The multi-talented Anne Marie Cummings brings theater savvy to her Emmy nominated show.
Anne Marie Cummings, showrunner and star of five-times Emmy Nominated series Conversations in L.A. is a woman with a vision. Her entertaining show involves single-shot camera work. That means there are no cuts, highly choreographed shots with continuous camera movement. That is incredibly difficult to do, but it makes the series even more special.
Anne Marie Cummings is a graduate of the famous drama program at Carnegie Mellon University and the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, England. She made her bones in the theater where she wrote, acted, directed, produced and served as artistic director for 30 years.
Here is a partial list of the theaters where she has worked: Seattle Repertory Theatre, New York Theatre Workshop (NYC), Primary Stages (NYC), Samuel Beckett Theatre (NYC), Classic Stage Company (NYC), Sacramento Theatre Company, Cherry Lane Theatre (NYC), The Alley Theatre (Houston) and The Readers’ Theatre (Upstate NY).
However, just a few years ago, she made the leap to move to Los Angeles in 2016 and embarked on her bringing her passion project to life.
Conversations in L.A. is about a woman-of-a-certain-age who is unemployed and grieving over the death of her dog who unexpectedly finds love with a much younger man from a different background. Their friends and family aren’t exactly on board with this match, but they press on in the most delightful ways.
It airs on iTunes, Amazon, and conversationsinla.com.
Anne Marie Cummings spoke with Michelle Tompkins for TheCelebrityCafe.com about her early life, education, theater work, the choice to move to Los Angeles, how she used the proceeds from the sale of her home to fund her project, how the choice was made to utilize single-shot camera work, what makes Conversations in L.A. special, what’s next for her and more.
Michelle Tompkins: Where are you originally from?
Anne Marie Cummings: I was actually born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Michelle Tompkins: And you're now in LA, but you've worked in theaters throughout the country. Is that right?
Anne Marie Cummings: Yeah, I did a lot of regional theaters, including Sacramento, actually. Funny that you mention that. I did Life is a Dream by Calderón de la Barca and I played Rosaura. And, yeah, it's the big theatre there in Sacramento.
Michelle Tompkins: Okay. That's probably B Street Theatre then. That's one of the biggest ones in the area. [Note: it was Sacramento Theater Company.]
Anne Marie Cummings: Mark Cuddy was the artistic director, I think, at the time, who is now the artistic director of Geva Theatre, as far as I know. Like five years ago, he still was.
Michelle Tompkins: Oh. Well, tell me a little bit about your childhood. I think you're fluent in Spanish. Is that correct?
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, yes. So I was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but my mom was born in Sevilla, Spain, so I did spend a lot of time as a child in Spain, the south of Spain, Marbella, to be specific, and also Madrid. But both of my parents are artists in their own right. And they've also loved to travel, so I did a lot of traveling when I was young which I think— I don't know when you're young if you recognize how travel shapes you as a person. But I think it has shaped me as a writer because I've been exposed to all kinds of people my whole life from all over the world.
And I think, starting at a young age, I was an observer of people. I always like to watch people. But after I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburg, I went to the drama program there. Then I started to really move around a lot whenever a how— I really enjoyed that. I enjoyed living in different cities and doing plays in different regional theatres whether it was Texas, The Alley Theatre, the Seattle Repertory Theatre, Play House. I mean I just bounced around a lot in my— really in my 20s til I was 30 or so.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, would you say your first love would be acting or writing?
Anne Marie Cummings: I would have to say that initially, my first love was acting. And then as I've developed first primarily as an actress then honing my skills as a director and writer and then really focusing now on all three because of showrunner, I would say that it's equal. They just go hand in hand, especially for this project. I think that I'll be doing more like this. But perhaps films that are like this, these one-shot takes where I'm acting and the writer, director.
Michelle Tompkins: Makes sense. Your Carnegie Mellon brethren are doing really well right now. You got Leslie Odom, Katy Mixon and Carly Hughes. Do you participate in a lot of reunions for the school or activities with your classmates?
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, there are— in this particular show, there are ten alums in Season Two. I reached out to a lot of fellow alums because I thought that they could really enhance this project, and they did.
Michelle Tompkins: As much as I like Cher in Moonstruck, I still think that Holly Hunter (a Carnegie Mellow alumna) deserved it for Broadcast News.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, my God. Broadcast News for sure. And also thanks for saying that because I don't know if you've seen her in a recent movie. I think it's called Mendleson.
Michelle Tompkins: I haven't. I saw The Big Sick, but not Mendleson.
Anne Marie Cummings: Yeah. That was shot in the last year. It's phenomenal. Phenomenal. Just brilliant. But she was also brilliant, of course in The Piano. So yeah. There are a lot of people who are from Carnegie that are out here. And I think of myself as a creator of content. I'm a showrunner. And this is my first project in this medium that I'm bringing my own style of one-shot to this, which no one is doing. I was on set with Willie Garson who's from Sex and the City and NYPD Blue. And just the other day, we have a film shoot on Sunday, this Sunday. And he said to me I've never done anything like this before. I'm doing something that is extremely unique. And we've been called the Birdman of TV and I think that's it is going to stay with us and continue to grow.
One-shot takes are tricky, oh, my!
Michelle Tompkins: Well, one shot takes seems so hard. The choreography that you must do to get it must be tough.
Anne Marie Cummings: First of all, thank you so much for saying that because you must be an artist. Because to say that to me, to understand that, is great. So many people that do talk to me— I mean unless you're an artist, you don't really know just how hard it is. And it is hard. It takes us a month for every single episode. And it takes me about ten different camera rehearsals with my DP per episode where we're focusing on camera as our primary focus. By that point that the DP comes in, we've had probably about six to seven just actors come in for rehearsals.
So by the time our DP comes in, he's really ready and some of the actors are ready for him and we focus a lot of time on him. He basically has to memorize and anticipate and know every single move he's going to make for up to 30 minutes. But it's intricate. It's intricate blocking. We've seen it in films. But the blocking, it's kind of like people are being seeped into this virtual reality experience if you know what I mean.
Michelle Tompkins: Well, it gives you meaning to the phrase hit your mark.
Anne Marie Cummings: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And I love as a Director to let people find things but there is a point at a certain point where everybody you know. And this is usually when after we've let go of a stand-in and we bring in that named after like a Willie Garson. Like what we have for season 3. That's when everything gets locked. It has to. It absolutely has to be locked. You're great. I love your questions.
Michelle Tompkins: Thank you. I'm going to go back to theatre for a minute and we'll go to your series in a moment. But tell me about some of your memorable theatre roles.
Anne Marie Cummings: They're not going to be the ones that have the biggest houses like at the Seattle Rep per say. They're usually for me— I've always gravitated to roles that had a lot of— that have a lot of juice to them. And sometimes those roles have been male roles that I played as a woman. For example—One of my most favorite roles has been Gregor from Metamorphosis. It's a very physically involving role I like to play things that transform me completely. Another role was Taylor which I played as a woman from the play K2.
So that's where two very, very interesting, very different kinds of roles. Well, I didn't play Gregor as a woman. I played Gregor as a man. But I played Taylor from K2 as a woman or Tyler, Taylor, I think it was Taylor. And then I loved playing Antigone. And I played Antigone obviously as a woman. But these are roles— generally, there's just a lot going on. They're three-dimensional. They're complex. They provide a lot of colors for an actor. They're not really stereotypes either. So they're very interesting in that regard. So I like that. Just even when I'm writing, I make sure I'm writing characters that are three-dimensional. I think that's extremely important.
Michelle Tompkins: Do you have any plans to return to the theater one day?
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, well, I mean, I think it's in my blood. I love it. And I'm sure I will. At the time being, this is really exciting work for me. I spent so many years in the theater. So, so many years. And I think because I waited this long. It's a little late in a way. It's like, "Wow." I was in my late 40s, 48 when I decided to go in this direction. I never had an interest before this time to explore drama or TV ever. It never even crossed my mind. It just my attention span never went there. I never had the passion. But I started to merge theater onto film with these one-takes. And so it's exciting for me.
And this is a direct extension for me being a director with my own theater company in New York right before I moved here. So in a way, you could say I really broke that fourth wall as a theater director. I just went right out of the fourth wall into the film. And bringing this to give it a different kind of life. Because it still feels like theater to me. But it feels like theater with this, like I said, a sort of virtual reality experience of bringing people and submerging them into these episodes.
Michelle Tompkins: Sounds like a great transition. What made you move to Los Angeles though?
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, I wanted to, even though I've been a writer my whole adult life. And even started when I was really young just on my own. I never had a formal writing teacher. So I actually met with, before I moved here, I met with Ron Osborn who was the main writer for Moonlighting the TV show. And I wanted to learn.
Michelle Tompkins: I have the DVD box set of that series.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, wow what a great show. It's a great show with two people in conflict. That's the way it goes. I mean, it's great drama because these two people always have conflict. But no, I studied with Ron, and I wasn't thinking, "Okay, I'm going to come here and write a TV show and do all this." I was thinking, "I need to work on my writing, and I just want a good teacher." But I was also studying this through the film connection. They assigned me to Ron. I interviewed him. He accepted me. He doesn't take just anybody but he accepted me. And so I was working with Ron, and then I was working with a producer.
And working with both of them for about eight months to a year when I first moved here, I began to create shows. I wrote a film with Ron with his guidance, my first script or developed another TV series with this producer I was working with. When I finished with both of them, Conversations in LA was born, and it was born because I saw that I had this ability. And sometimes everything just comes together. And I've always been the kind of person that loves a challenge. From probably when I was five years old, I didn't do the easiest thing that you could do. I always picked the hardest. And my brain likes being stretched as a showrunner. I like it. And I do it really well. But it's hard. It's just really hard. And sometimes I say to myself, "Why am I doing this? It's so hard." But the other side of me is like, "Well, but you can. Your brain operates like this. It enjoys the challenge." At the end of the day, I enjoy it. I think I need a few more days sitting on the beach in the Bahamas every— maybe two weeks out of the year, I need to pick a time to do that, so that I can enjoy the challenge more because it takes a lot of energy to work on this level. It's a lot of brain power. I don't know if that makes sense, but it's— my brain loves it but it's exhausting.
Michelle Tompkins: I'll bet. Well, what do you like best about Los Angeles?
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, I mean, so far, and I think this is going to sound like everybody else, but the weather, and I would say the cool nights. I would say the beach. I personally love, specifically, Playa Del Rey. That's the non-trendy— I go for non-trendy because fewer people are there. There's still a lot of people but less. I would say also the colors. I like the colors here, the colors of the buildings. I don't know. There's something very calming about the colors, the way that things are structured. I'm really big on architecture so I like it all.
Michelle Tompkins: LA can be very urban but the fact that it's— I lived there for a while too. I think you're right on that is that it never feels like a concrete jungle even it is a big city.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, God. Yeah. The sky. The sky is important. The sky is great. So I'm very happy just enjoying space. I need to see the sky. After being in New York City before I moved upstate, I was there for what? 12 years. I don't know. It's very important for me to see the sky. I'm one of those now.
Michelle Tompkins: Or it's good to always look and smell the roses, and then looking after them is important too.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, my God. I need the sky. I don't know if I could live in New York ever again really.
Anne-Marie Cummings talks about Conversations in L.A.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, tell me about Conversations in L.A.
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, it is a story about an older woman who is having a midlife crisis. She's menopausal, and that 's the character I'm playing. And she's really working her way through the challenges of being this age. And she meets a young guy who is 20 years younger than her, a Hispanic young guy coming from a rough neighborhood, Compton. But he's in the L.A area and he just— they just fall in love. They have a soul connection. It's not just a physical connection. It 's a real, deep sound connection.
And then we follow their romance, their journey from the meeting, to getting married, to more in these three seasons. And its all the people that they have— its all the conversations they have with— selective conversations that they have with each other and with other people. Some people who can’t handle their age, who have their own issues. And [inaudible] in life, some of its midlife, some of it is not. Buts it's— my writing style is very realistic and I think it takes a very realistic, romantic, dramatic, romantic look at a relationship between an older woman and a younger man. It's kind of the hard conversations that we might suspect that some people in this situation are having.
Michelle Tompkins: Oh, that's true. But it's also been nominated for some Emmys. Congratulations. Now, how did you decide to film it in a single shot?
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, it was a very easy transition for me because of the theatres. So, first I was thinking what do actors love? Well, a lot of actors I think love to really dive into their roles. And what better way for a film-TV actor to dive into a role when the camera keeps going from 20 to 30 minutes. It's like being on stage. You don't have any interruptions. So I was initially thinking that. I was thinking, what's exciting for an actor? Well, I think that is. And then, what's challenging that is. Then my filmmaking was a process. It was, first the camera was a little bit static. But then I started having the create blocking where I moved the camera and the actors. And then, it moved into continuous camera movement. So the camera is always moving in some way shape or form. The actors are often moving. We are working within a space and in season three, I can say— and even in season two, we actually do an entire episode through Marina del Rey, like a neighborhood in Marina del Rey walking and talking and sometimes running. And I mean, we weaved through this one area right down by the beach. It's just crazy what we did.
Michelle Tompkins: Did you get Killer Shrimp while you were there?
Anne Marie Cummings: We weren't that far from Killer Shrimp. We weren't that far. So, yeah, it was very cool. It was very, very cool. It was just extremely cool. And, yeah.
Michelle Tompkins: Where can people see it?
Anne Marie Cummings: They can see it on Amazon 3 in iTunes and conversationsinla.com.
Michelle Tompkins: And will there be a next season?
Anne Marie Cummings: We're working on season three right now. And it stars me with Gustavo of course. And then, we have Justin Kirk from Leads and Angles in America, Louis Garrison NYPD Blue, Sex in the City, Blue Collar and White Collar.
Michelle Tompkins: And Little Manhattan. Don't forget Little Manhattan. It's a small movie, but then I loved it.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, I'm sorry. What is Little Manhattan?
Michelle Tompkins: It's really cute. Cynthia Nixon and Bradley Whitford also star in it. It stars a kid who actually is kind of a star on his own right now. He was in the Hunger Game movies. Josh Hutcherson. It's his first love, first romance at a middle school. So it's really cute.
Anne Marie Cummings: Okay. Cool. Well, I'll check that out [laughter]. I'll check it out.
Michelle Tompkins: He plays the friendly doorman. And Willie was really fun to watch and he gave lots of sage advice.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, wow. I'm going to check it out for sure. You must be a theater major or something?
Michelle Tompkins: I was a film major at Columbia, used to be a talent agent, so [laughter] I'm kind of in between a combination of worlds right now. My sidebar is that I'd been in PR for most of my adult career and then a few years ago I realized that I wasn't doing what I wanted to do. So I turned everything back in and started writing again and I like doing interviews and I like talking to people and doing stories. So eventually I want to get back to the idea of writing for television. I love working with The Celebrity Café. Also, by having deadlines all the time and writing constantly, you actually improve. So that's where I am now.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, for sure. I mean, I was a journalist for eight years when I was in upstate New York. That's when I was running my theater company. And I had, what, 12-some deadlines a month? It was crazy. It was really hard [laughter]. So I know what you mean.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, this is a question that's kind of a sidebar and it's only optional, because I don't know if it's too personal, but how is it funded? Is it self-financed? Or do you have investors?
Anne Marie Cummings: No, I'm happy to talk about that. Well, I mean, I sold my house in upstate New York. And I decided I would use the funds from that towards going back to school for writing. I worked with Ron. And then I decided to invest in myself, in this project, with this money.
Michelle Tompkins: That's good.
Anne Marie Cummings: And I know that the reason I decided to do that was because I think that there's a possibility that this could be sold to a network. I think that there could be some sort of distribution deal and/or sale to a network. And I believe I'm going to get everything back.
Michelle Tompkins: I think that's a wise investment. Especially with the Emmy nod. That's always helpful.
Anne Marie Cummings: Yes. Yes, I think it is. And it's encouraging. It's encouraging for everybody when they're working on a show that's getting some kind of recognition.
Michelle Tompkins: Now what are your hopes for your show? What would you want to happen if you had a perfect world?
Anne Marie Cummings: In a perfect world, I think HBO or Showtime would pick it up. Maybe we'd shoot the whole thing with a bigger budget and a slightly bigger crew. But yeah, I've always thought big with this. I think it's unique.
I don't think anyone's doing it, so it makes sense. Whoever picks it up, it's going to be their baby. It's going to be the first time that this has been done in episodic work at a beautiful level, and they're part of that. They're the ones that are owning that. You know what I'm saying?
Michelle Tompkins: I do. I think that'd be a nice place for it to go.
Anne Marie Cummings: Yeah. I mean, I think we all feel that way.
Michelle Tompkins: I'm glad you are so passionate about the project and having three seasons in shows that it wasn't just a one-hit wonder. That's great.
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, and you can see the progression. I think every time there's a show that's out there, it gets better as it grows and as it goes. I cannot tell you if there will be a fourth season. I think the direction after season three can be one of those two options I just mentioned to you. These things just take time.
I've proven that the one shot works for me. I don't see too many— to be honest, I don't think too many people out there are going to try and do this because it's so hard. But I have found the system. If I hadn't been a theater director before this, I don't think I would be able to do it. Tthe theater experience is 80 percent of what I'm doing. The rest is just let's make it work for camera. All I'm doing is breaking down the walls of the theater and making this cinematic.
Michelle Tompkins: So one of the things that makes it timely, too, now is that a show like Hot in Cleveland showed that people want to hear stories of slightly older women who are not necessarily ingénues anymore.
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, I don't know if it's just women. I think it's older men and women. It's like for some reason, Hollywood created this idea, and the entertainment industry, I should say, that only young people belong in it [laughter]. I mean, I kind of feel like that's the most insane thing I've ever heard. But it's not the case with theater.
You don't see Shakespeare only writing for young people. He created characters that were all ages. And in most plays, even, you've got people of all ages. Where is this notion for Hollywood, TV and film, that it's really just a young person's medium? I mean, this is insane. There are people of all ages in the world, and I think we have audiences of all ages. And I think what makes this kind of cool is that I'm blending the millennial and the menopausal [laughter]. You get to see that mentality in this relationship.
Michelle Tompkins: It makes sense.
Anne Marie Cummings: You get to see the conflict, the drama between the millennial generation and the older generation in a relationship. But sometimes, the conversations they have nothing to do with their relationship but a generational gap because it's our thinking that's so different.
Michelle Tompkins: Well, I agree that it is. One of my favorite interviews that I did this year was with the team behind— it's called the Millennial Job Interview. It's a video that went viral on YouTube, and it's about the extreme disconnect between millennial and a boomer in a job interview. It's incredibly funny, but what I think is funnier about it is the comments because they're so polarizing. People are like, "Oh my God, this is right. I had someone do that to me." And there are millennials saying, "Oh my God. I work three jobs," not realizing this is a comedy.
Anne Marie Cummings: Yeah.
Michelle Tompkins: So reading the comments are as funny if not funnier than the piece was.
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely absolutely. And I think that that can be very interesting. I just— I want to throw this out there. Before we moved into season three, I interviewed a whole bunch of VPs because I need backups, and anyway, Sebastian my editor is actually out VP for this season. And he was— he's a brilliant VP. It's hard work. It's hard as— and then bleep. But, as a matter of fact, is the comments that I received when I was interviewing VPs was very interesting because the older VPs have a certain mental way of thinking about my work like, 'Oh, my God you're doing one take in a continuous camera movement.'
They are the traditionalist that are out there. This is the way it's usually done, we have cuts. We move back and forth. So when you use— and then you've got the people, the VPs that I interviewed that were young that we're like really into what I'm doing. So it goes across the board with the content and also the style for me because I know that there were comments out there, I know that I've gotten comments. Some of them were like this is the most amazing, to— what kind of cinematography is this because this is not what the norm is. Yeah, you're going to see the furniture in the room, you’re going to see them, these actors at all angles. Yeah, you're going to see the back of their heads at times because its this style that I have created that causes all kinds of comments, and I find them very interesting alike what you were saying too. But, yeah, very cool. What is that YouTube thing?
Michelle Tompkins: The Millennial Job Interview.
Anne Marie Cummings: I'm going to watch it. Thank you.
Michelle Tompkins: Yeah. Now, is there anything you want to add about your personal life?
Anne Marie Cummings: I call this my drip series phase, like the Jackson Pollack drip series phase. I feel as if if you stick with this long enough by the time you're 50, my age now, I would hope that if you've been doing it, you're going to begin to have a sense of extreme confidence in what you're doing. I feel I have found my calling, so to speak, my painting phase, which I think is going to last for the rest of my life. This is fascinating to me. This is exciting to me. And it's where my primary focus is. I wouldn't be able to do it if it wasn't because I'm so hands-on in this project. I think of myself, very often, I refer to my process like the process of a painter.
I do draw. And even on my own website, I have my drawings. I think of constant evolution into being the artist that I am. I just can't deny it. These things are happening for a reason.
Michelle Tompkins: And the sacrifice of time and everything else.
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, yeah. But I don't think we're a society that always encourages this. And not every phase in your life can you do it, either. This is when I can and I am. So it's like I saw that window of opportunity and I just have run with it. And can't really say like why not? Question is why not. So the answer is exactly, why not?
Michelle Tompkins: What do you like to do for fun?
Anne Marie Cummings: It just depends. But I'm generally the kind of person that likes food and conversation as much as I like quiet walks on the beach. And, of course, getting a massage, I love stuff like that. Massage and things to constantly make me feel recharged.
Michelle Tompkins: What are you watching on TV or in the movies right now?
Anne Marie Cummings: I tend to watch based on actors, I can say one movie that I watched recently, and I'm really a fan of both of them, is Rust and Bone with Marion Cotillard and Mattias Shoenaerts. I just thought it was really interesting, well-done relationship movie. It really captured the heart of those characters really well.
Michelle Tompkins: Is there any charity work that you'd like to mention?
Anne Marie Cummings: Yes, especially since she died this year, Dame Daphne Sheldrick of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust for Elephants. It's a baby elephant orphanage. She died, the founder of it died and her daughter is taking over. But they are one of the only, I think, baby elephant orphanages in the world. And they have spent most of their time, Dame Daphne Sheldrick, spent most of her life trying to come up with the perfect formula for baby elephants. How to recreate that when the mother has passed and I think it's like a combination of goat milk with some other. But they have a baby elephant orphanage, so it's pretty special. They save a lots of elephants. They're extinct.
Michelle Tompkins: Now, what is your website, please?
Anne Marie Cummings: Oh, so conversationsinla.com is the show's own website. And then my personal is just annemariecummings.com.
Michelle Tompkins: What are your social media handles?
Anne Marie Cummings: Well, Anne Marie Cummings on Pinterest. I think that's where people can really get to know me and my love. That's my favorite social media platform. But Anne Marie Cummings on Facebook and Conversations in L.A. as well.
Michelle Tompkins: How do you like people to connect with you?
Anne Marie Cummings: If you see me at a coffee shop and tell me you like my work, that'll make my day. People can reach me through annemariecummings.com. There's a contact there. People do send me personal their thoughts about the show and stuff like that.
Michelle Tompkins: So what's next for you?
Anne Marie Cummings: I can tell you that I have to stop all the characters that appear in my mind that I have— not just my film that a director has picked up, Eat Bitter, Taste Sweet. Wendey Stanzler from Sex and the City wants to direct and produce. I have you other projects that I want to actually write and work on. But Conversations in L.A. is a pretty darn special and if it gets picked up by a network, obviously, I'm going to seriously consider what that would mean. I've always been a person of quality, not quantity. This is where I am. It's hard for me sometimes to think too far ahead. But I just like to see how things go.