She's written for various print and online publications including the popular AfterEllen and works on videos for social justice organizations. I had been reading about the progression of the development of Small Talk for quite some time before I even had a firm grasp on its premise. I stayed on top of it because it struck me as deeply personal, which made it even more incomparable to what I was used to seeing in horror. And it didn't hurt at all that her main character is a South Asian woman, coupled with an appearance from a popular rapper amongst my peers by the name of Jean Grae, whom I've grown an interest in myself. And needless to say, our discussion about the film just makes me that much more eager to see it!
I ask everyone this question in some manner. What was the first character, film, scene, etc. that made you a horror fan?
|Small Talk teaser photo: https://www.facebook.com/SmallTalkMovie|
Women I know who’ve waitressed all have shitty stories. Before I started doing phone sex, I had this job cold calling people and trying to get them to do market research surveys. You had to stick to the script, you couldn’t hang up and you were closely monitored. One guy said he’d do the survey, but literally all he said to me after that was gross sexual stuff. I wasn’t allowed to hang up or even say anything back to him that wasn’t in the approved company script, which did not include anything remotely appropriate. I thought right then: why not do phone sex and get paid more to talk to people who actually want to talk to me? But I digress.
The character obviously changes somewhat depending on race/ethnicity. It adds another very true-to-life land obvious layer of day-to-day fuckedupness to have the protagonist reciting this sexist, white supremacist ideal of a physical description when she’s South Asian, for example.
You’ve maybe seen the dismal stats that were going around last winter about how overwhelmingly white and male virtually all areas of the industry are in general, as well as how Oscar winners are even whiter and maler than that. It’s no huge surprise that if you have a waaaaay disproportionate number of white men behind the scenes, that’s going to be reflected on the screen, both in fewer roles for people of color and white women and in the quality of those roles. Plenty of screenwriters can and do write wonderful characters that are different from themselves in any number of ways, but plenty of screenwriters also don’t seem so good at that, and we keep seeing a lot of the same stories and characters and issues and stereotypes and clichés over and over and over. It’s embarrassing. There are a lot of other characters and stories and issues out there.
|Manini Gupta (Al) in Small Talk: https://www.facebook.com/SmallTalkMovie|
She was great on camera. I loved her as Al immediately. The only other person who was in the running was Ruthellen Cheney, who plays Al’s best friend, Tania. She was also very good. There were a bunch of reasons I cast Manini in the end, including that I had started to really see Ruthellen as Tania and that Manini had been in a production of 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane, which just felt like a sign to me. That’s one of my favorite plays and Sarah Kane is my favorite playwright, one of my absolute favorite writers, period. And, more importantly, it’s a very intense, mostly-monologue play about a suicidal woman having a psychotic break. That is not an easy play, and I knew if Manini could handle that, she’d have no problem with whatever fucked up emotional and psychological mess I was gonna throw at her with Small Talk. Small Talk is Caillou compared to 4:48 Psychosis.
|Some awesome awesome awesome crew members and rapper Jean Grae on set: https://www.facebook.com/SmallTalkMovie|
I made this film as my thesis, I did a 2 year writing and directing narrative film MFA program at the City College of New York. I could not have made this film, at least not at this time, without that program and the awesome awesome awesome people I met there. So I was writing on the program’s schedule, which was weird and rushed. I wish I’d had more time to put it aside for awhile, let it settle, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Also my screenwriting professor basically just hated it and wanted me to make a different movie, so the feedback I was getting from him wasn’t really useful and I felt kind of embattled.
And on that note, I can’t even express how much it meant to me to have Jean Grae in the film, because I was basically listening to Cookies or Comas all the time, especially on my 90 min commute to school before I had to go to screenwriting class. “You Don’t Like It“ was the anthem, in particular. I’m grateful for my not-school-related writing group and some of my classmates who were feeling what I was trying to do and gave me useful notes.
I empathize with filmmakers and other artists who crowd fund for a project they aren’t able to finish, or who promised a bunch of rewards they didn’t think through well enough and can’t deliver, but I feel that if you’re going to ask your community/s for money, you owe them trying your damndest to uphold your end of the agreement. I definitely learned how crucial it is to think through your campaign plan and make sure you know how you are going to supply all your rewards and roughly how much they’re going to cost. Mailing out the rewards took a loooooong time and cost a lot of money, but I’d planned ahead so it was manageable. I will definitely do the same in the future, and think long and hard about how much a pain in the ass each reward will be.