Directing is a major chore in Hollywood especially if you don't have the experience or can handle the pressures of a big budget or even a small one. However, if you have the desire and determination to make the film you've always wanted to make, that isn't as daunting as one would make it out to be. Many first time directors have gone on become major talents that include the likes of David Fincher ("Alien 3"), Sam Mendes ("American Beauty"), Bryan Singer ("The Usual Suspects"), Martin Scoresse ("Mean Streets"), Steven Spielberg ("Duel"), Kathryn Bigelow ("Near Dark") and even the likes of actors that includes Oscar Winners George Clooney ("Good Night And Good Luck"), Tom Hanks ("That Thing You Do!"), Al Pacino ("Looking For Richard"), Robert DeNiro ("A Bronx Tale") and Denzel Washington ("The Great Debaters") that have succeeded.
Dominique Schilling could very well be a name that will be up there with those that i mentioned in the near future. I had never heard of Dominique until this interview in talking about her film, "A Reason" starring "Continnum's" Madga Aponowicz and "Happy Days'" Marion Ross, a passion filled project that she was behind from start to finish having written it and now directed it. Just in talking to her, you can really feel the passion and love that she had for her work which is really infectious and I'd personally entrust any project to her with confidence.
For this very special interview, Dominique shares her thoughts on why she wanted to become a filmmaker, writing and directing "A Reason", the casting of the film, and how to personally combat the dreaded writer's block among the many things I'm glad to share with you about her. So sit back and enjoy our conversation.
Before we begin talking about your film, can you please tell the readers about what inspired you to become a writer and director.
DS: I have always told stories, already as a child. I come from a performance background and worked as a performance artist. I always loved acting, music, photography, writing, interior design, fashion, lighting and any form of art, expression and storytelling. As a writer/director, I get to do all of those things. Be it directing an actor, writing a script, working with my cinematographer on moving images, the production design, costume design, working with my composer in the studio, working with my editor – this profession involves all the aspects of storytelling I love. It’s perfect for me.
Let’s talk about your film “A Reason” which stars Magda Apanowicz who is currently starring in Continuum, Marion Ross from Happy Days and Nick Eversman from ABC's Missing. What was the inspiration behind it?
DS: A friend of mine told me about a villa in the Pacific Palisades that was going to be torn down and that might offer itself as a good location to shoot a film. An elderly couple had lived there and had passed away. I walked through the house and the story just came to me. It gave me the perfect opportunity to tell a story about an elderly lady with a very dysfunctional family that finds some hope. So, I approached producer Caroline Risberg, she loved the script, we founded Risberg Schilling Productions and made the film.
The film is about a distraught daughter and a controlling son that basically while they’re at their aunt’s will reading that essentially makes them reevaluate not just their own lives, but the lives of their entire family as a whole. Why tackle such as project?
DS: Everyone has a family and families are very complex. I am fascinated by family dynamics. Often, be it a death, a will or a wedding, when family gathers together and emotions run high, fights and friction can’t be avoided, but it also gives an opportunity to heal and work through family issues and hopefully find some way to strengthen the family overall and bring them closer together.
Your casting for the film, from what’ve seen and read is very inspired. How were you able to get the cast together?
DS: That was thanks to casting director Michael Sanford and casting associate Alex Christopoulos, who did an amazing job and truly understood the characters and my vision. The only actor I had in mind from the beginning was Nick Eversman and I’m thrilled that he ended up playing Nathan in the film.
Do you feel fortunate as a director to have such a cast to help you fulfill the vision you wanted for your film?
DS: Of course! It’s what I hoped for.
Do you feel as both a writer and director that the message that were trying to convey personally on screen came out the way you wanted it or do you feel that in your next film, you’ll able to with a little more confidence?
DS: I’m extremely happy with the outcome. I definitely feel that the message I wanted to send comes through and that I was able to capture my vision and bring it to the screen.
If you each had to choose a very favorite character individually from the film, who would you choose and why?
DS: That’s a tough question! I love them all. I like characters that have flaws. None of the characters in this film are either good or bad - they are good and bad, very much like people in real life. Sometimes you might have to dig a little deeper to find the good in someone, but I believe you can always find it.
Is there a character within the film that reminds you of yourself?
DS: Serena. She is not based on me, but she is symbolical for lessons I had to learn in life. I created the character to encourage young women to find their voice and be heard. Serena feels like a younger sister to me and Magda Apanowicz did an amazing job portraying her.
When you finally saw the finished film, what was your reaction after you finally saw your creation on screen in front of a large audience?
DS: The film has not yet been released, so we have only screened it for the cast and crew so far. It was very emotional for me. Just amazing!
When you’re writing or directing, do you have a personal motivation that just drives you all the way through to the end?
DS: Absolutely. Making movies is difficult and a lot of work. I couldn’t do this, if I didn’t have a motivation that is beyond myself such as healing, helping people to feel understood, building bridges between people who have opposing outlooks on life as well as instilling a sense of pride in people who might sometimes feel discriminated against by society.
How do you deal with writer’s block in regards to your projects? Because I know for many, including myself it is really difficult and at times a burden to overcome unless you’re just writing straight through to the end.
DS: That is very true! Fortunately, I wrote A REASON in one big swoop. I locked myself in my house for 3 weeks and just wrote. I started writing my new script, while having my last film in post-production, so I couldn’t do that and it has been a much harder road, but worth it. Simple things I do to overcome writer’s block are: I get up periodically to get some chocolate, I read scenes out loud, playing through them and most importantly I listen to music. Every character has a theme song and every scene that reflects a different emotion has its own piece of music. I listen to those songs while I write and it brings me closer to each character. It really helps me a lot. For severe writer’s block I go on a walk at the beach. It does miracles for me.
In looking back at your work so far, what would be the biggest goal that you both would love to accomplish in your future films?
DS: Sending a message of hope and encouragement, giving a voice to those who are not being heard, telling stories that lead people to rethink their own prejudices and also, not shy away from taboo topics.
You’ve both also done a lot of short films. Have these experiences given you the inspiration to do more films such as “A Reason”?
DS: I have directed a lot of short films. I always wanted to do a feature, but it takes a lot more to make that happen, so one day I decided that I will never get to the next stage, unless I completely stop making short films and really only concentrate on making a feature. For about 3 years, I didn’t shoot a single film, even though I had a lot of offers to direct shorts. I stayed stubborn, turned them down and was then able to make a feature. Everything takes patience and dedication and knowing, where you are at in your career and what you are ready for.
In your own words, what’s the difference between directing a short film as opposed to a feature length one?
DS: Making short films does not compare to making a feature. A short film is a project where directors have a lot less pressure and responsibility. A feature costs a lot more and you have to be very careful and responsible with your investors’ money. The workload and endurance it needs is not comparable either. When you make a short film, you often go to the end of your strength, but once you are exhausted, you are done and you have a film. With a feature, you get exhausted, but have to keep going. I compare it to running a marathon. After shooting a feature, and you can’t run anymore and are ready to lie on the ground, you realize,” and now you have to run faster”, because now you’re going into the stress-laden world of post-production! Strangely, we as people, are very adaptable, so after a while, I actually got used to the stress and embraced it as part of my everyday life. It certainly demands everything you got, but I love the challenge and before I knew it I said: Let’s do again!
Do you look back at your work after you’ve written it?I know for most including actors, it’s a very difficult thing or they just simply don’t want to look back and move forward to the next project.
DS: I know what you mean! I’m certainly not the type to watch my own films at home every day. The script is different, because you have to reference it constantly during any aspect of production. It’s the blueprint, so you can’t bypass looking at the script. The finished film is a different matter.
If there’s something you would love to write or direct at this moment, what would it be and why?
DS: Definitely the new film I am writing, which is currently titled “Little Girl, Big Eyes”. My heart is very much in it and I am looking forward to bringing it to the screen.
There many aspiring directors in this world and I’m still personally growing as one, what advice would you give to those trying to succeed?
DS: I don’t think I’m in a position to give advice, because everyone’s path is different. I can only say what has worked for me so far: Never give up. Don’t be afraid to do what you love. There will be ups and downs. Accept that. Overcome obstacles with patience. Keep your focus on your goals.
There is something I would like to say to aspiring female filmmakers specifically: I’ve noticed that a lot of young women who consider a career in directing become hesitant when it comes to the technical aspects of filmmaking, because they have been told all their lives that women don’t have the ability to understand anything technical. This is a misconception. There is no difference between men and women when it comes to artistic and technical talent. Don’t let out-dated gender stereotypes deter you from your dreams. Go for it!
I’d like to personally thank you Dominique for your time in granting me this interview. It really is a real pleasure to meet you both and the best of everything for your future directing wise.
DS: Thank you so much! The pleasure is mine. Good luck to you!
A very special heartfelt thanks to Dominique for being so gracious with her time and sharing her experiences on making the film and giving us great reasons to watch it and to Jordan Von Netzer for giving me the opportunity to meet such a great talent.
Here is Dominique Schilling's Bio:
"Dominique Schilling was born into a music industry family and spent most of her childhood in music studios and at Rock concerts. She grew up in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. She received her bachelor’s degree in English/Writing, summa cum laude, studied stage directing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and later went to film school at the New York Film Academy.
She started out, working as a performance artist, doing self-written and directed shows with a troupe, which included dance, vocals, instrumentation, acting, and pantomime.
Because of her interest in other cultures and philosophies, she has lived in Hawaii and has traveled all over Western Europe as well as to Eastern Europe, Russia, North & Central America, and Africa. During this time she lived structured as well as alternative lifestyles.
She uses these experiences in her work, revealing diverse and contrasting perspectives through the eyes of her characters while emphasizing the importance of building bridges and understanding, most of all within the family unit.
In the past few years, she has written 6 feature-length screenplays and has directed 3 short films, a documentary and a feature film. Her films “Business As Usual”, “Breaking with Tradition”, and “A Black Lie” have screened in festivals all over the globe, receiving best documentary and best director nominations. She also directs international commercials and music videos.
Her next feature is currently in development under Risberg Schilling Productions, with Caroline Risberg as producer, which she is set to direct in 2014. Dominique Schilling lives in Los Angeles, California."