Susie Sunshine: 3 Women Team Up for Innovative Filmmaking and Financing

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Susie Sunshine

“Creativity is about seeing patterns and then finding a way to differentiate from the standard conventions.” – Ted Hope, Hope for Film

There is no blueprint for how to make a film. Yes, there are tried and true models that one would be wise to use as instruction, but an individual project will always take on a life of its own, dictating its own needs and presenting its own obstacles on a daily basis for which there is no manual. Much like a ship, that sails from one port to another on stormy seas, a film needs to be helmed by souls that are willing to take the journey together and at the same time find what makes their vessel simply unique.

On a cold, rainy Sunday evening in March, I became a part of this special and innovative style of filmmaking. Under the warm heat lamps of the patio at Earl’s, a Mar Vista eatery, more than sixty people sat amongst candle lit tables and gathered for a delightful dinner fundraiser for the short film, Susie Sunshine, aptly titled for such an evening. Guests enjoyed a three-course dinner, a silent auction including a balloon ride in Napa, and were treated to a teaser and trailer of the film, leaving all of us wanting more, and wanting to BE more involved. But this night had been a long time coming.

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The team of women behind the short film Susie Sunshine is a testament to creative differentiation. From the script to the financing, Team Susie, is using every smidgen of creative thinking and energy to steer their project to completion. In fact, the entire project could be classified under the header ENERGY.

Susie Sunshine began 35,000 feet in the air, as screenwriter, Chelsea O’Connor, was headed to Michigan to meet her newborn niece and nephew. She was completely overwhelmed by emotion. “My happiness was literally shaking my hands.” But she also recognized that her “intense happiness is always accompanied by crying.” And coming from a reserved background where demonstrative displays of emotion, even the most joyful, are best kept to oneself, she started writing about her experience in the moment. In the spirit of differentiation, instead of bottling up these emotions, O’Connor had a breakthrough to the beginnings of a new script.

“I thought, how cool would it be if people thought it was amazing that I felt this much? What if I didn’t have to feel bad about this? What if it was a great thing?”

And so the story of a young woman named Susie, whose powerful emotional energy is harnessed to provide renewable resources, was born. But O’Connor did not stop there. She ascribed the discovery of emotional energy’s usefulness to a future world, a post-energy crisis utopia, where an entire workforce of emotionally-charged women are exploited to keep the world filled with an indispensable amount of sunshine, electricity, and fire.

Any women’s liberation organization can get behind a story like that. But first, came Jessica Howell, a savvy actor who has successfully created her own festival-going shorts and online sketch comedy. Howell and O’Connor were attending a dinner party in a downtown loft, when an earthquake occurred. Literally, the building swayed for ten seconds, but also a creative spark ignited between Howell and O’Connor. After months of writing and submitting, O’Connor’s Susie Sunshine had found another female producer, whose infectious love of filmmaking brought new energy to the project. Susie had become a team. Says Howell, “I think that’s one of the best parts of film, that it’s so deeply collaborative. It can’t be done alone.”

After six months of roundtables to really develop the world of Susie, Howell and O’Connor had definitely built momentum. Feeling like it was time to ‘stretch her legs’, the two women began a search for a third collaborative member on Susie, someone who could bring a unique perspective to the financing of the project. O’Connor says she knew just the woman. Elizabeth Engle, who works for Original Film in a “very traditional, corporate way of filmmaking,” didn’t hesitate to join Team Susie. She felt she had finally found a passion project, something with social impact, which sharply contrasted the hero-driven blockbusters she works on daily.

In an uncanny way, the story mimics the relationship between the three women behind the production. In the world of Susie, three distinct types of woman produce the resources of fire, electricity, and sunshine. Fire is produced by Kindles, lusty red heads who exude hot emotion. Intellectually driven brunettes make electricity, and Sunshine is made with the buoyant, bubbly joy of smiling blondes. However, with the continuous extraction of emotions, the women are prone to “burn out”, where the emotions they were producing have been tapped, and not only are they thrown out of the workforce, but they will never again be able to recapture these special feminine energies that were once their own.

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And when three women are tirelessly working to produce a film, there will definitely be moments of burn out. Emotions can run high, but with the dedication of partnership, each is allowed to have her day, knowing that her team will be there to pick her back up. As Engle says, “Open communication and honesty is our policy. This includes knowing what you can do, and what you cannot. And saying, I need help.”

In October, Susie Sunshine was taken on by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit that allows all financial contributions to the project to be tax deductable. This sponsorship enables them to host an array of fundraisers for the film. These are not just unique ways of procuring financing, but also a way of creating an in-person community of awareness, one that provides a more vested group of supporters once they launch their crowd-funding campaign. From a daylong yard sale, to the fundraiser dinner, to next month’s Drag Queen Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s, Team Susie has grown as it gives before it gets.

The energy behind this film is inspiring. O’Connor, Howell, and Engle make you want to be a part of their world and of Susie’s. In fact, one attendee of the fundraiser told me he’d only met Engle twice at the office, but that she’s “just so genuine” he couldn’t help but want to support the endeavor. You can believe he’s not the only one.

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Join them for Drag Queen Bingo at Hamburger Mary’s on April 15th at 9pm! For more information and to get updates on Team Susie, check out the website, Susie Sunshine and follow them on Facebook.

Meredith Kitz

About Meredith Kitz

Meredith is an actor, theatrical director, and event coordinator living and working in Los Angeles. She has curated numerous fundraisers, private events, and art dinners, as well as directed opera and theater for the stage. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s Directing Program, she has been an active member of the Panoply Performance Lab of New York for ten years. Since 2009, she has helped raise over $20,000 in funding for pancreatic oncology, hosted the art/dinner series Confluence, and volunteers as the Acting Coach for Notre Dame Academy LA. An actor since childhood, she first appeared professionally as Suzy Hendrix in the thriller Wait Until Dark, and received notable reviews for her performance as Lula in a guerilla style production of Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman. You can read her creative and esoteric musings on her blog at meredithkitz.com