We had the honor of interviewing “Because We’re Family” co-directors Christina Nyhart and Angela Stern.
What are the key responsibilities of a co-directors during pre-production? (Christine Nyhart)
Finalize the budget and locking the shooting script. Angela and I along with our producers Alyssa Roehrenbeck and Tyler Meridith sat down with the script prior to shooting until we locked it and felt ready to roll. Selecting the right cast members. We had casting director, Doug Haley, to help us with this. Securing the locations for the film. We still feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon the family home in Eastmoreland, Oregon. It was the perfect setting. Meet with our crew and discuss our vision. We were in the right hands with our Direcdtor of Photography, Eric Macey, and the team that he and Alyssa helped us assemble. Our crew had faith in them which made our job a lot easier.
What are your strengths as a co-director? (Angela Stern)
Co Directing is very different than being the lone wolf in charge. It’s a tricky thing to match opinions and have them blend into one cohesive vision. For Christine and me, the collaboration came very naturally. We are long time friends and have worked together on stage many, many times. Our bond is familial even though we are very different people. Our differences turned out to be our biggest assets. Oh yeah, we argued. A lot. But it was those arguments that gave way to the best possible decisions. Christine is detailed in her approach, very methodical. I am quite the opposite. I tend to think very far out of the box and love taking risks. Put those energies together and the pendulum naturally finds its happy medium.
How do you select a script and location? (Angela Stern)
The script for “Because We’re Family” wasn’t as much selected as it was written for our goals. I had been developing the script for quite a while and because we had tested the script on stage from Los Angeles to New York to Edinburgh, we knew the story had value. We always look for a script to be relatable but entirely unique as well. Location was an easy decision. We knew right away that Portland, Oregon had the look that we wanted, with the grayish weather, the local charm of the community and the architecture. Christine grew up in Portland and when I visited for the first time, I was convinced that the city’s vibe fit this film’s family very well.
What is the most common problem you face as a director? (Christine Nyhart)
Schedule limitations based on budget is a common problem and one we encountered. We were a small production so we had to shoot many pages in a day which means a constant race against the clock. Adding to that, one of our locations fell out last minute. We had to scramble to figure out a new location which set us back and cost more money. Time equals money. And lastly, weather, weather and weather! Always a challenge on a production. Especially with the rain in Oregon.
What inspires the projects you create and/or are a part of? (Angela Stern)
My inspirations have always come directly from my life. I am drawn to stories that are character driven, dialogue that is unique, stories that can come alive on a screen with not only vibrant visuals, but with real relationships between actors.
Tell us more about what brought you to this career path and why others should choose this career too? (Christine Nyhart)
I was inspired by an alumni from my college that came to speak about worked in production in Los Angeles. Her name was Kim Pendergast. I knew then that I wanted to be a film major and work in entertainment. I guess I’m not the 9 to 5 type. And the idea of being in an industry surrounded by creative people sounded appealing to me. I’m also a visual person so… need I say more?
How did you break into film directing? What advice do you have to give others that want to break into the industry? (Angela Stern)
I have directed theater for many years. I adore the process of taking something from the page to the stage. I always knew I wanted to be behind the camera, but the break came from taking a huge risk. Christine and I had originally intended on hiring a director but after careful consideration we realized that we had an amazing opportunity in front of us: to direct the project we believed in so much, our way. The best advice I can give to anyone is to never let fear define you. If someone isn’t opening a door for you, open one for yourself, and then invite others to walk through with you. Be grateful for each challenge because that is where you learn. And most importantly, film is a collaborative art. It takes a solid team to bring any vision to life. Surround yourself with people who care about the art and who want to grow and create with you.
Any specific tips for aspiring female filmmakers? (Angela Stern)
This is a fantastic time for women in film. Embrace that! No matter what your age, gender, orientation, race is, you have a voice that should be heard. There are opportunities that women never had before. Take smaller projects if they come along and refine your craft, find your voice. Create your own content as much as you can. Spend time shooting things for fun, even on your iPhone, so you keep the joyful spirit of creating alive in you. Remember that this is a business but like all business, a calculated risk is often a good thing. Do not let any rejection get you down. You will have many, many rejections along the way. Never give up.
Where did the idea for the film BECAUSE WE’RE FAMILY come from? (Angela Stern)
“Because We’re Family” was inspired by the sudden loss of my beloved mother in 2014. Christine lost her mother shortly after I did and our shared grief was comforted by our mutually inappropriate sense of humor. As my mom always said, “if you can’t laugh about it, you can’t cry about it”. I had to give a voice to that grief in order to process it. These characters, while fictional, are all inspired by the people that I know. The story is an extension of some of those life altering moments that we all experience.
Did COVID affected the production? (Christine Nyhart)
COVID did not affect the production. Well, not until the very end. We were close to wrapping the film in February 2020 when half our crew got sick. We didn’t know about COVID then so we kept filming. It’s a miracle we made it through. COVID then slowed the post-production process down. Our editor was based in Portland and being by his side during the editing process became nearly Impossible. It slowed things down substantially.
The film is about a dysfunctional family dealing with a death. Do you have a special or crazy memory you’d like to share about your family? (Christine Nyhart)
My mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer a week before the sale of her house closed in Dallas, Texas. We had to move her into a Holiday Inn and she was very ill. Four of my siblings, including me, were in that suite… there was a lot of fighting, crying, and laughing. It was an intense and emotional time.
Was there anything different or special that happened during the filming/ on set? (Christine Nyhart)
While shooting the Thanksgiving scene C. Thomas Howell’s character serves pie. We did many, many takes of that scene (as it’s set around a table)and we needed more pies and more whipped cream than you could ever imagine. We had Production Assistants racing all around town in search of pumpkin pies. And our Production Coordinator, Hannah Powers, made a miracle amount of whipping cream on the fly. In the same scene, we needed a cooked turkey but we hadn’t cooked the turkey. Alyssa and our make up artist, Jessie Hafer, came up with an insane idea. Jessie airbrushed the frozen turkey and it looked amazing! Who would have thunk?
How does it feel having the film premiere at Dances With Films? (Angela Stern)
Absolutely thrilling. We are silly with excitement and full of immense gratitude. The team at DWF is top notch. Each and every one of them is deeply devoted to celebrating independent film. They have created a festival that is wholly dedicated to filmmakers from every genre all over the world. We are so lucky to be a part of the 25th annual DWF Festival.
Where can people get tickets/see the film?