No fear & a Blueberry Thunderstorm
Filmmaker Stefanie Kay Sparks and musician Dorothea Tachler met in 2009, when Sparks was looking (on Craigslist) for a someone to create the music for her thesis film “Bleed” while graduating at the New School. The beginning of an ongoing creative collaboration. The newest achievement is the music video to the song „Thunderstorm“ by Tachler´s band My Favourite Things, based on excerpts from Sparks latest film “Blueberry”.
One of you is a filmmaker, the other one is a musician. On the paper this suggest that there are clear roles in your artistic joint venture, but are they as clear and boxed in the artistic divisions one would think immediately or more likely fluid?
Stef: Yes, I would say we stay in our departments, as well. I think the way we work does change based on the project and it is very loose at times but I think the reason we work so well together is because we both prefer to work very independently on our respective art and we both really appreciate that freedom, I think. There is a lot of emailing from me to Doro during post production of a film asking her when I get to hear some new stuff and sometimes it can take a while for her to be happy with the song whereas usually once I hear the outline of it, I love it. She is a perfectionist and wants to spend a lot of time on the songs which I think shows in the finished product.
Doro: I think it there can be fluid moments, but yes definitely we each hold down our individual “department”: Stefanie usually has a finished script that she writes by herself when we start talking about a new project, sometimes even some footage. Yes, I think by the way she describes it, I start forming ideas in my head, but then in the creative process where I start scoring, I do that by myself. At that point, the film is mostly done. But it depends on the project, one time we had actors sing, for this I was also present at the auditions and sometimes on set, like a vocal coach.
What is it that you, Stefanie, love most about the music by Doro?
Stef: Doro can do pretty much anything because she’s such a versatile musician and plays so many instruments. There are no limits to her creativity which helps me to not be limited. It’s very rare to find that in an artist, there is no fear in her and I tend to not have any fear, also. I sometimes wonder if it is because I trained as a classical musician as a kid and I know she started training when she was 3 that maybe this allows us this weird confidence in our own creativity.(Stef)
And vice versa: what fascinates you, Doro, most about the film works by Stefanie?
Doro: I love that Stef explores film in different ways, by doing work in different genres, different formats. We did a short film, two web series and three feature films together. We did a lot of comedic stuff but “Blueberry” isn’t comedy, and we did a glam rock project once. Me too, I love doing different genres, so this is great for me. And I love that she just goes for what she wants to do, no matter if there’s a budget or not, cause that’s how I’ve been working myself.
Your latest cooperation was for the soundtrack for the film „Blueberry“.
Stefanie, how easy is it for you as a director to verbalise what you want for specific scenes and the overall movies by Doro?
Stef: Sometimes, I will just send Doro the film and she will have an idea or if I don’t know what I want yet because I’m still working on the scene, I will ask her to send me all of her new tracks and let me pick something to use. Sometimes I will only shoot part of the film and run out of money until we get more funding so there is a LOT of down time to work on the editing and usually one of the first things I like to do is figure out what song works and then edit the scene to fit the song’s tempo.
Doro, how do you experience the creative process to work on a soundtrack in comparison to the normal working process of your band My Favourite Things?
Doro: The big difference is that for a film, I don’t express/“score” my own feelings, but somebody else’s. And scoring to a visual medium is a difference I guess. It also depends on the film maker. Sometimes they want something very specific. In My Favourite Things, I usually do a deep dive into my own psyche and explore a situation or emotion musically. For a film, I try to do that for somebody else’s vision. But we all have the same emotions, so that’s not that different, only the stories might be different. Sometimes filmmakers have very specific instructions, but Stef usually lets me suggest ideas which I love cause for me it’s more fun to have artistic freedom.
How deeply into details do you discuss the topic of the film and the scenes?
Stef: I think we talk about it a lot but usually after I’ve shot something I will send it to Doro because sometimes I will shoot with just an outline and am still trying to figure out what it is. Doro is one of the first people that I will ask if it seems to be working or what she thinks.
Doro: It’s hard to say, I feel like we talk as much as needed, until we know we’re on the same page. We more discuss the overall theme for a scene, what is going on and what matters here but we don’t talk it to death. Maybe sometimes while I’m in the scoring process and have a question, we’ll talk more in detail about a scene. That’s when we score to picture. Other times, I just send her a bunch of music and she places it in while editing. At other times, I’ve written songs before anything was shot. It always depends on the project.
Tough question for both of you: please describe the plot of „Blueberry“ without reading what the others says in maximum five sentences.
Stef: A young woman in rural Iowa struggling to survive meets a stranger who convinces her to run away with her. Once on the road, reality sets in and things quickly fall apart.
Doro: It’s about a girl (Maya) in rural Iowa, that lives with her sister. They both work in a factory. Then she meets a dancer (Elsa) and falls in love with her. Their dream is to participate in a dance contest.
After finishing the film, you decided to cut a video for one of the songs on the soundtrack, „Thunderstorm“. One could say this is a trailer – but then again it is not the trailer. You know what I mean, what was your artistic axiom for the clip?
Stef: Well, we had never really done a collaborative effort in regards to showcasing the music for one of the films and Doro had the idea for the music video and just totally took the lead using footage from the film which made a lot of sense.
Doro: The song “Thunderstorm” hadn’t been released yet and I thought it deserves a release and that it might be a fun idea to edit a video to it from the film. I feel like this was done more in the ‘80ies, where a song from a movie got made into a video with scenes from the film, especially with a romantic song. And in general music videos in the ‘80ies were different and could be like a little film in itself, with a plot.
Stefanie. Most kaput readers have an approximate idea what it takes to get an album on the way, but with film the inside view is much more a grey zone? You produced so far three no-budget feature films – „Cathy Coppola“, „In Case of Emergency“ and „Blueberry“(can we get links to the trailers of each of them? – , all with a budget under 100k. From giving this the significant assignment „no-budget“, I guess normally it takes much more money and by that also other resources to get a film in the cinemas? Can you give us some insights in the artistic process and also your artistic struggle?
Stef: This is such a great question and thank you for asking it. I think with more money comes more input from outside sources (the money) so by keeping the films this small, I get pretty much total freedom to do whatever I want. I think this DOES make it more challenging to get a theatrical release and so far, we’ve only gotten the films online.
That being said, I don’t think I would want to make the artistic concessions that seem to be required to make a bigger budget American indie film these days. I see agents and managers pulling all of the strings on the current crop of American indie films and I think it hurts the films. I think it’s a bit of a lost art form, making no-budget films and it’s actually the most fun I’ve ever had. Especially with “BLUEBERRY”, we had complete and total freedom and I think it helped the performances of the actors. I don’t see us getting those performances if there were 20 people standing around waiting for me to call “action” and maybe affecting the actors who were very, very new to filmmaking at that point. It was a first feature for both of the lead actors of that film. The struggle is that so far I’ve not made too much money on any of the films but I’m proud of the work.
Is New York a good city for your ambition of producing films?
Stef: I think NYC has been a great place to make films before the pandemic. I’m not sure if it’s a great place to make films after the pandemic, a lot of artists (Doro included) have left and there’s a heaviness to the city now that just wasn’t here before. Life can be pretty brutal at times now in NYC. Before the pandemic, it was hands down absolutely the best place in the world to make indie films because you had the best actors in the world coming here and that’s what it takes to make a great film. We’ll see how things go but indie film has struggled big time since the pandemic. I’m optimistic but also trying to keep my options open.
Of course living as a musician is also not a promised rose garden. That said, Doro, to make this a fair field of cultural self reflection, social analysis and most of all constructive criticism – how do you experience your existence as a musician in Berlin (where you moved from New York a couple of years ago – or do you still split time between the cities?) these days?
Doro: These days, I spend most time in Berlin, but I have been going back and forth and also meeting up with Stef in NY and working on a new project there etc. I miss NYC a lot, for its people and the vibrant energy that is constantly inspiring. However – it has become so expensive to live there, and music and arts are sadly not much supported. Since I’m in Berlin, I gratefully received two grants which really helps to be able to create new music, and also to finish older projects, like releasing this song and the soundtrack of “Blueberry”. Altogether, the cost of living is much lower in Berlin. In NYC over the years I had to work more and more side jobs to be able to pay my insanely high rent – often times, it didn’t leave me time to or energy to work on my own music. But I miss the NYC music scene, the level of musicianship is very high which is inspiring and makes you a better musician as well. But I came to Berlin in the pandemic so I can’t say too much about the Berlin music scene yet besides that I started playing with musicians from Brooklyn, and old band mates from Munich where I grew up.
One of the actresses of „Blueberry“, Aminah Nieves, made it later on into the cast of the series „1923“, playing alongside Harrison Ford among others. Stefanie, does something like this help increasing the attention for your film? Are people starting to look deeper into the filmographie of actors like Aminah Nieves?
Stef: Yes, I think people were talking a bit about “BLUEBERRY” when 1923 first dropped a few months ago and that is never a bad thing. I’m still waiting to see how our numbers do on SVOD and AVOD for those months. Fingers crossed.
Okay, last question for both of you: Favorite film and album of 2022 – please with link to album and trailer.
Stef: My favorite film would probably have to be “Women Talking” by Sarah Polley. Trailer here. It’s visually stunning and funny in a completely unexpected way.
For music, I’ve been super into classical music lately, Bach and Beethoven mainly, but also Fiona Apple’s last album “Fetch The Bolt Cutters”. However, if you want a 2022 album it’s gonna be Taylor Swift “Midnights “which is kinda funny because it was one of the stars of “BLUEBERRY” that got me into Taylor Swift when we were on the road making the film. 🙂
Doro: My fav film was “Everything, Everywhere All At Once” – and music: Charles Stepney “Step on Step”.
Dort, Stef, thank your for your time.