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Spotlight Interview: The Power of Film with Director Rosemary Rodriguez

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I recently had the privilege of interviewing the inspiring and prolific director Rosemary Rodriguez. She spoke of the power of film, collaboration, storytelling and staying positive. She also shared some of the films that have inspired her.

Rosemary wrote and directed the Sundance feature film Acts of Worship, which was nominated for 2 Independent Spirit Awards. Silver Skies, Rosemary’s second feature, chronicles a group of seniors whose lives turn upside down when their Los Angeles apartment complex threatens to be sold out from under them. It has won the Audience Award at Ft. Lauderdale Int’l Film Festival, Best Comedy at Tiburon, Best Feature at Manhattan Film Fest and was the Closing Night Film at Palm Beach Int’l Film Festival.

You have directed a huge variety of iconic television, (Including: Jessica Jones for Marvel/Netflix, Empire, The Good Wife, (17 episodes, including the 100th), Elementary, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Rescue Me (where she was first female director in five seasons) and upcoming episodes of Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll and The Walking Dead.) and said in press you hope not be pinned into one type of story telling or genre. After the Silver Skies screening I attended you also shared your passion for “Giving voice to the voiceless.” Can you tell me more about that?

I believe movies have the ability to change lives. You sit in a dark theatre, no distractions and your focus is on that movie, that image, those characters. They have the ability to get inside you, in your heart and in your mind. And if the movie does all that it should do, then your mind and heart are different than when you walked into that theatre.

With that opportunity, comes a responsibility to entertain while leaving an everlasting impact. In the real world, we walk around afraid or defended. But in that theatre, we are relaxed and open. We are uniquely able to empathize with the characters in that environment.

So I like to have the characters in my movies be the people we may easily judge while walking around in the world: older people, drug addicts, hurt people. People we can easily walk past without a thought. But in my movies, I love drawing people into a world they may not have ever experienced before; with characters they may judge in the real world. But in the theatre, the audience can connect, empathize, laugh and cry with these characters. Humanity is what unites us. And my goals for my films are to reflect humanity.

Can you share a personal highlight from the Silver Skies shoot?

One scene in particular was one where two best friends Phil (George Hamilton) and Nick (Jack McGee) are having a very honest, heart to heart talk. After completing the last shot of the scene, I walked into the set with the actors, and the crew surrounding them were crying. These young crew members, most in their early twenties, were moved by the talent and truth these two amazing actors brought to the scene. I knew we had something special happening.

What comes easiest to you in directing and what is the most challenging?

I love love love directing. It’s always very difficult because of the budget and schedule restrictions. But those restrictions have helped me to develop a trust of my instincts that has always served me well in directing whether it’s designing a shot, working with the actors, or just answering any of the hundreds of questions that come at me in any given day.

I also LOVE collaborating with writers, actors and producers. This business has so many egos, but it’s the collaborators that create the best work, in my opinion. A movie or TV show can be collaborative while having a singular vision. I have a podcast called The Director’s Chair on iTunes, to talk about collaborating and the creative process. And it’s been wonderful talking to actors like Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter and writers like Janine Sherman Barrois, Danny Hoch and Adam Mansbach about their process. I hope people will subscribe and start a bigger conversation about collaboration, which ultimately is inclusive, not exclusive, which is what the industry is screaming for right now.

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(Rosemary with Krysten Ritter)

You have such great positive energy and hustle. Is that something you have always had or something you had to cultivate?

It’s always been easy for me to hustle. Keeping positive energy in the face of so much rejection is something that requires a lot of daily work for me! I wish it came naturally, but it doesn’t. Well, when I’m on set, it actually does! In prep, that’s another story, I have to work on staying positive. And I do.

How do you deal with the disappointment in the business?

I deal with disappointment by giving myself a finite amount of time to process that disappointment, then I move forward into the next action I need to take. I’ve always got a few projects going on at once, so it’s important for me to re-direct my focus when I need to in order to keep moving forward at all times.

You have optioned Loose Girl, Kerry Cohen’s best-selling memoir. What excited you about her story?

Loose Girl is such an important story to tell for all of us, men and women. It tells the story of a lonely girl’s descent into promiscuity and it’s for anyone who’s ever said “yes” when they wanted to say “no.” In other words, everyone! Female sexuality is taboo in our society and again, I feel that teenage girls need a voice that counts and I want to express that voice in Loose Girl. Open up that discussion about teenage girls and sexuality and empowerment. It’s really time. I read Loose Girl and instantly knew it was a very special and necessary story to tell.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you want to give yourself when you were just starting out in the business?

I would tell myself, and STILL tell myself, and I tell others starting out in this business, to NEVER GIVE UP. Never. Give. Up.

And the other thing I tell people starting out: If there’s ANYTHING else that you can see yourself doing other than directing, anything at all…then do that. This is a very hard business to break into and it takes all the passion, drive and hard work 24/7. It’s a grind and an obsession. And I love it.

We still have a long way to go, but the issue of hiring more women and minority directors has been getting a lot of attention recently. There are so many amazing female storytellers, who are among your favorites?

Of course I love Kathryn Bigelow, Lesli Linka Glatter, Betty Thomas, Andrea Arnold, Barbara Loden, Ida Lupino, Barbra Streisand.

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I know you’re a big classic film fan. What are some of your favorites and how do they influence your storytelling?

A: I’m a huge 70’s movie fan. I love the character-driven gritty stories like Scarecrow, Panic in Needle Park, The Godfather, Nashville, Serpico. My default channel is TCM. I love Hitchcock. I love Hud. I love Niagara…that always stuck out in my mind. The setting of Niagara Falls told that story so well. And of course Marilyn Monroe’s wardrobe fascinated me as well. I would sit in front of the tv doing my homework and watch movies at the same time. They were my passion.

Finally, I read your dream project was to direct a James Bond Film? I have to ask, what is your favorite Bond film?

I just love Casino Royale. It was so different than the Bond I grew up with and that fascinated me how the character could become deeper yet remain so cool. The action is always awesome, but the added backstory, and humanity really, gave Bond another dimension. My obsession with Bond grew after that film. I’d also love to direct a huge Marvel movie. Someday!

Silver Skies will be distributed by Virgil Films Entertainment in September 2016. You can follow Silver Skies on Facebook.

Rosemary’s upcoming projects include developing: Overcome, the story of the passing of the Civil Rights Bill, from a screenplay by Brandon Reavis and Nick May, with Fred Roos executive producing; the Showtime series Florent, starring Alan Cumming and a documentary about renowned graffiti writer Lee Quinones.

Rosemary is the Fourth Vice President of The Directors Guild of America, and a Sundance Institute Mentor. She lives in New York and Los Angeles with her comedian husband Nestor Rodriguez.

You can view more of Rosemary’s work on her website RosemaryRodriguez.com and follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

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About Sarah Louise Lilley

Always up for an adventure- Sarah has crossed the breathtaking Namib Desert on horseback, done a grueling century bike race around Lake Tahoe and run the inspiring NYC Marathon. As an actress she has witnessed crimes twice on Law and Order, had sidesplitting recurring roles on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and enjoyed numerous jam-packed days on the festival circuit with such films as Blue Road, Zooey and The Date. She’s devoured Japan and Europe with avant-garde luminary Richard Foreman and collaborated with the provocative artist Julia Mandle. She has produced two award winning short films. Her latest, Nothing Happened, has screened at over 30 film festivals including; Cinequest, Berkshires, Bend, Woodstock, Edmonton, Outfest and BFI London. When she is not acting or chasing her 3yr old around the playground, she is trying to figure out when she can go horseback riding again. SarahLouiseLilley.com