Interview with Filmmaker, Bethany Orr, on her new feature film, Campaign titled: “ICELAND OR BUST”

Sometimes, location is everything and in Bethany Orr’s upcoming feature film,  which is untitled, but being supported by the campaign name: ICELAND OR BUST, this might prove to be true. There’s also the addition of her individualistic ideas that paint her words with originality and sass. Bethany Orr, [Agorable, ] tells Film Syrup and its viewers about her new creative Icelandic adventure and the perks those who support her are allowed.

“No one I know could execute such a bizarre idea, never mind think of it. Definitely worth supporting.” -Cinephile Stephen Les

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Project Title:

Campaign is called ICELAND OR BUST.  igg.me/at/icelandorbust

Film Syrup: Why Iceland? What draws you to its culture?

Bethany Orr: I started having visions of Iceland back in 2012 when I was studying with Werner Herzog. I had just completed my short film, Agorable, and was toying with several different story ideas for my first feature and for whatever reason, things became super clear around that time. Specifically, two of the stories I had been working on merged into one and then showed up in Iceland. And now here we are. I’ve learned you have to trust that kind of stuff when it gives itself to you.

Herzog is a fan of Icelandic mythology and was the one who introduced me to The Poetic Edda, a dense, rich volume of primordial poetry from Iceland (it was on the reading list for Rogue Film School), so that was definitely an influence. Now, I’m pretty obsessed. With everything – the Icelandic people, the economy, the history, politics, landscape. But what I have now is an intellectual and intuitive understanding of the place, being there in September will give us the chance to have a real experience with her.

Film Syrup: How did you and Patrick Kennelly start working together?

Bethany Orr: Patrick is a very exciting director. He and I collaborated on his feature film, Excess Flesh, which shot this past spring. I played the lead role. He knew I was a filmmaker as well as a performer, and the work we did together really transcended any experience I’ve ever had on a project before, my own included. We’ve become good friends since and are looking forward to expanding our creative partnership on the Iceland film. Which, by the way, doesn’t have a name yet. We’re working under “Untitled Iceland Feature.” Maybe our supporters will have a say in that down the road!

Film Syrup: You’re traveling to Iceland right now, but you said in your campaign video that shooting won’t start until 2015 or later. What are you attempting to achieve in these separate travels?

Bethany Orr: It’s a larger project than is realistic for us to crowd-fund a full budget for (we’re not Zach Braff and Veronica Mars), so we’re engaging our fan base for the development funds to help us get this thing off the ground. We have a match-funds offer from an angel investor, which is great. $10,000 will be enough to cover this scouting trip as well as the costs involved with engaging the right producer. Luckily Iceland has a pretty incredible Film Commission, and we have a number of contacts there, so we anticipate having a good experience. It’s an ambitious production no matter which way you cut it. We hope we’ll be back sooner rather than later, but there are a lot of unknowns at this point. One thing we can offer our supporters an insight into the film development process, demystifying things in a way—they will be there for the whole ride. That’s exciting to be able to share.

Film Syrup:What is your involvement with Transatlantic Talent Lab and how will it benefit your creative pursuits?

Bethany Orr: Being accepted to the Lab is a major opportunity. It was specifically set up to give highly focused support to a handful of filmmakers from Europe and the US who are making their first feature. This is my first feature, not Patrick’s, but neither of us have shot out of the country before. And since Iceland is our shooting location, it really does feel like the Lab was tailor made for me and where this project is at. I’m very excited.

Film Syrup: Where did you come up with the ideas featured in your very creative campaign?

Bethany Orr: We’re not running the typical crowd-funding campaign. We worked hard to try and distill the message down to it simplest form, but I don’t know. It’s pretty impossible to communicate this stuff inside me, and anyway that’s what the film is for. So we tried to capture the essence of the script as much as possible by using some unusual, even disturbing imagery in the campaign video. It’s weird. I’ve always had a unique take on the world, and Patrick and I share complementary points of view on a lot of things. Our most meaningful work deals with universal struggles—emotional violence, anxiety, depression, guilt, social acceptance, grief—through a kind of fucked up but visually engaging filter. But I believe audiences still truly want and need to be challenged and can take it.

Film Syrup: Tell us and our viewers more about what you’re offering your contributors in exchange for their support on this campaign.

Bethany Orr: We’ve got some pretty crazy rewards – like playfully sinister cross-stitch art, a short film made just for you, a handmade Viking tomahawk, a 3-night stay at a Hawaiian B&B (in case you’re feeling contrary). If you’re particularly well humored, we’re even offering the special opportunity to “Adopt-a-Dong.” I can’t tell you about that one, you’ll have to look it up yourself!

We’ve also got some tamer ones, like script coverage or some beautiful photographs we’ll be bringing home from Iceland. And for anyone who contributes $25 or more, we’ll make you into a superhero…

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Film Syrup: What is the basic premise of the film and who do you believe will be your most interested viewers?

Bethany Orr: The film is a psycho-sexual drama about four strangers who meet in Iceland to discover their lives are interrelated.

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It’s actually a movie about grief, although you may not be able to tell that exactly from our campaign. We decided to take a humorous approach to the presentation, but the subject matter of the film itself is dead serious. The story is filtered through an absurdist lens, but yeah, it’s about human loss… and freedom. I happen to agree with Shakespeare that the veil between comedy and tragedy is very thin, so I exploit that line an awful lot in my work.

The script uses a lot of stark, visceral imagery, things that really haven’t been seen before. I can’t say too much about the particulars of the plot, but it revolves around the central idea that the grieving inhabit a world of alternate logic. The logline is: Mourning is an island with its own set of rules. There’s nowhere else on earth I can imagine doing more justice to this film than Iceland.

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Film Syrup: What does this film mean to you?

Bethany Orr: It’s all of me. I’m very serious about it. I heard an interview with a guy awhile back who had adopted 13 children from foster care. The interviewer asked if he had a favorite. And he said, “Yes. The one I happen to be with at the moment.” I feel that way. On any given day there’s a dozen ideas screaming around in my brain and body. This is the one that’s telling me it’s ready, so it has my full attention.

In fact, I just found the mission statement I wrote to accompany Agorable in application to Rogue Film School. This will give you a good idea of my approach to creating:

In America you are twice as likely to kill yourself than to be murdered. We are– empirically– our own worst enemies, and we treat each other with emotional and physical violence as an extension of our self-loathing. As an actress I’m drawn to desperate, brutally flawed or flayed characters. As a filmmaker, for me it’s life or death every time. Well-humored, naturally. A little blood never hurt anyone.

I’m captivated by the notion that ANYONE is capable of doing ANYTHING (even committing the most heinous of acts), under the right circumstances. Doubt and fear are our great equalizers; none of us is any better or worse than any other because of what we have or have not yet been driven to do…

(Interview conducted by Film Syrup Managing Editor, Colleen Rowe)

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Interview with Co-Founder & Writer/Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia

Film Syrup interviewed Co-Founder & Writer/ Director of Congested Cat Productions, Christina Raia, hoping to bring to the surface this resourceful production company’s in-progress projects and creative motives. Read the following series of questions that Film Syrup presented to this independent filmmaker. Congested Cat Productions, based in the New York City area, is made up of an inspiring team of young creatives, including Raia. 

265783_10151092273807919_62753384_oFilm Syrup (FS): Among the short films you are currently working on, which do you foresee your audiences receiving best, relating to most closely, and responding to through social media, writing, etc.?

Christina Raia (CR): I think both shorts, “Not Our Living Room” and “We Had Plans,” will appeal to our audience, but the latter may resonate more with the audience we’ve acquired from our past collaborative work, “Kelsey.” Our fan base for the series was predominately female and within that mostly comprised of lesbians. I think the “Kelsey” fans appreciated that we created a series centered on a lesbian whose sole existence was not wrapped around her sexual orientation. Yes, that was a prominent aspect of her identity, but she was an individual with experiences and emotions that all people go through, who also happened to be gay. We believe in portraying people as people, and expect our audience to look at them that way, and relate to them on an emotional level. We don’t do caricatures or stereotypes. We aim to do the same with both of these shorts. However, since “We Had Plans” is about sisters (while “Not Our Living Room” is about brothers), where one is a lesbian, I believe it’ll draw in our audience a little more.

 

FS: What are your long term creative goals in your management at CongestedCat Productions, LLC? What message do you wish to send to audiences? Do you think this message has previously been achieved?

CR: CongestedCat Productions started as a branded umbrella for me and my collaborators to produce and release our creative content. However, in the three years that we’ve been around, we’ve evolved more into a company that believes in unifying and empowering independent film and filmmakers. We believe in creating and showcasing innovative and original content, not just by ourselves but by our peers as well. This is how our free monthly film screening series, IndieWorks, got started. Ultimately, we believe in portraying and giving voices to underrepresented individuals, both in terms of the content creators and content created. I do believe that is something that sets us apart from other production companies or teams because not many that I’ve encountered have made diversity and challenging social norms a priority.

 

FS: What components of your company do you feel are very essential to the industry it is based in? Is there a gray area where film meets business that takes away from creativity, or that makes business more creative?

CR:Our company was started not as a way to profit, but as a way to create. So, for us, artistic merit and creativity comes first and then it’s a matter of figuring out our strategy in gaining funding and/or an audience for each individual project. I personally never aspired to be on the business side of film but no one was knocking on my door offering to bring my work to fruition; so I had to create that opportunity for myself. Because of this, it’s been a bit of a steep learning curve for me since founding the company three years ago. However, all the team members (we like to think of ourselves as a team rather than just a company) are under 28 years old, which I think benefits us because we’re sort of coming up in this new generation of film making and film technology. We’re very aware of the more traditional methods, but are most open to more innovative ones. Often filmmakers feel pressured to conform to mainstream expectations in terms of creative choices as well more production-based aspects like casting, even in the festival circuit. Since our team aims to make less mainstream, more diverse content, we’re much more into modern digital based distribution platforms and options. For instance, creating a web series worked well with our more youthful appeal and approach both on a creative side as well as in advancing the new-media industry reach of our company.

 

FS:Where did the name “CongestedCat” derive from? Do you think it influences your interested audiences to view your videos, website, or general media? (Cats are apparently in right now).

CR: I founded CongestedCat Productions with my childhood friend Chris Carroll (who mainly acts as resident photographer and graphic designer within the company). When trying to name the company, we knew we wanted the title to have two C’s to represent our names. We tried to think of what we had in common, and the two things that came to mind were that our zodiac sign is cancer and we both love cats. The former wasn’t so appealing name-wise, so we decided to work with the latter. Chris typed into google “C Cat” and the first thing in the drop-down menu was “congested cat.” Chris said it jokingly and we laughed about it for a while, not seriously expecting to use it. However, the more we said it, the more it grew on us. We felt that when heard, the name would likely not be forgotten by people. Additionally, since the intention was for originality with a touch of familiarity to become a bit of a company trademark, we thought it’d work well because it was offbeat in a way that would force people to presume that the content they’d be seeing from us would be anything but generic or predictable.

Because the name came before we really established the team or the content we’d produce, it has very little to do with our target audience. I suppose if people like cats, though, they may be drawn to viewing our work. Our crowdfunding campaign is under the name ‘CongestedCat Shorts’ in order to attract our already existing audience that associates our company name with the content they enjoyed and supported (most notably “Kelsey” but also my upcoming feature ‘Summit,’ past shorts films or IndieWorks).

FS:Do you think the viewership of short films are majorly different from the viewership of full feature length films? Specifically, how does this question apply to CongestedCat Productions?

CR: I think that traditionally people who enjoyed short films were exclusively filmmakers themselves or cinephile types, while feature films appealed to people across the board. However, with Youtube and Vimeo becoming the norm for how people consume media content, there’s a deeper appreciation, I think, for short form content and the ability to tell a compelling story in a short amount of time. For CongestedCat, this is beneficial because we enjoy short form content and believe it’s a useful way to reach people quickly and effectively. With that said, we do have a plethora of stories and styles we want to convey; so feature films are definitely part of our long-term plans. They’ll be more of passion projects that we’ll choose to work on very selectively, and hopefully be able to build an audience around through our future shorts.

 

FS: What is the main premise of IndieWorks? What is the viewer turnout like for the screenings at People’s Lounge & Bar?

CR:IndieWorks is a way to showcase and support local filmmakers in New York City, and create a sense of community in an environment that can often be overly competitive and about stepping on each other. Ideologically, we believe in working toward a middle class of indie film where we’re all supporting each other and rising together (while still showcasing what makes us all unique), rather than hoping to be the chosen one in a group of many. So, for us, we wanted to start an event free of the politics and capitalism that tend to overrun the festival circuit and, of course, Hollywood, and create an environment where we can see and appreciate the work of our peers and allow discussions and networking that could spark collaboration and support. We have one screening of 6 films every month and average about 45 people at each event. The weather often plays a part in the turnout. The least we’ve ever had was 30 people. The most was 120 at our 1st year ‘Best of Fest’ screening 2 months ago.

To find out more about CongestedCat Productions & Indieworks: http://www.congestedcat.com/