Following our glowing review of Clarrisa Jacobson’s Lunch Ladies, we caught up with this gifted writer and producer to find out more.
Congratulations on your fantastic film, how did you come up with the idea?
Thank you! I had an incredible team that all worked together to create something we are all proud of and we are enjoying this amazing ride.
I came up with the idea for Lunch Ladies several years ago when I was having dinner with Donna Pieroni who plays the lead in the film. She and I had been in a play many years ago (I started as an actress before I realized my passion was writing). Donna told me that when she would audition, she was always up against one particular woman. They both liked one another a lot, but it sucked because there was always only one role available, so it was always competitive. Further, there aren’t a lot of roles for middle-aged women, which makes it more competitive. Donna told me she wished someone would write a movie about middle-aged Lunch Ladies – then they could both get roles. (Incidentally, the role went to Mary Manofsky who was fantastic against Donna, and we never met or auditioned the other woman Donna referred to or anyone else for that matter. Mary was perfect.)
Then (SPOILER ALERT) Sweeney Todd is my favorite musical so I’m not sure how it came to me, but I thought it would be funny to do a spoof on it with the Lunch Ladies. In fact Donna may have been IN Sweeney Todd at the time (she played Mrs. Lovett). The idea for the Johnny Depp obsession came to me because so many people have done spoofs on Sweeney Todd. I thought, why not wink at it? Why not admit I was stealing the idea? Why not make it about these two crazy Lunch Ladies obsessed with Johnny Depp who get the idea to do what they do because he was IN Sweeney Todd?
You have been in over 60 festivals around the world and won many awards, what would you say is your most memorable moment so far?
Gosh, there are so many – like the first time we won which was at Nightmares Fest – which blew our minds and was so joyful – a fantastic festival by the way. But I think the most memorable moment and I know JM Logan, the director would agree, was when we went to Clermont-Ferrand in France.
It was INCREDIBLE. We had never experienced a festival with an audience that loved short film so much. It was their 40th year and they programmed us in the Retrospective – Tous La Table (about food lol). The film played every single day including the opening ceremony which had 1500 people attend. Every screening was sold out with people lined up around the block. Every film had the same experience – all blocks being sold out. This festival draws 160k people and they are serious about short film.
Our first screening JM Logan and I almost couldn’t get into see the film! That’s how many people were waiting. I’ll never forget that look that we gave each other, which was that if nothing else happens with Lunch Ladies, we could die happy – Clermont-Ferrand was one of the single best moments of my life. Further the programmers were incredibly kind and amazing to us. Not only programming us in the opening ceremony but they also took us to lunch and have since taken us to another festival. It was so classy and the films we screened with were amazing which made us very happy.
We adore your cast, what made you choose the lead actresses in particular?
Thank you! We adore them too!
As mentioned, Donna was a friend of mine/ I knew her work well and I wrote the part for her. When I met JM, the director, and brought him on board, I told him I didn’t know who would play the other Lunch Lady. JM said that Mary Manofsky had been in another movie of his he had done – The Garage Sale – and that he thought she would be perfect. She was. Donna is amazing, she gets a ton of props, but equally amazing is Mary because Mary plays it all under and supports her.
The Cheerleader was played by Daisy Kershaw who had just turned 16 and got her work permit the day before. Shayna Weber who is a producer on the film and in Twin Bridges Writing Salon with me, knew her since she was a little girl. She suggested Daisy and once again we held no auditions, Daisy was perfect.
Lastly, Chris Fickley who plays Principal Grossfetig, is a fantastic writer who also is in Twin Bridges. I love his voice and knew he did a lot of acting. I cast him without auditioning anyone else. I knew he would be right. All the extras who were students I found on Back Stage and they were real actors and fantastic, many of them this was their first film, their ages being 15-18.
The horror community, in particular, is really behind your film. Not being a classic horror, what do you think has them hooked?
The horror community loves a good spoof and they also have a fantastic sense of humor. They love the gore, which some non-horror audiences have a problem with, and they love laughing at it because it’s ridiculous. So, I think that’s why they like it. I also think the film is first and foremost a story about underdogs. Traditionally I feel that people in the horror community like myself, often march to a different drum. They’re a little bit underdog themselves. We’re weird. Like the Lunch Ladies J. So, I think the Lunch Ladies resonate with them. They also see more film than anyone and support it to the hilt. They don’t just see horror they see everything so the people I’ve met in the horror community have a very smart background in film – they get the little homages and funny little things that others may not that don’t see so much film.
We read you wrote a feature of this film and we would love to see it, do you know when it might be in the works?
I wrote the feature first then made this as a proof-of-concept to get interest in the feature! So, that is my goal. I am hoping to have someone out there who sees the incredible following we have and amazing potential to come on board and finance/produce it.
Did you come across any difficulty in making this film and if so, how did you overcome it?
It was the hardest thing I ever did, but it was the best thing I ever did.
The first major difficulty was I had a different director on board before JM. The old director kept me hanging for almost a year saying he wanted to do it and I was patient and waited for him because I thought he was the right person, he wasn’t. He bailed on me, telling me no one wanted to see two female leads, no one would score it, no professional actors would do it etc. I remember sitting in my car sobbing and I called my mentor, Joe Bratcher who runs Twin Bridges, and my bestie, Shayna Weber and they both told me none of that was true, to pull my big girl pants on and I would find the right director. So for weeks, I sent out emails to film schools, to everyone I knew and LinkedIn. I interviewed several really good people, but when I was recommended JM Logan by two people on LinkedIn that didn’t know one another, it was like the universe had sent him. We met and I knew instantly he was the right person. Plus, he loved Lunch Ladies and wanted to do it, we work the same way – lots of prep – and we had the same vision for the piece. I think there was maybe twice we disagreed on anything during the whole shoot.
Two other very difficult things that happened were finding the school – I called over 100 schools, it was so hard to find a school that would let us film or that I could afford. JM ultimately had a friend who suggested I call a Catholic school they knew and that worked! Lastly we had a set designer who quit one week before and also took the person I hired with him. He didn’t even suggest a replacement and had done no work. I was freaking out because the film has a very intensive set design. Then I started meditating on it and asking people. Desmond who was our amazing costume designer gave me a list of recommendations of people he knew and I just kept calling and calling – it was such short notice many people on the lists had jobs already. Finally, Alicia and Ray Ho came on board recommended by someone else on the list. And what they did in one week was astounding.
How long was the shoot?
We shot two weekends (four days) total. But we prepped for MONTHS.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Find a class you trust that can help you make a great script. No one, unless they are a genius, writes a great script without feedback. Also, be patient. It takes a long time to write a good script. The problems I see are people get excited to film and they don’t want to do the work to really make a good script – it’s hard work. The script is your map. If it’s not on the page it won’t be on the screen. And it takes a long time to get a good map. So get the class and work the script, push your ego aside, take the notes and make it awesome BEFORE you film.
How can we keep in touch with your work?
I’m listed on IMDb and I also have the lunchladiesmovie.com website which updates all the places the film plays and all the reviews. Thanks for the awesome review and interview!