Lisa Tedesco is a writer/producer based in the New York metro area. She attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and later Southern Connecticut State University. She has written many shorts but is known for her film, August in the City which has won acclaim around the world, including Best Picture at the New York Film Awards.
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you want to be a filmmaker?
I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker when I was in high school. I have a twin sister and she was in the video production classes and when I saw what kind of projects they did I knew I wanted to try it out. After learning the basics I was hooked. I attended the Academy of Art University in San Francisco for Motion Pictures and Television back in 2005. After several years of city living I had to move back to the east coast due to financial hardship. Interestingly enough, I was able to get a job at Sikorsky Aircraft where I have been employed ever since. But in the middle of all the helicopter building I also wrote for Curve Magazine, the largest queer women’s magazine on the planet, where I was able to review films, interview filmmakers, and connect with women who share the same passion as I do. It was during this time when I met Christie Conochalla (Director of August in the City). She had a gift for storytelling and I knew I wanted her to be involved with August in the City.
What made you decide to go into film?
Ever since I was young I had some sort of interest in holding a camera. My father wasn’t a cinematographer or photographer by any means but he always knew about the latest models. He gave my sister and I a video camera when were in 8th grade and we started making little films with it. It wasn’t until actually putting together segments in high school that I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in for the rest of my life.
Do you have a filmmaking role model? Who is your biggest influence?
In the beginning I would have said the likes of Steven Spielberg or George Lucas (which I still admire and respect) but we’ve come along way. My biggest influences now are women. I know that may sound like a broad answer but women in film are giving me the strength and courage to proceed in this field. More and more we are seeing the playing field becoming closer to even because Hollywood is recognizing that women have the same skills behind the camera as men do. Women are making noise like never before and the names of Ava DuVernay, Patty Jenkins, Sofia Coppola, Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, Angela Robinson etc… And I mean Christie Conochalla. She is one of my best friends and mentors. She is a fantastic filmmaker herself who pushes me to be better every single day.
August in the City
August in the City, which you’ve written and produced, recently won the prestigious Best Picture award at our festival, and your new screenplay, Chloe ‘Two Fingers’, was our Best Screenplay Short winner this summer. Double Congrats! Where do you find the inspiration to write your scripts? How do you design your characters?
A lot of the time I take real life instances that have occurred in my life and throw them into a script. Even if it isn’t the main focal point of the story I start there. For instance, August in the City stemmed from a short story my mom wrote about me and my first love. I incorporated it into the film, left it for about a month, then came back and made a story around it. Same with Chloe ‘Two Fingers’.
August in the City - Trailer
Tell us about the process of making August in the City.
The process was extremely eye-opening. It was the first time I was at the helm of my own ship and I think I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. We crowdfunded a portion of it and the rest was self-funded. We hired local talent from NYC and also inviting Mandahla Rose, a Adelaide, Australia native, to join the cast as our Clementine. We had a nice long pre-production period to get everything in order and secure a fantastic crew and locations for the shoot. We shot in Oceanside, NY for the modern day scenes and then in Bushwick for the flashback to the late 70s scenes. It was a crazy adventure that I can’t wait to do again.
What was your favorite scene?
My favorite scene was when August reveals her secret to Clementine in her bedroom. Daniela (Mastropietro) and Mandahla’s energy was just so electric and emotional. It was pretty spectacular.
Your actors did a phenomenal job portraying their characters. What do you like most about working with talent? Do you have any specific methods you find helpful on set?
They want to be there. You want to be there. You’re all there to create something totally unique and visual. You have that common ground. They’re not just the talent and I’m not just the director or producer or screenwriter. We are all there to help one another out. There’s a high respect between us all once on set. We get the job done and we work together to get it done efficiently. It’s about trust. I may have a specific vision for the scene but I trust them, as professional actors, to execute dialogue and movements in their own manner. I try to give creative freedom.
What were some of the challenges in making this film? How did you solve them?
Well every set has their issues, right? I mean we definitely had our fair share of hiccups on set but we knew that “the show must go on”. A lot of it is patience and not freaking out. There really is no point in freaking out when something doesn’t go right because there are always ways to fix it.
Why was it important to you to make this film? What would you like your viewers to take from it?
It was important because i knew I had to do it. It was something that I had let sit on my computer for ages and with the people I was meeting and the connections I was making I knew it had to happen. It was my first film that I was able to create with a cohort of people who share my same passion. If anything, I hope the viewers see that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Acceptance is there. Love is there.
What did you learn during the process of making August in the City?
I learned that you can’t rush a good thing. Even short films are incredibly delicate in nature and deserve the care necessary to grow into something huge. Filmmaking is a process. I am still learning every single day about what it takes to make a film set work. I learned that things WILL go wrong. They always do, but it’s in how you fix them that makes you a better filmmaker. I’ve learned that following the rules is a major part in making something great. You can’t skimp or cut corners. It will only get you into trouble. I’ve learned that patience is key and trust is a must.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers around the world?
It takes time to actually move forward in filmmaking. You have to have patience and surround yourself with people who lift you up and cheer you on. Surround yourself with people who have a common goal.
What are you working on now?
I am working on my next short film, House of La Reine, which is a very theatrical piece. We’ve actually just launched our IndieGoGo campaign to try and get the last ⅓ of our funding (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/house-of-la-reine-the-film#/ ). We will be filming in Los Angeles in December or January (fingers crossed!). I am also trying to push my short script, Chloe ‘Two Finger’ around the circuit to gain attention. Since that one is a bit longer than August in the City AND House of La Reine we will need ample funding for that one!
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be and why?
Honestly, it would be any strong and empowered female who feels strongly about filmmaking and has a story to tell. We need more of those women in Hollywood and I am right here waiting to work with you! … Or Desiree Akhavan because she is one bad ass b… haha
Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so our readers could keep track of your career :)
Twitter: @Lady_Film_LT or @LadyFIlmMedia
Instagram: @lisa_m_tedesco and @ladyfilmmedia
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lisa.tedesco and www.facebook.com/ladyfilmmedia