Amin Matalqa, Michelle Lang, & Amanda Plummer “Strangely in Love” (Part 2)
Part 2 of The Film Yap’s interview with director Amin Matalqa (“Captain Abu Raed”), actress/producer Michelle Lang (“The Legend of Bruce Lee”), and Emmy Award-winning actress Amanda Plummer (“Pulp Fiction”) whose latest movie, “Strangely in Love,” will make its world premiere at the Heartland Film Festival on October 19th.
In addition to making the rounds on the film festival circuit, the film makers are making “Strangely in Love” available on Blu-ray, DVD, and HD digital download in order to raise distribution funds. Details may be found at their website.
Click here to read Part 1 of this interview.
The Film Yap: Amin, Amanda plays a small but memorable role in “Strangely in Love.” What was it like working with an actor so well known for playing unusual characters? How did she come to be involved in the film?
Maltalqa: Amanda was amazing. We invited her to attend a reading of the script, and she had just seen “Captain Abu Raed,” so the next day she called me and said she’d love to work together. So I tailored the role of Sister Sarah for her. She said, “Let’s make her more interesting” and actually pushed me to take her over the edge. What’s amazing about Amanda is that she brings complete spontaneity to her performance so that it’s never fixed and completely alive and malleable once the cameras start rolling. No two takes are ever the same, and for me, that’s where magic happens, when the performance is fresh every time.”
The Film Yap: Amanda, Amin has said that when you were approached with the role of Sister Sarah that you said you wanted to make the role “more fun” than she was originally written. The end result is certainly fun. Was there much improvisation or did you have input on how the character was rewritten?
Plummer: “Fun” to me meant “life.” That word on paper means most anything to anyone reading it, but to me it means, specifically, “life.” I like life, not a representation of life but life with all its contradictions and no judgment as to how such and such a person would or should or should not behave in such and such a situation, environment or moment. To not pose an assumption but to live — and with good writing, that is fun, precarious and adventurous.
The Film Yap: Michelle, in addition to being the lead actress, you were also one of the film’s producers. Can you tell our readers a little about what goes into producing a feature like “Strangely in Love”? What kind of challenge was it for you to juggle these two roles?
Lang: Originally, I was only going to act in “Strangely in Love.” But as we (Amin, Jemuel and I) got farther and farther into workshopping the script and looking at actual shoot days, it quickly became apparent we didn’t have the money to hire someone who knew what they were doing to produce / line produce. I had just come off of producing a film called “Lost on Purpose” with Jane Kaczmarek, C. Thomas Howell and Octavia Spencer, so I knew I could tackle producing ‘Strangely in Love.’”
“The main reason I produced “Strangely in Love” was because the actress in me really wanted to see it get made! I knew the only way to do that would be to tackle the producing side. I did all the pre-production producing (SAG paperwork, crew contracts, budget, banking, organization, permits, etc …) and then when we got closer to production, I handed the reins over to Ian Nelms. Ian took over the umbrella of making sure the production was flowing, and then we were blessed to have Seunghye Jung and Yeonhee Lee come on to run the day-to-day. I had to do producer duties on the off days, and sometimes during production (like when we lost a location last minute) but I couldn’t have done my job as an actress had I not had Ian, Seunghye and Yeonhee. They allowed me to get to play and explore, and I’m extremely grateful.
The Film Yap: Amin, what is it like having a successful film on the festival circuit? What do festivals like Heartland mean to independent directors like you?
Maltalqa: The best part about making films is when you finally get to share them with your audience. “Captain Abu Raed” took me around the world and was beyond anything I ever anticipated. I still get emails from people discovering it and telling me how it’s affected them. That only fuels my desire to make movies that people can connect with. I hope this will be the case with “Strangely in Love.” It’s a small movie competing in an oversaturated marketplace. Festivals are absolutely crucial to launch independent films out into the world. Heartland has really made clear the type of films they like, and those happen to be the kinds of movies I want to continue making.”
The Film Yap: Michelle, what is your favorite moment from working on this film? What do you think you’ve learned from it moving forward?
Lang: My favorite moment was shooting the end scene. Without giving anything away, it’s a five-minute, one-take scene. There have to be peaks and valleys in it, and it’s the climax of the film. We must have done it 12 times and it still wasn’t perfect. Nastenka is on the ground, sobbing her eyes out, and both Jemuel and I are raw and working through the scene, and after every take Amin would make a face like he just ate an old sock and be like, “Ehhhhh.” Eventually Amin called Jemuel and I off set and we talked through it — spitballing ideas and reworking the blocking. (The blocking was the tricky part, and once we fixed that, the scene came together.) On take 15, we nailed it. I loved having a director who wouldn’t stand for “good enough.” There were plenty of scenes we would do in only a few takes (with a 15-day shoot, we had to nail scenes quickly!), but it was fun to get to keep pushing the last scene until it reached the heights Amin wanted.
Moving forward, on “Strangely in Love,” we got to spend several months workshopping the script. It was really fun to create and grow the characters with Amin and Jemuel. I would love to do that again with any project. Rehearsal is a luxury we don’t get a lot in films, but I think there’s some amazing layers you can find when you’ve had enough time to burrow into the work. I usually have to do the preparation on my own, before getting to set, and often without meeting the other actors in the scene until the day of, so this one was wonderful to have the ability to explore with the director and other lead.”
The Film Yap: With “Strangely in Love” set to make its world premiere at the Heartland Film Festival, what projects or you working on now or in the near future?
Maltalqa I have a slate of films I’ve been developing with some really talented people. I’m excited about an action adventure Samurai-style film set in 1800 Arabia called “No Tribe” that’s bigger than anything I’ve done before. It’s written by Nizar Wattad who wrote my Disney film, “The United.” I also have a comedy I co-wrote with my writing partner Matt Antonelli called “In Like Flynn.” I have an animated film I’m developing called “Hump,” about a camel looking for his boy across the Arabian Desert. And I have a romantic Hitchcockian thriller I’ve been hired to direct. Which will shoot first? We’ll see. Some take longer than others to get financed. I’m also excited about directing some TV for Disney / ABC as I’m in their development program now.”
Lang: I have a script called “Goober Jump” I wrote and will be producing and acting in. It’s a kid’s film about a dork who wants to win the title of “Grand Champion” at the national jump rope competition. “Bring it On” meets “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” It’s a large budget, so I have to work on raising the money for that. I have a few features I’m on to produce, hopefully which shoot next year…and I’m always popping in for acting roles here and there. I’d love to find my next “Strangely in Love,” something I am passionate about in the acting realm. Nothing excites me more than getting to develop a project I can sink my acting teeth into!