By Jared Huizenga – Contributing Writer
Over the course of 11 days, October 18-28, film fans and filmmakers from across the country will descend upon the ShowPlace ICON Theatre at the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park for the 2017 Twin Cities Film Fest.
More than 120 films – including features, shorts, animation and documentaries – will screen over the course of the festival. In addition, a large number of directors, producers, and actors will walk the red carpet, present their films, attend the mixers and chat with fans about their work.
Over the course of TCFF 2017, we’ll be chatting with some of those filmmakers and stars to find out more about what they’re bringing to the TCFF screens.
Film: Laura Gets a Cat
Showtime: 5:10 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 25
Every year when the Twin Cities Film Fest schedule is released, I take a look at the titles to see what’s coming up and what looks interesting. More often than not, I have to read descriptions before I put anything on my calendar. Once in a while, however, a title jumps out at me and I put it on my list for no other reason. Such is the case of “Laura Gets a Cat.” Making matters even better, writer/director/actor/producer Michael Ferrell was the first filmmaker to reach out to me to chat about the film coming to TCFF.
Q: Tell us about “Laura Gets a Cat.”
“Laura Gets a Cat” is a relationship comedy/drama feature film. Laura, an unemployed writer in New York City, tries to juggle an unexciting boyfriend, a vivid imaginary life, and a love affair with a local performance artist. When things get too complicated, she shoots off to a small beach town in North Carolina, only to find out that peace of mind is not necessarily found by chasing it.
I wrote, directed, and act in the film and co-produced it with Devin Sanchez and Chris Prine, both of whom act in the film as well. Chris is also the editor and music supervisor. We wear many hats, like most indie filmmakers. “Laura” is played by Dana Brooke, an accomplished theatre actress who splits her time between New York and California.
“Laura Gets a Cat” is our second feature film, made by the same team of Chris, Devin, myself, and Paul Rondeau, our cinematographer and in a lot of ways our backbone during production. Our first feature is called “Twenty Million People.”
Q: While I was going through the TCFF schedule, before even reading a description, the film jumped out at me based on the name alone. Where did the name come from?
That’s great to hear because some people don’t like the title. During our Q&As we’ve gotten a lot of “Qs” about the title. But you can’t please everybody. Some people don’t like cats either.
Or they’re just allergic. Devin (co-producer, actor) is allergic to cats. And she ended up having to be in the room when we filmed the scenes with the cat, because the cat couldn’t handle my stress level. So I texted Devin directions while she fought allergies. Devin deserves an award just for that, one of many sacrifices it takes to get a film made.
I don’t remember at which point in writing the screenplay the title jumped out at me, but I do remember at one of our readings, way before production, the actors didn’t have a title page and didn’t know what I was thinking of calling it. After the reading, my friend Josh Tyson, who plays “Tom” in the film, said, “You should call it, ‘Laura Gets a Cat.’”
“Oh, yeah, that’s already the title. I forgot to tell you guys,” I said. So that solidified it. And gave me someone to blame if anyone doesn’t like the title, thanks Josh!
Q: Where did the idea for the project come from?
I usually start with a location, which may be because of my background as a playwright, writing specifically for a certain theater space or group of actors.
With our first feature film, “Twenty Million People,” I was at my neighborhood coffee shop and I asked the owners if they would ever let me shoot a film there and they said, “Sure.” So I started writing: “BRIAN (20’s) works at a coffee shop…” and went from there.
With “Laura Gets a Cat,” I was looking for something I could write with Dana Brooke in mind. Dana and I did a play together in Manhattan about a decade ago, we kept in touch, and I knew her voice would fit nicely in something I write. Around the same time, I was in North Carolina visiting a friend, D.H. Johnson (who also happens to be the director of the play Dana and I did 10 years ago), at his beach house. A fellow actor and cinephile, we talked film over a few beers and eventually I looked around the beach house and asked, “You think you would ever let me shoot a film here?”
By the way, this is a very delicate thing to ask people. I don’t want to sound like I just go around asking people that (I do). For indie filmmakers, it’s kind of like asking someone on a date. You gotta know when to pull the trigger. Anyway he said, “Sure.” So I thought, “Okay, what would make Dana’s character take off and move to a beach house in North Carolina?” And I went from there.
Q: Your name is all over the credits of this film – writer, producer, director, actor. Is there one of those hats that you prefer wearing over another, and is there one that’s your least favorite?
I grew up as an actor, have a degree in acting, moved to New York (and Chicago before that) to be an actor, worked in many, many different restaurants as an actor. So everything I do comes from that. But when I started writing plays back in the day and putting them on with my friends in basement theaters in the East Village, it became clear that I wasn’t the kind of actor who is just an actor.
For the writing hat, I’ll say this, I wake up every day and I want to write. So that’s undeniable. But I don’t think I’d be happy if I just wrote scripts, sent them away, and didn’t help bring them to life.
Directing is a newer thing for me, but one I’ve fully embraced now. I’m starting to think more as a director. I used to struggle with the confidence of calling myself a director, because I didn’t even know how to turn the camera on. Honestly, I still couldn’t tell you where the “on” button is on the cameras we used to make our films. I probably shouldn’t admit that.
But ultimately, they’re my daydreams and I’m the one who called everyone out there to act them out, so it’s my responsibility to be captain of the ship. I would say I started to feel comfortable calling myself a filmmaker as we went to festivals and they said, “We have the filmmakers here with us today.” Oh, that’s me, I guess I’m a filmmaker.
Producing … man, no one likes producing. Wouldn’t it be great if someone came along and said, “Can I do all the stuff that’s not fun?!” But at this point, Devin, Chris, and I are pretty good at it. Better than when we started. So some enjoyment definitely creeps in. We’ve enjoyed working together for the last five or six years. Right guys?!
Q: Where has the film screened so far and what has the audience reaction been like?
We had our world premiere at Cinequest in San Jose, CA and immediately started our festival run at Omaha Film Festival around the same time. We won awards at Stony Brook Film Festival, Manhattan Film Festival, Reno Tahoe International Film Festival, and DTLA Film Festival in Los Angeles. We screened in Belgrade, Serbia at IndieBelgrade, a festival devoted to American indies, which is pretty cool.
We are heading out on a three-city tour, including Twin Cities, with Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita and Naples International Film Festival (Florida, not Italy) also on the bill. After that we’re in Lone Star Film Festival in Texas, Cucalorus in North Carolina, and Portland Film Festival.
We’re hoping to bring “Laura Gets a Cat” to more cities before it’s all said and done, but I’d say we’re rounding third for our festival run. Or, since I’m a soccer fan, we’re in the 75th minute and about to make a defensive substitution because we’re up one-nil. Come on, Minnesota – you gotta get these soccer references now, go Minnesota United!
Audience reaction has been great! One of the most rewarding parts of making a film for us is connecting with audiences around the country and world. Honestly, I’m being cheesy, but it really is the thing that makes it all worth it.
We are always pleasantly surprised at the wide range of ages that enjoy our film. I’ve had teenagers in high school say, “Oh my God, I related to the film so much,” and I’ve had senior citizens come up after the film and say, “You made a movie about my life!” We’ll take it!
Q: What was it that drew you to submit your film for the Twin Cities Film Fest?
You know, we talk, filmmakers. I got the recommendation from Rebecca Weaver, whose film “June Falling Down” was there last year. She said we gotta go. So I was thrilled when “Laura Gets a Cat” was accepted! I also did some research and the programming is top-notch, one of those film festivals where you can see pretty much anything and you know it will be good.
I’ve never been to Minneapolis, so I’m excited to check it out. Forward recommendations of things to do (and drink) to my twitter: @mickeyfickey, just in case we get some free time.
Q: If someone is only going to see one or two films at the Twin Cities Film Fest, why should “Laura Gets a Cat” be one of them?
Number one, it’s funny. It’s realistic and relatable and a New York City indie film with a female protagonist, but more than all that, it’s funny. Festival films can get a bit heavy sometimes, which is a good thing – we’re not doing comic book movies – but still, if someone is looking for an entertaining “indie gem” or “festival darling,” “Laura Gets a Cat” is a good choice.
Number two, we’ll be there! And we like to have fun during our Q&As. Here’s how it will go: I will talk too much and dance around the answers, Devin will grab the mic from me and give you the real answer, and Chris will just dance around.
So come see Chris dance around, watch “Laura Gets a Cat” beforehand.
Jared Huizenga is a freelance movie critic and the owner of www.ManVersusMovie.com