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Music To Drop Acid By - Sneak Preview
Composer/Keyboard - Guy Allison
Guitar - John McFee

By Susanna Lo
Los Angeles, CA, USA


The Sundance Film Festival is arguably one of the top film festivals in the world and, without doubt, the creme de la creme of American film festivals. Every filmmaker, seasoned or just starting out, hopes to have a film screened at Sundance. And for the lucky few, who actually win awards at this festival, their careers in film are guaranteed a future.

Susanna Lo

My “soon-to-be-shot” feature film, Manson Girls, however, did something unique during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival last month. Instead of being in the competition, we chose to announce the film and the cast to the world via the Associated Press, and then we proceeded to showcase actresses cast in the film as they performed in concert with a couple of The Doobie Brothers - Guy Allison and John McFee. What was my plan? I’m sure several of the actors wondered the same thing, but chose to go on faith and participate anyway.

My initial purpose was to garner extra attention and press for the film in order to show foreign buyers how genuine and significant the interest in this film would be. With close to 200 news articles springing up about Manson Girls from our Associated Press launch/announcement, I’m going to call that part of my plan a success. In addition to interviews with the Associated Press, we were interviewed by Entertainment Tonight, Showbiz 411 and photographed by multiple publications, and even managed to get into the much-coveted Entertainment Weekly Sundance online issue.

My second purpose was to create a bonding experience for the actresses who chose to be a part of this event, as well as for my accompanying crew members, including my cinematographer and one of my Associate Producers. Most people think that a director’s job starts with the word “action”. By the time a director is on set shooting, 90% of your work should be done. Beyond having a strong vision for your film, a director must understand what it is going to take to create a collaborative group of participants willing to help to reach that vision. In Manson Girls, I have 11 leads, four cameos and an additional 100 speaking parts, and a full crew. Best to start directing early.

As I arrived at the airport with my agents to board my flight to Sundance, I managed to confirm that two of my actresses, Heather Matarazzo and Tania Raymonde, had made it there safely and were picked up by the cars promised to us by the concert promoters. Exhale. By the time I landed in Park City a few hours later, another one of my actresses, Monica Keena, was missing! Then I checked my text messages and had a text from Jen Landon, a member of the cast who was singing lead vocals on a couple of the songs we were performing with The Doobies. She had arrived at Sundance, but she had bronchitis and the flu and literally had no voice. Ahhhhhhhhh! We were due on stage the next morning. Taryn Manning, our other lead vocalist, was only cast in the film three days prior to her arrival at Sundance and, of course, had not had the chance to rehearse with The Doobies. I was beginning to quietly panic about the “bonding” aspect of my master plan with one actor missing, one actor sick and one actor just being brought into the mix.

Monica Keena (Self-Portrait) - Sundance 2011

Five hours later, we found Monica Keena sitting on a crate in front of a chalkboard, happily taking pictures of herself at the Associated Press photo area. By midnight, Taryn Manning and The Doobies were in my rental home singing “California Dreaming” with big smiles on their faces. As I watched Heather Matarazzo with her head in her hands, trying to stay awake (she came from New York and was three hours ahead), while she sang “Sexy Sadie”, I thought to myself, it’s going to be okay.

Then the cars that were supposed to pick us up in the morning to take us to the performance stage didn’t show up. Fortunately, my cinematographer and my agents had rented cars. So at seven in the morning, they piled me and the cast into the rental cars and got us to our venue on time (I remember thinking - would agents from CAA or WME be doing the same for their clients at 7 AM). Waiting for us on stage was Jen Landon, whose voice had returned just in time for her performance. A whirlwind proceeded...and before we knew it, we were the talk of Sundance that day, with camera crews chasing us up and down Main Street in Park City to find out more about this film.

By 8 PM, following our last interview, we were all about to drop from exhaustion and starvation. My agents found a pizza joint, with a back room away from the press and the photographers, and ordered up a bunch of food and drinks for everyone. As I leaned back against the booth with my first glass of wine for the day, I watched Heather and Taryn immersed in a conversation. They had both admired each other as actors, but never spent time together as friends until that moment.

I looked on as Tania drew sketches of her co-stars with a pencil on a check stub while Jen talked about them creating a graphic novel together. Next to my agents, Monica was doing a spot-on impression of Tim Gunn from Project Runway and making my agents laugh until they were about to cry. I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I realized what had been created over this amazing 48 hours - the beginning of a new family. Then I thought to myself, I wonder if this is how it felt when the original Manson Girls first met each other, back in the Summer of ‘69, before everything went so wrong?


Susanna Lo's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing


Susanna Lo is an award-winning director and screenwriter. Her upcoming film, Manson Girls, is scheduled to begin shooting in 2011. Her novel, Alma Of My Heart, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in November, 2010.

All opinions expressed by Susanna Lo are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.


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