Shooting a DIY short film is full of challenges. Shooting one in the South in the dead of August — that ranks near unbearable. Carolyn Laws, actor and director of the short indie film Damiane and Her Demons, learned quickly that this wasn't what people in the business meant when they talked about "catching heat."
"We had to do those scenes a number of times with the camera set up on the dash and the side window," Laws says. "We had to keep the A/C off, in the middle of the summer, so it wouldn't mess up the audio." She laughs and shakes her head. "That was a rough day."
Laws, who graduated in 2016 from UNC Greensboro with a BFA in acting, got her start early, doing print and runway modeling while still a student at North Mecklenburg High School. Before Damiane and Her Demons, her previous acting credits included roles in The Metal Children, at UNCG; Time Stands Still, with Paper Lantern Theatre Company and Trifles, at Triad Stage's Upstage Cabaret.
CL caught up with the DIY filmmaker one afternoon in South Charlotte, in between shooting schedules for an upcoming feature.
Creative Loafing: What sparked the idea for Damiane And Her Demons?
Carolyn Laws: After I graduated from UNCG, my main foundation was the Actors Lab led by J.D. Lewis. There was this artist's retreat weekend that June that J.D. put together [in which] we went to this gorgeous campsite in Asheville. The retreat was all about setting goals for ourselves; we came up with 30-day goals and 90-day goals. I made the goal to write a short film script in 30 days, and then 90 days to film it. I owe J.D. a lot for that. Before this, I'd written a lot of poetry, but I hadn't really considered myself a screenwriter. I really just wanted to create something.
A lot of the film is this surreal little world that's happening in the main character's car. Where did that idea come from?
I was delivering pizzas at the time, so the story basically started out from personal experience. There's the monotony of my character getting in her car and not having anyone to talk to. So she creates someone to talk to, someone in the backseat who's like her other self. There's nothing to do except drive, so she starts thinking about who she wishes she was — someone more interesting, more exciting, more social.
She's also stuck in this love triangle with this dude that she just met, and this other person that she's been dating who might not necessarily be the best fit for her. It's not really autobiographical, but it was things I could certainly relate to. Being single versus being in a relationship. The anxiety of making those kinds of decisions. I actually didn't write a lot of actual dialogue for Damiane. It's an internal dialogue [she has while] driving in her car. It just expresses that.
Damiane and Her Demons recently got a certificate of mention from the Southern Short Film Awards. How did that make you feel?
I submitted the film and didn't think much more of it, but then I got a certificate for the acting. One judge said they wished I'd had more dialogue. (Laughs.) They liked my acting that much.
What kind of a budget did you have for the film? What did it take?
Very little! I think the most I spent was $300 for some sound equipment we needed; special microphones and things. Zachary Perlow, my partner, was the cinematographer, so he was in charge of where that money would be budgeted. But I funded everything. Everything we did was either cheap or free, from shooting locations to the wardrobe. I went to the Goodwill. I went through Amazon to make the pizza delivery uniforms. (Laughs). I bought these little pizza patches and my mom sewed them on. So we made the uniforms ourselves.
The film is very Charlotte-centric. You kept the talent pool local, from the music on. Was that super-important to you?
There is this unique coolness in Charlotte — a lot of DIY, and simply loving the people around you. I wanted to capture that. The opening song — that band is (Charlotte-based indie rockers) the Business People. The drummer Anthony Pugliese and I, we went to North Meck together, so I reached out to him for a possible song, and he was like, "Yeah, by all means."
All the actors are local Charlotte actors. Amy Lesneskia, who played my alter-ego, and Armie Hicks, who recently moved to Los Angeles. Everyone in the film is still closely connected to Charlotte. The wardrobe for the party scene was supplied by Enemy to Fashion — they're based out of NoDa, though I think they may have just moved their office. I love Enemy to Fashion because they capture this singular Charlotte cool. The pace of it.
And the films starts with a time lapse of uptown Charlotte, which I loved. It was essential to the beginning.
You've been back and forth from Florida for the last few weeks shooting a film. Can you tell us about it?
The film is called Hurricane Aaron. The director is J.R. Howell. He also plays the lead role. It's a family drama. I won't spoil anything, but it gets super intense.
What else do you have going?
I'm starting my own web series called Mind over Mattie. We're shooting five episodes all at once. It's another fantasy. (Laughs). A lot of the stuff I like to write these days is about internally based struggles.
Where will you be shooting that?
We're definitely shooting it in Charlotte. The more of this atmosphere and this culture, the better.
Watch Carolyn Laws' award-winning short film "Damiane and Her Demons" below and see more of her work on her YouTube page; the feature "Hurricane Aaron" is scheduled for a 2017 release.