Cecily and Lydia at the Waypoint is the winner of the best first time fimmaker of the Chicago Indie Film Awards. The arthouse feature film is directed by Juliette Strangio. The film is written by Christina Shaver. We had the pleasure of speaking to both of them regarding their film.
Born under the southern hemisphere skies of Melbourne, Australia, Juliette Strangio has resided in Chicago, IL since 2016. She directs and produces narrative audio-visual projects, primarily film. Juliette received a bachelor’s degree in Film and Television Production at Swinburne University of Technology.
Christina Shaver a writer, producer and an actress. She wrote and produced Cecily and Lydia at the Waypoint. Her other credits in producing includes Dicky & Flo, Murder for Dummies, The Most Important Thing, Tabatha Jane Maxx.
It was our pleasure to interview both of them for Chicago Movie Magazine and speak further about Cecily and Lydia at the Waypoint.
What draws you to filmmaking and the cinematic language?
Juliette: I’m not sure movies necessarily change the world but we are endlessly consuming media. If enough of it inspires empathy and perspective then I think it can, in a way, help us grow. There is a Raymond Carver story I love that ends with a young woman trying to explain to her friends a strange experience she has one night with a stranger. She’s desperate to tell the story like she has to get it out of her. Everyone has stories like that and unfortunately the film industry is traditionally myopic in regards to which of those stories we let out. For me, filmmaking feels like such a natural form to express these personal experiences and our search for where we belong in the world.
Do you believe in film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?
Christina: If it weren’t for film school, we wouldn’t have made this film, so this question is a bit chicken-and-egg. We attended the Harold Ramis Film School at The Second City. They gave us very practical knowledge summed up like this: you’re going to run into problems; figure it out. Because our film school grew through The Second City, they taught us film from a seat-of-your-pants, improvisational point of view. You can have the tightest script and most thoughtful production plan put together, but something unpredictable is guaranteed to happen. How you deal with that adversity is as much a part of filmmaking than anything else. I’m grateful for that education. At the same time, film school didn’t teach us everything, especially when it comes to marketing and distribution. Each film has its own life and blossoms in its own way. It’s not one-size-fits all. Nothing can’t be figured out so if you’re tenacious and patient enough, you can figure it out. Helps to have a partner!
What makes cinema stand out more than the arts for you?
Juliette: For us, cinema is one of many fabulous ingredients in the scrumptious pie that is art. All art is powerful and if it weren’t for paintings and music and photography this film wouldn’t exist in a way that we love. What is very alluring about cinema specifically is that, like live theatre, it is able to incorporate the explosive work of multiple artists. In my opinion, our cinematographer, Amy Limpinyakul, can frame a shot as well as any photographer at MOMA, Melissa Laveaux’s song “Kouzen”, which features in our film, is as catchy as any radio top hit, our sound family at NoiseFloor created such an intricately woven soundscape of bugs and wind that only reminds me of Pippalotti Rist’s immersive video art - I could go on! The chemical reaction of all this collaboration is what is so delightful about getting to tell a story with other people. It’s so much fun and I am very grateful for it all!
Did you choose a certain directing style for making this film based on the script?
Juliette: We shot this in a narrow window of time - six and a half days to be specific. Amy and I prepped intensely, primarily looking at different photography and a lot of literature. We knew we had to get basic coverage but felt unafraid to mix it up with angles, blocking, dreaminess. Everyone was prepared for the shoot to be ephemeral and intuitive, but Amy was specifically attuned to this. One evening we were in a field filming fireflies talking about life for hours and a deer walked right past us. Bloody lovely. I also will forever be humbled by Amber and Calli’s dedication to this film. They were so positive and hardworking, always offering so much of themselves to each scene. We’d usually do extremely long takes of each scene and then at the end just throw ideas out and they go along with it incredibly well. I wish we could have filmed twice as long just to get to cover all the cool ideas they had. They’re also both incredible writers. Both have web series coming out soon which they both also act in and honestly I’m just honoured I got to work with them before they become way too successful for me!
How did you choose the cast and the crew of your film?
Juliette: Creating a safe and supportive work environment was imperative for us when we decided to produce Cecily and Lydia at the Waypoint. Both Christina and I have experience working on films that end up becoming wild, toxic places of work and our primary mission in being a part of the film industry is to do everything possible to curate a nurturing workplace for crew and cast. We have a fantastic network of film people in Chicago from which most of our crew originated, most of whom we know from film school and different jobs. They were one-of-a-kind -- the generosity of time, spirit and creativity from every single person was out of this world. We picked our heads of departments (Amy Limpinyakul, Chloe Caudillo, Katie Waters, Bethany Berg) with a lot of care, knowing any other crew they recommended would be equally kind, hardworking and compassionate individuals. We also reached out to a film professor at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, who allowed Christina to visit one of his classes and pitch the film to see if any graduates were interested in working with us. They ended up staffing our sound department and DIT, assisting the camera department and assisting the production.
How did you fund your film and what were some of the challenges of making this film?
Christina: Our funding came from a combination of sources including family and friends, very generous and steep discounts on our rentals, and deferrals. To be honest, Juliette and I set out to make a film in a low-stress environment. In terms of challenges, we certainly encountered them along the way, but they’re film challenges. They’re not life-and-death challenges. Every job has its challenges. There wasn’t any incredible obstacle ahead of us that we weren’t able to work through.
Do you consider yourself an indie filmmaker and what would most be the most difficult thing about being an independent artist? -
Christina: Yes, I consider myself an independent filmmaker. What I love about being an independent storyteller is the freedom to express untold stories from a unique point of view that are not designated by committee. If I had all the money in the world at my disposal, I’d be making a movie a month… and also fighting for world peace. Probably in reverse order. But money isn’t a problem unique to independent filmmakers, so it’s not anything different than what everybody else is going through.
Juliette: Money, money, money is the most...time-consuming....aspect of independent filmmaking. Juggling jobs to pay bills, feed your cat, pay your crew - it’s tough. Finding a small powerful network of like minded people will save you on this one. Perspective is also pretty important.
What is the distribution plan for your film?
Christina: Our first order of business is the film’s festival run. We’d like to see how it plays, which audiences gravitate toward it, which festivals like it. At the same time that we’re exhibiting at festivals, we are also collecting demographic information about people who like the film. Once we have a solid picture of who likes the movie, we’ll be able to determine whether or not working with a distributor or self-distribution makes more sense. Ultimately, Cecily and Lydia at the Waypoint will live online somewhere for the world to stream.
What is your cinematic goal in life and what would you like to achieve as a filmmaker?
Christina: I want to get to a point where I’m making one film a year. Some of them will suck. Some of them will be great. I honestly am less concerned about their critical reception, and more simply enjoy the process of finding story, finding collaborators, and finding the people who resonate with the film.
Juliette: Getting to make films with people who are kind, generous, respectful, imaginative and don’t perpetuate toxic work environments is my goal in life! We can always do better and be better. After every project Christina and I do a post-mortem and make a list of ways we can improve things for our cast and crew. Movies are fun and it is an honour to get to make them. No one should be working eighteen hour days or missing their children’s birthdays to make a movie.The film industry is ripe with issues of how people get treated and we are not about it. It would also be lovely to continue to support those who want help get their work made. There are so many people out there with truly extraordinary minds and it’d be nice to seek out and shine a spotlight on those individuals. If any crazy millionaires are out there - I know at least ten writers/directors who should get their films funded so let me know!!
What kind of impact would your film have in the world and who is your audience?
Christina: What is film anyway? It’s just a touchpoint for emotion. As we all float and bob through our earthly existence, it’s nice not to feel alone, to feel seen, to feel understood. I hope that by putting relatable stories out there, we all feel a little more connected, one person at a time.
Juliette: I second Christina. We don’t know who the audience is yet. We had ideas and after many screenings we’re realizing we were so very wrong and it’s hard to really know what will resonate with people. It’s really quite funny to think we thought we could know any of this for certain. I have no idea what impact the film will have, but hopefully people will enjoy it and see what is possible with a tiny budget and a team of wonderful artists.