Mara Lesemann is the producer of About Us Productions. I recently caught up with her to discuss her award-winning film Detours.
How did you get started in the film business?
I started out writing plays – first one acts, then full-length plays. A number of them were produced off-off-Broadway in NYC, and I loved it. But the audience is limited, so I turned to writing for the screen. My first short movie was called Albert and Mandy, and it was adapted from my one act play Sunday With Albert and Mandy.
What advice would you give to aspiring film producers?
Plan everything out, and be organized.
Time is money, and most projects take twice as long as you think they will. Most of us start out on no-budget projects, and don’t focus enough on setting and sticking to a schedule. Even if you’re not paying people, extra days shooting cost more in gas, food, and wear and tear on people’s bodies. Also, people are less willing to work with you a second time if you don’t respect their time and their “real life.”
I love your film Detours staring Tara Westwood (Casmere Mafia), Carlo Fiorletta (Big Brain Tweeting), Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas and Law & Order) and Richard Kind (Mad About You, Spin City). How did you come up with the screenplay?
I’m so glad you love it! And I love our amazing cast.
There are two, equally important parts to the source of the screenplay – and they involve the two lead actors.
a. Carlo Fiorletta is my husband. He served as Executive Producer on my first feature, Surviving Family, and also worked a great deal on the casting and had a small but important role. When that movie had its world premiere at the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod, I went up early with the director, Laura Thies, and Carlo drove up separately with my parents, who were close to 80 at the time. When he arrived, he was laughing about spending 7 hours in the car with them – things that seemed normal when I experienced them as a child going on a family vacation were totally different when viewed as an adult with (quasi-)parents. That was when I had the original idea for a parent/adult child road trip movie.
b. Tara Westwood has a major supporting role in Surviving Family – she is wonderful as Jean Malone Fulton, the main character’s older sister. She and I became good friends, and she traveled to several film festivals with me. On a long drive home from Canada, the GPS in my car seemed to have its own idea of where we should drive – and it was unrelated to where we needed to go. Tara started to talk to it, and addressed it as “Joe,” and this became the GPS in the movie, which is a very important character. This was also when I asked Tara to play the lead and to come on board as a producer.
Jennifer (played by Tara Westwood) and her father’s road trip to Florida is an emotional roller coaster with some amazingly funny scenes. Why did you decide to add the comedy element instead of making the film a drama?
I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for comedians and comedy writers – they’re the truth tellers about people and the world around us. After making Surviving Family – which deals with mental illness, suicide, and alcoholism – I wanted to make something that still addresses important issues but does so with a lighter touch.
What was it like working with Paul Sorvino and Richard Kind in Detours?
Paul and Richard were both an absolute pleasure to work with – they are consummate professionals and exceptionally talented actors.
Richard was in the middle of recording the voice of Bing Bong out in LA for the Oscar-winning animated film Inside Out when we were shooting Detours. He worked on our movie during a rare visit back to NYC, and came to the set directly from the airport. It was an experience I’ll always treasure.
How about Tara Westwood who was also a producer on Detours?
Tara is awesome. She’s a wonderfully talented actor who is also smart, funny, and exceptionally hard working. I asked her to come on board as a producer – which she had never done before – because I knew she had a lot to bring to the project. She was directly responsible for bringing in more than half the cast (we did the rest with our terrific casting director Caroline Sinclair), as well as most of the soundtrack (which I love).
The chemistry between Tara and Carlo Fiorletta (who played Jennifer’s father) made the film. So when did you know you had something special with them acting in the film?
They’re both great actors, and I wanted this to be a film where they both shine. Our director Rob McCaskill gets a lot of the credit for really making it happen. He has a strong theater background, and believes in the importance of rehearsal. The three of them worked together for weeks before we shot the movie, including having Tara and Carlo drive the car while rehearsing those lines. As a writer, I didn’t appreciate fully how hard it is to act and drive at the same time. The hard work that they put in made it “natural” when we shot it.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m working on a thriller right now, which I’m very excited about. I can’t say anything more than that because I signed a non-disclosure agreement, but hopefully I’ll be able to go public soon.
You can watch the award-winning film Detours and Surviving Family another About Us Productions film on Amazon Prime.