Feature: In Conversation with... Amanda Lundquist

Amanda Lundquist is a filmmaker living in Brooklyn. As a member of Film Fatales, NYWIFT and the Alliance of Women Directors she is committed to gender and racial parity in the film industry and believes that self-representation and inclusive collaboration is the future of the independent film community. In this interview with Miss En Scene, Clare and Amanda discuss authenticity, script structure, and the unexpected positives of Covid-19 on the release of Amanda's latest comedy feature, Asking For It.

Clare - Miss En Scene: First of all, can you tell us what the role of a director means to you? 

Amanda: A director is a relationship builder and the glue that keeps all the departments together. I hate the image of an arrogant male director who is too brilliant to be nice. That's not good directing because it doesn't provide the room for creative collaboration to thrive. A director is open and excited by the ideas of the cinematographer, actors, art department. That's where the magic, wild ideas happen. That's the kind of stuff I want to watch and make. So a director builds a real creative team, knows how to recognize a good idea, and communicates the details between departments of what's needed to achieve the overall tone. For example, we have a creepy stalker antagonist in Asking For It. His hair gets greasier over the course of the movie. The movie also gets darker and more contrasty over time, slightly. And the actor's performance very gradually changes as well. Those are the kinds of little details that bring the audience through a journey, adding up to a vision. Especially in comedy, it's important that the cast and crew know how to play off of each other and build on one another's ideas.

C: What or who inspired you to get into film? 

A: Actors inspired me to get into film and storytelling. That was my first love. Watching Inside the Actor's Studio with James Lipton as a kid. I had a notebook and would take notes every week on little gems the actors would share. A good performance has always moved me and brought me deeper into the story. I remember watching Nathan Lane in a production called Butley that came to Boston when I was in middle school. I remember one line he delivered, and the gesture of his body and how it echoed in the space. It clicked inside of me and got the waterworks going. The show actually had bad reviews and so I wrote Nathan Lane to let him know the haters were wrong and his performance made me cry for three hours afterwards. He actually wrote me back and said things like keep doing what you're doing, don't let the bastards get you down. I realize now that I was probably connecting to the character and story because it was about queer love and loneliness. I was too young to get that, but somehow, the story got through to me on a deeper, subconscious level. The potential storytelling has to reach an individual viewer is very important to me and motivates me in the work I do.

C: As a female filmmaker, what has your experience been like in the industry so far?

A: I'm still on the outskirts of the industry, but you can get a better view from there. I've just banded together with my friends, and the people in my network, to make the movies we want to watch. We've always understood that we needed to do it ourselves, give ourselves permission and not ask for it. Even as recent as five years ago, the industry didn't want to put money behind young female creatives like us. There have been great improvements as of late, and exciting stories being told, gender-wise. I have more to watch now that interests me than ever before. But, this industry prides itself on its exclusivity and for the most part, that's still true. I'm salty about how many "queer" films are directed by straight people. I watch these films and they're not authentic-feeling, which is a real dissapointment. Likewise, I'm sure directors of color are sick of seeing white people direct movies about POC stories. The industry is still sort of an amorphic collection of nameless, faceless gatekeepers. I'd love for the industry to reveal itself to me, to become transparent, but I'm not waiting around for anybody.

C: Are there any misconceptions about filmmaking that you would like to erase or set straight?

A: Many! Good movies are the result of an enormous amount of resources - from good actors, to good writers, to good locations- all coming in sync with one another, in line with a calendar and the weather and the laws of physics. Every movie, even the mediocre ones, is a miracle. Especially the ultra low budget ones. Be extra kind when watching those movies. They are much harder to make than you can imagine. It takes years, many nights of no sleep, and the ability to harness many different people at once towards the same goal, in order to finish a movie. Give your true indie filmmakers love!

C: For anyone - particularly women and girls - wanting to get into film, what advice would you give them?

A: Give yourself permission to be a work in progress. If you want to make something, make it. And make it knowing it's going to be imperfect. Be kind to yourself and open to learn. There are no genius filmmakers. There are just people that have had a lot of chances to perfect their craft. Keep making things, learn, and hone your skills. 

C: Let's talk about your work. Tell us about your directorial feature debut, Pinsky. 

A: Pinsky is a coming of age comedy about a first generation Russian-American who has to move home after her girlfriend breaks up with her and her grandfather dies. It's a tale of intergenerational conflict, that tries to get at what love means between family members that have diverging aspirations for one another. It was a very personal venture - everyone who was involved knew Rebecca Karpovsky (producer, actor) and I personally. So the locations, the casting, everything really, was very homegrown. It contributed to an incredible feeling of camaraderie on set and set a high bar for future projects in terms of process and how good collaboration should work. I also got to direct Larissa Popova, who was a famous actress in Russia, but then moved to the U.S.  in the 80s and acted much less as a result. We would sit together at her kitchen table for hours, discussing character and the script, and she was a wealth of knowledge. It was one of the most gratifying experiences.

Stills from Amanda's latest film, Asking For It:

C: What did you learn from directing Pinsky that you used when directing Asking For It?

A: I learned how to direct, period! Our DP was Olga Vazquez and she essentially taught me how to make a shot list and how to tell a story visually. This is the truth for most directors in the early stages of their career: their DPs know a lot more than they do. So, I took that newfound visual and technical knowledge and brought it with me into Asking For It, which Olga also shot.

C: What is the premise of Asking For It and what are you hoping that people take away from it?

A: Asking For It is about a media journalist who seeks vigilante justice when her internet stalker runs free from the law. Becky Scott wrote a very funny, twisted script, and asked me to direct it with her. It's sort of a Slackers meets Chewing Gum revenge comedy. Our goal was to make angry women like us laugh in recognition. But also, we wanted to affirm that anger, whether it be caused by toxic masculinity or disappointment from our older female bosses that we thought would be our advocates. The film should feel like a cathartic, absurdist roller coaster through and out of injustice. We hope people leave the theater, or their couch, feeling affirmed and relieved.  

C: How has Covid-19 affected the production and release of your film?

A: The film was meant to come out in 2020 and was actually premiering at its first film festival in March. Well, the festival was cancelled halfway through. COVID-19 has entirely changed our plans. But for the better. We were approached by Fuse TV, who licensed the film and put it on TV so that anybody, anywhere could watch. A 16-year-old girl can now watch the film from her parent's couch at 1 AM on a Wednesday. That's far more reach than going the traditional route of distribution. We've also gone to many film festivals online and two drive-in festivals. That would have never happened a year ago. Film festivals have had to change their rules about where a film can screen before premiering with them, being on TV would have disqualified us pre-covid. As a result the film's had far more reach than we ever imagined. It's now on Amazon Prime.

C: What are your hopes for the future of film and can you tell us what projects you've got coming up?

A: I hope, very deeply, that script structure changes to become more inclusive of ensemble casts, which will allow for more diverse stories to be told in more complex ways. The Hollywood script structure of one main character and a bunch of b characters who serve that protagonist is very limiting and boring and leads to problematic casting choices. For example, Hollywood still mostly feels the protagonist should be white (especially if she's a woman) and so the b characters will be POC. But, the laws of physics for Hollywood movies dictate that a b character is there first and foremost to serve the story of the protagonist. That's where you get the tokenized, "helping" POC characters, that don't have aspirations of their own. In that sense, it's a very limiting structure creatively speaking.  It is not the future of storytelling. I'm excited by shows like Sex Education, I May Destroy You and movies like Shortbus (throwback!) that embrace ensemble cast storytelling. I hope that happens way more. In terms of my own projects, I'm writing a series involving vampires and training to become an intimacy coordinator. I'm immeasurably excited about both.


You can follow Amanda on Instagram (@alunkish) or check out her official website here: http://www.amandalundquist.com.

Asking For It is available to watch on Amazon Prime at this link or on Fuse TV and you can watch the trailer for it below: