Carrie Ann Quinn: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker

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Forgive those who make honest mistakes asap — Ie. Generosity of spirit is key in collaboration, and teaching students (who make a lot of mistakes) has actually made me a better collaborator and more forgiving of professionals

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 Carrie Ann Quinn.

Carrie Ann Quinn is an award-winning actor, director, producer, writer and educator. She is a dual resident of New York City and Boston, where she is a Professor of Acting & Directing at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the resident theatre director. “Launch at Paradise” is her sci-fi and short film directorial debut, which is a genre she has always loved for its imaginative and philosophical inquiry. Quinn has also produced short films and directed a proof of concept for a feature film and directed a fictional podcast series pilot. Her recent TV/film acting credits include HBOMax’s “Julia”, Apple TV+’s “Defending Jacob” and feature films “Chappaquiddick” and “The Sympathy Card.” Quinn has directed and performed in numerous New York and regional theatre productions throughout the U.S. and is co-founder of the international theatre company, Escape Artists. Through grants, fellowships and artist residencies, she also develops original plays, film/tv scripts and fiction podcasts based on real women from history, whose stories have been overlooked, disregarded or misconstrued. Her co-written play, Possessions, based on the 17th century Mancini Sisters, premiered in the US and toured to Sydney, Australia and has been adapted into a tv pilot script and limited series. Her current script project is Wild Women, based on prostitutes and female-owned brothels in the wild west during the gold rush, which will be workshopped this fall in New York. Quinn holds a MFA in Theatre Education from Boston University and a BFA in Drama from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

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 grew up in Massachusetts in an Irish-American family, none of whom did anything artistic at all, unless you count the constant family dramatics between the dozens of aunts and uncles and cousins. I was introduced to dance class as a young child, and dance eventually led me to acting and directing and playwriting because I read about performing arts in books at the library. I wrote, directed and starred in my first play in my 4th grade public elementary school, which for some unknown reason gave me access to the school auditorium to cast, rehearse and present my masterpiece “Mystery at Crow’s Nest Hollow” I was obsessed with Agatha Christie at that time, and saw myself a young Miss Marple in the making. From that moment on, I had “the bug” and was constantly finding ways to perform and create theatre and dance projects — especially stories based on the books I was always voraciously reading.

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

When I lived in Los Angeles in the late 1990’s working primarily as an actor during my 20’s, I always felt at the “mercy” of others- agents, directors, casting directors, producers. I didn’t like the feeling of not being able to choose my own path and create my own projects, and it started to strangle me. This is before the internet and YouTube of course and all the ways one can create and produce original work nowadays — I didn’t see any way to find that freedom from where I was. That is when I went back to graduate school to get my MFA and teach at the university level. The grants and space and time opportunities that academic life offered me was my first step into finding my own voice and the access, finances and colleagues to create my passion projects as a director, writer and producer. And not to mention the students- they inspire me everyday and keep me on my toes with what is new and up and coming and force me to stay on the cutting-edge of the field.

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

The most interesting thing that has happened to me in filmmaking has probably been filming with SAG-AFTRA covid protocols pre-vaccine. It was a whole new aspect to filmmaking that was new to all and also quite scary. We filmed “Launch at Paradise” with cast and crew in February before the vaccines came out, so the testing protocols and masking was a major consideration every moment. It affected the locations, the size of crew, the casting, and of course, the budget.

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

I have found some of the most interesting people on films to be the directors of photography and production designers. For instance, I met Kat VanCleave, our production designer on “Launch” first on a phone call and then only on zoom (pre-production in covid times) before the actual shoot. She listened to my concept and ideas so thoroughly, I was floored when I received her design presentation — she got not only what I said I wanted, but what I didn’t know to say I wanted. I love people who do their work so detailed and imaginatively but also do the jobs that are often overlooked. She is amazing and I think all directors should pay more attention to their production designers.

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?

Regarding “Launch at Paradise”, I’d have to say I am most grateful to Daniel Mitura, the writer, producer and actor. I have known him for close to a decade and he has always trusted me with directing his scripts and staged readings of his many prolific works. I have had the pleasure of delving into classic adaptations, political thrillers and espionage plays, and now, science fiction. I love that when I work on his projects, I get to dive into researching a whole new world, and I love mixing research, analysis and imaginative theatricality all together.

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

I believe Alice Walker said “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Taking a seat at the table, claiming my power in the room, and leading with determination has been the most relevant part of my life in the last decade. Everyone says they wish they knew in their 20s or 30s what they know now later in life, and that is true, but also impossible. Without the experience of feeling powerless, I don’t believe I would appreciate the gift of being in a leadership position, and know how precious it is, and how trustworthy I must be with it.

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?

Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells actors the “purpose of playing” is “to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” Reason number 1 diversity is important in entertainment is because nature IS diverse. Thus, our mirror needs to represent all the diversity that exists in our “age and body” of our times. Reason number 2 is because we learn “the unknown” from people different from us — the things we did not learn and do not inherit. The unknown expands us beyond ourselves and that is exciting for people to experience and will change our culture. Reason 3 is because that is our biological destiny as human beings — to evolve. We always have and we will continue to as diversity is embraced, and inclusiveness becomes the norm.

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

I am working on an original play based on a female-owned brothel in the wild west during the gold rush in Colorado. It focuses on women entrepreneurial ship, reproductive rights, gender and sexuality, and racism. It’s a LOT! I am planning to direct a developmental workshop of it this summer with professional actors. Once the play script is revised, the plan is to adapt it into a film script and a podcast.

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

I am most proud of my directing projects — especially the original works, whether films or plays. It is one thing to re-imagine a play or film that is adapted and a world is already somewhat known, but I find it most challenging and most fulfilling to create concepts for entire new, original worlds. The freedom is the greatest, but also the pressure at the highest level, and in the end, I find myself most fulfilled.

Ok 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. You can’t control everything — Ie. Entire cast and crew covid tests will get “lost” on an airplane in a snowstorm, and cause 3 days delay in filming
  2. Asking for help is not only acceptable but necessary — Ie. The first time I made a shot list and mis-labeled everything, it is okay to ask the DP if I did it wrong (I did do it wrong!)
  3. Everyone is worried about themselves — Ie. That is almost always why a person seems to be scowling or unhappy- it is not about you.
  4. No one knows everything they are doing- everyone is doing the best they can — Ie. We are all making it up as we go along — it took me turning 50 this year to realize that most everyone feels like the 16 year old inside — even at 50, 60, 70.
  5. Forgive those who make honest mistakes asap — Ie. Generosity of spirit is key in collaboration, and teaching students (who make a lot of mistakes) has actually made me a better collaborator and more forgiving of professionals

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?

My personal artistic vision in conjunction with the writer’s vison has the greatest impact. Next would be the actors’ interpretations. My visual inspirations and aesthetic tend to be in choreographies and colors. For example, in “Launch” I wanted to focus on the passage of time and the flashbacks in time through color-coded locations, and the hint of the holidays: Christmas and New Year’s, to hint at the obvious metaphorical meaning of birth and re-birth throughout the laboratory and rooftop scenes.

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. 🙂

A movement idea I like is only using what you need, getting rid of the desire for “excess” — it’s a version of sustainability, really. If all people only used what they needed, did not hoard or take more than they needed, then resources could be shared for the greater good. It’s simple I know, but “excess” is a cultural problem and shows itself in excess consumption of food, money, drugs, alcohol, land, weapons, too-big homes, too-big cars…one could go on and on.

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. 🙂

Geena Davis- I am inspired by her career trajectory — and her nonprofit organization, Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, to create gender balance and foster inclusion in entertainment media. I’d love to discuss her institute’s research methods with her as well as share with her the story of the play and tv pilot I wrote Possessions. It was based on the 17th century Mancini sisters — who we call the “Thelma and Louise of the 17th century” — the first ladies of their time to leave their abusive husbands and write and publish their own memoirs while on the run.

How can our readers further follow you online?

I have some social media sites online and my website presently.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Carrie Ann Quinn: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.