Catapulting into the public eye with “Hollywood Dreams” a few years back, actress Tanna Frederick has packed her bags and headed for Iowa, where she hopes to make a mini-Hollywood among the corn fields.
I believe we last spoke to you for “Hollywood Dreams”, which garnered you some wonderful reviews. Did those notices ultimately help your career?
Yes. When the New York Times says you’re good, at least a quarter of the population of those who even know indie films are going to think, ‘Hey, she might be good’, then watch the movie and inevitably think I’m bad to prove the New York Times wrong.
You’ve been juggling theater with film. I’ve always been interested, now does theater feel as rewarding as film? being that you can’t necessarily look back on something – say DVD or video tape – later on to reflect on the performance or that time? Is there a different type of reward that comes from doing stage work?
I have to say, theater is grime and gritty. If someone farts backstage, you’re going to smell it. And that sometimes happens. For eleven month runs of shows. Right before you go on stage. But that’s the glory of it.
With theater, I love the process of going in, day after day, rehearsing and crafting, and then the gates open and the race is off with a different race to be run every night. That’s hot, that’s exciting, that’s sexy. And there’s the discipline of holding the arc of the character and holding the audiences’ energies for that span every night, plate spinning them, that can’t be obtained by film.
Film is much more exhausting to do, trying to hold the short bursts of energy between the set ups. It’s tough, they’re very different beasts. I have to shake it up, going from play to film, always changing the medium, because it’s tough and jarring. But when I learn something from every play or film I do, hopefully that sinks in and that facility translates to my work in both.
So what can you tell us about your latest venture, Project Cornlight?
There was a debacle with some of the larger films being created here in Iowa and the film industry pulled out and monetary incentives to film in the state were pulled. The incentives of filming in Iowa, to me, are not about money but about the quality or resources we have at our disposal. The talented writers, crew, actors, producers, the gorgeous land, the stories, the people, all of these can and have been overlooked. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled up a movie about Iowa or the Midwest, hoping to catch a rich, real representation, and halfway through the movie Malekei pops out of the corn or some teenage demon starts murdering everyone. Those films are being made by people who haven’t grown up in this state. Project Cornlight is my way of saying, ‘The state is enough’. It’s got so many wonderful generational stories and history that we don’t need a horror film to be plopped into the story for it to be interesting. Our lives are interesting. The films we’re choosing for Project Cornlight, and we have three lined up to continue work on through 2012 and 2013, are beautiful, simple stories that represent our state, it’s values, and don’t try to be interesting. They just are. Like us, they just exist. Without an Avatar suddenly appearing in the back seat of the main character’s buick.
Here in Oz, we know Iowa best for… well, “Field of Dreams”. That, as far as I knew, was the start and end of the film industry there, but obviously I’m mistaken? What kind of film industry has Iowa built up and do many productions come through there?
Yes, we need to step it up and create another film that references itself to the state. That and ‘The Music Man’. I say Iowa, I get ‘We got trouble in River City’ or ‘If you build it, they will come…’ I’m on a mission to come up with films that have new fabulous catch phrases that we can put on keys in airports. And it’s happening.
What are the benefits of shooting in Iowa – on both sides of the camera?
Everything. The people, the work ethic, the talent, the openness, the community support, the stories that are hidden in rural generations, the emotional availability and unbelievable sweetness of the people here, the quality of the locations. I’ve never been on a set where I’ve felt more like a family than on THE FARM, and we all are now a solid family and geared to create great movies. We all cried when we left each other. That’s very rare, but that’s the kind of relationships that come out of filmmaking in Iowa.
Can you tell us about any of the productions you are overseeing under PG?
The Farm is wrapping up, about a woman who brings her father back to the family farm to live instead of the nursing home, but not without a lot of flack from her family. It deals with forgiveness and acceptance, two essential elements that keep such large families together.
The next film, Serendipity Green, is a dark comedy adapted from the novel by Rob Levandowski. I adapted the story and it fits Iowa to a tee…
All these films are representative of the people and activities of this little planet Iowa without commenting or parodying the people here. All the films celebrate Iowa and it’s unique elements.
“The Farm” seems to be gathering momentum. Where’s that at? Did you say it’s wrapped?
We’re almost finished with shooting it, which is our first film under Project Cornlight. Through the one-hundred degree weather, we have some amazing stuff, and can’t wait to get into the editing room with it. We were lucky to not only have 300 actors audition across the state, but bring out Iowa natives Tom Bower and Joel West, directed by Ron Vignone. It’s like having home-team advantage. We know how to create art specifically in Iowa, and we’re going to win the game.
Is Hollywood as hard to break into as it seems? Did you become slightly disillusioned with “the dream”?
I’ve never become disillusioned with ‘the dream’ because I’m living ‘the dream’. I’m making work I love and I’m passionate about. I rarely take vacations because I feel like every day is a vacation; granted, some days of work can be frustrating, but I love what I do with my life. I don’t ever feel a need to ‘vacation’ from it.
Finally, the big question…Do people live on corn in Iowa?
Yes. Corn, corn and nothing but corn. Corn flakes, corn bread, corn dogs, sweet corn muffins, corn on the cob, pop corn, kettle corn, corn chowder, corn chips, cheesy corn casserole…Let’s just say we’re a very regular state.