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© 1987-2018
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Meeting the brewer of Joe

Three weeks ago I wrote about a delightful 20-minute film called Joe, which played at the Sedona International Film Festival, describing it as a melding between classic sitcoms and the screwball romantic comedies from Hollywood’s prime. The film is currently making the festival circuit and can next be seen at the Hang Onto Your Shorts Film Festival in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on April 22 and at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Orange County, California, which runs from April 26 through May 3.

Joe’s executive producer—not to mention the screenwriter and one of the film’s stars—Shara Ashley Zeiger was kind enough to take time out for an online interview and tell us something about what went into the making of the film as well as what else is going on in her busy life.

Shara Ashley Zeiger ScottsMovies: First, let me congratulate you on a very enjoyable short film. It has echoes of classic screwball/romantic comedies. I was wondering what the original inspiration for it was. Did you have any particular movies or television shows as specific models?
Shara Ashley Zeiger: I was very inspired by old New York, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sex in the City, every Nora Ephron movie.

SM: The cast is quite good, including yourself. There is certainly a lot of stage, short-and-feature-film and television experience on display. How did you go about casting Joe? Did you tend to go with people you already knew personally or was it a more of a formal casting-call kind of process?
SAZ: I pulled everyone I knew and cast them. There was no formal casting process. Most of these people are friends of mine.

SM: I see you have actually developed a bible for expanding Joe into a series. You probably don’t want to give away too many details, but I am curious. Would the series continue to focus primarily on Jillian or would it expand to be more of an ensemble exploring the lives of the various other characters who appeared, sometimes briefly, in the original film?
SAZ: Everyone comes in and out in the series in exploring the haves and have-not intersection of the coffee shop, but the primary plot focuses on their relationship.

SM: As someone who does some writing myself, I am curious about your process for creating a character like Jillian. Is she based on some aspect of yourself? Or is she based on someone you know or perhaps a composite of various people you know? Or maybe examples you have admired in literature? Or do you just have some magic way of making her burst from your brain as a completely new and unique person? Did you write with the specific actors in mind?
SAZ: Its a magical burst! LOL. People laugh at me cause I do a lot of stewing before I put things on the page. It’s all part of the work. In some ways Jillian is a classic heroine going on a journey. Because it’s me, it’s a very female-centric story and her experience. There’s always that thing of being an artist and worrying people not fully “getting” you because of what you do to pay the bills. That’s something I’ve dealt with in the past that definitely was an inspiration, and I think everyone struggles with not being good enough. I knew the actor [Bethany Nicole Taylor] who would probably be playing her, and there was some aspects of her that inspired me too.

SM: Joe’s director Kaye Tuckerman has a fascinating c.v., which includes everything from playing Donna in the North American tour of Mamma Mia! to being Carrie Ann Moss’s stand-in in a couple of Matrix movies. Her career has brought her from Australia to Kenya to America. How did she happen to come on board for your project?
SAZ: It’s funny, Kaye wasn’t the original director of Joe, but I am so glad it worked out that way. Originally it was someone else who had family drama that called them away. Kaye is a wonderful acting coach I’ve worked with before for some big auditions and knew she had been directing some short films lately with some of my peers, so when I had to find someone new, she easily was on the shortlist of people I reached out to. After we chatted when she read the script, it was clear this was my director. Best decision I could have made.

Joe poster SM: It is clear you are an extremely busy person, what with writing plays and screenplays, producing films, performing. In your heart of hearts, what’s your favorite thing to be spending your energy on? Is it the writing? Or is it making everything happen? Or is it being in front of an audience?
SAZ: Acting is my love. I don’t love writing for other people or producing other people’s work. I’ve tried it, and my heart just isn’t in it. I think I would be miserable if I wasn’t acting.

SM: Your work is pretty much New York-based. Where do you come down on the whole Los Angeles/New York thing? Do you see yourself moving to L.A. at some point or are you firmly ensconced in the Big Apple? Or maybe you see yourself eventually becoming bi-coastal (if you are not already)?
SAZ: I’m from Philly originally, so New York was a logical move. I’ve tried L.A., but I think New York is more my vibe. I also married a native New Yorker, so this is really my home. I think eventually I will be bi-coastal to some degree if work takes me out there, but I think L.A. would always be the place I go to work, and New York is home.

SM: I see you have a role in Rob Margolies’s new film Weight (tagline: “A comedy about a heavy subject”) with a cast that includes some well-known names, like Randy Quaid and Kathy Najimy. What is that like to find yourself collaborating with people whose work you may have watched on screen for years? Was anyone particularly helpful to you? Was anyone entirely different than you expected?
SAZ: My scene wasn’t with them, but it is cool they are in it too. I’ve worked with a ton of people over the years who have bigger resumes than me. At the end of the day we are all there to do a job and make something. People are people. Some just have bigger bank accounts. :)

SM: Do you have advice for young people who feel drawn to the dramatic arts or entertainment industry but are not sure how to get a foot in? Is there anything, based on your own experience, that women need to particularly bear in my mind?
SAZ: It’s like brain surgery. LOL. If you want to be a brain surgeon, you train, you go to school, you study for a long time. With acting, it’s like that and should be looked at like that. Sure, there are people who have great instincts and get really successful young and more or less learn on the job, but they are always learning and need to keep learning to have longevity in this business. Acting is supposed to look easy, but it take a lot of work to make something look easy. Watch movies and plays. Take a class. Watch YouTube videos about people talking about their craft. Read books. Immerse yourself in it, and if you still love it and can’t see yourself doing anything else, keep going. If on your journey you feel like you want to be doing something else, go for it. This road is hard, but it sure is beautiful. If this were ten or even five years ago, being a woman in this business meant a certain road. Now, that can is wide open. You “do” you, create your own opportunities when the doors shut, and make people notice you. We’ve got a long way to go, but if this business is in your heart, there are people who will support you.

SM: What other exciting things are you working on that you can tell us about?
SAZ: I have a few projects in the works that are mine, in addition to a lot of other people’s projects I’m acting in. My play Roughly Speaking is back in development with Rhymes Over Beats [a collective of hip hop and theater artists] and looking towards a 2020 run off-Broadway. Joe is really a pilot, with a whole pitch deck I would love to to turn into a series, and I’m hoping to find a way to make that happen. My other short film The Red Lotus is heading into the festival circuit soon, and I have a feature script version I’ve been working on that I would like to find a way to make.

Shara Ashley Zeiger’s professional and social media links

  • Joe’s movie web site
  • The Platform Group’s Facebook page
  • Shara Ashley Zeiger on Facebook

    -S.L., 19 March 2018

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