It doesn’t happen everyday that you have the delight of speaking with someone who is so passionate about their work that it is infectious. This is what happened to me when I had the pleasure of speaking with Kim Rocco Shields the director of the up and coming feature film, “Love Is All You Need?” Based on the short film of the same name (see my write up of the short here) this is a passion project for Rocco (as her friends call her) and you can tell when she beams with enthusiasm talking about it during our conversation.
We are set to meet via Skype, I’m in Melbourne, Australia and it’s roughly 6am, Rocco on set in her production studio in Burbank, Los Angeles mid morning with the hustle and bustle of an active studio off to the side. She is clearly a busy lady and that is evident with her team seeking guidance from her as we talk. She takes a moment out of her busy schedule to talk about her latest project the feature film, “Love Is All you Need?” As our time zones, schedules and fuzzy wireless connections almost get the better of us we begin to wonder whether the universe is conspiring against us. Managing to overcome these obstacles we settle in to discuss her inspiration for the short film, landing very hot acting talent for her feature and the potential impact that will have on the audience that comes out to see her film, her previous experience as a script supervisor and what a day in the life on set is for her.
As I set the scene for my first question, the inspiration for the short film I talk about the prevalence of bullying in today’s society not just here in Australia but also in the United States. Oddly it appears that in a modern society this epidemic is getting worse and with this is mind what inspired Rocco to make such an impactful short film.
Immediately Rocco lights up and is animated as she talks about the impact bullying had on her and many other American’s back in 2010 when it was all over the news and “no one quite understood what would drive a young child to take their life from bullying,” she explains. This was the first time that these moments sparked not only her interest but her creativity to explore an idea. The idea to bring a film to the public that would challenge their beliefs and norms by telling a story about bullying, harassment and prejudice to them in a way that had not yet been presented, beyond the “vain of comedy”, as Rocco says it previously been explored by people such as Ellen in the form of a sketch.
What seemed to resonate with Rocco when she explained this process to me was that “no one could understand why it was so difficult and moreover why people were so affected by it (as she refers to the media out pours in 2010). Because in essence, the truth is, everyone has been bullied at some point of their life, it’s just inherent psychology… there’s bullying, prejudice and anyone who is different is ridiculed that’s just how it goes, back to survival of the fittest, it is inherently in us”. It’s an interesting view and for this writer it’s true. Like many children I had been the victim of bullying when at school at a point in my younger life.
So Rocco explains to me that one night she went to sleep thinking about ways to make people understand, not only the “psychology of what goes on when someone is bullied, harassed or prejudiced against”, she wanted to also explore what potentially bringing a new “lens” to all of it could achieve by realizing a long standing idea of “a reverse world” and “using this lens and putting a shoe on the other foot”. By doing so Rocco took “what was all over the news” and “explore[d] it in a way that people could relate to” which meant telling a story in such a way that it would appeal to the mainstream society masses. This was not going to be just another film about being gay or bullied, which are generally made for the audience in which it represents.
This time there was going to be a film that would no longer preach to the choir but would deal with the “people who really need to hear it” and that is how “the short was born”. Further in order for Rocco to make a feature on this topic she was going to need to prove it could be done and this is where the short came in to play – the proof is in the pudding as they say and in this case the 45 million views the short received on YouTube was that exact proof.
Equipped with a stellar ensemble cast for her feature film including some of the hottest young talent today, Tyler Blackburn (Caleb in Pretty Little Liars), Briana Evigan (of Step Up fame), and Emily Osment (Hannah Montana), I ask Rocco if this casting was planned, knowing that these actors have the ability to generate a wider audience for the film. Rocco is acutely aware and it’s “exactly what [she] thought”. There have been no accidents with the casting and this director has carefully thought through everything of what has been a four-year journey thus far. We talk about the beginning when Rocco began this process to create the feature and started by self-funding it through her Company, WingSpan Pictures. “Obviously I couldn’t fund the full feature but I was able to fund the development process”. For Rocco that meant she needed the best casting director “to help [her] take it to the next level”.
The only way this could occur was to get someone who truly believed in the film as much as she did and she found that person or persons. Lindsay Graham of Betty Mae Inc., the casting powerhouse behind Black Swan and Silver Linings Playbook, read the script and “instantly resonated with the material… and believed in it and she jumped right on it and talked to Mary [Vernieu, her partner] and they met with me”.
Shortly after this breakthrough the initial funding for the film fell through, this was four years ago. So much was their belief in Rocco and her project they were still waiting and onboard when funding finally arrived some four months ago. It is because of them and their willingness to “stick their necks out” Rocco says that she has been able to “reach people”, and all the right people with “my mission being to really draw from different television and film audiences to really get an ensemble cast”. So with that, the script “circulated through Hollywood, fortunately they [the cast] read it”. As we talk about my love for another cast member, Jeremy Sisto and my fondness of him in Clueless Rocco is quick to state how lucky she is to have him. More importantly though she is very much humbled by all the talent she has working on her project and how “lucky she is to have these actors and they take it to the next level”. Interestingly she talks about the studio and network process that actors are used to dealing with and the fact that they are required to almost check their creativity at the door and “just say the words that are written on the paper”. This is not Rocco’s process and she actively challenges them to “make this scene a little more real, change the lines,” she says. “Let’s change it and work it out so it really feels visceral, because if it’s not real at the end of the day I’ll lose an audience because I’m creating this whole new world”.
We talk about the all-important part of this project, the funding. Moreover I am keen to hear from Rocco what it was like, after receiving thousands of no’s and enduring unsuccessful Indiegogo campaigns what did it feel like to finally get funding in the eleventh hour and what [after the trip to the bar with her team – see the web series episode here] did she do to start turning this into reality. Having a million people say to her the cheque is in the mail only to never actually receive anything or being told you can’t do it only seemed to strengthen the resolve of this director. Rocco tells me “I learned very quickly, until I saw that fucking cheque, until I saw that money and until I saw that signature on the dotted line that is when it happens”.
When that day finally came a few months ago for Rocco she went to her office, grabbed everyone and said “it’s finally real, and that’s when we went to the bar, that was it and after that I was just grateful”. You still get a clear sense from Rocco as she shares with me this moment that it is still, even now sinking in and after such a long hard road to get to this point it’s not that hard to see why she still might be shell shocked by this whole event.
Without so much as a second to recover from any lingering hangover from celebrations, Rocco is thrust into the process of film making and working against the clock to capitalize on Californian Tax Incentive deadlines that were looming with a drop-dead date of 20 October.
After she had called all the crew to put them on hold for that month, spoken with her friends and colleagues that had supported her journey, it’s clear to see she is not only excited about her film, she is genuinely appreciative of all that is happening. Rocco is most passionate as she tells me she feels like she is making this film “to show anyone can have dreams and anyone can make them happen and I am living, walking, breathing proof”.
Having Rocco take me through a typical day on set, it’s all the evidence I need to cement to me what I already knew, this is a person who thrives on her passion. Telling me she wears many hats as the director, writer and a producer she declares she is the busiest she has ever been and “it’s awesome”. She talks about the baptism of fire that this project has been for her, all the while thinking that her vast experience in the past has prepared her fully for this adventure – yet realizing that it’s still a learning experience for her and she has learnt how to become “resilient”. It’s an interesting comment and view from Rocco. Despite all the obstacles it’s refreshing almost to hear her talk about dealing with set life and day to day people issues as something she has needed to garner strength for and become resilient, when in actual fact she has been resilient for four years. As a business owner she has had the fortitude to forge her own path and that is about as resilient as one can get.
Finally I ask Rocco about her time as a Script Supervisor, where she discovered a long time ago would be the best learning ground for her to hone her skills as a director. With countless hours working along side some of the “best of the best” and some of the “worst of the worst” directors as a Script Supervisor, she was able to learn from them and see how a set works and how it doesn’t. Declaring that she is now able to “play with the big boys” I suspect she really is and they should watch out. Rocco truly believes that this film will change lives and she knows that having the full creative freedom will mean she can “knock this out of the park” and you really believe her when she tells you this, in fact you really want her to.