(Februry 13 2015)
1. What first drew you to filmmaking and how did you get started?
I’ve always loved film, but was initially intimidated by it. The equipment, the cost, and the need for a whole creative team seemed daunting. I funneled my narrative urges into writing fiction and screenplays, but desperately wanted to manifest stories visually. The accessibility of digital filmmaking really allowed me to go in that direction. Once I picked up my first video camera, I couldn’t stop shooting.
2. Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Pittsburgh?
I grew up in suburban New Jersey, which explains why I love films that are dark comedies set in the suburbs. Nine years ago, I came to the University of Pittsburgh on a Chancellor’s Scholarship and I’ve been here ever since.
3. How do you feel about Pittsburgh’s film community?
Pittsburgh’s film community is amazing. Animal, the production company behind the Sundance-winning documentary Blood Brother, is based here. Their downtown office is a hub of collaboration, creativity, and filmmaking excellence. Animal producer Danny Yourd has mentored me over the past year with my film Aspie Seeks Love and I’ve grown so much because of it. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with local cinematographers who are as talented as they are a joy to be around (e.g. – Tim Murray and Bryan Heller). All the indie filmmakers are very collaborative and rooting for each other’s projects (Go, Fursonas!). We watch each other’s rough cuts and give feedback. We get drinks together and dream up new projects. It’s a beautiful thing.
4. What notable projects have you done in the past, and where has your work been shown?
I produced a documentary series for many years called Healthy Artists, chronicling the lives of over forty artists here in Pittsburgh. The artists show off their inspiring work, talk about their lifestyles, and discuss their difficulties accessing health care. The series has been featured in theNew York Times and Huffington Post and has helped spotlight the need for universal health care in a new way. Healthy Artists was made possible by Scott Tyson, an incredible pediatrician, philanthropist, and health care advocate. I’ve directed a lot of shorts, but Aspie Seeks Loveis my first documentary feature.
5. How did you meet David Matthews (The subject of Aspie Seeks Love) and what made you decide to make a feature-length documentary about him?
A lot of people in Pittsburgh know about David. He spent twenty years posting personal ad fliers to telephone poles around town seeking love. I always enjoyed his fliers, his sense of humor, and honesty. I admired his willingness to put himself out there. One day out of the blue, he sent me a Facebook message saying, “I’ve seen your documentaries and I think you should make one about me.” It kind of felt like destiny.
When I started filming David, he was in the era of online dating. I filmed him as he messaged back and forth with women from OKCupid. I sat across from him and his dates at restaurants as they met each other for the first time in real life. It was very surreal and deeply relatable. At the end of the day, finding love is a universal struggle that so many of us face, both on and off the spectrum.
6. When did you first begin production on Aspie Seeks Love? What challenges have you had to overcome along the way?
Driven by inspiration, ambition, and naiveté, I embarked on production in 2011. I had no crew, it was just me following David with a cheap camera. David would deliver these sincere, hilarious, and raw commentaries as he navigated the world. I just wanted to keep filming him, I didn’t want to stop. Challenged by a limited budget, I sacrificed polish at times just so I could keep filming.
When The Pittsburgh Foundation awarded our project a Creative Development Grant, I was able to take the film to the next level. I took some time off of other work to devote myself to the film, hired a cinematographer for select shoots, and paved the way for additional funding (from The Sprout Fund, Heinz Endowments, and Steeltown). I think it’s really important for filmmakers and artists to be supported and have a chance to experiment and create.
7. What have you learned through developing Aspie Seeks Love with Animal and Danny Yourd (Producer of Blood Brother)?
I’ve learned so much from Danny Yourd and the Animal team. When I first met Danny, I had a rough cut of Aspie Seeks Love. He brought his creativity and vision to it and we refined the story. He helped me navigate serious post-production, film festival strategizing, and distribution for the first time, for which I am endlessly grateful.
Danny’s film Blood Brother is one of my favorite documentaries, and it’s been a dream to learn from my artistic heroes. Every time I visit Animal’s downtown office, I feel a sense of wonder and magic. In one room, Steve Hoover will be editing his new documentary Crocodile Gennadiyand in another, Samm Hodges will be writing a script for Michael Killen’s TV show Downward Dog. When you’re around people who are making incredible work, it really fuels your own desire to grow as a filmmaker.
8. Congratulations on having Aspie Seeks Love’s world premiere at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California later this month! How does it feel to start having audiences from around the world see your work?
It’s awesome! We’re playing Australia and Ireland soon. I’m especially excited for our screenings here in Pittsburgh with our friends, loved ones, and people who star in the film, sitting right out there in the audience.
9. You already have screenings lined up all around the world to show this film. How did you go about selecting film festivals to apply to and do you have any tips for others trying to submit?
We applied to a ton of festivals and we selected them based on their merit. Most of these festivals are getting thousands of submissions and have only a handful of slots. You’re competing with filmmakers all over the world. My main advice would be to not get discouraged over rejection or take it as too reflective of your work. If filmmaking is your passion, keep going.
10. What advice would you have to emerging filmmakers and documentarians?
Working on a feature-length film is a true commitment and challenge. It really helps if you love your subject. David’s story really moved me. I related to him and was rooting for him from behind the camera. I recently saw Albert Maysles (director of Grey Gardens) speak. He says that you should love the people in your film and direct with a compassionate eye. I think that is an important thing to remember.