Interview with Catherine Eaton, Director and Co-Writer of The Sounding

Copy Editing and Posting by Elena Cronick

The Sounding is a feature film that looks unique and fascinating, where you play a woman who has never spoken and when she finally does, she creates her own language from Shakespeare’s words. Have you performed in many Shakespearean plays?

Thanks for the kind words about The Sounding.  Yes, I have a long history with that honey-tongued Shakespeare!  Because my path to becoming a film director and writer was via acting (I do all three now, sometimes all on the same project), I happen to be classically trained and have performed in or worked on every play in Shakespeare’s canon at this point.  Actors are really essentially storytellers who are fascinated with the human condition, so it’s a natural progression to writing and directing.  

Catherine Eaton and team. Photo by Asya Danilova

Since The Sounding is about a woman’s voice, can you tell us if you consider this a feminist film, and what inspired you to write this particular tale?

The Sounding is really a film about otherness; it’s about a woman defending her own extreme form of otherness, with that specific otherness standing in for marginalization and difference as a whole. In The Sounding, on an island off the coast of Maine, Liv, after years of silence, begins to create a new language of her own by weaving together Shakespeare’s words. A driven neurologist, brought to the island to protect her, discovers her speaking this acquired language and commits her to a psychiatric hospital. She becomes a full-blown rebel; her increasing violence threatens to keep her locked up for life as she defends her difference and fights for her freedom.

I see Liv’s differenceand her fight to be valued for it and the threat her society perceives in itas a stand-in for the value of all forms of difference and marginalization, certainly including her gender, but not exclusive to it.  That said, the act of making the film about a woman by women and as a female director is without a doubt a feminist act in itself, so in that regard I certainly consider it a feminist film.

The Sounding is shot and currently seeking finishing funds. What will the campaign help you accomplish and what kind of release are you hoping for with the film?

The crowdfunding campaign is crucial, thanks for asking! The Sounding was made on an extreme micro-budget and it’s a testament to the incredible collaborators I’ve had that it looks and feels the way it does.  But we need the support of the amazing crowdfunders out there to allow us to pay some of those collaborators who already donated their time and deserve a fair wage for it (color, sound mix), as well as to create titles and credits, to create a poster, finish the trailer, and engage a publicist to make sure that we’re able to reach the audience for the filmthose beautiful people out there who we made this for, who we want to make sure hear about it and have the chance to see it.

Lucy Owen (of “Miss Sloan”) & Catherine Eaton as Liv . Photo by Asya Danilova

One cool thing about the campaign is that, as with all crowdfunding, when you support the film, you get to choose a reward, and one of these rewards is that I create a unique, aesthetic two-to-five minute profile piece about an individual in a marginalized community, giving them a moment and a platform to share some of their own story. Basically, when a backer gives at that reward amount, it supports The Sounding and gives me the resources to create one of these short films (with a lot of good old sweat, equity, and passion thrown in). Storytelling creates empathy, a resource we need to nourish and cherish in the current climate.

As far as the release? We’ll be able to announce a festival premiere soon after the campaign is funded, and then we’re looking towards the pleasure of a world-wide festival tour. A possible summer ally-ship with Shakespeare festivals has been discussed, and of course we hope for a theatrical releasethe film was shot in a very cinematic way intended for the scope a large screen allows. Plus I really put a lot of stock in the collective experience of dozens of people watching a film together.

You had a period on the campaign during which funds were matched. Can you tell us how you made that happen and what effect you expect it to have on the campaign?

Our matching funds came about via an individual who has been interested in the work of one of my brilliant cast members, Deborah Rayne, who plays Hannah, for some time. He learned about The Sounding, saw the campaign, and wanted to support it in a major way. He suggested the idea of a matching fund, by which he could not only support The Sounding, but also encourage other backers and support them (by doubling their impact) for backing the film. In this way his impact is doubled as well!

Harris Yulin (of Scarface) and Catherine Eaton as Liv in The Sounding. Photo by Asya Danilova

Your team mainly consists of women. Was that a conscious choice or did that happen organically? If it was a choice, why was this important for the film?

It began organically, actually. I was unaware of the extreme lack of parity for women in film when I began the journey of becoming a director. I had anecdotal experience as an actor on sets, but not the numbers and first-hand accounts that were later provided for me by organizations that have supported me as I navigate through it, such as Film Fatales, NYWIFT, and Tribeca, or by my own brilliant producer Caitlin Gold, who is now working on the front lines of it with The 51 Fund.

Since that awakening, it became a conscious choice on The Sounding, and is one I will continue with moving forward. It’s my priority that women and people of color are given the lion’s share of new opportunities on my projects, though I’ll continue to collaborate with the amazing humans I’ve already developed creative relationships with, regardless of gender or race.

I’m very proud of the cast and crew of The Sounding, all of whom were chosen based on their talents, skills, and natures. It’s through diversifying that we become stronger. That’s true in biology, it’s true in society, and it is certainly true in art and on a film set. I feel very fortunate to have experienced that personally.

Can you talk about what it was like to write and also star in a film you were directing? What were the greatest challenges you faced?

Honestly, it’s the most creatively rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve never looked back since. I love doing each individually, but it can be a gift to do all three on the same project.

To begin with, you’re never fighting to stay inside the story. As the writer, you know it intimately, backwards and forwards, and it’s woven out of your imagination. As an actor, you are an actual physical and emotional part of the story being captured on camera, and it’s literally made corporeal through you. So as a directordespite the multitasking required on a thriving and chaotic indie setbecause the other two muscles are always engaged, it is instinctual to always be primed and centered around the single most important thing: the story we’re all telling.

Catherine Eaton as Liv in The Sounding. Photo by Asya Danilova

I remember my first day of shooting the first short film I directed (also called The Sounding). I had an amazing crew and incredibly talented DP team (thank you, Ted and Drue), but my learning curve as a director was so steep, and I’d never lead a crew before, so I was a bit nervous about how my dual acting/directing hat would sit for everyone there. We started with a couple of shots that I wasn’t in and were doing fairly well, though all still on an awkward first date, as it were … and then I sat into my first shot. It happened to be a complex, emotional momentthe kind I live for as an actorand the relief of sitting into it felt like dancing. I knew this world inside and out. When I called cut and shook off the emotion of the scene, I looked around and the entire crew was standing silently, breath held. And then the whole team burst into grins and back-pats and head nods and took off like a well-oiled machine. The energy from my team was incredible, and suddenly, I thought, oh, this is going to be a good thing.

Tell us a little about your involvement in the Film Fatales and how—if in any way—it assisted you in the creation of The Sounding.

Sure, glad to. I’m on the leadership team of Film Fatales (and specifically work on panels and events programming). We’re all feature film directors and it’s currently run and led by members on a volunteer basis. Film Fatales has been a gift. Because I came up through sets rather than school (acting, producing, and some ENG camera and sound work), I didn’t have the network of resources a film school graduate might havecrew lists, directing peers to ask questions of, mentors for guidance, straight up information, etc.  The Fatales provided that for me. They became my film community. And I met one of my amazing producers, Jessica Vale, through the Fatales (she’s also a director of feature docs), and the film wouldn’t be what it is without her.  

Teddy Sears (of Masters of Sex) in make-up for The Sounding. Photo by Asya Danilova

You’ve spoken about the theme of “otherness” being a crucial element of the film. Explain why and how that works in the film.

Yup, love to. I spoke a bit about it above, but really the central question of the film is this: What is the value and/or threat inherent in otherness or difference? As I mentioned before, The Sounding is about a woman defending her own extreme form of otherness, with that specific otherness standing in for marginalization and difference as a whole.

It’s also about mental illness at a time when in the United States alone our dependence on anti-depressants has more than doubled in the past ten years, and 42.3 million people suffer from some form of mental illness today (one in five). It’s about individualism at a moment when our country has become severely polarized and tribal. It’s a film inspired by Oliver Sacks’ humanity and curiosity about the mind and Shakespeare’s insights into the human condition. And it’s made by women at a time when, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women represented just 12 percent of directors, 15 percent of writers, 26 percent of producers, and 10 percent of cinematographers in the top 500 grossing films of 2015.

We are at a time when we desperately need to connect and include the marginalized. At a tipping point for otherness in our current climate, The Sounding champions it.

Which women filmmakers have inspired you or served as mentors in your creative life?

Ava Duvernay is my guru, though she doesn’t know it yet. I’m inspired by many but haven’t had an actual mentor yet (though I’m beginning to experience individual acts of mentorship by veteran female filmmakers, and it’s madly valuable).

Deborah Rayne, Erin Darke (of Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt), Catherine Eaton in The Sounding.

What advice would you give to women filmmakers who are multitalented and are considering writing/directing and also starring in their first feature?

Do it. Absolutely do it. Do it and don’t look back.

If you had to do it again with The Sounding, what if anything might you do differently?

I have a simple but clear takeaway: I wasn’t able to engage an editor before we shot. I won’t let that happen again. Things moved at lightning speed once the film was green-lit, and I was obsessive about interviewing people in all positions because I wanted to find the team I would ideally work with moving forward on all projects (I love long-term collaborative partners). So we didn’t have an editor on board while we were shooting. But it’s the only time in the process when all three parts of the “writing” of the film (actually writing it, shooting it, and editing it) overlap and is the most creatively-rewarding way to align them all. From now on, I’ll want my editors to be part of the entire making of the film, not just the final third.

Funding for The Sounding ends Tuesday, December 20. Contribute to the The Sounding’s funding on Kickstarter. Find news and updates on Facebook and its website. You can also follow Catherine Eaton on Twitter. View Danielle Winston’s profile.