by Terry Greenberg
Creative collaborations are magic. And, this magical one began at a NYWIFT workshop on crowd-funding presented two years ago by Jane Applegate, a writer and producer.
Director/producer Abigail Zealey Bess and screenwriter, Holli Harms, signed up to learn how to raise money for their short film, Icarus Stops for Breakfast — a quirky comedy about two misfits in love. “Jane shared all the challenges of raising money from friends and followers,” recalls Zealey Bess. “Both Holli and I were immediately struck by Jane’s energy which in turn inspired us to ask if she would come on board to help us produce the project.”
Abigail Zealey Bess on the Icarus Stops for Breakfast set
Applegate was impressed by Zealey Bess’ energy and sassy style. “She was funny and smart — two of my favorite qualities in a person.”
Now, they are producing a new play by Susan Eve Haar directed by Zealey Bess and Caroline’s Wedding, a full-length narrative written and co-directed by NYWIFT member Easmanie Michel.
Their co-produced short, Icarus, will have a sneak preview on April 26 at NYWIFT’s members’ screening at Anthology Film Archives.
AZB: Jane, you are so comfortable moving between film and theater projects. How did that come to be?
JA: I began my producing career in theater, serving as the first president of the San Diego Repertory Theater. I was appointed president because I was the only one who owned a pants suit and wore it to collect our first support check from a local bank. I love the live aspect of theater and the lasting impact of film.
JA: Abigail, you began your career as an actor in England, then shifted to a directing career in theatre and film once you arrived in this country. You’ve also been a locations manager. Now, your focus is on directing and teaching. Does being a professional actor help you be a better director?
AZB: Yes, absolutely – For me being an actor has always been invaluable to understanding the actor’s journey and how to go about creating a role. Jane, you also made a transition from writing and producing big-budget television documentaries to low-budget films, starting over as a producer’s assistant and craft services gal. Did you ever question if this was the right path for you?
JA: I’ve always been a risk taker. I never went to film school or thought about producing. I fell into television production after a wonderful career as investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times and then as a syndicated small business columnist. I wrote a popular book and to promote it, I keynoted and co-produced dozens of corporate-sponsored events. That’s how I learned to produce video. Through a random connection, I landed a job as a supervising producer for several Discovery Health specials. One freezing cold day, I was producing a complicated World War II battle scene with a fabulous film crew when I thought, ‘I love working with these people,’ and decided I wanted to make films.
Jane Applegate with Woodstock on the set of Icarus Stops for Breakfast
JA: There is no better way to learn how to run a set than to be responsible for the care and feeding of the cast and crew. Your locations background must have served the same purpose, right?
AZB: I think the best thing about working in locations is it teaches you everything there is to know about how to put a production together. I learned how to be the eye in the storm when everyone is going crazy around you. That’s when I decided if I was going to be working on anything that I cared about, it better be a project that I believed in and was directing or producing it myself.
AZB: [We both love working with young women.] Which brings me to ask, why is it important for us to be mentors?
JA: I never had a female mentor. There’s all this attention on how women are treated badly in the entertainment industry. I say stop bitching and make great work.
AZB: Yep. I think it’s so important to support fellow women in the industry and be the change we want to see. By not “pulling up the ladder” but making sure that we consciously help women to have an equal opportunity to get the work and those jobs in an industry that desperately needs the female energy and drive. Only then, can we create the collective Band of Warrior Women that will take us all to the next frontier.
Zealey Bess (left) and Applegate on set
Terry Greenberg is a veteran studio marketing executive and currently serves on the NYWIFT Board of Directors.