Exclusive interview with Abby Pierce – Filmmaker
Abby Pierce is a director, writer, actor, and teaching artist. She has been teaching theater with incarcerated communities for the past five years with the women of EPIC at Cook County Jail and she currently teaches at Riker’s Island with Drama Club. She recently directed the Jeff-nominated theater production of Hopelessly Devoted in Chicago at Piven Theater. Her award-winning short films Eat Your Heart Out and Go Ahead, Grab Time by the Throat are currently on the festival circuit. As an actor she can be seen on Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Proven Innocent. www.abbyisinhere.com
NY Glam: How long have you been making films and videos?
Abby: I made my first film, “The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”, back in high school. It was a documentary about The Dream Act and undocumented immigration. I was a part of a student-run group a few of us started called “The Dream Team,” and we used my 17-minute film to introduce ourselves and our mission when we would speak to parishes, schools, and various groups about Dreamers. This was back in 2006, so The Dream Act was just starting to get national attention. It was the first time I realized how powerful of a tool film could be. I still remember when we did a presentation to the teachers at my high school and teachers were walking out of my film because they disagreed with the politics. Some of my classmates stood outside with signs yelling at their undocumented classmates, teammates, friends telling them to go home to Mexico. I hear they are still showing it at my high school’s Amnesty International meetings 14 years later, which is great but also devastating because not much has changed for the Dreamers.
NY Glam: What film was your directorial debut?
I spent most of my early professional life directing theater and acting. “Eat Your Heart Out” is my directorial debut. I wanted to make a short movie, so I started at the ground level and figured it out. I’m proud of it!
NY Glam: What is your recent film about?
“Eat Your Heart Out” is a magical realism fairytale about a woman who tries to retrieve her heart days before she is married, only to find out her ex cut it up with a butter knife and hid parts of it around the city.
NY Glam: How did you go about casting for the film?
Graham Beckel (Brokeback Mountain, LA Confidential) has been a teacher and mentor of mine for years. Charley Koontz (Community, CSI: Cyber) has been one of my best friends for over a decade. I always wanted to work with both of them and was honored when they agreed to come on. I’m an actor, so my co-writer, Julia Lederer, and I wrote the main role of Wallace for me to play.
NY Glam: What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
I repeated the adage, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” to stave off panic attacks and keep myself moving forward as I learned each stage of making a short film. When I got lost in the bigness of it all, I just made simple tasks and knocked them out one at a time.
“Ask for what you want” also got me a lot of what I wanted.
NY Glam: Tell us a bit about the other films you’ve made and your other projects.
“Go Ahead, Grab Time by the Throat” is my latest short film and oh man is it a weird one. I call the genre “Docu-Fiction Inverted Rom-Com”. In my real life, I got engaged and broke up on the same day. I filmed the proposal/break up on my phone and then used that real-life footage as the basis of the film. My very generous ex-fiancee agreed to re-enact scenes from our break-up for the film. It’s an exploration of ritualism, exhibitionism, and voyeurism.
NY Glam: What role have film festivals played in your life so far?
It’s been a wide range of experiences from the ultra-glamorous to DIY family-sized screenings. I love it all. There are so many talented filmmakers out there. Right now, it’s a matter of navigating festivals in the time of Covid and seeing the creative ways the festivals will handle the pandemic. I’m here for all of it.
NY Glam: Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
I think the hardest stage is 30% of the way into a project. Getting excited about an idea is easy. Rolling with momentum is easy. Pushing through the stage of “oh god, this idea actually sucks, and this is too hard, and what’s the point and this, and this is going to cost more than I make, and who will want to work on this with me?” is a slog. The thing that pushed me through was my loyalty to my collaborators and their generosity to me. I looked around to the good people that agreed to come on board, and someone always had an answer that restarted the engine.
NY Glam: How has your style evolved?
My style is a response to my idea and the resources I have to make a movie. My skills, techniques, and perspective as a filmmaker has grown, but these are just in service to the story I am curious about and the resources I have to make the project.
NY Glam: What has been your personal key to success?
I ask great people to collaborate.
NY Glam: What are you thinking about doing next?
Right now I am developing a feature horror film set in a women’s prison based off of my experiences teaching theater and acting in prisons in Chicago and New York City for the last five years.