Interview: Leah Meyerhoff (writer/director, I Believe In Unicorns)

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So, while I was at the Florida Film Festival, I was able to catch the showing of I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS.

The film was introduced by Brian Quain (festival’s film selection committee) and Leah Meyerhoff (her IMDb), the writer and director of the film. Following the film, there was a Q&A with Leah, and one of the film’s associate producers, Hannah Beth King (her IMDb). After the Q&A, I got to take a few pictures of each of them, and the film’s UCF Marketing Team. It was at this time that I was able to speak with and interview Leah. Boy, did I have questions.

We got to speaking about the film, and how it came about. Leah had always had the desire to make a film that a sixteen-year-old her would’ve wanted to see. She wanted to make something pertinent, and something truly relatable – not a fairy-tale / hollywood-reality film.

Leah had previously, primarily, made shorts and non-features. She’d mentioned that, when she got to film school, she’d always thought that a director was more behind-the-camera only; rather than somebody who would stand to the side or out-of-frame, directing the actors. She was sort of ‘afraid’ to direct her actors. Through her experiences, Leah realized that you have to speak with your actors, you have to truly direct them, while letting them perform; this way, you get the most effective result.

Prior to all this endeavor, Leah was able to be on IFC’s Film School, which allowed her to make some connections, gain experience, and garner some financing for this next project she wanted to complete – I Believe In Unicorns.

While trying to get I Believe In Unicorns made, Leah starting calling around and asking her friends about things to do, where to go, and tip/tricks for the film. Through all these calls, she realized that there was a severe lack of help, for women-in-filmmaking. She found though, that she knew a lot of women-in-film. Through these experiences, she was able to garner some interest and support in starting her own organization – Film Fatales -to bring together (and support) women-in-film.

Film Fatales originated in NYC, Leah’s home. They meet once-a-month, discuss their projects, and go over future plans/ideas. Most recently, Film Fatales has expanded with an LA collective, as well. Through Leah’s research, and even Film Fatales, she was able to connect with Hannah Beth King (who happens to be from Central Florida!).

Casting seemed a bit tricky – certainly more detailed. One of the leads (Peter Vack) was chosen in a more conventional way – auditions. However, another one of the leads took a different approach. Leah was auditioning hundreds of girls for the lead, and just wasn’t connecting with any of them. She had a few requirements for the role – she needs a sixteen-year-old (as the role is for a sixteen-year-old) – she didn’t want an 18/20-year-old, she wanted somebody authentic and relatable. Another requirement was the maturity level – there are some pretty heavy, and then pretty wispy/young parts of the film, and there was a need for maturity – to be able to handle each aspect, with grace, and believability. Leah, actually, found the actress (Natalia Dyer) after asking the people behind True Grit what top-three actresses they encountered, when casting for the role of Mattie. When she saw/spoke with Natalia, she was sold. While casting for the lead, Leah also ran into Julia Garner, and liked her so much – she wrote the role of ‘the best friend’ just for her!

Another part of casting – Leah deciding to cast her own mother in the role of the lead’s mother. Leah’s mother, Toni, has MS. So does her character in the film. There was a desire for the mother/daughter relationship in the film to be somewhat tense, strained, and convincing. Leah admitted this relationship was a bit auto-biographical of that time-period in her life. However, Leah has since grown closer with her mother. Prior to casting her mother in I Believe In Unicorns, she had previously cast Toni in her short film, Twitch. After that experience, Toni was excited to work another another one of Leah’s projects.

Other notable experience for Leah include working on, and directing, music videos and commercials. Specifically, one of her most fond experiences on a music video was Joan As Policewoman‘s Eternal Flame. She remembers that being one for the books – just an all-around great time. Another favourite moment was working on Converse‘s ad, The Heist.

In the future, Leah just wants to keep making independent movies. She just wants to make movies that she wants to see, and movies that she wish she had seen. Leah is creating, working on, and producing other projects – including some projects by her Film Fatale cohorts! Hannah Beth King helped with the production I Believe In Unicorns, and in exchange, Leah is now helping produce Hannah’s first feature “Dirt Roads”, which they are hoping to shoot in Florida next year.

Leah is very excited about the future of I Believe In Unicorns, and what it may mean to her future in Indie Cinema.

 

I BELIEVE IN UNICORNS just recently played at Leah’s Alma Mater, Brown University. It is headed to the Nashville Film Festival. For more screenings, please check it out, here!

For more information on the film, check out their website and facebook.
For more information on Leah, check out her website and facebook.