Mini MUFF Profile: Chell Stephen
Mini MUFF Profile: Chell Stephen
This is very exciting for us here at MUFF: Crystal is the first Mini MUFF selection to be programmed in TWO of our cities! NYC originally paired this amazing short with their screening of Death Proof, and this time around we’re pairing it with our March screening of Bring It On in Toronto.
Crystal is the story of a 17-year-old with a crumby attitude, a foul mouth, and a passion for dance, who dreams of moving to the big city of Toronto making it big. Intense enthusiasm and superb choreography make Crystal the perfect pairing for Bring It On.
Crystal had its world premiere at SXSW, and has gone on to screen at several film festivals, including Atlanta Film Festival, Bluestocking Film Series, KahBang Film Festival, HollyShorts Film Festival, Toronto Independent Film Festival, and more. Crystal has also been selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick.
Raised in Toronto, writer/director Chell Stephen now splits her time between Toronto, Los Angeles, and Brooklyn. She also works as a producer and editor, and makes pinatas with her sister on the side! You can read NYC’s profile on Chell here, but we just had to ask Chell some more questions...
WHERE DOES THE STORY OF CRYSTAL COME FROM? IS ANY OF IT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL?
Chell Stephen: An image of the be-spandexed Crystal raging on a country road jumped into my head while I sat in a Walmart parking lot in Leon, Mexico. I'm still not sure why—but, she made me laugh as she cussed out everyone she'd ever met and danced and shadowboxed around. I grew up in the big city (Toronto) where Crystal longs to break free to, so the specifics of wanting to escape a rural place are not autobiographical per se, but the general rage at a lack of control over your circumstances I can definitely relate to, as most teen girls can, I think.
WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION FOR CRYSTAL’S OUTFIT COME FROM?
CS: I can say that when she jumped into my head she was wearing that, but it breaks down like this: first—the jean shorts and spandex combo was part of my own outfit repertoire for some time a few years before we shot. In fact, those very same jean shorts and spandex worn in the film are mine, that I used to wear to work in NYC. True story. The sports bra—production designer Alice Tang tracked that one down for us—is meant to reference Britney Spears (aka Crystal's hero) in her iconic "Baby One More Time" music video. The wrestling boots are also from my personal collection. ;) While we were shooting, one of my teammates said it was like a superhero costume, which wasn't the original intention, but I still like it very much.
HOW DO YOU THINK CRYSTAL WOULD FARE IN THE WORLD OF BRING IT ON, THE FILM IT IS BEING PAIRED WITH?
CS: I LOVE PICTURING CRYSTAL MEETING THE BRING IT ON CREW! I think she'd be psyched/in awe that there is a world where competitive dancing and insult tossing is de rigueur. Though Crystal longs to hang with people who get her, I think she is so used to being the lone wolf/outlier that she'd be a bit thrown by how important teamwork is to the whole Bring it On crew/squad/film. It would be a great challenge though! Fitting strong personalities together and learning from each other... perhaps I should talk to Jessica Bendinger about a crossover flick. ;)
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME/ALL OF THE OTHER AMAZING WOMEN IN FILM WHO WORKED ON CRYSTAL?
CS: Yes! So firstly, my sister Kate plays Crystal, a role I wrote for her. It was a demanding shoot, as she's in nearly every shot of the film. We worked on the choreography together using an old Britney Spears music video DVD, she did all her own stunts (face-elbowing, into-truck-window-jumping, flare-handling etc.), and she did it all with style.
My other sister Jennifer was my co-executive producer and half of our hair and makeup team with good friend forever Caitlin Allen. It was a super demanding shoot for them as well, given the variety of looks—one day moved from the chair dance look into the regular Crystal look, into the leopard face-paint look, one right after another.
Our mom, Carol Levy, is the original badass and played a huge role supporting all of us in this endeavour, like she always does. Hilarious and amazing co-producer Chi Pilon has been one of my dearest friends since grade 10. She is a great producer because she makes everyone laugh and feel loved, which is a great way to convince people to help you out!! Alice Tang was our production designer. She is an incredibly creative problem-solver and so detail oriented. She also has the patience of a saint and a great eye. She made our poster/website, etc. as well!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN THINKING ABOUT PURSUING CAREERS IN FILM?
CS: Do it, do it! Just try making a thing and see how it feels!!! I understand this advice can feel trite, so, my apologies for spitting it back around but… One must really just start by making things. Start small if you want. Can you tell a joke or story visually in 15 seconds? That is a hefty challenge! Maybe start an instagram series! Making stuff is fun and you learn something EVERY time you do it, so just get out and do it. Try not to be afraid when things don't look as great as you'd like them to, the first time. Just keep making. It's so easy to talk—make yourself stand out by being a do-er. Also, watch and read as much as you can—working on your taste is important. Figure out what you like and why you like it so you can grow your own unique filmmaking view from there.
WHO IS THE BEST/SUPERIOR BATMAN?
CS: Keaton forever.
IF YOU COULD HOLD ANY GUINNESS WORLD RECORD, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
CS: Longest time spent dancing while holding a minimum of two cats.
WHAT MALE MOVIE/TV CHARACTER ARE YOU DREAMING WOULD GET A GENDER-SWAP?
CS: I'm digging Better Call Saul pretty heavily at the moment and I think a female Saul would be a super cool character to see on TV. He's so smart, in very creative ways, but has really bad luck too. It would be cool and fun to see a female character pull a Saul and think her way out of the endless frustrating situations he finds himself in.
RECOMMEND SOME MORE #MUFFAPPROVED FILMS FOR OUR BLOG READERS!
CS: This badass short by my friend Kate Tsang: So You've Grown Attached. Right now, I'm enjoying We Are The Best about a teen girl punk band in Sweden. I'm always enjoying feminist films of my youth... Dirty Dancing and A League of Their Own. I'm looking forward to watching Kris Swanberg's Unexpected and Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Mustang, though I haven't seen them yet. Meanwhile, Broad City remains a tonally excellent and fun feminist show week to week, obviously.
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 Toronto and we want to celebrate it! Learn more here!