We are excited to screen Melissa Anderson Sweazy's short film, JOHN'S FARM. Melissa's short script, THE DEPARTMENT OF SIGNS AND MAGICAL INTERVENTION, won the grand prize at the 2012 Vail Film Festival. We're happy to have her back.
About Melissa: Melissa Anderson Sweazy is a writer, director, blogger and photographer based in Memphis, Tennessee. Her feature screenplay Nessun Dorma was accepted into the 2013 Venice Biennale and her feature The Devil in Reverse was a finalist for the Darkwoods Entertainment Award at the 2013 Austin Film Festival. Her screenplay for The Department of Signs and Magical Intervention won the grand prize for a short script at the 2012 Vail Film Festival, grand prize winner at the 2013 Nashville Film Festival and was a finalist in the 2013 Showtime Tony Cox Screenplay Contest at the Nantucket Film Festival. Her short film John's Farm premiered at the :A Shorts Fest in 2013 and won Best Hometown Short at Indie Memphis Film Festival that same year. Her short film The Department of Signs and Magical Intervention will make its festival debut in 2015.
How long have you been directing/writing? Did one come before the other or were you always interested in both? To my seven year old daughter's consternation, I declared myself a writer at age eight. (She is still undecided) But I was making home movies since I could operate a camera. As the representative of the French Club in my high school's Junior Miss pageant, I told the audience I wanted to move to Hollywood and direct horror movies. The host chided me for not smearing myself and my gown with fake blood. Needless to say, I didn't win.
Did you go to school for filmmaking? I was an english major at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN. I took the first screenwriting course ever offered there. The professor liked my Tales from the Crypt spec and urged me to call HBO. So I called HBO. (In my defense, this was the 90s) The very kind and patient receptionist who took my call told me she couldn't help me but urged me to continue writing.
How many short films have you directed? Two. John's Farm and the forthcoming The Department of Signs and Magical Intervention, in addition to music videos for a local record label.
What is your top advice for first-time directors? Know that you will mess up. Directors traditionally aren't the type that enjoy being vulnerable and ceding control, but the sooner you get right with the fact that you will make stupid mistakes, that shots might not turn out as planned, that the weather will force you to shoot indoors, that a little chaos might reign, the better you – and your movie – will be for it.
Is there any one part of the process that you enjoy more than the others? Fundraising! Just kidding. I was surprised by how much I enjoy working with actors. I direct my own scripts, so I tend to be in my head, isolated for so much of the process. It's thrilling to finally be on set with the folks who are embodying the characters who have been relegated to the page for so long.
What drew you to wanting to tell this story? I think a lot of modern parents suffer from a collective, existential dread that it is only a matter of time before something terrible happens to your children, and it will be your fault because you failed to be vigilant at all times. I'd read an article that talked about how, in four generations, children had lost their right to roam. I was haunted by this infographic that showed how over 100 years, children went from exploring for miles and miles to not being allowed past their driveway. Becoming a parent made the struggle all the more personal – and visceral. We want our kids to have the liberated childhoods we remember, but we’re too terrified of the ramifications.
What kind of camera did you shoot on? The RED Epic
What were some of the challenges in getting this film made and how did you overcome them? Coming up with the money. We dipped into our savings to make this which was unnerving to say the least. But my amazing DP Ryan Earl Parker urged me to upgrade to a better quality camera and it was a gamble that really paid off. The other major concern was shooting all 14 pages in two days, and we were outdoors to boot. So there was a lot of sitting and watching storm clouds, praying while refreshing the weather app on our phones, but at the end of the day, that fancy camera captured a much more dynamic range of light and really saved us in the edit.
To learn more about Melissa, and you should, her blog's awesome. Check out her site.