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Interview With Actor, Producer, Writer Michael Tennant on Debut Film "Pretty Problems" (2022)

Interview With Actor, Producer, Writer Michael Tennant on Debut Film "Pretty Problems" (2022)

Actor, Producer, Writer Michael Tennant has been traveling the international film festival circuit since the SXSW 2022 Film Festival world premiere of his award-winning debut feature film “Pretty Problems” (2022). Directed by Kestrin Pantera and produced by Katya Alexander, Tennant wrote, starred in and co-produced the film; it was the recipient of the SXSW Film Festival Audience Award and was picked up for distribution by IFC Films. It then went on to win the Grand Jury prize at the 25th annual Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF). 

Tennant began his entertainment career after receiving a B.F.A. in Acting & Directing from the University of Arizona. He then moved to NYC to work on stage and to work on his requisite New York Actor episode of “Law and Order”. He later left New York and moved to Los Angeles where he booked leads in multiple TV pilots, as well as guest starring roles for ABC, NBC, Nickelodeon, and The CW. Michael has a deep love for indie film and has earned his hyphenates working as an Actor/Producer/Writer on productions for STX, IFC Films, Amazon, Neon, and Netflix.

 

In a recent interview with Michael Tennant about his film, here is what he had to say:

Can you tell us about your path to become a filmmaker? What has been your biggest challenge/s and your biggest reward/s thus far?

MICHAEL: This is inherently a tough business. A lot of people call it a lottery ticket career, the thing being YOU are the lottery ticket. It takes so many breaks and so much magic to get anything, let alone a feature film, made. The mistake I made, and that I think a lot of filmmakers also make, is they think of this career as linear. They think, “If I do ABC, then I will get to XYZ, etcetera…”. This is true in most professions, and in a rare number of cases, true in entertainment. I am someone who spent a lot of time following the rules of how you’re supposed to make it, and by doing so, I slowed down my progress. It was only when I took a step back and saw that there is no formula, and that “The Cavalry” isn’t coming, that I was able to do the work I wanted to do. And that is the reward- getting to do work that I am passionate about.

 

You are an actor, writer, and producer. Do you believe it is necessary to have multiple talents to be a filmmaker these days?

MICHAEL: YES. You must get comfortable doing things you don’t want to do and asking for help. When this business throws challenges at you the options are to get curious and figure it out, or to just quit. I can tell you from experience quitting is easier but getting curious makes you not just a better artist, but a better human.

 

Can you tell us about some of your previous films and how you moved from acting to writing and producing?

MICHAEL: I got lucky. I’ll never stop considering myself an actor but producing fell into my lap. I was working a few days as an actor on a big budget film and my very famous co-star in a scene was being cold to me. One of the producers on set and I hit it off. I think he felt bad for me. We talked about indie movies and our shared love of the genre. He hired me to work in development (reading scripts, giving notes) at his company. This is a dream side gig for an actor. It’s a steady paycheck, you get health insurance and you’re still being creative. But after a while, I started getting very critical. I could feel myself looking for holes in things, what was wrong with them, versus the more proactive thought of “What is good about this? Why does this work?”. I also became really disenchanted with the way indie movies were getting made. The how and the why weren’t about the stories, but about people wanting to pull fees from movies. I started writing “Pretty Problems” after I was at SXSW in 2018 and saw Mark Duplass give a speech. The thesis of that speech was “The Cavalry isn’t coming” meaning, no one is going to hand you the career or the story you want. If you don’t like the way things are getting done, you need to do it on your own.

 

Do you have a film that you are most proud of?

MICHAEL: This is it! “Pretty Problems” is my baby, and I couldn’t be prouder of it or of the village of people that helped me get it made. Sonoma International Film Festival (SIFF) being a huge part of getting this out into the world included.

 

Can you tell us about your film "Pretty Problems" without revealing too much about it?

MICHAEL: It’s a story about a married couple who’ve hit the ceiling of what their life is, and they’re faced with the question: “Is this it?”. When the wife, Lindsay, meets a wealthy woman and is invited to Healdsburg, she thinks that being around this affluence will be just the thing she needs to kickstart her and her husband’s life. To put it bluntly, this is a “The grass isn’t always greener” comedy about marriage, wealth, privilege, and self-discovery.

 

Your film "Pretty Problems" is very character driven and a bit of a dark look on American problems which are mainly first world problems. Can you tell us about the inspiration you had to write this film?

MICHAEL: It’s a love letter to my ex-wife. Unfortunately, she didn’t “read” it, but I’ve been blown away with the response from the people who did. I believe when we get into relationships, whether they be romantic, professional, or otherwise, we are getting involved because of potential. You see who the person COULD be, who you COULD be with that person, and what you COULD do together. Rather than being honest and saying, “I’m not perfect, you’re not perfect, let’s see what we can do together.” This movie is about just that. I was feeling the cracks in my own marriage starting to show and I was speaking to a lot of my friends and hearing the same concerns echoed back to me. As much as this is a story about very first world problems, it’s also about the very universal problem of “I don’t feel like I’m enough.” At the end of the day, no one else can make you happy. They can make you feel happy, but that’s a feeling and feelings aren’t facts. You are the only person who can fix you, and it’s your job to do that work if you REALLY want to be happy.

 

You got distribution. Congrats! Can you tell us about that and how people can see it?

MICHAEL: THANK YOU! We were thrilled that IFC saw the movie at SXSW in the spring and snapped us up out of the festival. They’re an amazing platform and are so supportive of indie TV and Film. “Pretty Problems” will have a theatrical premiere on August 26th, 2022, and will also be available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, etc. But it will also be available to anyone who has an AMC plus membership the same day it hits theaters for free.

 

Can you tell us about your premiere at SXSW and SIFF and how have audience reactions been? 

MICHAEL: Again, I have been blown away. We were terrified in Austin because the festival put us in a massive theater, and we didn’t think we would fill it. The programmers at SXSW were so kind to us and fought for us. We filled that theater and then had lines around the block for every other showing. We had a similar experience at SIFF. We knew this little movie set in Sonoma would play well there, but we couldn’t believe the number of people that showed up for our film. We had so many people outside of our screening that not only did we give up our own seats so more people could see the film, but I ended up outside giving my email to people who couldn’t get in so I could send them the movie once it’s released for free! The audience reaction has been so heartwarming to all of us. People keep telling me they feel “seen” by it. As the writer and one of the leads, I can’t begin to express how much that means to me. I know this is a very 1% movie on paper, but it’s about relationships and self-worth. That people are picking up on those themes inspires me to keep going.

 

Can you tell us about your experience at SIFF 2022?

MICHAEL: Four of the best days of my life. The festival and town were so kind to us. The community in Sonoma is unbeatable. Everyone was so welcoming and supportive. We felt like family, which is rare for the festival circuit. Steve Shor, Kevin McNeely, and the entire crew know how to make you feel at home and they throw a hell of a party. I made a lot of new friends, ate amazing food, and drank exquisite wine. I can’t wait to come back if they’ll have me.

 

Where would you like to see yourself as a filmmaker in the next 5-10 years?

MICHAEL: My whole thing is, I want to make movies that therapists will like. I want to tell stories that make you laugh a lot, make you cry a little, and leave you walking out of them feeling seen, heard, and appreciated. I hope to keep doing this, hopefully on a larger scale, but if I’m fortunate enough to keep getting to make movies with people I love and getting to go to amazing places like Sonoma to share them I will be a very fortunate man.

 

Interview With Actor, Producer, Writer Michael Tennant on Debut Film "Pretty Problems" (2022)

Interview With Actor, Producer, Writer Michael Tennant on Debut Film "Pretty Problems" (2022)

 

 

Interview by Vanessa McMahon

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