MH: It’s a feature film called “Lapse” which I wrote, directed and produced. It’s a psychological thriller/drama about a girl who wakes up in the desert one morning with no memory and blood all over hands. As she struggles to remember what happened the night before, the people to she encounters are not what she thinks they are. We finished principal photography in late October, where we shot in the desert out near Joshua Tree Park. We shot on super 16mm after being granted the Panavision New Filmmaker’s grant, where we were given a complete camera package basically for free. And we also managed to get a really good deal on film stock from Kodak. I am now in post with the film, editing it myself. My visa expired in December, so I am back in(where I am from) where I am trying to finish “Lapse” as well as working on two new feature scripts and a Danish short film, that I am hoping to shoot this summer, if I can get a grant from the Danish Film Institute. I’m hoping that I can return to the States for the festival circuit with “Lapse”, find a distributor, procure financing/production deals for future feature projects and thus get a new visa, either in the shape of a work permit, a L1 visa or a green card.
JNL: You wrote, directed, and produced 2 short film projects. How was that experience for you? What festivals are your projects playing at currently?
MH: I did “Alice Rose”, my first serious short film, as my thesis project at UCLA Extension, from where I hold 7 certificates, mostly in producing, but also in directing and cinematography. I never took writing classes, I just write. Although I do have a couple of screenwriting bibles I refer to occasionally. “Alice Rose” was my take on film noir. It’s 10 minutes long and part of a feature-length story that I hope to make someday. Alice is the quintessential femme fatale, she does all the things we wish we could, but never would dare to. So she’s the character we all hate to love or love to hate – depending on how you like to see it. The story of Alice spans from the late twenties into the early seventies, but the short film focuses on an episode in her life in the forties – the film noir period as I call it. “Alice Rose” played at three different festivals (Rebel Planet, www.wisdombellproductions.com). My other short film “Between the Sunset and the Sea” was an independent, 3-minute long short I did on my own. I wanted to shoot something, but had no money, so I remembered this poem I had read in high school by A.C. Swinburne that is very visual and I decided to turn it into a short film. My dad had just given me his old super 8mm camera, which was really high-end for its time, and it did the job perfectly. The most expensive part of that project was getting the 20 minutes of footage transfered to HD. “Between the Sunset and the Sea” played at two festivals last year (Reel Women int’l film festival and the FAIF film festival). Again I only applied to a dozen local festivals due to costs. But “Between the Sunset and the Sea” also received a mini distribution deal with Women’s Independent Cinema, where it will be released on their monthly DVD that contains selections of short films by female directors.and FAIF film festivals) and won one award (best art film at the FAIF film festival). I only submitted to about a dozen local festivals because I couldn’t afford to do more, but was happy with the response the film received. It played the festival circuit almost two years ago, but it can be seen on my website (
I really enjoy making films – I live and breathe for storytelling. Both my short film projects, as well as my feature, were done on extremely tight budgets, but I worked with actors I knew and trusted and got lucky with crew. I’m of the “Robert Rodriquez” persuasion. Make movies for what you’ve got, rather than sit around and wait for the big budget, famous cast or fat opportunity that may never come.
JNL: I see that you originally studied to be an actress at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre, when did you know that you wanted to be behind the scenes?
MH: I always wanted to be in movies, ever since I was a little girl. Because all I could see in a movie were actors, I thought that was what I wanted to be. They tell the story, don’t they? So I embarked on an acting career, and although I did love the expressive aspect of performing, I quickly realized that the actor is not the story teller. In fact, the more you learn and work, the more you realize as an actor you’re more of a puppet that has to do what other people tell you to. It’s not your vision and often I felt like what
At the same time, not by design, I also started studying at UCLA Extension in the Film and TV department, because The Lee Strasberg Institute had messed up my visa (and the visas of every other foreign student of my class, save two) and because I didn’t want to return to prematurely, I enrolled for what in the end amounted to seven certificate programs. They tell me at the Extension that I am the record holder of number of certificates attained, but for me it was really just a question of learning about what I enjoy and staying in the country. I managed to stretch my stay in the US for another 3 1/2 years.
JNL: You also edit your own projects as well, what program do you edit on?
MH: I have my own Final Cut Pro Studio system, where I edit picture and sound, do special effects and print and design DVDs – basically the whole process from A-Z for an independent filmmaker. And now with the program Color in the new Studio package there’s the option of much better quality color correction too. I also use Photoshop and I own After Effects, but never got around to using it. I use Final Draft for writing, EP for budgeting and scheduling, Frameforge for storyboarding (although I find it quicker and easier to draw stick figures) and Final Cut Pro Studio for post. Then I use Photoshop for poster and press kit design and Dreamweaver for my website. I’m pretty self-taught in that respect. I learn what I need to as I go. I have a vision and I find a way to execute it in every respect I find necessary in order to feel that the finished product is something I can feel proud about attaching my name to.
JNL: Editing is such a tedious process, and there are definitely not that many women who edit. Describe the editing process for us.
MH: I love editing. It’s where your story and vision really come together. For me it’s the most creative part of the process. Principal photography feels more like a war zone where you deal with constant problems from people’s egos to acts of God (on “Lapse” we dealt with desert storms and wild fires to mention a few). You’re always running against the clock, always trouble-shooting. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it, because I do. The process of principal photography is a crazy, intense frenzy that makes me feel really alive and, strangely enough, really happy in the midst of all the chaos and stress. In editing, on the other hand, you have all the time in the world (so it seems) and you have the freedom to try out different things and really see your film take shape. It might be tedious at times (such logging, digitizing, sync’ing sound), but overall it’s good, clean – and calm – fun. Of course the writing stage is really creative too, and nothing beats the feeling you have when you finish your first draft, but in editing you see the product before your eyes, executed and soon ready for the world to see. I don’t consider myself a professional editor. I don’t look for editing work, although I sometimes help out friends and acquaintances. I don’t know if I would like editing other people’s work as much as I would my own, but I still love the process of editing regardless. It marries my natural ability for storytelling with my inherent attention to detail and organization. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and in editing I can really indulge myself.
So a typical editing process for me consists of:
A) I digitize the footage into Final Cut and log it.
B) If necessary I sync sound.
C) I look through my different takes and make a decision of how I want to cut the scene. This is the fun part. I try out different options until I find the edit I like.
D) I do special effects, rendering, titles, color correction as well as sound editing/design and music. This is a big category that takes as long if not longer than C. I’m not a composer, but I do sound mixing and I’m good at temp tracks. I can do some dialogue clean up and simple ADR as well as some sound effects. I don’t do foley. Color correction is not my favorite either, I find it a little tedious.
E) Output. This can take many hours as the computer renders and outputs the film to your desired format. The good thing is you can do other stuff while you wait.
F) DVD design. I love designing the DVD menus. I find it really rewarding. I think I could even do that as a sidejob, just design menus for people’s DVD’s all day. The more menus the better, because then you can really come up with an overall concept and design theme, and it’s fun putting together all the special features. For “Alice Rose” I really went overboard. I did subtitles in 5 languages, a director’s commentary, 3 trailers, a blooper reel, a stills slideshow, a poster and postcard artwork slideshow, production notes and bios on actors and key crew, way too many chapters for a 10-minute short film. With “Between the Sunset and the Sea” I was more modest.
Once I’ve got a DVD, I still have to design and print a DVD label as well as a DVD cover for the case. This is where Photoshop comes in handy again. Then there’s the presskit. I usually design at least a poster, a post card and a press-sheet – usually a letter-sized front-and-back brochure with synopsis, credits, contact info, pictures, bios, production notes and other little tidbits pertaining to the film.
JNL: So between acting, writing, producing, editing, and directing, which one do you really enjoy doing the most?
MH: I would have to say writing and directing. I’m a writer-director, a filmmaker, a storyteller. I produce because I like the control and because I have to in order to get my projects off the ground, but in the future I’d like to find a producer that I can really form a working relationship with. You know, be a team together. The hard part is finding someone who shares your taste and vision and whose personality matches yours. I really like forming teams. I have actors I work with again and again and on my feature, I really hit it off with my DP, a really talented woman I hope I will work with again. I’m like Rick in Casablanca, I’d love to be able to say to cast and crew: “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. Or rather work relationship to be accurate. However, that is not always the case. Some people you hope you’ll never see again. Editing I think I could let someone else do, but I would be right there in the editing room next to them. Whether that’s a good thing I suppose depends on the editor’s point-of-view.
JNL: Being from another country, were there any additional challenges you encountered when coming to LA, outside of being a woman?
MH: As mentioned above, the hardest part about being a foreigner in the US, is getting and keeping a visa. They, by this I mean the INS, really don’t want you here, especially after 9/11. So you really have to be exceptional to convince them that you’re an asset to the country. In entertainment, which is already saturated with Americans, it’s really difficult. They basically want you to be a star in your own country before you come here. A good lawyer can really make you look (or rather sound good) on your application, but you still need supporting documentation. And since I never did any film work in Denmark, I don’t qualify for a work permit. Green cards are even harder to come by, you basically need to invest a million dollars in a business or have American family or get married to a US citizen. I know a lot of people who did the latter. It just never appealed to me. If I was running away from some awful country, where my liberties were endangered, then I would consider paying and marrying some stranger for the papers, but as far as I am concerned I can make movies anywhere in the world.
Being female has really not been an issue for me. Not yet anyway. I think if you focus on it as being a problem, it becomes a problem. It’s like giving off a “self-fulfilling prophecy” vibe. Instead I try to focus on the work. I really believe that if the work is good, it will speak for itself. And I’m just starting out. Of course there’s people out there that for whatever reason (connections, background, charismatic personality, gift of the garb) succeed in spite of talent and put out a lot of mediocre work. But I don’t want to be one of those people, and I intend to hone my craft, pay my dues and work my way up. There’s a saying which states that the things you want most in life, you have to work for the hardest. I can live with that. The hardest part of movie-making is financing. If everyone who even had the smallest interest in filmmaking had money, they would all be making movies. Filmmaking is a very expensive affair. A $5-million film may be considered low-budget, but it’s still $5 million. Without money everything becomes difficult, it’s hard to find good cast and crew, afford good equipment and services or even pay your rent!
JNL: What are your feeling on women in hollywood?
MH: I think women are very talented. They sometimes subconsciously put themselves down, and there’s always the old adage that to be a fully rounded woman, one must also, on top of a stellar career, marry a great guy, make cute babies and juggle it all flawlessly. I’d like to see a man do that. Would they be able to cook, clean, wash, nurture and parent, stay slim, look sexy and what not on top of being competitive at a career – which if done well is a lot more than an 8-hours-a-day job?
The worst thing is that women are their own worst critics by putting these demands on themselves. On “Lapse” I had a lot of women working on it. I had a female DP and AD. I had a female AC. I generally think that female cinematographers are vastly overlooked. The female cinematographers I have met are often better than the males. They have a better eye. They’re more intuitive. And they work better with stress and multi-tasking. But that’s just my opinion. I do think though that I have seen a lot of bad films by female directors. A lot of it is just so sentimental. I like a heartfelt film about feelings and inner turmoil, but there’s a difference between being soppy and being touching. I don’t know if it’s because women think they have to make films like this or what, but I definitely think there’s room for improvement, and until then, men will continue to dominate the market. I like , , , and Julie Taymor, but I am still searching for a female director I can really call an inspiration or role model.
JNL: How can the audience contact you?
There’s contact info on my website (www.wisdombellproductions.com). Email is probably the best option, since I’m currently not in the US.