Recently, I had the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation about the process of filmmaking with a group of budding filmmakers out of Austin, focusing primarily on the journey to get their film, ‘Her Story’, made. For director Christopher James Thompson, originally from Corpus Christi and a regular Corpus Christi 7-Day Film Project participant, writer Haley Alea Erickson and producer Beca Rodriguez, that journey has been a collaborative one.
Erickson, a Radio, Television and Film graduate of Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University, has forever been an actress interested in the writing process. After moving to Austin, she met Thompson at a local film mixer, and met Rodriguez while interning for Detour Film Production, Richard Linklater’s production company. From there, a budding collaborative team was born.
Now, that team is deep into pre-production on ‘Her Story’, a short film that follows the journey of a relationship between a young man and woman while the woman battles a terminal disease. From the young woman’s perspective, the audience glimpses moments through a two-year period in that journey, including happiness and the sadness, and all of the moments in between.
The project recently completed a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, and has garnered attention throughout Texas and beyond, including support from Richard Linklater himself. So, naturally, I was curious how the filmmakers got to this point.
NCRS: Tell me the back story of ‘Her Story’; the inspiration behind it, and the journey to try and get it made?
Haley: I have always had a passion for people, specifically the beauty in the complexity of the human condition. I think that the story itself comes from that, most overwhelmingly. The specificity of it being about a terminal illness at a young age comes from my experience of watching my sister go through that battle when I was around 16 years old. She passed when I was 16 and I think it really affected the way that I kind of view terminal illness, and it kind of spurred that interest in me to see what lies within that tragedy that isn’t overwhelmingly horrible, but can be beautiful. People have realization, and are given direction. I think there’s some beauty in tragedy.
NCRS: How long did it take you to write the script once you settled on the idea?
Haley: That’s funny actually. The first draft of the script I wrote in a day, well, more like three hours. I had been mulling over the idea for a while in my head, and then one day I went to a coffee shop and just decided, you know, go! And I just wrote. Then I sent it to Chris, and he said that this was something we should make; or whatever he said in his Chris words. But obviously, writing is a constant process, and we’re still rewriting. We’re at this moment, still looking at it, tweaking it, making it more genuine, and talking about the different things we can do to illuminate the characters further. Of course it is a short, so one of the struggles is keeping it a short.
NCRS: You sent Chris the first draft, and then at some point you asked him to be the director. How did that happen?
Haley: No. He held a gun to my head.
Christopher: Yeah. That’s actually how I get all of my directing jobs.
NCRS: So that’s your secret to success.
Haley: (laugh) No. It was more of an organic process. I mean, my understanding of it was that Chris was always going to be the director, because I think that you have to know me to tell a story that is written by me.
NCRS: Did you consider directing ‘Her Story’ yourself?
Haley: I did consider it. I think that what it came down to, really, is that I’m all about collaboration. I think that makes projects stronger. Chris has such a great way of telling stories, and specifically, I think that his view on the human condition and the way that he can tap into people and interaction. That’s something I want to learn from. I wanted that kind of partnership with that. On top of that, I wrote it and I’m acting in it; the acting is not lighthearted. You have to be committed and fully present for a project like this, and I don’t want to take away from my ability to genuinely tell this story as an actress.
Christopher: When I read the script, in my mind there was no one else that could play the part other than Haley. She wrote it, she understands the character, and it needs to be someone who’s going to be able to take this material as seriously as it needs to be taken. It just always made sense to me that it was Haley.
NCRS: Part of that journey to make the movie happen was the Kickstarter campaign, which was successful by the way. Congratulations! Tell me about the campaign, and how it feels now that it’s over, and it was a success (the campaign had a $5,000 goal and eventually raised over $7,500).
Christopher: Here’s the reality. Haley and I are both artistic types. We wanted a Kickstarter to happen for a while, but it took bringing on someone like Beca for it to actually happen.
Haley: I full-heartedly agree with that. Chris and I have so much to offer, yet, without Beca, we were just in a room, spewing ideas. Beca took all of that and was able to make it into something progressive. She’s just amazing.
NCRS: Beca. You’ve been kind of quiet. Tell me what it’s like taming the creative chaos that is Haley and Chris?
Beca: You know, it actually wasn’t that difficult. I think they just needed a little bit of direction (laughter). We are all on the same page. I think I just needed to come in and relieve some of that stress off of them.
Haley: This whole process has been so collaborative. Obviously, we all have our roles, but when it comes down to it, we are constantly talking. Our thread could be a J.R. Tolkien novel. We always make each other stronger.
NCRS: What’s next?
Haley: This is something we discussed at the very beginning and is something that we’ve been holding true to; the idea of patient filmmaking. That’s something we’re all really excited about: the ability for us to take the time we need to make this story as genuine as we can. I think the beautiful thing about what Beca’s helping us do is she’s giving us the reality of what we can do with that. She’s obviously telling us we can’t extend this into a four-month shoot.
Beca: (laughing) That’s not practical at all!
NCRS: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Haley: Like us on Facebook, and look out for all of our updates. One of the beautiful things about being an independent filmmaker in this day and age is our ability to broadcast our message. We are afforded the opportunity to share with people wherever they are.
Beca: Such as the Survivor Stories!
Haley: An important part of our whole platform are the Survivor Stories. We wanted to provide a platform for people to communicate their experience. One of the goals of our film, and one of the reasons we’re so attached to this project, is: we think that there is such beauty in the individual experience. We want people to be talking and sharing.
NCRS: Finally, Corpus Christi has had a budding film community for a while now; it’s still small in comparison to Austin; but it’s still there. We have a couple festivals in our area, such as the South Texas Underground Film Festival (held in October) and the Rockport Film Festival (held in November). Would these be festivals you’d be screening your film at, once completed?
Haley: Obviously, Corpus Christi is on our radar since Chris is from there, and we have ties to the city. Also, we are all about small communities and film, because we think that there’s such an opportunity for beautiful filmmaking to come out of those communities.
NCRS: Well we look forward to having you here! Thank you so much for the opportunity to have this conversation, and good luck with the next step! Now, I’ll let you get back to your coffee.
Beca: We’re actually about to go look for a location.
Haley: Always on the job, am I right?
NCRS: Well then, get back to work!
For more information on the film, visit their Facebook at: www.facebook.com/HerStoryFilm. There, you can watch the Survivor Stories series, behind-the-scenes videos, and the concept trailer that helped to successfully fund the film.