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Sundance Film Festival 2019
World Premiere

Amber Sealey

With her self-absorbed parents distracted by their recent divorce, 12-year-old Rain is left alone to navigate the complexities of love and adulthood—and learns to do it her own way.


Hi Amber thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?


I keep forgetting to drink water, eat, and pee — but I’m getting better at that! So, yes!


Any nerves ahead of your Sundance screening?


The most nerve-racking thing about any festival is what the sound and picture will be like at the theatre. It’s always different at every venue, so I just like to make sure the volume is at the right level and geeky things like that. And then, of course, it’s always scary to sit in a room full of people watching your film, you feel like they can all see you and know exactly where you’re sitting when in reality they are just having fun watching a film!


What does it mean for you to be nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for How Does It Start? 


It’s such an honour to be in the festival, and be surrounded by so many other great films and filmmakers. I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of it, and of course, being nominated for an award would be just amazing. It feels so special to be here — getting into Sundance is also a way to say thank you to all the people who have believed in you along the way, and to all the cast and crew who made the film with you and sweat alongside you in the trenches. 


Does this being your World Premiere add any extra pressure on you?

No, I don’t think it really adds pressure. I mean, there is always a little pressure at any festival — you want your film to do well, and to resonate with audiences, and to have sold out screenings, etc. I think world premiering at Sundance is like winning a golden ticket, so if anything it takes some of the pressure off.


Tell me a little bit about How Does It Start, how did this come about?

Two things really coalesced to help bring this film into being: one was that I found my old diaries from when I was 11 and 12 and I was struck by the obsession with kissing and dating that I had at that age, and the other was that I felt like this chapter of young girls’ sexuality and inquisition was largely missing from the canon of films on female sexuality and I wanted to remedy that. 


What was the inspiration behind your screenplay? 

Talking to other women about their childhoods, and their sexual educations, I felt really drawn to make a film where a young girl was the instigator of her own sexual investigations. I also really wanted to portray that time in childhood where so much is going on around you that you witness, and it affects you, but you don’t really understand it — full comprehension is not quite in your grasp yet. But you’re curious, interested, and yearning.


"I watch films because I feel more connected to other humans when I do..."

What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing How Does It Start to life?


The hardest part was probably that we shot the film during a 100-degree heat wave in Los Angeles. Filming the scenes in the aeroplane was like being in a sauna together. And then the other thing that was not exactly challenging, but something where I had to be very specific, was the casting process and talking about the subject matter of the film with the actors and their parents — describing to them exactly how it would be handled, what we were trying to do and say. Luckily we found amazing kids, who had very progressive and smart parents, who were all on board with the subject matter and our approach to it.

Exploration of pre-teen curiosity about sex in your movie is unique, did you have any apprehensions about making a short film with this theme?

I didn’t personally have apprehensions, but I was aware that the subject matter made other people uncomfortable in some ways. But I think we are culturally ready to talk about things like this now, girls search for pleasure, and how it relates to sexism and gender stereotypes in general. I knew that I was passionate about the themes, and I knew that some people might not understand it right away, but that just made me more clear and more determined to do the topic justice, and to be very explicit with my collaborators about how we were going to make this movie and why it mattered so much.

Have you always been interested in filmmaking?


It took me a long time to figure out the I was a filmmaker at heart. I started out as an actor and a dancer, and then I moved into devised theatre and physical theatre, and from there I began making video art. The progression into filmmaking was really organic for me — it all came out of wanting to tell stories and to connect with other people. I’ve always been interested in performance, in whatever form, I see it as something that connects us as humans. And over the years I’ve also fallen in love with the technical side of filmmaking. The more I learn, the more I love it.


How much as your background as an actor helped you as you have moved into directing?


So much. My whole approach on set is very actor-centric, whether I’m working with non-actors or professionals. I think audiences will forgive so much, but they won’t forgive bad performances. I can watch a film with terrible production value, not an overly compelling story, but if the acting is amazing, I’m pulled in. And if it’s bad, I’m immediately pulled out, no matter how good the story is. My training as an actor and a theatre devisor really laid the foundation for how I work now as a filmmaker.


How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking? 


It’s a big part of what I love about filmmaking — you can’t really do it in a vacuum. You find the collaborators you love and work well with, and you bring them with you from project to project. It adds to the fun because each film is its own beast with a different set of circumstances and challenges, but you’re never alone and if you’ve hired right, you’ll be surrounded by smart people whose opinions you want to hear.

How has your approach to your work changed since you started out?


You know, it hasn’t changed a huge amount except that I’m now more confident in my own style of working. Doing it a few times you learn what works and what doesn’t, and so it’s almost like trimming the fat. But the meat, the heart, of what you do stays the same. 


Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow director/writer?


Just keep making films! Don’t stop!


What are you currently working on?


I’m going to make the feature version of HOW DOES IT START, I actually wrote the feature script before I made the short. And I’m working on a comedy feature about a theatre troupe. And then I have a few episodic TV shows I wrote in development. But right after Sundance, I fly to Boston to film a music video for Amanda Palmer in the snow, so that’ll be fun!


And finally, what do you hope people will take away from How Does It Start?


This is always the hardest question for me. I always hope that my films make people feel things deeply, make them think about their own lives and the lives of those around them. I might even dare to hope that the film makes their heart or their mind open up a little bit in some dark corner. I watch films because I feel more connected to other humans when I do, and so I hope when watching HOW DOES IT START others feel more deeply connected to their childhoods, and to others.

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