Film Courage: How is the music industry similar to the film industry?
Dominique Schilling: There are a lot of similarities in structure, but the differences outweigh them. Both industries contain mainstream artists that get very commercialized as well as independent artists that make art outside those structures. Both have people that might be amazing, but don’t have the means or outlets to be heard. Both industries are very hard to get into, to survive in and only a very small percentage actually gets people’s attention and the large paychecks.
Film Courage: When you begin to write a script – What usually sparks the initial idea for the story?
Dominique: A song, a feeling, a character I see in my mind, and a topic I care about.
Film Courage: Once you have the idea – what is your process for writing? Little by little or do you finish a first draft in one weekend?
Dominique: I usually write the first and second act very quickly and the third act little by little.
Film Courage: Where did the idea for A REASON develop?
Dominique: A friend of mine told me about a villa in the Pacific Palisades that was going to be torn down and that would present itself as a great shooting location. When walking through the house, I was hit with inspiration and the story and the characters just came to me.
Film Courage: At what point did you let others read the script and who was it?
Dominique: I don’t show a script until I feel I have something I can shoot. Caroline Risberg was the first producer I showed the script to. She loved it and ended up producing the film.
Film Courage: How did you get the script into the hands of Marion Ross?
Dominique: Through casting director Michael Sanford and casting associate Alex Christopoulos.
Film Courage: Can you share one of the most magical experiences on the set of A REASON and one of the most distressing?
Dominique: One of the most magical moments was when we shot a scene between Roxanne Hart and Magda Apanowicz, where a mother tells her daughter that she’s proud of the fact that her child is gay. When I called “cut” and I looked around the room, I saw that some crew members were crying and they later came to me, thanking me for the experience and told me that it gave them some peace and healing. That was very special to me.
The most distressing moment was when we were on a tight schedule and had to shoot an exterior scene. We were close to a large historic park and a hiker had gotten lost and now we had this helicopter flying over our shooting location, looking for him. It made so much noise that we couldn’t shoot and were sitting there for two hours on pins and needles, not sure if we could get the scene in before the sun went down. The helicopter finally rescued the hiker and we were able to shoot. That hiker had no clue that he had a whole film set up in arms and worrying about him.
Film Courage: What does A REASON explore about familial roles and how each family member sees another?
Dominique: A REASON really explores prejudices, also within families. Nothing is as it seems. We have elderly Aunt Irene, who at first seems heartless and bitter, but might not be. We have Serena, a young lesbian, who has just experienced extreme trauma and is very introverted and quiet, but might be hiding a strength inside of her that is just waiting to break through. We have her brother, Nathan, who seems like the golden child, until money comes into play… Then we have Bianca, the perfect mother and housewife, until we realize, she might be hiding something. We have Chris, her husband, who is the peacemaker, but only with certain people. The mother, Annabelle, is a figure of peace and light, but is seen by Aunt Irene as a big disappointment. People can be very different from each other in families, but it’s about finding family cohesion and loving each other unconditionally.
Film Courage: How did Kim Planert get involved with the film? What musical tone are you looking to convey?
Dominique: I met Kim through a friend and when he sent me some samples of his previous work, I knew I had found my composer. I gave him the script and he sat down and wrote 3 pieces of music that are actually in the film today. I was floored by how he was able to capture the emotions I was going for. Later we worked closely in the studio together. I’m a big fan of Icelandic music and the mixtures of electronic sounds and natural instruments. The score has a lot of electronic music as well as violins, cello, gamelan (Indonesian) and bells in it, giving the film an emotional and mysterious feel.
Film Courage: What two films speak to you the most?
Dominique: So many that it’s hard to mention only two. Probably “After The Wedding” by Danish director Susanne Bier and “Samsara” by Ron Fricke, a film without dialogue, showing the suffering as well as the beauty of this world through images only.
Film Courage: What film scene (from another director) moved you the most emotionally? Can you describe the scene and its effect on you?
Dominique: That would be a scene from the film “Sister” by Swiss director Ursula Meier. Without wanting to spoil anything, it is a scene without dialogue or music. Two gondolas, each carrying a character, pass each other, one going up, the other going down. The two people inside see each other. It’s one of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen on film. It’s so powerful, because it’s so subtle and simple, but says more than any dialogue or score could have done in that moment. It’s heartbreaking and stunning.
Film Courage: In your prior film BUSINESS AS USUAL – Do you think Western society has embraced corporate sociopathic behavior? How does this acceptance spill over into today’s film and television?
Dominique: Sociopathic is an interesting word. Misogynistic and inhumane might be more the point I was trying to make. I made the film to show the position of women in the corporate world. Yes, I think it’s become the norm, but every woman as well as man, who doesn’t stand for it, makes a difference. It is important to open dialogue and film and TV are good mediums to do so. Of course, there are still shows that miss the point. Most of all in the film industry we are far from equality. The amount of female characters that portray women in a strong and realistic light are scarce. Behind the camera, we see the slowest progress. The amount of working female directors, writers, producers and cinematographers is shockingly low. It’s a boys club. Every woman that is able to tell her story is a step in the right direction. In the corporate world as well as in the film world, it’s an ongoing struggle for equality.
Film Courage: Having grown up around the music business and fellow artists, what can you advise other artists about self-preservation in a fickle industry?
Dominique: I can only say what works for me. I don’t make my self-worth dependent upon success or failure. People are not their career or the lack thereof. Art is subjective. Some people will like your creation, some people won’t. Focus on the art. I remind myself to enjoy the ride and not make my happiness dependent upon the destination or result, because I don’t have control over that. I try not to take rejection personally and I don’t allow success to feed my ego. Staying grounded is crucial. It’s also important to have passions and things that bring you joy, besides the industry.
Film Courage: How much of a role does intuition and dreams play in your projects and daily life?
Dominique: A huge role. Every project develops through a feeling, a daydream, something I care about deeply and that I have to get out and share.
Film Courage: Is there a book or song that brings you great comfort and joy?
Dominique: Yes, the Scorpions song “Life’s Like A River” (1976). My father produced it and my mother wrote the lyrics, when she was pregnant with me. It contains her wisdom and life philosophy and she raised me according to it.
Film Courage: What’s the antidote to self-criticism and artistic doubt?
Dominique: I wish I had an antidote! Again, I can only say what has worked for me in the past: Let go of your ego. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s important not to compare oneself to other artist or what they have achieved. Accept that everyone has a different path. Everyone has something to give. Listen to your heart when creating something and make art and the story the main focus. Say something you deeply care about and let that guide you.
About Writer / Director Dominique Schilling:
Vice-President of Risberg Schilling Productions, LLC
Dominique Schilling was born into a music industry family and spent most of her childhood in music studios and at Rock concerts. She grew up in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.
She received her bachelor’s degree in English/Writing, summa cum laude, studied stage directing at the Beverly Hills Playhouse and later went to film school at the New York Film Academy.
She started out, working as a performance artist, doing self-written and directed shows with a troupe, which included dance, vocals, instrumentation, acting, and pantomime.
Because of her interest in other cultures and philosophies, she has lived in Hawaii and has travelled all over Western Europe as well as to Eastern Europe, Russia, North & Central America, and Africa.
She uses these experiences in her work, revealing diverse and contrasting perspectives through the eyes of her characters while emphasizing the importance of building bridges and understanding, most of all within the family unit.
In the past few years, she has written several screenplays and has directed a feature film, a documentary, and 5 short films. Her films “Business As Usual”, “Breaking with Tradition”, and “A Black Lie” have screened in festivals all over the globe, receiving best documentary and best director nominations. She won the award for “Best Feature Writer” for her feature film “A Reason” at the LA Femme Film Festival in 2014 and the Jury Award “Phenomenal Woman in Film” at OUFF. She also directs international commercials and music videos.
She recently directed the award-winning feature film drama “A REASON”, starring Golden Globe Nominee Marion Ross, Roxanne Hart, Magda Apanowicz and Nick Eversman, which had a theatrical release in Aug 2015 and is now out On Demand & DVD.
Her next feature film “Little Girl, Big Eyes” is currently in development under Risberg Schilling Productions, with Caroline Risberg as producer, which she is set to direct in 2018. Dominique Schilling lives in Los Angeles, California.