Spotlight Interview: Diani and Devine’s Etta Devine

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Etta Devine is INCREDIBLE. I mean her last name is “Devine” after all. She is hilarious and amazing and I am so happy to know her, not just because of said radness as a human on the planet, but also because her film Diani and Devine Meet the Apocalypse is fantastic and premiering at the Austin Film Festival this month!  May I present to you Miss Etta Devine!

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Where are you from originally and what brought you to this Lala land of the silver screen and wide-eyed dreamers? 

I’m from Chico, CA. It’s a very artsy college town and I did a ton of theatre before I left for college in San Francisco. After school I moved down to LA with my producing partner, Gabe Diani. We’re both actors, writers, directors and anything else we need to be, and this is the easiest place for all that stuff so here we are!

How did you two come up with this crazy mad-cap story? 

We kept joking that with our luck we’d get career success right when civilization collapsed. We’re big fans of the apocalypse genre: Survivors (the BBC version from the 70’s), Day of the Triffids, Children of Men, and 28 Days Later. We also love road movies (which many of these are) and classic comedies. We wanted to smush them all together into something uniquely ours.

We were also looking for something we could shoot that utilized our resources: lots of amazing actors, our comedy act, our cute dog (and cat), our resourcefulness and that of our team, and the incredible desert vistas within a couple hours drive of LA.

The story was designed around these constraints and took off from there.

key-art etta devine

As far as financing goes, you had a rock star Kickstarter campaign.  What was that experience like? 

Deadly, if you believe documentaries on stress and sugar intake. This was our third Kickstarter and while I think crowdfunding is an amazing resource and I can’t say enough good things about it it is also HARD.

We raised a little over $100,000 and that is a LOT of money for someone with our footprint to squeeze out of the world. We spent five months preparing the campaign. We had a video for every day, sometimes two, and we mobilized every person we had ever met to help spread the word. I’d say making the campaign was as big a job as making the movie. And we’re still in post for the Kickstarter! There is a lot of fulfillment still to do since much of it can’t be done until the movie comes out.

It’s remarkable how many people who I don’t see often say they were on the edge of their seats glued to their computers on our closing day. I’ve done the same for many other campaigns so I shouldn’t be surprised, but you spend so much time making a movie in dark rooms watching the same thing over and over again it’s nice to remember that you have a whole wonderful community out there!

Did you rely solely on the money raised on Kickstarter for your budget or did you seek equity financing as well? 

We’ve relied on the Kickstarter so far. People often say that in independent filmmaking there is Cheap, Good and Quick- pick two. We chose Good and Cheap. I would like to be able to choose Good and Quick instead but… We were often in a position in post where we had to wait for someone or something to do something when they could because they were giving us a great rate. Basically this just meant that everything has taken forever. But we have kept costs down! Of course our time is priceless so you can add a lot of sweat equity onto that dollar sum. There are of course a lot of other costs that a movie comes with. Festival run, publicity, deliverables the list goes on and on. We’re doing what other work we can and putting some of that into it. And there’s always credit cards!

How did you go about the casting process? 

We are both actors and we’ve been in Los Angeles for awhile so we know a lot of other actors. We’re also part of a pretty amazing classical theatre company called Antaeus that is full of incredible actors. We could have cast this movie five times over. That being said we mostly wrote the movie with people in mind. Making an indie film is very hard and just as important as a brilliant performance is a willingness to bring that brilliance to a scrappy production and to be happy to be there. And when you know someone’s speaking patterns and delivery you can write them some pretty funny stuff.

adjusting-driving-shot etta devine

Were there any particular road bumps when you were into production that you were able to learn from that you can share with our readers?

One of the lessons I think you have to keep learning is this. Nobody knows your project better than you. If you think you need a shot or a line, get it. Because you’ll want it in the editing room. There’s nothing worse than hearing yourself say “do we need x?” on the footage followed by a chorus of no’s when that is EXACTLY WHAT YOU NEEDED. So just get it. Sometimes in an effort to be collaborative we are too open to people’s desire to just do things the way they’re always done. That isn’t conducive to innovation.

HUGE CONGRATS on premiering at the Austin Film Festival!  Did you have a particular strategy when submitting to festivals? 

Thank you! We’re very excited. I did the festival stuff for our first film, The Selling, so I’ve been on the circuit before.

Comedies can be a difficult sell for festivals so we’re thrilled. We submitted for the usual suspects (the handful of festivals your aunt in Buffalo has heard of) as we were putting the finishing touches on the sound mix and color. When those rejections came in it allowed us to submit to the top tier of regional and world festivals coming up this fall. I was thrilled to get the call from Austin. It’s a great fit for our film. Being vetted so to speak by a well respected festival like that can also put you on the radar of other festivals who actually come to you.

There are a bunch of festivals I loved doing last time who I’ll contact now that the premier is set, and festivals filmmakers have recommended, and the festivals on the best of lists. Honestly I also look up festivals in countries I’d like to go to. We went to Singapore with The Selling and it was amazing. I’d love to go back. It’s the only way we ever travel!

dp-working etta devine

I heard that you have another cool project in development. Are you able to tell us a bit about that?

We are going to shoot a web series because it’s so much faster! Gabe has been doing these great blog posts as Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen http://rubberreport.com The web series is a parody series based on the blog. He’s in his 30’s now, still a cub reporter, and he’s selling his Superman paraphernalia online and has started a vlog where he complains about his unhealthy and frankly weird relationship with Superman. Barry Bostwick is going to be Superman, Gabe will be Jimmy and I’ll be directing some of the episodes.

We’re also writing a bunch for ourselves and other people and trying to figure out what our next big project will be.

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Helenna Santos

About Helenna Santos

Helenna Santos is the Founder of “Ms. In The Biz” and a producer, writer, and actor with Mighty Pharaoh Films. She can often be found on panels and appearances at conventions such as San Diego “Comic-Con”, and has been interviewed by major press outlets including CNN and FOX News. ​Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Backstage Magazine, and IndieWire, and she co-authored the book "Thriving in Hollywood! Tenacious Tales and Tactics from Ms. In The Biz". She is currently in post-production on 2 feature films that she produced and stars in, the adventure/thriller "At Your Own Risk" and the sci-fi/thriller "RESOUND".