Writer/Director Liz Tuccillo: Interview SXSW

Writer/Director Liz Tuccillo Talks “Take Care”, Writing, and More

Acclaimed writer Liz Tuccillo (Sex and the City, How to be Single) makes her directorial debut with Take Care, a smart comedy centered around a woman (Leslie Bibb) who asks her ex-boyfriend to care for after she is injured in a car accident.  Fresh off a successful SXSW premiere,   Tuccillo spoke with The Script Lab at SXSW about her new film, writing, and the future of distribution.

TSL: How do you feel about debuting Take Care at SXSW?

Tuccillo: SXSW is really exciting and the energy is amazing.  Getting to be around so many artists is thrilling.  It is a lot larger than I expected it to be.  I had no idea how massive it was, but getting to see films and talk to filmmakers is really wonderful.  Everybody’s here to like film.  You feel very supportive and you’re here to be supportive.

TSL: What was your inspiration for writing this film?

Tuccillo: I was really looking for a script to write that was cheap enough for me to do it and direct.  Then my friend Nadia, who happens to be in the film, she had rotator cuff surgery and many of her friends were coming over to take care of her and I sort of started thinking of things from there.

TSL: What do you hope the audience gets from this film?

Tuccillo: I hope that the audience leaves with the feeling  that they were able to be flies on the wall of this very intimate relationship where they get to see two people very authentically fall in love.  And they have some laughs along the way.

TSL: What’s your take on the new digital distribution methods for film?

Tuccillo: I’m grateful that there are so many platforms that this can be seen on.  I hope that we can get Take Care into the theatre for a little bit and then get it into peoples’ homes.  First thing is to get a buyer. 

We talk about releasing on the digital platform and my friends and I agree to not be hypocrites.  If I had to pick between seeing Gravity in the movie theatre or my film, I’d choose to see Gravity on the big screen and my film on TV because it doesn’t actually need a big screen. But, when I got to see my work on the big screen, it was really filling.  It really made the film come alive on the big screen. It’s great to have that option to have films beamed into peoples’ homes now. 

TSL: That’s valid.  It will be interesting to see which way smaller budget films decide to go regarding distribution.  TV is really gaining more popularity than film-mostly because of all the platforms. Do you think you’ll return to writing for TV?

Tuccillo: I think that TV is so exciting right now that I’d love to throw my hat into the ring with one of those.  I do have some feature film ideas and outlines that I’m working on.

TSL: As a woman who’s really specialized in writing relationships and great women characters, how do you feel about the roles for women in film?

Tuccillo: I feel like film is almost lagging behind TV, which didn’t use to be the case. We have to catch up with TV that has really great lead female characters.  Women are getting great roles in TV, but there aren’t a lot of great roles for actresses in film.  And the roles they get are very often one dimensional.

TSL: What’s your writing process?

Tuccillo: Normally my process is that I have to start writing right when I wake up.  It’s a habit I formed and now I’m trying to get over that because you know you can’t be that rigid.  As I’m thinking of new things to write, I’m wrestling with –if it’s difficult to start writing something, does that mean it’s ultimately an idea that’s not for you? Or you shouldn’t force it or sometimes does it need to be forced?  That’s where I’m at right now.  The Take Care script flowed out of me; it was so easy to write.  There are things I try to write everyday and nothing happens.  So I’m just wondering what the deal is!

TSL:  What is your advice to writers?

Tuccillo: There is nothing out there stopping you from writing or stopping you from creating a film, in terms of how inexpensive things are to do.  It was exciting for me, especially for someone who’s been doing this for a while, to know that there are so many opportunities now. In this day and age you can really just go out and do it.

Content Creator Patrick Epino: Interview SXSW

Epino Talks “Awesome Asian Bad Guys”, National Film Society, and Funding a Web Series

Patrick Epino is one half of the dynamic duo behind the National Film Society, a new media and film advocacy studio.  He and his creative partner Stephen Dypiangco founded the National Film Society to produce their own brand of off beat and unique content, while supporting new content creators.  The success of their videos caught the attention of PBS Digital Studios and a partnership followed in May 2012. 

With growing success, the two decided to work on an idea they’d had for a while; a new web series that brought back all the cool Asian action villains from the 80s and 90s.  The series, Awesome Asian Bad Guys was born.  With a killer idea and strong support, National Film Society launched a Kickstarter campaign that successfully raised over 50 thousand dollars.  Awesome Asian Bad Guys premieres March 20 in San Francisco at CAAM Fest.

Epino and Dypiangco hosted a session called “Create Your Own Media Brand Through Collaboration” at this year’s SXSW.  Epino spoke with The Script Lab before the session to give us the scoop on his new series and successfully creating digital content.

TSL:  Awesome Asian Bad Guys is complete and is premiering at CAAM Fest, can you talk about that?

Epino: We’re playing Thursday night at the Kabuki theatre and Friday night at the Oakland museum.  This is something we’ve been working on since we started our Kickstarter in October 2012.  We thought we would finish sooner, but it’s like perfect timing and just perfect to have it seen in front of an audience.  I’m really excited.  We put a lot of work into post and we think it’s just right.  We can’t wait to see what kind of reaction we get from people. 

TSL: From a successful Kickstarter campaign until now, what has been your experience in creating this web series?

Epino: Kickstarter itself is just another full time job. You have to really use your network and ask people to reach out and share.  It’s also about keeping people interested and created content to keep people aware.  That’s really important, especially now that everyone is using Kickstarter.  It was a great experience, we learned a lot from it. 

As far as the process, when we started Kickstarter, we didn’t have the script written, we just had the concept.  So it was in the development stage and it was just getting that worked out and finding everyone to get on board.  We were able to get some cool actors ahead of the campaign and a few more afterward that kept the momentum going. We shot in July, eight days back to back. Pretty intensive.    The hope is for people to enjoy this and maybe make another version.

TSL:  What tips would you give for putting together a web series?

Epino:  For any type of content it’s important to know your audience.  With Awesome Asian Bad Guys, there was an idea that Steve and I had that we really loved and was really passionate about.  We already had a pretty loyal following in the Asian American community and the web series isn’t for Asian Americans in particular, we thought it would appeal to movie buffs and movie geeks like us, people who remember these guys from action movies in the 80s and 90s.  It was the core/niche audience that rallied behind it right away. 

When it comes to actually making a web series, keep it moving and keep it going quickly; which isn’t something you really learn in film school.  Make sure that if you’re trying to be funny, it’s funny to your audience. 

TSL:  Would you do anything differently, in terms of primarily using your network before moving forward with the project?

Epino: No. I mean, if you’ve made a bunch of things already and you think it’s time to go to Kickstarter then definitely do that.  For us, we had been making online videos for just over a year.  We were comfortable with the way we promoted and shot ourselves.  We had some awareness of who we were and that helped a lot.  If we hadn’t had a body of work, it would’ve been much more difficult to raise the amount that we did. 

TSL:  Let’s talk about National Film Society.  What’s next for you guys?

Epino: We’ll continue to produce content in the awkward brainy way that we do.  Just continuing making online videos and we’ll see where these web videos take us.  When we went to the web, it wasn’t just about creating a YouTube channel; we want to create other online properties-like features.  Part of the reason Steve and I started National Film Society was to support other people and get the word out about their work.   

TSL:  National Film Society has partnered with PBS Digital.  Tell me about that partnership and what it means for content creators.

Epino:  Our relationship with PBS Digital Studios is basically we’re a part of their multi network.  They have several channels.  We joined them back in May 2012; actually they found us soon after we started our YouTube channel.  They liked us; they thought we kind of had a spark (laughs).  They are completely supportive of what we do.  They give us free range to create whatever content we want, but they give us advice on what works. 

TSL:  What are your tips on building your brand through collaboration?

Epino:  Whether starting out or established, you want to increase your audience.  A great way to do that is to work with other people.  We don’t exist in a vacuum, and what we’ve experienced through working with other people is more exposure and the reward of meeting great people. 

Another thing, it’s a lot of work.  It takes time to build those relationships and it takes a lot of effort.  You will encounter a lot of people who just aren’t interested.  You have to keep going and start with people you know.  

Jimi: All Is By My Side - SXSW Review

André 3000 Becomes Jimi Hendrix in Anticipated Premiere

The much anticipated Jimi: All is By My Side made its’ American debut at SXSW on Wednesday night.  Written and directed by Academy Award winner John Ridley ( 12 Years A Slave), and lead by talented music artist André  “3000” Benjamin, the film has been buzzing since it debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall.

Instead of a traditional biopic dramatizing Hendrix’s life and death, Ridley chose to focus on the roughly two years that formed Hendrix into a headlining musician.  Dramatizing a smaller scope provides a more intimate look at how Hendrix transformed--largely with the help of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), Keith Richard’s girlfriend and biggest Jimi supporter- it also misses a key element to any music biopic:  the musician’s music.

Focusing on that brief period of time may have been the only option for Ridley who couldn’t secure the rights to Hendrix’s music.  In fact, the Jimi Hendrix estate recently released the music rights to ICM Partners (the world’s largest talent and literary agencies) for an authorized biopic of the late musician’s life.  Ridley maintains that he chose that span to focus on Jimi’s relationships, which couldn’t have been accomplished with a traditional biopic spanning his short 27 years. Nonetheless, while the dynamics of his relationship with women, his manager, and his music is interesting, it would’ve been a treat to watch Benjamin perform “Purple Haze”.

Don’t be dismayed, the film about a musician does provide some music.  Benjamin performs several covers and gets a chance to show his musical talents in the end credits.  In fact, Jimi may be the role he was made for.  Known for his unique and visionary music, Benjamin proves he can handle heavier material.  Ridley explained that Benjamin was first choice to play Jimi.

Benjamin was surrounded by a strong cast such as Imogen Poots who portrayed the supportive Linda Keith.  Linda played a huge part in getting Jimi on the right course and pushed him into the unique musician he became.   Also, girlfriend Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell) gave a dynamic performance. 

There are many merits to Jimi, strong acting, a solid directorial debut, but the focus on that short span of his life didn’t fill me.  Call me old fashioned, but I like a complete bio.  I would’ve liked to hear more about his childhood, which as I understand, was a tumultuous one. 

Nonetheless, Jimi is a movie worth supporting-even if it’s just to get your fill of André 3000.

The Mend: Review - SXSW

Dark Comedy Explores Fractured Relationships and Layered Characters

The relationship between siblings is often portrayed as a semi tug of war between a clash of personalities and years of bottled emotion.  In writer/ director John Magery’s The Mend, brothers Mat (Josh Lucas) and Alan (Stephen Plunkett) are a dysfunctional duo that can’t seem to mend their broken relationship.  The film takes an erratic journey through Mat’s romantic relationships, irresponsibility, and penchant for bringing drama right to his more responsible brother’s doorstep. 

After a fiery breakup with his girlfriend, Mat wonders to Alan’s home- much to Alan’s girlfriend Farrah’s (Mickey Sumner) disappointment.  As the couple leave for a romantic trip, Matt stays and brings a few good willed squatters with him.    

While the heart of the story is in the crazy and hilarious relationship between the brothers, I found the women to be quite entertaining and multi-dimensional.  Farrah seems to be the matriarchal figure to the brothers.  She commands Mat’s respect and is stern on what she will and won’t do in her relationship (see their hilarious first scene).  She can handle Mat better than the more accommodating Alan.  Farrah moves with a wit and certainty that is refreshing in this adrenaline led comedy. 

Additionally, Andrea (Lucy Owen) plays Mat’s on and off again girlfriend.  She does a wonderful job balancing a character who is both a single mom and a willing participant in a tumultuous relationship.  Even Andrea’s relationship with Alan is layered with a clear understanding that she is stuck with the less responsible, less humane brother.  Andrea is the mom with good intentions who inherently makes poor decisions. 

Magery has created a film filled with rich characters that have their own stories to tell.

The Mend is a unique find during a festival filled with heavy hitters and strong indie contenders.  The writing and acting is authentic and the comedy certainly delivers.  The film could benefit from a more streamlined edit, but just enough to cut it’s exhausting near two hour run. 

Josh Lucas leads a well rounded film that is not afraid to let its’ female characters shine.

Evolution of a Criminal: Review - SXSW

Darius Clark Monroe grew up in a loving home in suburban Houston.  As an honor student, Darius was loved by friends and teachers alike.  Beneath his active mind and humble exterior was a growing frustration with his family’s financial strain.  Finally, a home invasion that stripped the family of what little they owned shook Darius to the core.  Armed with an unloaded weapon and two friends, Darius robbed a bank and subsequently spent the remainder of his teen years in prison.  His personal account of the aftermath of his decision explains the evolution of his character and questions how we view criminals.

Produced by Spike Lee, Evolution explores the power of cause and effect through a series of accounts from friends, family, and victims of his crime.  These accounts show a myriad of emotion-from guilt and responsibility expressed by his family members to anger and eventual forgiveness from his victims.  Monroe is at the heart of these moving accounts, literally staring his family and victims in the face, as the interviewer in each scene. 

Monroe pursued an opportunity in film and has received numerous honors, such as a National Board of Review Award, Warner Bros. Film Award, Austin Film Society Grant, and more.  His accomplishments read like a man prepped and postured for filmmaking. Instead, Monroe is a man who carved his own destiny through many trials.

The line between good and bad is often blurred and Monroe provides audiences with a clear picture of a good person who made a bad choice.  The image of a “criminal” becomes void as we journey through childhood photos, family accounts, and realize that Monroe-a criminal-is more like us than we thought.

At its’ core, Evolution of a Criminal is a moving account of a man looking back at the cause and effect of his actions.  However, Evolution is much more than a one dimensional retelling of a crime.  It is a triumphant account of second chances and a preview of the type of raw storytelling Monroe can deliver.

Veronica Mars: Review - SXSW

The Smart-Mouthed Sleuth Returns with a Comedy both Newbies and ‘Marshmallows’ Can Enjoy

After seven long years and a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, Veronica Mars is back with a modern “who dunnit” that delivers comedy and classic Veronica banter.  Veronica (Kristen Bell) returns to her hometown of Neptune after her ex-boyfriend Logan (Jason Dohring) is accused of murdering his girlfriend and Neptune High classmate Carrie (Andrea Estella).  Veronica’s life has drastically changed since we last saw her. She has completely given up her snooping days and is a recent law school graduate.  When Logan calls, Veronica can’t help but pack her bags for good old Neptune and dust off her gumshoe boots-and taser. What initially starts as a few days back home leads to a few weeks and a slew of clues Veronica just can’t ignore.

Co-Writer/Director Rob Thomas does a great job of quickly introducing Veronica to those who never saw the series, and giving us the scoop on what she’s been up to for the last seven years.  In those first few minutes, newcomers get a history lesson and longtime marshmallows are reconnected with their beloved characters.  Speaking of characters, it was great to see the old cast again.  Mac (Tina Majorino), who has shed her geeky persona and transformed into a hottie, Wallace (Percy Daggs III) now the high school basketball coach, and Dick (Ryan Hansen) who is still Dick.

Most importantly, Veronica is leading the way for other films within the $5 to $10 million bracket to be made.  As Hollywood continues to churn out big budget movies, the modest budget movies are far and few in between.  During its' SXSW premiere on March 8, Thomas commented on this very thing, "If people respond well to this, we've created a paradigm where $5-10 million dollar movies are still made."  Also, the film will be released On Demand as well as in theatres on March 14, further cementing its' trailblazing status.  Veronica Mars fans have a lot to be proud of.

Veronica Mars delivers.  Thomas and co-writer Diane Ruggiero created a script that possessed the same quirky and quick dialogue that fans loved about the series, with a thrilling story that successfully mixes humor and intrigue.  The cast still has great chemistry and Bell’s mix of wit and down right attitude was phenomenal to watch.  For Veronica fans, the Kickstarter support and seven year drought was well worth it.  Thomas delivers a fast paced film that is inviting to newcomers and satisfying to vets.  The film was refreshing and a slick nod to the ability of a fan backed, small budget film to completely rock.

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