Sometimes in filmmaking you draw from past struggle to tell a story. And sometimes making that film becomes its own struggle. Daniela Amavia faced both for A Beautiful Now, her directorial debut that has won awards at film festivals and will be released theatrically in September. A haunting and poetic film about a dancer facing personal turmoil, its nonlinear approach creates unique challenges in realizing the movie and guiding its narrative. Combined with the usual challenges of low-budget filming and tight schedules, the process behind the film is a testament to the dedication of the filmmaker, who endured years of setbacks on her quest to share her story.
When and where did this film originate?
Well...the origin story of the film is almost as complicated as life itself. It started when a friend of mine killed herself—she was 18, I was 15 or so and I had looked up to her for years. She left no note, there was no explanation. I couldn’t really process any of it, so I started writing stories about her, some of which are in this movie. I was trying to find out what got her to that point—and if there was anything that we could have been done. There never was an answer to any of my questions, but in the end I think I came to the conclusion that I would just celebrate her life. Because that’s all we can do anyway. I never stopped writing after that, I wrote down things I observed, things that happened to me, things that happened to my friends and again, many of those stories are in the film as well. So it really is a very long gestation period. The actual writing of the script took only 2 weeks or so. Which shows you how “ready” that story was in my head.
What made you commit to this story as your first film?
I don’t know if I committed to it—I HAD to tell this story. It was bubbling in my brain and it needed to come out. There is so much I want to share with the world with this story and if only one person finds joy, hope, love in this, then I’m going to be happy.
What was the journey in getting the film made?
It was absolutely insane. It took almost 10 years to get here. I had no idea when I started that it would be this hard, but you know what? I would do it all over again. Because when you so deeply believe in something, when you love something this much, it doesn’t matter how many obstacles are in your way—you get over them. I guess it really helps that I just KNEW that I would get to do this movie, I never had any doubt. And I was lucky enough to meet Lynn Kressel and later Keith Kjarval, who became my producers. Both of them loved this movie as much as I did and they fought by my side. It was great having a team slaying the dragons with you.
What surprised you most in getting through the process?
How many people are willing to support a wild vision, once they believe in it. It’s a truism that has been said a million times, but filmmaking really is a team sport and when you add to this the fact that we were shooting a movie in Los Angeles, in 18 days, with no money and 46 locations and dance numbers...well, it’s really, REALLY only possible if you have an incredible, committed and talented group of people pushing together. I’m forever grateful for each and every one of them. To see that level of passion for something I had created, that was surprising in the best possible way.
What false starts did you encounter, and how did you succeed in getting the film completed?
There were the usual false starts of money coming together and falling apart, multiple times actually. It finally came together when my friend from Germany, Julia Valet, brought on Alireza Ravanshad to executive produce with her. Everything fell into place after that.
For a non-linear story like this one, what lessons or solutions did you realize during the editing process of the film?
Oh, man. Adam Mack, the editor, and I both learned so much. The most important lesson for me was to let go of everything that I THOUGHT this film would be before shooting it. From the first moment you step into the editing room you have to let go of all your old believes and embrace what you actually have on film. I don’t know who said it, but there is this famous quote that a film is told three times: when you write it, when you shoot it and then when you edit it. It’s so true. You take what you have and run with it. It’s a great lesson in letting go. I was very fortunate that the incredible Valdis Oskarsdottir, who edited one of my favorite movies (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), came on to help Adam and me figure it all out. Her insights were invaluable.
What were you looking for in the casting for this film?
I always told Lynn, who was producing and casting the film for me, that I didn’t really care to see a finished “product” in an audition. What I was looking for was the ability to have this almost childlike ability to play pretend. You know when you watch kids and one says to the other “I’ll be the policeman and you’ll be the gangster” and they just go and play? They are willing to let themselves fall into a character, no questions asked. Having said that, I started as an actor so I know how scary that is, I made sure that the actors knew I would be there for them, watch and protect them and I think I achieved that.
I also said to Lynn that I would know the moment I saw someone if they were right for my film. It’s so true! Abigail (“Romy”) and I met at Palihouse when it was very close to the beginning of shooting. My heart was in my throat the whole way over to the meeting, I didn’t even know why. And then she walked down those stairs and I swear to you, in my memory there was a spotlight on her and she was walking in slow motion. She sat down and I think we held hands for a long time, maybe it was just a few seconds, but it seemed to last forever. And then she smiled and said “you wrote such a beautiful story and such a beautiful character. I will protect her” and boy did she ever. It was like she stepped out of my dreams and into the film and it was such an amazing feeling. It’s a bit like falling in love, you know? And Cheyenne (“David”) was the same. He sat down across from me at a restaurant on Ventura Blvd and said something about the fact that I was wearing white sport socks and that made me laugh out loud. When I came home from that meeting I wrote to the producers something like “Cheyenne has to be our “David”. There is no question why “Romy” would be in love with him if he plays the part- hell, I think I’m in love with him myself.”
What do you want viewers to take away from the film?
Try to live in the ‘now’. It’s hard, I struggle with it every day, but it’s so worth to remember that. Let the past go, make amends for things you did, but also forgive yourself and move on. Don’t push your happiness into the future, it might never happen. Let go, take a deep breath and look around to where you actually are right now. Strive of course, but also enjoy the present. It’s all we have anyway.
Are you working on any other projects?
Yes, it’s another story that has been gestating in my brain since I was a child. I always loved the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ story and I always wanted to tell my version of it. So I wrote a film with the title Get Lost, which is based on the ‘Alice’ story and its characters but set in modern day Germany with an American girl falling down the “rabbit hole” into the Wonderland that is Berlin. It’s really fun and I can’t wait to get started on it. If all goes well, we’ll be shooting next summer.
How does it feel to see your film distributed after all these years of work?
I don’t think “amazing” covers it. It’s mind-blowing and I’m so excited. So, so many people worked so hard to make this happen, for no money, because they loved and believed in me and in the story and the film. To see their work get appreciated means the world to me. And of course to be able to show the film to an audience and share such an important part of myself with them—that’s an incredible feeling.
A Beautiful Now is being released by Monterey Media in September.