Female director SJ Chiro surprises SXSW, dishes on making Lane 1974, and that special Seattle connection
By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Sebastien Scandiuzzi
- Los Angeles, California
Female director SJ Chiro, brings the Clane Hayward memoir to life in Lane 1974, dishes on casting lead actress Sophia Mitri Schloss from (The Kicks), and talks about the South by Southwest experience.
Lane 1974 is the story of 13-year old Lane who, grows-up in a Northern California commune with her hippy mom. Can you tell us where the storyline come from?
The film is based on a memoir by Clane Hayward, The Hypocrisy of Disco. I adapted the story infusing it with what I knew from my own similar childhood, growing up on the communes of Northern California.
The star of Lane 1974 is Sophia Mitri Schloss, from the Amazon original series (The Kicks). Can you take us through the process of casting Sophia to play Lane?
Oddly, I first met Sophia Mitri Schloss at a party for my alma mater, Bennington College. She was with her parents who introduced me when they realized I was making a film about a young girl. Unfortunately she was only ten years old at the time, and too young for the role. But fundraising is a long process and by the time I was ready to cast she was 12.
My casting agent, Amey Rene, brought me and producer Jennessa West to Los Angeles where we saw many wonderful girls for two days straight, but none of them had the quality I was looking for in Lane. Amey still had a Seattle girl for me to see, and it turned out to be Sophia Mitri Schloss, one of the most versatile, subtle, talented and hard working actors I've ever had the pleasure to work with.
Over the last few years in Hollywood we have seen an uptick in period films from the 70's like Dairy of a Teenage Girl. What do you think is so appealing about 1970's culture?
It probably varies for every filmmaker. Some seem to just love the fashions. Some films set in the 70s seem like they don't need that era to be told, but other stories, such as Diary of a Teenage girl, are based on personal experience specific to the '70s. The '70s were a unique time in history, particularly around coming of age. For me, 1974 was such a specific and important year to the story I put it right in the title. It's not overt in the film, but from my point of view it was essential.
Before Lane 1974 you directed a series of short films still, most people don't know much about your background. Can you tell us how you got started in the film business?
I started theater in middle school. I was very shy, and initially I saw theater training as a way to learn to express myself. Love of theater continued into high school and through college, where I spent an intense time in London studying. My major was interdivisional: French Lit and Theater, so I also spent time in Paris. This was a particularly lonely time for me, and I spent a lot of time in the many and various movie theaters of Paris seeing all kinds of films.
After graduation I moved to Seattle and became ensconced in the fringe theater scene, acting, directing and even becoming the AD at Annex Theatre, but filmmaking began calling to me. I applied to USC film school, was accepted, but life intervened and I wasn't able to go. Later I began to study in Seattle and make my own films.
Katherine Moenning from, the TV series (The L Word) also stars in Lane 1974. When casting a film what qualities do you look for with actors?
For the role of Hallelujah I knew I needed someone with a fierce independence and a voice that belies no trace of wanting to please. It's more difficult than you might think to find. I was thrilled when I found Kate, and over the moon after our first conversation. In general, I insist on thoughtful, collaborative actors who are committed to digging deep into their characters, and who respect me as a director.
Congratulations on the premiere at the 2017 South By Southwest Film Festival. What was the whole experience like attending the festival?
A world premiere at SXSW was a dream come true. We had three screenings, two sold out and the third larger venue very well attended. We felt embraced, respected and well attended to by the staff. We loved being surrounded by so many exciting, innovative filmmakers and their films. There's so much to do and see at SXSW, it can be overwhelming, but in a good way!
We often talk with up-coming filmmakers who are interested in breaking into the business. What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in filmmaking?
Make sure you believe fully in what you have to say. Be very clear as to why you have to make this film. Find like minded collaborators. Treat each other with honesty, dedication, and respect.
Lane 1974 has a special northwest connection to Seattle. Can you tell us more about the relationship with Seattle?
It's difficult to imagine getting this film made from a different city. Seattle is unique in the way it accepts and even embraces female filmmakers. The connection to collaborators runs deep. Seattle has a professional filmmaking community with a deep commitment to art. If people believe in your film, it's incredible the kind of support you can get. Of course, it's a two way street. We all support each other to get work done. I used to assume this culture existed in most cities, but I've come to find out Seattle is a very special place.