We had the amazing opportunity to talk with Nicole Conn about her new award winning film. Starring Zoe Ventoura, from Home and Away (#Willex) and Kayla Radomski.
JR: Watching this movie at a time where we are all at risk of COVID 19, but especially folks who are medically fragile, made me think about why it's so important to be careful during this time. How is your family holding up?
Well, the character of Freddie is inspired by my son who is very special needs and extremely fragile. He has chronic severe lung disease from all the ventilators he was on as a preemie baby and so we have a super strict protocol here to keep him safe. Only his nurse, me and his sister and that's it. He's usually homeschooled but we are not allowing his teacher in because it’s too much risk. So, this has been a very high stress time for me because of Nicolas and my mother is elderly and I'm really worried about her as well.
JR: All this pain we are feeling around the world, the title of the movie More Beautiful for Having Been Broken, makes me think of how we’ll all grow from this experience.
Yes, I absolutely agree. Part of me feels the earth is being able to take a big sigh of relief and rest from humanity, from what we do as humans to this planet. And the other part of me feels like this is a really great reset for us, for humanity in general, but in particular our country that is so flipping divided that it's driving me crazy.
JR: If only this could heal all that.
Mmmhhh. Although, I fear it won't.
JR: We often identify our pain with the broken side and don't really link it to the word beautiful. The title pairs these words together in a powerful way. How do you relate to the title of this movie?
The film was originally named Nesting Doll in 2014 and 2015 and after we shot the film, well, I have to back up a little bit. I ended up losing my sister, brother and father within 22 months of each other. My son ended up being hospitalized twice in that same timeframe to the point where people were like, okay, we just need to have palliative care come in. I went into rehab and I did really intensive work and as I was healing and coming up from the ashes, so to speak, I started noticing the beauty in the smallest things and appreciating everything in my life in a way that I hadn't for some time. I think I kind of went through the phases …in a period of time…with all that time with all that grief. So for me, it became the absolute core of the film because that was sort of the experience I was living. My creative producing partner, introduced me to the concept of kintsukuroi, More Beautiful for Having been broken. I asked her if it was okay if I used that for the title of the film and she was very honored, that's how we changed it. Nesting doll just didn't mean anything to me at that point and this title was so much more about what this film is actually about. Thank you for talking about the title because some people are like, 'that title's way to long' and I'm like, yes, but it tells the entire story.
JR: The title itself just moves me, let alone getting into the content of the movie. I learned so much about Fanconi Anemia from the explanation and what is witnessed in the movie. What did you want the viewers to learn about the that particular disease?
Well, it's supremely rare, I think Cale [Freddie] is one of 300 people in the states who has it, those who have it, have limited life spans, all kinds of health conditions. He has lived a life very much like my son, so the casting was perfect, his whole life is wrapped up in his otherness and his medical issues. I really wanted to represent who these kids are, for us, for these moms. People seem to make our kids invisible and I'm so sick of our kids being invisible, so I was just like they need to be seen and this is the best way that I know how to make them seen.
JR: The line "puzzle as an existential metaphor" struck me. We thought of it as being reflective of Freddie being seen as broken and people starting to see him as a whole person as they got to know him. And the film being like a puzzle that we kept trying to solve.
Exactly, that's very right on and I wanted to do this motif that was like a cinematic puzzle. Puzzles for me are one of the most Zen and creative spaces, when you are working on them it's like this whole different mental exercise you go through. It's also for me, sort of a metaphor for how things, when you are at the start of anything, everything looks disparate and unconnected. And as you keep moving the puzzle together, at the very end all these puzzle pieces come flying in and you get the whole story, which is what I tried to do cinematically with More Beautiful. That's sort of a philosophy of mine, every little piece counts and all the details count so it worked really well from that stand point.
JR: Kayla Radomski is a professional dancer, was she chosen for her dancing or was that weaved into the film given her talent?
Well, it was sort of a journey with her because we did a casting in 2015, which is when we found Cale. Kayla had come in to read and, if you rewind to 2008 or 9, my family used to watch 'So you think you can dance' like religiously, it was our family thing. So we watched the season she was on and she made it as a finalist and we all wanted her to win, we had all fallen madly in love with her. So, this is like, seven years later she walks in the door, and I feel like I know her, but at the time she had just started acting, in 2015, so we signed her on as the choreographer. But the film, because of my previous experience with all the grief, we didn't shoot until late November 2017. By then when I went to cast the McKenzie character, I had actresses in that role that all dropped out, they had a pilot, a movie, or doing something where they were getting paid a ton more. So I decided I was going to cast Samantha’s character first and I really wanted to work with Kayla. She had done so much acting during those couple of years so I thought, we can just really work together. She was probably the most prepared character, she knew everybody’s lines, not just hers. She's just amazing, her work ethic is beyond and her dancing is beyond. I love love working with her, so we cast her first and tried to find somebody for chemistry for the McKenzie role and that's when we got Zoe Ventoura.
JR: Speaking of both of them, you overlay dancing scenes of her and McKenzie throughout. The dancing seems to show a progression of time at different parts, and during the love scene.
Yeah, it's for that and originally when you see the dancer, and I call her in the script 'unseen dancer' and then we realize it's Samantha. My sister was a ballet dancer, I have always loved dance, it's one of my favorite art forms. I always wanted to do a dance love sequence but I didn't know if it would be the cheesiest concept in the world or if it would work. And for me, it’s my favorite scene ever and all the pieces that go into it from the sunset kiss and everything, that's my favorite scene I've done in my 30 years. I just love it.
JR: Yes, to me it's probably one of the most memorable love scenes I've seen because the dancing intertwined makes it feel more passionate and connected.
Yeah, I love that. I had researched on the internet 'love dances between two women' and I even asked Kayla, don't they have any love, ardent passionate dances and she said 'only in live performance'. So that was part of the other thing. I wanted to do it because I hadn't seen it and I'm always looking for ways to convey love scenes in my films in different ways, trying to challenge myself too, keep upping the bar.
JR: Well it was very well done.
JR: I like the physicality of Max and Samantha, the running and dancing as coping.
Here's the thing, the joke about that, the behind the scenes stuff, everybody was like, 'No more running scene's, Nicole'. My first AD let me use his drone for free so I took as much advantage of it as I could for production value. When we shot those scenes of Zoe running against the isolated backdrop of the mountain ranges it was just so amazing to me, I could have just made a whole movie of that. I just love the expansiveness of all the scenic stuff as well as the gorgeousness of the dance. One of the things I wanted the film to be was ultra-beautiful and lush because while romance is often a dirty word in our society, for me that is everything that gives us balance. And in many ways is the anecdote to all the insanity that we live in in the world, especially today. I'm a proud romantic.
JR: Do you use physical release as a way for self-care as well? What do you do?
Oh, yes. I walk almost five miles every day in the morning, that's the first thing I do. I get up, have my coffee, eat my breakfast and I'm out for those miles and nobody is allowed to interrupt me or interfere with it because it's the thing that starts my entire day and helps me get grounded and organize the endorphins and all of that stuff. Really to me it promotes health and a lot of mental health for me.
JR: We were excited to see Gaby Christian in this film. We are big fans of her character Spencer, #Spashley from South of Nowhere, and we loved her in She4Me.
You know the thing I did right after Perfect Ending was She4Me, when I worked with her on that I was like, I will work with you anywhere, any time. She is awesome, she is just the most awesome. I love her.
JR: I read an interview where you describe yourself as an 'actors director'.
Yes, absolutely, I love actors more than anything. I think what they do is the bravest. I mean, they are the ones who really get so trashed in their auditions and have such a hard time of it all. What they do, to me, is just mind-blowing, that they are able to carry the stories that are in your head and make them come alive and make them real. It’s really, really cool to see what experienced actors bring to things and then the raw actors like Kayla, in this case, she just went places I didn't know she could go. I love her being sort of the ambassador of the warrior moms of kids with special needs.
JR: So with your scripting, and exploring what your actors bring to the characters, is there any adlibbing?
Oh, yeah, I’m not one of those directors, they don't have to use my words. If there is another way to say it, they can, in Cale's case, like that whole charm offensive, all that was him. He adlibbed that entire thing and I was like, you are much better at this than I would have been, so we are just going to use your stuff. I love to collaborate with my actors as well as anyone on the set. Whoever has a good idea, I'm all for it.
JR: I read the love story described as a "slow burn" romance, and I remember thinking, “are they even going to talk to each other at some point?”
I am a huge fan of the slow burn. Some are a little faster than others. The reason I like it is because it journeys down that wonderful experience, we all have when we first are starting to fall in love. And when we do start to fall in love, you start to remember one of those moments that lead up to the realization that you are falling in love with this person. So I like to present those moments because I think that people really connect to that.
JR: I think it was important in this film that there was first a relationship with McKenzie and Freddie before anything else was possible.
Yeah, I get feedback both ways, like, why can't they just do it faster and I'm like, that's not what this is about. And other people who are like, I'm so glad you developed the relationship before they jumped in bed. I think it's just a viewer preference.
I think about single parents in general, how they are always facing that dilemma. Any words of wisdom for single parents out there wanting to date but fear opening their family up to heartbreak?
Well, you know it really is hard especially when you have a child who demands a lot of your time and attention and focus, and you know that focus will be pulled away from others. A constant kind of stress that you are living with, all the words that come from Samantha's mouth come from my experience in life, like, the 24/7 channel is Nicolas here. It's all about his test results and what the doctor said and how his temperature is doing today and everything else just because he's so medically all over the place. I think for single mom's I will share this, I have fallen in love, I'm not allowed to disclose any more but I have fallen in love with somebody who absolutely loves my son and I am so grateful. I literally did not think this would happen at this time in my life and I guess, it's ‘keep the faith’ old adage, it happens when you least expect it. But, I don't really have advice for single mothers with kids because my world has always been Nicolas comes first.
Sammy was referred to by Collin as being made out of "steel and strawberries" and as a "gladiator". I think about the challenges of her being abandoned of people close during the hardest time.
Yes, that's from my experience with Nicolas. It's just a very hard road that you experience when, I don't know if you are familiar with my documentary "Little Man" but it's the whole story of Nicolas and my partner at the time and I during all of that. The doctors were in disaster mode and they wanted me to let go of him when he was born, and I just couldn't. It's kind of a raw and gut-wrenching film.
JR: It’s so challenging going through all that loss and still being able to open yourself up to love again.
There is a part that's like, I can't do this again and the other part is like, what's the point of living then. You know.
JR: This movie could have easily been entirely about Freddie’s journey, but you weaved his character into the romantic relationship. Was this intentional?
Yes, like Little Man was very focused on, Nicolas’s journey. This film, I really love the way he brings Samantha and McKenzie together. It just feels like a trio love story. I just love that part of the story, how he brings them together and molds all of that.
JR: Your daughter made her acting debut, how was it working with her?
Yes, she did. She did theater like, seriously religiously from 6th grade on and she is a very talented theater actress. I asked her if she would want to look into doing film and she was like, 'Mom, I'm a theater actress'. And I was like, 'yeah, well, you know what, you’re going to have a lot more opportunity to have jobs if you do film, TV, and Broadway'. So, her role was very small at first, Gaby Christian actually had a lot of her scenes but when we did our reshoots Gaby wasn't available. So I had to give a couple of her scenes to my daughter and that's how she ended up in the movie in a much larger way. I was really really happy with her performance and most people find her performance lovely, you know, there's a lot of work she has to do but for her first time out, I'm really proud of her.
JR: I thought she did really well and I wondered how it impacted your relationship, because you had the actor/director as well as the parent/child relationship?
Saying to my daughter, on set, I'm not your mom. I am the director of this film and you need to treat me like that. She did well and she loved hanging on the set and being with everybody and she and Cale got along, well, Cale got along with everybody, everyone was madly in love with him. As well as all the actors, even the supporting cast, everybody was just in love with everybody. It was just a wonderful set.
JR: So did you sell your daughter on film acting?
Yes, one of the first premieres when she saw herself up there, she said, 'I like this, I want to be up there more.' I'm also casting her in my next film. I really like working with her.
JR: The movie ended with both a beautiful connection and a loss. What did you want people to leave with in those last scenes?
Well, you know it's really weird, this was part of a practical thing that ended up being emotional. When I first met Cale he was only eight and he didn't quite understand the dialogue very well. So I basically built in a narrator in case there were parts of the performance of his [Cale] that I couldn't use. For me, in the end, it was the realistic thing that happens in these cases. Many of these kids don't live much beyond that timeframe. And I look at my son, and quite frankly, it's hard for me to even talk about this, there are days I know he is so damn tired. He's so tired and there are parts of me that are like how much more can he take. So I think it was emotionally like, here's this reprieve he gets in the way he is completely at peace and knows his mother is taken care of.
JR: Now, a couple more questions that aren’t related to the movie if that's okay. I read that the first draft of Perfect Ending was done in 48 hours and then within a week it was wrapped up.
Yes, I did, because my partner then, who was the Executive Producer on Elena Undone and a Perfect Ending. She had come to me with this idea saying, 'What would you do with a woman who wanted to have an orgasm but never had an orgasm and she was like, 50'? And I was like, oh my god, I love that concept and I literally started writing that evening and I just couldn't stop. It just came to me, when that draft was done she loved it and we were off to the races.
JR: Is that pretty typical for your writing style, because I know you do novels as well. Are you a flow till it's done or can it be in pieces?
I am not one of those writers who has writers block, or issues with writing times. I'm actually pretty prolific and fast. I've been very blessed by it, a lot of things just end up coming to me. There are a couple books I have written, I don't know how I actually got all that information into the books. It’s sort of like you are in this kind of frenzy artist inspired, I don’t know what it is, almost a trance. Those things just come to me. Now, it's much harder when I'm in a situation like where I'm releasing the film, I'm doing social media and all of our graphics, I'm doing literally everything because as a small micro indie film maker you pretty much have to be marketing, distributer, everything. So during these times my creative flow isn't quite at the same level. I am working on the script for the next film that we are doing. I have got about a quarter of it done but I'm not getting real quality writing time right now.
JR: What are some of the things you are working on?
The whole new trend for indie films is to cross categorize genres, like, Lesbian Thriller. Whatever niche it is. We are working one of those cross niches. We have a racecar driver Romcom that we are working on now because I have an Indian actress who's an formula one race car driver and an English actress who is one as well.
I have to ask this question for my wife, she loves Christmas movies. If you were to write a lesbian Christmas movie, what would you call it and what would it be about.
I actually kind of had a lesbian Christmas movie at one point in time but it was kind of a sub story to a larger story called Angel Wings. The Lesbian Christmas story, I love Christmas movies so I would want to do something like, my favorite one is the Family Stone. I'd love to do a lesbian version of that. With a bunch of lesbians who all have ex-lovers and it's all very complex and old feelings and triggers and all of that kind of stuff.
JR: I think that is about it, anything else you would like to share?
With Nicole Conn Global I'm trying to create a women's global community that supports one or two films every few years that also supports the artists that are part of that community. Funding for lesbian films is just nearly freaking impossible and what I have realized over the last few years, the last three projects I've done were crowd funded and crowdfunding from my perspective is harder than making a movie. It takes so much time and it takes so much effort and there is so much that goes into it and often the return isn't quite what you are needing. And so I'm trying to do a different kind of funding model that allows lesbians to look at their own individual pocket book and say, 'oh, I can do a subscription model at $1.99 a month. I can afford that to get another movie in two years time. They are paying cash for credits. Many people paid for credits in More Beautiful, like an executive producer credit or an associate producers credit. Then I have a donor division where there are five or six donor gifts they can have and then there are investors. I'm hoping that having a hybrid funding model that it will enlist many more women to support these projects on a global level.
JR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today.
Thank you so much this has been a lovely interview.
DVD release globally on April 7th, 2020. And digitally On May 8th, 2020.
By Julia Rose on January 3, 2019
Subtle, disarming and witty Gloria Bigelow, or Glo as she is called, is a comic who doses out humor in bite sized chunks, easy for the listener to swallow but relentless nonetheless. With issues of sexuality, race, and gender at the forefront of her work, she is every bit as political as she is funny.
We were lucky enough to get a few minutes with Glo, to talk about her comedy and her upcoming appearance on Out on Stage, exclusively on Dekkoo January 17th 2019.
JR: Our website started because we believe Representation Matters. What does representation mean to you in your journey and in your influences?
GB: It’s everything. One of the reasons that I was so committed to being an out comedian is because I know that representation matters. I didn’t feel like I had it when I was figuring out who I was, so, it was really important for me to be out as the kind of black woman that I am. Meaning, I’m more feminine presenting and I’m black, and all of that stuff that goes in with that. So, I think that representation is everything. I feel like if I had representation, if I had seen other people like me probably when I was younger, I wouldn’t have stayed in the closet until I was 25.
JR: I've heard you talk about having purpose to your stand up, making people think about how we are living. Do you think that your desire to have purpose causes you to seek out topics, or do you find purpose in your daily experiences.
GB: Things happen and then I look for purpose in it. And that’s the good, bad, and the ugly, right. So, even when crazy things are clearly a violation, like the lady at Whole Foods who was touching my hair. When things like that happen, it’s bad but also it’s like, how can I find humor in this and how can I talk about it in a way that gives purpose to the really ridiculous things that happen. You might as well find humor in it, otherwise, what are your options? Have a break down in Whole Foods because this lady is touching your hair. No need to do that!
By Julia Rose on January 4, 2019.
AB Cassidy is a stand up comedian, speaker, actor, and writer hailing from the South Shore of Massachusetts. As a comic, they've opened for major headliners like Carlos Mencia, Tig Notaro and Bill Burr. They recently won both the juror and audience award at the San Gabriel Valley Pride Comedy festival.
We recently spent some time with AB, to talk about their comedy and their upcoming appearance on Out on Stage, exclusively on Dekkoo January 17th 2019.
JR: Our website Lesbian Characters was started because we believe Representation Matters. What types of representation are you hoping to bring more awareness to in your work?
AB: Representation is basically why I do what I do. My whole purpose is to create visibility for the LGBT community, in particular queer women. I identify as a Lesbian and as gender fluid. I’m a really gender fluid person. I like the term gender queer because I feel it’s very encompassing because I’m not really sure what I am. Some days I’m like, I’m trans, I’m a guy. Other days I’m like, I’m a butch lesbian. But I think there’s a lot of people like me, and I think there’s not a lot of people like us that are on TV, that are in movies, that you see on stage. There’s a lot of comics right now, like Louis CK, where he’s making fun of They, Them, Their people. Even some lesbian comics make fun of They, Them, Theirs. I think it’s because people don’t understand it because they are just not seeing a lot of people that are like that, they think it’s like some weird… I don’t know. So, that’s my whole purpose to create visibility and representation in particular, people like me. They might be a butch lesbian or they might be more masculine woman or maybe your just a masculine person but they need someone to represent, and that’s what I hope to do.
JR: Absolutely, and I also feel like it might open doors to people who felt like they had to be in a box, but might find a bit of their own fluid-ness and allow for that to happen.
AB: Yeah, absolutely. I feel like so many people are afraid to do that because we as a society have boxed people in. You’re female or you’re male. And if you do this, that’s what females do. There are all these gender stereotypes and what I learned is they don’t really matter, they’re just made up. You’re just yourself, you don’t really have to identify as one of the other. Just be a person, just be you. That’s what I hope to try and create, that acceptance within people.
JR: I was reading that your education is in feminism and storytelling, with aspects of stand-up and comedy. How do you think your academic experience has impacted the jokes you are interested in telling and your stage persona?
AB: The school I went to, the University of Redlands, I was part of a program called the Johnston Center for Integrated Studies. It was a living learning community, they encouraged you to find what your passion was and learn all different aspects of it; the breadth, the depth, of the concept you are trying to study. It really helped shape me, first of all, to become a comedian and to want to write comedy. Taking these classes through a feminist lens and a comedic lens helped shape my perspective on what jokes I wanna tell and what kind of person I want to portray and be. Also, to just understand the importance of what we were just taking about. Representation. I honestly wouldn’t be as smart as I am without that education, like, I don’t even think I would be doing stand-up. Also, I was mostly a creative writing major. I took all the credits a writing major would need to graduate in non-fiction. I had a huge passion for storytelling, so that was really helpful because my comedy is very storytelling based. When I first started doing stand-up they would say, you have three minutes and I’m like, okay, so I can tell one story? I never write just one-liner jokes, and I wish I could but I’m a story teller. So it helped having an education in writing and trying to understand characters, how to tell a good story that’s actually exciting to listen to.
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