In the Spotlight: LA Film Director Heather Ferreira
January 28, 2015
1. Hey Heather, I’m very excited to be speaking with a film director in Los Angeles! Please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do…
A director interprets the script, discusses it with the actors, then allows his or her vision to populate and create it into reality. How scenes look, how music will sound playing in background… the individual way we interpret things becomes the basis and identity of that film. In another way, our job is to take the energy and performance of the actors and sculpt them into what audiences will see as, often, the ‘final cut’ of a character the audience will be watching. We also communicate our ideas with the director of photography, who will sculpt the lighting in scenes. I operate camera myself in this series. My mentor, Michael Chapman, advised me to do it after my last DP stole equipment from me. Chapman was director of photography on Scorsese’s films. I trust him. I got over the fear of directing and performing cinematography duties, and turns out he was right. I learned that I love manipulating light. When I enter a place, that’s the first thing I notice about it.
2. What is your current series, Movieopolis, based on?
It started in 2010 as a completely different thing. I was watching The Blues Brothers and was struck by how Jake and Elwood’s mission and subsequent experiences could be a perfect analogy for independent filmmakers funding and making a movie. All the mishaps and horrible, but funny, situations and the sense of avoiding the unions, shooting without permission, then “Let’s get the hell out of here!”
I wondered how funny it might be to make a Blues Brothers-style movie about two young filmmakers on a mission from God, and for some reason imagined the young Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, because the two directors are best friends yet with jarringly opposite personalities, which is interesting to a writer or director immediately. I put together a feature script, it was a comedy, with great music, and it was hysterical. We got strong interest from Delicious Vinyl. But ultimately I felt taking both guys seriously would be more interesting. I also wanted to do Columbo.
Columbo was my and my mother’s favorite series. We’d watch together. My mother was a closet screenwriter who could guess all the lines before actors said them, and always knew whom the killer was 15 minutes into it. At a certain point, I asked myself, “What would it look like if Coppola and Scorsese solved a movie crime? Can you imagine those two guys bickering at each other about the facts? Scorsese with that tickety-tacky rat-a-tat machine gun voice of his, Coppola calmer, slower, with a glass of red wine?” That’s when it all suddenly came together. I wanted to see that.
It may have been the Black Dahlia murder, or something. But “What if Marty and Francis were Columbo?” happened, and before I knew it, Movieopolis was cast and in production.
3. What inspired you to create a series about Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola?
Believe it or not, that’s Coppola on the left, and on right, and this tends to shock people who know about him– but that kid in the flares with the long hair there? That’s a 27 year old Scorsese. The photo was taken in 1970 in Sorrento, Italy.
I first came across the photo at the Fifth Avenue Public Library when I was at New York University. I would browse through cinema books in my spare time. Two things jumped out. One was, “Coppola’s dressed like he works in I.T.” The other was, “Scorsese was trouble.”
Just look at that mischievous grin and those flares. That hair. This is the guy you had to keep your eye on. Always in girls’ faces, pulling pranks, up to something. I didn’t know these things about Scorsese but had a hunch. Later I found my suspicions were confirmed and that apparently during youth he was exactly that. He got kicked out of Catholic seminary – priest school – for being exactly that hellraiser.
I started to ask, “What was it like to be Francis Ford Coppola, trying to make his films while having to deal with This Guy?” Plus, Scorsese today admits on the record he abused cocaine, got hooked on Quaaludes, slept with buckets of girls – I can’t imagine Francis dealing with all that, while also raising a family, building a career, trying to get pictures made. But yet I can imagine it, I could. Whole scenes began to develop: Francis versus Marty, the scenes, the arguments, Francis begging him to get off the blow… when that and the idea of the pair of them detectiving together during this merged together… I was hooked, and I knew I had a hit.
This was a premise I knew right then that would never bore me, I could happily write and direct episodes of for the rest of eternity. The potential conflicts between their two characters are endless. The concept is endlessly, irresistibly watchable.
4. If Scorsese and Coppola watched the first episode what do you think their reaction would be?
I’ve received rumors of their reactions so far. I don’t know if they’ve watched any segments, and to protect themselves and me legally, they would be prohibited from admitting they had if they did – but from what I’ve heard from people who know them, the response has been guarded amusement and a bit flattered.
Curiosity what it will be like and a concern about quality: how good will it be? And if it’s as good as they hope, what’s the next step? She’s not wanting us to co-produce it, is she? We’re busy with our stuff. She won’t askfor money, right? All that stuff. Waiting, watching to see. Curious if it will become a hit.
There were vague concerns about if anything would be libelous, at first, according to folks in Scorsese’s camp. Those were put to rest, then the worry was, because Marty worries a lot: “Well, it won’t be just some puff piece, will it? If she’s going to depict us, it needs to be fair and realistic, not something just blowing smoke up our asses.”
Both camps are rumored to prefer their depiction be realistic. Respectful, yes, but not a kiss-up. They want it realistic. So, once they see the screener, I think they’ll be very comfortable with what they see.
There are many things both men really did do in their younger years I choose not to depict. If they were false, they would be defamatory, but they happened in every instance. Those things don’t drive the story, so they don’t interest me and won’t be shown. This is not an expose. It’s speculative fiction about how both directors would have interacted as a reluctant team, solving Hollywood mysteries between 1971 and 1977. The this and that of who slept with whom when or how, or blew a trumpet while wearing which, I leave to those who like that sort of thing. To me and this show, it’s irrelevant.
Michael Chapman once said about a NYC-based script of mine, “New York City may be the most important character in this movie.” I feel the same about Movieopolis. Most of what Movieopolis is about is the Hollywood of the early Seventies. Bringing in all that other stuff is distracting. They’d make the show jump the shark.
5. What did you do before you started as a film director?
Trained for being one without realizing I was doing that.
President Eisenhower said something I consider powerful. He stated, all jobs you think are menial and you find yourself doing, starting out, will someday prove extremely important in the job you eventually wind up doing.
I know I paraphrased him, but that’s basically what he said: no matter how pointless or stupid you think a gig is when you’re growing up doing it, one day what you are learning will serve your destiny. Eisenhower hated a job assisting surveyors and cartographers as a kid, when all he wanted to do was become president. Turns out he would design our nation’s freeways using every one of those skills. Every time you jump on the I-10, you owe him. None of it was there until he put it there. Boring survey and map job, but contributed to the United States interstate freeway system.
I did every horrible menial job you could imagine. In so many ways, this thing and that I picked up back then doing them has helped me as a film and TV director.
6. Some of our readers are into music, media and marketing – can you give our readers 1 tip for staying confident in front of the camera?
I do wish on-screen talent would become more Buddhist about auditioning. If you weren’t selected for the role, don’t take it personally. We know you think the choice was made because you’re too short or not blonde or et cetera, and those seem very personal things. But casting is never personal. It’s about energy.
As an actor, you’re shaping your energy and projecting it outward to an audience and in a specific way to communicate a specific thing. That, to me, is what acting is. Directors assist in shaping that energy. The job of a casting director is to recognize the energy of the director and the production about to be created, then identify a match in the actor auditioning for the role.
If you didn’t get the role, your energy was not a match, and that is all that happened. This doesn’t make you bad. Nothing went wrong. Thank them for saving you, because if your energy was not a match to that production, the production were not a match to you, either, and you would have been miserable. Just let life happen.
It’s like that saying becoming so popular nowadays: one the right person is going to walk right in who you shows why all the people you dated before weren’t meant to be. Casting’s the same. For instance, I met six lunatics in a row who were not meant to play Martin Scorsese. The greatest may still be ahead. I’m relaxed about finding out. Everything works out for the best. When something doesn’t work or suddenly ceases to work, I just calmly withdraw and await the situation to dissolve and the right thing to walk in and replace it. I’ve found the still point within.
7. What has been the biggest challenge with managing the ‘administration’ side of the work you do?
My two biggest challenges so far have been finding crew I can trust, and making sure I do not become so embroiled with work I become isolated.
8. What do you love the most about the work that you do?
Editing. The administrating is over with, the scenes are shot, the actors are gone, and I get to be alone with the vision. Editing is when it all at last comes together. There it is: What you worked for. It’s the silver lining, what keeps me going.
9. Do you see yourself as a creative director as well a ‘business’?
I’d love to drop the business side of it, but yes.
10. Please take a moment to close your eyes and imagine the incredible future in front of you. What is the BIGGEST goal you would like to achieve?
I don’t have to take the moment. I visualize it every day. My company owns a group of former airline hangars and the Burbank Studios complex, we’ve got a dozen great feature films and episodic television shows all shooting simultaneously, I run a TV network, I’m in cream and beige silk strolling my facilities, I’m the first woman of color to win Best Feature Film Director, and all of my productions are fully-funded, distributed worldwide, running smoothly, co-created by a trustworthy, capable team full of enthusiasm, happy they work for me, and I’m just as happy with them.
Bright sunny day. Typical Burbank. Everything calm and in order, in its right place.
11. Lastly, where can we find and view your shows online?
We’ll be on a U.S. cable television network soon, but we have our own channel on Vimeo, located here: