Rachel Carey is a New York-based writer and director. Her feature debut “Ask for Jane” is now available to view on demand from Amazon, Apple, Google Play, and other streaming services.
In addition to her work in the film industry, Rachel has also written and directed several plays and a television pilot. Her novel “Debt” was published by Silver Birch Press. You can learn more about Rachel’s projects at www.rachelcarey.net.
Greg Carlson: Where did you grow up?
Rachel Carey: I bounced around New York and New England. I would say Boston more than anywhere. But I landed back in New York as an adult.
GC: How old were you when you saw your first movie?
RC: I am told that my first movie experience was “Star Wars,” with my parents, in ‘77. I was born in ‘74, so I was very young -- but they did not have childcare that night and took me to the drive-in. So I like to believe my love of movies was implanted early.
GC: I want to be friends with anyone whose first movie was “Star Wars.”
RC: As a young kid, I was frightened by movies. They were too intense for me and a lot of things were too scary or too embarrassing. Later, I grew into really loving them.
GC: In addition to seeing movies in theatres, did you use the library or go to a video store?
RC: We definitely visited local video stores. And later, when I was in New York, I frequented the wonderful Kim’s Video, one of the great, epic movie stores in the country. I still miss Kim’s. It was a tragedy when it closed. I liked indie video stores so much because the staff knew and could recommend really weird stuff.
Quentin Tarantino is famously a product of that type of film knowledge. The people who submerged themselves in tapes all day could occasionally be a little snobby to customers coming in, but it was a fun atmosphere that has largely been lost. Netflix and Amazon will just recommend something that is similar to what you’ve already seen, and you end up with an echo chamber.
GC: And streaming service recommendations are limited by the titles in a particular library.
RC: It’s easy for people to forget that. There are so many things unavailable on any streaming service.
GC: Video store culture was a parallel education for people who went to film school and wanted to see as many movies as possible.
RC: My husband went to Kim’s one time and the staff members were listening to the audio commentary on “Conan the Barbarian.” He described the pleasure being taken in the comedic way Schwarzenegger just narrated what was happening on screen. It was a wonderful discovery you would never have otherwise found if it weren’t for the kind of people immersed in that culture.
I also loved seeing movies on television. Whatever happened to be on, I would just watch.
GC: My family played “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” constantly.
RC: Mine watched “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” every Thanksgiving. It’s a strange and dark movie when you go back to it.
GC: Did you have a galvanizing experience with a particular movie?
RC: In high school, I went to “My Own Private Idaho,” and I saw it as this really odd art film that was sad and beautiful. I thought art films were about people that had sex a lot but weren’t very nice to each other. That was my perception of European art films. To this day, I still feel like I got it right.
But I connected with “My Own Private Idaho” -- it was just so interesting.
GC: Such a special movie. I went back several times while it was still playing in the theatre.
RC: Once I got to college, Miramax and the Kevin Smith era were happening and it made me think, “This is something people can do.” You don’t have to be wealthy or connected or in L.A. It was the first time I thought that making movies could be a possibility for me. Still took a couple of years before I had the courage to pursue it.
GC: Did you know you were headed to study film when you were in high school?
RC: No. I thought about it in college but worried I would be terrible at it. I studied something else and was unhappy so I thought, “I guess I have to try it!”
GC: Was your family supportive?
RC: Yes, but my mother worried that it was a really tough, shallow industry, so she was concerned. My parents were artistically-minded but my mom felt the film industry rewarded a certain type.
GC: There is a world in that statement. We know what happened with Harvey Weinstein.
RC: The first thing I did in film was an internship at Good Machine. On my first day there, they were screening dailies from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” The interns were invited to watch. And they had cake. So I’m thinking, “Independent filmmaking is the best thing in the universe!” Ted Hope and James Schamus and these amazing people making films. It was lovely.
But then when I went to look for a job, one of the first things that came up was something for Bob Weinstein. Someone said, “You do not want to work there.” I said, “I can deal with tough bosses, I can handle it.” I don’t know that everyone knew exactly what was happening but everyone knew they were bullies. That was the reputation.
GC: You ended up doing so many different things along the way.
RC: Film is such a visceral way of storytelling. I knew I wanted to tell stories and film felt like the most exciting way to do it. Also, film is accessible and I felt like it was democratic. I also thought it could use more varied voices.
Opportunities would come up in and around film school and I wanted to learn about different parts of the industry. But when you are paying school loans, decisions about what jobs to take aren’t always strategic.
GC: Did you stick with the East Coast the whole time or did you ever think about L.A.?
RC: I stuck with the East Coast. Places like Good Machine and Killer Films were producing the kinds of movies I hoped to make. I like L.A., but I never necessarily felt like I belonged.
GC: Did you have any important mentors?
RC: I don’t know that I did. When I went to grad school at NYU, I was as interested in writing as I was in directing. It sharpened my sense of what I wanted to do. But I did not get a lot of direct guidance in how to approach things.
I got involved with New York theatre and having a community of people who were making art was helpful to me because I could workshop scripts with actors. And one of those actors helped me raise the financing so we could make “Ask for Jane,” my first feature. Oddly enough, I got more into film through theatre connections as opposed to industry connections.
GC: When you write plays, do you imagine them as movies?
RC: After film school, I was working as an assistant editor and writing lots and lots of unproduced screenplays and sending them to agents and producers and getting notes but not getting any traction, which is pretty common. So I got into theatre initially because I was so frustrated. In film, you have to raise so much money to make a movie, which is such a hurdle. But I could write and stage a play for a fraction of the cost. So I got into theatre because I was tired of not getting anything made.
There is something sad about an unproduced screenplay in that you never get to see actors do the work. The script becomes this cool thing that exists but never lives. I wrote ten or more of those before I started doing theatre.
GC: What do you hope your screenwriting students take away from a class with you?
RC: I like to talk about screenwriting as the architecture of emotions. Structuring something so you get an emotional reaction. I want students to understand what they’re up to and also how a screenplay is different from writing fiction. If you can see how movies and fiction are radically different, it can be a fun thing to pull off.
GC: How do you decide what movies to add to your collection?
RC: There are types of movies that I like to own. For example, certain films I was exposed to in school and learned a lot from. Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” I always felt belonged to the tradition of great filmmaking. Having it meant you could occasionally watch it when you wanted to engage with classic material.
I love sharing Miyazaki films, so I have a lot of his movies. But it can also be fun to buy more oddball movies in the sense that they might mean more to me than really popular titles. I would put “Wonder Boys” in that category. I would put “Adventureland” in that category.
GC: Coming of age movies are among my most cherished.
RC: “Adventureland” feels so specific. I love that one of the characters is named Lisa P., as if there are other Lisas. She gets a one-letter last name. Like, that Lisa as opposed to other Lisas.
GC: Is your movie archive all in one place?
RC: I have a lot of DVDs but I also have a digital collection. The latter can be easy to access and queue up in a way that discs are not.
GC: Aren’t you nervous when you don’t have physical media?
RC: Yes, I do worry about that. I still buy DVDs. I sometimes say to my students, “I have a photo album from college and I know you have thousands more photos than I do, but how many of your photos do you have printed? Because they could go away.”
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