Mini MUFF Profile: Chell Stephen
Mini Muff Profile: Chell Stephen
As soon as the NYC MUFF team decided that Death Proof would be our August 20th screening selection, we knew we had to find the perfect and most badass short film to pair with it. And we found a real gem–Chell Stephen’s Crystal.
Crystal is such an amazing, feisty, and unapologetically strong character and filmmaker Chell Stephen is just as cool. Bonus: we're bringing the Mini MUFF magic full circle by bringing the Torontonian film community to NYC! (But it still counts for NYC because she lived in BK and worked on the film with New Yorkers...just sayin'.)
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved with filmmaking.
CS: I was born and raised in Toronto on healthy doses of Dirty Dancing, The X-Files, The Simpsons, TGIFand, music videos. Music has always been a big part of my life and I spent the first many years of my time as a filmmaker directing music videos. I love, most of all, making an immersive WORLD–and in music videos it's especially fun because logic need not apply, and there's no right or wrong as long as it looks awesome. SO- I'm a filmmaker because I love to make those worlds! A whole universe where all the little things are careful choices working together is really satisfying to me. I love also production - being on set makes me high, seriously. I love the teamwork of it, the camaraderie, the deliriousness / hilariousness of everything, and the singular nothing-but-this-moment focus of it all. I'm also fortunate to get to collaborate with talented people, who are some of my best friends, which makes everything that much more fun.
How about Crystal, do you have any good backstories?
CS: Crystal is a dark comedy about a 17-year-old foul-mouthed, dance-obsessed, spandex-sporting asshole trying to bust out of her small town on a hot summer's day. I wrote the role for my little sister Kate to play and she brought it home for me in a huge way. We shot the film up at my family's cottage over 5 days - living together, showers in the lake, fully team-team-immersive production - like film summer camp, aka the most fun of all time. The day we shot the sequence we call “Quarry Dance - Day 3 –” I wanted to have Crystal's name up on the mountain of dirt - in flames, and have her dance in front of it. My friend invented this amazing non-toxic stuff called Flame Paste that we slathered on 7 foot cardboard letters. Then the rain rolled in. As it hit, my team and I were each clinging to a letter, trying to shield it from the wetness with our bodies while PAs tossed us garbage bags from above. It was insane and hilarious. After the storm passed, we got Kate out there with her flares and the sky looked pink like cotton candy from the rain and our crew was tighter than ever having laugh/cried on cardboard letters on the side of the mountain together.
Another? - Before the rest of the team arrived for production my sister Kate and I were up at the cottage rehearsing together and getting into the zone. She brought her DVD of Britney Spears music videos (like you do) and we watched them all, borrowing and adapting moves from each and stitching them together to create the choreography for Crystal's dance sequences. I figured because Crystal is a huge Britney fan herself, this is how she would have taught herself to dance too.
Tell us about why you are a feminist and why it's important to your filmmaking.
CS: Feminism! And what a time for it! Giving a shit about equality is important, saying things that are hard to say but need saying is important. My feminism relates to my filmmaking in that I super enjoy creating characters who represent the diversity of the human female experience - a protagonist with massive flaws and insecurities is not only sweet to be able to share on screen, but it's also more fun and interesting to write and create. I've had teenage girls approach me after screenings to tell me how much they related to the character of Crystal and that's immensely satisfying.
Who are your favourite women working in the film industry?
CS: Wow this is tough - my friend Jordan Canning, a fellow Canadian filmmaker inspires me so much. She tells stories that are funny and emotionally resonant at the same time. From hilarious and campy sci-fi to family dramedy... her instincts and sensibilities are so on point, she's the shit.
Kate Tsang is an amazing writer/director as well, I met her when our shorts screened together in Atlanta, So You've Grown Attached is so brilliant it makes me LOL and cry every time I watch it. You should watch it. Please go watch it.
Morgan Faust is a complete and utter badass who I’m also lucky to call friend. She TCBs like no one I know - cutting through bullshit and solving problems with creativity and a smile.
Christina Humphrey - shorts programmer down at Atlanta Film Fest is an incredibly smart and savvy curator with great taste who goes out of her way to find brilliant films featuring strong ladies on both sides of the camera. Plus, she's super nice too.
Natalie Kingston is a DP out of New Orleans who creates incredible images and is so thoughtful in her sensibilities, she's on the major come up and you will not stop hearing about her in the coming years, I'm sure of it.
If a movie about your life was cast/created, who would star as you and what genre would it be?
CS: A dark comedy teen movie with ... scenes at a camp/lake... and there's dancing... ok so it's actually Dirty Dancing starring Elizabeth Banks as a self-deprecating Canadian who wants to do the right thing and laugh-cries a lot.
What's the best advice about filmmaking you've ever received?
CS: "Don't fuck it up!" Just kidding. Really probably, “just go do it,” which anyone who's ever been kind enough to mentor me or be my friend has told me. I need to hear it every day: things that are scary and hard are that way because they matter and that's why you have to do it. ACTUALLY DOING THE THINGS, it turns out, gives you a massive leg up on the competition.
How about your Dream Team?
CS: The dream team?! Exciting. I'm in awe of Reed Morano, and would die for her to shoot something with me. I prefer to be the director, but if Lake Bell wants to write something for me, I can dig it. In front of the cam, wow mm... Amy Poehler and Olivia Munn. With choreography by my talented friend Celia Rowlson-Hall. and a score by my other dear friend and musician Kamara Thomas FOR FUN!
What's your go-to jam?
CS: Just one?!?
If I'm ready to dance - TIE: "What's Luv" - Fat Joe and Ashanti, all day. / "Automatic" - Pointer Sisters.
For karaoke - Jackie Wilson "Lonely Teardrops”
For getting psyched up- TIE: "Even the Losers" - Tom Petty / "Easy Lover" - Phil Collins & Philip Bailey
For raging or editing or rage-editing- "Anti Matter" - N.E.R.D
For slow dancing - "You Look So Good In Love" - George Strait
For a good cry about the universe - "Just Let Go" - Sturgill Simpso
Recommended #MUFFApproved film…
CS: Girlhood (2014)
The Mini MUFF Society is our short film program. We aim to screen at least one local short film at each of our monthly events. You know, because we have a lot of amazing female talent in NYC and we want to celebrate it! Learn more here!