An Interview With Angel Katherine Taormina
Angel Katherine Taormina is a New York born filmmaker who has been working in entertainment from the age of ten. She studied with NYFA and with mentors and professionals from various other Arts schools. She wrote, directed, and starred in her first film, a children's educational video called "Angel's World", in 2003. Her 2008 psychological drama short film "Guilt" was selected at the San Francisco Short Film Festival. She was also an extra in the films "The Siege" (1998) and "Spider-Man 2" (2004). Angel worked in everything from comedy to drama to live production to documentary and pursued her unique perspectives on life through her storytelling, her directorial style, and her performance in her works. She won an award for the work she did on a documentary, and garnered acclaim for assisting groups in both film and in live production; though her first love was always the narrative story. She poured heart and soul into everything she did until it became clear that the medium of short film alone could no longer contain her own desires. We interviewed her regarding her feature film, The Saints of the Rue Scribe.
How did you start making films and what was the first film project you worked on?
The first film I was a part of was the Denzel Washington thriller “The Siege” in 1998. I was an uncredited extra. The girl in the pink jacket. I’m in the upper right-hand corner of the screen for maybe two or three seconds when Tony Shalhoub says the line “you three make a lovely couple”. Denzel was my favorite actor. I was over the moon to see myself in his film. After I first saw it in theatres, I went out to dinner, autographed a bunch of napkins, and handed them out to people at the diner and told them to hold on to them because I was “a movie star”. I was eight years old. I had a lot of excited feelings that I had yet to process. But I did know one thing- I liked the feeling of being in a different world on the screen and I wanted to create and participate in worlds of my own that I could show to everybody. I’d been writing stories and directing them and acting in them since I was four. But my first time concretely directing something, writing it, and putting out there was when I was thirteen. It was an educational video. I spent a lot of time trying to please others, only to realize that it bred insincerity and showed forth in lack of creativity and freedom. Creative freedom and love for what you do are essential because the audience will not believe a lie. “Saints” was actually the first time I felt full creative freedom to see my vision through without any outside forces impeding it. I forged ahead with my truth and my story and I got the desired result of what I was looking for. I took the leap of faith and I won my desired goal. I am happy. I haven’t looked back since.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a filmmaker and why?
I love all genres of films. I’d have to say, though, that the mystery genre fascinates me the most because it is the most difficult genre in which to please people. In mysteries, everyone has their opinion- and they are supposed to. But the outcome is always such a jolt- such a firm and committed statement- that the individual person will either love it or hate it. There is no middle ground. I love a genre that can force an emotion and a reaction out of a person by its very nature and existence. Mystery is supposed to do that. And it does do that. It has a “mysterious” way of making you feel what you feel- whyever you feel it. When done well, it is the most psychologically satisfying genre. And it is truly all about individual perception- the basis of movie-going in a nutshell!
What is the most challenging aspect of being an independent filmmaker in the film industry?
Taking the first step. You have your work. You have your style. You have yourself. Then you have to take that first step of going out there and saying “here I am”. You put it all together. You make your film. Then you realize that you’re the one who has to be the extrovert and go introduce that film to the world. It’s like being the new kid in a school or extracurricular club and having to muster the courage to stand up before the entire class and say “hi, I’m Angel Katherine Taormina and this is who I am and what I’m all about. Now, who wants to be my friend?” And then there’s that awkward moment of waiting, where you find yourself wishing you were a turtle so that you could hide in your shell. But you stand there. You wait. You remain confident. A moment passes. Then another. And, suddenly, the magic happens- you’ve reached out and, all of a sudden, you are rewarded. One by one, the people on the other side of the room reach back. They accept you. They are like you- because they are unique, too. They want to be your friend, too. And then- voila! There is no more awkward distance and you are all together in the club or classroom. The entertainment industry is a family of creative people who work with and support other creative people, all while retaining their own uniqueness, because no two creatives are exactly alike. And that is what makes it fun. You take that first step. You make the film. You make the introduction. You might be a little bit nervous. But you know this is where you belong and you want it. And you’re proven right. You take that first step, and the payoff is worth it. Now, you can keep doing more of what you love, always in new and exciting ways.
How difficult is it to fund indie films?
I have a thing I always say, and it seems applicable here. “We made ‘Saints’ on a shoestring and a prayer but without the shoestring.” We started with nothing. We had to earn every moment, every shot, every idea, every crew member, every cast member. Every step of the process was a new challenge that we had to overcome. By the time we “won the right” to make the film- we had made the film. It was that crafty- that creative. Every moment of ourselves relied entirely on ourselves. No plan B. No second wave. Everything we had to do, we had to do it, find a way to do it, and get it done. On the surface, that might sound like a terrifying nightmare. But, in all sincerity, it was the most creatively freeing experience of my life. So much danger brought an unparalleled amount of opportunity- things that, if you had a “safety net” you might never even try, precisely because it would be too easy. I like the freedom of flight. I like the idea of already knowing it’s not safe- so why not just pull out all the stops and go as big as you can. If you don’t limit yourself, you are truly limitless. And that is what I felt every single day on the set of “Saints”- free as a bird. For example, when I was directing the penultimate confrontation scene between Marie and Renaud, my exact direction to Danny was “I am the human representation of everything that has ever gone wrong in your life. Kill me.” And my exact direction to Joel- my cameraman- was “follow me.” Joel had filmed a lot of sports where he had to keep up with people moving spontaneously and on the fly. That’s why I hired him- knowing that I had quite a few of these heavily-involved, constantly-moving, one-continuous-shot, scenes in mind, and that he’d be able to nail them. He did. We did. One-take. It’s all about freedom and freedom is all about trust. I called “action” and Danny unleashed Renaud’s rage like a bull. I got what I wanted. I got everything I knew would happen plus more- that is to say- “plus the magic”. I loved it! Yes, that is me enduring his full wrath. No stunt double. I was spitting pebbles out of my mouth in the shower later on as I was changing for the fence scene. I loved it- both as an actress and as a director. As an actress because I was able to drive the scene to the absolute peak and Marie was able to do some surprisingly heroic things that would have never gotten across if any of it had been “softer”. I was able to show something interior on the exterior and was thus able to have what I needed to show audiences who she was trusting and who was powerfully steering the scenes from this moment on to her unexpected, strange, and delightful victory. It created the path I needed to take the film all the way. When I rewrote the climax the night before we shot it, I knew even more that I was playing into the hand of what the point of this film had truly revealed itself to be. I went with the flow and listened to the truth of the art. And we stuck the landing- stuck the landing of a trick far more impossible than the trick we had started out thinking we were doing. We went big. We pulled out all the stops. We took the leap of faith. And we got our gold- the film revealing itself and being exactly as it was meant to be. You know it when you see it. And, before that, you feel it. That is the beauty of the process, of the journey- of filmmaking itself. Play to, and trust, everybody’s strengths. That is rule number one of collaboration- with crew and with cast. As far as cast- as long as they know who they are, the instinct will always be right, so follow through with it. But, it is imperative- you have to know. You’ll get what you expect. If you expect and prepare for and perfectly execute perfection in whatever form that particular perfection takes- well- then perfection you shall get.
Please name three of your most favorite directors. How have they been influential in your work?
Only three?! There are so many amazing directors out there- I apologize to anyone I leave out. First and foremost, I must begin with Charlie Chaplin and Orson Welles. Not because of their sheer control of every aspect- directing, writing, acting, producing, editing, etc.- of their films. But, rather, because of their confidence in following their visions. Creative control means nothing unless you are confidently following your vision and truly doing something you love. That is what those two mind-blowing geniuses taught me. I was watching an Instagram Live with Rian Johnson a couple of days- or maybe a week or so- ago. He was talking about filmmaking and he was answering a question- I believe it was about “how to know what film to make and how do you know if it’s true to you?”. Anyway, he said something like “the film you’d want to go out on a weekend and make with your friends when you’re not working- that’s the film you should be making.” I admire Rian Johnson as a writer and director and love his fearless creativity. So, when I heard him espouse exactly what I myself happen to believe about filmmaking- and exactly what I did with “Saints”- I was literally squealing in affirmation in front of my iPhone. I am glad no one was filming me or hearing me. I cannot complete this answer without mentioning James Cameron. “Titanic” was the first film that made me want to make films. I saw him create his own world with limitless possibilities and I knew that film was the best medium in which to make that happen in the biggest ways possible- for me to create and share my own stories and my own worlds with anyone and everyone in the biggest ways possible. There is always ever-growing and ever-new opportunity in this beautiful art form. Scorsese. Tarantino. Zemeckis. Unique visionaries. Each in their own way. Each forged their own path. Each proved that anything is possible. Each pushed the envelope to the point where you realize that there is no envelope- just more and more creativity. I love them all. I think that’s six.
What inspired you to work on The Saints of the Rue Scribe and how did the film go into production?
A deep love for the story that inspired me “forever”- throughout the seven-year journey to make and complete the film. I wrote the novel in 2012 and wrote the screenplay in 2013- with a few character-casting-specific additions in 2018. Principle photography began in September of 2018 and the final shot of the film was completed on February 14th, 2020. The “Companion” book about making “Saints” is really a scrapbook of every step of the way as I took each step in this beautiful journey. I was in it for the sheer joy and love of it every step of the way. I am very much an actor’s director- as I have been told by Josh, Johnny, Jackson, Grayson, the rest of the cast, and many crew members and other people I’ve worked with in my career thus far. Maybe it’s because I’m an actor that I get it- you need to feel safe or you won’t go. And when you do go, you need to trust and feel that it will be right. That takes a lot. That is all about collaborative trust and confidence. And it is worth every moment. I love it. I love freedom, myself but, more importantly, I love helping an actor to find their freedom being their character. I love it when we do things we never thought we could do. And then we do more. There is nothing but love in that. And the feeling of “flight”.
How did you find the cast and the crew of the film? Tell us more about the production of the film and working on the set of the film to create this feature.
We went through thousands of people. There are unique stories for so many of them- including me. I did audition for the role of Marie. I wrote and directed it, but I would not have played the role had I not proven to be right for it. My audition involved me, alone in the woods with a camera and dressed in a ball gown, running a piece from “Hamlet and Ophelie” and doing Marie’s monologue from the attack scene. Mind you, the walking path is right there. Passersby thought I was crazy- even when they saw the camera. And, to top it all off, when I came out of the woods, the Google Maps car passed by and filmed me on the street near the woods wearing a ball gown and lugging a camera. It was fun! Grayson- an actor, model, cosplayer, pilot, EMT, and lifeguard- was actually the last person we cast- two weeks before principle photography commenced. Danny- a Shakespearean-trained writer and actor- answered a casting call we’d put out in New York, and we found out that he lived only a few blocks from my house. Christina- my photographer and one of my production managers on the performance scenes- is a highly talented young lady who I had actually known when she was a baby and then reconnected with her when she was an older teenager interested in the behind-the-scenes interworkings of stage and screen. I gave her an opportunity. She nailed it- and then went far beyond expectations. I watched her successfully wrangle twenty actors- some of whom were twice her age. As someone who started young myself, I love to be able to give opportunities. And it’s even better when they take those opportunities and soar to new heights. I found Alissa through the local theatre, Josh through Alissa, and Jackson through Josh. Other cast and crew were found through friends of actors and from actors from previous auditions. Others were gems that appeared out of nowhere. And everyone had something fresh and exciting to bring to the table. The music- Amelia Davis is magical. Her music ties the climax together and says everything you need to know about Joseph and Marie Charpentier. Another three people I need to thank- and I love you all and am sorry if I left anything out- are people who I never knew in person. They were from Marie’s time. She would have called them Charlie, Camille, and Juley. We, today, know them as Charles Gounod, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Jules Massenet. Because they were friends who worked so closely together in those days, I wanted to honor them by “letting them score my film”. The score of the film is comprised of strategically selected works by the three composers, from start to finish, chronicling in time the highs and lows and dangers and triumphs of the story of Joseph and Marie Charpentier. Thanks boys, you never missed a beat! The cast and crew showed up every day and gave it their all. It was a family of trust. An environment of trust. A nurturing ground for each of us to bring out the very best in each other one of us. There was never a dull moment and we were always laughing. There were a lot of jokes about pizza. It was home. That’s how the set of a film is supposed to feel- you’re home. And there is nothing you’d rather be doing than what you’re doing right now. And you’re all unique creatives who truly love what you are doing. United by the one goal to share this story with the world.
What do you recommend to other filmmakers regarding the distribution of independent feature films?
Make the film you love. Be honest. Don’t lie. The audience will know. Truth is rewarded in that it is the only thing that can last. A lie will be found out. So will the truth. And, if you are true to yourself, you will always be doing more. Always be doing you. And it will be good because it is free- because it is real. Do from the heart.
What is your next film project and what are you currently working on?
I made a short film called “Everything” this year, during the time when I was editing “Saints”. I had the idea, I liked it, I got inspired, I wrote it, I filmed it, and I played the role of Maggie- who, wonderfully, is worlds away from Marie. It was fun on so many levels. I got to work with some lovely, talented, and dedicated actors. I was my own crew and I worked me to the bone- and quickly. It was a reminder of the good old days of guerilla-style action- getting into the nitty-gritty of every corner of the work. And it was a reminder that, as a director, I am far nicer to my other actors than I am to myself. I think that’s because I know me, I know how I am, and I know that I like to just fling myself into the ocean and say “swim”- and that I thrive that way. I’ve always been a self-motivator. There’s nothing like it. But it also made me look forward to what that leads to. The thing I look forward to most in my next film is that indescribably beautiful feeling of being shoulder-to-shoulder, cluttered together on a set with hundreds of cast and crew members and moving parts and intricacies, invading each other’s breathing spaces until we can all tell what each other had for lunch, all so we can gather round and collaborate on ideas- spending hours and days and weeks to rehearse and come up with the perfect moments where everything goes right and makes a feature film the best feature film it can be. That “family” feeling again. It’s exhilarating. The very lifeblood of filmmaking. And I’m looking forward to having it on the biggest scale I’ll have had to date. I love this new project already. My next film project that I am currently working on is an adaptation of my 2019 novel, “The Anniversary.” Technically, there was a soft release in September of 2019 even though the “official” release was Saint Valentine’s Day 2020. It is the story of Jace Hudson and Valentina Vey- two people who see nothing in themselves and everything in each other and who would have committed suicide years ago were it not for their love for one another- and for the fact that they both found someone just as bad-off as they are. They understand each other due to a very deep form of “survivor’s guilt”. By occupation, they are the biggest stars and power couple in Hollywood. Personally, they are trainwrecks- collateral damage of a certain world event twenty years earlier that had devastating effects on many people. Currently working for the biggest director in the world- Martina Jameson- they are forced to reconnect with reality so that they don’t lose what made their talent special in the first place. In her effort to help them, Martina unknowingly (though it is ultimately for the better) puts them in a position that makes the past rear its ugly head- right as the twentieth anniversary of the tragedy approaches and right in the place where it happened. For them, letting themselves feel again is to realize not just that they are part of a bigger whole but also that what is being given uniquely to them could be an opportunity to help- and an opportunity for healing. The Jace character and the Valentina character carry the film; according to the screenplay I’ve adapted. They have to create a strong and believable team. The actress in me, the director in me, and the writer in me, all look forward to this film with myriad flashes of ideas and opportunities. You never know what magic can happen, so always keep your eyes opened. Expect it. Anticipate it. Breathe it in and out. Relish in it always. It’s a part of you. Love it. I want a Jace who can take the rollercoaster of the character and take it all the way. All in. All out. Better than you ever knew you could be. I want that perfect collaboration. I want to take this film all the way. I want people to feel so deeply in the scenes that all they want to do is look away but find themselves unable to look away precisely because they feel the need to more closely examine something that makes them so deeply feel. I want us all to- well- fly- so that we can take audiences around the world with us on our journey. That is what I love about the feeling of the journey of filmmaking- it is transcendent.
Why do you make films?
I love it. I love to share my stories with the world. I love the Arts. And this Art Form is the greatest way to do what I do. And there are infinite possibilities in doing it.