First things first. Why can’t this Alex Dawson gal spell karma and why is she hanging upside down? Well, it all started with a baby possum. Until you see the film, you’ll have to trust me on that one.
Clara, a neurotic, young woman who sees omens in everything, suffers a spiritual meltdown and as she consults her therapist, the good doctor’s frustration mounts leaving her to wonder: is she beyond therapy?
“Clara’s Carma” is a 7 minute comedy short starring Stephen Tobolowsky and yours truly. It is the direct product of being an artist in LA who is not working and is encouraged to write something, act in it, and shoot it. Sounds easy and it can be, but what I found to be the most important was doing it right. This took time because I didn’t have money, but I did have access to a lot of talented people who helped make this happen. As it turns out, one has to have at least two of the three — time, money, and talent — in order for a film to get made.
I knew I wanted to write a therapy scene and I knew I wanted Stephen Tobolowsky to play my therapist. The writing all came through one morning after yoga when I was telling a friend a sotry about a baby possum and she suggested I go home and write. (There I go with the baby possum again.) The script did not take long to write once I had the idea. I met with Stephen and had the privelege to rehearse the script and also go over it with my director. This enabled me to tweak the script and find things that were missing. Meanwhile, we were looking for a location. Finding a location took much longer than I thought it would. I cannot really say how many times someone would say,“you still havenʼt shot that? Just shoot it!” But, I was in the capable hands of Robert Brinkmann as our director of photography and he insisted we find a great location. Lesson there: rushing a project to get it done without integrity just isnʼt worth it. If you have money, it will be a lot easier to speed things up.
“Clara’s Carma” was made on what I call a “yoga budget.” As a yoga teacher in LA, you can barter a lot of things: hair cuts, massages, and as it turns out — short films. So that left a budget of about 25,000 downward facing dogs. Thatʼs right, everyone from Tobolowsky to my production assistant spent time in down dog with me. Well, there was one little exception. Truth be told, I did pay the sound guy. An industry standard, the sound guy gets paid — no matter what! Iʼm sure they must teach that at USC, AFI and Tisch. But who knew that Stephen Tobolowsky had such a talent for yoga?
This was the critical element that brought it all into focus. I knew I had access to extremely talented people. I had Stephen in mind when I wrote it. And every step of the way, it felt like I was holding a magnet, drawing in people full of creative talent — from our cinematographer, Robert Brinkmann, and our costumer, Sami Sarmiento, to our poster designer, Will Bisgrove and the incredible sound designer, John Turner. John created music that inspires me to want to shoot Clara as a web series.
Finishing the Film.
I had the good fortune to find Kate Atkinson who is my producing partner on Claraʼs Carma. With an MBA from Northwestern and seven films under her belt, Kate was instrumental in guiding me through the finishing of the film, which is a big element of what I am most proud of — creating the total package. Itʼs great to shoot something and put it on YouTube or Vimeo, but to follow through with marketing and creating a movie poster and brand around the film is another part of completing a project. What I found in Kate is a woman I respect, who is incredibly smart and talented, who I thrive with creatively and in whom I trust completely. When you find people like this, in this industry, you gotta hang on to them. We are currently in development on our next project, an original comedy series. This one she wrote. Itʼs brilliant.
Festivals. How do I get this seen?
Playing at festivals and getting the film seen by people who donʼt know me is the best. I think itʼs important to really think about where your film will play well. We were pleasantly surprised to get accepted into the Sedona Film Festival, and once we played there, it made perfect sense that we were chosen. Opening for Tom Shadyacʼs documentary “I Am” was a great pairing for us. We had the perfect audience, and the theater was packed, which is always great for a comedy. I would advise all new filmmakers to consider applying to some of the smaller and mid-sized festivals, as well as the bigger ones. BendFilm was our premiere festival. I had never heard of this gem of a festival in Oregon, and it was, and still is, my favorite festival so far. BendFilm is a festival designed for the filmmaker, with great venues, well-attended screenings, and accommodations set up for the filmmakers — even the short filmmakers. Once we played at a few festivals, we began requesting fee waivers. The festival circuit is becoming big business. Plan on spending some money if you want to go this route, but be smart about it. The 1st annual festival in nowhere, Kansas should waive the fee for your short film if you believe in it.
Claraʼs Carma was nominated at the Action on Film Festival:
-Best Female Filmmaker: Alex Dawson
-Best Supporting Actor: Stephen Tobolowsky
-Best Cinematography: Robert Brinkmann
Big Bear Film Festival will also be honoring our very own:
-Acting Award of Excellence: Stephen Tobolowsky
Most Intriguing Feedback.
“How did you know how to write a character with borderline personality disorder?” – therapist at Sedona Film Festival
My response: What do you mean borderline personality disorder? I wrote this character as a personal parody to my own ridiculous life experiences, but I assure you…Iʼm not on meds. At least not today.
“No, I donʼt think sheʼs borderline. Bi-polar, sure, but not borderline.” – another therapist at Sedona Film Festival
My response: Are you saying you think Iʼm bi-polar?
“I think I dated that girl.” – several guys
My response (to several guys): You do look familiar.
What would I have done differently?
I definitely wish I had an onset photographer to take production stills. This was my first venture as a filmmaker and I was disappointed to have overlooked this key element. Additionally, I would have stood behind my instincts on using certain takes, ones that I still wish we used in the edit of the final film. Also, the script needed a bit of an edit, which we took care of in post production. I wish I caught that before we got to set. Now having done this, I have a better understanding of how I would have revised my shooting script.
What would I do the same?
I would work with smart, talented people who have a strong work ethic. Everyone from my costume designer and my editor to Tobolowsky showed up and delivered. We were able to be in and out of our location in seven hours for a seven minute film because we were prepared before we got to set and everyone knew what they were doing.
Whatʼs next with Clara?
Weʼll have to see what happens next with Eitan. Will Clara go back to Soaring Eagle? Does she make it to the alter? And what about that baby possum? This all remains to be seen.