Interview with filmmaker : Mélisa Breiner-Sanders

I am an actor, producer, and creator in Film, TV, New Media and Theatre. I’m originally from outside of the DC area (Northern VA), lived in NYC for 8 years, and am currently in Chicago in my 3rd year of my Acting MFA program at The Theatre School at DePaul University. 

When did you fall in love with the art of storytelling (your defining moment)?

I’ve always been a storyteller, it is in my blood. My father is a depression era baby, born on a farm in Richmond, IN, number 9 of 10 kids. They had to be creative with their entertainment, and I think telling stories naturally evolved from that. And then keeping those adventures alive by telling your children bedtime stories, or gathering at family reunions and all the brothers and sisters telling stories on each other. I learned from them the art of drawing an audience in, how far you can exaggerate before you lose believability, how much to act out, all of it. Of course at the time I had no idea I was learning that, I was just enjoying the hell out of it. And the rare times that we all do gather again as an extended family, I can see where the structure of my storytelling originated from. The twists, the turns, the humor, the edge of devilishness, and love. Always love. 
How do you determine if someone is truly meant to collaborate with?

How do I choose who I want to work with or what projects I pursue? I wish I could give some elegant answer about how I know, but most times I just go with my gut. Does it feel like a story I believe in? Do I believe in the people involved? Do I just like them? Am I inspired by someone’s vision? All of these are possible reasons. And then there are practical ones of whether I can afford it, what the timing is. Every situation, especially when you are a freelancer, is so individual. 
A general rule of thumb that has served me well across all mediums and careers is this: you have 3 things to consider with each project, people, pay, and project. Who is working on it and with you, how much are you being paid, and what it is that you are working on. If you are happy with the conditions in 2 of the 3 categories, then it’s a gig worth taking. 
 How do you earn a living and sustain a career doing what you love?
Oof, this is always the question, right? It’s really tough, and when you are entering into the arts, there isn’t a whole lot of cultural support for it, so unless you come from money or have family that is willing to support you, you inevitably have to balance working a survival job. And I really want to emphasize that there is no shame in that, and you are just as much of an artist and storyteller if you need to take a break and work your ass off to make money so you can make rent and eat food. You need to take care of yourself as a person and get the basics in order to do your work and keep your sanity. 
My journey? Currently I’m lucky and am in grad school so I’m living off student loans. That’s great cause I don’t have to worry about where the money is coming from, it also means I don’t have a ton of free time to work on my own projects so it can be a little limiting. I pick up some extra money helping friends out with website design, making reels, and putting people on tape. 
Before grad school I worked full time as an administrative/executive assistant at UBS in NYC. I was able to work it with my bosses that I could flex my schedule a little bit to be able to act in off-broadway shows. I lived below what I made so that I could finance my own short films. I invested other money in buying equipment so I could have a little run-n-gun operation. Not to mention the skills I learned while on the job that I use while producing for film. Everything has kind of flowed into each other in that way that each area of my life can serve and influence the other. 
Before that I worked promo gigs, temp jobs, background work, and a lot of other freelance gigs. I never worked service industry, but a lot of people do. It’s just pursuing that freelance lifestyle to the best of your ability. The bottom line is, no matter where you go, there you are. All of what you do, whether it’s writing your next screenplay or bartending, is all working to support you as a person and, ultimately, what you love to do. So earning a living, whether in the particular way you want to or not, is still sustaining your career, because it is sustaining you as a person. 


How does a typical day (for you) begin when you are in full swing production?
I usually get up a few hours before calltime, I like to have at least an hour and a half before I have to leave the house. Coffee is the first order of business, and I’ll try to eat something before I leave too. Of course there is always crafty onset (good food, coffee, sugar, water and available at most times = happy crew), but I never know what direction the day is going to pull me in. I can’t depend on having the time at the beginning of the day on set to sit and eat, so I need to be fueled before hand. I’ve usually set my paperwork aside the night before, but I’ll double check that again. Check my email for any changes, questions, I’m-running-lates. I’ve probably already gotten a few text messages confirming everything is moving, especially from drivers picking up vans or gear trucks. I pack my bag with the essentials: pens, pencils, sharpie, poncho if it’s supposed to rain, extra change of clothes if its hot as hell, external batter charge for my phone. Although there are a lot of instances where my crew will have really stepped up and taken care of everything for me going above and beyond (because the crew people I work with are awesome, always, I love them to death and they constantly amaze me), I always like to also be self-sufficient on lower budget projects since everyone is already stretched thin as it is. Wait, did I answer the question or head off in another tangent again?
Do you work in multiple areas: film, television, web, or are you focused in one area? How easy has it been for you to move between areas if you do? What do you see as the appeal of the various formats?
As an actor, I work in all mediums and that’s been pretty easy to go between and is expected. As a producer, I prefer to work in film, though I have produced for some theatre pieces as well. Theatre has the allure of having the audience right there with you along for the ride and you get immediate feedback from them. It’s a collective experience where a community of people have all gathered in a room in order to listen to and tell a story. There is a palpable energy in the room that can’t be replaced, especially when you are watching exceptional work. Or when you are on that stage and you know that you are so in tune with both the story and the audience, and you are able to fulfill that massive responsibility to take care of the audience, and speak truth…there is just nothing like it. 
For film, there is a permanence to it that is super appealing. And having the ability to capture a fleeting moment and share it with others. You can also create full worlds on film in a way that isn’t always possible with theatre because you see the edges of the stage or there are financial restrictions. Because you only see the edges of the screen, you can imagine that a world continues beyond it, even if we’ve decided toy keep the frame tight because we only had budget to dress a 10’x10′ space. There is a quickness of transition in film that also appeals to me and is more difficult to do in theatre. I really enjoy the process of post (although it’s also maddening) and putting the story back together again with the images you have.  
After directing, producing and writing in Him & Her & Him, which do you prefer to do and why?
I don’t think there is one that I want to choose over another. Each has it’s own set of challenges and rewards, and what those are are so project specific. For writing, I’m not a writer for hire. The idea has to really grab me for me to be into it, and then it takes on a life of it’s own in a way and I get to just follow it. It’s fun to see the characters come to life and see how people understand the story and take their spin with it.
For directing, I’m super new to it, and it was never something I thought I would enjoy doing or have any interest in. And as I’m sure you and many of your readers have encountered, it’s never been something that I, as a woman, have been encouraged to do. But I’m starting to learn I have a really good eye, and can sense the way a story needs to go, and can speak to actors in a language they understand (because I am one), and I have the potential to really grow as a director. 
Producing is the area I have the most experience in and, therefore, comes easiest to me at the moment. I love solving problems, bringing people together, supporting the work and just making it happen. There is something very satisfying about checking items off a to-do list and organizing into spreadsheets. It’s hard and exhausting work, you very rarely get the recognition, and very few people in or out of the industry know how much you do. If you’re good at it (like I am), even the people onset will never know the obstacles you overcame, the miracles you made happen, and the fires you put out. But you’ll know you made it happen when no one else could, and sometimes, that’s enough. 


What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Be nice to everyone, especially the people below you. That and if you are asking people to work for free or cheap, you better make sure crafty is good and well stocked. 
What’s next for you?

In the next week or so we are announcing the acquisition of “Seven Lovers” by Premiere Digital. It’s an ultra-low-budget SAG feature film that I produced in NYC staring Erin Darke (Good Girls Revolt), Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin In The Woods), and Max von Essen (American in Paris). We are gearing up for a Valentines Day release, since the story is a romantic one, and plan to have a couple of event screenings on the coasts. 
I’m also going to be graduating this year! Getting my MFA in Acting has been one of the most challenging things in my life that I have taken on and I’m thrilled to have (almost) made it through!
After that, I will have to see where the work takes me. 

How can we stay connected? 

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