“Maybe past Kelly made this film for future Kelly and Jeanette’s loved ones to not feel so alone in this seriously shitty time. ” – Writer Director Kelly Walker on grief and a film about finding our way out.
It’s been a long road, but we’re finally here. I watched this film with an advanced screener a few months ago and I immediately wrote to the director about when to release the review and she said… it isn’t coming out in the US for a few more months. I haven’t lost any passion for this film in all this time. Sara Amini (Future Man, Misery Loves Company)’s “Fiona” uses her time to be vibrant, generous, and pure love. Corbin Reid (Valor, How to Get Away with Murder)’s “Gemma” feels like someone I know. She puts on her mask of strength to get through the hardest time in her life, we’re watching our steel-hearted matriarch to see if she cracks. And Jeanette Maus (Your Sister’s Sister, Dismissed)’s “Jane” is doing her damn best and still coming up short despite her best intentions. No one wants to face the truth here, but Jane takes the cake in dragging her feet. You will fall in love with these characters. The performances are outstanding and I want to give it all the awards.
My best advice here is to pull up a blanket, a bottle of wine, a loved one, and curl up for a movie that is entertaining yet pushes us to really see each other better.
Writer/Director Kelly Walker is from Brisbane, Australia. She helmed MY FIONA, one of my favorite films I was able to screen this last year. I asked for an interview with her and her producers:
Kelly, How did you come to where you are now?
I started making films when I was eleven years old with my best friend. For my twelfth birthday, I asked for Final Draft, and my thirteenth birthday, Adobe Premiere. By the time we were fifteen, we had four features under our belt. Honestly, they were clunky and hilariously terrible, but we were having the time of our lives.
When our friendship ended, so did my pursuit of filmmaking. I had a hard time believing I could do it without her. I continued to act and edit, but it wasn’t until 8 or so years later when I started writing again. I made a web series with my aunt, Kim Flagg, an amazingly talented writer and actor. From there, I wrote some short films as a vehicle for myself to act in and that kinda kickstarted my love for filmmaking again.
In the Summer of 2016, I started writing MY FIONA. I had initially intended to play Jane in the film. However, during the writing process, I had also started directing other projects. Matt Minshall came on board as a producer in 2018. I had to make a decision to either act or direct the film. I felt that I wasn’t ready to do both on my first feature. Everything in my gut told me to stay behind the camera, and I am so grateful for that. I can’t imagine anyone else in that role, but Jeanette Maus, she’s just so incredible. She’s my Jane.
How did you come to know this Writer/Director?
PRODUCER – Matthew Minshall: “I’ve known Kelly Walker for almost 7 years now. I was looking for an Australian actress to play an Australian actress in a short film I wrote, produced, and directed back in 2014 which poked fun at stereotypical Hollywood types. And Kelly Walker came into the casting room and knocked that roll out of the park. I could tell right then and there that she understood every satirical pun and fast-talking joke in that little script; and she executed it with such wit and humor that I knew we were going to be friends and colleagues for years to come. We’ve collaborated on multiple scripts, stories, and films over the years, both hers and mine, so when she told me she had this “little feature script” she wanted to direct but had no idea of where to start going about making it, it was a no-brainer to at least give it a read and offer what advice I could.”
PRODUCER – Tina Carbone: “I got introduced to Kelly by a mutual friend and once we got on a call together it was like I’d known her for 100 years. We instantly connected and our positive vibe and energy was a match made in heaven.”
Tell me more about why you made this film.
WRITER/DIRECTOR – Kelly Walker: “When I was twelve years old, my babysitter passed away from suicide. She was like an older sister to me. It was out of nowhere and just destroyed us. Her death kinda made me realize the world wasn’t this safe and promised place I had seen in the movies. I felt like it aged me when I had trouble connecting with kids my age because I was dealing with something that was unrelatable, and my sadness made my friends uncomfortable.
Grief struck again when I was seventeen, and my boyfriend died unexpectedly. I remember wanting to grieve “correctly.” Check the boxes of seven stages of grief and get on with it. But it doesn’t exactly work like that. You go forwards and backwards, and sometimes it takes years, decades… and the biggest takeaway is you never “get over it.” You learn to live alongside the sadness.
Most recently, Jeanette Maus, who plays Jane in MY FIONA, passed away in January 2021. She’s been a close friend for many years and a part of all my future hopes and dreams. While her passing came after we made the film, it reminds me of why a film like this matters. Why it’s okay not to get out of bed, to feel like a child throwing a temper tantrum at the unfairness of life and just feeling so completely lost without your person. The irony isn’t lost on me that this film is about a woman grieving the death of a friend. And in a weird way, it’s comforting that it’s Jeanette on film showing us the messiness of grief, the unruliness of the unwanted adventure. Maybe past Kelly made this film for future Kelly and Jeanette’s loved ones to not feel so alone in this seriously shitty time.”
PRODUCER – Matthew Minshall: “I took that “little feature script” home assuming I would take a week or two to read it. It wasn’t till I sat down on my living room couch with a cup of coffee and read the first page that I realized this was a very good script. I think I even texted her after reading the cold open and said something along the lines of “I love it.” An hour and change after my coffee cup was empty I finished the entire script. I hadn’t read an entire feature spec in one sitting possibly ever at that point. Not even any of my own. I always took breaks when reading longer pieces, but I tore though that one with such ease. I called her back that afternoon and said, “I want to make this. What do you say I produce it? Are you down?” She laughed and said, “Hell yeah!” So I guess you could say I was with this project from the very beginning. What hit me about this story was that it was simple and complex all at the same time. It was plain, and absolutely beautiful all at once. Mechanically it was very straight-forward and easily executable, but artistically it was a very difficult story to execute well. I had taken lead on many short films by that time and had worked on various feature films and television shows in multifaceted rolls at the studio level, but had never taken lead on a feature film of my own before. And a voice inside me said this was the one to do that on. And with Kelly Walker being the writer and director, it made that decision even easier. This story is timely, relevant, and rang true on so many different levels. The characters are rich in layers and depth and are faced with problems that don’t often times make it to the screen. I just felt this was a story that needed to be told.”
PRODUCER – Tina Carbone: “I got the script pretty early in the process, I believe it was just Kelly & Matt at that point… I read the script the night Kelly sent it to me and loved it so much that I replied back the moment I finished it, which happened to be around 1am, saying how much I would love to be a part of this film. The story and characters moved me and I couldn’t wait to work with Kelly and help her vision come to life.”
How did you meet your DP? Why did you choose her?
WRITER/DIRECTOR – Kelly Walker: “Laura was recommended to me by Tina Carbone, one of our producers. Tina’s magic power is the ability to connect people that she intuitively knows will be a dream team, and Tina’s batting 10/10 for us on MY FIONA. Laura’s work speaks for itself. It’s delicate, specific, and aesthetically gorgeous. But it was something she said over our first coffee meeting that never left me. She mentioned that – to figure out how to shoot and light a scene, she has to get inside the character’s emotional experience. At that moment – as an actor turned director, she was speaking my language! So often, DP’s are swayed by trends and slickness. But Laura genuinely advocates for the emotional journey, and I knew we were supposed to make this film together. I loved our collaboration, and I really hope we get another shot at it in the future.”
Producing is a big commitment, where was your focus? What did you aim to bring to the team?
PRODUCER – Tina Carbone: “As this was a rather small production, I tried to wear many hats and help in any way I could. My focus would be on many different things depending on the day. I recommended crew that I thought would vibe well with Kelly, helped with casting, and all things pre-production. On set, I always aim to bring a family aspect to the production, where everyone is treated with respect and kindness. I want the team to feel appreciated and I truly think this resonated throughout. There were many hugs, high fives, dance breaks and comradery.”
PRODUCER – Matthew Minshall: “This is a tough question to answer. In part because any producer can tell you there are so many working pieces of a film and as a producer you are basically responsible for each and every one of them. Each little piece needs to fall into its place at the right moment for a film to come together in a timely and costly manner. If I had to say what my specific focus on this film was, I’d say it was the film itself. A lot of people talk about making a movie. A lot less people follow through with it. And a big part of the reason films fall apart is because their teams fall apart. A lack of focus on the end goal can prove fatal for a film production. Often times a lack of team effort and comradery make it easier to throw in the towel in the first few rounds of that tough fight we call film making. I like to think of a film’s cast and crew as a dysfunctional family. Once you’re in it, you’re in it whether you like it or not. And it’s common for feuds to arise along the way, and clicks to form, and sometimes those little splinters can grow and eventually destroy a family. One of the most important things to me after we locked our financing was to build a team that would get us all the way to the silver screen. Every cast member, crew member, production staff member, and post-production staff member we brought on was done so with such care and attention. My biggest focus in that entire staffing process was to make sure first of all that Kelly was happy with the team we were building for her to quarterback, and second of all to make sure that that team would help make us the best film we could with the resources we had.”
Where do you hope to take this project and what were your goals when you first signed on?
PRODUCER – Matthew Minshall: “When I signed on, it was only Kelly and I, and at that point, my only goal was to get this film made from start to finish. And from those budding days back when we were still working on drafts and hosting table reads, all the way through development, casting, staffing, prep, production, editorial, then VFX, color and sound, making sure this film was as good as possible with the resources we had was always my primary goal. And I think we did just that. As for where I hope to take this project? I just hope our cast gets the recognition they deserve. Every single cast member on this film made this film as special as it is. Janette Moss turned what I thought was a character that needed more work and development into such an amazing, sympathetic, emotional, dynamic lead who was a perfect character as is. I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on the lead character Jane until I saw Janette read for her out loud at a table read. I told her that night that she was going to play that roll. I don’t think she actually believed me. Corbin Reed absolutely killed it. I’ve never seen an actress just nail a scene time after time after time. Such a pro. We were so lucky to have her play the opposing lead of Gemma. And Elohim Nycalove, who plays the character Baily who serves as the shining light of the film, is just a future little Oscar winner in the making. He was such a little gentleman who brought so much life to this story as well as to our set. He really made this film as touching as it is. Our cast are the core of this film, and without them, we’ve just got a bunch of pretty pictures shot by Laura Jansen.”
PRODUCER – Tina Carbone: “My goals when I first signed on were really just to help Kelly make the film she wanted to make. To support her vision in all aspects of production. I couldn’t be prouder of her and the story she told. I would love for the world to see this film, whether that be at film festivals, theaters, or streaming. There are so many incredible performances and important issues it deals with.”
When you watch the finished product, what do you feel is the most notable element that you want audiences to know coming in or taking away?
PRODUCER – Matthew Minshall: “This question reminds me of my favorite compliment I’ve gotten on this film thus far. It was from a fellow film maker and friend of mine who, knowing how much work I put into this film, decided to watch the finished product with a very critical eye to try to point out where he thought we could have improved upon the technical aspects of the film to enhance the cinematic experience for our audience. (He’s a bit of a pretentious you-know-what, and very competitive). But by the fifteen-minute mark, he completely forgot about any of that snooty filmmaker nonsense and just found himself entrenched in the story and the characters. He stopped trying to critique the film and simply and subconsciously started enjoying the movie. And if there is one thing I could ask of our audience it would be just that. Let yourself get entrenched into the lives of these characters and into the story in which they tell. Basically, sit back and enjoy the movie.”
PRODUCER – Tina Carbone: “I think the element of hope, even in the darkest times, is most notable. We all go through so much in our lives and sometimes things can feel hopeless and like the world around you is falling apart. The journey that we go through with these characters are things that happen to people in their lives and I think they will resonate with the sincerity of the film.”
What are the biggest areas of growth you can think of for your journey in this film through the pandemic?
WRITER/DIRECTOR – Kelly Walker: “OH MY! Okay, so our film was set to premiere at BFI Flare in London in March. We were so excited! Our screenings had sold out in under 2 hours, I was invited to speak on a panel, and our film was chosen for Best of the Fest. It was all incredibly unreal, and it really felt like this was the first time in years that life might actually resemble my vision board.
As with each of us, filmmaker or not, our most basic expectations of 2020 got thrown in a dumpster fire somewhere around March. I had a tough time grieving our new reality. I hit some pretty severe depression, but I’m thankful for it all. I’m thankful that this year gave me much-needed time to reflect. It allowed me to spend more time writing and much-needed time with my husband and our dogs. Realign priorities. If you think about it, we all lost the hope of our expectations, but maybe we didn’t actually lose anything because it wasn’t ours in the first place? End of the day, it’s this – the journey, the present moment – that’s all we can live for. What happens next… it’s out of our hands.”
What’s next for the film after this premiere?
WRITER/DIRECTOR – Kelly Walker: “We’re talking with sales agents, distributors, festivals etc… 2020 has been the Wild West for indie filmmakers. The Pandemic has ripped through the norm of independent films getting their day in the sun. I think we’re being cautious when it comes to “screw it, just get it out there and be done with it.” vs. “let’s just take a minute and see what happens.” You only lose your virginity once/ you only make your first feature once.” and I can tell you, I screwed up on one of those two things… I won’t be doing it again.
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