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Writer/Director Emily Schooley talks about her new film, Reset (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Who is Emily Schooley you ask? Well that’s something I’ve been trying to find out for a few weeks now doing research on the internet, watching videos and asking questions. What I found out in those few weeks is she’s a talented, intelligent, introspective personality who truly loves what she does. You could say she’s part of a new generation of actresses and filmmakers who are bucking trends and going with their gut, or you could say she’s an empowered woman on her own little mission to change the film industry for female kind. All of these things would be true and her latest project really gives you an insight into what a future with Emily in it would be like. Emily is an actress who you may recognize from the web series Clutch the brainchild of Jonathan Robbins (Nathan, Out With Dad) and starring Caitlynne Medrek (Claire Daniels, Out With Dad). The six degrees of separation to Out With Dad doesn’t stop there as she’s enlisted the help of actress Kelly Marie Murtha (Out With Dad) to be a part of the cast of Reset.

Reset is Emily’s latest project from her Laughing Cat Productions company, her baby the lovechild of two different ideas that just seemed to give birth to a really interesting plot. Reset follows the lives of three women, and how they each approach difficult choices in their lives. Mara, Dr. Simone and Charlie all have things in their lives that they are battling, Charlie with the diagnosis of a fatal illness is trying to come to terms with her love for her best friend. The cast includes Angela Martin, Ariana Leask, Kari Kinnear, Miroki Tong and from Out With Dad, Kelly-Marie Murtha. I was lucky enough to score an interview with Emily and was not disappointed one bit; this girl is a firecracker with creative stories to tell and an outlet to tell them.

Erin: First off, congratulations for moving into production I think that’s awesome and I’m so excited to see the movie. My first main question I have is what was the inspiration for Reset, how did the idea come about?

Emily Schooley: Thank you! I’m one of those people that likes to do things right away, so to take the months needed to properly plan for production has been both good and frustrating for me. The birth of Reset actually came from two separate ideas I had – one was originally going to be a photoshoot of a woman on the beach, alone in winter. Very grey, stark, solitary-feeling.

The second part of it came out of a random idea I had while on the the streetcar one day, namely “what if medical science had cures for illnesses they weren’t making public?” From there, I went through about nine drafts of the script, with a table read last summer, before we reached the shooting draft I’m working from. The story focuses much more strongly on the idea of “the risks we take in our own lives, and what the outcome of those risks might be”, than either of the two original elements.

Erin: What is your casting process for this movie, do you already have some people in mind or are you going to do an open call?

Emily Schooley: I actually finished casting in mid-January! When I first cast the film (with the exception of one character cast in advance, Kelly-Marie Murtha as Dr. Simone) I left submissions totally open to chance and talent. I wanted the best people with the best chemistry for the roles, and I was hoping to get as diverse a cast as possible. To be honest, I was disappointed that I only had about three people who weren’t white try out. From those actors who submitted, I invited about ten to twenty actors for each role to audition. The first round of auditions was done through video submissions, and then I narrowed it down to my top five choices for each. After a round of video auditions came a two-hour callback session where I had about twelve actors reading together in different pairs, and some very tough choices had to be made. I actually ended up re-writing two of the originally male roles so that I could have more women in the film, where the Steve character became Sia (played by Miroki Tong), and Nate became Natalie (Lisa S. Dyment).

Based on what I saw in the audition room, it ended up that about two thirds of my principal cast are people I’d worked with before. Angela Martin who plays Charlie, my lead, is brand new – she was a lucky find, and I got chills watching her audition video. I’ve worked several times now with Ariana Leask, who plays Charlie’s best friend Mara, and Alex, played by Kari Kinnear, was in my short film Pears.

Erin: What made you make the switch from acting to behind the scenes, do you think it was a natural progression or was it something you just said, I need to do this?

Emily Schooley: To be honest, I haven’t fully switched so much as added more skills to my arsenal. Many of my previous talents found new life behind the camera. Writing is something I’ve been doing all my life – I actually wrote my first script when I was about 6 years old. (It was a ten or so line script of dialogue for my cat to perform). Still photography has been one of my hobbies for many years, which made jumping into cinematography a natural progression. I’m also extremely Type A and love project management, so some elements of producing come naturally to me, including seeing the big picture for my films. Most importantly, directing definitely seems like a natural progression from acting, mostly in being able to ask actors for what I need in language they understand. Also, the skills I learned in acting classes, like understanding the narrative and evolution of a story from start to finish, are keys to successful directing.

And yes, I do still act as well, though lately it’s been more theatre than film – I just did a play in December 2014 written by Maureen Jennings (creator of Murdoch Mysteries), and in March 2015 I’m reprising my role in a charity fundraiser for International Women’s Day.

Lastly, I was also lucky enough to mentor with another indie director several years ago, which I’ll talk more about in a moment.

Erin: You’ve worked on a good amount of projects throughout your six year career, what do you find is the most difficult part of making indie films?

Emily Schooley: Mostly it comes down to money and exposure. Lack of funding for good indie films can be a barrier in getting the right gear, locations, even talent that would help films’ production value go from good to exceptional. It also often means that production needs to be evenings or weekends when it can fit in people’s schedules, rather than cast and crew having the time and focus to dedicate solely to the project. This means it often takes longer to complete a film, and sometimes people’s stresses from other commitments can impact your work.

The exposure issue is about getting your work not just seen, but about connecting to your ideal fans. Many filmmakers and other creatives are not inherently business-minded, so “boring” work like creating a marketing strategy doesn’t always happen effectively. Sometimes films just don’t get finished, or don’t get seen by the right people so they just die a quiet death. That can get disheartening for cast and crews, after all of the time and love they put in to these projects.

Erin: From a personal or professional point of view, or both, what do you think has been lacking in LGBT films and series?

Emily Schooley: I can talk forever about this! First off, I really hope we can get to a place where we don’t have to specify “two gay men”, “the lesbian lovers”, etc when pitching or promoting a film, like it should be thought of as unusual. I think we’re almost there, and the last ten or fifteen years in film have softened audiences considerably, but it still feels to me like sometimes LGBT is treated more as a trope than a genre unto itself. We don’t promote films as a heterosexual rom-com, so why make a spectacle of the opposite?

Personally, I’d also love to see more happy endings outside of comedies, and more straightforward representation of characters in their 30s, 40s, and beyond. So many iconic LGBT films revolve around teen sexual awakening and coming out at a relatively young age, or feature something tragic happening to the characters. I want to see more stories of people who come out later in life, people who finally find happiness and a place of belonging. I’d also love to see more healthy representation of bisexuals, of trans people, of queer people of colour. And of course, functional polyamorous relationships, both hetero and LGBT. While queer representation in media has come a long way, I think we still have a long way to go. Am I asking for too much? Probably. But someone has to push the envelope.

Erin: Feminism has been a hot button topic in Hollywood these days everyone seems to have an opinion of what a true feminist is. You are very active in women’s rights issues, what do you think makes a true feminist or are you like me and think feminism is different for each woman?

Emily Schooley: While not a perfect comparison, I view feminism in a way similarly to viewing religion – there’s a lot of different schools of thought out there based around one key idea interpreted in different ways. Also like religion, it’s a movement that has evolved considerably, and some people use its name for their own selfish means. I do think it’s unfair – to say the least – that some women claim to be feminists and then turn around and attack other women, but it feels a little hypocritical of me to say “you’re doing it wrong” or “you’re a bad feminist.” I have trouble identifying with those who use feminism to promote hatred towards any person or group, and I wish I could change the still-pervasive idea that being a feminist automatically means you hate men. Going back to the religion analogy, ultimately I look at intent and aftermath – are your actions as a feminist designed to help or do harm? If you’re knowingly doing harm, I can’t condone or support your actions, feminist or not.

Personally, I identify as an intersectional feminist, meaning that I advocate very strongly for equality for all, including trans women, including sex workers, including people of ethnicities other than my own (and even including men to be treated fairly and with equality, but with the caveat that I stand for women first and foremost.)

Erin: What can the film industry on a whole do better to respect and truly acknowledge women in the industry?

Emily Schooley: Pay us money to do what we’re good at! No, seriously. If our screenplays are good, produce them. If we’re good at directing, hire us to direct your project. If we’re the best grips, let us light your sets and haul sandbags around. And maybe start paying female actors the same rates the men get paid. It should be that simple, but it’s not. Yet, anyway.

Much like women in infosec, women in video games (yeah, I’m going there. Briefly.), women in medicine, women in any other field – we should be hired based on aptitude, not bits. And I am confident that the film industry will get there if we keep pushing. In the meantime, part of that push needs to include more mentorships for women especially when it comes to production – get us behind the camera, get us producing, get us writing.

As I mentioned earlier, I was mentored by an indie director several years ago as I was starting to explore working behind the camera. I owe a lot of my skills and development to him – I learned many lessons in both what to do and what not to do when it comes to making indie film, and I also got to learn new skills like video editing that I probably never would’ve been inclined to try otherwise. Overall, I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for him; having access to supportive mentorships is absolutely essential.

I’d also love to see more film taught in elementary and high schools, with all genders given an equal chance to learn and grow.

Erin: I’m a huge horror movie fan so the fact that you were in a documentary about scream queens puts you numero uno in my book, what is the most fun about acting in a horror film?

Emily Schooley: Horror is a genre close to my heart, though I am also a big wuss and tend to jump easily when watching something I haven’t been in. I love acting in horror for so many reasons: first off, you usually get amazing cast and crew working together to pull off these under-funded projects for love. You also get to tell stories that push the envelope and effect your audience in new and unique ways. And then there’s the gore. I’ve died in some very clever ways over the years, and really enjoy the special effects that come with each new challenge. For the upcoming feature “One Week in Windchocombe“, I got a very large drum of blood dumped over my head. The clean-up was painful (I had to be thoroughly hosed down outside before I could go shower, and then I had to peel off sticky wet clothes that were clinging *everywhere*), but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Erin: Is it true you refused to wear a cast after you broke your arm so that you could finish a film? Are you insane?!

Emily Schooley: The short answer is yes… Though it was just my hand and not my arm. (I broke the knuckle joint where my baby finger meets my palm.) When I got injured, I didn’t think my hand hurt enough to be broken, so I just wrapped it in a tensor bandage and went on with my life, which at the time included both filming for Black Eve (another great horror film!) and moving from one apartment to another. After I finished moving in to my new place, I decided to get x-rayed to prove my worried friends wrong about it being broken. Turns out they were right, but having a cast would’ve seriously interfered with the costume I had to wear and my shooting dates couldn’t be postponed, so I just kept it wrapped in a tensor until it healed.

Erin: I know you said that you have friends from the LGBT web series Out With Dad, it’s a personal favorite of mine and I think the cast and Jason Leaver are some of the best people I’ve never had the chance to formally meet. Did you work on that show at all and if not what do you think of what it has done for the LGBT community?

Emily Schooley: I think Out With Dad has been good at reaching out to teens and young adults who are facing coming out, and giving them smart, likeable, supportive young women to encourage their own journeys. All of the cast are amazing actors and work very well as an ensemble to breathe life into the story.

The funny thing about the web series community (especially in Toronto) is how small it is! I never worked on Out With Dad, but I have worked with many of the main characters from it in one form or another.

For example: Kate Conway and I are both in an episode of the upcoming web series Out of Time, where I also act opposite Kelly-Marie Murtha, who plays Angela in OWD. This is just one of the many times Kelly and I have worked together. Did I mention how thrilled I am to have her in Reset?

And then there’s the overlap between OWD and Clutch, the web series created by Jonathan Robbins, who plays Nathan. In season two, my character Michelle faces off against Caitlynne Medrek playing Lex, a character much, much different than Claire. Jonathan asked me to write an episode for season three (for which we are now crowdfunding, actually! and I am very excited to bring that to the screen.

Erin: In my opinion Indiegogo has truly been a gift to the film community, how do you feel it has helped indie artists such as yourself and do you think it’s hurt the community in some respects?

Emily Schooley: I think Indiegogo and other crowdfunding sites are great in that they give emerging filmmakers a way to get financing outside of chasing grants or funds that often go toward larger, more established projects. They also can help artists get in front of their ideal target market in ways we couldn’t a decade ago. Crowdfunding also gives fans and consumers an opportunity to vote with their money regarding what kind of content they want to see developed, which is fantastic as more media production moves toward the web and video on demand.

The downside is that crowdfunding is no longer new and exciting – pretty much everyone these days is funding for something. Not everyone is reliable or honest. Stupid campaigns, like that potato salad one, raise a ton of money while legitimate projects get ignored. Funders are feeling burnout from the number of times they are asked to donate to different projects. Campaigns that don’t make good on delivering their promised rewards damage trust and leave people feeling like they wasted their money, which makes them less likely to donate to future projects. In short, at this point it’s hard to tell where crowdfunding is ultimately heading, but it’s become a real mixed bag.

Erin: Last, but certainly not least, what can we expect to see from you in the future, anything ideas of life after Reset?

Emily Schooley: Well, since we didn’t hit our first crowdfunding goal, production and post-production for Reset will take longer than I’d originally hoped, unless another $6000 or more magically makes its way into my bank account in the next two weeks. Like I mentioned earlier, this is one of the risks of producing indie film, though it is a risk I am willing to take (ie getting it done well rather than rushing for a deadline). Due to scheduling issues, we will now probably be shooting until sometime in the spring, and then editing through the summer, so that’s my first priority.

Alongside that, I am directing a play here in Toronto for Daisy Productions, which goes up in late May 2015. I’m pretty excited for that, as I’ve got a great cast, and the company is great to work with.

In terms of my own work… where to start? As you may guess from the list to follow, all of my film work somehow deals with issues surrounding some combination of women, neuroscience, and sexuality. I’ve got a few project concepts in early development, including a documentary about police misconduct, a web-based talk show about sex and sexuality, and a fairly unique idea for a feature horror film that hasn’t been done before (as far as I know). I also have a couple of fun, nerdy webseries ideas of varying complexity, playing in the universes of Sailor Moon, Doctor Who, and Marvel respectively.

What I hope to work on next is Forget Me Not – a film noir/dark drama series about a woman who develops PTSD after a violent attack. This one also deals with police misconduct, and is loosely based on true events in my own past. I would like to either produce it as a webseries or (ideally) have it on Netflix, so I am looking for a much larger production budget than what I’ve had for past projects.

If you get a chance check out Emily’s Facebook page for Reset and her page for Laughing Cat Productions, ask how you can help get her films made or just follow along to see what this lady is going to do next. She’s one to watch out for and the film looks to be a very interesting indie film this year. I’ll keep tabs on Emily and Reset so I can bring you the latest news and updates. Don’t forget that supporting indie filmmakers especially ones that want to tell the real stories of the LGBT community is essential to getting these films and series made. Some would say we have an obligation to nourish and support those artists who try to make a difference in this world, instead of sitting back and complaining about the lack of women in film or the lack of true LGBT characters we need to stand up and do something about it. Emily is an ally we can all afford to have and a talented one at that, so stay in touch follow her on twitter and let her know you’re there, we could all use a helping hand sometimes.

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