Kimberly Dilts is a writer, producer, actor and more, working in television and film, currently starring in Auld Lang Syne, a comedy drama about communication, relationships, and delicious pie. Recently, we had a chance to ask her a few questions about the film and the film industry itself.
Hello Ms. Dilts. Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Before we get started, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
Sure! I’m a writer/producer/performer who’s done a little bit of everything, sometimes even for money! My mind tends to work in very dark absolutes, so comedy is how I’m able to remain functional in this bananagrams world. Like every other poor fool in LA, I’m underemployed and over-extended…so the character I play in Auld Lang Syne who has a panic attack in the first five minutes of the film was not a terrible stretch for me.
So tell us about the movie.
Auld Lang Syne was the product of a question. That question was, “What can we make with $5 and an iphone?” That number eventually became $35K and a Digital Bolex, but the truth of the matter is that me and my producing partner (and husband) J.T. Arbogast got a crash course in distribution on our first film, and man, it is such a bleak landscape… I’m not even talking making a profit – I’m just talking breaking even. Just so challenging, even under the best of circumstances. I knew I wanted to work with friends because I wanted this particular process to be rooted in familiarity and joy, and while our cast is extraordinarily talented, none of us is a household name. So we knew that if we wanted to make a film with no stars, it had to cost next to nothing to not sink us into crushing debt. We knew we had a cabin, and we knew we’d be able to raise a little bit of money. That’s where we started. The characters in the film are the ones who showed up to the party in my head.
I really enjoyed the movie and would like to start by asking about balance. The story is primarily a comedy, though there are dips into drama. Was comedy always the direction or were there any temptations to go all in on the drama?
Thank you! Auld Lang Syne was always meant to be a comedy… Though I do think all good comedy is rooted in real emotion, so I think (I hope) the moments of drama make us invest more in the characters… Ultimately, this film can’t take itself too seriously, though—artists are, by the virtue of the field we’ve chosen, ridiculous. The intersection of art and commerce can SUCK ROYALLY for the person who chooses to go there, but in the end, it IS a choice… So I tried to tread very carefully and not have any of these characters be self-pitying. Struggling, yes. Covered in pie, definitely. Wallowing, no.
The film’s three couples are built on classic character archetypes and yet feel really fleshed out. We learn about their relationships through situations rather than exposition and I think this is becoming rare in modern filmmaking. As a writer, how did you approach defining the characters? Is any of this based on personal experience?
Thank you again! I tried very hard to “show, not tell,” as the saying goes, which can be a little tricky when you’ve got one location and no aliens, swordfights, or car chases…but as much as I could, I tried to turn word into action. With regard to the voices, some of the characters were easier than others. Vanessa and Steven (the characters me and J.T. play) are not us, but they’re close to us – they’re sort of an amalgam of a few people we know. Sadie (Lucy Walters) and Jude (Caleb Bark) were pure invention but were the easiest to write for—sometimes characters just pop into your head fully formed (and you later dance naked under the full moon to thank the muses for it). Bryce (Blake DeLong) and Jodie (Elisabeth Hower) were the most challenging… I knew there were concepts I wanted to explore with them, but it took a while for them to work tonally, and they never really fully clicked until Elisabeth and Blake inhabited them. I give Blake especially a lot of credit for bringing Bryce to life because he’s such a misanthropic character, and I thought Blake gave him real visceral humanity. The audience may never like him, but I think they understand why he is the way he is…
I’m not sure I really have a question about this but I love how the conflicts in the story are not gender-based but instead relationship-based, and not just between couples. Could you talk about this? Was this an important distinction?
Well, in some ways, the writing of this film was completely backward in that it didn’t start from story, it started from location and then character. I knew what the inciting incident was, but beyond that, it was really a matter of bringing these characters into the space with their baggage and seeing what they’d do… Some of it was knowing events I wanted to have happen and then figuring out how to get there–there was always going to be a pie fight, for example. But I also tried to surprise myself – sometimes I’d put two characters in a scene together and ask, what’s the most surprising thing that could happen between these two characters? That was fun.
Let’s talk about the movie industry. First, as an independent filmmaker, what are some of the larger challenges you face in getting a film like Auld Lang Syne made? And maybe, what are some advantages?
Challenges: all of them. Advantages: knowing that you’re the boss (and then kicking yourself because you just gave yourself all of the challenges). No, but seriously: microbudget filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. Everything about it is difficult. But if you have the right team and the right attitude, a tiny set can be magical. We rehearsed the film for seven days and then shot for seven days with a crew of seven, and it was HEAVEN. Post-production on a microbudget film is brutal, though. Some problems can’t be fixed by creativity alone. Me and J.T. definitely set a credit card on fire fixing a problem that needed more than some duct tape and inspiration. Johanna (our director) was a real trooper throughout, but holy moly did post put us all through the ringer.
We dedicate a lot of coverage to women in film and showcasing women who have had impact on the industry. You’re a strong advocate for more equality and better representation of women in film, with one of your skills listed humorously (and genuinely) as “passing the goddamn Bechdel Test.” I invite you here to run amok and tell us more.
HA! Well, the industry numbers vis a vis women both behind and in front of the camera are shameful and completely unacceptable. We are quite literally missing out on the lens through which half of humanity sees! The numbers clearly show that there is a market for female-directed films, and yet an industry driven by profit refuses to acknowledge the data… Which tells you that the issue is discrimination, not a talent deficit. Hollywood likes its women size zero and compliant, and I am neither. The only way I could battle it was to stop asking permission and make my own stuff with a bunch of other kickass ladies.
What’s next for you? Are there any up-coming projects you can tell us about?
Next is vacation! Me and J.T. got married and made two movies in five years, and we are very, very tired, lol… Once we recover, we do have two scripts that are ready to go – a mermaid comedy and a historical drama. They’re both bigger budget though, and we’re not repped, which is a huge obstacle to getting them made. Maybe an agent is reading this right now and needs a pair of polymaths on her roster (hello, agent! We’re all yours!) Or maybe we’ll move to Nashville, teach and make artisanal apple butter. We shall see.
Part of our site is dedicated to discussions on great moments in movies. What are some films that you hold as favorites and are there any moments you would like to tell us about that are dear to you?
Ohhhh… Ok, these aren’t ranked, but they’re what popped into my head at 2:40AM… Like many others in my generation, my earliest indelible movie memory was of Jaws popping up out of the water. Duh. For comfort, I like to watch Chocolat – I remember seeing it in the theater and realizing at JUST the right moment (when they’re cooking that luscious feast for Judi Dench’s character) that I had a chocolate truffle bar in my bag – that was a major personal triumph. Waitress is my go-to if I want a good joyful cry. Shakespeare in Love if I want to feel inspired (and also cry, dammit). Enchanted April was my first independent film – my grandmother took me to see it at the now defunct Corey Avenue Theatre on St. Pete Beach. Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler make me laugh in everything they do. Also, Taika Waititi – his last two films killed me dead!
Thank you once again for taking the time to answer some questions. You’ve been most gracious. We look forward to more from you and wish you the best of luck.
Thank you again. Such a pleasure!
Read our review of Auld Lang Syne here.