An Interview with Cindy Baer – By Phil Smolen

“Odd Brodsky” is one my favorite movies that I’ve seen this year. It’s an original gem about Audrey Brodsky (a wonderful Tegan Ashton Cohan) a woman who has always wanted to be an actress. The only problem is that Audrey is terrible at it! Suppressing her dreams, Audrey slaves away in an office, until one day in her 30’s, when she decides to go for it and follow her passion. Using her savings, she hires a reality cameraman (appropriately named Camera One [a terrific Matthew Kevin Anderson]) to film her attempts to succeed in Hollywood and gets on the La La Land Merry-go-Round!

Writer/director and actress Cindy Baer graciously agreed to fill me in on the details of making this charming indie crowd pleaser.

*   *   *

RC: Cindy, what was the germ of the idea for “Odd Brodsky”?

CB: Phil, firstly thanks so much to you and Rogue Cinema for inviting me to do this interview.

The original idea for “Odd Brodsky” started very simply. I belonged to a women’s group called The Goddesses which was a handful of dear girlfriends with whom I met once or twice a month. One of them felt stuck at a desk job she hated and longed for a more creative career. When I suggested that maybe she should quit her job to follow her passion, she told me she couldn’t do that. However, the very next day I got a phone call from her saying she’d quit. I knew this was something many people struggled with; the idea of making a living doing something they love. Right about that same time, my directorial feature debut “Purgatory House” (which had been my life’s obsession) was about to be distributed, and I was longing for a new creative project. That’s when my husband cinematographer Matthew Irving and I came up with the idea for “Odd Brodsky” which would explore the idea of what happens when you leave security behind to follow a dream.

RC: Have you and Matthew written together before? What did each of you bring to the screenplay?

CB: I had adapted a few of Matt’s short stories into short films previously, but “Odd Brodsky” is the first time we’ve actually written together. It was a really fun process, and went by fairly quickly. Once we had the theme, we brainstormed the key plot points together. Then Matt wrote the first draft based on our beat sheets and I did most of the re-writes. Now when we look back it’s such a combination of the two of us, it’s hard to remember exactly who wrote what sometimes. But generally speaking, it’s a combination of his humor and my heart.

RC: How much of Audrey’s character is biographical?

CB: Although “Odd Brodsky” is fictional, a lot of things were inspired by my life as well as my philosophies on life, so there’s probably quite a bit of me in both Audrey and Sammy (Audrey’s Brodsky’s friend). Sammy is the narrator of the movie, and obsessed by her previous feature (called “Hell is Here”), which is a parody of how I was obsessed with my first feature “Purgatory House.” And like our main character Audrey, I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 22 to pursue a career as an actress, but was quickly sidetracked by a job I’d created as a children’s birthday party performer. Although my company became successful I was not happy. It was not in line with my life’s passion, so like Audrey I quit. Actually, I sold my business. And ironically the person who bought my clown company was Tegan Ashton Cohan, the actress who ended up eventually playing Audrey!  So a lot of this movie reflects my life both on and off the screen.  

RC: Who came up with Matthew Kevin Anderson’s character name (Camera One)?

CB: The name "Camera One" was my husband Matt’s idea, and I loved it as soon as he pitched it.  We thought it was funny that Audrey says she’s hired a "camera crew" which in reality is this one guy.  Being named Camera One implies there are more camera people in his crew, but there aren’t.  Once we started calling him "Camera One" in the script, our Wes Anderson sensibility took over and it was a no-brainer that he should have no other name.   We hope other people will find this as funny as we do! 
 
I also love how Camera One always wears a T-shirt that says "Camera One".  Matt wrote the shirt description into the script, and then our superstar costume designer Chelsey Hemstreet brought it to life and even took it a step further when she came up with the idea that Camera One’s entire wardrobe consists of these shirts, in various colors.

RC: Was it always your intention to make “Odd Brodsky” independently?

CB: The first draft was written with no constraints, as if we had a big studio budget available, and from there we created some alternate versions of certain scenes to fit lower budget levels. For example, the original draft had an extravagant musical number that took place at the gates of Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers. We knew the likelihood of that happening was next to zero, but we tried to think as big as possible before scaling back. In the end, we kept a version of that same gate scene, but it became one location instead of three, and was shot at a school that our production designer Ken Oefelein dressed to look like a studio. Visual effects artist Edgar Sunga composited the Hollywood Hills into the background which changed our location from Hollywood to Burbank. And by adding a small musical number to the ending credits, we still got to do a lot of what we envisioned, adapted to fit the budget.  

RC: When did “Odd Brodsky” become a feasible project?

CB: I first felt like it was feasible when an actress/comedian from Saturday Night Live read the script and agreed to be attached. Although it didn’t come to pass, that was an amazing validation. It also felt feasible when I showed the script to Chris Wyatt, the producer of “Napoleon Dynamite” (2004), and he loved it too. 

RC: How did you find the lead actress Tegan Ashton Cohan (Audrey)?

CB: As I mentioned earlier, I first met Tegan way back in 1999 when she and her mother Trisha bought my clown company. I’d seen Tegan perform in plays over the next few years and when the first draft of “Odd Brodsky” was completed I asked if she’d read it aloud with me so I could hear how it would sound. She had no idea that I was pre-reading her for the role of Audrey, although I knew she was probably a bit too young for the role then. Going through our process of developing the project and shopping the script took several years, and when we finally went into production Tegan was the right age to play Audrey. She auditioned and won the role.

RC: How did you find Matthew Kevin Anderson (Camera One) and Scotty Dickert (Spuds)?

CB: The most challenging role to cast was Camera One. Casting director George Nikitas and I had seen a lot of great actors and had narrowed it down to the top three contenders, but we didn’t feel like any of them were completely right for the part. A lot of actors would hit the jokes but miss the heart, or vice versa. We really needed someone who was equally strong with both. At the very end of the casting process, Matthew Kevin Anderson’s taped audition showed up via email, and the moment we watched it, we knew he was perfect. As for the role of Spuds, I first met Scotty when he came in to audition. It was pretty close between him and another actor. I’m relieved that we went with Scotty; no-one else could have pulled it off the way he did!

RC: Where did you film and how long was your shoot?

CB: Principal photography was 20 days in and around the Los Angeles area. We also had a few days of additional and second unit photography after we wrapped. We shot mostly in the San Fernando Valley (Burbank, Glendale, Studio City), Silverlake and Hollywood. The hitchhiking scenes were filmed in Santa Paula, where we found a great farmhouse that doubled for Iowa. Through the magic of visual effects, a giant highway sign turned it into our fictional interstate!

RC: Do you have a fascinating “tale from the cinematic trenches” during filming?

CB: Well, it’s certainly best to start principal photography once prep is finished, but we didn’t have that luxury. After long days of shooting, our nights and weekends were filled with casting the remaining day-player roles, completing paperwork, finding background talent, searching for props and animals, finalizing production designs, finding the remaining locations still needed, and whatever other last minute items were at hand. But the biggest task that was not completed during prep was creating the songs for the two musical numbers. I’m not gonna lie, it was daunting. Time was ticking away and it felt like a gigantic weight pressing down. Luckily, since I knew the overall premise of the songs and the two main actors had been cast, Chelsey could move forward with costumes. But we still had no composer, no music and no "Singing Angels"! It felt like being on a train going full-steam ahead while the tracks were still being built in front of us. I just prayed that the tracks would be there when we arrived!  

There was no time to spare when I finally hired a team to create the lyrics and music. Lyricist Kahle McCann took our premise and came up with lines that he then turned over to his partner Kenny Wood, who created the music. During that first week I’d listen to music samples at night and gave notes during lunch. Kahle and Kenny knocked it out of the ballpark! It was exactly what I was hoping for, and I was so grateful to have found this gifted team. Luckily these musical sequences were scheduled for the last two days of production, which followed a four-day weekend that we’d built into the schedule. On Thursday of this long weekend I finished casting the singing angels. Later that night we recorded everyone’s vocals at Kenny’s studio. Friday and Saturday the choreography was created and we designed the set. Sunday we rehearsed with all the actors on the stage, and Monday we built the set and shot it! The best part was watching the reactions on our crew’s faces as each angle was shot and the musical number enfolded in front of them. I’m really proud that we pulled it off.

RC: Who was your hero during production? Post production?

CB: Over 250 people came together to make this happen, and each one of them is a hero to me; every one of our amazing crew and cast members, our donors, sponsors, friends, families and supporters who shared their time, talent and hearts to create this movie! The whole is nothing without each piece. Next, you can probably guess that my biggest hero during production and in life is my husband, soul-mate, co-creator, partner and best friend Matthew Irving. He’s been by my side, cheering me on during every step of the process. We wrote, shot-listed, photographed, edited and tweaked this movie together from beginning to end. He’s an incredible storyteller and I often tell people I went to the "Matthew Irving Film School". My other hero during production was my producing partner Thomai Hatsios, who is also a wonderful director to look out for. She brought together many of our dedicated and awesome crew people, handled so many details of production, and put out some huge fires with skill and grace. My post-production hero is our supervising sound editor Victoria Rose Sampson, who is yet another talented director to look for. She and Felix Lau–along with the rest of our dedicated sound team–worked for months to redo our terrible production sound and turn it into something great. (Tip: always make sure to listen to your audio at the end of each day, the same way you would watch dailies!) I’m sorry for this long list, but there is one more person who I cannot exclude: Mark Alan Thomas, our key visual effects creator. Besides Matt and me, he worked on this project the longest, designing dozens and dozens of visual effects that helped to create the world of “Odd Brodsky”; everything from signs and billboards to coughing turtles and a fire-eater. Mark is a master artisan, and this movie would be a very sparse place without him.

RC: When did you know you had something special?

CB: I received great feedback when people would read the script, but it really took on a whole new life when our amazing cast came aboard.  It’s one thing to create characters on a page, but when a group of skilled actors come together and breathe life into the material, that’s when we could feel the magic. The script has a fairy-tale element to it, and for the movie to work, for the audience to be engaged, the actors had to create extremely earnest characters who completely and unabashedly wear their hearts on their sleeves. Day after day, they pulled it off. Tegan brought in just the right combination of humor and heart to transform Audrey into a three-dimensional woman that the audience could care about and root for. Matthew Kevin Anderson similarly fleshed out Camera One and made him lovable; the perfect complement to Audrey’s shenanigans. And then there’s Scotty Dickert and his hilarious portrayal of the charismatic stoner Spuds. Although this is a comedy, there are moments where my heart breaks a little for each of these characters. To me, that’s very special.

RC: Tell me about the Mill Valley Film Festival. What was that like?

CB: When I first got the news that “Odd Brodsky” was invited to screen at this prestigious and well regarded festival I was ecstatic. This is one of my all-time favorite festivals and I was thrilled and stunned that our little micro-budget movie would be 1 of only 24 U.S features in our category that included a line-up of heavy-hitters like “12 Years a Slave” (directed by Steve McQueen), “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (directed by & starring Ben Stiller), “The Book Thief” (starring Geoffrey Rush & Emily Watson), “All is Lost”(starring Robert Redford), “Dallas Buyers Club” (starring Matthew McConaughey & Jennifer Garner), and “Nebraska” (starring Bruce Dern & Will Forte). Then the panic set in: there was a lot to do in a very short time to prepare for our screening. I had to really scramble to make it!

The festival gave us two great screenings slots, which were the Friday and Saturday night of opening weekend, and both sold out! For this, a very special "thank you" goes out to our tireless Executive Producer Sharon A. Fox, who papered the town with postcards and packed our houses. She’s another “”Odd Brodsky” hero! Seeing this movie finally in front of an audience, and hearing them laugh out loud was priceless. A nice benefit of screening so early in the festival was that for the entire following week so many people would come up to us and say that “Odd Brodsky” was their favorite, or they’d heard great things about it! Best. Feeling. Ever.

I can’t say enough about this top notch festival: Mark Fishkin, Zoe Elton, Karen Davis, Janis Plotkin, Sterling Hedgpeth, the rest of the staff, volunteers, filmmakers, patrons and audiences. Everyone treated us and our movie as though we were one of their bigger-budget, star-studded films. There were two filmmakers lounges packed with gourmet spreads each day, high-end parties, filmmaker brunches and panels. I even bumped shoulders with Sean Penn! I loved meeting the other filmmakers and finding our common threads. Most of all, I love the amount of "heart" on display both off and on screen. MVFF programs a slate of films that touch the spirit and make a difference in the world. It was an honor to have the world premiere of “Odd Brodsky” happen among such a stellar group of people and films. 

RC: What does the future hold for “Odd Brodsky”? Cindy Baer?

CB: The goal for “Odd Brodsky” is to get it out to as many people as we possibly can.  So thank you for helping us spread the word with this interview!  I’m hoping that the movie will be invited to play at more great festivals, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing it with the rest of the cast and crew in front of an audience. As for me, I’m currently developing three feature projects with Matt: a mainstream comedy, a romantic ghost story and a mockumentary. Also we just came up with the premise for a new film, which may actually trump the others. It seems like a better fit for me as I continue on my filmmaking path exploring the world of being a woman in today’s world at various ages in life. But first I’ll be directing a new short film called “The Cricket” that’s ready to go now. It will be a companion piece to another short that Matt directed called “Stalked”, and will be offered as a 2-for-1 on iTunes if I can get it done in time. There are just never enough hours in day!

RC: Where can Rogue Cine-maniacs find “Odd Brodsky”? 

Our website:  www.oddbrodsky.com (see our trailer)
Facebook:  www.facebook.com/oddbrodsky
Twitter:  www.twitter.com/oddbrodsky
IMDB:  www.imdb.com/title/tt1020982

RC: Well thanks a bunch for your time Cindy. As always, everyone at Rogue Cinema wishes you every success.

CB: Thanks so much for your support Phil!