Our featured interview is with talented Los Angeles native, up-and-coming actress/writer/producer Erica Lindsey Ross. Ross has written and produced a web series, several shorts and recently co-wrote a feature film. If she seems familiar, you may have seen her on a recent episode of TV One’s, “Fatal Attraction.”
Erica sat down to talk with us about her latest project, a fantasy feature she has written called, THE ELEMENT OF SPIRIT (TEOS). The story follows a young woman who discovers her powers of witchcraft as a coven welcomes her but must unite to face the wrath of a circle of witch hunters. The project’s teaser video has been getting an amazing amount of attention on Facebook, so we wanted to find out more about the public’s intrigue, and how this first-time crowdfunder is making it happen.
TYHB: Erica, you are an accomplished and busy, working actress currently wearing many hats in the entertainment industry. Can you tell us how your current project, The Element of Spirit (TEOS) came into your sights?
ELR: Indeed, I am! All the hats piled on top of my head make me feel taller than 5’3” 😀
So, this isn’t a spoiler, because it’s in the synopsis… but an “underground gambling” scene literally began playing out in my head, out of absolutely nowhere. It was intriguing, so I put the idea on paper and fleshed it out. I was trying to think of cool reasons why this girl (later named Rowan) was winning left and right, seemingly calling the cards she wanted into existence. I had nothing, until a couple days later.
I was viewing my own reel and came across a short film scene where I played one of the witches from, “Macbeth.” Ever since I did that role, I thought it would be super fun to do a witch film. I love the fantasy/supernatural genre and witches have always been the most fun to watch (sorry vampires, ghosts and zombies!). I decided that Rowan was a witch, but didn’t know it. You know, so as not to make her a cheater and to give the movie a “coming of age” feel. From there, it snowballed into this 100+ page monster. Haha!
TYHB: What were/are your biggest challenges in getting this off the ground?
ELR: Oy ve! I say “witches,” and some people either freak out or launch into a moral or religious lecture, before declaring that they won’t support it. Haha. Honestly, if you’re fine with zombies, vampires, ghosts, superheroes/mutants, Greco-Roman deities and/or other human-appearing folks who are shooting lasers out of their eyes, creating fire with just their hands, are able to teleport, turn invisible, etc, you’ll be fine with TEOS. It’s a different kind of witch film, trust me!
I’m a really nice person who loves providing opportunities (especially for actors and filmmakers). So, another challenge is handling those that want to be involved only after the hard part is done. If I had $50 for every person who’s contacted me about being “in” the film (and no, I don’t mean by pledging a higher amount to be able to visit set, be a witch hunter extra or have a scene with lines), I’d be funded by now. Hahaha!
I understand the strategy of wanting to make sure creators know that you’re available for work. But… showing support before the ask is probably more effective and authentic. Otherwise it’s like, “Well, no I won’t back you to make success more likely. But if you’re successful, please remember me!”
TYHB: Can you tell us more about how you were able to delve into the world of witchcraft as a writer?
ELR: Lots and lots of research! I searched through various blogs, spoke with actual occult shop owners and folks who have practiced. I wanted TEOS to be somewhat realistic, but not completely insulting to those that practice. One of my cast members knows a ton of practitioners, so I had her read one of the earliest drafts of the full script. She had a few notes regarding terminology for me.
TYHB: Why are you so passionate about this project?
ELR: In general I wanted to create rich, layered characters of both genders, of all ages. It’s something that current films lack, in my opinion. It’s a film for everyone. I think that a lot of great films don’t end up being as widespread, because they aren’t as inclusive. If you are, or ever have been, a member of a misunderstood group, there’s something in TEOS for you.
Nearly everyone has been through a period of awkwardness, where they weren’t quite sure where they fit in with the world or a particular social group. That’s exactly what happens with Rowan.
These characters are all in the early 20s, but really haven’t decided what to do with themselves. This happens with our current generation quite a bit. And even when our parents send us off to college, we come right back home and exist in this weird space between, “I’m a responsible, independent adult!” and “Help? Please? Adulting is hard…” It can be rough on the parents, too. They recognize that we’re adults but we’re still their babies and we still live at home. We get to explore some of this in Rowan’s relationship with her mother, Celeste. It’s relevant and it also creates interest for our older adult crowd.
TYHB: Speaking of the older, adult audience, with Hollywood facing diversity in casting and below-the-line more urgently, where, in your opinion, can a fantasy film like TEOS play a role in continuing that conversation?
ELR: I purposely did not assign an ethnicity to the majority of the characters in TEOS. I wanted my cast to be as diverse as possible and to offer actors a chance to have meaty roles to showcase their talent. I’m on casting breakdown sites. I’m a movie lover. I (and most people I know) firmly believe that there are not enough roles open to women, minorities, older adults, etc. And too often, the roles that are available… umm… well, they’re lame because they’re stereotypical. Haha!
Even though all five coven members are undecided on what to do with life, they remain strict. They each have a distinct voice, moral code and personal lives that exist outside of Rowan. The female characters aren’t just relegated to love interests or damsels in distress. They’re strong young women who don’t “need” the boys help, but would still love to have it. I think a lot of really good films take a hit by adding unnecessary love angles. Some flirting happens in TEOS, but nothing major. It doesn’t distract us from the plot or direction of the movie.
TYHB: You’re currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter for the first time. Do you have any insight for other actors who are making that move toward content creation?
ELR: Team is everything! Bring in people who have a couple of skills that overlap with yours, and a few that do not. Each person on your team should have social media accounts that they use regularly. Social media is 24/7, so being able to handle that on a rotation is excellent.
If you don’t know how to create a realistic budget, one of your team members needs to know how. If you don’t have access to locations, bring in someone who does.
No equipment? Have a team member who’s got some or knows people that do. You’re literally picking your team based on their skill set and connections.
Getting along is a MUST. Having people committed to pulling their weight is a MUST. You’re going to be working round the clock together, possibly for months!
I would also suggest sitting down with the team and putting the phases of your launch into writing. Something about being able to see your next steps on paper is a great motivating factor. It also makes it easy to spot a step that you’ve overlooked.
And contracts! We don’t like them or want to read them because it makes everything feel so formal. And we’re creatives, so we don’t want to think about the business side! I get it. But, seriously… create contracts from the onset. Outline duties, pay, percentages, ownership and all of that. Yes, you want to hope for the best, but you also need to spell out what happens if someone seriously drops the ball or drops out completely. As your project becomes bigger, things can get confusing or frustrating. Having something in writing may save you from disputes. Well, maybe not… but at least everyone will have solid backup of the agreements.
You can contribute to THE ELEMENT OF SPIRIT on their Kickstarter until Sunday, June 12th at 5:04pm.
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