Female Filmmakers: Spotlight on ‘Odd Brodsky’ by Cindy Baer

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“ODD BRODSKY is a quirky comedy that follows the adventures of 30-something Audrey Brodsky, who’ll do almost anything to find her big break in Hollywood. Fueled by a graveside promise to become an actress,  Audrey moves to Hollywood and finds great success… working 40 hours a week at an office job she hates. Ten years pass in the blink of an eye when Audrey finally decides to reclaim her childhood dream.”

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Cindy Baer is the quintessential multi-hyphenate. Director, producer, actor, co-writer, and editor of her latest female-centric film Odd Brodsky, Baer is no stranger to creative success. Her debut film Purgatory House screened at 25 festivals, won 12 festival awards and appeared on 5 critics lists for “top ten films of the year”. Odd Brodsky is having similar success with 21 festival awards under its belt, and many positive reviews.  This latest film, with its 30 locations, tons of VFX and dozens of actors, proves that ambitious, large scale micro-budget features can be accomplished when the right person is at the helm.

Before jumping into the interview, I urge you to read my FULL review of the movie first.  Odd Brodsky will be available on iTunes November 29th, but you can pre-order it here. I could go on and on about how much I liked the film (as I did in my review), but I thought speaking with Cindy Baer herself about the process of putting together such a stellar movie would be an awesome way to wrap up this series. And so, without further ado…

Hello! Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to answer some questions. First off, when did the idea for Odd Brodsky come to you?

My pleasure.  Thanks for inviting me!  The initial theme stemmed from a women’s empowerment group I belonged to called “The Goddesses” (cute, huh?) which consisted of five girlfriends who’d meet monthly to tell our truths and receive honest feedback. One of the girls had been doing the daily grind at a soul-sucking desk job she hated for years. One day, after listening to another round of her office woes, I suggested that maybe she should quit and do what she really wanted to do.  She told me it was absolutely impossible… and then proceeded to quit her job the next day! It was awesome. The same thing had happened to me only a few years earlier; I had reached a tipping point in my “day job” and left. My husband /co-writer Matthew Irving and I wondered philosophically why people can we be really skilled at something, but have a passion for something else? This premise was a kernel for our script, and we invented the plot points from there.

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Most films, even some with female protagonists, don’t pass the Bechdel Test. I noticed that yours do. Is this a consideration when you write or produce a movie –or does it happen organically?

In case any of your readers don’t know about the test, it was created by Alison Bechdel in 1985 to measure the gender bias in movies. In order to pass the “test”, a movie needs 3 things: 1) Two female characters with names 2) who talk to one another 3) about something besides a man.

I do have an awareness when I write, but it also comes effortlessly. I personally tend to be more drawn to telling (and watching) stories about women—even though my audiences are not just women. In Odd Brodsky more than half of the 54 speaking roles are female, and that was a conscience choice. If a role could be written for either gender, we consciously created a balance.

Were there also many women in the crew?  Was that a conscious choice as well?

Great women are everywhere!  My producing partner Thomai Hatsios is one of them, and she helped assemble our stellar crew, the majority of whom were women and minorities. It’s also inspiring to see attention being drawn to this matter in the media, including publications like this one. Maybe the tides are finally starting to turn. If each of us does our part, we can be the change.

photo4Do you consider yourself an actor first and filmmaker second, or vise versa? How did you get your start in this industry?

Wow.  I guess I’d have to say that I consider myself a filmmaker first, which is something I never thought I’d hear myself say.  My 20-year-old self would certainly be shocked!  Especially because I never set out to be a filmmaker at all. I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20’s to become an actress.  After realizing it was going to take longer to break into the acting business than anticipated, I created a children’s entertainment company and became a party performer, which is actually a great way to make a living. But there was a problem. Although my company was successful, I felt stuck. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life.

I ended up selling my company and was all set to focus full-time on my acting career when fate stepped in.  Just then, the 14-year-old girl I’d been mentoring in the Big Sisters of Los Angeles program ran away from home.  Celeste was a talented writer, and I knew she had written a script. So in order to give her something positive to focus on I suggested we turn that script into a short film she could star in. I had no idea it would end up becoming a feature that I’d go on to direct!  Its funny how life falls into place when you’re on the right path.  And I hope that’s what people will take from Odd Brodsky. Life is what you make it.  You just need to trust yourself, and be proactive.  I still act, but I don’t pursue it the way I did. The great thing about being a filmmaker is knowing so many other filmmakers.  If I’m right for something they’ll call me in.

You play the role of Sammy Bank in “Odd Brodsky”. Is it challenging to act and direct simultaneously?

I’ll venture to say it was almost easier because of the extensive prep I did ahead of time as the director.  Besides knowing all of the characters inside and out, all the scenes were broken down by emotional beats and shot-listed before we ever got to set. Having even a few rehearsals before production begins also helps.  The key is making sure you’re 100% present when you step in front of the camera with your fellow actors. You need to be able to shut off the other part of your brain, and leave any troubles at the door until the camera stops rolling. I think it also comes back to casting the right people. Producer Laura Ziskin said it best when she said 80% of directing is good casting. Having talented, experienced actors who have a solid handle on their characters makes my job as a director (and actor) exponentially easier. My actors were amazing.

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You did have a fantastic cast!  What was the casting process for the movie?  

It was fairly traditional.  Like most directors and casting directors, I keep a little list of actors I’d like to work with.  My casting director George Nikitas and I posted roles in the breakdowns and then brought in a huge number of actors over the course of about a month. It was a long process, narrowing it down and matching people for chemistry.

I thought it would be hardest to find our 9-year-old Audrey, but it was actually one of the first roles cast! The moment Ilana Klusky walked through the door, she blew us away with her talent.  She was this tiny, little girl with a wisdom beyond her years. She and her mother drove all the way down from Sacramento, which is six hours away, just to audition! Needless to say, we had her read additional sides so she would not have to return for call-backs. Then we waited to pull the trigger on Ilana until after we cast her female counterpart, hoping the two actresses would look alike.  Thankfully they did!

Casting just the right leading lady was crucial because comedy is such serious business.  This actress had to carry the entire movie, learn an enormous amount of dialogue and appear in almost every scene. She needed to be technically proficient and hit their marks consistently, because there were many “oners” in the script, which meant no editorial band-aids would be possible.  I mean this was a challenging role!  In another crazy “full circle” twist this pivotal role was won Tegan Ashton Cohan, who happened to be the actress who bought my company years earlier!  I’m telling you –when you’re on the right path, things magically fall into place.

I was at end of my rope trying to find the right actor to play “Camera One”  when Matthew Kevin Anderson’s video submission arrived, way at the end of the casting process. I watched it a few times on my computer at home, and knew instantly.  The difficulty of this role in particular was that actors would be fantastic with the comedy but miss the emotion, or vice versa.  Only Matthew was able to marry both qualities. And he did it effortlessly.

And let us not forget sweet Scotty Dickert who plays the role of Spuds. It was neck and neck between Scotty and a “name” actor.  We ended up going with Scotty because not only did he have the talent, but he had the temperament. He pursued us in just the right way. He let us know the movie meant something to him, but never crossed that line of being too pushy. The actor he was up against was high maintenance, and we knew Scotty would be a pleasure to work with.  So in the end, we went with Scotty, and he made us glad we did. He knocked it out of the ballpark.

photo6Are there any lessons you’ve learned throughout this journey you’d like to pass along to new filmmakers?

You are steering the direction of your own life.  What will your story be? At every screening an audience member tells me our movie was the sign they’d been waiting for telling them to make a change in their lives.  If you’re waiting for a sign, I hope “Odd Brodsky” is it. Go for it!

Lastly, where can people find out more about the film and YOU?

You can rent Odd Brodsky on platforms like iTunes and Amazon, etc.. and follow us on facebook at www.facebook.com/oddbrodsky. I’m on twitter @cindybaer and instagram @cindysivsion.

Kaytra Parkman

About Kaytra Parkman

Actress. “An old cosmic soul disguised as a 21st-century earthling”. Kaytra has no recollection of “catching” any acting bug... it was always there. At the ripe age of 3, she pointed to the television enthusiastically and declared, “I want to be IN THAT!”. After her parents jokingly reminded her she would have to be really small to fit in there, Kaytra skipped and tripped her way through adolescence until she landed a coveted spot at the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCSA). There she spent 4 years studying everything from stage combat to documentary filmmaking amongst a wide variety of young artists. A professional nerd on the side, she also freelances as a social media manager/video editor/techie, and spends her free time Netflixing and obsessing about space. Kaytra hopes to combine her love of acting, filmmaking and activism to evoke positive change both individually and globally.