Film Courage: Where did you grow up? What was life like at home?
Laura Lee Bahr: Utah and New Mexico. A lot of NOISE. To be heard, most of us developed pretty loud speaking voices. And we all sing and play the piano (to some degree. My piano skills are pretty meh). I have seven full siblings, and we all grew up together, so it was controlled chaos. Kind of like a film set.
Film Courage: Which of your parents do you resemble most?
Laura Lee Bahr: Both of them in different ways, I couldn’t say I was more like one or the other. Both of my parents are very kind, have sharp senses of humor, and are very verbal and musical people. They have very different tastes, though. My dad likes Hitchcock, classics and western movie like Shane & the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. My mom likes independent and foreign romantic movies (with happy endings). She has been really into Bollywood lately and loves Shah Rukh Khan (to know him is to love him). She wants me to write a movie for him because she is sure he will want to star in a movie I write. (“Just write it and see what happens!”). Anyway, they both have flaws I like to point out to them, but they’re both pretty much my favorite people in the world.
Film Courage: Were your parents supportive of a creative path?
Laura Lee Bahr: Yes, in so far as they could be. I am 6 of 8 kids that they had, and they really did everything they could to be supportive of the creativity of all their kids. For me, personally, they drove me all over to perform and my mom would often play the piano and help me put together performance pieces. (I sang all the time as a kid, at church, weddings, competitions, etc.). My dad taught me to type, and would often take me to his office and I would write there as he worked. My dad is a great photographer. My mother is a wonderful pianist. They always encouraged all of us kids to develop our gifts and talents.
Film Courage: At what age did books become an important part of your life?
Laura Lee Bahr: By age 5, I think, books were already my most favorite thing besides cats and my hamster. I read pretty much everything I could get my hands on as a kid. My favorite books I read as a kid: Bunnicula, The Little Princess, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Great Brain series, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and later (by the time I hit 6th grade) I started on romance and kind of trashy nov Reading was and is one of my absolutely favorite things to do.
Film Courage: What was your first written work as a child?
Laura Lee Bahr: I don’t know my first; I was writing poems and stories all the time, as soon as I could read and write I was writing stories and poems. My first COMPLETE novel (Well. Novella, really, now that I look back) was a story called Foundling about a puppy trying to find an acceptable owner. I think I was in 4th or 5th grade. How I labored over that book. And I have no idea where it is now. I wish I could find it.
Film Courage: Can you share the details of setting up a tiny office for yourself when you were age 6? Do you see any parallels with your current writing space?
Laura Lee Bahr: Currently I have the most luxurious writing space I’ve ever known. It is an actual ROOM. I have all my books, weird pictures, computer, and a few creepy dolls. My kitty Sage sleeps on a cushion near my feet. Prior to this, however, every single writing space of mine (i.e., not a shared computer in the kitchen) has been a closet (sometimes I have had to even compete with clothes for space). So… DEFINITELY. But let me just say… feng shui… a closet is better than nothing, but a real space makes me feel like a real writer.
Film Courage: When did you move to Los Angeles?
Laura Lee Bahr: January 1995. So at this point, I consider myself a native. It was a real culture shock in every way. Now I love it, but I definitely still recognize how much this place is like a mirage in the desert, a collective illusion all of us living here create to make real.
Laura Lee Bahr: I miss my actual home that I grew up in, in Utah, more than anything else. I dream about it still with regular frequency. It was this lovely home; it didn’t look it from the outside but it was huge on the inside with all these nooks and crannies and secret passageways. And it had a huge yard front and back that my parents landscaped. We had all these fruit trees, flowers, and space.
It was a place filled with kids, ugly carpets, and my family together as a unit. While moving to New Mexico (my parents got divorced and my mom and half of the siblings moved ) was a life changing experience, and New Mexico itself a place I would never want to have done without, but you don’t need to be some Freudian to see why I have recurring dreams that I am moving back into that house in Utah.
“Deadlines are my best friend. I abuse them horribly, but God how I need them. If I don’t have a deadline, I write when my fingers start itching and my brains starts sending word tsunamis. This averages out to every day, but it goes in big ole waves.”
Laura Lee Bahr, Writer/Director of BONED
Film Courage: You’ve mentioned that Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 is a favorite and much read book of yours. What chapter or passage is especially captivating for you?
Laura Lee Bahr: The main thing he gets me on are his endings. He really knows how to end a book and give you the sweetest sucker-punch so you’ll feel it for a while.
The ending of Slaughter-House Five, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and Sirens of Titan I think about all the time. I think they’re perfection. To snab the phrasing of Holden Caulfield (and yeah, I know I’m mixing my Salinger with my Vonnegut here. Saligut? Vonneger?) his endings just kill me.
So, I will labor over the endings of what I write more than almost anything else. I will take HOURS on three or four lines. I will play them in my head, I will say them aloud, I will make my sweetheart listen again and again and again. In BONED, actually, the savvy viewer will see that the last lines of the movie echo the first lines.
Film Courage: Where and when do you prefer to write?
Laura Lee Bahr: Ah, I rarely get me preference on time. Whenever I have to. Meaning, I am lucky enough to have deadlines. Deadlines are my best friend. I abuse them horribly, but God how I need them. If I don’t have a deadline, I write when my fingers start itching and my brains starts sending word tsunamis. This averages out to every day, but it goes in big ole waves.
Film Courage: When unable to sleep, what do you do? Have you ever worked out an answer to a story block while tossing and turning?
Laura Lee Bahr: It has been so long since I couldn’t sleep. I sleep like a freaking CHAMP these days. Okay – best thing to do if you have trouble sleeping is read something very intellectually demanding but light on plot. I recommend something like a textbook. It should be something you find interesting, because you’ll follow for a while and then…. zzzzzzz. I can’t sleep with any TV or music on at all.
As far as working out a story idea, DEFINITELY. I don’t really toss and turn so much as wake up with a “Oh, hey!!! What about…” Going for a long walk is also really good for working out story ideas.
Film Courage: What is the most important thing for your characters to have within a story?
Laura Lee Bahr: A heart. And something that they are there to do. Like a day job (meaning, something that keeps them busy supporting themselves while they do what they are REALLY there to do).
Film Courage: From Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD she writes “Just don’t pretend you know more about your characters than they do, because you don’t. Stay open to them.” How do you apply this thought regarding the characters you create?
Laura Lee Bahr: That is a great quote. I actually never really outline because I may have ideas of where I want my people to go, but I always want them to tell me. Creating characters is actually my favorite part of writing. I feel like I get to be inside all these different people, and I get to fall in love with them all.
Film Courage: Which is easier/more complex in character development, screenplays or novels?
Laura Lee Bahr: Novels, certainly, are more complex for me. In a screenplay, I am just creating the bones. As wonderful as the character may be in my head or on the page in a screenplay, the character ultimately lives or dies with the actor. In a novel, I must provide all the breath and flesh, not just the skeleton.
Laura Lee Bahr: I love The Maltese Falcon. I wanted to do a riff on it, like The Big Lebowski did with The Big Sleep. So I wrote Boned as a sort of parallel world homage, with my detective being a dog-walker/actress in search of an actual Maltese. and dark/ weird underbelly of LA that I know… hustling actors.
Film Courage: Was this your first directorial debut for a feature film? How did you prepare yourself for the role as screenwriter and director?
Laura Lee Bahr: Yes. So, to prepare as a screenwriter, that is writing, re-writing, listening to it being read aloud, looking at the actual budget, re-writing again. As a director, I created really bad storyboards (First day, Valentina Vee, a great filmmaker in her own right and the AD on BONED, was laughing so hard at them that she posted a pic of them as a joke.) We had real tight shoot shoot-days so I created a really detailed shot-list that I would discuss with my amazing ( in fact I’m gonna make that all caps) AMAZING DP, Royce Allen Dudley. Royce is so skilled that he could understand my lack of technical understanding and not just translate it for me, but add depth, complexity and practicality for the time and space we had. In post, the editor Joe Mikan was like a secret weapon. He was not only so much fun to work with, he was (and is) INCREDIBLE at finding the flow of every scene and making it feel just perfect. Filmmaking really is a collaborative art. So basically, best preparation I had for being a director, doing my homework, and getting a DP and Editor who kick ass and take names.
Film Courage: For BONED, which character is most like you and least like you?
Laura Lee Bahr: Most like: Sam, I hope. Because she never gives up. Least like me? Crow. I would never pull a knife on someone who was driving me to a dog park.
Film Courage: Did you act in BONED?
Laura Lee Bahr: No. I honestly have deep respect for people who can act in something they direct, but I don’t know HOW they do it. Maybe one day I will be so freaking good I could do both, but I am not there yet.
Film Courage: How long did you think of the idea before beginning the screenplay for BONED? How long did it take to finish the first to final draft?
Laura Lee Bahr: I think I had the idea for a month or two? (I can’t honestly remember). First to final I think was a couple of years.
Film Courage: How did you meet Angela Landis? What role does she play with the production of BONED?
Laura Lee Bahr: Angela and I met doing a play called Preposterous. It was one of those magic, rare, productions where we as a cast just all loved the show for the sake of. I kept wanting to get a Mystery Van and have us all go across the country doing the play and solving mysteries. It’s never too late, I guess… Anyway, sitting backstage with Angela, I recognized that she was not just an amazing actor, but a kick-ass producer. I wrote the role of Sam with her in mind; and from there we teamed up as writer/director, star/producer. She brought in Joe Siraki as a producer, who championed this project from the get go, organized huge aspects of not just production, but post-production. I introduced Angela to Kirk Roos of Badlands productions and he brought in Lizbeth Chapell, who was our line-producer. So Angela, Joe Siraki, Kirk and Liz were our main producing team. Angela has, from moment one to the present, been pushing the boulder of Boned up that hill. She has put in countless time, energy, and intelligence. She hustles so hard for this project that I am continually inspired. A movie takes a village, and we have had that and more, but there is no BONED withOUT Angela, plain and simple. She is the Alpha and Omega of Boned, for me.
Film Courage: Where did you shoot BONED? How many filming days?
Laura Lee Bahr: We shot all around LA. And … (deep breath) … we only shot for 11 days. IT WAS CRAZY.
Film Courage: Do you have dogs? Any truth in the type of dog mimics the owner and vice versa?
Laura Lee Bahr: I don’t have dogs. I have cats. I definitely think all pets mimic their owner. For example, have you seen Humphrey (The Maltese who stars in BONED)? Angela and Humphrey are like the Bogey and Bacall of BONED, they look amazing together on screen and belong to each other.
Film Courage: Where did you get the dogs in BONED? Did you have a trainer on set?
Laura Lee Bahr: All the dogs in BONED belonged to cast or crew. And on set we always had between 1-3 dog-lovin handlers (usually one of which was the owner) who made sure our doggies were always given the star treatment. If I’d had a bigger budget, I wanted like, a dozen more dogs in the movie. If you look on the credits on BONED you will see each dogs name and person that belongs to that dog.
Film Courage: Where is BONED currently available to watch?
Film Courage: What are your biggest creative blocks for all areas of your work (acting, writing, directing) and how do you work through each?
Laura Lee Bahr: Acting- the block is always how do I get that role that makes me grow that I love to inhabit and have the time to do it?
Writing- How do I carve out the time, force myself to sit still, and get it done?
Directing- how do I get so I can get what I need and breathe at the same time?
I know lots of times people classify creative blocks as separate from practical blocks, but to me they are part of the same thing. Time — how to work around it and with it. Money — how to make what you have enough to do what you want. People — how do they work together toward a common goal? To me, time, money, logistics, these are PART of the creative process. And finally, how do I get the finished thing OUT THERE to the people who will ‘get’ it?
I can’t say I have worked through each. I am continually working on them. Particularly the breathing part. And of course, the common element here is always time. Maybe that’s why I love Slaughter-House Five so much. How much would time feel different if I was un-stuck in it?
“Worry less about getting somewhere and more about loving what you do every day. You are the only person who knows what it is for you to be happy. That’s your first priority. Everything is gravy.” Laura Lee Bahr, Writer/Director of BONED
Film Courage: What components are in a script, novel or non-fiction which make it so intriguing that it borders on obsession for you to reread (from your own work or other writers)?
Laura Lee Bahr: Character. Heart. Mystery. The twist that takes its time to turn and does so in such a satisfying way you cry, “ahhhh…..” So for example, I love the movie Drive. I love how long it takes to get where it’s going, and how much you love the characters. There is a movie called The Naked Kiss. The twist in that is so good, so unexpected, and ultimately makes so much sense. I love the deep and complex horror movie. I actually did an article recently about my favorite recent horror movies directed by women. (Here is the link BUST ARTICLE: FAVE RECENT HORROR MOVIES.) These all border on obsession for me because of how they expand expectations outside of its genre.
Film Courage: A lesson on living in Los Angeles you wished someone would have told you on the day of your move here?
Laura Lee Bahr: Worry less about getting somewhere and more about loving what you do every day. You are the only person who knows what it is for you to be happy. That’s your first priority. Everything is gravy.
Film Courage: Do you prefer the solitude of creativity (and are o.k. with sometimes being alone) or are you more social and crave interaction with others? Which feeds your writing more?
Laura Lee Bahr: I need solitude to write. I don’t necessarily like to be alone, I really need people and a lot of them, but I need to be alone to write.
Film Courage: Which best describes you: structured and disciplined or free-floating and imaginative? How does your preferred style of relating to life and work serve you best?
Laura Lee Bahr: I am, in the words of Donny and Marie, a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. I would say I am imaginative and disciplined. Free-floating and structured. I’ve done all these personality/work tests and I am both concrete sequential (as in, I love math) and abstract random (I love just sitting and talking about nothing with someone I like). I am a work-aholic and get things done. But I need my time and freedom in how I want to do that process.
Film Courage: From the books you’ve written (Haunt, Long-Form Religious Porn, Fantasma) to your various scripts including BONED, what was the biggest takeaway from the work that you’ll always carry into your next project? Which work was the most challenging?
Laura Lee Bahr: The biggest take-away for me is you can do anything you want, as long as you are prepared to pay for it in the time and energy it will take to do it. That’s the equation, I now realize. Look at what it takes to do it, and then I ask myself is it worth what it will take in terms of my time and energy? All of these ventures were challenging in their way. BONED the most so just because it had so many moving pieces, because it was my first feature as a director, and because it depended on other people taking ownership and spending that time and energy too.
Film Courage: Describe yourself currently in a single line?
Laura Lee Bahr: A butterscotch candy with a nail inside.
Film Courage: Do you still teach? What are your students curious about?
Laura Lee Bahr: I do. I teach all sorts of different things. I have students who are curious about the world in a way that is inspiring. They teach me about music, about pop culture, and about memes. I have students who are already amazing editors with a great sense of story who aren’t even teenagers yet. I can’t wait to see how movies are going to change in the next 25 years.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Laura Lee Bahr: I just finished (like, yesterday) the final story in a short story collection that will be coming out early 2017 called Angel Meat which will be published by Fungasm Press.
ABOUT LAURA LEE BAHR:
Writer/director Ms. Bahr is an award-winning filmmaker and author. Her first short film, UltraGirl was produced as part of the First Look program at USC. Jesus Freak, her first featured screenplay, opened at the LA Film Festival, won the Milagro Award at the Santa Fe Film Festival as well as being an audience favorite at the inaugural Tallgrass Film Festival and the IFP Central Standard Film festival. It is currently being distributed by Cinetic. The Little Death, her second feature, was the closing night gala event at the Atlanta Film Festival as well as being an official selection of the Cakalacky Film Festival, the Temecula Valley International Film and Music Festival, the American Artist Film Festival, the closing night gala at the Tallgrass Film Festival, the winner of a Special Jury Prize at the Lake Forest Film Festival, and the winner of best actress and best screenplay at the VisionFest Tribeca, NYC. Bahr has directed the hit play Posing Strap Pirates, and The Minister’s Black Veil at Eclectic Company Theatre (where she is also a member of the Board of Directors). Bahr has had short stories published in the anthologies: In Heaven, Everything is Fine (Erasherhead Press), Demons (winner of The Bram Stoker Award for Best Anthology) and Psychos (both published by Black Dog & Levinthal) and the upcoming anthology Explosions: Stories of our Landmined World. Her debut novel, Haunt, won the Wonderland Book Award for Novel of the Year.
About the Movie:
SAMANTHA MARLOWE (Angela Landis), actress/dog-walker, is struggling to make rent. Opportunity knocks in the form of a handsome doctor, EDWARD PIERCE (Josh Randall), who needs care for his aunt’s Maltese, Humphrey. But Edward isn’t who he claims to be – as Sam finds out when she gets trailed by cronies of THE MISTRESS, a sexy and scary dominatrix looking for Humphrey. Sam’s business partner gets shot, her home gets broken into, and she falls in love with a sweet little Maltese whose life is in danger. Sam has to solve the mystery of who wants to hurt this little Maltese and why, all the while making it to her commercial callback, giving the GOTH KIDS and a scary GOTH MAN the slip, and making her starring performance in the under-attended but critically acclaimed play – The Dark and Bloody Love Bath. While Sam and Humphrey are both pawns in a game of petty revenge, Sam ultimately returns Humphrey safe to his owner, realizing that real love is a dog’s love.
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