By Katie Conway, Contributor
This past April, The Women in Comedy Festival celebrated a week of showcasing women in the comedy industry. This including some very talented females performing stand-up, improv, and musical acts all across Boston. But did you know WICF also hosted not one, but TWO film festivals?
With two different film festival contests to submit to, the Brattle Theater debuted a number of short films – each helmed by and focusing on women. Four films took top prizes at the festival, two from the WICF Film Festival and two from the Rachel Bloom Short Challenge. The difference between the two being that films submitted to the Rachel Bloom short challenge had to be made specifically for the festival and begin with the line “you can’t do that.” For each category, the judges determined a festival winner. The audience chose the second winner by voting for their favorite films in each category. We checked in with all the winners to find out more about their filmmaking process and what projects they will tackle next.
Here to talk about her laugh-out-loud short “Mommy Issues” – the Best of Fest Winner of the Rachel Bloom Challenge – is Brittany Belland!
How did you first hear about the WICF and/or Rachel Bloom’s Comedy Short Challenge?
I’m part of a live mainstage sketch team (Wilton) in Los Angeles at a theater called iO West and a girl from my team sent me the info thinking I might be interested in submitting and she was right!
How much experience in film did you have prior to creating this short?
I started acting when I was in high school in my school’s theater productions (in Cincinnati, Ohio) and from there I starred in my first indie feature film when I was 20. I’ve been in front of the camera ever since but I only started writing sketches and short scripts about two years ago. Mommy Issues was my first time ever directing anything. I’m so grateful that I had all my closest friends, my boyfriend, and my own mother apart of this short. It made the process so much smoother and I could not have done it without them all.
What inspired you to create this film/what sparked the idea for it?Over the past two years or so I’ve been going through that crazy fun time of life that we call “quarter life crisis” where you question who you are and your purpose on this planet and all those wonderful, wonderful feelings associated with that stage in life. And during this time, I slowly started to realize things about myself that are uncannily like my mother which, as I say in the short film, I always swore I would never be like her. However, over time it dawned on me that not only am I just like my mother but I actually love all the things about me that are just like her… in a way I never understood before. Growing up, I was honestly too immature to understand my mother on an equal adult playing field and instead placed her on this pedal stool demanding that she must be some sort of superhuman person with no excusable flaws or mistakes. I believe we all do this with our parents until a certain age of maturity where we realize, “Hey. You’re human, just like me.” I had a lot of cognitive dissonance and guilt associated with this realization and it was during the height of all of this emotion that the short film challenge was presented to me. Then, conveniently, just a week before the date of the short film deadline, my mom was already planned to come and visit me in LA. So, my boyfriend Brock McKenzie, who is an experience writer and fully aware of the experience I was going through, suggested we write a short film about it and it dawned on me that my mom should be in it. We sat down one afternoon and co-wrote the short together and a few weeks later my mom flew in and away we went!
How influential was the line “You Can’t Do That” in making this short?
Incredibly influential. I think this line was what honestly inspired us to write the short about the process I was going through. A line like “you can’t do that” registers so maternal to me, like a line you’d tell your child to keep them safe or teach them a lesson. It was the perfect spark of inspiration that Brock and I needed to come up with the idea.
What was the most difficult obstacle you encountered in creating the film?
Stress. So much stress was involved for me with the entire process because I worry a lot about other people and how they feel… so much that it is often a fault of mine. So during the filming process I was worried about my mom having a wonderful experience for her first film debut. I was worried that my friends were happy and not hungry or bored or upset in any way. And I was worried about making the right choices as a director and everything coming together in the editing room in the short turn around time we had to edit. I was so stressed out that honestly when I watch Mommy Issues I really dislike my acting because I can see right through to my feelings of stress and worry and that’s not who I like to be as an actor. Of course, I am overall very proud of myself but it was definitely a learning experience. I know much better going forward what I could use in order to feel less stressed on set (mostly just not worry so much about everyone else’s experience and trust they’ll tell me if they’re unhappy…which, of course, no one was).
Any funny stories from filming?
YES. There was a brief moment in post only 24 hours before the film deadline that my editor contacted me and said there was an issue with the footage. She showed the top of the scene where Brock and I are eating dinner at the table and in the very back left hand corner you can very easily and visibly see my mom perched on a chair watching us both act. I have no idea how we missed this during filming! It was a combination of frustrating and adorable because you could tell on my mom’s face that she was watching us both with pride and admiration at the work we were doing but she was in the frame and clearly couldn’t be! Luckily, my editor Sydney Friedman is god’s gift to editing and was able to fake the footage using a different shot and then sew the frames together. I’ve attached an image of the moment because it’s too cute not to share.
Is there anything you would change about your short if you could?As I alluded to briefly in an earlier answer, I do feel that my acting abilities in the short are not representative of what I’m capable of. And since professionally acting is my career goal it does bother me a lot when I watch it. However, I remind myself that I was wearing many hats that day and it was my first time with most of them so I cannot be too hard on myself.
Give us a mini Oscar speech! Who would you like to thank for being a part of or inspiring this short?
Oh my, there are so many people to thank, this answer could take pages to truly complete but I’ll try to keep it brief. First and foremost, I have to thank my mother for being such a trooper. She’s never acted before and when I asked her to star in the short she didn’t hesitate to say yes. It would have been alright if I had cast that part through auditions but the truth is I really believe the film had to star the both of us because it’s reflective of my true life and so I honestly couldn’t have done it without her willingness and excitement for the project. And then of course none of this would have ever happened had I not had Brock to write the script and develop ideas with. He’s incredibly talented and I’m beyond lucky to work with him on projects, let alone date and love him. I have to thank my editor Sydney as well. As I mentioned before, she is a god sent to this planet. Not only is she incredibly talented at what she does, but she brought the entire story together on her own time for absolutely free, with the only incentive of offering great work to her friend in need. In fact, a lot of people did that for me on this short. David Butterfield, who wrote the original music, contributed all of his time and creative energy for absolutely free simply because he loves what he does. I couldn’t be more grateful for him, Sydney, and all of my dear friends, Patrick Boylan, Weslie Lechner, Allyson Weinhold and Evan Rosenberg who dedicated their time and energy for free on set that day. They were all incredibly supportive and you just don’t find people like that in LA very often. I love each of them so much and thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Who inspires you as a filmmaker? And/or was there a particular movie that inspired you to go into film?
Growing up, I was obsessed with the TV show Friends. I never missed an episode if I could avoid it and even though I was too young to truly understand all of the humor I was absolutely mesmerized by the entire cast and how much fun it looked like they were having. I grew up wanting to be an actress just like Jennifer Aniston (even though I’m totally a Monica) and to this day I still have that dream of being on a hit sitcom show just like her. As I got older and became interested in more than just acting but also writing and directing, I started to take an interest in Wes Anderson films and fell in love with the movie, The Darjeeling Limited. His style of mixing comedy with heartfelt, relatable truth about life is truly what I aspire to achieve with my own filmmaking.
What was your biggest take away from your phone call with Rachel Bloom?
I took quite a few things away from my phone call with Rachel. She had some really excellent advice to give. I’d say that my biggest take away was this – don’t create anything with the goal of it “going viral.” Today, there’s just so much content online that going “viral” isn’t as easy to do nor is it as big of a deal as it once was before social media stars were developed. She advised instead that you make projects for the love of making the project and the success will follow that love. And I think that was something that deep down I always knew but really needed someone who is successful from writing her own show to prove to me that you can be successful from doing the things you love and not having to do the things other people want you to do.
What advice would you give to female comedians and filmmakers?Make fun things with your friends. It took me five years living in Los Angeles to develop a core group of friends and a boyfriend that see comedy the way I see it and once I found them we began creating sketches and performing live together simply because we have fun. We thoroughly enjoy each other’s company and comedy voices and it’s a blast to work together doing what we all love. I’ve tried working with people in the past who didn’t see quite eye to eye with me and I was never incredibly proud of the work I did with them. But the moment you find a group of friends that you love and support you it’ll be SO easy to create with them because it’ll be fun every single time you do it. And that’s the point of what we do – To have fun and bring joy to others.
What was it like debuting “Mommy Issues” in front of such a huge audience?
Sadly, my greatest regret of this whole experience is that I was unable to attend the festival. But, my sister and a bunch of her friends attended in my place and she said she couldn’t have felt more proud of our mother, Diana, and the wonderful audience reception she received for her acting debut.
Do you have any projects in the works or ideas for future endeavors?
Yes. I am incredibly excited about my writing partner href=”http://www.weslielechner.com/”>Weslie Lechner and mine’s latest project. We’ve just finished writing a play titled, Willy Wonka and the Weed Factory. It’s about the first weed dispensary opening up in a small town after recreational marijuana has just been legalized and, as you may have guessed, it maps the storyline of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. There will be singing, dancing, and free edible ice cream samples during intermission! It’s due to open last week of July at a theater in South Pasadena and I couldn’t be more excited. All details of ticket sales and etc. can soon be found on my website.
Where can fans of your film follow you online?
Fans can follow me and my all female sketch team, BadAssKnitties, on Facebook www.facebook.com/badassknitties