Alyssa Roehrenbeck of Mini Elk Media: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker
It’s all about the script. Repeat that to yourself a thousand times. A bad script never turns into a good film. It is worth whatever time it takes (even years) to perfect the story. I’ve been a part of many projects with a less than ideal script. In the end, none of them became anything better off the page no matter what sort of improv or script trimming happened on set. And cutting dialog in post is never the right answer — it just doesn’t work. The script is the foundation of the story, make sure it is strong enough to support it.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alyssa Roehrenbeck.
Alyssa Roehrenbeck is a get-stuff-done type person with a fun loving, goofy side. She believes strongly in working hard and playing hard — at the same time. Smart and fearless, she’s Produced indie feature films like “Here Awhile” (starring Anna Camp, Steven Strait & Joe Lo Truglio), “Seaside” (starring Oscar winner Ariana DeBose), “Hangdog” (starring Desmin Borges, Kelly O’Sullivan, Steve Coulter, Catherine Curtin & Barbara Rosenblat) and loads of other projects; big, small and viral.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up near corn fields in Ohio, with a big yard perfect for forcing my siblings and all the neighborhood kids into performing in my American Girl® skits and plays. Self adapted from the popular book series, of course. Even little me didn’t do anything half-assed, so there were tickets, handwritten programs and popcorn for sale. And yes, I paid the actors out of the profits.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ha! I was an acting major in college and friends with many of the film majors. They all needed actors for their projects and I was generally happy to help. That was, until hour 12 when 20-something film buffs are still arguing over lenses and I am just sitting there thinking about how else I could have spent my weekend. Eventually, I started agreeing to be a free actor if I could “manage the schedule”. I had no idea this was a real job and it was a purely selfish endeavor so that I could limit my own time needed on set. I kinda kept doing that and other logistics as time went on and just haven’t really stopped. I still love a good acting cameo too — my favorite is in my next film to be released, BECAUSE WE’RE FAMILY.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
FunniEST or MOST interesting — there are ao many! Here is a funny little thing from BECAUSE WE’RE FAMILY.
Words cannot describe the nightmare and glory that are the Thanksgiving turkey in BECAUSE WE’RE FAMILY. Filming in February, our turkey options were extremely limited. But we needed that picture perfect turkey. Because the one we were able to get was still frozen close to the time we needed to film, our indie team came up with this solution: the makeup artist (the talented Jessie Hafer) offered to airbrush “roast” the turkey. It looks entirely appetizing in the film, but believe me — IT IS NOT EDIBLE. After its paint job, the turkey continued to thaw over the entire day filming the scene and the juices lined the tray. It was truly disgusting and we did a ceremonial burial of the turkey into the compost bin at wrap.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
You’ll have to buy me a drink or three for this one. 🍺🍸🍷
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many who’ve helped me along the way, but I always think of Doreen Dunn first. She was a mentor for me in a high school to college program for theater arts and I still hear her voice at some point during every project. She always seemed to have a million creative things going on, even while being a full time teacher and I was in a constant state of awe at her endless energy and creativity. She used to always say, “The difference between mediocre and great is in the 10,000 detail.” Whether that detail is in the budget or the hem of a costume, I still think about that all the time and wholeheartedly believe it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.”
- Albert Einstein
Being an entrepreneur and a filmmaker is often about making bold choices. Sometimes they pay off and sometimes they don’t. But if you never try, you’ll never know. So whenever I think to myself, “Is this idea crazy?”, I try to embrace it. Just maybe it is the path to achieving the impossible.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
- Sharing diverse stories creates a more empathetic world. When people understand where others are coming from, it changes their view on society.
- All voices deserve to be heard. Some of the best stories we’ll never know until we fully embrace every culture and every human.
- When others see someone like themselves in film or TV, it can inspire curiosity and empower someone to do something they never thought they could.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My dark comedy indie film, BECAUSE WE’RE FAMILY is about to premiere at Dances With Films. I am so excited to be a part of a festival that embraces emerging voices. I just wrapped another feature film, HANGDOG, shot in stunning Portland, Maine. The cast and crew got to commute by ferry to a small island for a whole week and I don’t think any of us were complaining. What I’m currently most stoked about is my own feature film in development: a horror comedy that involves Christian rap music, Satan’s throne, cold White Castle and leg waxing parties.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
I’m most proud of the teams of people I’ve been able to create. I have so many stories that show how important the team is, but one of my favorites is from BECAUSE WE’RE FAMILY.
Due to corporate wheels out of our control, we lost a location Friday night for a shoot on Sunday. It was for one of the first and most important scenes for the movie. Sitting at the bar after wrap knowing that we didn’t have the money to push the shoot, add a day, or do anything other than film that scene on that Sunday, I suggested the only thing I could think of to the key team: we entirely re-dress a bedroom in our house location to match the location we were going to film in. We still needed to film another scene in the actual location room later that week — so we’d have to do a darn good job matching it. And also, we had no art department to help. I told the crew the plan on Sunday morning, convinced some of them would not be stoked and may even leave, heck, even I thought I was a crazy person. But the exact opposite happened. An actor jumped into action disassembling furniture. The grip measured the door and went to Home Depot to buy one that matched the lost location room. The DP helped stain and sand the new door. The Sound Mixer wielded Command Strips and helped me hang the window trimming. I’ve never been more proud of a team effort than that scene in that movie. And you know what, we got the scene and in the end, filming in the unplanned space was actually better. Watch the film and you tell me if you can call out these two things: which room we used twice (as two separate locations) and which scene was filmed in two separate locations but the same room. I’ll buy you a drink if you can.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s all about the script. Repeat that to yourself a thousand times. A bad script never turns into a good film. It is worth whatever time it takes (even years) to perfect the story. I’ve been a part of many projects with a less than ideal script. In the end, none of them became anything better off the page no matter what sort of improv or script trimming happened on set. And cutting dialog in post is never the right answer — it just doesn’t work. The script is the foundation of the story, make sure it is strong enough to support it.
- Handing out a thousand business cards hasn’t ever helped me get further in my career. You don’t need to work with everyone — just the right ones. I used to think I had to maintain relationships with anyone and everyone. I would spend so much time networking and going to events that it left so little brain space for me (a secret introvert) to actually think creatively or take time to actually relax. When Covid shut everything down, I learned a valuable lesson. Even when all of the events evaporated, it was easy staying connected to those that I actually wanted to collaborate with.
- Actions speak louder than words. I know that is cliche, but it is so true. At many points, I’ve known a collaboration was either completely wrong or completely right based on what is done, not said. There are a lot of people in this industry who will tell you everything you want to hear. If they are the real deal, their actions will let you know. Likewise, your actions speak too. Act with intention in everything you do. At two of the lowest points in my career, I was collaborating with people I shouldn’t have been. The second I stopped to think about the actions they’d taken — it was easier to admit that they were not people I wanted to be associated with and separating myself and my work became easier.
- You can do it. We can all do it. Even when things are hard (and yes, filmmaking is hard), we all have it in us to tell a valuable story. There have been many times I just wanted to quit and hide under a rock. But every time I’ve put my head down and just kept going, I’ve never regretted it.
- The sound really is that important. The end.
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
I believe the best artistic choices come as a result of intense collaboration. When you have a talented team of folks that all believe in the script, it’s all about listening to one another, creative problem solving together and finding common artistic ground and standing on it. A lot of folks think too many voices is a bad thing, but I think the best directors, producers and filmmakers are those who can fearlessly collaborate without compromising their distinct story or vision. I tend to listen to the actors, writers, DP, Production Designer, Sound Mixer, or heck even the intern if they’ve got something to say. I believe everyone brings a necessary piece to the story.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
We’re all on the same team. Team Human. It’s time we all acted like it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark (because you can’t have one without the other). These two have been inspiring me for years — women who make their own way, don’t take crap, trust their gut, do what they love and have a blast doing it. Proud #murderino! I may have a few ideas too..
How can our readers further follow you online?
I ♥️ IG — @pdxalyssa. Same on Twitter.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!