Your new movie She
Sings to the Stars - in a few words, what is it about?
endless desert. A Native American grandmother lives alone tending her
corn. Her half-Mexican grandson and a white, aging magician are stranded.
No water. A river of stars. Everything changes: anything is possible.
were your sources of inspiration for writing She
Sings to the Stars? And seeing all of your movie's esoteric
elements, do you consider yourself at all a spiritual person?
think we are all 'spiritual' people. We
just find different ways of defining what is 'spiritual', don't you think?
Perhaps what one person calls 'esoteric', another person considers
is no single inspiration behind She
Sings to the Stars.
It grew out of necessity, it grew from a vision, then a dream,
considerable research, volumes of poetry, years spent observing beauty and
human behavior. (And asking not only ‘what is it to be human?’ but
‘what is it to be a woman vis à vis a woman in a man’s world?’)
had written a rather epic screenplay which involves the city of Rome, a
child, a dog and the upheavals of 1968. My brother, who is my producer,
said “No” outright, “This is far too ambitious for a first
feature, we’ll never be able to fund it. Three characters, three
locations.” As his words sank like a disappointed stone over our Skype
connection, I smelled sagebrush and saw the desert Southwest. Then came a
vision to create a cycle of films about women. As I’ve said on the
website: “Women are bearers of life, and with this comes a natural
capacity to nourish in the way we are all nourished by the Earth. The
beauty of our diversity can be celebrated only when we acknowledge that we
are, integrally, all related. And in this collective, women’s voices are
still missing. Balance longs to be re-created.”
months later, I was visited by Mabel in a dream. She was quite small, very
old, sitting on the back of a wooden cart, spindly legs dangling. She
said, “It is time to sing the song. Listen. It will take four years.”
She made it clear that a grandmother would initiate the cycle of
had lived in the Southwest for years and came to know several elders from
Third Mesa at Hopi in Arizona. I
was able to draw on a life lived with that land, its skies, its animals.
One of the elders I have alluded to appeared to me in dreams with
regularity. When I asked him
about the dreams, he replied, "This happens."
arrive, we don’t concoct them.
of the threads that plays through She
Sings to the Stars is 'what does it mean to listen'? Can
we stop long enough to actually listen to each other, and perhaps more
importantly, to listen to something deep within ourselves?
The desert offers a silence, a mystery that engages the film-goer
in a way that will, hopefully, inspire.
I find a quiet in the desert that thunderously begs you to listen.
the three characters in She
Sings to the Stars, who do you identify with the most?
don't know whether I would use the term "identify" as such, but
I do love all three of them. Deeply. A
psychologist might tell you that each character is a part of me, but I
think that is rather simplistic. I
think each of them represent a piece of our collective identity, and I
simply plugged into the mains. Perhaps
that is simplistic.
where do stories come from at all?
Sings to the Stars remains rather mysterious when it comes to its
several backstories - as the writer, how hard was it for you to not get
lost because of that, and did you ever attempt to explain things away in
more detail - at least to yourself in writing?
only three characters, there was the possibility to tip an entire
backstory into the mix for each one, including the kitchen sink; but I was
acutely aware of not wishing to overwrite. As a reader or an audience
member, I expect to use my imagination to flesh out a character. When you
meet someone for the first time, you aren't given the whole story.
Little pieces are parcelled out, you inuit other bits.
And as She
Sings to the Stars unravels over just 31 hours, there is only so much of each story that can,
did wish to make what was revealed as culturally appropriate as possible,
based on my own observations. One
reviewer asked why I didn't give Mabel's complete backstory, why we
couldn't get a better sense of her emotional life -- why didn't I include
flashbacks to her childhood? From my point of view, it simply wasn't
you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
the film's website, I have written, “Magic is everyday. We have created
separation between what we call magic or the ‘impossible’ and what we
call reality, where there is none. We knew this unequivocally as children.
Everything was alive, interconnected and we existed in a continual state
of reciprocity. Indigenous cultures still know this. Physics can prove
physics shows us that the universe is made up of waves of energy.
Non-locality, parallel realities and wormholes through time and space
confirm wisdom held by traditional peoples. The Lakota phrase “Mitakuye
Oyasin”, which means “All are related”, is used as a common blessing.
It describes the harmony with all forms of life, including people,
animals, plants, rivers, rocks, mountains -- everything is one. What
happens to one affects the other as all are a part of one web. (We are so
much more than we perceive ourselves to be!)
Dolores Cannon, author of The Convoluted Universe, adds: “Given
what we now know about the structure of time, means that anything can
happen because all the possible combinations are present in any moment.
This is the reason why magic works. Because if you want something to
happen, and you meditate on it and project mental energy towards it
happening, it will cause your life to be directed into that time stream...
Once we learn to slow down and focus the power of our minds (especially in
groups), there is nothing we cannot do. Miracles then become possible.”
is a fluid, intuitive medium. The process, itself, is how vision comes to
life. That's magic.
Poet Diane Ackerman described it as "knee-deep in the cosmic
overwhelm, I'm stricken by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain
everythingness of everything, in cahoots with the everythingness of
I was a child, I have had a facility and a willingness to step in and out
of what lives beyond normal, what is indefinable and ‘apparently’
intangible. I see and I hear. Although it began in childhood, my
experimentation with this ability and interest in better understanding
‘reality’ has been ongoing for 30 years. It has taken me to far-flung
places, to the desert Southwest to learn from indigenous teachers and into
the wilderness on my own.
suppose this perspective affects how I write and direct. I experienced She
Sings to the Stars as “alive” in a way.
I had lived and breathed the story for over two years before we
went into production, but I knew that it would grow and change from page
to production to post-production based on who was there, why, and where
I worked as a director in theatre, directing plays written by others,
I always wanted to write and direct my own work.
I wanted to work from the inside out, rather than from the outside
in. Writing and directing your own work is like trying to wake up within a
of course have to talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?
auditioned for the parts of Third and Mabel in Albuquerque.
I had lived with the character of Mabel for two years so was sure I
would recognise her as she walked in. But though we had some very capable
actresses audition, Mabel just wasn't appearing. Our
casting director went to a book launch featuring contemporary Native
American artists from the Southwest, where she met two artists.
They invited her to their tribal feast at Jemez Pueblo the
following weekend and introduced her to their mother, Fannie Loretto.
Fannie had not acted before, but as soon as our casting director
saw her, she phoned me immediately, "I think I've found Mabel."
And she had. Fannie,
who is a native of Jemez Pueblo (about an hour northwest of Albuquerque)
is beautiful with long greying braids and an open face which conveys both
a depth of feeling and a whimsy. And she is, indeed, a very proud
grandmother of 8 grandchildren. She
was intrigued by the prospect of being in a film.
When she auditioned on camera, we discovered she had a natural
onscreen presence. And her timing with regard to dialogue was
had trawled the internet 6 months prior to auditions in Albuquerque and
had found a head shot of our actor for Third, Jesus Mayorga. He was quite
young in the shot with an intense, disturbing stare.
I actually used his face for the newspaper-stuffed character I had
created for Third. Our casting
director had pre-screened him prior to auditions and decided he didn't
suit the part well enough to go through to the next round; but when I
didn't find who I was imagining in the auditions, I showed her his headshot and requested that she call him back.
walked an actor much older than the head shot, with a softer demeanor but
still with an uncomfortable intensity that I needed for the part.
He was perfect, and he and Fannie bonded immediately as grandson
and grandmother. We learned
that he had a lot from his own life to draw upon for the character as he
is, indeed, an immigrant from Mexico with indigenous roots.
casting of Lyle, the magician, was tricky as we were holding out for a
box-office name. Tom
Waits came to mind again and again while I was writing the part of Lyle.
He even waltzed into my dreams. I modelled the character of Lyle on a
broken Waits-like magician, collecting old bits of wreckage and trivia --
a junkyard philosopher -- a peculiar rogue. Though Tom Waits is a musician
and a performer - definitely not an actor - we thought we'd see if he
would play the part when it
came to casting; but we couldn't get past his gatekeepers. Waits'
gatekeepers did us a big favor. Larry Cedar, a seasoned stage, TV and film
actor based in Los Angeles, offers an amazing and profound performance,
one for which I am deeply grateful. At
the suggestion of our line producer who had worked with Larry on another
film, I called him at the eleventh hour. He was just closing a one-man
show on stage with a final Sunday matinee.
He read the script, fell in love with it and flew out to New Mexico
Monday morning. We started
shooting three days later. He
was a gem to work with, so fluid, responsive and intelligent with an
"actor's actor" ability to share scenes, which was particularly
important as he was working with two unseasoned actors.
desert locations - what were the advantages and challenges of filming
only were we in a desert landscape, we were in the middle of nowhere. We
had miles to drive every night (or at dawn, if we had been shooting all
night) to get back to our motel. All electrics had to run off generators.
Fine desert sand and grit ground into all the equipment. The sun could be
intense and burning during the day, we had dust storms and driving winds
which wear you down, and at night temperatures went down to 15F.
yet, it was enchanting, mysterious -- its beauty sometimes startling. The
abundance of life in such a stark environment is thrilling to stumble
upon, the sounds, alone, are mesmerizing. We recorded and incorporated the
ubiquitous drone of daytime cicadas and nighttime crickets into the
soundtrack. It was hard and harsh, grueling at times, but I watched many
of the crew, particularly those not from New Mexico, undergo subtle
changes. Our DP has described the shoot in the desert as “one of the
most cathartic experiences I’ve ever had on a film.”
story is set in the summer. We planned to start shooting in August, but
had to push as we didn’t have our financing in place and we still
didn’t have the actor to play Lyle. We finally started shooting at the
end of October and into mid-November where night temperatures fell well
rain and fight scene occurred on the coldest night. The water coming from
the rain tower froze into icicles in between takes; the actors were in
summer T-shirts and had to warm up in electric sleeping bags as soon as
they came off set. We had to forgo the participation of the dog in several
important scenes as the animal human protection agent would not allow the
dog to act on the cold nights.
can be challenging to make intelligent decisions when shooting through the
night in those temperatures. The combination of trying to keep warm and
fighting tiredness takes all your energy. I watched us all stutter with
brain freeze and fumble at simple tasks. On November 1, All Soul’s
Night, our actress, Fannie Lucero who is a native of Jemez Pueblo, asked
for the night off as it was an important feast and night of ceremony for
her tribe. Her parting words were “You all should take the night off
because the spirits of the ancestors will be out. We honor them and then
go inside for the night while they wander around, revisiting their land.
If they find you outside, they can play tricks on you.” Well, we thought
we had a film to make, so on we forged, shooting scenes which didn’t
involve her: a generator broke down, the picture car broke down and the
camera broke down. When Fannie heard our news the next day, she said, “I
were fortunate not to encounter rattlesnakes while we were shooting. I had
come across two on location just prior to production. Cabezon Peak, the
mountain in the film, is a haven for rattlesnakes. In October and
November, they come out to warm in the morning sunshine.
What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and
the on-set atmosphere?
is collaborative by nature. I engaged with the actors as well as crew for
their creative input. Even though I had a definitive script, there was
something alive and open to change in the moment, something potentially
improvisatory on set. The unpredictable nature of the desert fed into
this. Both our DP, John DeFazio, and I thrived in finding the moment in a
scene on set together. It was
exciting and daunting at the same time because our AD was continually
reminding us "we have to get our day".
Time and budget vs. the wonder you can find in a moment.
was the props master, Phyllis Detrich, who actually clarified the
importance of the role of the magical rabbit, Alvin, for me by suggesting
I let him loose in the car. This simple suggestion brought an important
element to life in the film as Alvin is, indeed, one of the ‘real’
magicians who can disappear at will. (And where does he go?)
set was a quiet one. I was ridiculed by our art director who asked me why
I wasn’t more demanding, why I didn’t raise my voice to assert my
authority. “You need to be an asshole, get tough, then people will
respond, you’ll get things done. This is your film.”
me, it was listening that was needed.
DP has repeatedly described the shoot in the desert as "an amazingly
cathartic journey", and in
a recent interview, actor Larry Cedar described the on-set atmosphere for She
Sings to the Stars this
experience was almost indescribable in its uniqueness. Every day was full
of surprises, challenges, joy, stress, exhaustion, and supreme
satisfaction. Rarely have I
worked on a project of such creative purity, i.e. where everyone involved,
from cast to crew to cinematographer to director and producer, was
completely and passionately committed to capturing the story in the best
way possible. Add to that the sheer magic of working in the vast expanses
of the New Mexico landscape under the cover of what seemed like a billion
stars, and you have a fairly intoxicating creative brew."
was a fairly intoxicating creative brew.
If you keep the door ajar, you don't know who or what might wander
in -- and that's exhilarating.
The $64-question of course, when
and where will She
Sings to the Stars be released onto the general public?
a $64 question! We are eager for it to be released to the general public.
one out of every 250 films made each year ever gets distributed and seen
by the public. We've decided
to market and distribute She
Sings to the Stars ourselves and to use crowdfunding to raise the money we need to do that.
The platform, Seed and Spark, was built by filmmakers to help
filmmakers like us connect directly with our audience and get our film to
them. The campaign started on March
29 and will run until May 1.
People can go online and join our campaign at:
Crowdfunding is the only way we will be able to distribute the
film; and unless we reach 80%
of our goal, the funds will not be released to us.
of the incentives offered to contributors is the DVD or HD Digital
Download of the film itself. And because the film story touches on such a
variety of unusual
possibilities, the incentives for the campaign are by no means ordinary!
Traditional, hand-carved Hopi katsina dolls, star-gazing with the
seasoned astronomer-park ranger from Chaco Canyon out at our film location
Cabezon Peak, astrology consultations; original props from the film, as
well as opportunities to meet the cast.
Have a look!
future projects you'd like to share?
brother, Jonnie Corcoran and I created Circeo
Films, our independent film
production company, in 2011 with the intention to produce a cycle of films
about women -- innate feminine voices are too often missing in the
story-telling world of film. And we seem to have forgotten the feminine
nature of the Earth and our intimate relationship to it.
What is our collective feminine nature? This is a time when women
all over the planet are beginning to come forward with their own voices --
ones which have been quiet for a very long time.
Sings to the Stars initiates the cycle. Once it
has been distributed, keep an eye on the Circeo
Our next film of the cycle will be shot in Ireland with a 28-year
old woman as protagonist. I
have nearly completed the screenplay, so we'll be hunting for investors.
The third screenplay, set in 1968 Rome, Italy, is already written, and
there is a loose foundation for the fourth in Ethiopia.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
grew up with a mother who wrote, directed, shot and edited 8mm and 16mm
films. I am sure it influenced us. She imparted her passion
for film, introduced us to Chaplin, Buster Keaton [Buster
Keaton bio - click here], Mister Magoo and, as we
grew up in Italy, to the pantheon of iconic Italian filmmakers of the
sixties and seventies. And
both she and my grandmother were actresses.
a child I fashioned a box to capture my dreams. With a hole in the top,
shedding light on a blank piece of paper inside, I tied the box to my head
when I went to sleep. I wanted to bring the unrestricted realms of
dreaming into the confines of our waking world.
mother encouraged me to write from an early age.
come from the theatre, trained as a director, worked on stage.
I moved into documentary production then picked up a cheap Super-8
camera and started making black and white shorts when I lived in New York
City, with no expectations, just a lot of experimentation.
I've had some kind of camera in my hand since I was a teenager,
most of my inspiration for stories comes either from photographs or
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to She
Sings to the Stars?
of stills and reams of unedited Super 8 footage. She
Sings to the Stars is the first feature I've worked on. We
dove in at the deep end. Exhilarating, gruelling, mystifying and
demanding. A thirteen-ring
circus. As soon as we've
been able to distribute She
Sings to the Stars,
we will be on to the next one.
How would you describe
yourself as a director?
intense. Big emotions burbling just below the surface. But I can also look
at a scene as if from the moon.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
is particular films that inspire me -- either whole films or scenes or
shots from them. See below.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
A few - Fellini's 8 1/2 and
La Strada, Marcel Carné's Children of Paradise,
Satyajit Ray's Apu Trilogy, Kelly Reichardt's Wendy and
Granik's Winter's Bone, Bertolucci's The Conformist, Chaplin's
Modern Times, D.W. Griffiths' Broken Blossoms, Nuri
Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep, Jane Campion's
The Pianist, Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blue, Terry Gilliam's Brazil,
Edgar Reitz's Heimat series, Wim Wenders' Wings of
Amores Perros and Biutiful, Paolo Sorrentino's The Great
Tarkovsky's Stalker & The Sacrifice, Pawel Pawlikowski's
... and of course, films you really
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
for distribution of She
Sings to the Stars March 29 - May 1: www.seedandspark.com/shesingstothestars
Thanks for the interview!