A week ago I wrote about a movie entitled Blame as I basically man handled you all to the nearest online rental confectionary in order to get you to watch this great movie. Which, to be clear, I am still trying, to get you, to do. And in that overview, I regaled you with the fact that the movie was created by a teenaged wunderkind named Quinn, Shephard. And if you doubt her credentials, she created the story for Blame, she wrote the screenplay for Blame, she directed the movie, she acted in said movie, and she produced the movie. Oh, and she accidentally ended up bankrolling the movie as well. If that isn’t an interesting enough individual for you, I’m sorry, but if you don’t mind, please head that way —-> and place your head in your oven for us all please. Thank you.
So, after discovering the movie Blame, and realizing that such a person existed in the world, I was determined to get her to talk to me. Thankfully, she was totally gracious with her time, and was extraordinarily easy to convince. (Thankfully, or else I would have had to resort to all manner of ugliness… it was better for all of us.) And so Quinn and I chatted via phone the other day, and I wanted to bring that conversation to you. I’ve only edited it for clarity, oh, and to remove the overly gaudy fawning on my part. But otherwise it’s exactly the same as it went down.
Oh, and by the way, there are spoilers for the movie peppered throughout. You’d probably take more away from the interview if you watched the movie first. Anyway, here you go… Quinn Shephard everyone.
TAYLOR: One of the threads that interested me the most was your relationship with your mom. I just knew that your mother had to be deeply embedded in the industry somehow. So I looked her up, and I realized that she had been an actress on “Days of Our Lives”? Is that true?
QUINN: Yeah, yeah. She was on several different soaps when she was younger.
TAYLOR: Okay. Maybe even an SNL showing or two, yeah, anyway. So she was apparently your own personal training boot camp.
QUINN: That’s right.
TAYLOR: Maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you collaborated together? I know that she was seminal in your writing and re-writing of the screenplay since you started it at the age of 15. But could you tell us more about how she taught you? What she did to train you in this movie making experience you now have?
QUINN: You know, my mom had history in the industry, but she had never produced a movie before. But she is very very smart, she is very much like me. I hated school and didn’t go on to college. I have always done better outside the classroom. My mom did a ton of research before we started making the movie. She had done a ton of reading, like “From Producer to Producer”, web articles, and she memorized everything she could. And I was like wow!
And I think a lot of it was just supporting me in the ways that weren’t exactly my strengths being Right brained. So she supported me being helping me with casting and bringing me these amazing suggestions I never would have thought of on my own. And obviously, she’s been around a few more years than I have! So she was able to support me in ways that allowed me to focus on the things that I was naturally good at. She was just a naturally good counter balance. Negotiating contracts, paperwork, negotiations. Just all the things that really helped me focus on the things I needed to do to make the movie happen.
TAYLOR: If I could just jump in at this point, because I read a story that just after starting the shoot your funding went away. Is that true? Maybe you could talk about what happened there?
QUINN: Yes, we had a financier attached for a number of months to the film, a director I had worked with in the past. We signed an agreement, we hired a lawyer, got it all written up in the paperwork, and then he just ghosted us. He had sort of told us that there was a lawyer hold up on the shoot, something about a term in the contract, which was why money hadn’t been wired yet. And he then just dropped off the face of the earth and never talked to us again.
TAYLOR: Ohhhh NOooo.
QUINN: Yeah, we never got an apology or any sort of an explanation, but he was fully aware that we were in production, shooting, with all of our cast and crew. He just totally screwed up, and we never received an apology, or any sign of humanity, anything.
TAYLOR: Oh that is horrible.
Quinn: And we were in this situation where we had absolutely no cash flow. My mother and I had already been putting a little bit of our own money to fund the film, but you know, there we were. We have weekly payroll, you have daily expenses, and you know, we were looking at over 100,000 dollars on the table. And we were like, what are we going to do here?
QUINN: And so, I emptied my bank accounts – and the only reason I had access to that kind of money was because I had done one year in a series and my parents had been really good with the money that I had made during that time, and so that really everything I had ever made while acting, all so that I could go to college. And so we emptied all of that, and put it into the film. And my Dad, took on a second job…
QUINN: Yes, a second job so that he could loan the film some extra money. And my parents put some of their money into it as well because we literally couldn’t have afforded to film otherwise. And so we just took this MASSIVE risk, and I really don’t advise everyone doing what we did, but it was one of those things, we were mid-shoot. What else could we have done?
TAYLOR: I’ve seen this photo of you sitting at this amazing camera rig and literally, and I’m – I spent tons of time talking to creatives like yourself and you know, how they shoot on an iPhone or digital and I literally get goosebumps seeing you at that rig. Like, it makes sense for a teenager to make a movie but not make a movie with a setup like that. That was incredible.
QUINN: Yeah, well I was very adamant that I only wanted to shoot on the Alexa. That I didn’t want to shoot on the red, and I was like, it’s not even an option. Some are really big fan of the Alexa. Honestly, on a Panavision camera with Panavised lenses, actually we shot on two which was insane. It was actually a really amazing gift from Panavision, there was a female rep. from Panavision, who really wanted to help support young women in film. And so they gave up the cameras probably for like 80% of what normally they would charge. And then threw in an additional camera for us for free. Which really helped because then we could run two cameras at the same time.
TAYLOR: Wow. Yeah, 17 days, is that what I read? Is that how long it took?
QUINN: It was 19, with a bit of prep before where we walked through all the shots of the film ahead of time and I took photos actually on an iPhone with an app where you can like pick what lenses you’re on. That was mainly because there was no time in a schedule that tight.
TAYLOR: No, no, no. None at all. Yeah. About the high school, how did you get the location?
QUINN: That was my old high school.
TAYLOR: Oh, was it? Did you just call a favor with the principal or something?
QUINN: Yeah, I literally did. I went there and then I basically just said, “I’d like to make a film here. If you guys will be opened to it.” And the principal is super, super supportive. But then we had to get all the official approvals and signatures processed before we could start.
QUINN: So I prepared a presentation, and my mom and I went in and explained why they should let me shoot there, and especially if they are the kind of school that wants people to go and follow their dreams. It’s like then, this is a great way to do it.
TAYLOR: This is perfect. Right?
QUINN: And they were very supportive and allowed us to shoot there. They even had a janitorial staff help us clean up after the shoot. They were a really helpful. And Idon’t think they were aware of the scale. Maybe I should have warned them! But I think like the day that we rolled up was like two rig trucks and like 40 people in the crew and then extras and I just started setting up, and took over half the school. It was like, Oh! But it was summer, so luckily you know, there weren’t really was much going on there.
TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah. Great. One of the more mature decisions that you made, was to not button absolutely everything up and to leave a lot of your story open. But I have questions about characters and situations and what happened before or after you know, the film itself. So Abigail, what happened to her the year before the movie started? But did something happen?
QUINN: Yeah. Yeah. I mean from my perspective I think one of thes funny thing to me is that sometimes people watched the film and they think that the rumors of Abigail are 100% true. I think it’s funny because in my mind, they’re like the person who tell the person who tell the person who tell the person got back to that other person. So I think in my mind you know, she obviously has a habit of watching other characters and drawing from them too much. Diving too far into the character. She feels like she has a lot of personalities within herself and she’s trying to figure out which one is the real her. And then she had this sort of nervous breakdown, that she’s just not able to handle everything going on.
So she has a sort of nervous breakdown that only a few people know about, and then it gets blown out of proportion. Was it a crazy moment, did she try to kill herself? And the idea of this mystery and enigmatic quality start to surround her. And that was a choice not to reveal to the audience what happened. And it was because Abigail was supposedly the protagonist of the story at the beginning and then there’s a reversal of really who’s story this is really about.
As the film actually goes on we start to transition to really understanding more about Melissa then about Abigail. And for me it was always keeping her a little bit of an arm length from the audience.
QUINN: And that was the – it was one of the audience actually being in the shoes of the people –
TAYLOR: Yeah, yeah. It was – the characters were interesting. I think in one interview you mentioned Heather’s and Virgin suicides along with a couple of others that inspired you. Heather’s has always been one of my favorites. Anyway, so another loose thread that I wanted to ask about was with the Chris Messina’s character, Jeremy Woods, Mr. Woods and his girlfriend. She’s sort of there, friends with benefits, she’s kind on the peripheral kind of involved pushing him to change, to commit, to go and he’s not there. Maybe you could talk a little bit about those two?
QUINN: Yeah. Yeah, I mean I think, you know, he’s going to need to start acting like a real adult, that his relationship is going to need some level of progression and some level of commitment. Like, are they going to move in together or they’re going to try to get married. He’s getting to this age where you don’t really have the option anymore being like an adult child and kind of doing that casual dating thing. But they’re right on that edge. Like in my mind she had the key of his apartment and she’s there a lot but they don’t live together yet. She’s like, I’m ready to be an adult and she is having a little bit of a crisis where she’s like not sure if he’s done with his youth yet.
Mr. Woods, I think is a character who had a lot of passion for college, and others wonder did he succeed in following his dreams and maybe wasn’t really ambitious enough. And I think going back to this class and meeting Abigail, and in a lot of ways he’s trying to relive college you know, but he’s trying to go back to being in a show, getting attention from this girl and he’s suddenly caught up in this feeling like suddenly, he’s young and living his younger years over again. And suddenly he realizes he has to choose. But of course that comes with a lot of caveats. If he chooses one way, he’s also hurting a young girl who is also trying to choose as well. And he’s realizing that neither choice is perfect.
TAYLOR: To that end, it’s been years since I read The Crucible... But we see obvious parallels between Mr. Woods and proctor, right? The brilliance of The Crucible is that oh no! There are witches, and we have trials, and there are accusations being thrown this way and that, but underneath it all, Proctor is basically stressed that his affair with Abigail will be discovered. Right? And he is definitely going to try and cover that up. And I see very, very clear echoes or here to Proctor and Mr. Woods.
QUINN: Yeah, a little bit in the sense that Melissa is really into Abigail. And there is this unintentional thing, and I think obviously Abigail and Jeremy are the ones that have the program. So Melissa is the one, we reveal, who’s been betrayed and that she’s going to get revenge.
It’s so much about having a great role like this character, she’s important. I was only 15 when I played Abigail in a legitimate production. And because I was so young, I had a different perspective on her from playing her in Blame. I think I understood it better this time around, and more deeply. And for me it was about the passion and that obsession in that character, the heartbreaks. Her sort of wanting love and wanting to be taken seriously. Which was a problem back in the 1600’s as well as now obviously. And this movie was just about using these two characters to explore that need to be validated, and equal treatment, and that desire to be taken seriously.
You know, Melissa and Abigail couldn’t be more different on the outside but on the inside, they grew up very similarly. On the outside, when they go to school and they see their friends they are one thing, and then another person on the inside when they’re at home alone. And this you know, they’re really focusing on being validated and respected and loved.
TAYLOR: To that end, I think the only parent that really played a role, and wisely was I think his name was Tate Donovan, right?
QUINN: Yes, Tate Donovan, yes.
TAYLOR: Melissa’s dad. Obviously he is a step dad that we don’t get a whole lot from throughout the film, and then all the pieces fly together at the end. It was a really great reveal in the way was unfolded for the viewer…
QUINN: Thank you.
TAYLOR: – it was really, really well-played. So, I don’t think there is a question mark in that but I just want to say kudos to you and the light-handed approach that you took. We learned all together as an audience that no, Mr. Woods didn’t hit me. Yes, he hit me. Oh, we’re not talking about Mr. Woods anymore, right? That sort of “Oh, holy crap” this is what’s happening now. Yeah, love the movie and that ending especially, really fantastic. How has Blame been received?
QUINN: It’s doing pretty solidly, you know, in fact I just looked up our Rottentomatoes score, and the audience score and the critics score are exactly the same, which is 81%, which is very funny. It was received pretty well. It’s one of those films that is received well, but when it’s not, it feels like it’s a personal thing. We don’t usually get neutral reviews, maybe one or two. But generally most people believe that it captures youth, and it captures girls, and they understand what the film is saying. Or, I am not a sexist person, but we have never been given a negative review from a woman. But there were a few that were viciously mean. The film is not a moral tale, and it is a morally ambiguous story, and it forces the audience to come to a determination on their own, and I think that those reviews come from a place where the viewer wants the movie to make a moral stand. Even when we did test screenings there were only a couple of people that really felt uncomfortable with the film. Almost personally attacked, they did not want to decide how they felt about the situation. And I sort of wonder when people hate the film if it touches a nerve with them?
And some reviews act as if many of the choices in the film were accidents? You know? For instance, leaving out Abigail’s backstory? Obviously not something that I forgot to put in. And Melissa stealing the show at the end, and being a bigger protagonist, was definitely something that we intended all along. I think if the viewer knows a little too much about the fact that a 20 year old girl directed it, that they will give the film a harder time for that.
TAYLOR: I have to say that as an independent film fan I’m the opposite. I give films that try to do something different more of a pass. It is so rare. And the fact that you wrote it as a teenager. I’m going to give you a pass, right? It’s like you know what? You’re going after it, which is cool. But I am not giving you a pass when I say this movie, in its ambiguity, and it’s loose threads makes it all the better.
QUINN: Thank you.
TAYLOR: Well, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us all.
So much fun chatting with creatives like Quinn. Pretty fantastic. And everyone, if you can’t get enough of Quinn, which, I couldn’t, you should check out this interview she did heading into the Tribeca Film Festival. Just amazing stuff.