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[TFF Interview]…Drew Denny on ‘Momster’, Bank Robbers and Narrative Ambitions

One of the noteworthy shorts playing Tribeca Film Festival this year is Drew Denny’s film, Momster. This female-led action-packed drama was created by the talented Writer/Director and her crew, led by all female department heads. The short itself was done as a proof of concept for something Drew wants to make into a feature. Essentially, it’s a kick-ass prequel and you’ll definitely want to see where this goes.

While only 10-minutes and change (including credits), what’s impressive about Momster is that just a few seconds after hitting play, you feel like you’re dropped right in the middle of a Quentin Tarantino narrative. It’s that engrossing.

Whether working for a major network, a global brand or an independent passion project, Drew takes pride in directing projects that are entertaining, cathartic, and that authentically represent stories and characters who have never before been seen. Be it through narrative filmmaking, investigative documentary, commercials, music or multi-media projects, Drew is passionate about telling groundbreaking stories with a focus on women, people of color and LGBTQ communities.

In addition to being a filmmaker, Drew Denny is a musician and an immeasurably lovely human being. We had a blast talking about the cast, the crew, and bank robbery research. Enjoy our time with Drew!

GoSeeTalk: Your short is lean, mean, and I am really excited to see how you take this further. What are your aspirations for the continuing adventures of Angel and Momster?

Drew Denny: The feature picks up where the short ends, starting with a bad-ass heist scene – Momster and Angel are robbing a bank. Momster has her homemade jacket which has pockets sewn on the inside so she can slide bricks of cash from the teller right into it.

She looks really slick and Angel is following her lead. But just when they’re about to escape, she forgets what’s going on and almost bungles the whole job. So Angel, again, has to rescue her Mom.

From a young age, Angel (Brianna Hildebrand) was left in the case of her old accomplice, Dallas, to whom she owes a lot of money. She must have been notorious enough to have a nickname and been on the run for so long.

Yes, I think of her as a former America’s Most Wanted bank robber who’s fallen off the radar. It’s been a while since she last made a splash. Angel believes that she’s still out there robbing banks, but everyone tells her that she’s in hiding and is never going to come back to get her.

A major thing is her memory, right? The short focuses not just on the idea of the daughter rescuing the mother, but that rolls into role reversal. Can you speak to how this story comes from a personal place?

My grandmother has very advanced Alzheimer’s and doesn’t recognize me anymore. It’s sad but its also surreal to be with someone who’s known you since you were born and see the look in their eye when they have no idea why you’re there with them. It can be a little awkward and unsettling, especially in public when they don’t know what your relationship is. I’m sure bystanders see this and ask, “Is this woman abducting this little old lady? What’s happening here?”

Now my mom is struggling with early onset dementia, too. The idea for Momster came to me when I was grocery shopping, and my mom had a moment of disorientation. It caused a little bit of a scene, and it got me thinking. I mean, we were in Winn Dixie buying bananas, and it was pretty low stakes. But what if we’re robbing a bank right now? [Laughs]

This is a semi-serious question, but how do you do research on bank robberies, and not have the Feds kick in your door two days later?

[Laughs] Luckily, the Feds had not come at me for this. [Laughs]  I looked up historical bank robberies, and then I went to banks and imagined what I would do if I were to rob them. I came up with the idea for the cash lined jacket because I love clothes and working with costume designers. I really like the idea of immediately knowing a lot about a person just by what they’re wearing, and without them having to say a word.

In the film, for instance, we made the shirt that Dallas is wearing that says “On the gas and kicking ass.” The phrase came from our costume designer Emily Ting and the car image was done by our graphic designer Kyle Lasky. That’s actually the picture of the car Angel and Momster dive away in, so it’s a bit of foreshadowing.

We also made the car hop costumes and money lined jacket. I like the idea of feminizing a bank robbery, that our anti-hero would have a piece of clothing she modified to pull off a heist. She’s got everything so figured out that she’s got a jacket just for that purpose.

There were nice little touches peppered through Momster that really caught my eye. The main one was when Angel and Rose share a look, and way in the distance a neon heart lights up right between them- it was very Edgar Wright. It telegraphed what was happening without saying a lot.  What about that was special to you?

I love our little neon heart! Our cinematographer, Ava Berkofsky, is amazing. I had lots of wild ideas about color, framing, and how certain looks and objects would be revealed. It was challenging because we shot in an old strip club that we repurposed as a diner. There were mirrors everywhere. I love playing with mirrors, but it can be a nightmare when trying to do a scene-long, one-take, Steadicam shot moving through multiple characters, some of whom are on wheels. [Laughs] But Ava and her team were down to dig into that challenge with me and they pulled it off beautifully!

Our production designer, Ashley Fenton, found a remote controlled heart, and I asked if we could have the heart pop on right when Angel and Rose touch for the first time. Ava, her gaffer, Ashley and everyone worked together to make it happen. I had actually been trying to have a golden wash of light glow up around Angel and Rose when they touched, and that just wasn’t working on the day… But the neon heart works so well and the golden wash probably would have felt like a rip off of Punch Drunk Love so I guess I’m glad we had that happy accident and surprise [Laughs]

Momster is played by Amanda Plummer. I’m not well-versed in her work, but my favorite role is the Nun in Freejack. What’s yours, and what got you thinking about her for this film?

To be honest, it didn’t even occur to me that someone like Amanda Plummer would want to be in my short. I gave the script to a director friend of mine, Justin Lerner, and he when he suggested Amanda Plummer I just started laughing. I thought he was making fun of me. [Laughs] My favorite movie with Amanda is Pulp Fiction. I owned the VHS tape when I was 11 and I wore it out. I love her as Honey Bunny!

Justin suggested her because he worked with her and she’s a real actor’s actor- she wants to work on material that’s interesting. We got in touch with her rep, she read the script and she texted me and wanted to meet. I thought I would have gotten twenty minutes, but we had coffee for close to four hours. By the end of our hang, Amanda was stalking through the café as Momster. [Laughs] It was hilarious. She was using her hand as a gun and leering around corners. [Laughs] We had so much fun and I knew that this was who I needed to work with.

What kind of input or feedback did you get from her?

She wasn’t afraid to tell me what lines she didn’t think were good enough, which, by the way, I loved! She would say, “I heard that line in a movie before…you don’t want to do that.” So all I could say was, “Excellent point, Amanda. You’ll have a new draft in your inbox tomorrow.” [Laughs] I just love her work.

After seeing Brianna Hildebrand relegated to a supporting character in the Deadpool series, it’s great to see her take the lead. What made her right for the role?

Brianna is a wonderful, down-to-earth and hardworking actress. She did all her own stunts which were not easy. There’s not a lot of people who can act on wheels and she nailed it. I liked her for this part because she can be so tough but then vulnerable and I get really excited about that. I grew up watching a lot of action movies and almost all the heroes were guys. They’re charming or strong or funny, but I get most excited about the people who are a little raw or vulnerable, and I think Brianna really has that and she will dig in when working with you.

Here’s hoping Momster starts to materialize for you and the team. Until then, what’s on the horizon for you and what’s got you excited for the future?

I’m creating my first podcast, and like the short I’m making the podcast because I want to adapt it to a feature or television series. It’s proof of concept, but it’s also fun to explore another medium. I’ve just begun adapting a documentary I made called Queer Habits – a true story of a group of drag queen nuns who save a rural homophobic community from ruin – into a narrative television series.

Well a podcast is pretty much like prepping for a shoot with a screenplay, table read, sound effects, etc. The only thing you’re missing are the cameras.

The podcast is exciting because it’s like a really immersive rehearsal process where you get to workshop the story. Of course, the storytelling strategy is different when it’s just audio. It’s more like a novel than a screenplay because you get to narrate. In a podcast, you must have a narrator or host to pull you through the story because you can’t see anything. You can describe inner worlds and get more overtly introspective and subjective which is fun as a storyteller because you don’t get to do that in film.

But it’s also amazing just as an incubation process to try out different ideas, characters, plotlines, and twists because the process is so immediate – which is how I feel about music. When I have an idea, I can sit at the piano, and communicate the idea with my hands and my voice. Because a film can take so many resources, it’s fun to be kind of punk with a podcast. But I’m very much looking forward to adapting it for my medium which will always be, first and foremost, the screen.

Thanks to Drew for her time. Momster screens at Tribeca Film Festival, in various shorts programs, on April 26, April 27, May 3 and twice on May 4.

When notorious bank robber the MOMSTER (Amanda Plummer) catches her daughter Angel (Brianna Hildebrand) mid-gunfight, Angel thinks she’s being rescued… until she realizes she has to do the saving.