Interview with Phiamma Elias, Writer and Director of HOMESKILLET
You started your career as an actor. Can you tell us about your acting career and what made you decide to turn to writing, directing, and producing your own work?
I’ve always known how to bring all the elements together to create a whole vision—whether I was creating a character, throwing a party, or writing a story. I don’t know how I knew this, but it’s a natural state for me. Storytelling, in all its forms, grabbed me as a child, so I began to write, then act, and then create productions in theater and then film. I spent many years acting in theater, at Actors Theater of Louisville, then the Esper Studio, then off-Broadway, and moved to directing as Artistic Director of Vision: ART at the Rose Theater in LA (winning 11 Dramalogue Awards). I started script supervising in film, a perfect place to learn the art of filmmaking, and when I finished the HOMESKILLET script, I knew it was time to jump into producing my own film.
You’re the protagonist of your first feature film, HOMESKILLET. How did you approach the challenges of directing your own performance?
The script was challenging enough having a protagonist whose hero journey was an inner process, so when we realized that I needed to play Maggie, I identified the actress as my alter ego, Feona, on all our production docs to keep it separate. I knew the story inside and out, so Maggie was already inside me, which helped.
The funniest part of the process was that I gained 25 pounds and lost 43 pounds while doing craft services, a totally zen experience. HOMESKILLET is about a woman who awakens to the homeless and goes on a protest fast, so it was vital that Maggie be seen as healthy and comfortable at the top of the film. Then, of course, she doesn’t eat for weeks, so she must appear depleted and thin. While I was making the daily meals for cast and crew (a way to save money by doing it myself!), I was on an extremely limited diet to show the weight loss visually. As an actress I used this experience to build and nurture Maggie’s inner life.
In which ways does your acting experience enhance your ability to write, produce, and direct a film, and vice versa?
Once I understand what drives a character, I know what challenges can be created for them to come up against.
This applies to real life as well. How are people motivated? What do they want? When I write, I strive to create real people who are flawed and have both a passion and a dilemma. When I act, my job is to follow the script and create one character who is whole so the other actors have something real to work from. When I direct, I create a purposeful and professional set where every person there feels like their “piece of the whole” is vital. When I produce, I am always looking at the end game and making sure everyone has what they need to help me get there. They seem like different things, but it is one act of creating a shared vision.
Do you think being a woman has made a difference in terms of your approach to writing, directing, and producing?
Absolutely. This is a very feminine film and a sensitive film. The story is about one woman and her women friends and the girls that journey with them, as well as a family film.
How long did it take you to get HOMESKILLET off the ground and how did you go about securing funding for it?
I directed a music video featuring a song from the film as my own crowd funder. I raised $18K, which got me to my first two weeks of shooting. Then I cut a trailer and raised another $10K to get me through my next week and kept the emailing and fan base going. I made a deliberate decision to create my own site and chose not to use any of the current kickstarter or crowd funding sites as I could not see why I would give them some of my precious funds just to use their system. Instead I created a PayPal link, MailChimp group, and movie web page which I used to reach out to our fans when we needed something. I made the fans a part of the movie making process.
I’m very proud of this film made for $50K that looks and acts like a million, which is why it went straight to TV, and even more proud that everyone below the line was paid. It was three weeks shy of two years from the first day of shooting to our premiere.
Do you have any advice for women and feminist filmmakers looking to fund their first feature projects?
Think outside of the box. Expand your definition of abundance. Be fearless in your asking.
HOMESKILLET addresses homelessness. How did you become interested in this issue and why do you feel that it is important to tackle social issues in our film work?
I’m a New Yorker born and raised, and have been aware of homelessness since I was a child. I believe that homelessness is the twenty-first century version of the “canary in the coal mine.”
HOMESKILLET is tied to the 4WALLSNAROOF petition. Can you tell us what the campaign is trying to achieve and how people can support it?
4WALLSNAROOF is a movement towards asking Congress to acknowledge that shelter is a fundamental American right. In part, it is a way to push back legally against the “no tent” laws that are popping up everywhere.
You have also done screenings at various schools alongside fundraisers for homeless shelters. Can you tell us how these events came about and provide advice to filmmakers seeking to similarly link their community screenings to activism?
HOMESKILLET is moving across the country where homelessness is evident in every community. Throughout the film’s journey we reached out continuously to local art houses and shelters. If your film addresses a social subject, talk about it everywhere.
Any other advice to women and feminist filmmakers embarking on their own projects?
Don’t listen to anyone you don’t fully trust. Trust your instincts. Know that what is yours is yours. Believe in your vision. Show up. Be professional. Do more than anyone else.