She is the woman behind The Things They Left Behind Dollar Baby Film.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Sara Werner: I’m a film director, just your regular artist that’s trying to make a positive impact on the world through storytelling using the medium of film. I always wanted to be a poet but realized that film was a bit easier to translate and has a universal visual language that goes beyond words on a page. I fell into directing films from my love of working with actors to help create a truth that comes through on screen. My goal is to leave an audience not just having a cartharsis but feeling honestly moved and inspired after viewing a film I helped helm with my crew.
SKSM: When did you make The things they left behind? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?
Sara Werner: In May 2014, I was wrapping up a short about a paranoid schziophrenic trying to free his goldfish into the sea because he believed she was a mermaid for a actor/writer friend of mine when Duba Leibell, my passionate Producer extraordinairre, mentioned she had me in mind to direct a Stephen King story through the Dollar Babies program. I asked her to send me the original short story as she was still developing the script with her students in an adaption class she was teaching at the University of Miami. I graduated from the U two years prior with my MFA, my only interaction with Duba was the day before I was supposed to start filming my graduate thesis film (my first film) and she told me the script didn’t work, leaving my producer to drag my catatonic butt out of her office, so to say the least I was honored that I had gained her respect. We started filming in May of 2015 for 8 days. We shot all the interiors in Miami with a full crew and filmed all the exteriors in NYC with a skeleton crew consisting of my DP Jonathan Franklin, our lead Tom Frank, a PA Matthew Terrance and myself for a couple days during an unseasonably cold Memorial Day Weekend.
SKSM: How come you picked The things they left behind to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
Sara Werner: My producer Duba picked the story. 9/11 affected all of us Americans deeply, she lost a few friends/colleagues in the tragedy, all of our cast and crew had connections to that day and I believe bringing the story to life became a source of healing for all of us. We were able to combine our skills and passions to walk on this hallowed ground together. I was very nervous about the subject matter, I know years have passed but it will always be a scar on America, something that we as Americans cannot forget, it was a tragedy that united a nation. My job as a responsible filmmaker is to respect this hallowed ground, never to exploit it. My initial resposne was no, but when I read the story I saw that it was about healing. We meet our everyman protagonist, Scott Staley, who is suffering the survivor’s guilt that we collectively as a nation felt, that question of “Why not me?” Then as the story unfolds we see his purpose as a survivor, all our purposes, to keep fulling living for those who’s lives were cut short. A simple mantra I always go by is that “pain makes people change”, it forces us to face fear, hurt, all these emotions that aren’t desirable but evolve out of it, to grow beyond it and to become not only positive change but influence it.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations.
Sara Werner: I am a Stephen King fan. I grew up on Cat’s Eye, I think the final short story played in my household at least once a week. I remember watching General be ostracized by Amanda’s family but no matter what the cat was persisent and saved little Drew Barrymore in the end. I still can’t listen to The Police the same. I’m also a big fan of all the easter eggs, such as Amanda’s mom reading “Pet Semetary” in bed, it gave the film such a rewatchability factor. When people accuse me of being a cat lady I just tell them it’s troll prevention. Cats are heroes, Stephen King always has unlikely heroes, which leads me into my other favorite work, The Green Mile. King always subverts the usual expectations. Coffey might be one of my top five characters of all time. It was also a role that Michael Clark Duncan was born to play. It was one of the first movies I had to emotionally prepare myself to watch, no matter how many times I see it I’m moved and that’s true storytelling, the kind of tales that stand the test of time.
SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wikd guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?
Sara Werner: My producer Duba was the one that told me about the Dollar Babies program through his Foundation. I remember reading about Frank Darabont, a director I highly admire and how he got his start with his dollar baby short leading into directing his first feature. I dream of the day that I hopefully can give back to new artists, it’s an incredible gift that King gives by encouraging artists to bring to life his masterful tales. Accessibility is always one of the most difficult things about starting a project and he just exes out that issue.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Sara Werner: Maybe it’s funny now but during our most intense day of shooting, Day 3, we were filming the post plane crash office scenes, our final intense act. Let alone the hallowed ground we were filming about, emotions were very high that day and we were about to do a long stedi cam walk, that all our departments finally nailed, when our smoke machines set off the fire alarms in the buidling. The building manager had forgotten to turn off the smoke detectors in the room for us. The post apocolytpic office we created had become even more of a blurred line of reality, everyone was feeling this take and we knew that building security was going to come soon to clear the room, we only had one more run that we could get. The scene is MOS and now I am yelling “action” over the loudest buzzer I have ever heard, extras, crew, everyone is in motion in this powerful moment minus my lead who can’t hear me over the noise. Security came and we had to vacate the building. Our whole crew wound up walking down 8 floors of steps in a haunting way and finally got outside where seemingly the entire Miami fire department greeted us and panicked over our sooty, SFX blood and gore ridden actors. We quickly explained that we were a film crew and wound up making the most of loosing critical time filming to take an early lunch with our new first responder friends as they cleared the building for us. It was a crazy cathartic and dark irony ridden afternoon.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a internet/dvd release would be possible?
Sara Werner: I hope that it builds a level of intrigue for the film, but we are definitely looking to release it to the public after we do the festival circuit. I hope that we can get a wide release through a VOD source so that it becomes even more accessible to fans worldwide.
SKSM: What “good or bad” reviews have you received on your film?
Sara Werner: The release is still so recent that I haven’t recieved any positive or negative words yet…I’ve had some emotional reactions. So far with every intiial audience test screening we’ve had some tears according to my producer. I’ll take ellicting emotion as a positive review!
SKSM: Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
Sara Werner: We are starting the festival circuit this fall, we are screening at a few Stephen King fan film festivals, I didn’t know these even existed but I’m grateful that fans will have an outlet to see the film and also to give back to them. I believe we are screening in the Netherlands and in Argentina first. Also, we are having both our LA and NYC premiere in the beginning of October at Shriekfest and NYC Horror Film Festival to close out the month. We hope to get into every festival we can, my fear with making any film is how to get it out there once it’s finished so I hope we can get into some well known market festivals so that it can get a wider viewership.
SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?
Sara Werner: I unfortunately did not, however I think spiritually yes, it was an honor to be channeling his foundation of a story onto screen. I believe he has seen it or is going to see it…can we say that no news is good news?
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
Sara Werner: I currently do not but I am not opposed to any opportunities in the future. I think I would develop this into a feature, I would want to learn more about every character that we just scratched the surface of. I would want to dive in deeper, have more time with Scott as he learns that he isn’t crazy but that the supernatural has higher plans for him. I would love to revisit these characters we made beautiful backstories for and have more time with them and to learn from their choices.
SKSM: What are you working nowadays?
Sara Werner: I’m gratefully in pre production for my first feature film. It’s a dramedy about a clinically depressed girl who wants to kill herself but can’t until she pays off her student loans because they are cosigned with her mom. I’m definitely sticking on the mental health track and hoping that I continue to be able to tell stories that affect audiences in positive ways. It’s the kind of movie that if it had been around when I was growing up life would have been alittle better. We have a website to stay up to date with the film, it’s selfdebtmovie.com.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to your fans?
Sara Werner: I have fans? I guess hi and I hope that you enjoy the film and this interview and be kind to one another.
SKSM: Would you like to add something?
Sara Werner: Just thank you for your time and interest in the film! I know we have an active IMDB page to stay up to date with festival screenings and other news about the film, so please check it out. This is my first film that is receiving such great attention so again thank you for this opportunity, as a director I just want to change hearts and minds through my craft so thanks for celebrating that. I hope that we can talk again over the next one!