When Booksmart opens at the Oriental Theatre this Friday, it will be preceded by a fan favorite short from the 2018 Milwaukee Film Festival, Pink Trailer! The director of Pink Trailer, Mary Neely, was kind enough to take time out to talk with us about her short film, her cinematic inspirations, and how her acting career informs her work as a director! Read on...
Unfortunately, there hasn’t historically been much space in cinema for women (especially young women) to just exist and interact with one another. It’s something that I feel Pink Trailer captures fantastically (and why it pairs so well with Booksmart!). How important is that for you to capture through your work?
It's been maybe the most important/intentional thing I've tried to capture in all of my work! The first short I made, called THE DRESSER, was purely intended to be an authentic slice of life mainly to showcase myself as an actor. Yet the response I got about the female friendship between my character and the other female lead was so overwhelming. I could see how our relationship specifically was resonating with other women, ultimately realizing that reflecting a female experience was just so much bigger and important than landing an acting role. Ever since, I've been focused on telling stories about womanhood (without hitting you furiously over the head with it).
There’s a rat-a-tat screwball comedy pacing to the dialogue - is there any films you studied to capture the energy and speed of those interactions cinematically?
That I can honestly say comes from me watching so many dang cartoons growing up. Classic Looney Tunes and also The Simpsons were huge for me as a kid. Plus, I was super into musical theater and have come to realize that my editing style and pace has a kind of sing song quality that I didn't really realize was there until after I was doing it. Cinematically, I've been really influenced by screwball comedies like Austin Powers and Liar Liar (Mike Meyers and Jim Carrey 4ever) but on a completely different note, the Dogme movement and films influenced by Dogme like Dancer in the Dark, have really interesting speed and energy that's so captivating.
Your work previous to Pink Trailer was very personal and self-made (writing/directing/editing/starring/producing) - was there any adjustment you had to make in order to work on someone else’s material?
Definitely an adjustment in terms of just allowing other people to do jobs I definitely should not be doing (in the past was used to doing everything because I was forced to due to lack of resources). Also just managing and understanding everyone's expectations. Super clear communication became so important to me -- something I'm constantly thinking about improving. I've also been on so many sets as an actor where I'll be in the make-up trailer and the 2nd AD is fighting with the make up artist because the AD wants the make up to be done faster, etc. and I always scheme about how everything can be more streamlined. Although we had a skeleton crew on Pink Trailer, I became really aware of how important it is to communicate everything affectively on set and in development.
As someone who studied to become an actor and not a filmmaker, how do you feel that has colored your experience behind the camera?
It's probably some of the best training a filmmaker can get. While I was studying to be an actor I was also working odd jobs on film sets to understand every aspect of how things run. Then I started booking commercials before I graduated and realized that a lot of creatives on sets don't know how to talk to actors. Being able to train and talk to actors is something I feel really grateful I can do. Also in terms of story structure and building tension, my theater degree taught me the nuance of intention and raising the stakes. This all plays into writing and directing.
Between the location’s set design, lighting choices, and the insular nature of the plot, the short sort of envelops you in this sort of warm cocoon - was that an intentional effect?
Definitely intentional! When I was first given the script it was written so that the characters left the trailer and went to different locations. One of the first structural changes I suggested was to keep the entirety of the action inside the trailer. Not only is the trailer an incredibly special space with so much to look at, I wanted to simplify the story in order to create clearer tension between the two main characters (one wanting to stay inside and one wanting to leave). It can over complicate a short film to jump to multiple locations since you're telling a story in such a limited amount of time and the most interesting thing is the relationship between the two protagonists so I was super of aware of how to highlight it the most.
Having now toured the festival circuit with Pink Trailer, is there anything that surprised you over the course of the film’s journey into the public/across the world?
It's just been so amazing and fun. I'm just super thankful that it all keeps going. Our world premiere was at the Reykjavik International Film Festival in Iceland in October of 2017 so the fact that you guys are playing it in theaters and it's May of 2019 is insane !! Thank you so much !
What are you working on currently?
Working on some pitches for me to just write and always on that commercial acting grind but my main focus is making my first feature. I won't say too much about it but it's a musical and it's been super fulfilling so far.
Where can people follow you for updates on your work?
On Instagram @maryconnorneely and on Twitter @mneelzy
MOVIE NERD LIGHTNING ROUND:
(I have to keep a note file on my phone with all of these because my mind goes blank when people ask)
Show Me Love by Lukas Moodysson, The Celebration by Thomas Vinterberg, Before Sunrise by Linklater, Mommy by Xavier Dolan, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me by Jay Roach, In Bruges by Martin McDonagh, North by Northwest by Hitchcock, Triples of Belleville by Sylvain Chomet, Stray Dog by Kurosawa, Amélie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Zoolander by Ben Stiller
Favorite theater snack?
Peanut M&Ms dumped into salty popcorn
Favorite place to sit in a theater?
Middle column in the back on the aisle
Favorite movie/theater memory?
My mom took me to opening night of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man when I was in 5th grade. We went to this amazing theater that no longer exists in Westwood (area near UCLA in LA) that had orange velvet on the walls. It was absolutely packed. Everyone was screaming and cheering and all these frat bros were yelling jokes in between the actor's lines. It felt like a true communal film watching experience, which we need more of!!