I had the golden opportunity to talk with director Meera Menon and screenwriter Amy Fox about their independent feature EQUITY that premiered at this year’s Sundance. Of course, I was excited about lady powered teams in film, so excited that I stood in the middle of my rental’s cul-de-sac in the 28 degree weather in Park City with a microphone and my iPhone to chat about bringing this first female driven full length about Wall Street from script to screen.
TANYA: I got to see Equity last night and it was great! One of the best lines in Equity was the one about money being a bad word and it really resonated with me. I wanted to get some thoughts from both of you about that because I think it’s a big topic for women and women in power.
MEERA: Yes, that was absolutely the point in the script when I first heard it …I was totally sold. I remember it was page 12 of that draft. Amy, can you talk about how that section developed?
AMY: Sure, it was a very important moment for me also in the process, it was one of the very first women that I interviewed and I was speaking to her, she started working on Wall Street in the 80’s, and she was describing some of the conditions you would see in Wolf of Wall Street like strippers everywhere and this incredible blatant sexism everywhere and how hard that was to come to work everyday. Then I asked “how did you get through that? What allowed you to come to work every day?” and I sort of expected that she was going to say “oh I have always had …strength of character” and she paused and then she just said “I really love money”. And when she said that I just like, I never heard a woman say that…I never heard a woman own it like that and I found it so liberating and fascinating that I just knew that had to go in the movie.
TANYA: Yeah and it was pretty incredible…for me it was really affirming to be in your power. Thank you for giving that as a gift. I would like to know about the process of working together on this film. I know, Meera, that this is your second feature and it is a bit of a departure from Farah Goes Bang. Could you speak a little about that?
MEERA: Basically, the movie was developed in story stages and by the two producers, Alysia Reiner and Sarah Morgan Thomas, who are also actors in the film. They had the concept, they started the production company Broad Street Pictures and the mission was to get stronger female roles in front of the camera and get women hired behind the camera. They hired Amy to write the screenplay and it was probably about a year before I was brought on.
AMY: For me, it was a dream collaboration with Meera. I initially know that in film, in general, that the director’s voice is a giant, giant part of the movie…it IS the movie. So having written the script and invested in the script, I was interested in who they were going to find. So I couldn’t have been more thrilled that it was Meera and we hit it off immediately and we were able to just talk. We were just on the same page, I feel like, from day one and had a great opportunity to talk about the characters in the story and she wanted to know about all the research I had done. I felt she really respected the work that had been done and she definitely had her take on it, but it was a really lovely collaboration for me.
MEERA: Yeah, and it was all the way through. As we were shooting, there was constantly restraints that were placed upon us. We couldn’t get this location or we wouldn’t be able to shoot this scene or whatever it was and Amy was right there. You (Amy) were in constant conversation about what to do after the given circumstances. That’s a crazy endeavor when making a movie for very little money. Using resources that are favors and all the things that go into indie film.
TANYA: On working with your budget…
MEERA: Our greatest challenge shooting it was, you know there was no budget that could be big enough to really provide us the material resources to provide an accurate portrait of the world. It’s a big world, an extravagant world, people live on a certain scale and that was our challenge. It definitely wasn’t the kind of budget that can easily lend itself to that.
TANYA: I live in New York and I can’t even imagine shooting in New York.
MEERA: Actually what we did was shoot principle photography in Philadelphia and we cheated it for New York, but we had a few New York shooting days to shoot exteriors. Things like that puts the movie in the New York setting but it helped the budget to shoot a lot of it in Philly.
AMY: There were some extraordinary, I would say, favors or donations that came along. One of our investors had a connection to a helicopter company, so we ended up using a helicopter (which was not in the budget).There were a few things like that that gave the movie the grand scale even on our budget which was really fun.
TANYA: You had such a great and interesting mix of actors…it was nice to see this wonderful mix. Can you speak about working with these actors to bring this story to life?
MEERA: The casting process was a real whirlwind. It’s a pretty hefty ensemble in the film, on top of the fact of what we were trying to create…so once Anna Gunn was attached, so many people were interested because she is just an extraordinary actress. People were very excited for the chance to be in a scene with her and do great scene work with her. The kind of scene work that Amy gave them. So Anna’s involvement was a game changer for sure, but Alysia and Sarah have an incredible network of actors that they know and also the casting director. It was a complete effort to create the ensemble. It’s pretty impressive considering the scale of our movie. For me, it was like directing bootcamp. One day I am working with Anna and James Naughton, who has won two Tony Awards, a veteran, established actor and the next day, Tracie Thoms comes. She’s like a Broadway Superstar and she’s in a scene with Alysia. Every day was another super star showing up on set that I got to work on a scene with, I really think of it as directing bootcamp. After it was over, I kept describing it like that to my friends.
TANYA: I know Tracie Thoms from the theater world and I adore that she was in this film.
MEERA: She’s insane, she is so amazing. Of course James Purefoy, he’s a dream, his name is PureJOY for a reason. It was like every actor that came to the scene, every single person was so delightful to work with and had such a positive energy AND were attracted to the project for the right reason. That is what indie film allows for: they were really drawn to the material. What they were drawn to was Amy’s script and certainly Anna as the heart of the movie.
TANYA: Final thoughts while you are here presenting this great film at Sundance?
AMY: For me, I was at Sundance with a film 11 years ago. This is a really amazing opportunity to come back. I am older and wiser and I feel like I can enjoy it more. I was really glad to be at this moment in my life and kind of coming full circle to be back here.
MEERA: This is the goal for so many filmmakers, right? Is to be here and to be able to engage. For me, primarily, it’s meeting the other filmmakers and encountering their extraordinary work and getting a sense on how they did it and sharing stories, swapping strategies on how to get the next one done. Especially the other female directors and other Asian Pacific directors, these are the people I am meeting and talking to about to see what it takes to crack through and get our voices heard. It’s great to be in a community discussing this.
Talking to these two trailblazers really made my trip to the Sundance Film Festival special. I am happy to see that Sony Classics acquired EQUITY from Broad Street Pictures. I highly suggest going to see this powerful film. DO IT!