Courtney Daniels is an actor and independent film maker with a background in theater and comedy. She is the founder of Busted Buggy Entertainment, a production and distribution company focusing on female-driven projects.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms Daniels about her film career and producing ventures. From featured content on the comedy website Funny or Die to roles in acclaimed films, she is a theatrically-trained actor with a passion for projects that promote female characters and stories. A strong believer in volunteering and animal rescue charities, she is a generous and gracious talent, and we thank her for her time in participating in this interview.
TMI: Thank you for answering some questions for us. Let’s start with your production company. Tell us what that is and how it came to be.
COURTNEY DANIELS: I founded Busted Buggy Entertainment in 2010 with the intention of developing and producing films and tv shows. The goal of the company was not just to create stories for me to tell as an actress, but also stories and projects that would further female storytellers and crew at all positions in the filmmaking process.
So much of acting is sitting around and waiting for an opportunity to do you job. To be picked. Basically, you’re waiting for permission to tell the story you want to tell. I don’t believe in that. I believe actors, writers and directors cannot sit around any longer waiting for themselves or their stories to receive permission to be told. We have to make them, tell them in our own voice and words. I believe this is even more important for women, and people of color who have all been told they have to wait for someone else’s acknowledgement or permission for almost everything in their life since the day they were born. It’s time to stop waiting for permission. The trick to this is to find a way to get the project produced in such a way that it can have an impact, actually get seen, and make you enough money to pay your bills. Oh, and wouldn’t it be nice if it also paid for your next film to get made?! This is no small accomplishment, and it is definitely rare for it to happen every time. So far, we’ve made 4 feature films, 2 of which have been released. Both received limited theatrical runs (one was 10 markets, the other more than 20), ended up on iTunes and other VOD platforms, one is on Netflix now, and the other will be coming out via a subscription cable platform soon. Those are some big successes for a tiny company with no “name” talent behind it. I am so proud of what our team has accomplished, and can’t wait to see what’s next!
So tell us more about your latest film, Rescue Dogs.
Rescue Dogs is a family friendly film starring real rescue animals. The story follows Charger and his human Tracy as they try to save their beach restaurant from an evil businessman who wants to knock over their beachfront shack restaurant. During the story Tracy meets and falls for a dancer named Bridgette, my character! It was so much fun to shoot! The animals always did the unexpected, so there were so many laughs on and off camera. During our theatrical release, we partnered with rescues across the country to hold adoption events at the theaters, and we were able to find homes for more than 150 animals!
How much were you a part of the creative process in bringing the story of Rescue Dogs together?
CD: Jordan Rawlings had already completed the script when I came on board. One of the co-directors, Michael Anderson, knew me as an actress and knew the fact that I had 8 rescue animals at the time. He called and said, “I think you should play this role!” I agreed, of course, and we started moving forward, ultimately my company, Busted Buggy Entertainment, came on to produce and distribute the film. So, we talked a lot with the directors, Michael Anderson and Haik Katsikian, about the vision; and then Jordan ramped it up from there. He was so easy to work with and really wanted you to be comfortable with everything he wrote.
You are the star of the film and one of its producers. What are some of the challenges in having a duel role in a film’s production?
CD: Sleep! You don’t get any! When you are working on camera you are focused on your character and the storytelling you are demonstrating/living for the audience. But when you have a job off camera, you can’t take a break. One of the things I have learned is that a good producer is the first on set and last off set. They deal with every issue that can (and will) come up. Their job is to make sure none of those issues affect filming and/or the actors and key crew. But when you’re doing both, you get no separation, so that is a challenge for both sides of your job. It can, however, make you a better actor when you produce, because you see first hand all of the time, energy and money people have put in to a project before actors were ever brought on board, so you want to give 100% and not let all those people down. Acting is all encompassing and you eat, sleep, breathe, this character to the point that your family is often annoyed at your constant personality changes. By producing, you have to make business decisions and not leave when you’re done acting for the day and stay to work for several more hours as a producer.
As a producer, you are always on the lookout for new projects. What’s that process like?
CD: In general, we like projects that have what we call a high IQT rating. IQT stands for Identifiable, Quantifiable, and Targetable. Basically, it means can you tell me who your audience is, as a niche, and at full scale. Are they clearly definable beyond just an age and gender? If so, are there good statistics on how many people make up your target audience? (“Everyone” is not a target. Definitely not one an indie film can afford to reach) Lastly, can you target your Identified, Quantified audience in such a way that you can engage them and motivate them to support (buy) your film? An example of this would be our film RESCUE DOGS. It’s a kids film, but in no way could we go head to head in advertising it with SECRET LIFE OF PETS or similar studio projects. So how do you do it? Don’t aim at “everyone” or “all kids”. We instead focused on households that have both kids and rescue animals. Then, we researched and found out that there were more than 20 million of them in the US. Next, we realized that the moms were the decision makers in those houses (for the kids) and they tended to follow the charities and rescue organizations in their local markets via Facebook or other social media platforms. This made them targetable.
Based on IQT, we are fairly genre agnostic. We feel if the audience scores high enough, and the film is made for the right budget as a result of that data, you can score a big win. As a note, Horror is the only real “genre” that in and of itself has a good IQT rating. The fans are constantly seeking new content, they follow a very specific set of blogs, websites and social influencers, and post about the films they see constantly. This allows you not only to quantify them based on ticket sales and how many comments, page views etc happen by topic, but also to know where to target them.
What do you most like about the independent film process?
CD: I love the mobility an independent project has. You can change and adjust things if you have to because your small and nimble, but you are also crazy organized because your budget is so low you can’t afford mistakes. It’s really forced me to grow as an actor and a producer. So often it’s about the unexpected, which is amazing. I never have the same day twice, and the job is ever-changing.
You have a role in the acclaimed film, The Girl In The Book, a movie we also praised. We spoke to one of it’s stars Ana Mulvoy Ten about her experience developing her character. What can you tell us about your part in that film?
CD: I loved The Girl in the Book, and wow! Ana did an amazing job. She is so talented. I read the script as both an actress and a producer. I immediately felt so much emotion for Alice, the lead character (who was played by Emily VanCamp and Ana as the adult/teen versions of the character). The way she finally rose to stand up for herself was so inspiring! I played the role of Lynn, who is Alice’s good friend at work. In the story, the publishing house that our characters work for is reprinting and promoting the anniversary of the book that was based on Alice’s real life. Lynn LOVES the book and is thrilled with the opportunity to work with the author. This is, of course, is the exact opposite reaction of Alice. Lynn is unaware that the book is based on Alice and therefore can’t understand Alice’s reaction to what’s going on around them. It was such a clear example of the secrets people keep, and the burdens of their past which they carry every day, but of which we know nothing about, and perhaps, we can’t even imagine. I knew when the script and project came across my desk that it was a powerful story and it needed to be told. I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen. In its entirety, it is a story of a woman, overcoming her past and reclaiming her voice and place in the world. We need more of these stories, and that is actually the root of why I started Busted Buggy Entertainment back in 2010.
You have a lot going right now with a number of projects in the works. What is Threshold?
CD: Threshold is a thriller about a couple, who after the death of their foster son, are visited one night by a woman who knows more about them than any stranger should. She tests their beliefs in themselves and each other. My character was Liz, who is best friends with the Cynthia (the wife) played by Trilby Glover. Liz was there the night that their foster son died, and feels guilty/responsible. She also doesn’t know how to help her friends with their loss, and in turn pulls away from them. We filmed almost an all over-night schedule, and really had a lot of fun!
And you have another exciting horror film coming up as well, right?
CD: I am set to star in a film later this year called Cold Brook. It’s easily the scariest script I have ever read! Director Andy Palmer and I have spent a lot of time on the phone going moment by moment, I think it’s going to translate perfectly to the screen. It follows a TV crew that films a ghost hunting show. When they get to the “haunted” summer camp, called Cold Brook, they think it will be like any other show they have done. But it’s actually haunted by a tragic event that happened 20 years prior! When they realize their mistake, they are unable to leave until the evil that exists there gets its way. I am super excited about it and can’t wait to begin filming. It’s going to be awesome! On top of the amazing director, it is being Executive Produced by Joe Dante, who directed some of my childhood favorite films like GREMLINS! I am so excited to work with the guy who brought that film to life, and into my life back in the day! If you do well in this genre, the fans are loyal and voracious in consuming your content. I hope to crush it for them.
Anything else you and your company are involved with?
We also have two amazing TV projects in the works, both are really strong, female driven projects focused on young girls and teens. These projects should be really empowering while also being entertaining. I’m excited to see where those go.
I have been co-writing some features with the writer of RESCUE DOGS, Jordan Rawlins. One of the scripts, a Rom-Com, has started making the rounds through several top agencies and prod co.s in town, and has received some great feedback/interest. We’re looking for the right “name” talent and a great director, but I have high hopes that project and a couple of our others as a writing team will be underway late this year or in the spring.
We’ll be keeping our eyes open for that and much more. Thank you so much for your time, and good luck.
CD: Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity!