SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Mary Rachel Gardner: My name is Mary Rachel Gardner (nickname MayRay), and I am an award-winning independent filmmaker. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by a big Greek family. I graduated from USC in 2013 with major studies in Acting, Business and Film Production; I also spent a semester abroad studying at a theatre conservatory in London. I have been performing since I was six years old; constantly active with dancing, singing (musical theatre), and filmmaking.
I am a compassionate, dedicated, and hardworking entrepreneurial artist that intuitively knows how to properly nurture a story’s journey. Appropriate, professional attention and energy must be applied to every aspect of developing an original film or TV series, while maintaining an integral balance between the business and creative processes.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become an actress?
Mary Rachel Gardner: I have been passionate about storytelling and entertaining since I watched the epic, Academy award-winning film Titanic. Kate Winslet, one of my idols, truly showed how impactful you can be as a performer. I felt every emotion during that film, and knew then, I wanted to be an entertainer. It was in high school when I realized my talents, after being cast as supporting and leading roles in plays and musicals. I also grew up with a mixed balance of sports and dance. I matured into a young, independent artist who wanted to do nothing more than constantly create opportunities for a team of amazing artists to share their talents, stories, and visions.
SKSM: How did you become involved in The Escape Plan Dollar Baby film?
Mary Rachel Gardner: Jordan Tandowsky, the writer/director of the film, is a close high school friend of mine. When he graduated from the Northridge film school, he reached out to me for support. I read the screenplay and was very excited for the challenge to help him adapt and produce a Stephen King short story.
SKSM: What do you think it is about the story that attracts people so much?
Mary Rachel Gardner: The protagonist in this story somewhat has superhuman powers; whether you read it as someone who is a schizophrenic or has multiple personalities, the stakes for him start off so high and unnerving. It’s very intriguing to see how he plans to escape with all the unique personalities and strengths he has within.
SKSM: Did you have to audition for the part or was it written directly for you?
Mary Rachel Gardner: The original screenplay had flashbacks with just glimpses of loved ones. Jordan was very kind to cast me as Carla in the film and write a speaking line for me.
SKSM: In addition to playing the role of Carla you were the producer of the film. What was more difficult to do?
Mary Rachel Gardner: Producing was definitely the most difficult, as this was an ambitious project and the shooting schedule was a limited 2 days. This was also Jordan’s first time directing his own work, so at times I wanted to be patient and allow him time to create the ideal shots he wanted; but we also had a schedule to stick to and I was juggling so many departments, as well as a makeup artist who left early one day, so I had to fill in and wear many hats at once.
I also brought on a professional stunt coordinator, from the Pirates of the Caribbean film, who I had met from another film project, and that was the hardest to navigate; especially because we needed to schedule some practice time for the choreography (the talents’ safety was most important), and still create time for the actual shooting of it – the acting and stunts needed to seem believable.
SKSM: You worked with Jordan Tandowsky on this film, how was that?
Mary Rachel Gardner: It was awesome, because we go way back to high school and both were very excited to independently produce our first short adapted film together. Any time I get the opportunity to support a friend, especially when it’s their first time directing, count me in!
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when they made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Mary Rachel Gardner: We did our absolute best in post-production to try and piece together the sound editing along with the fight scenes. Some of the stunt choreography and acting moments were a bit off, so during the premiere screening, which was packed with the entire cast, crew and close friends, we all couldn’t help ourselves and laugh out loud. Especially when we had some featured makeup moments where one of the villains had a cigarette burned and shoved into his eye, as well as a foamed mouth after he was electrocuted by his own torture machine.
SKSM: Do you still have any contact with the crew/cast from that time? If so with who?
Mary Rachel Gardner: Yes, for the most part we all support each other on social media. I have hired and worked with some of the same crew on other short films I produced. I am also still very close with Joe Raffa, the lead actor in the film. He has started writing and directing more himself, having successfully finished and released several award-winning feature films. I am very excited and proud of his journey since we worked together on this short film.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Mary Rachel Gardner: I founded my own film company Kalliste Zoe Productions to explore, create and share original content through visual art and storytelling. I have developed, produced and directed many of my own independent projects including music videos, viral comedy videos and short films. I have received honorary awards at academy qualifying film festivals, such as Audience Favorite, Best Screenplay and the Grand Jury Prize, and successfully licensed some of my films overseas with the ShortsTV Channel.
Currently, I am developing original feature film and TV screenplays, as well as pursuing my acting, producing and directing career. Since graduating from USC in 2013, I have years of developing a wide range of hands-on experience with many important departments from creative production to business affairs. I am currently staying busy with some freelance work while helping others in the entertainment industry with their visions.
SKSM: Are you a fan of Stephen King’s work?
Mary Rachel Gardner: Yes, I am a huge fan. I read and have watched almost every adaptation of IT and The Boogeyman. I hope to work on more stories inspired by Stephen King. He is a genius, generous writer to allow access and the rights to his short stories for such an affordable price. I am eager to one day adapt and create a film inspired by Four Past Midnight, especially since he wrote it the year I was born in 1990.
SKSM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Mary Rachel Gardner: I have to say that the most interesting people I have interacted with are the lovely children I care and tutor for. Not a lot of people know this, but as part of my supplemental income, I am a childcare professional and tutor. It is some of the most rewarding work I do. I get to meet so many amazing kids of all ages, races and personalities. Children keep me present, challenge new perspectives, and make me laugh beyond belief. They are our future, and how we educate, share stories, and guide them is very important.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Mary Rachel Gardner: Trust Your Instincts – many times I had moments of self-doubt, often questioning whether I made the “best” decision on something or not, but I’ve learned that in the end, trust your heart and intuitions when they are present, take action, then let go and just be. Even if I “fail” or didn’t make the “right” decision, at least I had an opportunity to learn and grow as a more open, forgiving human being.
SKSM: Do you like to add anything else?
Mary Rachel Gardner: My main focus as a Producer, is to protect the vision and maintain a positive, fun, creative environment for all artists involved. I am a firm believer in expanding and maintaining a strong filmmaking family who genuinely support each other’s dreams. Thus sparked my motivation to create a “giving back to the arts” sector of my film production company.
I am most proud of founding the Independent Cinema Showcase (ICS), a showcase event for independent filmmakers in order to support, promote and share their visions. I am an independent filmmaker myself, and know what it is like to first start out; it can be an intimidating industry, where you may not know anyone or have the ample resources to truly execute your vision. Therefore, the ICS family aims to seek talented visionaries and help them access a supportive network of resources; a genuine cinema family that provides help to filmmakers long term; before, during and after the showcase event.
I along with my ICS family organize three (3) showcases a year, sharing a great program of short form content from all around the world. In collaboration with many filmmakers and companies, we continue to grow a strong Cinema Family, please follow us and join our journey!
IG: @MaryRachel13 / @KallisteZoe3 / @ICScinemafamily