A SPECIAL INTERVIEW WITH NICOLE CONN – BY NICOLE DE MENESES
Nicole Conn has made her career telling passionate, inspirational stories. She has gone from her debut feature exploring sexual identity in Claire of the Moon to her deeply personal documentary Little Man, following the premature birth of her son Nicholas and his medical struggles, to forbidden love in Elena Undone. She continued on with second chances and burgeoning desires in The Perfect Ending. She has made women loving women themed films for over 30 years, and has accrued an extremely loyal and popular following. Conn’s fifth feature film More Beautiful for Having Been Broken, booked for release this coming Friday, looks to be her most emotional film yet.
More Beautiful for Having Been Broken shines an inspirational light on the value of seeing things from a different perspective, as well as exploring powerful themes like spirituality, family and loss. The film opens on troubled and grief stricken FBI Agent McKenzie, played by Zoe Ventoura (Packed to the Rafters). Having just lost her mother and been recently suspended for erratic conduct, McKenzie retreats to the lakeside community of her childhood. McKenzie runs endlessly on open trails. She is running from herself and her problems but she is no match for the sweet natured wheelchair bound Freddie played beautifully by Cale Ferrin (Endlings) who befriends her when she least expects it. His overbearing enthusiasm for life and his unique way of seeing the world slowly starts to thaw through McKenzie’s cold, gruff exterior.
Freddie has a rare genetic disorder called Fanconi Anemia. The daily medical responsibilities have caused his mother Samantha, played by Kayla Ramdomski (Footloose), to be untrustworthy of strangers and overprotective when it comes to Freddie’s wellbeing. She is reluctant to give McKenzie a chance. After McKenzie confronts some local bullies for picking on Freddie, Samantha slowly starts to warm up to her in more ways than one.
Samantha is able to escape her daily trials by expressing her emotions through dance. The film has rare moments of levity and grace through Samantha’s lingering dance sequences that are sprinkled throughout the film like a waking dream. The film is a slow burn on small town life, complicated family dynamics and the meditative quality of unconditional love. Lesflicks is proud to be the UK distributor for More Beautiful for Having Been Broken, and hopes to play a part in new LGBTQ+ audiences discovering Nicole Conn’s work.
One of the things More Beautiful for Having Been Broken does so well is give visibility to special needs children in a positive way. The character of Freddie is more than just his disability. Can you talk a little about the process of casting the role of Freddie and meeting Cale for the first time?
NICOLE CONN (NC): The film has been very much inspired by my two kids. Specifically Nicholos, who’s very special needs and medically fragile. A couple of films ago I really wanted to put a special needs kid in one of my pictures and producers were not supportive, they didn’t want to see that, they said it wasn’t uplifting. That was very hard for me to hear. My son is the most uplifting thing to my life. It’s my truth and my reality. I’ve felt so many times I would go someplace with Nicholas and people would just turn their eyes, they just didn’t want to see him. I’m so sick of our kids being invisible. That’s why I really wanted to put a version of my son in the film. When Cale came to read for the part, which was back in 2015, we just all fell in love with him. He was just awesome. He had only done a Target commercial and a couple of other things at that point. We didn’t start filming till a few years later and by then he really had the dialogue down and was such a phenomenal little talent. That’s sort of how the character came into the world. Freddy was inspired by my son and Cale just took the character to a whole other level.
The dance sequences in the film have at times a magical and surreal quality to them. Young Freddie getting to dance with his older self is poignant and touching. Were those sequences always in the script from the beginning or did they come later in the film’s development?
NC: They were in and then they were out depending on who my producers were. I was told they were too much money for what it adds to the film. In late 2014, my sister who was a ballet dancer at one time passed away and then it became more important for me to have it. I’ve always been completely in love with contemporary dance. It was a nod to my sister but also so many of my movies have fairly intense love scenes that I wanted to try and do something different that I had never done which was to inter cut the love scene with the dance piece. The film gods rained down beautiful happy accidents for us because we realized when we did the chemistry read with Zoe and Kayla that Zoe had been a dancer. She thought that’s why we called her in to audition because she had a dance background but we didn’t even know that. We had always planned to use a body double. It’s so much better having them both in the dance sequence.
You’ve had such an accomplished career and have helped pave the way for other women and LGBT filmmakers, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self?
NC: Don’t take anything for granted, and don’t worry about asking people for a favor. In this town everyone’s like “You only get one favor, so choose it wisely.” It’s just not true. I ask people for favors all the time and nine times out of ten they give you what you ask for. It took me a long time to get that. I was so afraid to ask people for that favor because it had been drummed into me by people in the industry not to ask for that. Now I just ask for what I need and if I don’t get it I find another way to ask for it. You just have to have that persistence and tenacity because it is so damn hard to make a movie. Especially when you’re the writer, director, editor, fundraiser and marketing person.
Film is such a collaborative process. You’ve been fortunate to work with different partners on various personal projects in your career. Is it harder or easier to collaborate on a project when both people are so close to the material?
NC: I made Elena Undone and A Perfect Ending with Marina, my previous partner. They were really fun to do. We had a blast most of the time. It is so much more challenging to be the Director and Producer which is something I never like to do because I get completely schizophrenic and my Director self is like “I got to have this, because it’s beautiful I don’t care what it costs”. My producer self is like “No you have no money left!” I’m much bitchier on the set if I’m the producer as well. When I’m just directing and rewriting scenes at night I’m a much happier person to be around. I don’t know how to do anything that’s not taken from my life. Otherwise I don’t feel like I can get underneath it all. Old writing teachers would say write what you know and my agent would say write the book you want to read. I make movies I want to see.
Kayla Radomski is such a stunning dancer, I could easily watch her dance all day. Was she someone you had in mind early on for the role or was it a matter of finding that rare actor that could tackle all the physical demands and emotional range of the part?
NC: I read with her the same day I read with Cale in 2015. It’s so funny because our six kids, when I was with Marina, we would all watch So You Think You Can Dance. It was our thing and the season that Kayla was on back in 2009 she made it to the final four and all of us thought she should have been the winner so when she walked through the door all those years later I was like “Oh my god I know you, you’re Kayla”. I had cast her as the choreographer at that time. She had just started taking acting classes. By 2017 I spoke to her agent and asked her to come back and read again. I loved her look, I loved the fact that she could dance and I thought she could be the main character and the choreographer as well. I had three television actresses that were all McKenzie and each dropped out because they ended up getting a series or a big film that paid a lot more then we were paying. At that point I told my casting director that I wanted to cast Kayla because I thought she was the right person for the character. She is really truly one of the hardest working people I know. She is never not doing something. I always laugh because when you work with enough actors they only highlight their lines they don’t really know what’s going on in the rest of the script. She’s the only actor who knew everybody’s lines back to front so she’s really a very prepared performer.
You’ve decided to partner with Lesflicks to distribute More Beautiful for Having Been Broken exclusively through the UK and Europe for the DVD release and you’ve worked closely with your global distributor to ensure the film is released via regional LGBT distributors in Europe, Australia and America. Why was it important to you to team up with a more audience based distributor, and LGBT distributors?
NC: I love Naomi, she is one of the most forward thinking people I know. I’m thrilled to be with Lesflicks. She’s helping us with all of Europe. She is just amazing. Vision Films has also gone to bat for us and believes in the film. They’re doing a big push internationally and have already sold it to multiple platforms. The only other film that I’ve done that has had this kind of exposure is Little Man. Little Man was on Showtime for seven years and people saw it all over the place. That’s the way this will be. It will be pretty much everywhere, available everywhere.
Any other film projects in development? What’s next and how can people get involved and support your work?
NC: We have been talking to a ton of other filmmakers and people from all over the country and the festival circuit and Australia and other places and we’re working with a group of about 28 other women from India, UK, Australia, you name it. They have helped me create Nicole Conn Films Global. Its mission is dedicated to creating entertaining and quality films for the women’s community. To create a destination hub of Nicole Conn films, where it’s sort of like a lesbian films IMDB as well as a place for everybody that want to come and work on one of these projects can come and see what’s available and pitch themselves for different things. Whether they’re a writer, actor, composer or whatever. Inside of that will be a new funding model, because it became very clear to us that when we traveled the festivals that the women’s programs are just not attended well. Some of the feedback I heard from women film goers was that they want entertaining films. They don’t want to be politicized in these festivals. The festivals are for emerging cinema but it’s also for entertainment. That’s what I feel the women’s community is missing. That and sub genres. We need the action lesbian flick and the horror lesbian flick. The website will be rolled out in late May and people will have the option to subscribe, donate, cash for credit or investment opportunities. My next film that I’m working on is called Do We Not Bleed. It’s a very dark feature about what happens to people when they are the victim of unexpected violent tragedy. Which is what happened to me with my sister. The film follows two very different women and how they process their grief.