Summer is typically known as the blockbuster season, as it's always full of superheroes, giant robots and lots of destruction.
Behind all of that, however, Hollywood has so much to offer. There are always a large number of small, independent films that only get a limited release, despite being full of incredible talent.
Snapshots is one of these films. Based on a true story, Snapshots revolves around three women — a daughter, mother and granddaughter — who are forced to spend some time together one weekend, only to learn things about each other they would never have imagined.
Melanie Mayron has spent well over a year working on Snapshots, working tirelessly on this smaller, intimate project.
The end result pays off.
Mayron gave up some time in her very busy schedule to chat with Brandon Schreur of The Celebrity Cafe about her experience making Snapshots and what it's like to make such a low-budget film, as well as some of the experiences she's had in the television industry as well.
Read the full interview below:
Brandon Schreur: Thank you so much for taking time out for this today, how are you doing?
Melanie Mayron: I’m doing good, how about yourself?
BS: I’m also doing pretty well, thanks for asking. I wanted to talk to you for a little bit about Snapshots. I did get a chance to watch the movie already and I’ll say off the bat that I really enjoyed it. I thought the whole thing was really well done and that you did a great job from a directorial standpoint.
MM: Oh, thank you so much.
BS: Of course, it really is wonderful. So to start out, I’m wondering if you can kind of just tell me how the whole process of Snapshots came to be — maybe what went into some of the original ideas and how everything came to life?
MM: I was approached by one of the producers — Lee Anne Matusek. She told me that she had this project, that she was working with this other producer named Jan Corran and that it’s a story about Jan’s mom. She gave it to me and we spent about a year and a half developing the screenplay that Jan hadn’t written, all while they were trying to raise money for funding.
Then it all kind of happened so fast. I got a call one day saying they had gotten the money and wanted to know when I was available. We wound up scheduling it for last summer, so we did our casting and shot the film — all in fifteen days and with just one camera!
BS: Fifteen days? That’s insane!
MM: Fifteen days with just one camera! It really was pretty crazy.
BS: I don’t even believe it. You said that it took a year and a half to develop and then you just shot it in fifteen days. I’m guessing there was a lot of working on the script during that initial time, with a real quick turnaround during shooting?
MM: Jan was re-writing and working on it, all while the rest of us were trying to narrow it down. That’s what happens most often with scripts. Writing is always a long process — you do a pass, see what’s missing or what can be taken out and then keep on layering it.
Really, though, the whole thing was great. We were able to get Piper Laurie and Brooke Adams for the film. Emily Goss, Shannon Collis, Max Adler and Brett Dier — we pulled a really great cast together and a terrific crew as well.
BS: And that definitely pays off in the movie. At the end credits of Snapshots, I couldn’t help but notice that it said the film was based on a true story. I’m guessing that’s Jan’s story then?
MM: Yeah. Her mom was on her deathbed at 94, and Jan was in the room with her. Her mom had said that Louise is here, so Jan looked around, didn’t see anybody and asked ‘Who is Louise?’ Her mom responds: ‘Louise is the love of my life.’
BS: Oh wow.
MM: Jan knew that her mother had been married to her father for sixty years, so that was a bit of a shock. She found out that her mom had a relationship with Louise for a few years in the 1930’s. Jan wanted to move the script for Snapshots up a bit, because the ‘30s were pretty wild and she thought that post-WWII — the early ‘60s, when times were a little more repressed and conservative — might serve the story better.
BS: I’m kind of wondering how the whole process of adapting something like that works then. Jan obviously wrote the script, but what stance do you take as the director? Are you working with Jan a lot of the time, helping to tell it as truthfully as possible, or are you taking more of a directorial’s artistic license? Do you know what I mean?
MM: Sure, it’s just making sure that the themes, the characters and the story flow together well. In this instance, there were two time periods — you had to go back-and-forth between a weekend at Table Rock Lake, outside of St. Louis to also organically going back in time with the flashbacks between Louise and Rose.
The biggest thing was the granddaughter and her mom go visit the grandma on the lake for one weekend every summer. In the present, the movie takes place at that lake. Our biggest hurdle was figuring out why we wanted to write a movie about this specific weekend — what’s going to make it special compared to all the other years?
What we came up with, then, was the role of film that was found in the camera in the basement at the beginning of the film. Getting that film developed and getting it to the grandmother sort of triggers her memories, and we were off.
It was really more structure, in that regard, as we wanted the movie to move in a really organic and logical way.
BS: That’s funny because the flashbacks were actually my favorite part of the whole movie. Snapshots is definitely a smaller, lower-budget kind of film. Was it difficult at all trying to get funding for the project or did that work out pretty smoothly?
MM: Jan was the one who was raising the money. I know it took her a few years, but it all the sudden clicked in. Everyone in the business has a movie that they’re trying to get off the ground and the hardest thing is always getting the money to shoot. So, literally everyone was saying to me “How were you able to get the money for this?!?!”
That’s the hugest hump to get over, really, and I’m not totally sure how Jan was able to do it but it’s so great that she did.
BS: I’m sure that’s definitely the most challenging part. You mentioned the incredibly talented cast that you’re working with — Brooke Adams, Emily Baldoni, Piper Laurie — a whole bunch of great people who also do a great job in the movie. A lot of them are also pretty experienced when it comes to acting, so what kind of role do you take as a director when it comes to that? Are you more hands-on, working with them in every scene, or do they have so much experience that it allows you to kind of sit back and relax?
MM: Well, everyone needs some kind of assistance. One of the tricky things with Piper was that we shot most of the flashbacks before she had actually shown up to set. Shannon plays Piper’s character at a younger age, so whenever I had close-ups of Piper going in or out of a memory, I would have to explain to her how we shot the flashback scene.
Everybody needs some sort of tweaking because I have the whole thing in my head and because we shoot everything out of order. What I’ll always do is have the actors do what they do for a couple of takes, and then if there’s anything that I want to adjust then I’ll talk to them about it.
BS: And if you managed to do all of that in 15 days, then you must have been doing something right.
MM: Oh yes, we were rushing.
BS: I know that Snapshots is based on a true story and everything, but when I was watching it I was reminded of some other movies — Sideways or Little Miss Sunshine maybe, just because of the whole family dynamic in an enclosed space. I’m wondering if you consciously took any inspiration from other movies when you approached Snapshots.
MM: It’s funny you say Sideways and Little Miss Sunshine, I didn’t even think of those. The only one I looked at to study the way they used flashbacks was The Notebook. That movie uses time a lot and I wanted to see if they used some sort of fancy transition every time or not, and they didn’t.
We did in the beginning, just to lead the audience into what we were doing, but then we stopped and started just cutting back-and-forth instead. I thought that was more of an elegant way to do it.
BS: Now that you say The Notebook, I can totally see it.
MM: Right, and it’s tricky because I was basically making two different movies. I had one in the early ‘60s and one in the present, and it really felt like we shot two movies. I only had Brett Dier for the first seven days, so we were shooting all the scenes with him — which was almost everything that took place in the past.
Then I went to the present. I remember when I had Brooke Adams, Emily Baldoni and Piper Laurie on the set, I was thinking ‘Wait, what movie am I doing?’ It was like a whole other thing!
BS: I can imagine that would be pretty crazy.
MM: It was a lot of hoping that it would all cut together and work.
BS: And I’d say it totally paid off. On that almost, I’m wondering what it was like off-set for Snapshots. You hear some stories from movies where it’s almost like a horror story — everyone is just yelling at each other and everything, but I’m guessing Snapshots was a lot more relaxed than that?
MM: Yeah, it was pretty relaxed. One thing that made it so relax was, last summer, we were shooting at the end of June/beginning of July in a horrific heat wave. It was brutal. We had to focus so much on getting the actors who weren’t shooting in air-conditioning and getting fans everywhere — there weren’t any fights because people were just dying from the heat. We were all just trying to feel okay.
BS: That definitely makes it a lot more difficult, I would imagine.
MM: For sure, but it also led to a lot of camaraderie. Piper had known Brooke’s parents, having met all the way back when Brooke was 16. It was a bit of a love-fest — everyone was just really excited to be shooting this project and working together.
The fact that it was a low-budget and so small made it really intimate. It was almost like doing theater, in a sense, as there weren’t big studio executives or business suits walking around. It was just very creative, which was incredible.
BS: Wow, I like that a lot. Along with Snapshots, you’ve also done a bunch of work in television. How does something like Jane the Virgin compare to a lower-budget indie film like you were just talking about? Is it a whole different dynamic on set?
MM: On Jane the Virgin or other shows, the writers and producers are always there so you’re very much, on any episode, you’re doing an episode of their show.
We needed to keep the same pace for Snapshots. I had a lot of the Jane the Virgin crew and some other shows — all people from television who knew how to get really good-looking and elegant shots in a certain amount of time, which we desperately needed.
The difference with Snapshots was that I was the one fully in charge this time. If an actor said they wanted to change their lines, I didn’t have to double-check with anybody, I could just say okay. That’s what I meant about theater — you can be creative without having to run it by other people. Does that make sense?
BS: Yeah, totally! That’s what I was going to ask about GLOW too, which I believe you directed an episode of. I had to ask because I just can’t get enough of GLOW, especially after their second season just came out. I’m guessing that’s kind of the same as Jane the Virgin, where you’re with the writers and working through the whole process with everyone?
MM: Every show has a writer on set with you, that’s just sort of how it’s done. And that’s good, because if an actor wants to change a line, the writer is there to say okay. It’s good they’re there, because it’s a real partnership. You’re there as the director, almost like a guest-director in it all, taking over their show and making sure they’re happy with it.
BS: Right, then what was it like in terms of coming on to GLOW then — working with such a huge, talented cast and such an interesting and unique show?
MM: It was really, really special. I did the fourth episode of season one. At that point, the girls are already all cast in the show and they’re moving to a motel to practice while being roommates in once place.
It was almost like a second pilot, because we were setting up who was going to be roommates, who was going to be in what rooms. It was a big episode — I remember they added one day to the filming because we had to be on location at the motel and they still had to paint the whole motel. Then they had to build the motel on the stage — and that was just for the exterior.
It was a gigantic production, but the actresses themselves are so fantastic and really committed. They’re just sensational. Everyone was so happy to be on the show and to be doing it, it was just a dream.
BS: I’m actually so jealous, that sounds so much fun. So I believe Snapshots is hitting theaters on August 14, is that right?
MM: Yes, it’s going to be playing for a week at the Music Hall out here in Beverly Hills, and then it’s going to be available on iTunes everywhere on August 14.
BS: Okay, I was going to ask about streaming next, but people can check it out on iTunes then. Is there anything else you’re working on after Snapshots or are you kind of just riding this wave right now?
MM: I’ve been riding the wave and going to festivals, which has just been amazing. I was just in Israel for a festival, actually. I’m going to start directing again — I’m doing three Jane the Virgin episodes for this last season, then I’m going to do an episode of the upcoming Charmed reboot, an episode of Dynasty and an episode of a new show on NBC called An Enemy Within. I’ve got my work cut out for me here.
BS: That sounds like a lot of TV and super exciting stuff. Do you see yourself doing more feature film in the future at all?
MM: I hope so. I’ve got a couple of projects that are in the middle of fundraising, and one that I co-wrote. I’m excited and really hoping that Snapshots will open the door to some more of these opportunities.
BS: I think there’s definitely a good chance that it will because, again, I really enjoyed the movie. Is there anywhere online where people can follow you on social media?
BS: Great! That was all I had for you then Melanie, thank you again for taking the time out to talk to me.
MM: Alright, Brandon! Thank you so much!
BS: Of course, have a great day!