BY FRANK SCHECK
C. Fraser Press stars, co-directs and scripts this dark indie comedy about a financially struggling mother who moves back into her parents’ home with her three children. Even by indie film standards, Theresa Is a Mother is a family affair. The titular role is played by C. Fraser Press, who also wrote and co-directed the film with her husband, Darren Press. The couple’s three children play fictional counterparts in the film, and one daughter wrote and performed the theme song. This is clearly a clan who believes in playing together.
The resulting film, while having a rough-hewn feel, emerges as something more substantial than a simple homegrown project. The quirky dark comedy centers on Theresa, a forty-something single mother of three whose career as a vaguely punkish singer-songwriter has not paid off. Facing eviction from her city apartment, she packs up her young daughters — Maggie (Schuyler Press), Tuesday (Maeve Press) and Penelope (Amaya Press) — and returns to her rural hometown, where she plans to live temporarily with her parents (Edie McClurg, Richard Poe), with whom she has a strained relationship.
Cue the quirkiness, as the folks Theresa remembers as emotionally distant are now fun-loving hipsters who enjoy hosting hot tub parties. Theresa, unable to find employment, is reduced to wandering the neighborhood asking for odd jobs, causing her to compete with 13-year-old Seth (Matthew Gumley) for yard work. Undercutting the boy on price, she’s confronted by his father, Jerry (Robert Turano), a bank official who had turned her down for work. She doesn’t bother to correct him when she realizes he assumes one of her daughters was the culprit. He then asks her, out of the blue, to write a song for Seth to perform at his bar mitzvah.
Theresa, meanwhile, has her hands full as a parent, with one child donning a Carmen Miranda-style headdress and lip-syncing to drag queen videos and another obsessed with a television cooking show with heavy religious themes.
None of this rings remotely true, but it has an emotional resonance nonetheless, largely due to Press’ vanity-free performance as the frazzled and neurotic single mom who can barely take care of herself, let alone her brood. Reliable veterans McClurg and Poe provide excellent support as the parents traumatized by a past tragedy, and the child performers go through their often outlandish paces with admirable professionalism.
Truly offbeat in its pacing and willingness to veer off on eccentric tangents, Theresa Is a Mother doesn’t always succeed in its stylistic ambitions. But it does present a psychologically rich portrait of its central character, who elicits a bizarre fascination.
Below is a wonderful review of our film by Steve Kopian. A real window into how things work. How grateful we are that Steve took the time to watch. Read on…
“You should make an effort to see as soon as possible.”
I will be doing a review down the road but right now I wanted to tell you that should keep an eye out for THERESA IS A MOTHER. The film is hitting Cinema VIllage in New York, home video and VOD tomorrow and it is absolutely worth your time.
The reason I’m doing this short little piece is that I was unexpectedly given a copy of the DVD by the PR company handling the release of the film. I had asked for one film for review and they threw in a copy of this hoping I would take a look. After I had watched that other film I put THERESA IS A MOTHER on in order to see if I should take the time to write the film up. I figured I’d watch about ten, maybe fifteen minutes of the film and then turn it off… 45 minutes later at 1:15am I pulled myself away from the film and enough to turn off the DVD player and the TV and go to bed- cursing up a storm because with the New York Film Festival happening I’m not going to get a chance to finish the film for a while.
THERESA IS A MOTHER has Theresa at the end of her rope. The dream of a life in music isn’t attainable with two kids and no husband to help raising them. Heading back home to the parents she all but cut off she finds that things are not as they were and that they and she have changed.
Yes it sounds like a story that’s been done to death before, and it has but this time out its coming to us in a form that is a really good, really well made film that somehow has slipped completely and utterly through the cracks- I don’t remember hearing about the film until I got the promo material which, to be honest, I completely dismissed. That was my mistake. I won’t let that happen again.
As things stand now I’m going to finish and review the film when the New York Film Festival ends on October 11.- but you don’t have to wait that long- you can get the film when it starts streaming and hits home video on Tuesday. You can see the film from start to finish that have to wait three weeks to see.
And you do want to do this, THERESA IS A MOTHER is going to be one of those films that in a couple of weeks your friends are going to tell you you should see. Seriously once people see this film they are going to be talking it up and telling their friends they should see it. Don’t be told by your friends that you need to see this film after I’ve already told you. Seriously you’ll just hang your head and feel dejected at not having gotten in on the ground floor of something great.
That kind of makes this seem like a Ponzi scheme- but it’s not- this is a really good movie that you really should see.
THERESA IS A MOTHER comes out tomorrow and you should make an effort to see as soon as possible.
THERESA IS A MOTHER
2015; $24.99; UR
Unknown indie Director/Writer/Actress C. Fraser Press stars as a single mother struggling to support her family as a singer/songwriter in NYC. Inevitably, their precarious life comes crashing down, forcing her to do the most demeaning thing that a human being can do: Take the kids and go live with her parents. These particular ‘rents (Edie McClurg and Richard Poe, both faces you’ll recognize from TV) are happy to see the grandkids, yet there’s an obvious distance between the adults; some long-suffered wound that is never mentioned, permeating their every thought. But this isn’t a dark downer-drama! It’s a surprisingly upbeat and life-affirming comedy, bolstered by loads of great music. Recommended.
Movie: Theresa is a Mother
Alternating between heartwarming and heart-wrenching, this film is and interesting glimpse into the inner workings of a family in crisis. After being kicked out of her apartment, single mother Theresa needs to find a place for herself and her three daughters to live. So, she decides to take the dreaded step of moving back home with her parents. How humiliating. But worse than that, Theresa has some guilt to contend with. She had fled her childhood home years before when she needed to distance herself from her parents’ depressing lifestyle. But, when she moves back home, Theresa is a little concerned to find that her parents have actually moved on with their lives, gotten hobbies, and new friends. And, they are more than a little annoyed that Theresa and her band of little hellions have come back to stay.
But Theresa didn’t just move away to get away from her parents. She also fancies herself a punk rock musician, so she needed to get away from life in the countryside to pursue her art. Now if only she could actually sing . . . . But despite the fact that the protagonist is a horrible musician, this movie actually has a fair amount of good music in it. While Theresa struggles so bitterly with her art, her little daughters show promise, and they perform quite well. And, that actually leads me to discuss the film’s interesting casting. I had noted while watching this how the little girls in the film looked remarkably like the actress playing Theresa. And sure enough, when the credits began to roll, I saw that all three were actually her real daughters. No wonder they had such good chemistry. And, then I noticed that most of the songs performed in the film were actually written by the oldest one. It’s pretty impressive.
I’d say this movie leans a little more toward the heartwarming side. While there is a darkness to contend with, the overall message is hopeful. And, I enjoyed my time watching it. This film is from Garden Thieves Pictures, and it will be available on DVD and VOD on September 29. So, if it sounds interesting to you, make sure to check it out.
An aspiring musician (C. Fraser Press) with three young girls is forced to move back home with her free-living parents (Edie McClurg and Richard Poe) after being evicted in this bittersweet and deadpan indie comedy. ~ Violet LeVoit, Rovi
by Charles Tatum
“An almost perfect independent film”
C. Fraser and Darren Press create a family affair in this very funny comedy/drama.
Theresa (C. Fraser Press) is an unsuccessful singer in New York City freshly evicted from her apartment with her three daughters. She drives back to her hometown, and stays with her parents Roy and Cloris (the excellent Richard Poe and Edie McClurg), and tries to find work in the small town. There is a family tragedy that haunts Theresa, and has never really been addressed by her parents. As her daughters try to fit in, and Roy and Cloris’ lives are disrupted, Theresa tries to balance responsibility and her rebellious attitude.
This is not one of those “I don’t need a man to stand on my own” stories. Theresa is, in fact, a mess. Her punk-inspired songs are atrocious. Her relationship with her parents is so strained, they don’t recognize their own granddaughters. She does finally get a job mowing lawns by under bidding the only local Jewish boy (Matthew Gumley), and is later hired by the boy’s clueless father to write a song for a bar mitzvah. Part of the charm of the film is that Theresa and her family are so flawed.
The cast is outstanding, across the board. The Press daughters are professional and turn in actual performances. McClurg and Poe have a great chemistry, and play the broad comic scenes (the hot tub parties) as well as the dramatic very well. C. Fraser Press wrote the screenplay, knows Theresa inside and out, and triumphs in the role. It’s a very fine line between sympathy and quirky, and Press walks that line well. I did not find any of the characters irritating, they all have a charm of their own- even the minor ones like the prostitutes hanging out in front of her apartment building, and the TV preacher/cook.
The Press’ direction and use of widescreen is lovely. The scenes of Theresa riding around on a child’s bike looking for work in the small town are nothing short of classic. Daughter Maggie’s (Schuyler Iona Press) forced friendship with the Jewish boy, Seth, is well written. The editing is quick for a story that isn’t all plot all the time, some of the best scenes are the interaction between Theresa and either her daughters or her parents.
The Press family does an incredible job in “Theresa Is a Mother”. One or two scenes don’t work, but as a whole, the film is funny and I liked all the characters. What more could I ask for? For more information, go to the Theresa Is a Mother official website: http://theresaisamother.com/.
THERESA IS A MOTHER REVIEW by Mark Bell
Year Released: 2013
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 101 minutes
With debts piling up and no real job prospects on the horizon, former punk rocker, and single mother of three daughters, Theresa (C. Fraser Press), makes the most drastic choice she can: she moves her family back to the small town she grew up in, to live with her parents. And frankly, while Mom, Cloris (Edie McClurg), and Dad, Roy (Richard Poe), are happy to see their daughter and grandchildren, they’re not necessarily keen on having their lives disrupted right now. They’ve got their almost nightly hot tub parties to consider, after all.
So Theresa’s stay is not one without drama, trivial and otherwise, and she needs to find a real job (her musical “auditions” are not putting food on the table). At first she settles on humbling yard work for various people throughout the town, but when father Jerry (Robert Turano) investigates why his son Seth (Matthew Gumley) has lost all his yard customers to an undercutting competitor, he finds Theresa… who promptly lets Jerry believe it’s her daughter Maggie (Schuyler Press) who outbid Seth on his gig and, after more confused conversation, leads to Maggie being forced to team up with Seth in the yard business while Theresa is hired by Jerry to write a song for Seth to sing at his upcoming bar mitzvah. It makes more sense than how I explained it…
And there’s a lot more going on, but I’m not here to give you the full play-by-play of the plot. Simply, Theresa is a Mother is bustling with plot and character developments, but in a very good way. The narrative is easy to follow, even as it delves into the more subtle motivations or subtext involving the different characters. It’s the type of film where you might initially say that it’s Theresa’s story, but it’s more than that.
Because Theresa isn’t the only character with an arc who develops and grows over the course of the film. Practically everyone does, even the smaller characters with limited screen time, like Jerry (who has his ideas of what Seth will be and what Seth wants, and has to come to terms with who Seth really is). In that way, it’s a film of small revelations and advances instead of huge, melodramatic blowouts that change everything. It’s a more natural growth.
At the same time, this film is more than a little goofy in its comedy. Between the hot tub parties, the youngest daughter who seems to be needing to take a shit all the time and even Seth’s eventual choice of song, it’s fun but also strange and awkward. Which is not a bad thing, I like strange and awkward (I am strange and awkward), but it is worth noting.
I did have a few qualms here or there with the edit; not so much the pacing, which is fine, but there are moments where you feel like you missed something due to how the film sets them up. The Jerry/Theresa conversation at the house, for example, while you follow it, there was a chunk of the conversation that you didn’t actually get to hear, so you get Jerry saying that Maggie and Seth should work together, but you never hear Theresa throwing Maggie under the lawnmower, as it were.
Also, some moments lost me as far as character’s behavior. For example, there’s a significant character absent at Seth’s bar mitzvah, and regardless of how good the reason, it didn’t seem right that it would play out that way. The timing felt off, almost like the filmmakers tried to accomplish too much in one cinematic night when it might’ve been better to separate the two elements more.
Overall, though, Theresa is a Mother was a very entertaining film. Again, I truly appreciated that the characters, regardless of where they would fall in the hierarchy of “lead, supporting, etc,” were all given lives to develop and grow. In fact, when I think back on the film, it’s rare that the revelations or developments I key in on are Theresa’s; more often I think of someone else. In that way, Theresa is more the glue of the film that holds everyone in the same space, so we can experience everyone’s perspective.
Read more: The Film Threat Website
Theresa McDermott has chased her “ideal” life as an urban-dwelling, punk(ish) singer-songwriter to the very end of its possible existence. She is broke, options have run out and she happens to have a few kids she is raising on her own since their dad split a year ago. Facing eviction and nowhere to go, Theresa packs up her children and what is left of her life and moves back to the small rural town, childhood home and parents she deliberately ran from a decade ago. Her parents’ mutual misery and depressingly gloomy lives where a “downer” she felt had no place in her fun city life. Yet from the moment Theresa drives back up her old driveway, it is clear that there have been some major changes. Her parents, armed with a plethora of hobbies, a hot tub and a new philosophy, are not exactly the old folks she left behind. Theresa needs a job, her parents need their space and a painful family history needs some closure.
Delightful is the word to best sum up Theresa is a Mother. The film is an absolute delight. It takes an age old story and real life experiences and makes them uniquely Theresa’s own, while incorporating an air of awkwardness that makes the experience a little too close for comfort at times for the viewer. Awkward, random hilarious situation after situation ensues in Theresa but it’s never over the top and it never detracts from the seriousness of the film. The family dynamics and the entirely too common but yet still odd situation of having to live with ones’ parents again are perfectly explored here, showing us harsh truths, the unadulterated love of family and the uncomfortable bordering on funny moments that occur within families.
C. Fraser Press is more than terrific as Theresa, the struggling mother trying to keep it all together while giving up on her dreams to help her family. Her performance never wavers and is strong throughout, not to mention hysterically funny at times. She is also able to reach into the depths of the emotional pool to bring out the sadness and frustration a mother in her position experiences. The child actors involved here were quite good as well with Schulyer Press being the standout as an almost teen who is shy and a loner and struggling to find herself. Also featured are Edie McClurg (who is wonderful as always, I’m quite the fan of hers) and Richard Poe as Theresa’s parents.
Between the remarkable script and phenomenal ensemble, Theresa is a Mother is a dramedy I highly recommend. It’s both funny and touching and will make you pause to give thought about your own family interactions. This is one to definitely add to your “Must See” list. I should probably also mention that Theresa has won over 12 awards on the festival circuit ranging from Best Director to Best Ensemble. Seriously, don’t just take my word for it – go check out the film’s website and see everything they’ve done and are up too and to learn more about the cast and crew. You can also “like” them on Facebook! So go check them out!
– Misty Lane
LINK TO REVIEW
To Theresa (C. Fraser Press) life is a song. You may find it at a Laundromat, in a Gospel kitchen, or on an iPod. Although her life-long dream of being a professional musician has remained unfulfilled, the beat goes on against all odds as pesky details like rent and bills persist. In a last-ditch attempt at survival Theresa packs up her three children (Schuyler Iona Press, Maeve Press, Amaya Press) and leaves New York City to return to her rural childhood home. Her parents (the delightful Edie McClurg and Richard Poe) open their house, if not their hearts, to this eccentric female traveling band. Let the familial insanity begin!
THERESA IS A MOTHER is an unconventional tale of dreams and reality, past and present, responsibility and neglect, and closures and beginnings. The characters are so bizarre that at first you wonder what you are watching. But as the story unfolds, slowly the universal human elements are revealed and you are suddenly caught up in this wacky and incongruous group of people.
If that isn’t impressive enough for you, most of the actors are related. In addition to having written THERESA IS A MOTHER, C. Fraser Press co-directs and stars as the mother. Her three children belong to the Press family, as does the co-director (Darren Press). Still not imPRESSed? All the music in the film is based on the original songs by Schuyler Iona Press. Obviously THERESA IS A MOTHER is a family affair in both fiction and fact. What isn’t so obvious is its inspirational message. That sneaks up on you and packs a powerful punch.
– Laurie Lawson
LINK TO REVIEW
Single motherhood is an exercise in chaos — especially when you have a lot of growing up to do yourself. Such is the driving theme of the new comedy ‘Theresa Is a Mother.’ It is a family-centric film in more ways than one: Writer and lead actress C. Fraser Press co-directed the film with her husband Darren Press, and their three daughters also co-star. The result of this clan collaboration is a funny and moving portrait of a flawed but well-meaning parent trying to better herself and, as best she can, control the familial pandemonium around her.
Theresa, a forty-something aspiring musician with more heart than talent, has no money or partner. Facing eviction, she moves with her three young daughters – Maggie (Schuyler Press), Tuesday (Maeve Press), and Penelope (Amaya Press) – into her parents’ middle-of-nowhere rural house for the summer, hoping she will figure out what to do with her life.
From her financial failings to her inability to corral her kids, Theresa has some deep flaws as a mom. Press effectively portrays Theresa as a neurotic, well-meaning screw-up trying like hell to bond more with her kids — and to set a better example for them. “Parents are idiots,” Theresa concludes at one point. But as she repeatedly makes clear, that does not prevent them from caring, or trying to do better.
To its great advantage, “Theresa” emphasizes humor, character dynamics, and unfolding layers of emotion ahead of plot. Many of its scenes play out long after the plot beats have been conveyed. Humor and character interactions are allowed room to grow and breathe, amping up until scenes hit heights of supreme ridiculousness. In one scene, an out-of-sorts Theresa wanders around the perimeter of her car after being pulled over, stretching out the scene length as a police officer yells at her to get back in. She finally does, but not before getting her foot stuck in an abandoned guitar.
The film also teems with bizarre running jokes – for instance, a recurring TV cooking show starring clerically garbed African American TV chefs who sing food-themed gospel music while preparing dishes such as the “Holy Trinity three bean salad.” On the surface, some of these scenes do not seem to advance plot or character development. But they add to the film’s themes of searching for control in a world where things are anything but neat, easy or logical.
The three Press children bring impressive performances to the proceedings – especially the eldest, Schuyler, whose Maggie emanates a magnetic, odd-duck intelligence. She is obsessed with old showtunes and wears strange costumes to school, causing other kids to laugh and whisper. Much of the time, she seems off in her own head. She is somehow a child and an old soul all at once. It is a nuanced performance, and a promising film debut.
Indeed, none of the film’s characters are clichéd types. Take Jerry (Robert Turano), a seemingly uptight bank official who denies Theresa a job. Later, Jerry confronts Theresa when he thinks that Maggie has been stealing yard work jobs from his thirteen-year-old son, Seth (Matthew Gumley), by accepting lower wages. (In reality, it was Theresa herself who was stealing the work. Naturally, she does not correct him.) Just as the scene seems poised for a tense confrontation, Jerry expresses a grudging respect for “Maggie’s” ruthless capitalism, and amiably suggests that Seth and Maggie work as a team in the future. He even asks Theresa to write a song for Seth to sing at his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. The film’s characters rarely behave as expected, lending them three-dimensionality.
While it may be an old theme, “Theresa” articulately illustrates how the flaws of parents seep into the DNA of their children. Cloris (Edie McClurg) and Roy (Richard Poe) are alternately upbeat, distant, and despondent. (Much of the latter two, we learn, has to do with a past family tragedy.) And yet they clearly love their daughter, and do their meager best to show it. Their behavior and emotions explain a lot about Theresa, from her lack of self-confidence to her parental warmth. On the surface, “Theresa Is a Mother” is loose, light, and funny. But the film possesses impressive psychological depth, probing Theresa’s neuroses and their roots.
“Theresa’s” use of music is very effective. The film shuttles between a soundtrack of abrasive rock music and a soft acoustic guitar-driven score, alternately evoking overwhelming discord and a searching melancholy.
Unfortunately, Alex Kornreich’s photography tends to be sluggish, mostly consisting of static shots. While editor Chad Smith wisely avoids an overabundance of cutting, choosing instead to let long scenes play out uninterrupted, the film still might have benefited from a livelier camera. But it is a small complaint.
In “Theresa Is a Mother,” we witness two generations of children trying to take care of yet more children, and a mother trying as best she can to break the cycle and become an adult. The film could have been a shallow comedy about wacky family dynamics. Instead it is an insightful story about how parents, through all their failings and best efforts, shape their kids.
– David Teich
Following Best Film awards at the Orlando Film Festival, Reel Independent Washington DC and the International Film Festival Manhattan, Theresa is a Mother is scheduled to screen at this year’s Long Island International Film Expo in Bellmore, Long Island. The filmmakers, C. Fraser Press and Darren Press previously screened their award winning short film A Driving Lesson at the 2007 LIIFE.
Theresa is a Mother is a dramatic comedy focused on single mom, singer/songwriter punkish wannabe Theresa McDermott. Theresa has chased her “ideal” life as an urban-dwelling musician to the very end of its possible existence. She is broke, options have run out and she happens to have a few kids she is raising on her own since their dad split a year ago. Facing eviction and nowhere to go, Theresa packs up her children and what is left of her life and moves back to the small rural town, childhood home and parents she deliberately ran from a decade ago. Her parents’ mutual misery and depressingly gloomy lives were a “downer” she felt had no place in her fun city life. Yet from the moment Theresa drives back up her old driveway, it is clear that there have been some major changes. Her parents, armed with a plethora of hobbies, a hot tub and a new philosophy, are not exactly the old folks she left behind. Theresa needs a job, her parents need their space and a painful family history needs some closure. Old wounds, unattainable dreams, and some “other things” are exposed as a fractured family works to become whole and a woman with a few kids learns to become a mother.
The film stars Emmy nominated actress and winner of numerous film festival best actress awards C. Fraser Press, John Hughes’s film favorite Edie McClurg (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Nickelodeon’s Matt Gumley and newcomers Schuyler Iona Press, Maeve Press and Amaya Press.
“This film is a real family affair” says co-director and producer Darren Press. “My wife, C. Fraser Press wrote the screenplay, co-directed and starred in the film and our three girls played major roles in the ensemble cast. Our oldest Schuyler (12 at the time of shooting) also wrote and recorded the main theme song.” Press continues, “We did not originally plan to have them in the movie however we figured having them on set was cheaper than babysitting, so we did it and it was an incredible experience for all of us.”
Theresa is a Mother has received great praise from critics and the film industry largely due to a well-crafted script and fine directing and acting. This is a story that resonates for audiences of all ages and offers moviegoers a rare wonderful comedic and dramatic relatable story.
The West Orlando News wrote: “Between the genuine script and the excellent acting, this movie will leave you laughing throughout while pulling your heartstrings making it hard to fight back the tears. Every scene in this film showed the Press family as masters of storytelling, but what really makes this film enjoyable are the heartwarming emotions, genuine dialogue, and convincing characterization by every actor. “Theresa is a Mother” proves to be a captivating feature film that will resonate with diverse audiences. A remarkable independent feature film worth watching – don’t miss it.”
Theresa is a Mother plays at the Bellmore Movies on Wednesday July 24th at 5pm. For more information about the film, please contact Darren Press at Darren@amspe.com. For tickets to the Long Island International Film Expo please contact 516 571-3168 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Directed by C. Fraser Press & Darren Press; Screenplay by C. Fraser Press; Produced by AMSPE and Darren Press; Starring Edie McClurg, C. Fraser Press, Richard Poe, Matt Gumley, Robert Turano, Schuyler Iona Press, Maeve Press, Amaya Press and Elaine Bromka; Music by Schuyler Iona Press; Edited by Chad Smith; Sound by CJ DeGennaro; Costumes by Lauren Oppelt; Set Design by Cameron Stern.
About the Production Company A May Sky Picture Entertainment:AMSPE is an entertainment production company founded by writers, producers and directors C. Fraser Press and Darren Press. AMSPE’s first project was the short film A Driving Lesson – featured in over 30 film festivals wordwide and nominated for and winner of numerous film festival awards. A Driving Lesson was also a Glamour Magazine web film series official selection which screened short films from up and coming directors. AMSPE’s first feature film Theresa is a Mother has won 4 Best Film awards and continues to screen in festivals around the world. AMSPE has also developed and workshopped the new musical What I’m Failing to Learn in NYC to great reviews and is further developing the project for a theatrical run. AMSPE is focused on developing material for the Film, TV, Web and Music industries.
Interview: Darren Press ( Co-Director ‘Theresa is a Mother’)
Theresa McDermott has chased her “ideal” life as an urban-dwelling, punk(ish) singer-songwriter to the very end of its possible existence. She is broke, options have run out and she happens to have a few kids she is raising on her own since their dad split a year ago. Facing eviction and nowhere to go, Theresa packs up her children and what is left of her life and moves back to the small rural town, childhood home and parents she deliberately ran from a decade ago. Theresa needs a job, her parents need their space and a painful family history needs some closure. Old wounds, unattainable dreams, and some “other things” are exposed as a fractured family works to become whole and a woman with a few kids learns to become a mother.
We talked with the Co-Director of ‘THERESA IS A MOTHER‘ DARREN PRESS about the making the low budget film, as well as its inclusion in the INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL MANHATTAN on Sunday, November 11 at New York Cities QUAD CINEMA.
Where did the idea of ‘Theresa is a Mother’ Come About? I read in one of the director’s statement that you originally wanted to make a film in an East Village tenement building. Was that script going to feature a similar story?
Yes, my wife C. Fraser Press, originally wrote a different script that does take place in an East Village tenement building. That script is also a feature and in fact is the next film we intend to shoot. It is quite a different kind of movie with a very different storyline. The truth was, that movie would have simply been beyond our financial means to shoot in a way that we felt would serve the story. Therefore, my wife “shelved” it and began to pen what became Theresa Is A Mother. As she has said, she did start out attempting to write a movie that would embrace all of our actual obstacles and utilize whatever resources we did have. I know the initial nspiration for the story came from a small house we owned with a little addition housing a hot tub. My wife tends to write from character out, and I do believe that the story for Theresa Is A Mother developed around characters who she felt might inhabit this space, as seen in a crucial moment of their lives.
What is your filmmaking background?
Theresa is a Mother is our first feature film. In 2007 we shot the short film “A Driving Lesson”. That film was an official selection to 35 film festivals and won a few awards including the Lou Costello Comedy award at the Garden State Film festival. It was also part of Glamour Magazines online short film fest featuring top new female directors. Prior to 2007, I worked on films mainly as a PA. Somewhere in there I started an advertising agency and that’s been active since 2003. I won a few awards shooting videos and commercials for a few clients. My wife was a writer and Emmy nominated actress before we were married. All of her film experience was in front of the camera or as a writer.
Have you and your wife always been a creative tandem or is ‘Theresa is a Mother’ the first time the two of you have collaborated? How did you split the enormous responsibilities of a film production?
We’ve always done projects together. I directed and produced a one woman show she wrote and performed called “Why We Don’t Bomb The Amish” that ran in NYC and prior to that a show called “Treading Alphabet Soup” that played at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and also a short run in NYC. She was also in a play of mine I wrote and directed called “Checkpoint”. “Theresa is a Mother” is by far the most involved project we’ve done together. The good thing is that we love working together. We have tremendous trust in each others instincts. Without sitting down and dividing responsibilities, we each pretty naturally gravitated to aspects of the process that we felt we’d handle best. I handled a bit more of the on set directing, often because my wife was in the scene or getting ready. She also spent time directing on set, working closely with the kids. That allowed me to prepare for other scenes or handle producer things. We also do quite a bit of being on set together as directors and really enjoyed the process. She was very involved daily with editing and we really teamed up on most of post. Every moment in the final cut was agreed upon by both of us.
Your family as a whole was involved with the film including your daughters as well. How did the conversation with your children go when you mentioned you were going to make a movie?
They were very excited, but not surprised. We have always supported our children’s creative endeavors and allowed them access to participating in ours, so this was a more involved version of other things we’ve done. Our girls are used to life being fairly “spontaneous” in our household, and this was just another “crazy” family activity. The kids worked incredibly hard. We explained to them that if they were going to do this, they were expected to act professionally, to be prepared and be responsible for their work. There were late nights and long days and they remained focused throughout. In the end they met some great people and had a fantastic summer.
Being a low budget production, how did you manage to use limited financial resources to your advantage with the film? What kind of compromises did the financial aspect of production cause your production?
This can be the subject of a book. I think for our budget we really stretched funds as best as possible. We shot locally, we used whatever “location” resources we had including our own house and the houses and properties of friends. All in all, we knew we had to focus on character and story because we did not have any other frills available to us. This is ultimately a wonderful thing. Another positive spin on our financial limitations was the fact that we were creating a story that dealt on certain levels with how a woman’s financial difficulties forces her to a place where her priorities and values all come into question and she ends up finding a “truth” through that struggle. The art imitating life aspect of our own financial struggles with the making of this movie, I believe added to some of the authenticity of characters and story that resulted and people seem to respond to. In terms of compromises, I know there were many. Things would have been smoother for our production with a larger staff and crew, more equipment and most importantly, more time. Time was probably our biggest obstacle, and in the film business, money does buy time. Yet, even with our compromises and the stress that can result, it was really a joyful, albeit exhausting, experience. I guess I will notice all the areas we compromised more clearly when I have a bigger budget on the next one.
How did you assemble the cast? What were some directorial techniques you utilized while working with the actors on set?
Our cast was assembled in a fairly traditional way, through casting sessions. As we were casting in New York City, we had the great fortune of meeting some fantastic stage actors and ultimately cast some wonderful ones. Then of course, we chose to cast our three daughters. This goes back to my previous comments on using what we had. And, we also knew based on their personalities that they would really take to the process. My wife had created parts for them that gave them an opportunity to really embrace characters that were not at all who they are as people. The one exception would be our baby, who only two years old at the time. Her personality was the inspiration for that character through and through. In terms of working with actors, we had some very experienced and some novice people (particularly our own children) on set. It was an interesting experience to blend the two and direct a scene allowing each actor to feel very much on the same level. Respect was key, and creating an environment where the actors felt extremely comfortable around each other. They had opportunities and were encouraged to relate to each other before and between filming. After all we were creating a family with a deep history with people who had just met each other. Although we spoke individually with actors before shooting to discuss characters, there was limited time for rehearsals. Because of this, time on set needed to be focused for our actors and it was our job as directors to mute the background chaos for them. This story is so much about the history of the characters relationship and the history of the place they are in so we wanted to encourage our actors to really delve into that reality, to look to each other for a sense of who they are and to occupy their space with a real sense of personal familiarity and history.
The film has seen some success on the indie film festival circuit (including being up for ‘Best Picture’ at the upcoming International Film festival Manhattan on Nov. 11). How has this experience been and what do you plan going forward with the film, festival wise?
It is of course fantastic to feel that our little movie is touching audiences enough to win these awards. That has been our ultimate goal, to touch audiences, and we really did not know what to expect when we let the movie out of our own protective hands. Winning is fun, but more wonderful has been seeing that audiences are entertained and moved by our story. We are new at this and still figuring out how to move forward. Our sense is that we feel confident that the movie is worthy at this point and would like to try to get it to a bigger audience, whether through finding the right distributor or starting out with our own micro-self distribution, we feel people will want to see our movie and tell their friends about it – we’re seeing it happen already. In terms of festivals, that is up in the air. There are so many amazing festivals, but the expense of applying and then physically getting to the festivals in order to ensure crowds come and enjoy our movie is almost as daunting as distribution. There are a few more festivals we would be honored to be a part of, so we’ll have to see what happens. In the end, with or without festivals, I think we all want to feel that there is room in our culture for good movies that are artist driven which can be delivered to audiences.
How have you found the NYC Independent filmmaking scene? Do you find the resources available in NYC make the filmmaking process easier or does the high financial obligation create more of a burden to aspiring filmmakers?
It’s hard to address this with a lot of knowledge as we shot most of our movie in a tiny town in upstate New York. We were not a big enough “little” movie to really take advantage of some things such as tax incentives offered by the city although they are available. We intend to shoot our next movie though in New York City and preferably using a soundstage, so we are in the process of learning about those resources right now. New York City is full of really top-notch deserving talent, both creative and technical, but yes, that comes with a price. So, it’s complicated in the beginning when you’d like to take advantage of these wonderful resources but really cannot afford them. I guess that’s why we ended up shooting a rural movie for our first film and hope to earn the ability to use more of what the city has to offer the next time around.
‘Theresa is a Mother’ is the story of Theresa McDermott a failed but always hopeful solo punk artist trying to survive in New York City with her 3 daughters and no husband. When things go south and she can no longer make ends meet, she is forced to pack up and move back to the small town, house and parents she ran from a decade ago. Completely out of touch with her parents, Theresa remembers their life as boring and depressed. However, from the moment she pulls up her old driveway, she realizes things have changed. Her parents (played by fan favorite Edie McClurg “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and NYC Indie Film Fest Best Actor winner and Broadway star Richard Poe) have a plethora of new hobbies including a hot tub and late night adventures. Her parents need their space, Theresa needs a job and an old family tragedy needs closure. Old wounds, unattainable dreams, and some “other things” are exposed as a fractured family works to become whole and a woman with a few kids learns to become a mother.
‘Theresa is a Mother‘ is off to a great start winning 5 festival awards in October including BEST FEATURE and BEST DIRECTOR at the Orlando Film Festival; BEST FEATURE and BEST ACTRESS (C. Fraser Press) at the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza; and BEST SCREENPLAY and BEST ACTOR (b) at the NYC Independent Film Festival.
About the Producers
‘Theresa is a Mother‘ is produced by A May Sky Picture Entertainment LLC. (AMSPE). AMSPE is an entertainment production company founded by C. Fraser Press and Darren Press focused on developing projects in the film, TV, music and web industries. In 2007 AMSPE produced the short film “A Driving Lesson” (written and directed by C. Fraser Press) which went on to screen at over 40 film festivals worldwide and won numerous awards and accolades from the Garden State Film Festival, Glamour Magazine’s top short films of 2008 and more. www.amspe.com