Article By: Maria Shamkalian
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it? Writing, producing and premiering In Your Afterglow with a very limited budget from start to finish - 11 months. Gathering a fantastic cast and crew to complete production of the film in 12 shooting days.
How did you get started in the film industry?
I was driving to my 35th college reunion (Bucknell U) when I received a text from a friend: “Want to play a hot, potty-mouthed sibling in an Indie film?” Random. Without any hesitation I responded with an enthusiastic “Yes!” Shortly thereafter I met with Director Mike Gutridge to discuss the role of Trish in his film Shadows (release date scheduled for late 2020). We filmed Shadows during the summer of 2018. I fell in love with the entire process. With filming completed in October 2018, I knew this was where I wanted to be. I had been writing for years, but never with the intention to work in the film industry. By November I was converting one of my story ideas to the screenplay format. By June 2019, we were filming In Your Afterglow.
Why do you choose to work in PA and what do you love the most about working in Pennsylvania?
As a Pennsylvania native, it made sense to film locally in York, PA, but I had no idea how receptive and helpful folks in the area would be. What I discovered was a huge support system, eager to contribute to the success of the film. Pennsylvania is chock-full of historical sites, country and urban settings, institutional settings (college and universities), as well as private individuals willing to share their homes for filming. In Your Afterglow was filmed in 11 locations throughout York and Adams County. Literally everyone I asked said yes.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania? The flashbacks from In Your Afterglow were filmed at the historic Dill’s Tavern in Dillsburg, PA. That was one of my favorite filming days. Our host was super helpful, the lighting in the building was beautiful and I couldn’t have asked for a more authentic setting. I also enjoyed filming on the scenic Heritage Rail Trail. The trail extends approximately 21 miles from York city south to the Maryland border.
What do you love the most about your job?
As both writer and producer of In Your Afterglow, I wore many hats. This allowed me to combine my creative, managerial, and leadership skills. Everyday, I encountered new challenges. I thrive on problem solving. Producing a film is like working on a jigsaw puzzle. When all of the pieces are finally in place, the result is exhilarating. But of course, that only lasts for a little while then you say, “Ok where’s the next one?”
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
Everyday on set was memorable for one reason or another, but the story I want to share is about a flying squirrel. A significant portion of the film was shot in the beautiful kitchen graciously provided by Michael and Julie Wheeler. As part of my regular routine, a few days before filming each week, I confirmed with her the date and arrival time. A few weeks into filming, I received a response “Yes, this is fine. Could you please remind everyone to close the garage door when they go in and out? When we returned home on Sunday, there was a flying squirrel in the laundry room. We were able to capture and release it.” I was mortified. I apologized profusely. Of all of the things I worried about, a flying squirrel was not on my list. This could easily have jeopardized my relationship with Julie and Mike. Filming at their home could have come to an abrupt halt. Instead, they took the incident in stride. Several months later, the Wheelers attended IYA’s premiere at the Appell Center. We had a good laugh. Thank goodness.
What are some of the challenges of being a female filmmaker?
To date I haven’t experienced specific challenges as a female filmmaker. However, getting into the industry at my age has raised some eyebrows. Many ask, why now? My answer is pretty simple.
Before now, I haven’t had the courage or encouragement to pursue my passion. What was expected of me and what I wanted to do were often not congruent. So, I waited. Currently, I have both, but I think encouragement from those who believe in me gave me the courage to go for it.
What is your advice for other women in film?
Surround yourself with people who believe in you but are not afraid to challenge you. Study. Celebrate your ability to multi-task. Be prepared to overcome stumbling blocks that are not female specific.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?
I’m currently working on my next screenplay “The Feeding Hand” which I plan to film in Pennsylvania. About a third of that film will be filmed in Milton, Pa. I’m open to filming the rest in York or another PA location. I’m currently considering Philadelphia.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?
I have been fortunate to meet many aspiring actors and filmmakers in Pennsylvania. Our state is loaded with talent. We need support from producers. We need funding for our films. Making films provides employment for Pennsylvanians. Making films in PA provides income to restaurants and hotels. Featuring PA locations in films showcases the many beautiful and historic areas. I would not have been able to produce my first film anywhere else. And I will not be able to produce my second film without support of new investors. These investors need every incentive possible to encourage them to look within Pennsylvania and see what we have to offer.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?
Discuss your budget with other experienced filmmakers.
Interview several candidates for each role in your film. Don’t settle. Don’t get discouraged by nah-sayers. You can do it!
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
This is no secret. Network. Join groups. Research.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
I learned so many valuable lessons with each stage of the process. The most difficult part of my work on In Your Afterglow was acting and producing at the same time. Best to do one or the other.
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?
In Your Afterglow of course!
What is your favorite project that you worked on?
In Your Afterglow was of course my favorite project, but acting in Shadows was fun because I had only one job - my role as “Trish”.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
I’d like to direct films written by others.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Feel free to reach out to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 email@example.com