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An Interview with Sergine Dumais, Director of Wichita

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2020

Films directed by Sergine Dumais on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Wichita - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Wichita is a comedic mini-thriller about a woman who will do *anything* to save her marriage, and a story of betrayal.

 

How did the project come into being in the first place?

 

It was August of 2019, I think. I was *finally* ready to direct my very first short. I asked Bo Price [Bo Price interview - click here] if I could direct one of his scripts (I picked Wichita). He not only agreed, but offered to produce! I immediately thought of Jeremy Sisto for the part of Josh. (I had a chance to work with him on a play, and it had been a dream of mine to work with him again, on my first film, or preferably on ALL of my future movies!) I reached out to him. He loved the script and he said he would do it, if his schedule permitted. I was over the moon! Then, though I had considered playing the part of Sara myself, once Jeremy was “attached” to the project, I felt we needed a leading lady of his “caliber” and so I immediately “fired” myself and the first person who came to mind was my fellow Quebecer, Maxim Roy, who was perfect for the part. She said yes, and just like that, we had an all star cast!

 

To what extent could you actually identify with Wichita's lead character Sara?

 

I always saw Sara, not so much as a woman who cheats on her husband, but more as a woman who—in this particular moment—is trying to save her marriage. At ALL COSTS. I can definitely identify with that. I have a history of fighting really hard for love. Sometimes a little too hard...

 

What can you tell us about Wichita's writer/producer Bo Price [Bo Price interview - click here], and what was your collaboration like?

 

I’ve been a fan of Bo’s writing for a while. We met in class at Judith Weston’s studio, about 8 years ago. We did the Actors/ Directors Lab together. Bo would bring his scripts to class and I remember thinking “My God, this guy is a genius! I want to work with him!” We collaborated on a webseries and on plays together. When the time came to direct my first short, I wanted it to be one of Bo’s scripts. There was no doubt about that. His scripts are a real “playground” for a director. His universe is always fun, absurd and high intensity, while being layered with deeper emotional events.The characters are rich and complex. No wonder why actors love to work on his scripts! I love collaborating with him. We are so different! I love that what comes out of our collaboration is usually something that neither of us could have come up with separately. On top of it all, it’s a pleasure working with him. Even when we disagree, we have great respect for each other’s work.

 

Do talk about Wichita's brand of humour!

 

Bo’s writing is not only witty and funny and fast paced, it also goes much deeper into the agony of being alive. I think that’s what people are responding to. People laugh, but sometimes it’s because it’s “painfully” funny. As for me, I like to think of comedy as being like drama, except worse! (That’s a quote from my directing teacher Judith Weston.) I don’t know if that’s a “brand”, but Bo and I definitely agree on the tone.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

I love working with actors. Though this was my first time directing a film, I spent the better part of the last twenty years directing actors for theatre and/or voiceover. I guess my directorial approach starts with that.

 

Do talk about Wichita's cast, and why exactly these people?

 

This was my ultimate DREAM CAST! I had the chance to work with both of them before.

 

I worked with Jeremy on a stage production I directed. He was performing a ten minute monologue, and this was one of the most exciting performances I had ever seen. His presence and talent is out of this world. You can’t take your eyes off of him. Every moment he creates is unique, unexpected and charged with this kind of “electricity”. I loved working with him. I’m the kind of director who likes to give a lot of “freedom” to actors to do what they do. I like to offer a little structure and let them figure out the rest, then build on what they bring. Some actors will ask for more direction, but Jeremy seemed to like the latitude, and boy did he run with it! He was incredible! There is no other actor in the world I would have rather worked with on my first short film, but he was especially perfect for Wichita. His performance in the final scene is what is “bringing it home”. I knew if I cast him, we would have a strong ending, we would have a movie! I did not know exactly what he was going to bring to the table on the day, but I knew it was going to be powerful, and memorable… and it was exactly that!

 

With that strong ending in mind, now I needed the leading lady with the strength to carry the rest of the film on her shoulders. I had worked with someone with that kind of strength before, Maxim Roy. Max and I worked on French dubs together. If you’re not familiar with the world of dubbing, it requires the same level of acting skills, except the difficulty is at level ten. Well, Maxim is like Spinal Tap, she goes to eleven! I once interrupted one of our recording sessions because I exclaimed “Damn, you’re good!” during one of her takes. I learned a director is not supposed to scream during takes. I could not help it. It just came out. 

 

Maxim also happens to be a friend. I texted her and asked her if she’d like to play Jeremy Sisto’s wife in my short film and she said yes! At that point, a big weight lifted off my shoulders. All my insecurities of directing my first film, of working with this brand new medium started to calm down. I knew I would be able to rely on her experience. I knew it would be a breeze working with her, and I knew she would be amazing! (I was right!) The range that is required for an actress to play Sara is incredible. She has to go from a sexy scene, to a comedic race against the clock, running down some 50 (slippery) stairs, while covering a panic attack, stall for time, break a window and break… even more (let’s just say that), all in under 6 minutes. Maxim did all that, and she did it brilliantly. She deserves all the praises she’s been getting on this film. She’s a force of nature. And how perfectly special, since I’m a dual citizen, that my cast be half American, half FrenchCanadian!

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

We had the chance to work with DP extraordinaire (and also fellow Quebecer) Serge Desrosiers. He had worked with Maxim before. I felt “at home”. It was wonderful to be able to speak French on set with my DP and actress!

 

Sergine with writer Bo Price on set

The shoot went extremely well. I was in very good hands with Serge and I knew it. We had talked about the shots during prep and we were on the same page as far as the “feeling” of the visual universe. I was hoping for the opening scene to have this dreamy and sexy feeling, and for the running down the street to have this more “brutal broad daylight” feeling, the getting to the house to a darker, scarier, then even darker feeling, etc… The shots had all that, but the unique “look” of Wichita, that's all Serge! The shots were beautiful. Maxim was killing it. Sometimes, I would give her a little adjustment, and she would do it. Sometimes I would ask Serge if we could do another shot a little different, and we would do it. When Jeremy showed up on the second day, Max and him had incredible chemistry. I asked Serge if we could wrap the steady cam and if he could get in there with his hand held camera. We had a quick 30 minute rehearsal and the last scene came to life. I was sitting behind the monitor thinking--you know these movies about making movies, where everything goes wrong? The actress doesn’t want to get out of her trailer, it starts raining, the director is freaking out? I thought “Wow! I’m experiencing the exact opposite!” In fact, we were expecting rain, but it stopped raining 10 minutes before we started shooting and started raining again a few seconds after we wrapped. Someone was watching over this production! Never in my career as a director, directing VO or theatre, have I had so little to say or do on the day. Everything kept falling into place. My job was pretty much just letting these pros do their jobs and making a few adjustments here and there. I was sitting behind the monitor thinking “If this is it, I want me a long career in film!” All jokes aside, I was so grateful to be surrounded with this incredible team, and, to quote Hamilton, I was so glad to get to be in the “room where it happens”!

 

The $64-question of course, where can Wichita be seen?

 

Check out our website www.wichitafilm.com

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

We’re working on the feature film version of Wichita. I’m looking forward to working with Maxim and Jeremy again!

 

What got you into the filmworld to begin with, and did you revieve any formal education on the subject?

 

I’m a graduate of AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) of New York. I trained in musical theatre.

 

When it comes to filmmaking, you've filled many positions both in front of and behind the camera - so which do you enjoy the most, what could you do without?

 

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I started as an actress, then I began to direct and I felt a sort of “calling” that I had not felt as an actress. I never officially retired from acting. I still work as a voice actress. It’s the kind of thing where you can only pursue so many things. At the moment, I choose to pursue directing. I’m also an acting teacher. That I could never do without. I get to work with actors in a setting where it’s all about the creative process, all about the work.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Wichita, in whatever position?

 

I’ve directed a lot of theatre and a lot of voiceover, notably the French language dub of 20 feature films and the English dub of 50 something TV episodes. Wichita is my first time transitioning to film.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

During the preparation of the shoot of Wichita, I was definitely inspired by Noah Baumback’s Marriage Story. I’m a big fan of Bob Fosse.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Some of my favorite movies: Cinema Paradiso, C.R.A.Z.Y., All That Jazz, Moulin Rouge, Sweet Charity, Some Like it Hot… to name a few. My favorite short film is Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, directed and choreographed by Vincent Paterson.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I’m not a fan of films that take a long time to set up everything with a lot of exposition. I like to “get to it!”

 

Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

My Insta handle is director_sergine

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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