Diane Mellen is an award-winning Executive Producer with Pace Films, a production company which she helped found. Across her career, her films have been Official Selections in over 43 U.S. and International film festivals, winning 22 awards. She has a background in foundation and charity work, notably a supporter of the Innocence Project in New York City, which frees prisoners wrongfully convicted of crimes, and a supporter of social and environmental causes for 30 years. Her new film The Nona, directed by Stacey Stone, follows 93-year-old actress Edith Fields and is a heartfelt and empathetic documentary that inspires in its endless passion: for acting and for life itself.

Where did you grow up? What was your upbringing like?

I grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut in a project for lower income families. I was the only child in my family, but when my mother remarried, I had two stepbrothers, John and Mark, and they grew up with me. I was a creative child and had lots of friends. We did a lot of activities together like biking and hiking. I spent many of my years with my kid brother Mark, and I introduced him to a lot of different experiences we were not exposed to in my family. We would go for Chinese food in Westport, Connecticut, spend time by the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Connecticut.

Mark & Diane

Was filmmaking something you were always interested in, and did you have any formal training in film?

When I was a young child, I was fascinated with acting and convinced our mother to send me to acting school. Although I loved it, our mother didn’t like acting so, I had to give it up. But I always had a fascination with theatre and movies. When I got older and went to college, there was a choice of electives that I could take and one of them was theatre. I dove in. When I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to meet a man who was a director of a show and I got to work as an assistant to the director for about four or five months. I just loved every minute of it, it was exciting.


How has your filmmaking grown out of your foundation and charity work? What are some of the causes most dear to you?

A man by the name of Clyde Trudeau exposed me to a lot of people who had very few opportunities in life and that led me to foundation and charity work. I am drawn to people who have served in the military and the kinds of difficulties they have experienced, not only while in the military but after. Environmental issues because we always unearth an abundance of things that people, governments, companies, and individuals have done that no one knows anything about. And interesting people, like Edith. Just individual stories that expose the human condition.

Diane, Veteran Lon Hodge with his PTSD service dog Gander & Stacey

Can you talk us through the experience/process of founding your own production company Pace Films? What were some of the challenges?

I was working on my foundation when I happened to come across an article in the LA Weekly about a man who was in his early seventies, and he had collected 55,000 dresses. I was fascinated by the story and when I finished reading it, I decided a film must be made. I had no experience producing films. I wrote a bio of myself and marched down to this guy’s office. He agreed to be in my film and was ready to start filming two weeks later. We won 9 film festivals and were an Official Selection of 29 festivals. I set up an LLC, created a website. I called up my kid brother who works for the State Department and he had all the answers to everything, so he helped me out. Registering with the State of California, getting a DBA, talent releases, clearances, things like that. We are self-funded, we don’t ask for money so we can produce what we want without anybody saying, “we don’t like this, change that.”

Do you have any major filmmaking influences? Were there any documentaries that inspired you to get into production yourself?

I met a man from Westport Connecticut, Sid Milwe who was a political activist, and he would tell me what was going on politically. And I think that carried over into my interest in film and documentaries. I was drawn to movies that had a message about people and what they do and why they do it and what makes them happy. Bea and Sid Milwe really were my mentors. Bea, his wife, started out being a filmmaker when she was 65. She went to NYU and got her Bachelor’s degree in filmmaking. Brett Rathner was her nephew and he used to come over and talk about his films. He would show us a film he had just worked on. Bea went to Cuba to spend time with Fidel Castro and interviewed him. I was very inspired by a film, although not a documentary but it had the feel of a documentary, called Walkabout. It was a film done in 1971 about two school children who were left in the Australian outback to fend for themselves. They meet an Aboriginal boy who
helps them survive. What they experienced was a different life that they had, different than anything they’d seen. It became a cult film after that.

Bea & Sid

How did you come into contact with Edith Fields, and what initially struck you about her as a person?

I met Edith six years ago. I was introduced to her by the director. We went out for dinner several times and I kept in touch with her. Edith came to some of our film festivals in Los Angeles. I said to myself, here is a woman who’s 90 years old and she had more fire, more intelligence, more drive and self-awareness than a person who was half her age. My husband said Edith would make a great subject for a film and we asked her if she would be interested in doing the film. She said “no.” So, we waited six months, eight months and we asked her again. She said, “yes.”

Edith Fields

How did you approach the interviews with Fields? Did you have a clear idea for the film prior, or did you discover the film more as you went along? What role did she have in production decisions?

We discovered the film as we went along. We had no script. We started out just having a conversation with Edith and that kind of unfolded to how she really felt about things. All of our films are real life. We don’t want to give somebody a script and say, “okay, this is what we are going to talk about. Camera is rolling.” No, we film spontaneously, no big camera, no one in the room besides me and the director. We have found that sometimes people censor themselves and decide what makes them look best. And that’s not what we want to do with our films. We want vulnerability. We want raw emotion. We want to develop a rapport so that when I ask questions, they’re going to expose and show who they really are. And we have been very successful with our films.

You have spoken previously about telling untold stories that the media ignores, do you see The Nona as fitting into this? Why did you feel that it was an important story to be told?

Yes, small unknown stories, untold stories. Stories that mirror real life and have archetypes that people can relate to. The struggles and joys that people can identify with – when a story or subject gains media attention, they become names and then people tend to distance between “them” and “us.”

Edith Fields & Diane

How did Covid-19 impact the production and tone of The Nona? How challenging was this for you as a producer?

We originally had a different storyboard for the film and then Covid came along. Some of the questions were no longer relevant. So, we changed the direction of the film. For a long time, we were no longer able to follow Edith to auditions, film studios, voice-over studios so we were there to do Zoom auditions. We didn’t see anyone for six months and neither did Edith. So, it was a very difficult situation. Edith was extremely lonely not having daily communication with other people in-person and were sequestered just down the street from her house. I had been reading about Covid for several months and I learned enough that I thought this would be a real epidemic for our county – for the world. I think many people experienced Covid isolation and were either frightened or felt as though they shouldn’t say anything to show their strength. Edith was able to talk about the things she was feeling. She still had calls to audition, so she set up her computer and broom closet as a sound studio. When studios opened, I think Edith did the last commercial Bruce Willis was in for Dos Equis beer.


Can you speak a little bit about your collaboration with director Stacey Stone, what makes her such a talented director?

Stacey is very intuitive and has a creative mind. She edits constantly. We have limited budgets, so we wear a lot of hats and Stacey certainly does wear a lot of hats.

Stacey & Diane

How do you hope people will respond to The Nona?

I hope that people will respond to The Nona whether they’re young or old. They will see the struggles and the happy moments, and the courage Edith has when things get bad. And they do get bad, they get worse – I think it’s important for everyone to see Edith as a role model, they can identify with her and what she has been through. She’s a very unique woman and she defies the stereotype of aging. Edith shows us that you can fight to achieve your dreams. She’s focused and she’ll never give up on her dreams and I think that’s the message I want to send to other people.

What advice would you give to an aspiring documentary filmmaker?

If you are an aspiring documentary filmmaker, I think you have to learn the ins and outs of production. Find out what part of documentary filmmaking really, really excites you and that’s what I think you should do. And find stories that are close to you, find stories that you can’t wait to tell – and tell them!

Diane & Edith Fields

What new projects are you working on?

I’ve got a couple of projects in the works. We have crossed over into books. The one I am working on now is about a man who has volunteered his life to helping others and he is a very kind human being. I want to tell the story about how he works with people and what kind of difference he makes in their lives. How we can all spend a little time and try to help someone – no matter how small or large.

Diane & Husband Neil




Diane Mellen is an award-winning Executive Producer with Pace Films, a production company which she helped found. Across her career, her films have been Official

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