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How To Make It
Filmmaking insight from the creators of “Breaking Upwards”
Written by: Kelly Calabrese
New York serves up countless opportunities for you to get your work seen, it's just a matter of “having the courage to put yourself out there and the drive and follow through,” says actress Zoe Lister-Jones.
Zoe and director/actor Daryl Wein just completed the uphill journey of developing their first feature film together titled “Breaking Upwards.”
Based on an actual experiment in the lives of Zoe and Daryl, “Breaking Upwards” explores a young, real-life New York couple who, four years in and battling codependency, decide to intricately strategize their own break up. It follows Zoe and Daryl as they navigate each other's emotions across the city they love as it asks a unique question… can two people grow apart together?
Though it may seem like a documentary in style, “Breaking Upwards” is “not a documentary. You don't watch it and think ‘these people are filming their lives,'” says Daryl Wein. “We totally fictionalized it and had a co-writer with his own point of view.”
Having a strong point of view, as well as a unique concept helped “Breaking Upwards” get picked up by IFC. You can check it out on the big screen for one week at the IFC Center staring April 2nd!
As a pre-view, NYCastings got all the make-it-or-break-it behind the scene details for you…
Q: How long did it take to create “Breaking Upwards”?
Daryl: We've been working on it for over 3 ½ years; starting at the inception of the film, through the writing process, post production, and film festivals up to it being distrusted this week.
Zoe: It's actually not that much time. We thought about going through the traditional route but A) there are so many doors slammed in your face and B) it's a really, really, long process so we just thought ‘forget it. We are going to take this into our own hands and make it happen.'
Daryl: Those are the kind of artists we are. We like to do things ourselves and not wait for anyone to tell us ‘yes'. Also, the film is based on an aspect of our relationship, it made sense for us to star in it and make it at the same time.
Q: What motivating factor or inspirational push got this project up and running?
Daryl: It started when we began breaking upwards in real life, strategizing our break up. I immediately got the idea that this would make a funny, romantic comedy and that's when we started writing it along with my friend Peter Duchan who I went to high school with. The next big moment was a year later when we decided to make this thing on our own. There was no going back at that point.
Zoe: Both of us are self-starters and always have been. When I graduated college, I wrote and put on my own one-woman show at P.S. 122 and that's how I got my agent and manager. Daryl, upon graduating, made a big short film staring Olivia Thirlby that premiered at Tribeca. I think it's part of our nature. You need to have so much ambition to get these projects off the ground. You also need really good follow through. So many people have a dream and they get something started yet can never finish it because finishing it is where so much of the work is. We are lucky that both of us have that in us. Otherwise, I don't think we would be able to put so much time and energy into this.
Daryl: We love film and acting, so it comes down to that. We are head over heels in love with it and that keeps us wanting to push hard and make it happen.
Q: Why is it so important to produce your own work in this industry?
Zoe: As an actor I work pretty consistently, yet there is still a lot of sitting around and waiting by the phone. That can get really defeating. To be able to take the control into my own hands is very empowering. I recommend that all actors do it even with thing like webisodes and sketch videos. It's not just a creative outlet, it can help you with your career. So much can come from something small. That's the story of Breaking Upwards. It's totally possible.
Q: Advice for other actors who want to tell their own story?
Zoe: Sites like Funny or Die are great, or even YouTube. So many network executives have been plucking people off those sites and they are very user friendly. You get together with your friends, or by yourself, put a piece together, upload it and the world is able to see it. You can also use it as a calling card. There are so many ways for actors to take things into their own hands they just have to want it that badly.
Q: Advice for getting films into festivals? You've been in a lot of them!
Daryl: Yeah, we've been in like 30 festivals. I've been using Withoutabox.com since I graduated college five years ago and it's great because it's like filling out the common application for college. You just fill out one and then you can send it to all the festivals. We also reached out, of course, to anyone we knew could help but it really relies on the strength of the film in the end. If they like it, they'll accept it. If they don't like it, they'll turn it off within twenty minutes.
Q: Any marketing tips for actors producing their own work? I know you put up buzz generating sketch videos for “Breaking Upwards” on Funny or Die.
Daryl: We decided to take the money that IFC gave us to buy the film and pump it back into marketing instead of just having it come out on TV. We convinced them that this movie could have a successful life in theaters if we did some unconventional marketing like these videos on Funny or Die. We shot them with our DP, at his house, on Green Screen, for no money and it found a home online through bloggers. Other than that, we hired an amazing publicist Falco Ink. They have been instrumental in reaching out to press. That's how The New York Times found out about it.
Zoe: It's also tireless one-one-one work. Beside for press, Daryl and I do a lot of Q&A's and screenings. We put a lot of time into getting buzz going. There is a lot of care and specific attention paid to where we are going and we try to hit all the different markets that the film would speak to.
Q: Do you have time balancing advice for actors/filmmakers?
Daryl: Spend as much time as you can hustling and working hard at your dream.
Zoe: When you are young, that is the time to hustle because you are golden in terms of the marketing aspect. People love young stars. There is that sort of cache to it and you have the energy to put the time in. You might as well do it now. We worked like 20 hours a day on the film.
Q: Any major uphill battles that you would want others to avoid?
Daryl: Don't just go and make something if the script and story isn't there yet. I think that's common among many young do-it-yourself filmmakers right now. They are lazy in some ways about the process. They do want it but they need to pay attention to what people will respond to in the end, which is screenplay, acting, and production value.
Zoe: Don't let yourself off the hook just because you are a small fry. The quality of your work is what will get it noticed.
Q: Most unexpected upward momentum?
Zoe: This has all been upward because we started from the ground up.
Daryl: Getting the New York Times article was a huge moment because that was something we have been dreaming about. Every artist dreams of being covered by the best publication in the world. To have them confirm there is something we are doing that deserves that kind of public attention is astonishing. I was screaming and jumping up and down. Its one of the most exciting things that have ever happened to me.
Q: Daryl, how did you direct yourself?
Daryl: I just did my best to be natural as an actor and use my instincts that I learned in acting school. I've been acting my whole life. Zoe would also give me notes and I'd watch it back on the monitor sometimes.
Q: Do you ever view acting as breaking upwards?
Zoe: Yeah I do. I think being a New York actor is very much about that. That's why New York actors are what they are because there is a life outside of acting and it's so important to maintain it. You end up having to pull from varying life experiences and if you don't have them, if you're so streamline obsessed with the industry, I think it makes you a less interesting actor. That's also what is interesting about creating your own work. I got to write and produce and be a part of other worlds outside of being an actor.
Beyond acting and writing, Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones have pretty much created their own unique style of filmmaking with “Breaking Upwards.”
It plays for one week at the IFC Center in New York City starting April 2nd and then On Demand from IFC.
Take a break from your day and check out this unusual story... Made in NYC.
More information at: www.breakingupwards.com/
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