and unlovable.

HF:  You spent some time in a support group for people who self-injure.  Such a deeply person and sensitive issue, can you describe your experiences and relationships with the women in that group in Los Angeles?

CB: This was quite a few years ago and I was never a cutter, but at that time I was suffering from picking at my skin, mostly my face consistently. It was very painful as an actress trying to show up for a career that is all about how you look; I was clearly in some deep self-sabotage.

It was no accident that I started to talk about my “picking problem” and other women opened up to me about even deeper issues. We met once a week, and as a group of women telling our stories, healing began to occur.

HF:  How did your face-to-face experiences with these women affect or inform the story of Perfection or how you chose to present the story?

CB: There was a theme with most of the women in the group and that was this false belief that we were unlovable.

My commitment was to support these other women by telling their stories in one character that could show the pain and private suffering along with the hope of getting to the other side of it. As Perfection is a narrative feature film, not a PSA, it was important fro me to create a world where this behavior is present, and like real life, there can be humor along with sadness. Perfection is a love story about letting go of what we think defines us.

Perfection on location: DP Robert Poswall, Producer Annette Murphy, Director Christina Beck

HF:  Perfection is undoubtedly a story that is much bigger than the film itself or its characters themselves.  Can you talk a bit about the life you are planning for Perfection and the lessons it reveals?

CB:  The journey from script to screen was long and the challenges seemed endless. We basically never got funded, so we just started shooting on the weekends while I was working a 40 hr. a week day job. I had a wonderful cast and crew, I’d go to Trader Joe’s for craft service, cooked on the weeknights and it was like a party; we were having a blast and then my father died in the middle of shooting but I just had to keep going. Post was really tough with no money and there was one night I was walking down the street in Hollywood with hard drives in my arms, tears in my eyes, the party was over, everyone was gone but I didn’t have a finished film yet. I remember looking up at the sky thinking “is this it”? And that’s the crazy thing — you can’t give up — and people came out of the woodwork to help me, amazing talented people who saw that I was going to die if this film didn’t get finished. God bless them and everything I learned from this life-changing experience, and the biggest lesson for me was to see how devoted I am to filmmaking!

The IFP in New York was incredibly helpful, and winning The Adrienne Shelly female directing grant was not only an honor in her memory, it was to me a sign to keep going.

I always intended to show the film to as wide an audience as possible to inspire hope, humor, and healing. I believe the life lessons are universal in that we all want to be accepted and loved but sometimes go about it in a strange ways.

Expecting Grace - Christina Beck (director, writer, actress)

HF:  You mention in your biography on the Perfection website that your second feature film will be Expecting Grace.  Can you talk a bit about the story and your plans for the film?

CB: Yes, Expecting Grace is a dark romantic comedy about an American woman who goes to France to be artificially inseminated, gets mugged by an Algerian tap dancer and they fall in love!  We are in early development and plan to shoot in Paris by the end of 2012.

HF:  Why (or how) did you choose this project as your follow-up to Perfection?

CB: I want to shoot in another country in a different language. Exploring the Algerian culture and working with French/Algerian actors is exciting to me and clearly, I’m a huge fan of the unlikely love story…

HF:  Because Her Film is all about building audiences, how do you go about building your own following for your work?  What have you found most challenging?  What has surprised you?

CB: Writing, directing and acting in Independent films doesn’t leave a lot of time or energy for much else. I know social media is important and everyone says you must market yourself all the time and I do what I can… Please “like” us on Facebook!

I love supporting other filmmakers, especially women. There is this old idea that women can’t support each other because there is not enough for us, I don’t but it! Just like I don’t buy that only men 18-25 go to see movies. So not true!

Kim Adelman (indiewire) and I created an online resource to support female driven stories and vision, FFC The Female Filmmaking Collective. Anyone can post there and I’m so grateful for resources like HERFILM to help get the word out.

Expecting Grace - Christina Beck (director, writer, actress)

HF:  Finally, how would you describe yourself as a filmmaker, or how would you like to look back as an older person and see yourself as a filmmaker?

CB:  Starting out as an actress, I have always been interested in telling stories about real women, and as a filmmaker I’m thrilled to have a wider canvas to express my point of view, style and sensibility.

My vision for the work is about capturing the human spirit, finding inspiration through my life experiences and loving others and myself in the process.

Filmmaking is so much fun, otherwise why would I torture myself with all of the parts that can be really hard? My desire is to continue making films until I leave this earth and if I get to make them after that, even better!

 

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Learn more about Christina Beck, her films and connect with her online:

FFC on Facebook:  Female Filmmaking Collective

Perfection website: perfectionthemovie.com

Perfection on Facebook: Perfection the movie

Perfection on Twitter: @PerfectionFilm

 

CROSSING THE RIVER: Guest post by filmmaker Emilie McDonald

Filmmaker Emilie McDonald (Photo credit: Tia Schellstede)

BIOGRAPHY

Emilie McDonald is an NYC-based filmmaker who graduated from Vassar with a BA in film and drama.  She wrote and directed the short narrative film “Other People’s Houses” in 2010 (Big Apple Film Festival, NewFilmmakers, Blue Sky Film Festival & Flicks in the Garden) and was co-writer and producer of the short “My Elena” (2008).  She is currently in a development on a feature film based on the true story of a doctor she knew as a child, a Bronx-born Jewish doctor who relocated to rural South Carolina in the 1950’s (semifinalist Tribeca All Access 2010; semifinalist Creative Capital 2011).

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 Emilie McDonald here.  I’m a female filmmaker and mother to a young child and am based in NYC. I basically grew up in the back of a VW bus, traveling throughout the U.S. and Mexico with my mom and younger brother.  We lived among Cherokee basket weavers in North Carolina; traditional Navajo communities in Farmington, New Mexico; generations of farmers in Oregon; and native residents in Mexico.  I learned to adapt to many different situations and to find connection with many different kinds of people.  It is my goal to continually put people and situations in my films that aren’t often in the limelight, and to seek to understand the misunderstood.

Place plays a large part in the films I write.  South Carolina is one place I lived as a child and has always stayed in my memory as a mesmerizing place that feels like it has frozen in time for decades.  I feel a deep personal connection to the South and to South Carolina in particular as I have dear family there who are among the warmest people I’ve ever known in my life.  I am continually compelled to write scripts that are set there.  There is a languishing, old-fashioned feeling that lends itself to imagination.  Downtowns continue to look as they did in the 1960’s.  Country roads feel as they did when I was a child.  There is a slower, genteel pace that is both appealing for those that are accepted, but alarming for those who are not.  It is a place that is fascinating to me in its contradictions.  There are folks in South Carolina who are fighting for equality and tolerance and always have been (my feature film BUCKLE MY SOUL which I plan to make next is about this very subject), but there are those few who decades later are still holding on to the old Jim Crow laws.

Tree (Photo credit: Emilie McDonald)

South Carolina will be the location for my next film, a short narrative film called CROSSING THE RIVER, which will be shot in rural South Carolina in March 2012.  The film is sadly inspired by a true story and is about a young bi-racial girl who is traumatized when her family is targeted by a cross burning.  This extreme act of hatred is carried out by two white boys who come under the influence of a racist man.  The film explores the points of view of both the victim and the perpetrators, and seeks to reveal how someone can be influenced to do something morally unspeakable.

A year ago, I met my friend Martha’s grandsons Tyler and Landon in South Carolina, and immediately felt that they would be compelling onscreen.  A short time later, I received an article from a friend of my family who runs a civil rights watch group.  The article was about teenagers who were accused of burning a cross on a family’s lawn, and how the family was affected, especially their 13 year old daughter.  I was very moved by the story, and especially by how it was apparent that the girl truly believed that people were good and wanted to continue to believe it despite her experience.  When I later read that the two boys turned to the family in court and apologized, it gave me hope.  The seed of an idea for a powerful short film quickly developed.

Country House (Photo credit: Hunter Desportes)

I’ve recently become reenergized about telling this story, especially after reading a statistic from the Southern Poverty Law Center that estimates that 40-50 cross burnings happen in the U.S. every year!  I was startled and saddened by this, as of course I knew it happened (the incident that CROSSING THE RIVER is inspired by occurred in 2010) but not to that extent.  Most Americans assume that cross burnings are part of the U.S.’s past.  This lack of awareness is partly because these crimes are rarely reported nationally.  I feel it’s urgent to get the word out about this…it should not be happening in our country in 2011!!!!  All the more reason to make this film and release it widely!

When doing research on cross burnings, we discovered that this hateful act often targets bi-racial families.  The perpetrators’ intention is to send a message to the families that they are unwelcome in the community.  This act terrorizes families in their own homes and has a lasting psychological impact on its victims.  CROSSING THE RIVER is being made to bring to light the importance of putting an end to this hate crime.

“It is my goal to…seek to understand the misunderstood.”

We are thrilled to be partnering with WNCCEIB (Western North Carolina Citizens for an End to Institutional Bigotry), an amazing community organization and nonprofit in Western North Carolina that has been coordinating individual and community responses to hate activity, hate crimes and institutional discrimination on a shoestring budget for more than 20 years.  Our partnership will include promoting the organization’s work and mission and raising funds for WNCCEIB in conjunction with CROSSING THE RIVER film screenings.

I am working with a team to create an educational distribution component of the film, including a curriculum and teacher guide for educators to incorporate the film into their lesson plans, hopefully at colleges and high schools around the country and Canada.   We are interested in working with anti-racism and social justice teaching organizations such as Teaching Tolerance and Facing History and Ourselves, and will target film festivals that make a difference such as Media That Matters.  The film’s website will also link to anti-racism advocacy efforts happening all over the U.S.

Grant and Shawn (Courtesy of Anonymous)

It is important to note that cross burnings don’t just occur in the South (and as I mentioned earlier, there are many people in the South dedicated to eradicating racism).  There have been recent cases reported in New Jersey, Southern California, and Canada, to name only a few.  We are hopeful that ignorance can be turned to understanding, as challenging as that is, and CROSSING THE RIVER will reflect that.

I want to mention that I am extremely excited about working with an amazing team of women: producer and social justice advocate Tammy Arnstein, independent film producers Natasha Giliberti and Robyn Mackenzie, marketing director Andrea Rose, and editor Erin Fisher.  Of course I am looking forward to working with some amazing men as well, including my husband Bruce Smolanoff, (in the role of “Ted”) and Robert Kennedy doing sound design, but it is a pleasure to be surrounded and supported by women filmmakers.

Thank you for this amazing blog and resource, both illuminating and important for the global female filmmaking community!

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To connect with this filmmaker and to learn more about her work (or to support it!) visit the following links:

Kickstarter campaign (five days left to go!)

Tumblr:  http://crossingtheriverfilm.tumblr.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/CrossingTheRiverfilm

“Other People’s Houses”: http://www.otherpeopleshousesfilm.com/

Blog:  http://filmmakermama.blogspot.com/

Twitter:  @emiliemcdonald