UK Film Interview 2020
Lisa Donato

Gossamer Folds

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In 1986, ten-year-old Tate is uprooted and unwillingly moved to the suburbs of Kansas City. As his parent's marriage unravels, Tate finds solace in the unlikely friendships of his next-door neighbours: a retired college professor and his transgender daughter, Gossamer.

Hello Lisa, many thanks for talking to TNC again, how are you doing?

I’m doing well, considering the current times of our world. Ha. I’m bummed that I’m not able to tour the festival circuit with the cast and crew of Gossamer Folds, but I hope the film gets more visibility now that we are 100% virtual for the next few months. 

Congratulations on Gossamer Folds, how does it feel to be in post-production in this film?

We completed the film and we are world-premiering on 8/13 in Bentonville (Arkansas) at the Bentonville Film Festival. It feels great to finally get this story out into the world!

What has the experience been for you making Gossamer Folds?

Traumatizing. But in a mostly good way. No matter how hard you prepare, you are never really ready to direct your first feature film. You can’t predict all the things that could possibly go wrong (which is always the case in film production) but these obstacles feel more challenging when it’s your first time. I have great resiliency skills and I think you need those skills to direct movies. Directing this film has been like ‘boot camp for directing’ and I’ll never be the same. It’s been equally the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. And now that audiences are starting to watch the film and positively react to it, I feel like I can finally sit back, take a deep breath, pour myself some Lagavulin, and celebrate the accomplishment of making a movie. 

How different was your approach to this film than with your previous films?

Prior to this film, I was directing short films, videos, and digital content. I had to learn how to tell a story in a long-form medium in a short amount of time. My creative process always starts with music, so I relied heavily on music to guide my decisions throughout every aspect of the film. I created playlists for each character and scene. If I knew what the emotions of the characters and scenes sounded like, I knew how to make decisions on set when everything was moving at supersonic speed. For example, if I was directing a scene that was emotionally tense and involved a character that sounded like 80’s rock and roll, I would make these types of choices: shoot through a fence, add barking dogs, add more grain in colour grade, and shoot hand-held. 

Can you tell me a little bit about Gossamer Folds, how did you get attached to the project? 

Gossamer Folds takes place in 1986 and tells the story about two sets of neighbours who have little in common and how they form an unexpected friendship during one tense summer. One of the producers on the film, Jordan Foley, reached out to my reps and wanted to see if I was interested in directing. I was recommended by other filmmakers and the producers watched all of my short films on my website and they felt like I had the right sensitivities to direct the film. They sent me the script and I was immediately hooked. I interviewed with the producing team and it was a perfect fit for all of us. 

"I’ve always been a film fanatic and avid watcher of Saturday Night Live."

How soon after reading it did you know you wanted to direct Gossamer Folds?

About halfway through reading the script, I knew I wanted to direct it. (It’s beautifully written by Bridget Flanery). The character of Gossamer is a black, trans woman, and she was written in a way that was not lathered in the archaic and negative stereotypes that we often see in media. It felt refreshing to read about a trans character who was a normal, small-town girl with big city dreams. 

You have an amazing cast, how did you approach casting this film?

Thank you! Yes, the cast is amazing! We partnered with the fabulous casting director, Russell Boast, and he helped us cast the movie. We solicited many self-tapes for the role of Gossamer and Alexandra Grey was undeniably the perfect fit. She nailed her scenes and made us cry. We held auditions for the role of Tate and Jackson Robert Scott was impeccable from the get go and showed us that he was wise beyond his years. The rest of the cast was ‘offer only’ and hand-picked by me, Russell, and the producers. 

What was the most challenging part of bringing this film to life?

People say to never work with kids and animals in the film industry… now I know why! The most difficult part of production was working within the limitations of reduced shooting time with a child actor. Jackson was in almost every scene of the movie and we had to maximize our time on set with limited hours. And kids have a reduced attention span, so you have to get creative on how to keep them in character. Jackson is a pro, though, and he handled the intense shooting schedule like a champ. 

Has filmmaking always been a passion of yours? 

Yes. Although I didn’t always have the language to say, “I want to be a filmmaker.” I’ve always been a film fanatic and avid watcher of Saturday Night Live. I don’t think I’ve missed one SNL episode since the early 90’s. My dad and I used to record SNL on VHS tapes and we would reenact the skits during the following week. Sometimes we would write our own skits and I would get my friends at school to act them out with me. I was directing before I knew that directing was a viable career path. So I pursued a responsible degree in marketing and I worked in corporate America for almost a decade. Then I finally had the guts to quit my lucrative career cold-turkey and start over in the film industry. 

How important is the collaborative nature in filmmaking for you?

Collaboration in filmmaking is essential. I sometimes joke that ‘where I lack talent, I make up for it in enthusiasm.’ I’m energized by other people’s energy and I love group brainstorming. It takes a village to make a film and it’s the most collaborative art form out there. I’m especially drawn to debates on differing ideas because it means that people are passionate about making something the best it can be. The more ideas in the mix the better!

Is there an aspect of filmmaking you wish you had known before you got into the industry?

I wish I knew how expensive it was to make films. If you are self-financing a film, TRIPLE the amount you think you need and always add a contingency plan. There are cheaper ways to make great movies these days, technically, but you never want to skimp on paying your crew or providing nutritional craft services and catering. I also wish I knew more about editing before directing my first feature. Understanding how things cut together can really help you make better decisions on set. I think every director should edit a short film or video before making their first feature. 

What has been the most important lesson you’ve taken after making Gossamer Folds?

I hear this all the time, but it’s still the most important lesson for a director: TRUST YOUR GUT. Never wrap a scene until you get what you want. Ever. I definitely struggle with needing to please other people and sometimes this gets in the way of my decision-making. I started out as a producer and First AD and I’m always worried about the schedule and hitting the time goals. And while that’s important, it’s more important to make sure to get what you want creatively. (Sorry, producers and First AD’s!)

Do you have any advice for any emerging filmmaker?

Make, make, make, and then make some more. You can only hone your craft by practicing and being faced with all types of obstacles and learning how to adapt to the ever-changing and fast-paced environments. Wear rejections like a badge of honour and learn to see them as constructive criticism, rather than personal attacks on your ability. I wake up every day with a cup of coffee and a rejection letter. The yeses eventually come, but not without a lot of trying and a helluva lot of perseverance.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?

I hope that people who don’t think they’ve ever met a trans person, or know a trans person, will walk away from the film and have a conversation about what it means to be trans for the very first time. I hope that Gossamer Folds gives people a positive perspective on the trans community and it creates more empathy and tolerance for the queer community overall. And I hope that this empathy yields more equality (like fair healthcare for trans folks, especially during a pandemic) and a movement to stop politicizing social justice. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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