You also said that you wanted to work with stripper/model Dita — how would you use her in a film?
I’m currently talking to her about being the femme fatale in a future episode of Agent 15. Can’t give away any details yet, but shall we just say ‘catfight’ is a key word.
As a woman director, have you ever experienced any kind of prejudice?
Yeah, I have. There was a certain indie film lawyer/rep, who was quick to sign my company, It’s A Chick Production, LLC. So he faxed over paperwork in Don’s name. When I told him the company was in my name, I never heard from him again. I also had actors who would ask questions of the other men on the set (DP, Stunt Coordinator, etc.), rather than ask me. I don’t work with these people twice.
Has anyone ever underestimated your abilities or closed a door to your talent?
I’m actually going through a thing now with film festivals. Essentially, even though Agent 15 is funny, it’s more an action piece than a comedy. At most festivals, the shorts programs are always broken into sections like ‘love’ and ‘jobs’ and ‘life lessons’ and ‘women’s issues’. Well, I guess not enough women are making action pieces, so I get shut out of the programs. I even had the St. Louis Film Fest call me personally to tell me I was rejected. They left a message on my machine saying they loved A15, but it didn’t fit their programming. I want to send props out to Andrew Crane at the American Cinematheque here in Hollywood, who did program A15 in the Women In Shorts Film Program. He likes having diverse programming.
What’s next for Agent 15?
I’ll be screening at the WonderCon comic book festival in Oakland in April. We’ll shoot a new episode (or two) in June.
Is there anything you would like to do with Agent 15 that you could not do for budgetary reasons?
Sure — more fight choreography, guns and squibs, having Agent 15 driving a ’63 Buick Rivera. We got what we could out of our budget and I think it works for the episodes. But the next ones have to deliver on the action. I’ve written the remaining scripts, and believe me, they deliver.
How do you get such a big-budget feel on such a low budget?
First and foremost, storyboards. Once storyboarded, we knew what to spend money on, what could be cheated. In the episode “A Stitch In Time,” the Q character, Chalmers, blows up a mannequin. Did we really blow up a mannequin? No. We cutaway and through the use of dirt and cut up vinyl, we made the mannequin look blown up. It also helped that our Stunt Coordinator, James B. Myers, like to blow things up as a kid and knew what the damage really looked like. Another way to get the most for our money was the sets were only 6″ bigger than what’s on screen. Again, back to the storyboards. Why build more than you need, if you’re only going to shoot in one direction. Lastly, we shot 16mm with Fuji film. After watching a great many digital shorts with washed out colors, we decided to shoot film. We paid more on the processing, but were able to save on the editing since we cut the episodes digitally and never cut negative. One of the advantages of so many people shooting DV is that festivals can screen more video.
Any filmmaking tips you can pass along?
Yes. Please, please, please, get on movie sets and watch what each department does. Learn the difference between set dressing and props. See how an actor might give a different performance in their costume versus their street clothes. Understand how the script supervisor works with the editor. Here’s a game: try and figure out who really has power on set, and who thinks they have the power. And, lastly, watch the director. I have learned more from bad directors than good ones. Good directors make it look easy. Bad directors make me think about what I would do if I were in their position. “OK, the actress doesn’t want to wear her high heels, and it’s a wide shot, they’re loosing light, the crew is in a bad mood because lunch was awful–what would you do?”
I know it’s been said before, but we’re not kidding when we say feed the crew well and be organized. I’ve helped many a friend on a short film, and was none too happy to get Taco Bell. On Agent 15, my crew, although small, were all professionals who worked on films and TV shows all week. They gave up their free time to do the same job they just spent 60 hours a week doing. I thought nothing of making three Starbuck’s runs a day because they were giving me their time and experience. I also stuck to 10 hour days (8 hours of shooting, with an hour each of prep and wrap). Again, they’re giving up their weekend, I least I could schedule shooting so they’d have their nights free.
As a director, you have to coax performances out of actors, what is your approach to working with actors?
Ideally, if I’m not getting what I want, I try to give the actors enough information so they can come to my conclusions on their own. Often, it’s simply just reminding them of what the previous scene was, or reinforcing that even though they know the outcome, their character doesn’t. The hard part for me is when I get someone who is not the slightest bit interested in acting, but wants to be a movie star. They cannot separate themselves from the character. My favorite was in a film I costume designed where the lead actress was playing an impoverished mental patient and wanted to wear all cashmere.
Anything I forgot to ask that you would like to mention?
Yeah, watch Paget Brewster in “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” on Fox.
What’s your next move? Tell me what you’re working on right now.
In addition to more A15 episodes, I’m also working on a documentary about my girlfriends’ burlesque troupe, The Velvet Hammer. And when I say burlesque, I mean pasties and a G-string, bump and grind, good ol’ fashioned fun. They even go so far as to have a bad magic act and hokey comedy. But the real attraction are the girls. And these aren’t the anorexic, faux tit, neon bikini types you see on G-string Divas. These girls range from 6 foot statuesques to petite 36-24-36’s. Think Mæ West, think Mamie Van Doren, think Brigitte Bardot. But don’t expect any talking heads in this piece — less A&E, and more Great Rock And Roll Swindle. They’ll be performing here in LA on March 29th and I’ll be flooding the floor with cameras — at least 7 DV and maybe one or two Super 8. I’ll be backstage with my camera, getting the really good dirt.
Get an even closer look at Augusta and the Agent 15 short films at her web site It’s A Chick.com.