We all get it, right? The impossibility of living a dream. It’s overwhelming at times, but if we can just get there, it’s worth the struggle. That’s why we dream.
Guest Post by Angela Stern
To be a woman behind a camera with a story to tell, this is one dream that many readers of FF2 Media can relate to, and, in January of 2020, I was that woman. I was a storyteller emerging as an actual filmmaker, and, for the first time in my life, I felt respected and heard for what my mind had to offer.
Then came COVID… And while shooting was wrapped and we had a feature film fully in the can, my film was in desperate danger of staying in that can… perhaps forever…
…I felt I had something urgent that I needed to say…
Flashback: In 2014, my mother – my champion – died, and her loss almost crushed me. I had always been a writer, but now I felt I had something urgent that I needed to say. As soon as I started writing, my pen flew across the page, and those first few thoughts turned into Mama’s Eggnog. This short 6-minute stage play, born on the wings of my mother’s spirit, went on to become a finalist in the 2016 Samuel French OOB – Off Off Broadway – Short Play Festival!
So, I kept writing, and eventually I had a full-length screenplay. And then I did the most important thing a female filmmaker can do… I found other women to partner with me. My friend Christine Nyhart had lost her mother around the same time that I did. Our shared grief parlayed itself into a thematic symbiosis. Then fates then gifted us with an introduction to producer Alyssa Roehrenbeck who boldly suggested that Christine and I partner as co-directors. It was a calculated risk, but one that made absolute sense to us as we three set out to remake Mama’s Eggnog on our own terms, this time as a feature film.
Skip to January 2020: We had made our way to Portland (OR) where we spent five glorious weeks on set. Our cast was led by C. Thomas Howell (a great guy who had built a fabled onscreen presence since first appearing as one of the teens in E.T. way back in 1982.) What we had captured on film together made us all supremely proud and happy.
We returned to LA with grand post-production plans…
February 2020: While I was living for every delicious moment, cast members began whispering about a mysterious virus, But I was so focused on calling “action” and “cut” that I was barely aware of the ominous rumors. We returned to LA with grand post-production plans, determined to start submitting to film festivals by summer.
March 2020: One by one, each of us fell victim to this flu-like illness. And then… Lockdown! We shared a collective cry of desperation – “Now What?” – as the entire film industry came to a screeching halt.
To pay my bills, I started working in the grocery business. Like many of my colleagues, I was now an “essential worker” on the front lines, scrambling to make ends meet. The dream of finishing our film was put on an indefinite hold while the world adjusted to a new “normal.”
We took note of this Zoom thing…
None of us knew when we would be back on set, but like all artists who find themselves in impossible situations, we began to adapt. We took note of this Zoom thing (our kids were doing “it” for school), so yeah, let’s go “there” and see how we fare.
Although robbed of opportunities to sit side-by-side in the editing bay, or to snack on random treats at the dub stage, after a few months, Christine and I found new ways to continue working together. I would load our footage in the DaVinci film editor, and scour it over and over, then Christine and I would Zoom to discuss the assembly, arguing – as we like to do – over every little detail. But eventually, we decided that we needed to spend face-to-face time with our new editor. So, despite knowing what we risked each time we boarded a plane, we dared to travel anyway.
September 2020. After a long hiatus, we gathered in the iconic Bagdad Theater in Portland, determined to hash out a final cut. Masked up, sitting rows and rows away from one another in a 590-seat theater, six of us met for four long days to see if we really had a narrative. Three female filmmakers with three key members of our crew – Michael (our editor), Eric (our DP), and Tyler (one of our producers).
Meanwhile, fires were raging through-out California and Oregon, making it nearly impossible for us to step outside the theater and unmask for a socially distant conversation. Tensions were high. Sometimes, I sat alone with Michael so that I could hear the sound of my own voice. Other times, I needed the cacophony of difference to see where the next cut should come. Somehow the absurd magnitude of the difficulties we were facing unfolded into a fluidity that made the work almost perform itself.
Still masked up. Still socially distanced.
March 2021. We made another trip to the Bagdad and finally finished the cut as a team. Still masked up. Still socially distanced. Our elation was real but the lack of physical contact – no hugging! – made the moment bittersweet.
As we struggled on, months of effort lead to months of arguments. We sorted through hundreds of title suggestions before we finally agreed to replace the working title – Mama’s Eggnog – with a new title. But by the end, we all agreed that Because We’re Family was a great fit.
The challenges we had faced in our determination to finish our film during Quarantimes had, in fact, drawn us together as a family. And like all families, we love, we fight, we makeup, and we never quit on each other.
A Happy Ending!
June 2022. A Happy Ending! Because We’re Family will World Premiere at the 25th annual “Dances With Films Festival” on the evening of June 15th.
© Angela Stern (6/7/22) Special for FF2 Media®
NOTE FROM FF2’s EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Angela Stern’s post is part of our new “Nevertheless, They Persisted” series of Quarantales about how women artists put their Quarantimes to productive use. On behalf of everyone on our FF2 team, let me just say this: WE SALUTE YOU, ANGELA! With all best wishes, Jan
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
“Dysfunctional siblings reunite to witness the cremation of their mother. Back under one roof for the holidays, all decency is lost when a feud over her ashes tests the boundaries of family and a Christmas Eve tradition becomes difficult to digest.” Click HERE to watch the Because We’re Family trailer on YouTube.
Read about Angela Stern’s filmography on IMDb.
Read about Christine Nyhart’s filmography on IMDb.
Read about Alyssa Roehrenbeck filmography on IMDb.
Visit the “Dances With Films” festival: “Defiantly Independent Since 1998!”
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Images provided by Angela Stern. All Rights Reserved.