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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Katie Locke O'Brien for 'Have It All' (2018) at 8th Annual NVFF

Katie Locke O'Brien Wins Best Narrative Short for 'Have it All' (2018) at NVFF

Katie Locke O'Brien is an award winning actress, writer, director and producer for stage, TV and film. Known for her appearances in TV series 'Community' (2009), 'Justified' (2010) and 'I'm Dying Up Here' (2017), she has also worked on numerous independent feature films and written, directed and produced three short films. Her latest oeuvre 'Have It All' (2018) has recently swept up the Jury Award for Best Narrative Short at the 8th annual Napa Valley Film Festival.
I interviewed Katie after shortly after her award win in Napa. Here is what she had to say:
Did you make the film in the same situation as you capture in the film, while watching your baby?

KATIE: In this particular case, the story of how this film came to be is as gratifying and as fun for me as the finished product is. I've been an actress, a writer, and a director for years now, but last year, I also became a mom. Suddenly, everything was different, and I had to find a new creative process that fit with this new day-to-day. My husband also got a new and amazing job that we found out about on my due date. So out of nowhere, our great plan for working from home and co-parenting was upended, and he was working 28 hours a day out of the house, and I was home with our infant son. It was magical...and it was also a major transition. I had no idea how to be a mom and also still be a creative person. I decided I needed to just rip off the proverbial band-aid and make something. I was playing with some other ideas, but then I had this very particular morning, and I realized that maybe the way to make a film with a baby...was to make a film with my baby.  

KATIE CONT'D: My baby came with me to all the pre-production meetings, sitting on my lap while I discussed locations and gear. During the shoot, I had an intentionally small, nimble crew, and I remember giving this huge speech about how we were working with a baby, and so we were going to set up shots, but if we brought my son out and he wasn't in a good place to do what we needed, we'd just set up for something else. No complaining, we had to be flexible, I didn't want to hear guff, etc etc. I definitely overcompensated, because then of course, my son came out, gave us like 9 brilliant expressions all in one take, and then I was like, "Oh. Um. Cut?" At five months old, he made me look like the amateur. :) It was great. And I was also the primary parent during post as well, so I'd get very small, concentrated windows of time to go sit with my editor. In the end, the limitations were a blessing. Because the time I had to work was so tight, there was no space for second-guessing or trying out options. I had to go with my gut, I knew exactly what it was, I'd get that and move to the next part. And as a result, I think I ended up with what is the purest expression of my sensibility and voice that I've ever made.


How long did it take you to make the film and was it a difficult process?

KATIE: Once this idea came to me, I saw the story and the style and all the beats in my head immediately. I wrote the script in one sitting (and just did some small revisions after that), and the whole thing took three weeks all in, from the initial idea to finishing post. It was, overall, relatively easy (if you keep in mind that all low-budget filmmaking is extremely difficult to pull off as a starting point). I think this was only possible because of the people around me. I believe wholeheartedly that the entire game of filmmaking is to be a good collector of people. You go from project to project, they go well or less well, but each time, you find one or two people whose talent stands out, and whose sensibility and personality mesh with yours. And you bring them to your next project until eventually, you're working with all of your favorite people, and they all intrinsically understand what you're going for. That was definitely the case on Have It All. The core people around me understand me so well at this point, because we've worked together so often, and that's what made the process so smooth and so fun. 


Do you think women put the pressure on themselves to 'have it all' as much as the expectation?

KATIE: Of course. Although I don't think you can separate the two. By the time you're building your career or becoming a mother, society and culture have so ingrained that expectation in you--that you should accomplish everything and never let the cracks show--that it feels like it's coming from your self, from deep within. It is absolutely a personal need, but without that pressure and that message from the time girls are young, it wouldn't feel like a "natural" desire. What we need most is conversation. There is so much about motherhood and the very real challenges it presents that I never even thought to consider until I was in the middle of it. If we can make it okay to talk about what it actually takes to succeed on any of these fronts, that will help. You can have a career, you can have children, you can even have both if you want them. But you can't have them while also being perfectly on time to everything, dropping no balls, and maintaining a flawless blowout. It would help a lot if we were honest about the insanity of that ideal. Maybe it's also helpful to say that in making this film, what was important to me was to make sure that the expectation was the enemy. The men in that meeting were just trying to be supportive of me as a new mom--they just don't understand the actual challenges, but they were trying to be helpful. And the baby was just being a good baby. It's that the expectation is nuts, and the attempt to be mom and professional simultaneously is a Sisyphean task. Luckily, that also makes it great for comedy. 


After working on shorts, will you move into directing features? 

KATIE: I would love to direct features. To me, it's all about what story interests me, and then what format that story deserves. Right now I'm starting the transition into episodic TV, but I will always want to be making my own things as well. And I'm feeling pretty inspired these days, so you're probably right. Time to make a feature! 


You work on TV shows as well. Do you prefer TV or film? And will you continue to act or go more into directing? Or both?

KATIE: I am just about to direct my first episode of TV. This year, in addition to the festival run I've had with Have It All, I also was accepted into the inaugural class of NBC's Female Forward Initiative. They're actively tackling the pipeline problem and getting more women behind the camera, and it's amazing. Ten of us were selected and each paired with a different show. And I'm now working on AP Bio, learning a ton and having a blast. I don't yet have a preference--TV directing and film directing rely on different parts of the skill set and have totally different dynamics. I hope I get to have the kind of career where I can go back and forth. I began as an actress, and then moved into writing, and I only began directing in the last few years. I will always continue acting, because it's the creative outlet that's closest to my heart. I've been acting since childhood, and I love it. I don't think I could take it out of my life and be fully happy. But directing is what I find most challenging and most satisfying, so that's where I'm currently focused. I think I just keep answering that I want to have it all. I swear that's not on purpose.


You recently attended NVFF and won an award. How was the experience of the festival and winning?

KATIE: I cannot say enough about how incredible the experience of NVFF was. Putting aside the fact that it's a five-day foodie-wine fever dream full of the most incredible winemakers and chefs from the region keeping you fat and happy, I've rarely attended a festival that is so well-run and so full of inspiring films and artists. Just within our block of narrative shorts, we developed great new friendships that will hopefully lead to great collaborations. And yes! Have It All won the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short. It was a total shock. I'm already so happy just to find out after screenings how much the film has resonated with audience members. But for the craft that went into it to be recognized--especially against so many other incredibly impressive films--was the best feeling. 


Will the film go to more festivals and will you try to get distribution on it?

KATIE: I hope so! We have a couple more festivals this year, and then a final batch of festival submissions left that haven't announced yet. After that, I would absolutely love to find a way to get distribution or have the film live somewhere where audiences can keep finding it. The best part of this process is how many women find me after screenings or write to me after watching it and thank me for depicting something that feels exactly like their life. If this film can make women, parents, anyone struggling against impossible expectations feel seen, then I'd love for it to reach everyone it can.


Can you tell us what you will be working on next?

KATIE: Next up is my episode of AP Bio, and so I'm focused right now on making that as great as I can. After that, I'll be joining the DGA, and so 2019 is going to be about pursuing new directing opportunities. (Again, seriously, Female Forward, the folks at NBC, and the community of female directors have been so supportive. It's incredible.) I also have a couple of writing projects in development. And my son is now a total sponge, so I'll be continuing to teach him both useful vocabulary and also funny noises and jokes.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


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