I first saw Creedmoria in the summer of 2016 at the Dances With Films Festival in Hollywood. This coming-of-age flick, staring Stef Dawson (Annie Cresta in the Hunger Games films), blew me away with its wit and sensitivity to what it’s like for girls to move “from crayons to perfume.”
I see so many great films at festivals that then disappear from the radar. I was delighted to find out that Creedmoria was coming out on VOD on May 15, 2018. I spoke with writer/producer/director Alicia Slimmer about the filmmaker journey from random thought to available on everybody’s iPhone.
Do you recall the moment this film popped into your mind? Did you see it fully formed, or was it a gradual process?
I wrote Creedmoria while pregnant for the first time and the thought of being a mother made me think a lot about my mother and growing up in Queens. Looking back on it now, I see the movie as a metaphor of how I needed to cut some ties, if you will, so that I could be the mother I wanted to be. I had to redefine the role for myself. And the movie is basically a coming-of-age story where Stef Dawson’s character, Candy, has to break free of the tie that binds her to her mother, so she can grow and figure out who she is and do it her way.
Did you have the entire process of funding to distribution charted out, or did you wing it?
I had one failed Kickstarter campaign and then one successful Indiegogo that helped raise money for production. I found Fiscal Sponsorship through IFP and that gave a great incentive to anyone who wanted to pitch in some money to the project. It took me a good year after we wrapped to raise more money for post, and then a considerable more to raise for music licensing. I have scraped together everything we needed from the get-go and I still am! Just this past year, I’ve had to come up with a plan to market the movie. It feels like it never ends.
Was it a very formal, structured production or did you do some guerilla filmmaking?
Our production was extremely organized and scheduled over 30 days. The only time we guerrilla’d the shoot was when we were in one location that we weren’t cleared for and scrambled like mad to get the shots we wanted. It was a bit ballsy because we actually did three setups for scenes, but the clock was ticking, and we did get busted and asked to leave. Luckily by then, it was in the can.
Last time we spoke, you mentioned something about maxing out the credit cards. Tell us about the challenges of funding an indie film.
The biggest challenge, really, was to figure out how to make this movie for nothing. Figure out what things could we get for free. I had a line producer early on draw up a 1.1-million-dollar budget. Most of the money went to locations, picture cars and a crew of 40. I wouldn’t have a movie if I had to find that kind of dough, so I found locations and picture cars for free. I begged and borrowed like mad. I charmed the owner of one location with cannoli’s. I went to car meet ups on Long Island to cast the picture cars. And when it came to my crew, we went pretty skeletal. One person for every department and that was it.
You assembled an amazing cast for this film. How did you go about that?
I think the picture gods just loved me because I seriously don’t know how I got to be so lucky.
Stef Dawson’s manager in Australia saw the ad I placed in Backstage and Stef sent in a self-taped audition that blew us away. My friend, Roxanne Day, was helping me cast the movie and she sent me Stef’s audition and said, “This is our Candy.” Stef was in costume, makeup, and she walked and talked the part of Candy. It was unbelievable. Stef is a director’s dream. She’s fierce and generous and all around uber talented.
Rachel de Benedet, who plays the mother, comes from Broadway and she auditioned for us early on. I had known Rachel a bit socially, through our mutual friend, Evy Drew, who did Hair and Makeup on Creedmoria. Rachel is just a brave, committed actor and there’s no role she can’t play. She’s all in. I’ve never met a more serious actor.
Ray Abruzzo, who plays the dad, was a friend of the family. Asking him to take on the role of Ernest was nerve-racking for me because Ray is a big deal and has had an amazingly long career in TV, film, and theater. I felt like I was asking him a favor, but I’m so glad I got over my fear and asked him because he’s the perfect Ernest. In fact, he was like the warm provider on set to all the newbies and kids. He’s incredibly generous and funny as hell. We had the best time making the movie and it’s always a treat to hang out with him.
Billy, the psycho boyfriend, is played by the crazy, talented Steve Cavanaugh. He’s one of those rare instinctual actors that comes up with amazing ideas. His focus on set is unparalleled, except for all the actors I just named so far! I’m psyched to see what he does next.
James Kelley, who plays the troubled brother Danny, sent in an amazing audition. I probably worked with him more on his character than anyone else because he was so inquisitive and wanted to get every detail right, down to growing his hair long and dirty. He’s like a Daniel Day Lewis, the way he disappears into his character.
Ryan Weldon, as Sean, was perfect. He came in to audition and he was immediately perfect for the role. His inventiveness, along with Stef’s, helped create the magic and chemistry that is so visible on the screen.
You worked the festival circuit, winning awards along the way. Did you ever get discouraged? Any advice on how to navigate this process?
I was discouraged fresh out of the gate because the first festival I applied to was Sundance. I had a great response from one of the programmers early on who was psyched to see Creedmoria. When I got the rejection, I felt devastated. I really didn’t see the trajectory past that and felt like I was completely in the dark as to what to do next.
Once I allowed for a new plan to come through and opened myself up to the possibilities that were waiting for the movie, miracles happened. Opening at Cinequest turned out to be the greatest thing ever. We won their top prize of Best Feature Comedy Film. Entertainment Weekly gave us a giant shout-out. I met amazing people and all of a sudden, other festivals were inviting us to theirs, waving the application fees, having our movie open for them, putting up my cast and all. I mean, I feel incredibly grateful for that rejection. It made all the difference in where we went and somehow, I know, this is how it was always meant to be.
Tell us about getting your distribution deal? Was it a long haul? Did you use a sales agent?
I’ve got great sales reps with Francisco Productions. They partnered with me early on and have always been ginormous champions of Creedmoria. The long haul of distribution is the game is always changing. Amazon just switched up its service deals recently for the first time in a while. A platform may be hot one day and not the next. And there are so many platforms and routes for self-distribution.
You’re working on a series with Deborah Goodwin, Justine to a Fault, a series about a filmmaker with an emotional and professional crisis. More autobiographical about you and/or Deborah?
I’m working on a couple of series right now. I am developing a dark, period limited TV series. It explores another mother/daughter relationship but one that realizes my deepest fears about child abduction.
Justine to a Fault is a bit more autobiographical for Deborah. Deborah and I share very similar backgrounds, coming up by way of the theater and finding our way to directing movies through similar channels. Much of the family dynamic draws from her experience. I like to think I bring the madcap humor. But Deborah is quite hilarious, herself, and it’s been a magical partnership.
Creedmoria was an amazing accomplishment for a first-time filmmaker (or any filmmaker for that matter.) Any advice for other people who look up from their pancakes one morning and say, “I think I’ll make a movie.”?
Thank you, Leo, you’re very kind. First, I’d say, put the fork down and move away from the pancakes. Filmmaking is a demanding job, on the body, mind and spirit so if you want to make a movie, start training for it now. So much is required of you, on the set, in the moment, that it’s best to have a clear plan of action and clear head every day.
Visualizing your end result is key. If you want to make a move, dream about it. Make it your last thought before you go to bed and then wake up and start planning. I see so many young people have tremendous success by going to film school. I envy their community and alumni associations that help foster them past graduation. Film school wasn’t my route, but I have found my own communities through NYWIFT and Film Fatales. The sisterhood of filmmakers I’ve joined has had a tremendous impact on me. Surround yourself with people who do their jobs extremely well. Don’t wait for permission or a million-dollar budget. Just do it. And then, pay it forward as soon as you can.
Creedmoria is available on iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. You can watch the trailer, below.
Photos courtesy of Creedmoria unless otherwise noted.