Carese Bartlett's short film Refill is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We sat down with the filmmaker to learn more about her work, inspiration, and future projects
Who is Carese Bartlett? Give us a short bio.
I am a producer, writer and director based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I moved around a lot when I was younger, but I have lived in Grand Rapids for a little over 10 years now. I always loved film, but did not think of it as a career until late in the game, so I did not get into filmmaking until I was almost 20 years old. I graduated from GVSU in 2015 with my degree in Film/ Video with an emphasis in Cinema Studies.
I really love stylistic filmmaking and focusing on stories that you don’t typically get to see. Most of the time, I produce and I’ve done everything from corporate to narrative and back again. I recently produced Mino Bimaadiziwin (2017), a Sundance Fellowship funded short film, and assistant directed Mud (2018), an official Sundance Short selection. I now work at S2S Studios, a production company completely focused on inclusion and diversity work for corporate and narrative projects.
What is your favorite film(s) and why?
A lot of my favorite films are on my favorites because I learned something new about filmmaking from each example. Overall, I wouldn’t say that I have a “favorite”, but I love these films because of what they taught me about filmmaking. Broadcast News for screenwriting and direction. The Apartment for character development and cinematography. Raise the Red Lantern for pacing, mood and how to use a wide shot for more than establishing a space. All About Eve for direction. Anything by Wong Kar-Wai, but especially In the Mood for Love. There are too many, but here are a few more favorites for good measure (Princess Mononoke, A Separation, Black Swan, Ladybird, Two Days One Night)
Who at what inspires Carese Bartlett?
I get most of my inspiration from the people that I’ve been fortunate to work with over the past few years. Grand Rapids is bubbling with a lot of untapped talent - a lot of extremely creative people. I love sharing ideas, script proposals, edits, etc. with people who just make films for fun, for the art and because they love it.
Tell us about Refill. What's the overall narrative?
Refill is about Nancy Miller, a 70 year-old retiree, who wakes up one day to find her anxiety medication empty. It doesn’t take long for Annie, Nancy’s anxiety in human form, to disrupt Nancy’s tranquil home. Annie’s restlessness forces Nancy to pull out all her coping tools in order to conquer the next twelve hours.
How did the project form and how did you get involved?
So, one of the nicest parts of my job is that every few months, we get to make a short film. This was the first official short film written by someone at my studio, S2S. We’ve done some collaborative projects with local filmmakers before Refill, but this was the first official S2S Studios short. As to how it formed, our owner essentially wanted to make a something narrative, and all of S2S’s projects focus on an underrepresented group or area of society. I really love seeing older women on screen, so it was a nice chance to write something from scratch for our studio, and have an older female character with a mental illness.
What's your next project?
I’m currently in production for our next short film from S2S Studios. This time I’m Assistant Directing and Producing for Alyson Caillaud-Jones, a local director and S2S employee. It’s the story of a very talented French chef who moves to America and has to adjust to some unforeseen circumstances when she arrives. It’s set in the late-80s. Very fun, and it tackles a lot of great themes like outsiderness, perseverance and grit. It’s always fun to film in multiple languages.
Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?
For me, I always loved film. Almost obsessively, but I never thought of it as a career. I ended up attending a small private college as a Psychology major after high school. One day, I was in a Child Development class in the first week of the semester, and the professor was droning on about research, and statistics and clinical hours, and it just hit me that I hated Psychology. So I walked out of that class and down to the registrar and asked for anything open at the same time of day.
Apparently, someone had just walked in 5 minutes before and wanted out of Intro to Filmmaking. It was the only open of class that worked with my schedule, so I signed up. I was about 2 class periods behind, and my first film professor was one of those guys that had to show you that he was the boss, even though your 19 and he has nothing to prove. So he was weird, and unhelpful about catching me up after missing the first class. I was sitting in class, and I had no idea what my professor was saying. I had missed the “intro to film jargon” lecture, but I did not care.
As soon as we started talking about framing, color, lighting, low and high angles - I was done. I was completely hooked, and I did not care that he was not going to help me. I was going to teach myself. So to me, it was being able to see the mechanics of filmmaking in a class setting that shifted my perspective on film as a career.
From there, I keep to the same approach as that first class. There is a lot to learn from the people around you in the film industry, but they don’t know everything. So I continue to study and teach myself as much as possible. It’s worked out well so far.
Can you provide advice to aspiring filmmakers?
I would say watch a ton of films, from all over the world, and from filmmakers that have a different background from you. The more variety you can inject into your personal database, the better your work will be. Also, read scripts. There are hundreds of incredible feature film scripts available online. Read them, and train your brain to turn words to images and vice versa. And last one, learn to take criticism. Really take it, and sit in it. It’s very uncomfortable, but if you can hear people tear your work apart, and still hold to your choices and like them, you’ll learn to trust yourself.
If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?
I would love to do a gigantic, genre-bending musical, like a punk- sci-fi - musical. I’d love to make something that heavily incorporates theater and music. No idea about the story, but it would have a largely female cast, and it would be wild.
Any words about Open Projector Night?
If you’re a filmmaker, submit your film. If you’re a film lover, attend OPN. If you just want a cool community event with art made in your area, you should probably stop by. Open Projector Night is such a special event. It always a great time, and every single time, I’m impressed with the talent that OPN showcases right here in Grand Rapids.