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Filmmaker Interview with Antonia Bogdanovich Fsalinks

Hi Antonia, Thanks for sitting down with us to chat about your films and filmmaking. Where in the world do we find you today and how are you doing?

I am in Santa Monica, California – about 6 blocks from the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles. I’m a surfer – so being near the ocean helps.

You’ve just completed a Director’s Cut of your film Sleep No More. Can you give us a little background to the story of the film and say what it was that made you want to revisit it again? What differences can the audience expect from the new version?

I grew up and hung out with troubled teens, as I was one too — the ones your parents don’t want you to hang out with. Many of them were small town crooks, and the more talented ones burglarized homes in Santa Monica – on the nicer side of town – the side of town where my mother owned a home. So the initial inspiration for this story centered around my best-guy friend, who was a first class musician, extremely handsome, and a master thief.

The reason I wanted to revisit this film was for a number of reasons, first and foremost there were a few scenes I felt shouldn’t be in the film and I also wanted to adjust the ending a bit. Originally, we had a different ending, but the producing team felt strongly that the original ending with some adjustments would be best for the film, and I couldn’t help but agree. 

Sleep No More also began life as a short film, My Left Hand Man. Can you talk us through some of the process of developing the film from one format to the other? How was that process for you personally?

I wrote My Left Hand Man solo, but I had a partner on the feature length script. Anne Heffron has a dark, unique sense of humor, so she brought in her own unique style. A lot of the bits that are absurd, like Miss Rose sitting at the bottom of her empty pool sun bathing, came from her bizarre and often absurd sense of humor. Also, we added a lot of characters to the feature version, so once we wrote back stories for those characters and determined how they connected and intertwined with the lead characters we had a lot to play with. The plot is still the same as the short though. I remember when I was really young and had told my father I wanted to be a writer, he said that all the plots had already been written by Shakespeare and so my focus should be on creating interesting characters and how they navigate through the story.

You’ve talked before about the film being representative of your time growing up in LA without it being entirely autobiographical. What was it that you saw in the characters that made you want to tell their story?  

This film is about my family – it’s actually quite personal – but in a highly fictionalized setting and format. I mean no one can argue that the film industry is not the most moral and ethical industry – and I literally grew up surrounded by film folks. My uncles and step dad were in the industry too. Everyone and everything I was exposed to up until middle school, when I hung out with kids from the bad parts of town, was entertainment industry centric. Not to mention my family went through an incredibly violent and highly publicized murder when I was barely out of elementary school. So even though I wasn’t consciously connecting it – the ending of my film is influenced and connected to the murder of Dorothy Stratten.

Also, Luke Kleintank’s character, Beckett is based partly on myself but mostly on my best guy-friend I mentioned above, the master thief, who quite tragically robbed my mother’s house when I was 16. I found out much later that it was him, and that betrayal crushed me. He apologized and I did forgive him. My group of friends helped me understand the mind of a thief – they get a thrill out of it – some can’t help but steal while others do it if they are desperate for money. My friend’s mother was mentally ill and couldn’t work, so he struggled financially growing up.

There are a strong variety of themes throughout Sleep No More, ranging from Shakespeare to comic books to abusive relationships. Can you talk us through how you used these themes to develop your story and why you wanted to use them in your film?

Great question. So, growing up, cinema was like Jesus or God in our house; great cinema was all-knowing and could teach you anything you needed to know about life, art and humans. Cinema was literally worshipped, and it pervaded everything we did and said. On the flip side of that was TV, there was NO TV at my father’s home, if we wanted to watch something it had to be a movie, and his collection was not contemporary, all but a few were made before 1959. Then at my mother’s home, she took the remote with her to work, so we were rarely allowed to watch TV and she frowned upon it as well. Now keep in mind this was before The Sopranos and what I call the Golden Age of TV which began with that show in 1999 – which, ironically, my father ended up being an actor in.

In general, other things such as traditional school, college and things like morality and how to conduct oneself as a parent were secondary to art. My childhood was anything but idyllic, my parents fought amongst each other and in the media and in books. My father was a huge success when I was quite young, but struggled to work in the 80’s and 90’s, while my mother had huge success throughout the 80’s and 90’s. But still cinema was the WORD. 

In Sleep No More, I took these ideas to the extreme – Shakespeare is cinema and comic books are TV. I have studied Shakespeare, read every play, and have gone to see many of his plays whenever I’m in London. I identify so much with so many of his works, perhaps because my childhood at times felt like a never-ending drama and that at times it was very public and a lot like theatre. So, I really wanted to intertwine Shakespeare’s mythos into my first feature. And yes, I would die to direct a Shakespeare play in the UK!

Even though the patriarch is a hopeless gambler and alcoholic, who puts his entire family in jeopardy, he won’t tolerate bad grammar, comic books or state-mandated education. He lives in a fantasy world of Shakespeare and conducts himself like one or several of the Bard’s characters.

You wrote this film with your writing partner Anne Heffron, was this something that you felt you needed or wanted to do from the beginning or was the process of coming together more organic? Is having a writing partner something that you are keen to do again in the future?

This was the second screenplay we wrote together, the first one she asked if I wanted to write a screenplay with her and I was struggling with a novel I couldn’t finish so that sounded a lot more fun. Since I had grown up in the film business, I figured it has to be easier than writing a novel, which it most certainly was, at least for both of us. That first screenplay, a road trip film about a mother who sets out to find a daughter she gave up for adoption as an infant, got a lot of attention in Hollywood and so we naturally wanted to write another script together. Anne went on after that to write a memoir and is working on other prose and I kept writing screenplays, but if there is ever a project where we can write together again, I’d be down.

Before deciding to direct you had already been in the film business for some time. You’ve been an executive producer, producer, production assistant, post production supervisor, writer, director and actor. How invaluable was this experience when you finally came to direct and did you find that you used skills learned from these other roles as you were heading up your own film?

I used all my skills, all of them. I produced mostly after I had directed, and I didn’t enjoy that at all, but I wanted to help my dad get his film made, so I went for it and I was able to help make that happen, which he was very grateful for, and of course I am now too, since it turned out to be his last film.

Most of my other credits you mentioned: acting, production assistant, assistant editor credits were “before”.  I quit the business for 11 years, during that time I fell in love, left Los Angeles, got married, and had a child. I actually swore I’d never return to film. Then came “after”. After I began writing with Anne and then I directed my first short, I knew that all along I was destined to direct. The notion of being a director had literally never occurred to me. When I was young, my father had so many ups and downs, so much unemployment and disappointments, I just couldn’t imagine living a life that way. Ironically, I’ve been confronted with similar challenges he faced, but I am so passionate about making films that I will never walk away again. Just like dearly departed father. He was very encouraging, and he would have told me if I was a terrible director or writer, my parents didn’t mince words, or bullshit about talent, not ever. 

You grew up and started your career in the Hollywood film industry, but making Sleep No More, and the original short My Left Hand Man, meant that you were now involved in independent filmmaking. How much does the process differ in getting a film made and seen when you are doing it all independently? What do you feel are the benefits/drawbacks of making an independent film?

 What I would do to make a studio film! To have access to all the money I need and a support system of trained professionals. I just don’t have that in the indie world. I miss the studios terribly. Independent filmmaking is brutal, I worked at WB, Sony and Paramount and I had no idea at the time how great I had it. It’s become so hard to make a film. There are stops and starts and financiers who pull out at the last minute; there are actors who drop out that cause the picture to fold; and distribution is a killer. The main reason I’m putting out this film now is that the original distributor went bankrupt shortly after buying my film and my film got buried in lawsuits, so it really never saw the light of day. To the best of my knowledge it never got a chance in Europe, so the public at large both here and overseas had no access to it. 

Your parents, Peter Bogdanovich and Polly Platt, were both big players in their own ways in the filmmaking business, your father as a director and your mother as a producer and production designer. Do you feel that the types of careers in the film industry still follow some sort of typecasting in terms of gender? Do you feel that you were more accepted, as a woman in the film industry, when you were working in the more ‘unseen’ roles and was there ever any doubt for you about becoming a director? Were there ever any difficulties that you faced from other people’s perception of women’s roles in film?

My parents taught me so much about filmmaking – SO MUCH. We talked about making movies and how to make movies all the time – at every meal, in the car and while watching films, on set and on vacation. My mother was a genius, I was there the day she brought home Matt Groening’s Life In Hell cartoon and told me she was taking it to Gracie Films as this guy had the goods! There are many, many more stories like that about my mom’s ability to discover talent. I told her I wanted to work in film when I was about 10 and so she took it upon herself to mentor me, even though she often pushed me towards science and college all the time (I was very good at math, chemistry, biology and physics). I think she pushed me towards other fields as she wanted me to have a steady income. But it never stuck.

I think it’s much easier to be a male film director. I have very close friends in the VFX industry who will call me from set and tell me some young male director who has no clue how to direct is at the helm and it’s a disaster. They tell me they wish I was the director, and I wish I were too! I get calls from editors too about the very same thing. When I was working in the more “unseen” roles I thought about editing, but never directing, until I started directing theatre and writing screenplays later in my life. I think all women have been exposed to sexual harassment at work, my mother told me quite a few stories, but kept it to herself, as she would have for sure lost her job back then. I have dealt with those issues and never went public about it, but I don’t tolerate that anymore under any circumstances, and I would certainly deal with any such conduct immediately on my film set. It really has changed ME TOO and I’m so happy about that. The last few years, I have been very fortunate to find a group who are all about the work and I feel safe to create and build projects with them. 

You’ve previously mentioned that you learnt a lot through osmosis by watching your parents work, which must have been an incredible experience for you growing up. Since you’ve carved your own path for yourself and come back to filmmaking have you been inspired by anyone else in the filmmaking industry or perhaps by other writers, stage directors or other professionals?

My father was not necessarily attracted to stories about crime, murder and violence, but as a kid I was. Although I love a wide range of films and filmmakers I was always drawn to dramas and dark subject matter. I was obsessed with Francis Ford Coppola’s early works and Apocalypse Now changed my life. Ridley Scott’s early works like Blade Runner is a film I’ve watched over and over, and many other of his earlier films. The directors that have inspired me since right before and after I become a director would be Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson – I study There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights – to me they are both master classes in contemporary cinema. I adore David O. Russell – Three Kings is literally one of my favorite films. And then there is Alejandro Inarritu – he’s got to be my favorite contemporary film maker – from his first film, Amores Perros, which I saw in the theatre in 2000 when it came out, to The Revenant.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I want to make all gritty and violent films, I’ve actually been leaning towards dark comedy lately, as I feel the world needs to laugh right now.

What’s next for you after this? Are there any projects that you currently have on the go and what are you looking forward to that you can see in your future?

Yes! I am directing a fantasy comedy/drama about a Catholic boarding school for child geniuses, who set out to build a rocket that will get them to heaven. It’s more otherworldly rather than pure fantasy. It’s incredibly unique and very inspiring. My producer, Josh Russell, also happens to be a brilliant screenwriter, and he wrote it. I am very excited to explore this genre and the comedy is what really drew me in – I can’t wait to make people laugh. After that, I have a WWII script that my parents wrote in 1968 – it’s like Schindler’s List meets Ocean’s 11 – it’s unbelievable and I’m going to cast mostly Europeans for this and of course shoot in Poland where the story takes place.

Where can people get to see the new cut of Sleep No More and how can we keep up to date with what’s happening with the film and any other Antonia Bogdanovich projects?

Sleep No More comes out in the US for a limited theatrical day and dates in July – it will be on Prime Video, VOD, Apple + and a few other streamers, too. In the UK, we aren’t sure yet, but after the Cannes film festival I will be able to tell you more, as we are selling foreign distribution there.

#Filmmaker #Interview #Antonia #Bogdanovich

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