Anna Czarska of Sticky Tape Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became a…

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Anna Czarska of Sticky Tape Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became a Filmmaker

Every production is unique and will require different traits and skills. You have to be adaptable and wear many hats. Plans change so quickly when on set and you have to be able to switch gears at drop of hat, come up with creative solutions quickly, and have a strong will or you won’t make it.

As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker,” I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Anna Czarska.

Anna Czarska is an award-winning autistic writer, producer, director, and actor. Born in Poland and raised in California, Anna has been in and out of the film industry their entire life but finally landed firmly back into it in 2018 when they founded their film and media production company, Sticky Tape Productions. Acting as Managing Director and Creative Producer, Anna’s focus is to produce projects that exemplify their interest in unconventional cinema, often regarding topics involving mental health or societal matters that require greater public awareness. Being late-diagnosed as autistic, Anna has a strong voice for autistic individuals. In their work, Anna especially likes to challenge the everyday thinker to try something new, something different. Anna’s films have been featured on Irish national television network, RTE. They have also received multiple awards for their work, as well as successfully crowdfunding over $40k for a special short film written and directed by them entitled, “Mildly Different.” Anna is a strong advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and animal rights, and currently resides in Ireland with their 10-year-old son, Jacob.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born in Wroclaw, Poland. My parents immigrated to Los Angeles, California when I was three years old. We didn’t have much and all slept in one room together for the first few years. My mother worked hard to overcome cultural boundaries, trying to succeed in a foreign country. Sometimes she worked two jobs and I often looked after myself, helping around the house with chores and cooking for us. My father was an electrician so he managed to get work more easily due to the trade. I was a shy, quiet child who struggled getting along in school and making friends. We did not know I was autistic back then but it all makes sense now. I was interested in music and writing very early on. For a while my mother helped an elderly piano teacher with chores in exchange for lessons for myself. I became quite good at piano but after three years, we were struggling financially and my mother had to sell my piano. In time, I forgot how to read music. My family eventually moved to the San Fernando Valley area where I slowly started coming out of my shell, though I still tended toward socializing with other “outcasts” and creative types. School was tough for me until college, but I excelled in English. One of my English teachers, Jennifer Wolfe from Sutter Middle School, always made me feel valued and one day she handed me a beautiful journal. I wrote in my journal constantly, poetry, short stories, as well as simple thoughts and feelings — it was my way of managing the world around me. Cultural differences and getting along in school were difficult for me as I was not quite Polish yet not American enough either. Not to mention that I was unknowingly neurodivergent. For years I thought I was simply unintelligent. I remember getting a letter from my college stating that I was being placed on the honour list, top 2% of my class, with a GPA of 3.9. I had to re-read that letter a few times because I simply couldn’t believe it. I cried as I felt for the first time in my life that maybe I wasn’t stupid. Things really changed for me after that. I started believing in myself and working harder toward what I wanted to accomplish.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was 7 years old, my mother and I were standing in line at a public pool in Hollywood when a casting director pulled me out of a crowd for a swimsuit commercial to stand in for one of their gals who had called out. I loved it immediately. I started attending acting courses and auditioning for commercials, some of which I landed, thankfully. However, I was a sensitive child and I did not like how I was being treated by those around me. The directors, fellow actors, there was very little respect or common courtesy. I decided that despite my love of acting, I needed to look to other avenues. I went in and out of that world for a little while and eventually started college to study business instead. Fast forward a few years, now with my 3-year-old son, Ireland called. The apple does not fall far from the tree in that regard! We moved back to Europe where I was born. I was actually trying to get work in the business world, interviews and second interviews landed me back where I started. A friend mentioned to me that with my previous background, perhaps I can work on set for a bit until I found something else. My first day on set, I felt electric! This environment just felt right. I also noticed that the industry had changed, or at least it was different than I had experienced as a young child in Hollywood. People were much more respectful and directors here treated me like a person. I knew this was the place for me. And from then on, I have been doing everything I could to succeed in this industry, eventually starting a film and media production company in Ireland in 2018.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?

That is a tough question indeed as I feel the entire journey is interesting to me. Each project and set are fascinating and wonderful, though challenging, to work on. Each has its own quirks and requires different abilities. I suppose the funniest thing I can think of is that I am the only person I know who has LEFT Hollywood to start a career in filmmaking.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

There are so many wonderful people in this industry that I have interacted with, it is tough to say really. Aidan Gillen (Rose Plays Julie) surprised me. We did a small scene together and I expected him to be rather outgoing. Instead, I found a quiet and thoughtful, humble person who did not treat me any less than himself despite him being in a league far above. Nick Frost (Into the Badlands) was another very humble person, wonderful sense of humour and treated everyone on set, from the highest to the lowest in set-status, like a good friend. Into the Badlands was a great set to work on all around, Orla Brady was always poised and charming to all around her, Babou Cheesay was bigger than life and made all of us feel like part of his extended family, Sherman Augustus is tough on the outside but has a big heart once you get through that shell. I would say working on that set, I had some of my fondest memories. I think when you spend months together in the muck with a team of people all working toward the same creative vision, you become bonded. Sort of like people going to war together. Waking up at 3am to get to set, pushing through the cold, getting those scenes down despite it all, napping in the cast/crew buses, coming home at 9pm exhausted and up the next morning to do it all again. It isn’t an experience that most people can understand or appreciate but it is very special if you get to be part of it.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to say that the industry in Ireland is very welcoming and helpful as a whole. All of us here know what a struggle it is and I’ve found, if you approach people here in a genuine manner, they will be genuine with you as well. I’ve had some good advice given to me by quite a few people here. Derek Quinn from Movie Extras, Edwina Forkin of Zanzibar Films, Vincent Lambe (Director of Detainment, Academy Award Nominee), those at Film Network Ireland being always helpful to anyone no matter where they are in their career, as well as Irish organizations like Screen Ireland/Screen Skills Ireland who have held wonderful webinars for those in the industry, Women in Television, Screen Producers Ireland, etc. We all help each other here. I have learned so much from every set I have been on and everyone I have worked with. I will add that my Sticky Tape Productions business partners, Joshua Kraut and James Van De Waal, have really helped me to push through any challenges we have faced, and we have faced them together.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have carried this one since I was very young: “Marty, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” I am a big believer that if you want something bad enough, you can get there. Maybe you don’t know where to start, but just take the first step. And then the next and the next after will follow. Like most people, I often have no clue how to accomplish my goals when I start out, but I roll up my sleeves and get stuck in. I inhale any and all information I can find on the topic and just start moving. I work very hard until I get to where I want to be. And while I may not always end up there in the end, I know that I gave it my absolute best. That’s the most any of us can do really. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Diversity in film and television has been a struggle for many years. With the majority of media through the years being created by middle to upper class white males, it was very difficult to interject accurate, authentic representation of diverse individuals and cultures. Thankfully, there has been a push the last couple of years to bridge this gap and bring on diverse cast and crew to tell stories that the rest of the world can actually relate to.

Why is it important and how can it affect our culture?

1) Having diversity represented in media fosters inclusion on a grand scale. Not only socially, but throughout people’s careers as well.

2) When people see others like them represented in media, they feel less alone and more confident in who they are. As such, they can readily branch out and become who they were meant to be. Depression and suicide rates will decline if people could feel a sense of belonging in society. Media is a large component in this.

3) We live in a world of many cultures, differing beliefs, where we all look different from one another and sometimes don’t even share the same neurotype! We should be celebrating these differing strengths and abilities rather than trying to mold people into the same cookie. Media is incredibly powerful, and having diverse characters represented normalizes that anyone from any background or ethnicity can hold positions of power and aren’t something to be feared or ridiculed. We are all different and this is not only okay, it is necessary for a well-functioning society.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I recently completed a short film, Mildly Different. It’s about a young woman on the autism spectrum who struggles with the world around her until the kindness of one person helps to restore her confidence and changes her life. It will premiere in the US in October at the Newport Beach Film Festival in California. This was an amazing project to work on as the film is made by, starring, and about autistic individuals. Not only is the writer/director (myself) autistic, but we have an IFTA-nominated autistic Irish actress, Jordanne Jones, starring in the lead role, as well as many neurodiverse cast and crew members involved in making the film. The film is supported by the Art’s Council Ireland’s Disability Connect Scheme managed by Art’s and Disabilities Ireland and Steven Murray of Aspire Ireland said the film is, “The most accurate depiction of sensory overload I have ever seen.”

Outside of this, we are developing a sci-fi feature film about a schizophrenic man who learns that his hallucinations are real events taking place in another dimension, and he must find a way to stop them before they have deadly consequences, as well as working on a few other feature film ideas and some television series pitches.

Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?

The part of my work that makes me most proud is that I get to be involved with making something that has the power to change how people view, not only each other but also the world. I have a keen interest in unconventional cinema, often regarding topics involving mental health or societal matters that require greater public awareness. I want to challenge the everyday thinker to try something new, something different; this is at the heart of where my enthusiasm lies. If I am able to become a prominent figure in the industry, I can finally move those mountains standing in our way and shout out for some of the most silenced of voices.

Okay super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) The best way to learn is hands-on experience on set. Make something rather than watch something.

2) Every production is unique and will require different traits and skills. You have to be adaptable and wear many hats. Plans change so quickly when on set and you have to be able to switch gears at drop of hat, come up with creative solutions quickly, and have a strong will or you won’t make it.

3) Speaking of strong will, filmmaking is not for the faint of heart. You must know what you want and push through every obstacle to get it. If you aren’t confident in yourself and aren’t willing to work very hard, you won’t get the project across the line. Production requires a lot! No matter what role you are in.

4) The industry is smaller than you think and people talk. Don’t burn bridges and make sure to treat everyone honestly and with respect, they will remember you for being genuine with them. People often try to talk up those in positions of power in hopes of them helping them along. While this can be great, it has to be genuine. The truth is, only the people you naturally click with are actually going to take you with them. So, regardless of someone’s position, just focus on being true to yourself and genuine with others and when you do find people you click with, you will stick together and end up working with each other for years. Those are the people that you should focus on.

5) Buy a giant pack of stick-on heat pads if you’re working outside in colder climates. You’d be amazed the difference in comfort they make and you meet so many people handing them out to those who forgot to buy some. I once became friends with someone in a much higher position than myself simply because I handed them a heat pad on set when they were freezing. I happened to have an extra and could tell they were suffering silently. I handed it to them and we quickly bonded. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple act of kindness.

When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?

While the financial aspects of a film can very much impact the choices a filmmaker has available to them, I feel that outside of budget constraints, I focus on both a personal vision alongside what it would mean to an audience. If someone focuses too much on their own vision without taking into account how others will perceive this and what impact it will have on society as a whole, they can get lost in a self-absorbed bubble that doesn’t really do anyone much good. Having a strong vision is essential to making something impactful of course, but we have to also take into account what message we are trying to convey to the audience and are we creating something that will convey that message or simply satisfying our own need for personal gratification. I prefer to align both my own vision with what an audience will perceive.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am not sure that you would call this a movement per say, but I care very deeply about animal rights and the pain and suffering mankind inflicts on the innocent. I would love to use my influence to create a system where farming practices were more stringently regulated and watched, so as to end unnecessary suffering. I have some ideas on this that I am working towards but think it’s best to keep this hush hush for the mean time until they are more fully developed.

Regarding human beings, I feel the best thing for the most amount of people would be to work towards improving pollution and trying to slow the effect of global warming. I have found that many people do not want to change their daily routines and habits, the luxuries they are provided with. But I feel that with proper education and creative solutions, we can easily substitute these luxuries, routines, and habits in a way that would provide minimal impact on the individual but make a dent in tackling the situation world-wide. I have dreamed of creating a programme that makes this information widely available and easy to navigate and to start with schools and work towards organizations etc. until most of our society is familiar with these alternatives as well as how they can make a difference and why they should try. In both cases, for the world and animals, if we focus on solutions that understand human nature and the reluctance to make big changes while still getting their needs met, we will find that the average human being will come on board — as long as we make it easy for them to.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.

There are two filmmakers I deeply admire and would love to sit down for chat with. Christopher Nolan (Interstellar) and Robert Rodriguez (Sin City). Both filmmakers are unique in what they bring to the table and put everything they have into their projects, wearing many hats and finding creative solutions for challenges they face on set. Though they each have differing styles and work on very different types of projects, they have inspired me immensely. Working with either one would be an absolute dream come true. I’d love the chance to pick their brain even once.

Also, as a director, I have always wanted to work with actor Gary Oldman. In my opinion he is the best character actor of our time. Absolutely brilliant in each and every role he takes on, he transforms entirely into the mold of that character and is almost unrecognizable. One day, I hope to have a project worthy of his talents to which I could approach him for a role. I believe having a lunch with such a talented fellow would be immensely interesting.

How can our readers further follow you online?

The easiest place to stay updated on my projects what I am up to would be to follow me on Twitter via username @ACzarska. You can also check out my company website, or our Facebook page

Anna Czarska of Sticky Tape Productions: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.