An Interview with Kirsten Walsh – By Duane L. Martin

By now, Kirsten Walsh should be well known to our readers here at Rogue Cinema. Since she’s joined our team, she’s provided us with tons of great interviews and reviews, and she’s even given us video interviews, which we’ve never had here in the magazine before. She’s more than just a great interviewer though. She’s also involved in film production, and come this December, she’s going to be making her directorial debut on a new film called Hopscotch. This month, I’m happy to be able to spotlight one of own, and to find out all about her exciting new project.

* * *

DLM: People are familiar with you now from the amazing work you’ve been doing for us here in the magazine, but they probably don’t know much about your background. Tell us about yourself.

KW: Oh boy. Well, I answered a Craig’s List Ad way back and found myself on a set of an independent feature film as a script supervisor. I really fell in love with production and then just kept finding gigs working on sets. Everything from music videos to commercials, and feature films- including one for “VEER!”, which is currently on the film festival circuit and has won a few awards along the way. At some point, I actually started working for film festivals as a staff member. I worked on the Jacksonville Film Festival for three years and the Maryland Film Festival in Baltimore for a year. I really just liked working with films, filmmakers, and the production process.

DLM: You’ve been in pre-production for a film called Hopscotch since the summer, a film in which you’ll be making your directorial debut. I know you want to keep the story pretty close to the vest right now, but tell us what you can about it.

KW: “Hopscotch” is a short film that centers around three ladies, one evening, and a bowl full of candy! It is what I would call a psychological thriller and it is definitely nothing like I’ve done before. I guess you could say we’re taking a male dominated field (in the story), and turning it on its head by using only female actresses- including the dog!

DLM: Tell us about the origins of film and a little something about what went into the writing process. Did you collaborate with Christian Nelson on the script or was it entirely his baby?

KW: Christian has an extensive background in screenwriting and film and television production. I’ve read a handful of his feature scripts, and loved the way his stories flowed. His recent venture into the horror genre has been fun to see and read, and I was onboard as soon as he approached me with the script.

Christian wrote the script specifically for me to direct. I had no say on the subject matter initially, but once I had the script in hand, we began bouncing back and forth on a lot of the stuff within the story. With him being a guy, I was a little nervous about how the dialogue was going to sound originally, since he was writing for three very distinct female characters, but the script was amazing! We’ve since gone back and changed a few words here and there, but the script is pretty much intact.

DLM: You’ve been in pre-production for a while now. How long has that process taken, and what sort of a shooting schedule are you looking at when you get to the actual production phase of the film?

KW: I tend to be a little OCD when it comes to productions. It overtakes my life! As a producer, I have a very hands-on approach to all aspects of the productions I’m involved in, and with this one, I’m in charge, so I can really oversee everything and make sure it is exactly how I want it to be. Even though I am just the director on this production, I have been a part of it from the inception all the way through. I managed the castings, I organized the locations, I threw together all of the paperwork. I started the pre-production process in June of this year, and have been working off and on with my team. The actresses were cast in July, and have been developing their characters and working on their lines this whole time.

I also have been working with some amazing people in pre, including my producer Shawn Laasch, who I call every chance I get in order to vent to. I know it drives him nuts, but some things have happened in pre that require a lot of communication, and he’s been great with that. Christian, the writer, has also been a part of every step moving closer to production, including talking to the actresses and even helping gather the costumes!

DLM: Have you run into any problems in pre-production that have been difficult to deal with, or has it all gone pretty smoothly so far?

KW: I think the biggest hurdle that I can talk about is the paperwork. We had a situation come up within the last week that required us to jump through what feels like one hundred hoops in order to meet requirements. We are going to have a bulldog onset with us, so we had to notify the American Humane Association and agree that we’re going to treat the bulldog humanely and within their regulations. There’s a ton of paperwork, and as long as you have someone who is good at it or someone who enjoys it, it’s not hard.

Aside from that, everything has been fairly smooth, and fun. All of the cast and crew live in various places around the country, and we’re going to be shooting on location overnight, so we’ve had some fun keeping in contact with everyone. I’m constantly on my phone and email trying to get certain things done, but my cast and crew are simply amazing, and this has been a great process so far.

DLM: You’re looking to start the production in December, shooting in both Georgia and Florida. Tell us about the locations you have planned for the shoot, and how you came to be shooting in two different states.

KW: Oh man, this was a trip. So I’m currently located in the Northeast, but most of my productions have been done in Florida. When my team began location scouting, we wanted to find somewhere that was reliable and fit the script. We approached Jacksonville because we already had a reliable team of people to help us, and it was a good central point. However, we ran into a ton of locations that were not willing to let us shoot there- with the main reason being because we were going to be bringing a dog!

After the umpteenth location being uncooperative, I contacted a producer friend who encouraged me to look into Georgia. The Coastal Georgia Film Alliance was absolutely incredible in helping me find the perfect location for the shoot and even help arrange our planned stay. I can’t say where the location is just yet, but the owner has been awesome, and I’m really excited for the shoot. My consulting producer, Dwight Cenac, came onboard when I approached him about using his soundstage in Jacksonville, where he constantly has projects going on, but was able to fit me in. I am really excited about giving my crew the two different experiences- shooting on location and in the controlled environment of a soundstage. It will definitely be a fun production.

DLM: You’re bringing in a production crew from various places in the country to shoot the film. They’ve never worked together before, but you’ve personally worked with them on various things. Tell us about some of the people who will be involved.

KW: Yes! That has been a challenge and a joy. I am bringing Dave Pelosi, a DP from Ohio, along with his AC. I worked Dave on another short film that is coming out this year, and he impressed the heck out of me with his natural talent and technical knowhow.

One of my actresses, Christin Easterling, is going to be flying in from L.A. for the shoot, and I’m excited to work with her again. For a while, Christin was an actress in every production I did. I have had the opportunity to watch her grow as an actress and really come into her own with her talent. She’s awesome.

My lead composer, Jose Grajeda, is a super talented composer based out of Northern California, and although I’ve known him for years, this will be my first time working with him. He is a super talented musician and composer, and I am honored to have him on this production.

The writer, Christian, lives up in Maryland and will be coming down for the shoot, along with the bulldog- Navi. That, we’re definitely excited for. Mostly everyone else is from the Florida area. We have production people coming from Ocala, St. Augustine, and Jacksonville.

DLM: The film will be starring Karen Overstreet, Amanda Ayres and Christin Easterling. Tell us about them and how they came to be cast for their roles. Had you known them each previously and had them in mind for the roles, or was there a casting process you went through to select them?

KW: Christian didn’t write any of the roles specifically for anyone, but Christin Easterling was always in mind for one of the characters. I’ve very much enjoyed working with her in the past, and knew that she would be perfect for this film. She has a very raw talent and excellent body motions, so I knew this film would be like a dance for her, which is exactly what we were looking for.

We didn’t host a traditional casting call, but instead, I researched actresses and emailed some that I thought might be interested. The script has some graphic material in it, and there is some language that is slightly off the mark, so I was a little wary that no one would be interested in it! Sure enough, there were some actresses that were offended by the script and turned down a read. I did get a funny email saying that the script went against everything the girl stood for. I understood and appreciated her honesty, but it is just a movie after all.

Karen Overstreet is a fairly well known stage and film actress in Northeast Florida, and completely blew us away with her reading of the character she was cast in. Her and I have since spent several conversations studying the motivation of her character together, and I even gave her some homework assignments to help build her knowledge up of the character’s profession. She brings such a sense of delicacy and refinery to the film.

Amanda is adorable. She has been nothing but a joy to work with, and to talk to. I heard recently that Amanda and Karen met on another film set for the first time a few weeks ago and couldn’t stop talking about “Hopscotch”. I’m glad they’re so excited, and thought it was funny- we spend so much time talking to each other on the screen, it’s going to be like old friends catching up when we finally get together!

DLM: What do you anticipate will be some of your biggest challenges to overcome during the production and post-production phases of the film.

KW: Well- production. I have to survive to that point first! I think the movement of it all will be fun and challenging. Taking over a found location, filling it with our equipment, and making it our own. I’m excited to see what my production designer, Loida Garcia, does with the place. Only the producer, Shawn, has actually been onsite. The rest of us have only seen pictures online. The subject matter of the script is extremely dark, so I am pulling out some tricks of the trade to keep my crew motivated and moving.

Post production should actually go fairly smoothly (I say that with crosses fingers and knocking on wood). We are planning for some interesting marketing approaches for the film, and hope they go over well. It’s all just a matter of timing.

DLM: When are you hoping to see the film released, and what sort of a release are you looking for? Are you going to do the festival circuit first, looking for distribution, self distributing or…?

KW: The film will be released next summer, right when Christian and my team are kicking off our next production, which we will be starting pre production on in January. Since it’s a short film, we plan on hitting the festival circuit, and then releasing it further. The town that we will be shooting in up in Georgia has asked us to do a screening there, which we are excited about. Of course, distribution never hurts, and the idea has a ton of potential, but we have some other plans.

We’re not putting all of our eggs in the “Hopscotch” basket. We have the production next year, and then we have some plans for the film after that already! “Hopscotch” was a way of beginning to build up a reliable team of crew members that we can really grow with and succeed.

DLM: Since this is going to be your directorial debut, are you having times where you’re feeling a bit nervous about how you’ll do with it all, or are you feeling pretty confident because of your past film experience?

KW: I feel pretty confident because I have seen incredible directors and not-so-great directors. I think I’ve learned a lot from every production I’ve been on, and I’m carrying that over to this film. That doesn’t just mean the directorial style on set, but also all of the thoughts prior to shooting- working with the D.P. to storyboard and develop shots, working with my production designer to figure out the overall look. Of course, I’m working closely with the actresses, they hear from me weekly, and during our “rehearsals”, we really talk in depth about the scenes and the characters.

There’s a ton of independent filmmakers out there, and that’s great! However, in my experience, sometimes the word of a person doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen. So, as a director and the life force behind this project, I’m trying to not just say I’m going to do something- I’m trying to do it, then talk about it. I think the actresses appreciate that, as well as the crew.

DLM: Have you thought about what you’d like to do after Hopscotch is completed? Do you have any thoughts about possibly what your next film would be?

KW: So yes, the next film is another script Christian wrote, entitled “Six and Seven”. It’s another horror film, and a bit more traditional horror than “Hopscotch”. I’ve worked in a lot of other genres- drama, comedy, documentary, etc- and I really wanted a horror experience. I’m a horror nerd fan, so I wanted to take a stab at it (ha, pun intended!). Of course, down the road, I don’t necessarily see myself being genre specific. I like good projects based on good scripts, it doesn’t matter if there’s a head being chopped off or a romantic make out session.

I currently have two short films that are in their final stages of post production or are already screening. “Kitty Kitty”, directed by Blair Richardson, is screening out and around, and “The Wingmen” directed by Leon Mitchell and Daniel Vakharia is set for a November release. Also, “VEER!” just played at the Sunscreen Film Festival in L.A.

DLM: Where can people find out more about the film and keep up with its progress?

KW: We have an awesome Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/hopscotchfilm) that we plan on revealing secrets on as the production continues. We have some pretty big ones (and I’m hoping a really huge one- crossing fingers and knocking on wood) that we have to leak out. We’ve done a pretty good job at not really telling anyone what the story is about, because we want people to watch the film. Of course, the poster doesn’t help- it gives away some story aspects. I will say this- there’s only three actresses in the film, but there are more than three bodies in the film. There. That’s a secret!

DLM: Since this is your first time directing, do you have any advice for others out there who are looking to direct their first film as well? Any pitfalls they should avoid, or things they should think about and consider?

KW: Oh geez. When I took on this endeavor, I wanted to read EVERYTHING on directing! I wanted to read EVERYTHING on horror! I wanted to do things perfectly, and just like they do them in the big leagues. I don’t know when this happened, but at some point, I realized that my project was good. The script is awesome- hell, we’ve had people go to bat for the script and its content. The cast and crew are excellent. The organization is great, and now, we’re starting to have some images roll in that are incredible. I was worried about not being able to visualize my scenes and shot design- but I just started talking it out one night, and the next thing I knew, my shot lists were done, and I was starting storyboarding. I would say it came naturally, but I had to sit there and read and re-read the script over and over again, and really work hard on figuring out what I wanted. That was the really important thing- this project is all about what I want, visually and aesthetically.

Of course, be careful not to let other people take your vision away. I’ve seen that happen to directors I’ve worked with before, and the whole project suffers because of it. Also, I’ve seen directors be too controlling, and the project turn out okay, but nothing worth the effort and hard work you put into it- and don’t get credit for. It’s hard to find that medium, but it’s definitely doable. Heck, if you can dream it- you can do it.

Photo Credits: Christopher Laha