In Conversation With... Rachel Stander
Rachel Stander is a film producer and founder of A Season of Rain, an LA production company telling female-focused stories. She works in film, television and new media, and her most recent project, a feature length indie drama called SCRAP, is currently in post-production. In this interview, Rachel and Clare talk about the life cycle of a film, ambition, and what it's really like in a writers' room...
Clare - Miss En Scene: First of all, can you tell us about your company, A Season of Rain? As Founder and Principal, what are your hopes and dreams for it?
Rachel: Absolutely! A Season of Rain is a boutique production company based in Los Angeles. Our mandate is to tell stories about challenging, complex women and we gravitate towards material that is character-focused and rooted in compelling themes. As I look to the future, I see A Season of Rain becoming known for shepherding stories that encourage more expansive thinking and empathy while also being thoroughly entertaining.
C: What was your route into film production?
R: I started in the industry as an actor. I did a lot of low-budget indie work on that side of the camera. It was instructive, but also disheartening because so many of those projects never completed post-production or got released in any way. The filmmakers just kind of ran out of steam.
Part of my “actor dream” had always been to achieve a level of success where I could option material and get it made. And then at some point I had the “oh, duh” moment of realizing that there was another path to that aside from becoming a super-successful actor, and I turned my focus to development and production. Basically, I shifted my career model from Reese Witherspoon to Bruna Papandrea!
I started working with a handful of writers and directors on projects they had going. There was a collaborative spirit to it, but I was essentially doing work for hire. The obvious next step was to carve out space for myself to focus on projects that were important to me. So I established my production company, A Season of Rain, and started to seek out material that aligned with my taste and values.
C: What does a typical day look like for you as a producer?
R: You know, I think the cliché here is to say that there is no typical day, and if you’re really drilling down to the details, then sure, every day is different because you’re progressing through the life of a project. But the pace of that progress varies and you’ll go through phases where your days have a similar shape. Development is the most sedentary, for lack of a better word. I’m at my desk most of the day, either on email or in meetings (which, these days, means Zoom). Once you’re into pre-production, things get more interesting!
It’s still a lot of emails and phone calls, but where development is about exploring possibilities, pre-production is much more about making decisions and committing to particulars. If you’re a “to do” list person, pre-production is your jam. You’re crossing things off and adding new things to that list every day. Pre-production also means location scouting, which is fun because it gets you out from behind your desk!
When you actually start shooting, that’s when the “no typical day” cliché really becomes truth. Particularly on an indie film where the shoot schedule moves quickly, you’re shooting different scenes every day, potentially in a different location and with different cast. Your call time (and thus your sleep schedule) varies. And with all those variables, there will inevitably be new fires to put out each day.
And then you wrap production and things slow way down. In the early days of post-production, I’m closing out paperwork and taking care of anything that was deemed “non-emergency” during production. I’m also overseeing the post-production workflow and timeline. So that’s back to being a desk job for the most part, with occasional excursions to an edit bay or sound studio or screening room.
Once you have a finished film, you’re doing the festival circuit. That used to mean travel and in-person events, but of course now festivals have gone online or moved to hybrid models to ensure safety.
So that’s basically the life cycle for a single film, but things get more interesting because you’re almost never working on just one thing at any given time, and those life cycles will overlap.
C: As a female filmmaker, what has your experience been like in the industry so far? And how have things been different, if at all, when working on television?
R: Maybe I’ve been lucky, but my experience in filmmaking has been wonderful. I know some female filmmakers will use their hiring power to elevate women and do all-female crews, but I haven’t gone that route. I do work to ensure that we have women in consideration for every role during the hiring process, but ultimately we’re going to go with the person who’s the best fit. I’ve always ended up with men on set, and I think that balance is a great asset! That said, the men I’ve hired have been respectful, lovely professionals who have no problem working with women in charge, and I know that’s not always the case.
As for television, I’ll just share a story. I was working with a writer to prep for a pitch meeting with a very famous comedy actor’s production company. The series had two leads – a man and a woman – and they were considering it as a potential vehicle for a celebrity actress. There were four people in the prep session and I was the only woman. After the writer did his pitch, we mock-grilled him with tough questions, and I was the only one who asked anything related to that female character. And as it turned out, when the writer did the real pitch there were no women in the meeting and he didn’t get a single question about that female character. That role was a key element in packaging the show and making it viable; it had to be something an actress of that caliber would fight for the chance to play. But in these rooms of men, it wasn’t even a consideration.
C: Recent studies have found that of all the behind the scenes roles in the film industry, women fare best as producers. Why do you think this is?
R: That’s interesting! There are certainly qualities that our culture encourages in women that are incredibly useful for a producer. My core responsibility is to protect the film, and depending on the day, that can mean acting as a mediator, a crisis manager, a therapist, or a concierge. For me, it’s about creating a space where people can do their best work, and that means defusing conflicts, balancing personalities, and managing resources.
On the other hand, there are qualities that are key to being a good producer that – speaking very broadly – we discourage in women. You have to be comfortable with people not liking you and not liking your decisions. It requires breaking out of “good girl syndrome” and getting really adept at setting boundaries.
C: For anyone - particularly women and girls - wanting to get into film, what advice would you give them?
R: Cultivate self-awareness. Get curious about how you operate and how you show up in the world. Whatever position you end up working in, you will be more effective (and you’ll probably have more fun) if you bring your strengths into play. And this isn’t about determining your “ideal” position based on your strengths –it’s about doing any job in the way that best aligns with who you are.
C: The next few questions are about your projects. Congratulations on the development and completion of your projects so far! Can you provide a summary of what you're working on at the
moment and how you balance multiple projects at once?
R: Thank you, it’s been a busy couple of years! I’m in post-production on my first feature film, SCRAP. We’re finishing up the sound mix and then the film will be complete! I also have a short film, JULIAN, in post-production. My second
feature, SÉANCE, is currently financing and will be shooting later this year. I’m also in development on a couple of other feature films, but the details on those are still under wraps.
In terms of balancing multiple projects, I try to be realistic about my energy and not over-schedule myself to where I have no unstructured time. When I have multiple projects going, it’s really easy to give attention to the ones that are in
pre-production or production. Those phases have clearly defined tasks and deadlines. Projects that are in development can get a little lost if you don’t build your own routine around them. And then that unstructured time that you’ve protected in your schedule – that’s where you get to zoom out to the big picture view. What’s on your slate? How do you want the next 3-5 years to look? What are you inspired to work on and push forward?
C: You are collaborating with actor-writer-director Vivian Kerr on several of your projects. How did this collaboration arise and what do you enjoy about working with her?
R: Ah, Vivian. She is a remarkable creative force and, honestly, I feel so lucky that our paths brought us together. We met in college. We were both in the theatre program at the University of Southern California. Then we ran into each other years later at an audition for Criminal Minds and reconnected. I was starting to move into producing and the idea for A Season of Rain was taking shape. Vivian was starting to write and think about directing. And as we went down those parallel paths, we kept checking in and getting feedback on our respective projects and supporting each other. The collaboration arose very organically.
One of the reasons our partnership is so rewarding is that we balance each other really well. We have complementary strengths, so we can each lean into what comes naturally to us. We also trust each other’s taste and judgment, which is so key!
And lastly, we’re both ambitious. Ambition is sometimes painted as a bad thing, but this industry is all about self-actualisation. It’s inspiring for me to be around people like Vivian who dare to imagine big things and then get up every day and work towards making them a reality.
C: Your upcoming feature SCRAP is an indie drama about the secrets we keep from the people who love us the most and explores themes of shame and motherhood. Without giving away any spoilers, what else can you tell us about it and what are you hoping that people take away from it?
R: No spoilers, huh? Well, the story has three central characters, each at pivot points in their lives. Beth (played by Vivian) is a single mom who loses her job and her apartment, and turns to her brother, Ben (Anthony Rapp), and sister-in-law, Stacy (Lana Parrilla). Beth is… not a great mom. She makes a lot of poor choices and seems incapable of taking responsibility for herself, let alone her daughter. And then she mixes in with Ben and Stacy, who’ve been doing IVF to try to start their own family, and it’s like these two women are each having their own failings reflected back to them.
Ultimately, all three characters have to let go of some idea they’d had about what their life would look like so they can find happiness. And I hope the audience will come away from it thinking about how that might be happening in their own lives. What are they clinging to that’s maybe not serving them anymore, and how can they let go and create a little space so happiness can come in?
C: Both SCRAP and SÉANCE are micro-budget (under $500K) features. How do you make a smaller budget work and what tips do you have for other filmmakers who have plans to work with a similar amount?
R: It’s so hard! At this budget level, you’re basically underpaying everyone. It’s incredibly important to be up front with people throughout the process. Any coyness about the money just wastes everyone’s time. When hiring your crew, let them know what the rate is, and what the budget for their department will be. Some folks are just 100% not up for the ultra low-budget model, and that’s fine. Focus your energy on finding people who are excited about the script and will bring a good attitude to set. On SCRAP, we did 12 hour shoot days with 5-day weeks, and that went a long way in keeping everyone’s spirits up despite how thin we were stretched. And get clear with your director during pre-production about which elements in the script are very-important-cannot-be-changed, and which things they’re willing to be flexible on. When you need to adjust how the budget is being allocated, it’s a lot easier if the director has had a chance to think about it and you have some contingency ideas worked out.
C: Finally, besides completing sound and music on SCRAP and shooting SÉANCE, what else would you like to achieve in 2022?
R: Work stuff aside, I would like to abandon more books this year. I have a bad habit of forcing myself to finish books, even when I’m really not enjoying them. Like, what if it turns things around and I start to love it on page 300? Which is ridiculous. That has never happened. In 2022, I would like to empower myself to abandon books I don’t like so I can move on to reading ones I do!