Heather de Michele, a former New Yorker, cofounded Lesbian Pulp-o-rama, a sketch comedy troupe that performed live shows in New York. She went on to produce and direct a variety of film genres including commercials, web series, and shorts before venturing into feature films. Now based in Los Angeles, de Michele’s first feature, As Good as You, has won best LGBT feature at the Hollywood International Film Festival. It was released in LA theaters and on iTunes on June 9.
Kim Carr: Please tell us about yourself.
Heather de Michele: Hey, Kim! Okay! I am a theater director and filmmaker living in Los Angeles with my wife (Lisa in As Good as You) and our two awesome daughters.
KC: I read that your latest film, As Good as You, was based on the actual experiences of your group of friends, which included writer Gretchen M. Michelfeld. Besides writing the screenplay, how much was she involved with the filmmaking process?
HDM: Gretchen was there every step of the way. It’s her late wife and my dearest friend, Beatrice Terry, that the film is made in honor of. The story in the film is loosely based on real events that transpired while Gretchen was trying to get pregnant. More than anything it’s a story about grieving and how it consumes you body and soul and deeply clouds your judgment. The script was written after Beatrice passed away from an all-too-brief battle with cancer.
KC: How long did it take to complete the film from start to finish, from the time Gretchen handed you the script to when the final edit was made?
HDM: The first draft came about eighteen months before we started production. Annie Potts hosted the first reading at her house and that’s when Bryan Dechart came on board. Gretchen and I continued to explore and finesse the script for another year and then we started pre-production in earnest. We shot for eighteen days in Los Angeles.
KC: Does the final film vary much from the original screenplay? If so, how?
HDM: The essence is definitely the same, but little moments changed throughout. Jo’s arc changed dramatically. The original title was Authenticity, but Gretchen and I agreed that was better used as a theme than a title and renamed it after Melineh Kurdian’s (a dear friend) song “As Good as You.”
KC: How did you go about casting the film?
HDM: Most of the cast was in place very early on. Annie Potts, Anna Fitzwater, Raoul Bhaneja, Peter Maloney and Karis Campbell’s roles were written for them specifically. Bryan Dechart was a great actor I had previously directed in a short and our lead, Laura Heisler, came as a referral. We were very grateful to have her join our team; she was the perfect fit for Jo and she was even pregnant during the shoot!
KC: What was your biggest challenge during filming?
HDM: Low-budget filmmaking comes with a set of challenges that ultimately become little blessings. In order to make your days you need to be well rehearsed with shot plans carefully planned out. The beauty is that the necessary prep time makes your shoot days delightfully fun.
KC: What is your favorite scene to watch?
HDM: I really love the final scene at the bar where everyone is saying their goodbyes. It’s the end of an era and everyone has been wounded and grown up a bit in the process. It was one of my favorite days on set. I could just sit back and bask in the incredible commitment from our lead trio. I also loved every day on set with Annie Potts. What a privilege to direct such a fiercely talented actress.
KC: The idea of dealing with grief occurs a lot in this film. How did you approach that cinematically?
HDM: We spent time with Jo’s eyes. We tried to find the soul of every moment, every scene. We found irreverence and humor wherever we could.
KC: What do you hope to accomplish with this film? In other words, what effect would you like it to have for the audience?
HDM: The film has played festivals, colleges, and at a series of private screenings, and I have loved seeing how it has moved people. There’s an authenticity that folks are responding to and that makes me wildly proud.
KC: Besides time, what are the major differences between making features and shorts?
HDM: Very little really. You are either gearing up for a three-day shoot or an eighteen-day shoot! The process and commitment are exactly the same. With a feature, the stakes are definitely higher as more money and time is being invested.
KC: There is a serious lack of representation of women in film production, particularly in the United States – can you speak about this issue from your own experience as director of As Good as You?
HDM: Indeed there is. It was hugely important for Gretchen and me to have a female producer and as many women as possible on our team. Any chance I get to hire a woman, I will.
KC: I read that Gretchen’s second feature screenplay, Villa Cap(ri), is in preproduction. When do you expect it to be finished?
HDM: That little gem is still in the script development phase but I definitely hope to see it make it to production soon!
KC: What do you love the most about what you do?
HDM: Collaborating with brilliant people who push you to be better, work harder, think deeper. Any day I get to be a director is a beautiful day.
KC: What’s next for you?
HDM: I am working on a dynamite new true-crime web series with another amazing female screenwriter, Mariah Gretchen.
Kim Carr is a film studies major at University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she hopes to eventually get her graduate degree. She enjoys watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, and writing screenplays for her own movies, which may one day be shown “at a theater near you.”
As Good as You is available on iTunes: https://geo.itunes.apple.com/us/movie/as-good-as-you/id1238074755?mt=6&at=11l7mn