Interview with director/producer Mary C. Ferrara

  • Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?

It kind of started with helping write for a web series that I realized I really enjoyed writing and character development.  I had acted in the web series for a couple of seasons and thought there was more to explore.  Then I – on a whim – helped produce a film in NYC. It was tough but I felt accomplished afterwards; so I thought “Why not do my own film?”  So I targeted a specific film festival and their criteria and wrote “Schmoopie.”

  • Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?

Not really.  But I do think, ideally, that you should watch films and be on film sets to get a feel for the ins and outs.  And not a bad thing either if you started as an actor; you can be more of an actor’s friend because you understand the process of preparing for characters;  it can help with how you direct actors, as well as write for them.

  • Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?

Probably getting started is harder.  You have to work through things before you film.  Like choreographing a scene with a dog was new to me.  So I sat and worked through that.  In “Schmoopie,” I thought it could be difficult/distracting to have a conversation with someone while there was a dog in the scene; so I had the character of Joe throw a ball to distract the dog off camera while the conversation got more intense.   Working out logistics can definitely get in the way of getting started but once you work those out and have determination; it’s easier to just get going.

  • What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?

Listening to feedback.  I had a story consultant (Andrea Henry) read the script for “Schmoopie” and it was her idea for how it ended.  And it really made sense.    And helped open it up to a more dog-loving population :-). You don’t always have to implement what other people say about your work but definitely get other opinions; there can be other things creatively that can happen; maybe you can’t see it at the time but they do.

  • What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?

For “Schmoopie” things worked pretty easily.  I cast two actors I knew well that were available and the DP also edited it pretty quickly (had a pretty quick turnaround due to trying to meet a film festival deadline).   I have since worked on a film project I wrote called “Wallie’s Gals” that had had some challenges during production, like fairly last minute changes in cast and crew.    One thing I learned is to let go of “perfection” and to go with the flow.  Things will work out in some way…as long as you are creating and give post production the time it needs (like this year I have had extra time to edit and plot the creative direction of the final product).  Things work out, and even though you dislike at the time problems that can occur, sometimes things that happen end up being for the better.

  • What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?

So there was an actress we cast as a younger version of the main character in “Wallie’s Gals.”  She looked a lot like main character too.  She had to step down and so we needed to find a replacement.  I went with a replacement that didn’t overtly look like the main character or act like her, but in the end had some really nice qualities that worked really well in the end.

  • You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?

My crew members were people who worked with on projects that I had acted in.  I had known them for years so there was a trust there.    Having them see me as a filmmaker is a bit different though than as an actor.     I still have “sea legs” with it and there are some things I would have done differently to make things easier for everyone;  I just didn’t realize as much then as I do now. I try to understand their perspective and be patient, because without crew, well, filmmaking can be a lot more challenging.  I am eternally grateful for all my crew members!

  • What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?

I think a filmmaker should worry about getting a story told and doing it the best I can.  If their heart is into it, it will show; that’s what an audience wants to see.

  • What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?

I have submitted to a lot of film festivals.  I think they can be a good thing for networking and having your story shown across the world.    The best thing though is attending them and meeting other filmmakers.  That to me is the most necessary part.  To hear their stories and challenges. That’s how I get the most out of them.

  • Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?

I think pushing boundaries is never a bad thing.  A filmmaker should be familiar with the classic styles though in order to the break them well and be original and fresh.  Because if they aren’t, then you can end up with a pretty bad product.

  • What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?

Not a big ego for one, that’s important.  Open-minded and listens.  Loves collaboration. Open for giving feedback.

  • Would you recommend writers think like a producer when writing their script? Or, just write with reckless abandon and then worry about the cost, or whatever, after they’ve grabbed a producer’s attention.

It depends.  If you are writing for a producer then you may have to cater to what they want.   But if you are writing just in general, just write.  Write a lot. No matter what. That’s how you get better.  And how you learn more about what is working and not working.  You’ll know.   You just have to do it a lot.

  • How involved in the writing of a project do you get? Are you more involved in the initial development?

I co-produced a film where I didn’t write at all. But with “Schmoopie” and “Wallie’s Gals” I wrote it all.   But both scripts evolved from feedback.  So I can jumpstart it but I love to get feedback from people to mold it more.

  • If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would be your dream production project?

Probably a series that was a throw back to the ‘80s.  I wrote a pilot for a “Wallie’s Gals” series (half of the “Wallie’s Gals” film I did takes place in the ‘80s) that would lead into a full-on series.  I even had cast roles for it.   But budget-wise it’d be too hard; so it’s shelved right now.  But if I had the budget?  That’d be my dream project.

  • What does the future of film look like?

Unfortunately I think a lot of films may continue to be remakes of existing films.  Or we’ll see more film versions of musicals.  I don’t know about the creativity level of Hollywood right now.   But indie film?  I think that’s where the risks are, I hope to see more fun and creative stuff in the indie world.   I was a judge in a couple of film festivals and saw a lot of good stuff.  But there needs to be more risk.  And if you’re a filmmaker reading this, I think you may be someone to help bring it there 🙂