This is a guest post by Bryn Woznicki.
As a female, indie filmmaker, you must be a Jane of all trades. At once a benevolent monarch, the next minute kissing someone’s ass. Constantly selling yourself, but maintaining confidence (this makes you attractive). Toeing the line of being interested but not being too eager (we don’t want to appear desperate, after all) and keeping a stiff upper lip, and just the right amount of bend-or-else-you’ll-break attitude so you can adeptly navigate inevitable rejection and whatever Murphy’s Law may throw your way. Cake, right?
I’m Bryn Woznicki, director, co-producer and co-writer of Her Side of the Bed (if that isn’t enough, I’m also in the damn thing).
Her Side of the Bed is about Rachel Nolan, a recently dumped, 20-something writer living in New York. She moves in with her best friend Nicole, who vows to get her over the heartbreak by any means possible, but after sharing an intimate night together their friendship is forever changed. It is a coming-of-age story that follows one womanʼs journey through self discovery and the evolution and ultimate deterioration of a friendship. The film channels the raunch, wit, and self-aware insecurity of Girls as well as the explorative vulnerability of Blue is the Warmest Color.[caption id="attachment_19503" align="aligncenter" width="500"] In the film, best friend Nicole (Bryn Woznicki) and Rachel (Chelsea Morgan) discover a lot about themselves, and each other.[/caption]
The film was written by me and my my co-star, Chelsea Morgan, who plays Rachel. We began this journey in 2012, and the cultivation and birth of this film baby has been a real bumpy fucking road.[caption id="attachment_19504" align="aligncenter" width="500"] On set and in bed, Nicole mugs for the camera while Rachel sets her sights set on something else.[/caption]
Both creators and performers by nature, Chelsea and I met in a musical theatre class in community college. Upon meeting each other, we both had the distinct feeling that we’d met somewhere before. We were sure of it, in fact. But in comparing our histories, we realized that we had never met. We agreed our previous meeting must have been in a past life and we left it at that. We created together. We had chemistry. We had fun. We both had an innate sense of humor and a penchant for “yes, and-ing.”
We found that we were vibrating on the same frequency. Creating together came naturally, and laughs were abundant. We shared common ground: we wanted to tell stories and we wanted to act, but we were left in limbo. Skimming through casting notices was always disheartening: not ugly or fat enough to play the ugly fat friend, and not perfect enough to play anyone else. And that’s what the casting notices focused on. Looks and body types. “Overweight best friend; she’s very happy despite never having had a boyfriend.” Or “Sexy, gorgeous legal assistant.” Or “Fit and pretty waitress.” Or “Girl next door… think Keira Knightly.”[caption id="attachment_19505" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Bryn Woznicki directs Rachel (Chelsea Morgan) as she walks home barefoot through the streets of Brooklyn.[/caption]
We didn’t fit into the molds presented to us, and we weren’t sure we wanted to. And anyway, who’s to say we weren’t sexy and gorgeous? Who’s to say we must be happy in spite of never having had a boyfriend? Who’s to say any boyfriend, lack thereof, or any other person aside from OURSELVES should be in charge of our happiness? And where are the deep, layered, female roles? Characters with personalities, defining qualities outside of their outward appearance or ability to pull dudes? So we started creating our own projects and our own roles.
At the time, I was in film school and was spending a ton of time in production, learning every job on an indie set, the dynamics and idiosyncrasies, and the most important lesson of indie filmmaking: making something from nothing, creating with no money, little help and few resources.
In 2012, I teamed up with the talented Fiona Bates and together we produced Love On-The-Line, an 11-episode web series that I directed and produced. Chelsea and I also played supporting roles.[caption id="attachment_19506" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Love On-The-Line, an 11-episode web series produced and directed by Bryn, starring Chelsea and Bryn.[/caption]
This was the first project where I directed and acted at once. It’s very difficult. At that point I had directed half a dozen projects and produced several dozen, and only then did I feel somewhat comfortable bridging the gap between actor and director. For those just starting out, I suggest you find strong footing in both roles before you perform both at the same time. It’s still a struggle, at once being the “watcher” and the “watched,” and it calls for a ton of grace under pressure.
Love On-The-Line was a lot of work. It was calling in all of our favors, asking our talented friends to work for free, giving up our weekend, every weekend, and hustling. Lots and lots of hustling. But we were creating. And we were being funny. And we were paving the road for ourselves.
The summer of 2012 we wrote and shot a pilot in two months. After a particularly adventuresome summer, we were high on life and our creative accomplishments. We wanted to do more. But bigger this time. We’d just shot a half hour pilot… next step, feature film! How hard could it be, right?
I called Chelsea one day. “I have an story for a feature film,” I told her. “So do I,” she countered. “You go first.” Much like our first meeting, by some strange, cosmic coincidence, our ideas for our features were eerily similar. We essentially both came up with the same idea, independently of one another. We took this as a sign, and we went to work.
For two months we overdosed on each other. We slept at each other’s houses nearly every night. We watched movies for reference, we drank a lot of wine. Sometimes, many times, the wording of a sentence wouldn’t ring true to us. We’d mull it over, turn it upside down, search for alternatives, and an hour later conclude that our original wording was the best. We sent our first draft around and had people read it. We revised it half a dozen times. Then a dozen. We acted scenes out to see how they felt. We lived and breathed this film.
In a way we kind of put the cart before the horse. We were so high on our idea, so confident, that we raised what money we could, flew to New York and shot what we could on our small budget. “The money will fall into place…” “Wait till they see this footage, investors will be chomping at the bit!” But that’s not what happened. We did capture some gorgeous footage, as well as some important lessons.[caption id="attachment_19507" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Armed with a small budget and a positive attitude, the crew flew to New York to begin shooting.[/caption]
After we returned from New York, we used what little money we had left to shoot in L.A. We weren’t remotely close to being finished but we had enough footage to make a nice trailer for fundraising purposes. And we created a Facebook. And a Twitter. A Tumblr. We held and Indiegogo campaign, and a Kickstarter. And made a website. We got fiscal sponsorship from The Film Collaborative. We took meetings with anyone who would meet us. We showed the trailer to everyone. We get interviewed and written up, but still we could not finish the film.[caption id="attachment_19508" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Some of the players pose for a photo during Her Side of the Bed’s Film Finishing Fundraiser held in 2014, (L to R) Chris Ferro (playing “Ernest” in the film), Bryn Woznicki (“Nicole”), Chelsea Morgan (“Rachel”), and Steven Anthony Lawrence (who plays a caricatured, drug-dealer version of himself in the film)[/caption]
Creation of an independent feature film and all that its production entails was outside of the scope of our understanding. It takes a LOT of money. And a LOT of people. Good, competent people. who believe in the work and who are willing to put in crazy hours and energy, probably getting paid a lot less than their worth.
After sitting on our footage and our social media campaigns for over a year, I was feeling very depressed. I’d heard it takes three years, start to finish, to make an indie film. But no one told me it would feel so long. We had almost everything in place that we needed to finish this film: gorgeous locations, talented crew, a few actors with recognizable faces… but we didn’t have the money. And we didn’t know where to get it.
Although we’d received a ton of support from friends online… even garnering a bunch of fans from around the world that we’d never met before, these numbers didn’t, unfortunately, translate to money. We didn’t know if the lack of financial support was due to the fact that most of our friends are starving artists like we are, or perhaps people weren’t so quick to advertise their support of such seemingly “subversive” material. All we know is we put in a ton of work for very little payout and we still didn’t have to resources to finish our film.
But the long, excruciating pause between bouts of production was also fruitful. It allowed our frenetic energy to settle a bit, giving us time and space to become more grounded. No longer in a race to the finish line, we had something very valuable: time. We had time to sit back and review what we’d done thus far. We made space for learning and for changes. We had time to reassess and then reassemble our team, hiring new crew where we found it beneficial, letting go of others that didn’t quite fit. The year plus of non-shooting allowed us to really appreciate this project, to yearn for its fruition, and to appreciate it in the way that you can only appreciate something that’s elusive, dangling attractively in front of you yet slightly beyond your grasp.
By some stoke of luck, or as my grandmother would call it, “a little mazel,” we found a benevolent donor. A family friend. Someone with some cash and a belief in us, and we made budget. We will finish shooting in May.
What would we have done had we not received money from this gracious supporter? I shudder to think. It would have probably been a mix of grant applications upon grant applications (WHICH of course, is still on our agenda), scrimping and saving our own money, conducting another low-yielding fundraising campaign. And lots of hairs graying, and pacing, and panic attacks, and wondering, “Am I wasting my time? Should I just give this up and get a ‘big girl’ job with more security? Will I ever forgive myself if I abandon my dreams?” But the money did come. And we are moving forward, and this film, this child, which has given me so much hope, and joy, and anxiety and pain, will finally evolve into its next stage of being.
If I were to give any advice to indie filmmakers, and especially women in this industry it would be this: It’s going to be hard. Really, really hard. You must be unrelenting. But practice tact, learn how to read people, know when to to keep pushing and when to let go. You’re going to need to hustle. Grow a thick skin. Learn to take rejection gracefully, because it’s going to happen. A lot. You can’t let it break you and you can’t take it personally; you just need to learn whatever you can (all bad experiences are a chance to learn, dontchya know!), dust yourself off, and try again tomorrow.
Hold onto the people who build you up: positive people who believe in you. Dump the people who don’t. Learn positive self talk, at the very least create three positive thoughts for each negative one. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others, but don’t be a pushover. Don’t be afraid to say exactly what’s on your mind, and ask for exactly what you need.
People will underestimate you. If you’re a woman, you may be labeled “bossy” or a “bitch.” Or more likely, the sexism won’t be blatant, but rather subtle and insidious. You won’t be exactly sure why, but you’re left with a bad taste in your mouth. I found that it most often rears its ugly head when I’m at a film festival; the program directors call the directors on stage and there’s one woman to every 10 men. Or it is manifest in the form of someone’s incredulity. “Oh, wow. A feature film? How did you manage that?” A subtle put down, that could almost be misinterpreted as kind. Or when speaking to people about your work, they won’t give you their full attention. As if you’re not worth it. As if you’re not to be taken seriously. “Oh, you’re a filmmaker? How fun!” Yeah, guy. Fun. Barrels of it.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what they think. Whether it’s filmmaking or shoemaking, directing or designing, if you’ve found something that calls to you… something that excites you, turns you on mentally and emotionally… something that makes you feel happy when you’re doing it… run toward it. Keep running. And don’t look back.
Bryn Woznicki is a writer, director, producer, and (although she doesn’t like to admit it) actor living in her hometown of Los Angeles, California. When not making art, she likes making people laugh, speaking Italian and experimenting in the kitchen. You can find her on IMDb here and on Twitter here.