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2013, 77m, comedy
Ada's world looks sunny, but her life is turning upside down. When a vote to legalize marijuana passes, she finds her unusual and illegal livelihood suddenly threatened. Her brother urges her to quit her alternative lifestyle and go get a "real" job. Her alcoholic roommate can't pay the bills. With both girls strapped for cash, one of Ada's customers tells her about a money-making opportunity "modeling"... with her feet. Is she just the girl with the drugs to everyone? What happens if the demand for the girl with the drugs becomes obsolete? Welcome to Ada's quarter-life crisis.
Produced by: Lydia Hyslop
Cast: Tarah DeSpain, Lydia Hyslop, Chad Hartigan, Har Mar Superstar, Kristin Slaysman, Shaughn Buchholz, Tupac Zapata, Jim Hayes, Will Schulz
10 questions with Burnout director, Lydia Hyslop at the half-way mark.
Sunday, January 31st, 2016
1This film is hilarious! What was the initial seed that made you want to make this film? Thank you! I wanted to make this film for a few reasons. I had never written a feature-length screenplay; I didn't know if I could, honestly. I had been writing short, unrelated scenes for a while, though, and had been workshopping them with a group of friends. People were responding to what I was writing, so I kept going. I started looking for a through line to connect the scenes and see if they might work as a greater entity. The main characters, Ada and Margot, emerged, as did the Prop 19 plot. That's when it started gelling. I really just pulled from my own life and the things that filtered in on a day to day basis, living in LA. Prop 19 was in the media nonstop, and I started imagining how my pot dealer must feel. Was he scared? What must it be like to be him? I used those ideas and wrote the pot dealer as a girl, because, well... I'm a girl, and I wanted to employ strong female characters and perspectives. I thought it would be a big triumph if I were able to finish the script, and I always had the intention of making the film myself once I did. It felt like I had something to prove to myself and to the world.
2How much of this film was scripted vs. improvised on set? The majority of this film was actually scripted. I love writing dialog, and the constant challenge is making it seem believable and natural. I will say that there were occasions when I'd rewrite some of the scenes the night before we'd shoot them because of the way the shoot was going. Like if something better emerged during rehearsal or while shooting a different scene, I'd decide how to incorporate that information. There's never a dull moment during production! The cool thing about actors is they usually give you ideas and bring things to the table that inform the scene in ways you didn't anticipate. So although we worked from the script, we were open to keeping bits of improv and going off book if it helped the scene and the film as a whole.
3You and the lead actress (Tarah DeSpain) have such great chemistry together. How do you know each other and was it as much fun working together as it looked? Tarah is one of my dearest friends. We met when we both moved to LA, coincidentally around the same time, 10 years ago. I had already written the script, and I knew I wanted to act in the film, but I didn't think I wanted to be the lead. It seemed too daunting to direct myself in the lead role, especially since I'd never directed a feature before. I remember we were sitting in her parents' kitchen in New Orleans, and it suddenly hit me that she'd be perfect for Ada. She's acted most of her life, and she fit the aesthetic I envisioned Ada having. We already had the inherent trust factor which was super important to me. I needed that built-in freedom to be able to explore and play with things in rehearsal. And vice versa: I wanted her to trust me on this one, that even though it was my first feature, we were going to make something good and worthwhile. From that moment, we just kind of blindly walked into the fire! There were moments on set when that trust was key when the scenes called for certain emotions. Making this film definitely brought us even closer as friends, and we have something real to show for it.
4You also cast a very talented director (Chad Hartigan) and singer (Har Mar Superstar). How did meet these guys and what was it like working with them? Chad and I met in North Carolina when we were in college. I got cast in a lot of student films at UNCSA, where Chad studied film. That's also where Tarah studied acting and how she met our DP/her husband, Sean McElwee. I lived with Chad and Sean when I first moved to LA, and that's when I met Tarah. It all goes back to those salad days in NC... Chad was part of that group of friends with whom I was workshopping scenes, and I think he asked me to write something for him. I always felt like Chad was a brotherly-type person in my life, so that's how I wrote him. He totally rose to the occasion and let me direct him, whereas he's usually the director. It was fun switching roles and seeing him act. He and Tarah have the same sibling-type chemistry, and I think they had a lot of fun working together. I coudn't be happier with their on-screen dynamic. I met Har Mar years ago in LA. He randomly walked into my restaurant job during the time when I was casting the Archie role. No one I'd read was doing what I envisioned, and when I saw Har Mar, I just had to ask him if he'd consider. And he said yes! He was fearless and 100% committed on set, and he totally killed it.
5Who could roll the fattest joint on set? Hands down: Tupac. He plays Ada's neighbor with the dog. Tupac IS Echo Park, born and raised. It was super cool having him in the movie because he helped us get lots of locations and consistently surprised me with his natural acting ability. And Tupac and I have enjoyed many a fat joint together... jussayin'! Come to think of it, I'll give runner up of fat joint rolling to our sound team. They became bros with Tupac before the shoot was over.
6How much research did you do on this whole foot modeling thing? Well... I'm not sure research is the right word. As with many things in this film, I just stole stuff from my own life and slightly embellished. I WAS A FOOKER, OK?! Only once... essentially what you see in the film but not as flashy or funny. One of my first jobs in LA was a Craigslist ad for "Part-time Office Help in a Film Studio." Great, I thought... except the film studio was primarily for porn, and on the weekends it was a totally illegal swingers' club. I just thought this was "normal" because LA was a wild and crazy place where you just have to hustle to chase your dreams, whatever that hustling might entail. One night, the swinger club owner told me and the office girls about "Foot Night" and how it was super safe, easy money, nothing below the belt, and there were security guards who monitored everything. I've always thought of myself as an "I'll try anything once" kinda girl, so I did. And that is the lurid tale of how I once whored my feet for $300. It was truly bizarre. But who am I to judge? Everyone's got their thing, and for some people, it's feet. Maybe I should become a fooker again to fund my next movie!
7What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Or maybe Gone With The Wind. Or Steel Magnolias. I don't know... I like things that are over the top. I think that's probably why I studied acting; I'm drawn to the dramatic. I didn't become interested in film until I acted in a student film in college, directed by Aaron Katz (2002, on VHS; sadly, my VCR ate it). It opened my eyes to a whole different medium. I liked it better than the plays my acting department was putting on. That's how I got the film bug. And then post-college, I saw my friends making movies and getting to put their stamp on them, getting their voices out there because who's going to stop them? It was inspiring and made me want to get my voice and viewpoint out there, too. Plus, I was frustrated with the Hollywood grind of never being blonde enough or skinny enough or waiting around for callbacks and never booking those elusive commercials. So I just said, fuck it. I love to act, I love to write, I'm going to make something that shows what I can do. And I love quick, deadpan humor that doesn't dwell on itself, so all those Woody Allen movies my parents rented when we were kids probably informed my sensibilities.
8What was the most difficult scene to shoot and why? That's tough, since our micro-budget and the LA summer heat afforded us nothing but challenges no matter what the scene, but I always tried to stay positive and just trust that we'd make it work somehow. Two scenes do come to mind though: the porch scene where Margot convinces Ada to fook, and the date scene at the restaurant. The porch scene comes later in the film, but it was the first scene we shot. That in itself was a bit surreal. It was like, ok, here we are. We're all just getting in the groove. Dive in, let's go! We had 13 takes of that one scene. I remember not feeling 100% confident juggling all the aspects of production. I wasn't happy with my performance, and I wasn't sure the chemistry was working with me and Tarah in that moment. Just lots of insecurities. But by the 13th take, we had something we could work with, and things only got smoother. By the end, we were down to 3-4 takes per shot, for the most part. The date scene was hard because I wanted to hit these specific beats in the performance, but it meant really long takes. The crew kept warning me the takes were 8 minutes long. I knew it was driving everyone crazy, but hey... we got the performance!
9Comedy is such a difficult thing. Do you shape it in the editing room, do you have to capture it on set? How do you know when the scene will work comically? It evolved throughout the process. Some of the comedy was written in the script, but by no means was all of it. I cannot take credit for it all. Sometimes, the actors, like Shaughn Buchholz who plays Vince, or Kristin Slaysman who plays the Allergy Girl, would bring comedic gold to their performance. You can't plan for that, but when it happens, it's magic. And a lot of the comedy was enhanced in the edit. Editor Michelle Witten worked miracles in my opinion. There were moments where I wanted to give up or I didn't believe that things were funny or were working, and she persisted, pushing me to stick with it and allowing me to see what worked better if we just extended that beat a little longer or if we scrapped that scene entirely because it simply wasn't fueling the story. Honestly, I didn't know my movie was a comedy until we started playing festivals. I considered it a comedy and a drama because there were funny moments but also emotional, real stuff that I took seriously. But when we premiered, it was apparent that the film was funny. I think I was too close to the project, as they say...
10What's next? I'm trying to find funding for my next feature. It's called Sheila Got Bangs, and it's what I like to call a "deep-fried Southern gothic musical." It's inspired by my Southern roots, my love for the album Trio by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt, and fucked up families and their emotional intricacies. I hope we can shoot it this year. The script is ready, and we have an incredible opportunity to shoot in Victoria, Texas. RxSM, a festival that screened Burnout, liked it so much that they wanted to help us make another film! That is one of the best things that's come of our festival run. Now we just need funding so we can feed people and pay them to be our indentured servants. We plan to shoot on another micro-budget, but I'd really love slightly more than 20k, which was Burnout's insanely tiny budget. Ideally, 100k+, but if we have to, I think we can make it for 50k. Fingers crossed!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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