Introducing a New Kind of Storytelling Company

aka OUR ORIGIN STORY.

Tired of feeling left out?

That’s how I felt when I embarked on this journey nearly 15 years ago.

I was a young mother with three littles. What to do with my life? I knew I wanted to do more than be a mother. Since I grew up as an only child (I have siblings much older) I fixated on having my own crew while young. For whatever reason that was a journey I wanted to embark on right away. I know that sounds strange, and I think most of life is about going on your own quests, figuring out who you are. For me, starting a family young was a big dream of mine. It wasn’t my entire dream. But it was the thing I couldn’t let go of. I think I wanted to get them here, to be with me. I was tired of being alone, being an only.

I wanted to do something. But what could that something be?

I knew no ceiling could exist, the opportunity for growth never ending – and it had to be something I would be so riveted to do everyday, that I’d never have time to shop at Target. ha

I read a lot. I studied people I admired. I dug deep and asked myself a lot of questions in those days. I was a servant to my family but I knew this phase wouldn’t last forever and wanted to be ready for the next chapter. I thought about being a novelist. “I can do this while staying home with my kids,” I thought. (Don’t even get me started on why I thought staying home meant I was somehow a better mother) At the time I wanted to exit out of my religion yet didn’t know how. I wanted to do more and give more of myself to the world. This was before blogs and instagram. Around 2007. I was essentially stuck yet relentless in my quest.

Then one night when I was editing a family video (a hobby I became extraordinarily passionate about ) when I came across a series of lectures from AFI with Ridley Scott. Ridley spoke authentically and honestly to a room full of students, that I became transfixed. I remember staying up until 4 am watching these videos. He said things … things that rang true to me. I know this may also sound crazy but it was as if he was speaking to me. When I woke up the next morning I had incredible clarity. I knew what I was. Even though I had never directed a narrative film in my life, I had this sinking and almost knowing feeling I had found my destiny and purpose, how my talents could best be utilized. I took this realization seriously and wore it around for many days, weeks. I started talking about it in hypotheticals to close friends and family, knowing that if I actually uttered these words, “Hey, I think I’m going to be a movie director and screenwriter,” folks might have thought I was turning delusional.

But delusional my friends, is part of the secret sauce.

Delusional is right next to …

Audacity.

Vision.

Clarity.

Purpose.

Ultimate belief in oneself.

Now let me back up by saying the reason I probably had such clarity is because, up to this point in my life, I sort of danced around a bunch of things that had to do with visual storytelling. As a child I was obsessed with taking pictures and developing film. I kept extensive family records and albums, all organized and documented, more than the average kid. (I didn’t know anyone who did this to the extent I did.)

At the age of 14 I committed to writing in my journal every night. I ended up doing this every night for nearly 6 years, into college. (I look back and believe this is where I honed my craft of finding a beginning, middle and end to a scene and overall story.)

I played JV boys football in high school, not because I wanted to prove a point to the boys (although that is fun) – but because I wanted to prove a point to myself. I was genuinely curious to see if I could do it. I wanted to see if I could do an impossible thing and survive. I had incredible muscle power and could bench more than the boys. Bets were made and those who betted on me, won. I loved being competitive and winning for those who counted on me. Strange, I know. For whatever reason I was compelled to do these things and test myself.

I became a yearbook editor my senior year, something I never thought I would do. My Honors English teacher encouraged me to apply at the end of our junior year. This same teacher would introduce me to the principle of good to great is painful even though I didn’t realize I was experiencing this at the time. (A creedo I live by now. Thank you Jim Jordan!) Yearbook brought out a different side to me – talents I didn’t know existed. The kid who loved socializing and organizing pep rallies in student government was now going in early and staying late to read copy, design layouts, and develop a graphic eye & aesthetic. I loved working hard and found great satisfaction in meeting deadlines and motivating my fellow students to do the same. The energy in that room was intoxicating which would also prove fruitful later on.

By the time I was in college I had started my first business creating custom announcements (utilizing my photography and newfound graphic design skills) and by the time I had my first child, I let go of the business to focus on motherhood and wound up flipping houses and began writing that novel, ha! Suffice to say, the points Ridley articulated in those sessions made me feel like I had found my match. Here I was, already staying up late, editing home videos in hopes of gaining another tearful reaction from my family members, when I stumbled upon a wormhole of concepts and ideas in regards to visual storytelling. I was inspired by this new perspective and knew in my gut I was oddly similar to him. What is happening right now?

Thus began my deep study. I think I was 26 in this moment and woke up happy. For the first time in long time, I remember being really happy because I figured out what I was meant to do. I call this MISSION MODE (more on this later) I went from asking, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?” to “I’m so excited for the first step!” I had DIRECTION. Action. I got to move into action.

From this point on these thoughts came to mind, “You’re a director. You’re a screenwriter. You’re a visual storyteller.” I knew. And I kept this knowledge to myself as I embarked on my first chapter.

I started self-study in a way that was startling. I analyzed films, wrote out beat sheets, listened to every director commentary I could get my hands on and began writing my first script in final draft.

Around this time, another question kept entering my mind –

What about?

I would continually ask myself when watching feature films or TV shows, “What is missing? How do I feel about this? Do I believe this?” I started to develop and recognize my intuition. A taste. I tried to be honest in my thoughts, pragmatic and logical. This approach gave me the courage to get out of my religion and apply to film school. I kept myself busy with self study until I was 29. Then on my first day at USC I finally felt like I had found MY PEOPLE. I was able to look around the room and see others who were just like me, who had similar childhood journeys … and in that moment I knew I no longer had to fight this crazy idea of “becoming a filmmaker” for I was with the crazies now! We could be crazy together. My class consisted of 35 unique individuals from all backgrounds, ethnicities, countries, etc. yet we were the same in one thing – a passion for cinema and this art form. All the veterinarian calls I had gone on with my dad in Marin County had suddenly made sense too. The plethora of artists he exposed me to along the way … I was one of them now. I was an artist. My life would be devoted to art.

I became a sponge. I took EVERY CLASS. I refused to skip anything that spoke to me in a visceral way.

Everything from Directing with Jeremy Kagan, Producing with John Watson, Writing the Feature Script with Peter Robinson (which subsequently turned into a script sale to Skydance Media, I Do Over) to Producing in CTPR 546 (the quintessential capstone experience at USC) to then Directing Haven’s Point, to Tuesday nights with Don Bohlinger where we studied the Coen Brothers one semester and John Hughes the next, to Writing for Games with Danny Bilson, etc. – I TOOK IT ALL. I did not leave USC until I had milked every lost drop and I was fully equipped to enter the Wild West known as Independent Film. I was there so long that nearly everyone I knew, including my parents, questioned my deep dive. I didn’t care though. I knew my directive and never wavered. I remained honest with myself.

One piece of advice I’ll never forget, a professor had us write down everything we were pissed off about. She then told us to keep our list safe, that it would come in handy one day. I didn’t understand what this meant but I sure as hell do now. Filmmaking is so incredibly hard and arduous, that if you aren’t telling a story that originates from deep within your bones, it simply won’t resonate. What you’re pissed off about is closely connected to what’s in your bones, what you’re dying to get out and say. 

Between my “pissed off list” and “tired of feeling left out” in the narrative landscape, I was finally able to answer my other question –

I will make stories from the female gaze, stories so compelling and potent that even men won’t be able to look away. I will find these stories, buried deep within the sand, and I will unearth them. MARK MY F––KING WORDS, I will unearth them.

Little intense?

Probably.

But why not?! It’s so much more fun this way. 🙂

I consider filmmaking a sport. Possibly more competitive than the NBA or Major League Baseball. (less slots if you think about it)

Stamina of the mind and body you never knew you needed.

Kiss and Tale was officially born in 2014, a year after I graduated from USC with my MFA. I submitted the paperwork while nursing my newborn (fourth child) at the Coffee Bean near La Brea, a short walk from our apartment nestled in the middle of LA. It wasn’t until 2018 when I received our first development funds (more on this later) and after I had directed two features that sold to Sony. Deadly Illusions is Kiss and Tale’s first original. The idea for Deadly Illusions came to me nearly 4 years ago after working with Greer on our first movie together, Emma’s Chance. I pitched the idea to Greer in Jan. of 2018. By January of 2019 we had our first draft and by the fall we were shooting. We wrapped principal photography in December of last year and by April, 2020 we were picture locked just before COVID hit. Sound and score were completed via facetime with my post team and the film was acquired by Voltage for sales shortly thereafter.

We had made our first movie within 7 months, a miracle by industry standards.

I will tell you, I think the movie gods were really on our side with this one. We threaded a needle in more ways than one.

I don’t live in LA anymore. I live happily in Utah where I’m able to write with a view of the mountains and attend my kids functions. I visit LA often. (Takes me 25 min to get the airport, a shorter commute than if I lived in the valley. ha!)

So yes, Kiss and Tale Productions was est. in 2014 but probably deep down inside it was established the morning I woke up and knew what I was and what I would be doing with the rest of my life.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re a different kind of storytelling company. 

I hope you join us. We’re just getting started …

XX

AEJ

 

PS Have you subscribed yet? I feel like this entry deserves your beautiful name on our email list. 🙂

 

Leave A Comment
Leave a Reply to Michelle Hall Cancel reply

One Comment

  1. Anna,
    It’s so encouraging to read about your journey into FiLmmaking. Im really enjoying following you on Instagram and cant wait to see Deadly Illusions!

    Sincerely,
    Michelle hall
    Bixby, OK

    Instagram: @justplainknowsy