The Unexpected Positive Consequence Of Having A Parent Heavy Film Crew
Cara Winter is the writer and co-director of Division — a short film currently crowdfunding on IndieGogo about a young, interracial couple who find themselves in a long-distance relationship… even though they live in the same city.
Moms-in-Film chatted with Cara about the film, how she made the leap behind the camera and how childcare affects productions of every shape and size.
What’s your role on Division and how did it come about?
Division is a short film I co-wrote (and I’m also co-directing it, with my collaborator George Ellzey Jr.), and it is my first foray into producing my own work. Division is a short film about a young, interracial couple who find themselves in a long-distance relationship… even though they live in the same city. We think anyone who’ve ever had to sit in traffic for over an hour to see someone who lives less than 5 miles away will relate!
Why do you feel it’s important people see this story now?
In the film, the two main characters (who fall in love) happen to be from different ethnic backgrounds, but that isn’t the main thrust of the film — not at all. In fact, I don’t think we ever mention it! This was very much on purpose; to us, diversity is normalcy. All too often, in the great romantic comedies (from When Harry Met Sally to Garden State, to more recently La La Land) the main characters are usually white. (And if one of the them is non-white, it’s a major plot point.) With Division, we felt it was important for people to see two PEOPLE fall in love, who just happen to be from different ethnic backgrounds. But it’s NOT a plot point; they’re just people, falling in love, then trying to make a go of it.
Have you always been a writer/director?
No, I was an actress first; I got my undergraduate degree in Theater from NYU, and then I went on to have a stage career. I wasn’t a parent back then, and I travelled a ton — national tours, summer stock, the works. Then, I got married and had a baby, and right away I was like, “I gotta do something else; I don’t want to travel all the time, I want to read to my son every night!”
Were you writing as well as acting at that time?
Writing was always something I’d done on the side, for fun, but once I became a parent, I started to put it more front-and-center. I wrote a play that was produced in New York, and my friend Howard Emanuel came to see it; he was an actor-turned-writer, as well. He loved the play, but encouraged me to try my hand at screenwriting, too. So I wrote a spec script for an episode of HBO’s The Newsroom; of course it never even got within 1,000 miles of Sorkin’s desk; it was more or less an exercise. So it was a huge surprise when it started winning awards in script competitions; for a first effort to do so well was very encouraging, and I’ve been focused on writing, ever since.
You’ve done work for a variety of other parties — a Cannes Lions Award-winning director, a Tony Award winning producer, even your pilot, Evolution (which is currently being represented by Bohemia Group in LA) have had other hands involved in the execution. As this is the first time you’ve helmed a production on your own, how does that feel?
Yes, it’s the first time I’m “in charge”, and I’m in love with the process. Everyone in the cast and crew has been a dream to work with; for me, it’s all about the people you’re working with. I’ve always loved film, so I’m excited by being able to dig into the nitty-gritty of filmmaking; going frame by frame in any given scene, and planning how to make each moment, each image, something you could frame on your wall. I especially love co-writing and co-directing; having a collaborator to share the load is so great, especially when you’re also a parent! With George shouldering half the work-load, I don’t have to work 24/7. I get to enjoy life, as well as be creative.
Who are some of your inspirations? Your influences?
In terms of influences, I mean… Aaron Sorkin is almost every screenwriter’s favorite, of course, and he is mine, for sure. But also Amy Sherman-Palladino, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (she wrote with Merchant & Ivory for two decades), Ronald Moore, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, and so many more. Basically, I love anybody (directors, writers, producers) who give us a window into what it means to be human. Whether it’s film, TV, theater, or novels, I’m general inspired by (and in awe of) people who can find a way, through story, to bind us together as one humanity. I love people; I love watching them from a distance, or listening to them, talking to them about how their past informs their present, and also people’s spiritual and emotional lives.
You have a parent heavy crew and cast it seems. What sort of challenges has that created?
Our parent-heavy cast and crew has yet to create any huge challenges; more often than not, it just creates… I mean, honestly? Joy. Our Director of Photography (Leonardo Fallucca) sometimes brings his 3-month old daughter Talia to meetings, and it’s so much fun for everyone (even our non-parents) having a tiny baby around. And my son is around, too; he’s 10, on the high-functioning end of the Autism Spectrum, and our team is always just so sweet with him. And our casting director (Kat Blade) has a teenage son who wants to be a filmmaker, so he’ll be on set as a Student Learner, pitching in as a grip, PA, etc. And some of our actors are parents, too, so it’s going to be a fun, family-friendly environment on set, as well.
The major challenge is just financial, really! We are a super-low-budget film (our total budget is right around $17,000), but we want to provide some on-set childcare. So figuring out how to do that for our parent-artists is a concern. That’s why we’re so thrilled that we’ve been in touch with the Chicago chapter of Moms-in-Film, who’ve pledged their support! For now, we’ve created a line item in the budget, in the hopes that we’ll be able to cover childcare costs, or at least subsidize it. It’ll all depend on the fundraising, in the end! We’re fundraising right now on IndieGoGo, so we’re hoping we can cover childcare on top of paying the actors, crew, feeding everyone, etc.
What do you hope people come away from this film thinking?
I hope that people will come away from the film thinking about what’s really important in life. Love, whether it’s romantic, or the love of friends and family, is really (to me) just everything; it’s both the source, and the purpose, of life. (Nobody ever once had a fulfilling, joyful, hopeful life based on hatred, loathing, or indifference, right?) So, it would be cool if people walked away from seeing Division and think about how to put Love at the center of their own lives.
What’s next for you after Division?
Once Division is finished, we’re hoping to get into some film festivals with it. We would love to expand Division into a feature or a web series if we could get producers interested. Also, my pilot Evolution is being pitched around Hollywood, so there’s always a chance that’ll get picked up and I’ll get to be a part of the creation of that, moving forward. Aside from that, who knows?! I’m hoping to get a book deal for my novel, and then both George and I have more film and/or TV ideas up our sleeves. I’m fairly sure we’d love to keep collaborating, because we have this Vulcan mind-meld thing going on. It would be a shame to waste that!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
That’s a tough question. I try not to project too far out into the future. I know there’s a school of thought that successful people always write down their short- and long-term goals, then revisit them, etc… but I’m guessing that’s more of the Harvard Business School model than a creative one! That kind of hyper-planning has just never worked for me; I’ve made those lists, and for me, they just breed disappointment. Creatives, I think, need balance; do, then step back. Try not to control things too much. So, in five years, hopefully I’m doing what I’m doing now: I’m being creative, my kid is happy, and I’m able to give myself over to what’s happening in the moment. Because that’s when I find myself feeling truly satisfied and happy; just being in the moment.