BEACH DAY, 14min., USA
Directed by Robin Johnson
A newlywed unwinds with a solo day at the beach full of peculiar activities.
Get to know the filmmaker:
1. What motivated you to make this film?
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, my partner Casey and I were on the hunt for isolated, outdoor activities. We found ourselves on a beach in Rockaway, NY and discovered an abandoned, graffitied, once-building on one of the smaller beach lots. Shells, rocks, flowers and other items had been arranged carefully and intentionally on the ground, and to me, it looked like a beautiful, hyper-feminine altar. I started wondering what the story was behind this altar - why would someone hide out in this dilapidated building on the beach and perform a sort of ritual? When we came home, I wrote the first draft in about 20 minutes, and Casey encouraged me to keep developing the script and make the film. I'd been a professional actor for about 10 years, and had felt the quiet itch to jump into directing for a long time, and he is a cinematographer, so from there, it came together quite naturally.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
I wrote the first draft in March of 2021, and we started shooting later that year. We did some reshoots / pick-up shots in Summer 2022, and finished editing in February 2023.
3. How would you describe your film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
I'm sure other folks in the cast and crew would have different answers to this question, but for me, the biggest obstacle was in pre-production; it was extremely important to me to tell a story that is respectful of folks who practice magic in real life, and it took a lot of work in pre-production to ensure that we were doing so.
I dabble in magic - I occasionally do full moon rituals, I am an astrology novice, I'm a tree-hugger and crystal-collector. But I have never worked to call in deities or spirits the way people of many different cultures and faiths do. I'm keenly aware that the "witch" as a figure is deeply complicated, with a history that includes innocent folks being murdered in the name of witchcraft, the demonization of indigenous wisdom by white Christian colonizers, contemporary appropriation, etc, etc, I could go on for hours. Presenting a witch on film comes with a lot of baggage, and it is impossible to do a "perfect" job. But I wanted to honor people who practice magic in real life, to be as authentic as possible, and to keep my cast and crew safe (we've all heard the Hollywood legends of Bad, Unexplainable Stuff happening on horror movie sets!). So I shared the screenplay with all the witchy people I trust and asked for feedback, and I hired a magic consultant, Emily Sheldon. Emily was key in creating an authentic, respectful ritual set up, and in offering suggestions to "spiritually protect" the cast and crew on shoot days. All of the research and pre-production work paid off!
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
We've been lucky enough to attend a number of in-person festivals now, and when people give positive feedback at these in-person events, it is affirming and wonderful. However, watching virtual audience members give positive feedback felt almost overwhelmingly wonderful - these are folks who haven't met me. They aren't saying nice things to me just because I'm standing right in front of them. The rules of polite society go out the window with this medium. They owe me nothing, so their feedback feels more honest. And they all seemed to love the film, or it at least resonated with them. It was incredible to hear strangers dissect our work, to analyze the imagery, metaphors, music, movement, to take away messages I hadn't even intended to convey, and to come to their own unique conclusions. We hoped to inspire conversation and provoke thought with this film, and the feedback makes it clear that we achieved our goal.
6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?
As I mentioned, I've worked primarily as an actor. While this is my directorial debut, the desire to move behind the camera has been quietly growing for years. Unfortunately as an actor, not every project or every set is positive. There are a lot of directors out there who treat actors like mannequins / crew like instruments to control, rather than artistic collaborators. There have been many times I've been on set with directors like this, and have thought to myself "I could do a better job than this guy." Stepping into the role of director gave me the opportunity to create the set I had always dreamed of being on - one that's safe, supportive, consent-driven, open, collaborative, and fun.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
I say this with zero shame and 100% awareness of how people might perceive it - Legally Blonde. I'm a young millennial, and my generation in many ways was raised on the false gender notion that to be hyper feminine is to be "dumb" or "mean" or both. I first saw this movie as a (very "girly") child, and it blew my mind to see a stereotypically femme lead be underestimated due to her femininity, and ultimately prevail as a strong, smart, kind, capable and three-dimensional individual. It was in many ways my (hot pink) door into feminism. Although it is an imperfect/white feminist/product-of-its-time film, for years it was my go-to watch whenever I felt crippling self doubt or underestimated due to my gender or gender expression, and I could probably recite the entirety of the screenplay.
8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?
Honestly, nothing comes to mind - the video of feedback was so amazing and gratifying. Thank you again so much for honoring our film with an award, for this opportunity to answer questions, and for the future opportunity to guest on your podcast. Experimental films like ours need a home - thank you for making the space for them!
9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?
It's fine. The platform itself is user friendly and great, but I've found there to be a lot of scammy "virtual festivals" out there just looking to take your money. I am glad to have found this fantastic festival!
10. What is your favorite meal?
Vegan buffalo cauliflower tacos and a frozen margarita from JaJaJa on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
11. What is next for you? A new film?
We are busy in the festival circuit doing cool things like this (yay!), and I work a day job that I happen to love, plus I'm supporting a couple of friends with their films right now in various capacities. So it may be a while before we start to shoot but yes! I am currently writing a new screenplay. It's based on real experiences with my grandmother, and it explores generational trauma and inherited mental illness. It's very different from Beach Day in that it's dialogue-driven and less experimental. That's all I'll say about that.