Dana Nachman is an award-winning documentary filmmaker who is now also making her mark in fiction films.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Dana ahead of the premiere of her second short film, Hook Up 2.0, at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
Q: ‘Hook Up 2.0’ is the second film in your trilogy of short films featuring different generations of female leads. Can you start off by telling us about your vision for this trilogy?
A: I wanted to try my hand at fiction (I’m a documentary filmmaker) and I thought I would start in the genre I love the most – the smart and fun rom-com.
The first short I made was called The Final Show about an elderly woman who dies at the breakfast table and gets transported to an afterlife place called The Between. There, she runs into all of the loves of her life and has to decide who to take with her to Eternity.
While writing this film, I was thinking a lot about the romantic choices we make at different stages of our lives. And that sparked the idea of turning the short into a trilogy that would tackle the different ways we look at romance and love throughout our lives.
Q: What did you want to explore in this tale of a sorority girl?
A: In Hook Up 2.0 I wanted to explore the timeless issue of women protecting themselves in this modern age. Our heroine is making very unique choices on how to approach the ritual that is the college fraternity party hook up.
It was fun to imagine an encounter between two college kids through my lens. Not to date myself, but when I was at frat parties in college we didn’t even have cell phones let alone apps that could potentially keep us safe (not to give anything away). So I had fun taking a world that I once knew and putting it into the context of today.
As an aside, when I went to see Eighth Grade this year, with my eighth grader, there were some elderly ladies in the audience. At the end I asked them if eighth grade seemed different now then when they were in eighth grade. They said, “Not one bit!” These themes we explore in film are universal, that’s what makes it all so much fun!
Q: Veronica Dunne plays the lead role in ‘Hook Up 2.0’. She has already built an extremely impressive C.V, including a high profile role on Disney’s ‘K.C Undercover’. What did she bring to this project and her character?
A: Oh, what a fun question. Veronica came to me by way of her dad, Murphy Dunne, who was in The Final Show. When the film was finished Murphy and his wife loved it and said, “Write a part for our daughter Veronica.” So after I wrote Hook Up, I called them back and said, “your script is ready!” They sent it to her and I was so thrilled when she said yes.
Veronica was great to work with! Something I’m getting used to with fiction filmmaking is how the actors really bring great depth and dimension to the characters we write on the page. It really is amazing. In documentaries it just doesn’t work that way! In docs, we find people and then present them as is.
The whole short rested on Veronica being able to come off at the beginning as one thing and then switching to something totally different. She went from being dominated to being dominating and I think she pulled it off brilliantly!
Q: How would you compare your experience working with Veronica on ‘Hook Up 2.0’ to working with Marion Ross on ‘The Final Show’? What did you take away from your time with them?
A: Imagine being me for a minute, my first time ever directing an actor I am directing Marion Ross! She and all the other actors in The Final Show have IMDB pages miles long!
I met with Marion before we shot and told her I had never worked with actors before. I asked her, “Can you tell me about the best directors you have worked with?” She said, “You know, the best director I ever worked with was Ronnie (Ron Howard.) And do you know why? Because he didn’t say anything!”
I just loved that. That was her way of telling me she had it all under control. So I followed her lead and let her work her magic.
The one other thing that I admired about her was how giving she was to her fellow actors. I could tell how much of an effort she put into making them feel comfortable and allowing them to shine. I learned a lot from her those three days! That was my film school!
Q: Can you reveal anything about the final film in the trilogy?
A: I have been really stumped on the third and final film in the trilogy. I think it is because it will focus on a 40 year oldheroine, and this is close to home for me!
Many of the middle age women rom-com tropes have been played out and turn out to feel cliché and tired so I am really thinking about this one and have one idea that I think I am gong to land on, but I don’t want to commit quite yet! My goal is to shoot it this fall so I better get writing!
Q: Do you get a different creative fulfilment from fiction filmmaking compared to making documentaries?
A: I have so much more experience in documentary filmmaking than fiction that it’s hard to even compare. I’ve directed five feature documentaries and really do love making them. The narrative shorts I have done really do strike me as a completely different animal.
First of all, they are comedies and I think it is very amazing that I can think of something silly and quirky in my brain… and then a little bit of time and a lot of work later I can be sitting in an audience and hear people laugh at something that was once just a funny thing I was thinking about it. I have to say it is totally a trip and I adore it! It feels like docs are my day job, my more serious work and comedy is a dream, I can’t believe I’m doing it!
Q: Your documentary about Guide Dogs, titled ‘Pick Of The Litter’, will be released in the UK on 17 May. The posters alone have won my heart and interest. How difficult is it to keep an emotional distance when working on a documentary with such adorable subjects?
A: I consider all of the people who have been in my films as friends. I am so lucky to have gotten to do this work for the last 12 years. I don’t really keep an emotional distance, I just grab onto these people, we shoot a movie and then just keep the relationship going! I’m the lucky one!
Super excited that British audiences will be able to see Pick of the Litter in the coming weeks!
Q: What is your standout memory from your time working on the ‘Pick Of The Litter’?
A: Boy did we get our steps in!
We ran around after dogs, and people with dogs, for months! And they walk so fast while training that we had to jog to keep up. That was a real conundrum, to figure out how to keep up with them while shooting and being able to shoot it in a way that wouldn’t make people sea sick while watching. We think we nailed it, but boy was that tricky at first!
Q: The film will also be turned into one of the first prestige documentary series for the new Disney+ streaming service in 2019. How exciting has been to see the film connect so well and be involved in such an important step for Disney?
A: I can’t comment quite yet about this show other than to say it’s super exciting for all of us!
Q: I see you are currently working as a producer on a documentary about Malcolm X. Can you tell us about that and any other upcoming plans/projects you have?
A: I am actually taking a break from that project right now, but it is a great film called Case 993 by director Shareef Nasir.
Other than the series and my trilogy I have my hands full. I am also developing another family friendly documentary, which hopefully will be greenlit in the next couple of months! We can discuss in our next interview!