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Exclusive Interview: Writer/Director Stacie Passon on Her Sundance 2013 Film 'Concussion'

With Sundance 2013 just around the corner, NoFilmSchool is reaching out to the screenwriters of the Sundance 2013 U.S. Dramatic Competition films (most of whom are also the directors as one might suspect from a Sundance line-up) to ask them about their screenplays, their screenwriting processes, and their experiences bringing their screenplays to life as films. We hope to publish a series of interviews over the next several days and weeks from these writers as schedules permit. First up, we hear from Stacie Passon, writer/director of Concussion.

Previously in her career, Passon worked as a commercial producer and director, creating media for numerous clients such as Warner Music Group, Donna Karan, IBM, and Sony Music Entertainment. Most recently, Passon produced Elliot King Is Third for director Rose Troche (Go Fish). In turn, Troche served as producer for Passon’s Concussion.

Before we get to our interview with Passon, here’s a video introduction to Passon and her film from the Sundance Film Festival 2013 website:

Our interview with Passon was conducted via email.

NoFilmSchool: From the synopsis of Concussion, it sounds like something is literally knocked loose in your protagonist Abby after the eponymous event of your film’s story, and she certainly takes some unexpected turns. What was the inspiration for you to write this screenplay?

Stacie Passon: She does get a Concussion. I don’t know if you know this but a Concussion is really this all-purpose term for a jarring to the head. It’s sort of a diagnosis for an absence of diagnosis. She is suffering from the head injury but also this emotional mid-life jarring as well and suddenly the rules she follows and the roles she plays don’t make much sense anymore.


How did your background producing and directing commercials influence how you wrote this particular story?

Well, that’s an interesting question. I used to have a lot of health and beauty clients. I guess I have a certain aesthetic some others might not have working in that world. And I know how to shoot a woman in the right ways. :)

But I guess I wanted to make something compelling, and my training in the commercial world helped that because we were always thinking about trends and the “general conversation” and what was new and interesting.

Tell us about your screenwriting process. Once you started working on Concussion, what steps did you take to get to a draft of a screenplay? Did you know from the outset that you wanted to direct this film, and if so, how did it influence your writing?

I wrote this piece in six weeks. In late March of last year, I sat down and out it came. I’d written scripts before, and I’m a writer by trade so I guess you could say I’m fast at it. Then Rose Troche [Go Fish, The Safety of Objects] read it in June and gave me notes and we were shooting in October. I wouldn’t have written it any differently if I were to have handed it off, but yes, I saw myself directing. I’m just from that world. You make a film, you should make it. And certainly on this scale and in this medium. If you have the chance, do it.

When you moved into the role of directing your film, did you see your screenplay differently as a director than you did as a writer? Did you approach the story in a different way?

Not really. I prepared. I broke it down, designed shots, worked on my lists with David Kruta (DP) so we had a baseline structure.  I found, and I learned this from Rose Troche who produced the film but who is a director foremost, that in narrative, a lot of your day is really about finding the blocking and the acting so you should do some design work around shots but also leave a room to play because that’s where it can get really interesting with the performances.

You participated in the Independent Feature Project Narrative Lab in 2012. How did this experience help you complete your film?

Amazing. I can’t say enough about what that Lab did for this project. Honestly, these people have become my friends and they are so incredibly supportive, but also tell it like it is. They make no assumptions that you will go to big festivals, they prepare you with different festival and distro strategies, they curate those strategies to fit your film. They are innovators, they know what’s going on. Their entire goal is to see the future of storytelling and innovate.

Prior to Sundance, you received the IFP/Adrienne Shelly Director’s Grant and the Calvin Klein Spotlight on Women Filmmakers Live the Dream Grant at the Gotham Awards. Can you tell us about each of these grants and how they have helped your film?

Andy Ostroy is the head of ASF. He’s dedicated to creating opportunities for women because his late wife Adrienne Shelly was a filmmaker. He is a wonderful man. Kind, warm and I was happy to be among the forty women he’s granted in past years. Together with the Calvin Klein Award and now one from Cinereach and Sundance Institute, we’ve been able to do all the things necessary to get it to Sundance and beyond. Grants are amazing. They just help things get done in general. We’re grateful.

What was the most challenging scene or sequence of this screenplay to write, and how did you finally solve the problem?

I think the hardest sequences are the ones that are the hardest emotionally to reconcile. Again in this medium, which is constantly evolving, you have to try to say something new and not just be that tape of a tape of a tape – that thing that is expected or seen all the time. I think really it wasn’t about a scene or sequence, it was about finding the words to say it in the right way, and I think that takes the most work and discipline.

What has been the most unexpected part of your experience of Sundance so far?

The support. These guys at Sundance are so on point, it’s ridiculous. They know what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it for 30 years and they pretty much have it locked down. Their culture is brilliant. They do all of this in a way that is really supportive to films and the teams who represent them.

NFS would like to thank Stacie Passon for her time and generous responses to our interview questions. We would also like to thank Jim Dobson of Indie PR for such a quick turnaround on our interview request.

How does Stacie Passon’s approach to her story and filmmaking relate to your current work? Are you inspired by her tale of writing a screenplay in March 2012 and riding the wave of momentum to a film premiere at Sundance in January 2013? Share with us in the Comments.

Link: Sundance Film Festival 2013 U.S. Dramatic Competition: Concussion

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  • DIYFilmSchool.net on 01.13.13 @ 11:35AM

    Not to discredit her story, but there are a couple of things that are dubious in my experience dealing with Sundance Lab grads: 1) that she leaves out having received or not received notes from Sundance about “Concussion”. It seems Sundance likes to cultivate talent and house projects by people within the auspices of their organization, so I wonder what was going on behind the scenes. 2) The support by Sundance is predicated on the recognition films bring to the organization, as with any other business relationship, so I wonder if the subject matter fits their agenda.

    I bring these points up because my observational experience with Sundance Labs grads has been nearly the opposite.

    • Your experience with Sundance Labs grads has been the opposite… of what? Whether she did or didn’t receive notes from someone at Sundance… so what? Writer/directors generally receive notes from a lot of different sources. I just read your comment twice and I still don’t know what is you’re trying to say.

    • Christopher Boone on 01.13.13 @ 4:30PM

      I have to agree with Koo, I don’t understand your comment either.

      I certainly won’t begrudge anyone receiving help from Sundance, IFP or any other organization that helps them realize their vision as a completed film. The obstacles to get any film finished are immense, and I’m sure we would all welcome such support and good fortune in our own careers.

    • Christopher Boone on 01.13.13 @ 11:25PM

      Also, to clarify further, I don’t believe Stacie Passon was a Sundance Lab grad. She participated in the IFP Narrative Lab. In her response to my interview question, she mentions support from the Sundance Institute, but not what that support was specifically. Since this interview was conducted via email through the film’s PR rep, I wasn’t able to ask her directly.

  • What a talented lady! High-fives, Stacie! Excited to be checking out your movie next week.

  • The major flaw of this film seems to be that a lesbian as attractive as the one featured has to pay for sex. Makes no sense.

    • With all respect to you, that’s the silliest comment I’ve read in a long time. I suspect it wasn’t your brain that made it, but another organ.

      She’s not “paying for sex” because she’s unattractive. When you want intimacy without the context of a romantic relationship, the Classifieds and your wallet are there to reach for. That’s surely the point of this movie.

      Elliot Spitzer didn’t “need to pay” either. Nor DSK.

      Your comment was only one shade less silly than suggesting a woman that attractive doesn’t need to be a lesbian. That’s not what you said, so, uh, kudos, I guess.

      I think you need to go refresh your ideas about sex, money, power, control etc.

      All the best to you

      Z

    • Maybe, but you could say that with a lot of movies because they have attractive women that can’t find a date because no one can see that’s she’s hot behind her glasses or whatever the case may be. Also maybe she doesn’t have the highest self-esteem which has enabled poor looking men to get hot women since the dawn of the first drink served at a bar. Plus maybe she pays so it won’t come back on her. I don’t know enough about the movie and you are right, in the real world, practical sense.

  • Daniel Mimura on 01.24.13 @ 9:35PM

    I love these real life (thru the phone or internet) interviews instead of linking to other filmmakers’ blogs. Original content is king…

    …but someone reposts someone else’s post about another damned camera and 80 people reply about RED/BMCC, colorspace, sensor size, and around and around we go.