ARTIST/MUSICIAN AND AWARD-WINNING FILMMAKER PREMIERES COMEDIC PILOT
Erin Laine is a fine arts artist, live event painter and musician working in the arts for over twenty years. She began writing scripts in 2009 for a hobby and in 2017 took her first acting class in Orlando, Florida at famed Class Act Studio. She discovered a new creative medium in filmmaking after meeting her creative partner, award winning director Fred Zara.
Her first film Project Gratitude (2018) was an experimental silent documentary that takes you on a journey of exploring emotional nature of being grateful. The film, though only six minutes long, went on to play several festivals including, Gatfest Film Festival in Jamaica, and is now available on Amazon Prime.
Her first narrative short film I Just Want You to be Happy, debuted at the Rendezvous Film Festival in Amelia Island Florida in the Fall of 2018, and took the Award for best Drama in the short film category. She wrote, starred in, co-directed, produced and scored the film. The film has gone on to play many festivals from coast to coast, and internationally at acclaimed RapidLion Film Festival in South Africa and went on to take two Awards from the Love Your Shorts Film Festival in Sanford Florida for Best Scene, as well as Best Original Music for the Soundtrack and Score written and performed by Erin Laine.
The film is still on the circuit, earning lead award winning actor Lukas Hassel a Best Actor nomination, and a nomination for Best Drama Short in Austin, Texas at the Austin Revolution Film Festival. It’s also been chosen as a finalist in the Las Vegas Global Film Convention.
This summer Erin Laine wrote, and teamed up once again with Fred Zara co-directing a comedy episodic pilot called High Existence. The pilot episode of the show titled “Pee on It” screened at the Athens Theatre in Deland, Florida last month. We sit down with this gifted artist, musician and award-winning filmmaker to find out more about the world premiere, her latest project and get personal with this brilliant woman.
COMEDIC PILOT MAKES WORLD PREMIERE AT GRAND ATHEN THEATER
NIE: Thank you for taking your time and having this interview with us. Congratulations on your pilot episode premiering at the Athens Theatre. What can you tell us about this comedic pilot?
Erin Laine: The pilot show is titled “High Existence” the episode is “Pee On It”. It’s a comedy episodic about Morgan Kelly, a therapist/ yoga instructor/ heavy medical cannabis user, whose recently separated from her husband Patrick after seven years of marriage when she discovers he cheated on her. The episode focuses on her need to make a decision, whether or not to go to counseling with her husband Patrick. It’s a challenging day including every yoga instructors worst nightmare of a class to teach, and we introduce a theme for the series called the “Morgan Kelly Class System of Humor” which is a hilarious concept one of my co creators and our leading lady Sara Humbert, wrote while high in college.
Fred Zara, Sara Humbert and I wanted to create a show where we could showcase the reality that everyone, even therapists are just people trying to navigate life. Divorce and breakups are for some people, part of the journey. We also wanted to demystify the not so seedy world of legal cannabis use. The series will take place here in the Central Florida area, (where medical marijuana is legal) mainly in the fictional town of DuQoin, Florida based on Sara’s real life hometown of DeLand.
“Believe in yourself. Don’t look for someone else to call it out of you.”
- Erin Laine
We screened September 15th at the beautiful Athens Theatre in DeLand Florida to a full house roaring in laughter from beginning to end, and confirming to us, that we have something really special in this show.
NIE: What originally attracted you to write and ultimately co-direct this project?
Erin Laine: Sara Humbert and I met a couple years ago studying at the same acting studio in Orlando, and I thought she was just a very naturally funny individual. For her comedy is air. I cast her to play a good friend and coworker in my film I Just Want You to be Happy, and she was an absolute joy. Not only was her performance very very funny, but she was just a great person on set. Her willingness to help and keep the energy and atmosphere positive is so coveted in this industry.
“My mother told me when I was a little girl that you are not responsible for someone else’s emotional well being. If you are whole and someone else is a half, you can’t make them whole by giving them your half.”
- Erin Laine
We started to talk about working on something together and she confessed she has been jotting down ideas for many years of some experiences. We also found we had the commonality of both being yoga teachers and as our friendship bloomed we found we had similar senses of humor. She shared the “Humor Class System” with me and I couldn't stop laughing. She said wouldn’t her life in many ways make a hilarious concept for a TV show. I asked her if she wanted to work together. She agreed and I sat down in my studio and banged out a script. She loved it and I sent it to my creative partner Fred Zara, who loved it and said, “We gotta do this, how can I help?” It was very humbling since he is an amazing Writer/Director himself. Fred built our very successful Seed and Spark fundraiser campaign.
Sara and I have great on screen chemistry, and even though I have a clear vision for the project it may have gotten lost if I acted and directed at the same time. I trusted Fred Zara to direct my vision. He did it for me in I Just Want You to be Happy. So I asked him to co Direct the project. He’s the perfect collaborator, zero ego, tons of experience and talent, and ultimately gets my vision.
NIE: What was your favorite part of a project? What have you learned specifically from each production that will help you in your continued profession?
Erin Laine: You always learn something in each project. My number one most valuable lesson I have learned is to trust your instincts. I love to work with a team. It’s where I thrive. I surround myself with people who get what I am trying to accomplish and want to achieve it. If I feel like someone doesn’t have that, I won’t hire them or work with them again. It’s like an elaborate orchestra. One flat note can ruin the whole piece. I don’t put up with negativity, snark, or solo vision. Time is money. If I have to take my mind off the vision for five minutes to deal with someone going off course that is costing money in my mind. And this is indie. We don’t have money to waste.
If my gut is telling me “Hey I think that shadow is a little harsh”, or “that vase is distracting” I will say something, but so will my team. That is the beauty of positive synergy. I trust my people and they trust me.
NIE: Where did the desire to be a filmmaker stem from?
Erin Laine: My desire to be a filmmaker completely bloomed organically just from a simple need to create. I am a painter and musician first. I majored and focused on painting in college, and had minor success in the fine art world. I moved into mainly commission work and went through my own divorce 5 years ago. I asked myself when was the last time I was truly truly happy. The answer was very clear. It was when I lived at home and was going to art school. I was creating [with] a team of people. I took an acting class and it opened up this whole world to me. I made my first film within one year. It was a simple two camera set up, and a lot of willing actors to come live truthfully on camera. I asked some questions and filmed it. I didn’t even know what it was until I edited it. It is now available on Amazon Prime titled “Project Gratitude”. I haven't looked back.
NIE: What message are you trying to get across to the world through your work?
Erin Laine: The message I would like to get across in my work is, no matter the life or circumstances, the beauty is in the journey. Choose a good trail.
NIE: What process do you use for both writing your characters and directing your actors, and how much do they change depending on the casting process? And does your techniques change depending on the project and or genre and if so, how and why?
Erin Laine: Being an actor myself, I have the advantage of working with wonderful actors all the time at the studio, so I tend to write toward their strengths. Most of the casting is done in the writing of the script, but not always. Like I said earlier, who a person is on set is most important to me. It’s comedy! If someone has a bad attitude, or isn't funny it’ll show on camera. My favorite experience is writing something with an actor in mind, than hiring them and they come in and deliver a completely different way, and it is funnier that you even thought. I love that!
NIE: What do you personally take out of a production when you are a part of it and what impact does it have on you?
Erin Laine: I think everyone gets a little bit of post production blues. When you are so high on creativity, and then you [are] back to your real life. It’s sad, but also getting back on set [is] what motivates you.
NIE: What obstacles do you face as a writer verse as a director, and what do you do to overcome them?
Erin Laine: I thankfully don’t find a lot of challenges between writing and directing because I tend to visualize realistically when I write. I write from a directors POV which is helpful. However there are times that you visualized something one way as the writer and then day of shooting, you realize it just isn’t going to work. You gotta make a compromise and sometimes that’s a little sad, but it’s important to not get too precious about your ideas. After all you have to keep your focus on the greater whole.
NIE: What would you say is the biggest asset for any filmmaker in the industry to achieve?
Erin Laine: That’s a really great question. I’m not sure I know how to answer it. I guess for me it would be always being able to make your project. So far, I’m pretty blessed so by that definition I’m a very successful filmmaker.
NIE: What are some of your secret tips that help you in this industry to keep grounded and focused?
Erin Laine: You have to care. You have to be contributing something, otherwise why do it? There are a lot of films and series out there with no meaning, and if I happen across one and I get to the end and it didn’t make me learn anything about myself or create an escape, I feel so cheated. I will never get that time back. I never want to make anything that someone gets to the end and feels like that.
NIE: Who inspires you to be a better filmmaker?
Erin Laine: Amy Sherman Palladino is my hero. I have always admired films and shows with quick wit and smart writing. Aaron Sorkin, and Amy are my favorites in the game. I think the writing they produce is the best. I like when a writer makes me feel like the characters are the Ivy league version of myself. In a world where if I was really intelligent I would fit in with these characters. (I just had to spellcheck “intelligent”, a good example that I’m not that smart in real life. But when I write my character Molly she would never spellcheck.) I try to do that in my own writing as well. After all we did take the time to type out words that a human will say on camera. Imagine if you had the time to script your own real life dialogue. What would you want to sound like? Midge from the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is a great example of that. Also Bradley Whitford as Josh Lyman and Allison Janney as C.J. Cregg on the West Wing, These are very smart characters who are also hilarious.
“Never make yourself smaller to make someone else look bigger.”
- Erin Laine
I can remember Sara working on learning her lines and saying “Some of this is just so difficult because I don’t normally speak like this” to which I answered well it’s a 50/50 shot that I either have typos or I’m making you sound Movie Magic brilliant. If it’s a typo I apologize. She laughed.
NIE: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the field?
Erin Laine: The advice I would give to anyone wanting to pursue this field is the same I would give to anyone in any field. Make sure this is what God’s plan is for your life. That’s probably very un P.C. of me, but I believe there is a true calling and purpose for everyone in this life. If you run after the one you are meant for, you will be successful. If you run after something else it will only serve your insecurities and cause you pain. I wasted a lot of years trying to make something happen in the art world. It wasn't my destiny. This field chose me. Not the other way around if that makes sense. If film and TV is your destiny just do it. Do it with or without money. Do it and it will fulfill your life. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ego is gross, plentiful, and fruitless in this industry. Stay positive and humble, and you will go far if you just keep working. At least that’s what I am hoping.
NIE: What are the most impactful words of wisdom someone told you and who was it?
Erin Laine: My mother told me when I was a little girl that you are not responsible for someone else’s emotional well being. Not only were these wise words but have saved my literal life, and a lot of wasted time. If you are whole and someone else is a half, you can’t make them whole by giving them your half. It goes deep and translates to so many things. If you are a sensitive, sympathetic and caring person these words will benefit you.
NIE: What are three things you would say to your younger self that you know now?
Erin Laine: Three things I would tell my younger self. Hmm…
Believe in yourself. Don’t look for someone else to call it out of you.
Ask more questions about what real true love looks like.
Never make yourself smaller to make someone else look bigger.
NIE: We heard you have other projects in film festivals. What can you tell us about the film and what’s next in store?
Erin Laine: My film ‘I Just Want You to be Happy’ is finishing up it’s festival run where it has had a lot of success. We took home a wide range of awards, including Best Drama short twice, Best Original Musical Score twice (which is very exciting to me because I wrote the music) and a Best Scene.
Next in store is hopefully more episodes of High Existence. I would like to do a 13-10 episode season if we can find the right fit producer, studio and network. Fingers crossed. The market is really lush with content but also more network, streaming and original programming opportunities than ever before. We hope we have a shot.
NIE: Thank you for having this interview with us. Before we let you got though, is there anyone you would like to thank at this time?
Erin Laine: I would love to thank my co star and best friend Brandon Hofmann for his amazing grateful heart. For hours and hours of conversations about ideas, reading drafts, crying tears and laughter filled dinners full of judgement free love and support. And my Mom and Dad who support my bohemian lifestyle as an artist and always have.
I would like to thank Fred Zara and Sketchbook Productions for bringing me on projects and showing me the ropes. For always supporting my vision and putting in hours of unpaid work just to create together.
I would love to thank Sara Humbert for her talent, her comedic joy and her ideas and life experiences she trusted me with to create something I think is special.
I would love to thank ClassAct Studios and Lauren O’Quinn, If it wasn’t for her studio I wouldn’t have gotten into this industry at all. She believed in me and that was needed more than she will ever know.
Finally, I would like to thank Lukas Hassel for the connections he’s selflessly brought my way in the festival circuit. He’s a very talented and established Writer/Director in his own right and he took the time to fly down here and star in my short film, that made it what it is. He put me on the map and I’m forever grateful.
Featured image courtesy of Michelle Oliver