Mandy Evans Brown nominated for Best Actress @The Soho Intl Film Festival: How Mandy became a Producer & Movie Star & Only a few spaces left in the BadAssMasterMind Groups
An Interview with Mandy Evans, Star and Producer of Pickup
by Mike Haberfelner
**Mandy Evans on **
**Your new movie Pickup - in a few words, what is it about?**
_Pickup_ tells the story of Megan, a young wife and mom who lives a "perfect" life yet she suffers from depression and an attachment disorder which manifests itself daily in a sex addiction. A sex addiction that is enabled by the growing social media landscape that we all know so well.
**How did the project fall together in the first place?**
I had been studying acting , working in the indie film community and auditioning for anything I possibly could for about ten years, but I was struggling to find opportunities to be considered for great roles in high quality productions. I was burnt out by all of the rejection and feeling stuck, so one day my coach April Yvette Thompson suggested that I self produce a film. It took me several months to get on board with the idea but I finally took her advice. She was adamant that I hired the best people I possibly could find for every job. She referred me to Jessica Blank who I collaborated with on the story of the film. I then hired Jeremiah Kipp [Jeremiah Kipp interview - click here] who I had recently worked with on a feature film. From there Jeremiah and I hand picked the entire cast and crew. The rest is history.
**What were the challenges in bringing Pickup to the screen from a producer's point of view?**
This was my first time as a producer and it was certainly a learning experience on many levels. The biggest hurdle in indie filmmaking is usually money, mostly because those of us doing it are struggling artists. So there were certainly financial challenges in getting the quality of film that I wanted without having a large budget. I made sure to take the time to do it right even if it meant holding off production until I could afford the crew I wanted. We had a lot of location changes so every minute counted and couldn't be wasted on set. We had one day in particular when we had extremely limited time at the location. I remember being near tears that a scene was going to have to be cut. Luckily my team was extremely proficient and professional that everything worked out beautifully.
**You've developed Pickup's script together with Jessica Blank - so what can you tell us about her, and what was your collaboration like?**
Jessica Blank is a working actress in TV/film and also has some strong writing credits (The Exonerated). When I was referred to her I had a brief conversation about my goals for venturing into this project. The collaboration with her was effortless. It started with a general theme of sex addiction. In my research I had not come across much representation in the film and TV world for this particular addiction, especially with a woman protagonist. I knew when I created this film that I wanted it to be something provocative that lingers. When she sent me the script I loved it immediately. It was a fast process because we were on the same page with what I was trying to accomplish.
**You also play the lead in Pickup - so what did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and to what extent could you actually relate to your lead character, and the condition she's in?**
I do believe that all addictions start with some level of depression. Although this is a fictional story, I do have experience with depression and anxiety in the past which is why I could understand the depth and inner turmoil of Megan. Megan is also very physical and speaks with her body and eyes. Growing up as a dancer, I was extremely quiet and shy; my communication was through my body. This connection to my physicality enabled me to feel very free to express her life without actually saying much. I also worked with actor/director Sebastian Tudores on my preparing a well fleshed out character before getting to set.
**What can you tell us about the rest of your cast, and as a producer, how much of a say did you have in casting?**
For the role of Ben, Jeremiah reached out directly to Jim True-Frost's agent. We hired casting director Erica Hart to find our child actor, Griffin Faulkner. Most of the ensemble cast was hand picked from actors I have known for quite some time. Because of the nature of the film, I had to be sure to hire people that I could trust. I told Jeremiah who I was thinking of for each role. We arranged meetings with each actor and made the final decisions together. The remaining ensemble members were referrals from associate producer Jen Rudolph and actress Kaye Tuckerman.
**What can you tell us about Pickup's director Jeremiah Kipp [Jeremiah Kipp interview - click here], and what was your collaboration like?**
There is a reason so many self producing actors hire Jeremiah Kipp. He truly cares about actors and their process and how difficult it is to be a self producing artist. He knows how to communicate with the actor in a way that is sensitive and very clear. He is someone who goes above and beyond his title of director. Jeremiah was so invested in this project from day 1 that he put me at ease with any concerns that I had. I knew that in the wrong hands this film could have been a disaster. The combination of his direction and Eric Giovon's dark yet sensitive and thoughtful cinematography made me feel safe and free to really go for it.
**Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?**
The on-set environment was tense at times because of the demanding schedule. However, everyone across the board was so professional and invested in delivering their best work. I am extremely grateful to everyone involved.
The $64-question of course, when and where will Pickup be released onto the general public?
At the moment we are focusing on the festival circuit for Pickup and have not planned on a general public release. We have gotten quite a bit of feedback that this should be made into a full length feature film. The goal is to get Jennifer Connelly on board to play the older version of Megan as we extend the life of this story.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
I shot a sci-fi film as a scientist/robot earlier this year and recently got to see the premier. I have been wanting to work in this genre for a long time so it was an exciting bucket list experience. I also have a few short films in the works for the fall. I will be working with Jeremiah again and one of the ensemble members, Christopher Piccione on a very intense and dark film about heroin addiction and a sci fi drama about clones. I seem to have found my niche! I am also in discussion with directors that I met at some of the film festivals about possible future collaborations.
What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
I had been dancing professionally for many years as a Radio City Rockette and when on a tour of a Broadway musical in Europe, I was encouraged by the director to pursue acting when I returned to NYC. I read about the Meisner technique and it sounded like a great way to get a solid foundation. I studied at the Ward Studio for two years and then continued (even to this day) to study with many wonderful mentors. At first I was doing it to become a better stage performer, but then I found that I was drawn to the intimacy of acting for the camera. I never had that big show girl personality that belts out songs in public, so I realized my energy was better suited for TV and film than Broadway musicals.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Pickup?
I started doing film work in 2008. One of the first films I did was at SVA and it was one of my best experiences to date. I lost count of how many student films and ultra low budget indies I have done, all of which made me a better actor even if they weren't always the best experiences. In 2010 I had my first TV experience as a day player on the soap opera One Life To Live. Recent feature films that I am very proud of are Ceresia, which is where I met Jeremiah on and got the opportunity to use my modern dance experience, and Right of Way, which just screened last month in NYC.
**Besides acting, you can also be seen on the producing side of things occasionally (like with Pickup) - why is this, and what qualities are you looking for in films you choose to produce?**
This was my first time producing and my main goal was to get my work seen as an actor. Although my priority right now is to build my acting career, I am open to the idea of producing projects with excellent writing. The writing is everything and more often than not, less is more. I prefer scripts that are visual and are about the inner life of the character and not so dialogue-heavy unless absolutely necessary to tell the story.
**How would you describe yourself as an actress, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?**
As an actor I have been told I am raw, yet polished and provocative. I think that describes my work best, because while I am very well trained I am also very messy and impulsive. I've always been more interested in playing gritty, volatile characters than the stereotypical sexy leading lady.
My technique always starts by being grounded in the the reality of the story I am telling. Whether I can relate or not, I find a way into the character by way of what affects me and not necessarily what I have experienced in real life. And then it's all about listening and working off of the other person.
I also work very physically and use music to create a dance that informs my character.
Actresses (and indeed actors) who inspire you?
So many but some include: Rita Hayworth, Jessica Chastain, Michael Fassbender, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Sarah Paulson.
**Your favourite movies?**
Some of my favorites are Dirty Dancing, Gilda, The Goonies, Black Swan, Take This Waltz.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
I can't really think of any at the moment that I deplore!
**Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?**
My personal website: mandyevans.net
The film page: facebook.com/Pickup-117837455292085/
""""One of the most mortifying moments I experienced in my theatrical career was when I was asked to bring the entirely African-American cast of a new musical we were workshopping, a new piece by an African-American librettist and composer, across the street to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and up into the plush boardroom so they could perform a song or two for the board of directors. I wanted to say something, but I didn't. For one thing, it would take an invaluable 45 minutes to an hour out of the creative team's limited time together. But... every year we had to do the same old song and dance for the board to remind them that yes, we did do new plays and musicals, so yes, it was sometimes a good idea to expose the board to new voices, to the vibrancy of an exciting work in progress.
You all know where this is going, don't you? I led the team in. The talent in that team! The writer/composer himself and the cast, lauded veterans of the stage and the most promising members of the next generation of acting giants. And there was our board. White, as white as can be, white white white white. And very comfortable. They'd just been served lunch, I believe. My theater spared no expense in pleasing our board and catering to their demands (oh my god, I'm feeling such rage right now! I'm pretty sure we had a staff member who was mostly dedicated to help our richest board members get house seats to shows on Broadway and the West End. But I digress...)
The only black face in the audience seated at the conference table? The only person of color? The head of our education department, of course. My heart went out to her.
The cast sang a song from the show. They did it. And they brought it. Because they were and are professionals. And the very pillars of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion reverberated down to the parking lot. It was breathtaking.
And I had just been complicit in the remaking of a scene for the millionth time: black bodies and voices entertaining white audiences, an institution raising money on the backs and voices of black bodies.
I was too mortified to apologize to our writer and to our cast, none of whom, I should add, expressed even an iota of discomfort. They were professionals, and they shone. And come to think of it, they'd probably all become accustomed to this scene. "It's just how theater works," they might have thought with a shrug of their shoulders. Or maybe they seethed inside, for the millionth time, when all they were trying to do is workshop a new musical.
Well, I apologize sincerely now to our writer and those actors. I wish I had had the courage to put my foot down. It is not how theater should work.
I quit the American theater on Valentine's Day 2016, so I've been out more than four years now. And honestly I don't plan to return, which is why I can write with such candor.
The heart of the problem, my friends, is with the non-profit structure, which is capitalism on steroids. Who are the bosses ultimately in an American institutional theater? The board of directors. Who are the board of directors? For the most part, those members of the community not with the strongest attachment to the art form but those with the deepest pockets. Often they're really not members of the community. They often just drop in. They are sometimes mere tourists.
It's no wonder that that board meeting was held in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The theater, like most American theaters, had built its board of directors on the old opera model: You get the richest folks together, offer them galas and house seats and receptions and private recitals and showings (for which artists often don't get paid extra, mind you), you pamper them and make them feel more special and entitled than they already do, and then they'll write you big checks to support the kind of art they like, the kind of art they can bring their kids and grandkids to. AND they--not the artists, not the community--get to hire the institution's leadership.
It is a rotten model. Rotten to the core. How can any artistic institution claim to be working for and in the community with that model?
It's got to be torn down. It's got to be reinvented. And I have no idea what the next model will be. I really don't. And no, honestly I don't think government is the solution frankly. Some of the most bloated, self-satisfied, decadent theater I've ever seen was in Germany, where it was almost fully government-funded. Lots of bells and whistles and provocations and completely soul-dead.
I see amazing and galvanizing lists of demands recently being made and posted by theater artists of color. These are vital demands. But they don't address the central issue. As long as the ultimate bosses of an artistic institution remain the community's deepest pockets, nothing will change. Nothing. You'll be putting band-aids on a gaping wound. Sorry, but it's true.
So please figure something else out. Maybe for a few years you just avoid the institutions. You've already started. In the pandemic, so many of you are making amazing art without an institution. Find those who truly adore your work and ask them to fund it. Screw non-profit. Form a corporation and value your art art-making as a resource that profits you, your viewers/audience and your community. I have no idea.
But please don't return to a new version of the old. After the virus, after he's out of office, after police reform and nationwide conversations about race, after, after, after, begin something new. I can't wait to see what it is!”
Words: Pier Carlo Talenti
Video: Griffin Matthews
April Yvette Thompson