Allen has been in the entertainment industry for thirty years as an actor, director, writer and producer – having worked on television, film and stage. He is an award winning director.
Your short film REPARATIONS is a very human film. The film deals with such atrocities in life as the Holocaust and Slavery. How did this story come to you as the writer and why was it important for you to tell?
It’s very important for me to be an advocate when I tell a story. Arts and activism go hand-in-hand for me. I knew I wanted to write about the Holocaust after visiting Mauthausen Concentration Camp in fall of 2018, plus I had a friend who had been liberated from there in 1945 and I wanted to pay homage to him in some way. I didn’t know how I was going to tell that story until I started to write it. The fact that reparations kept coming up in the news (and I honestly thought we’d be hearing more about it in 2020 with elections), I thought how interesting it would be to have an African-American interviewing a holocaust survivor.
The simplicity of how the characters tell their story is a brilliant choice. How did you decide to go in that direction rather than a more dramatic telling of the story?
Sometimes it’s money when you’re making an indie film. 🙂 You know you can’t afford to do flashbacks and make them authentic to the period. But honestly, I wanted to show how two very different people can find common ground in a short amount of time, with facial expressions, words left unsaid – all because the one character needs to get information from the other and if she interjects too much of her own feelings…she can’t get what she needs for her paper. So I felt the more simple, the better.
Your characters Howard (Ed Delia) and Michonne (Nefertiti Warren) bring up a powerful question – does someone have to live through a horror of the past – or does being a descendant of such horror – hold equal weight? Does that come from someplace personal for you?
I knew that portion of the film would cause much discussion and it has – even before people see the film – just from the trailer. I decided to allow the characters feelings to come through on this rather than my feelings as the writer. I have gone through some perilous times in my life: in the largest tornado to hit northern Texas when I was a child, in the World Trade Center during the first bombing in ’93 – but nothing can compare to the horrible story I’m telling in this film, nor would I want to try and compare.
What was your casting process like for the film?
I’ve been in the arts for so long, I’ve watched as how one can cast changes each decade. Now it is so easy to put out casting notices online and/or look through people’s reel’s right from my own computer. I narrowed it down to about 3-4 people for each role and sent them sides to read from the film. Ed & Nefertiti were so incredible, I just kept going back to their auditions. I was a very lucky director as casting is such a huge part of getting a film right. You find the perfect people and that’s a huge win for making a really good film.
Some of the actual shots in the film by Cinematographer Jeff Turick – are visually captivating. How did you work with your Cinematographer in preproduction and on set?
I’ve worked with Jeff on two other projects. He is the most level-headed and calm DP I’ve ever met. I recall when I first went to him after finding his reel online – thinking he’d never want to work with an indie first time film director. I had been a stage director for years and he said he actually liked that collaboration. It allows for the DP to shine and do what they do best without having a director telling them every single shot they want. I definitely don’t work that way. I do a lot during pre-production to make sure each of us are all in sync and then I rely on people who are masters at what they do so that we get the best film possible. We have our shot list planned out, the first AD takes that list to create the best way for us to attack it, and then the director runs the set (but I always let the DP say if he’d like another take as well).
There are illustrations throughout along with animation (Jazzmen Lee-Johnson) which made for an interesting and artistic choice. Was this an idea you had when writing the script or did it come to you later on?
I am so proud of this part of our film and the amazing work that Jazz did. As mentioned, I knew we couldn’t afford flashbacks and my co-producer/editor Laurie Chock thought since Howard doodled, we could do something with the sketches so we weren’t just telling “another Holocaust” story. She had worked with Jazz before and brought her on. I had places in the original script where we’d go into a flashback sketch, but so much changed in post production. We literally redid the last part of the script by cutting two pages. So then I needed an ending and wanted it to bookend the start so Jazz gave me what I was asking. She came up with the animation (which frightened me as I thought I was gonna get some sort of Saturday morning cartoon). Silly me. It’s truly beautiful and moving what she has done with that part of the film.
The discussion of triangles is a poignant part of your film. Where did that come from for you as the writer?
When I went to Mathausen I learned things that I never knew. As part of the LGBT community, I always knew the pink triangle signified homosexuals during the camp (and then the gay community took ownership of it later), but I didn’t know there were so many other triangles for criminals, political resisters, Jehovah witnesses, immigrants – there were all these other groups outside of Jews that Nazis targeted. It was important for me to somehow get that across in the film – so I have the character of Michonne, who is a lesbian, share it. She’s known about the pink triangle, but never knew about the others. I felt I could use our 11 minute film to do a little educating on just how much wide-spread hate there was in the 1940s to allow modern day audiences to draw whatever parallel they may see.
What was the moment you knew that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I know I should have this awesome answer about growing up watching film, but I was really a stage kid. Then several years ago I directed a stage production of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (written by the incredibly talented Terrence McNally who we recently lost to COVID-19) and the lead character is a huge movie buff. So I decided to create a movie for the final scene of the musical. I wrote it, we shot it, and a black & white film was projected on stage at the end of that production. After that when some of my books were published, people kept asking if I’d turn any books into a movie. It wasn’t until six years ago when a director optioned one of my books for film that I went and took a crash film course – just so I wouldn’t look like an idiot on set with that director. Well from that course, I went home and turned one of my books into a short film. And 4 months later I was shooting that film and had been bitten by the bug.
Tell us how ASD Media & Entertainment came to be and what type of films you have produced – and what you hope to produce in the future.
ASD started as a book publishing company. I had worked with publishers who had published some of my work, but then I also wanted to be in control of some of my own things. I had a publisher who published two of my kids autism books as eBooks, so I was able to get them in print myself and travel to schools talking about autism awareness. I then went on to publish other authors’ work and was very satisfied paying-it-forward in that way. We produced a stage work and then went into film production. I honestly feel whatever we do now, there has to be some sort of advocacy work with that.
Howard says “You are making me remember what has taken a lifetime to forget.” Remembering something so painful brings a healing of sorts in your film. Is that the message you wanted to convey?
That is a great message…to heal through that pain. I also think it’s important in today’s polarized world…and especially what we’re going through with COVID-19…that we’re all more similar than different. We may ‘think’ we have nothing in common with the person next to us because we’re of different generations, or different political views – but if we stop and listen, we might find common ground.
Of all the films you’ve Directed thus far – which one has impacted you the most as an Artist?
I think I learn something each time I direct. Rather that be film work or on stage. I take a new lesson each time. With REPARATIONS, it was about truly collaborating and I was amazed how the story & film I thought I set out to make was so different (in a wonderful way) once we finished post production. I think that’s a huge impact as an artist as I go forward with other projects.
So many Indie Filmmakers BIGGEST hurdle in getting their film made is financing. How do you go about raising money to make your films?
That’s always a challenge. Especially if you’re also the executive producer on the film with your own film company. In this case, we partnered with From The Heart Productions so that people could donate to a 501c(3) and then they can get a tax write off as well. We raised a nice portion that way and then my husband Anthony (who always serves as executive producer) and I add what else is needed to get it all completed.
What created your biggest obstacle in shooting this film?
Not trusting my gut. As a writer you tell a story on paper and you ‘think’ it’s good. Then you put it on its feet to film it and you hope you’re conveying what you meant to convey. Then you look at the rough and you ask yourself “what do we have here? Is this any good?” Then being a film you get to muck with it in post and utilize all these amazing talents like my incredible editor and the colorist and the sound designer and it starts to take shape and you wonder why you had questioned it during all those months. So in a way, I’m my own biggest obstacle at times – second guessing myself and the process.
Do you scout your own locations and are you instrumental in set design?
I did scout for this and we were so lucky as our production manager (who is also an associate producer) said “you’re describing my mother’s house” when I put out the call. So much of what you see is her house. We removed some things and brought others in. That was a mixture of myself, my co-producer and our production manger and DP all deciding what we needed in the space.
What is your process as the Director of a film working with your Actors? Do you have a rehearsal process?
I didn’t have a rehearsal this time. I have in the past, but with this one I met Ed once in person. I talked to Nefertiti on the phone about what I was looking for. Then we came together and just did it all in two days. I love working with actors so each time I said ‘Cut’ – I was with them looking at what we were about to do next and making sure we were all on the same page since you film out of order. Actors need to know where they were just coming from so that it makes the job of the editor easier when they are seaming it all together.
The score in the film is haunting (Beth Perry/Chris Doney). Did you work closely with them to create the feel for the score?
Wasn’t that beautiful?! Here’s how it happened. We were on Pond 5 (the music site) and I kept finding their music choices and loving them. So I got online, found their email and wrote to them asking them to score the film instead of me piecing it together via already created music. I was so grateful they had the time and said yes. They are British composers. Our animator was in Rhode Island. My DP lives in Michigan. I live in NJ and my co-producer/editor is in NY. So we truly came together from all over to make this film.
What are you currently working on for your next project?
Right now I’m taking a break. Creating a film and then working through the film festival circuit takes up a lot of time. The previous film I wrote & produced played 40 festivals last year including the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival so I was hoping for another very busy year. We’ve already been accepted into five festivals with this film, however all have been postponed due to the virus. I’m stopping to evaluate what I do next as this has put the world on standstill and I’m just not sure how many festivals will actually get to see this film. It may get to the point where we go straight to Amazon (where last year’s film is currently streaming) so I can get an audience to see it. Still waiting to see what happens with all the festivals we’ve applied to this year.
Of all the hats you wear – which is your favorite and why?
Husband. Without my other half, I could never do all of the creative things that I am so lucky to get to do. We’ve been together twenty years and he keeps me sane, makes me laugh daily, and encourages me to dream big…no matter what that dream may be.