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Vanessa McMahon


Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)

 


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‘BROKEN’ (2013). Interview with director Alexa-Sascha Lewin

There are three films in development right now about the impressive historical figure Gertrude Bell (aka the 'female Lawrence of Arabia') by these three directors- Ridley Scott, Werner Herzog and Alexa-Sascha Lewin. While Alexa is the less known director, she is the only one that is a woman telling the story of the nonconformist peacemaker and 'kingmaker' Gertrude Bell from the perspective of the female gaze. Having spent over five years of her life devoted to the research and writing of the script for Kingmaker, which was co-written by writer Brad Rister, 2014 will be the year it finally goes into production.

I recently interviewed Alexa-Sascha Lewin about her latest short film Broken, which premiered at the 16th annual Sonoma Film Festival. In Broken, a couple (played by Scottie Thompson and Dominic Rains) drives through the California desert hoping to celebrate their anniversary, but their truck inopportunely breaks down. Instead of a romantic getaway their trip becomes a veritable nightmare and cause for a breakup.

 

 

ME: What inspired the story of 'Broken'? Is it based on a personal experience and is the desert a kind of metaphor?

ALEXA: My last film, The Honeysting, was a fast-paced crime thriller with guys and guns. With Broken, I wanted to do something different. I was intrigued by the idea of exploring a moment in crisis between two characters played out in emotional subtlety. I wanted to tell a layered, open-ended, and unsettling story about a relationship stuck in limbo, where open communication has broken down and where every word and gesture becomes an emotional trigger....Everything is compounded between Tom and Kate when their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert and they find themselves stuck in a 'fish bowl' where they can see for miles but have nowhere to go, no way to escape the mounting tension between them. Broken wasn't based on any particular experience; however, we've all been stuck in an unhealthy relationship, where we stayed in way too long because we were either afraid of the unknown or convinced that somehow we could fix it. The film is intended to act as a Rorschach, inviting viewers to imprint their own emotional experiences onto Tom and Kate. We are all products of our past; it shapes who we are and influences responses...I also liked the idea of flipping the gender roles, placing Kate in the dominant position in the relationship....The breakdown of the truck serves as a metaphor for the breakdown of the relationship - but it was really the location that played such a critical role in the visual story. I wanted the desert's wide vistas, giant boulders, and scorched Joshua trees to visually mirror the emotional cadence in Tom and Kate's relationship. I found it interesting that in this vast expanse they really had no place to go. They were truly stuck, both physically and emotionally.

ME: How did you pick Scottie Thompson and Dominic Rains as your cast? Did you know you wanted to work with them from the start?

ALEXA: I'm friends with Scottie and Dom, and I asked them to be in the film. I really admire their work and their commitment to the craft. To capture the emotional subtlety of Kate and Tom's relationship on film, where most of the tension is simmering just beneath the surface, I knew that I needed collaborate with actors that would embrace a rehearsal process in the spirit of John Cassavetes... There were a lot of layers to explore, and I wanted Scottie and Dom to be actively involved in their character’s development. While the Writer, Brad, and I had fleshed out backstories for the characters, we welcomed Scottie and Dom’s ideas about their characters. The four of us initially sat down for the first rehearsal and talked about these two people and how they got to this point in their lives. And then, over the course of several intense rehearsals, we began to build their 5-year relationship. We needed to create the memories of how Kate and Tom first met (which ended up being an amazing hour-long improv), to their first date, to moving in together, to the painful moments that created the fissures between them. Their relationship grew and developed from the fun, free-spirited days of young love, to the dark pain of years of unresolved resentment and hurt. It was an intense, creative, and ultimately beautiful experience for all of us involved.

ME: What were some of the challenges of shooting in the desert?

ALEXA: The heat. It was during the summer and the temperature was around 100 degrees. We shot over a weekend on a bare bones budget with a nine-person crew of friends. From cooking meals, to lugging gear, everyone eagerly pitched in, wearing whatever ‘hats’ were necessary to ensure the production’s success. Broken would not have been possible without this collaborative spirit and I am truly grateful for our amazing team.

ME: Broken featured at the 16th Sonoma Film Festival. Where else has the films screened?

ALEXA: In addition to its World Premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival in April, Broken recently screened at the Big Island Film Festival.

ME: You have made a number of shorts and have worked for TV for years. Can you tell us about the feature you are now working on?

ALEXA: Yes!! I'm thrilled that my next film will be my feature directorial debut on a script that Brad and I co-wrote.

ME: Can you tell us about Kingmaker?

ALEXA: I'm directing Kingmaker from the feature script that Brad and I co-wrote. It's about maverick adventurer, Gertrude Bell, the female "Lawrence of Arabia", who became entangled in the back room politics of World War I era Mesopotamia as she battled her commanding officers, and her own demons, to crown Faisal as the first King of Iraq...It's my passion project and I'm honored and humbled to tell this remarkable woman's story. I am so thankful and appreciative to be able to do what I love - tell stories. It's all been such an incredible adventure and I've been blessed to work and collaborate with some amazing people.

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

 

Click here for video and radio interviews about Broken and The Honeysting) - you can also seem them on the Broken and The Honeysting websites under press:

http://www.brokenshortfilm.com/#!press/c14nf

http://www.thehoneysting.com/interviews.html

See an EPK about the film - "Making The Honeysting" that the Humane Society of the United States produced. Alexa was granted an ACE grant from HSUS. Alexa also received the Panavision New Filmmaker Award: And an article or two about The Honeysting (in reference to DGA premiere screening). http://wildworx.wordpress.com/2009/04/30/afi-announces-directing-workshop-for-women-dww-red-carpet-showcase-on-may-11/

See Alexa’s directing website http://www.alexasaschalewin.com

 

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About Vanessa McMahon

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