Monday, November 30, 2020

Filmmaker Katie Schiller (LS ’14, TSOA ’17)

Katie SchillerKatie Schiller (LS '14, TSOA '17) is a filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She most recently produced SHIVA BABY directed by Emma Seligman that was bound for South by Southwest 2020 in competition. She also served as a co-producer on Jonah Feingold’s narrative feature debut, DATING IN NEW YORK. Katie has produced, directed, and assistant directed commercials, branded content, and several short films that have premiered at film festivals across the globe. 

What did you study at NYU?

At NYU, I was in the Liberal Studies program for two semesters. I studied Film and Television Production at the Tisch School of the Art’s Kanbar Institute of Film & Television. I concentrated my studies primarily in producing and directing.

What is your favorite memory of your time at NYU?

My favorite memory of my time at NYU was the second semester of senior year when my classmates and I were spending just about every other week traveling to work on our peers’ thesis films. It was so fun and exciting to be on set in so many different places collaborating and working to bring each other's visions to life. Looking back now I realize the experience was so unique in that it’s not often in your life that you will be creating work so consistently and with such intensity and passion among a group of people that love and support you. Students dream about the making of their thesis films from the moment they receive their acceptance letter to NYU and it feels surreal when it’s happening. In my senior year I wrote and directed a short film of my own and produced four films that were all very different in terms of tone, genre, country of origin, language, etc., but the commonality was that they were all made with life-long friends and creative partners I met throughout my time at NYU.

Katie Schiller: her story continues

Can you tell us about your experiences working on SHIVA BABY - a female-directed, female-driven comedy?

I have had such an amazing experience throughout the journey of producing SHIVA BABY. The writer/director, Emma Seligman, was a close friend of mine from NYU and we had been in the same Advanced Production class where she made the short film version of SHIVA BABY of which the feature is based. I had been a huge fan of her script and we worked closely together in our class helping each other prepare for our respective shoots. Several months after graduation, Emma approached me with a feature-length version of SHIVA BABY and upon my first read of the script I was hooked and honored that Emma wanted me to be a part of the journey of making her debut feature film. I got my dear friend, roommate, and now producing partner, Kieran Altmann into the mix and we set out to make the production happen. It took us a little under two years to lock the script, secure financing, build a team of creatives, finalize cast, and scout the perfect location, but we made it happen and shot the film in a quaint three-story home in Flatbush, Brooklyn in the hottest weeks of August in 2019. And we had a blast doing it. It was like a filmmaking summer camp.

SHIVA BABY Principal Cast and Producers
SHIVA BABY Principal Cast and Producers

Kieran and I spent the shoot living at the location spending day and night making sure everything was in order. We worked with an amazing team of creatives as our various department heads including fellow NYU grads—Lizzie Shapiro (producer), Julia Seebeck (Unit Production Manager), Gerardo Coello (Assistant Director), Maria Rusche (Director of Photography), Matthew Bunker (Production Sound Mixer), and Lily Li (Hair and Make-Up Head). We were incredibly lucky to work with such an outstanding cast of actors including Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Danny Deferrari, and Dianna Agron. They brought so much energy and enthusiasm to the script, as well as a great deal of kindness and camaraderie to the set.

Emma, Kieran, Lizzie, and I are so proud as we watch the film travel the festival circuit. It makes the craziness of finding a baby, living amongst several days’ old bagels and lox, and all of the other particulars that go into making a low-budget indie feature all the more rewarding. We are pleased to have partnered with Utopia Distribution as our distributor and are excited for SHIVA BABY to hopefully make it to the big screen post-pandemic (fingers crossed!).

Katie Schiller and Kieran Altmann
Kieran Altmann and Katie Schiller

It was a pleasure and an inspiration to work with so many strong, independent, and creative women across our production team, cast, and crew. It has also been amazing to receive such an outpour of love, support, and congratulatory gestures from family and friends throughout production, post, and this strange COVID/festival time. At moments it has felt like I’ve been vicariously living through the movie from my couch, but despite everything, the experience has been so meaningful to me. And I’m just so proud of everyone involved.

You also served as a co-producer on DATING AND NEW YORK. Can you tell us about that experience?

Shortly after wrapping up production on SHIVA BABY, I was invited to join the DATING AND NEW YORK team. I served as both a co-producer and the assistant director managing the schedule and shoot on set. The film is a romantic comedy starring Jaboukie Young-White, Francesca Reale, Kat Cohen, and Brian Muller. It was written and directed by Jonah Feingold and will serve as his narrative feature debut.

Unlike SHIVA BABY, which took place almost exclusively in one location, DANY shot in over a dozen locations which was a very exciting but demanding production dynamic. It was a really fun experience to shoot all over NYC—subway stations, the NYC ferry, Central Park, restaurants, bars, etc.

The team included several NYU alumni and again it was a wonderful experience to work with many friends and colleagues from school and from the SHIVA BABY set. It was like getting the band back together!

Can you tell us about your collaborations with Liberal Studies professor Sean Eve?

Sean Eve was the professor of the first class I had my first week of school at NYU. It was his birthday and he brought the entire class cupcakes. When he went through the attendance he recognized my last name, and it turned out my father had been his real estate agent over ten years ago. Sean was the first person I came out to as gay and he has since helped transform my life—opening me up to new opportunities, new ways of thinking, and self-actualization. We kept in touch after I completed his class and we have remained very close friends and collaborators working on a host of different projects together.

Our projects include a documentary about Black transgender poet and physical fitness coach, Justice Roe Williams; a film about NYC’s Pink Panther Patrol; and a conceptual story mapping initiative called The Flower Project. We are in the midst of forming a not-for-profit in conjunction with The Flower Project which will be devoted to mapping stories, testimony, and community in ways that elevate, preserve, and contextualize acts of bravery and imagination that may otherwise be unknown or lost. Through these mapping explorations we work with others to help carve out and animate novel spaces, facilitate the development of digital, physical and creative communities, and employ story, in all its dimensions, to support individuals and organizations as they work to alleviate alienation and suffering. 

What drew you to work in film?

I have always loved movies and storytelling. I think stories are one of the most powerful tools we have as human beings. I also have a great appreciation for the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of filmmaking. When you’re making movies—whether it's narrative or documentary—you’re always learning new things. I love that about it.

What project are you the most proud of and why?

That’s a hard question to answer. All of my projects have served a different role in my personal and creative development. They’re all important to me in their own unique ways and are representative of certain professional and personal milestones. I can say I’m incredibly proud of SHIVA BABY. We often joke “it’s the little movie that could.” I’m so proud of how far it’s come from short film, to feature script, to pitch deck, to production, through festivals and distribution. It’s the first feature project I’ve gotten to see the whole way through and that’s something to be proud of.

Still shot of SHIVA BABY
SHIVA BABY: Official Selection of the Toronto International Film Festival

Can you share your experiences as an intern?

Throughout my time at NYU I held internships at the Weinstein Company (which of course is no longer), Anonymous Content, and Topic Studios. All of my internships were in development which prepared me well for what I’m ultimately doing as a producer and director. I was constantly fielding scripts and providing coverage, notes, and feedback. I was fortunate that my internship at Topic Studios my senior year at NYU turned into a full-time job that I started immediately after graduation—so yes, it can happen! The team over at Topic were incredible mentors and taught me so much about the industry, creative leadership, and developing my voice as a filmmaker.

Anything you can share about your upcoming projects?

Alongside my filmmaking career, I am currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work at Fordham University. I hope to integrate my filmmaking into a social work practice focused on community-based activism, education, and policy reform—all amplified through storytelling. 

You serve on the LSNYUWomXn100 committee. What events do you have coming up?

I am a curator for the Films in Conversation series. Films in Conversation is a series that brings together a short cinematic work each month, directed by a womxn, femme identified or non-binary filmmaker. The film is selected by an LS Core or Global Liberal Studies student or alumni, who responds to the film through a form they choose.

You also work as a Walk In Center Coordinator at Identity House, the oldest continuously operating all-volunteer organization of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people in New York City. Can you speak about your work there?

I joined Identity House as a peer counselor in January of 2018. At Identity House a peer counselor is trained to ask questions, listen to a client’s experience, and share their own, in order to help a client identify and express their own needs. All peer counselors are engaged in ongoing supervision with New York State-licensed psychotherapists to help us process our sessions and learn how to be a better peer counselor. Identity House was perhaps the first space where I was able to explore the process of self-identification as a queer person outside of myself or a theoretical context—working hands on with people. I have had the opportunity to hear so many peoples’ stories and provide counseling and referrals to dozens of clients of various ages, backgrounds, and circumstances. As the Walk In Center Coordinator, in addition to peer counseling, I also organize the schedule for our counselors and clients. It’s incredibly rewarding work.

What advice do you have for alumni and students interested in pursuing a career in filmmaking?

My advice is to always surround yourself with people who keep you feeling motivated, enthusiastic, and creatively nourished. And people who can hold you accountable. Filmmaking and carving out space for yourself in this industry is very very challenging. It’s easy to get discouraged and to feel like something isn’t possible or to push it off until tomorrow, etc. It’s important to find collaborators, teammates, and friends who you trust to help keep you focused and engaged—and frankly, it makes the work more fun when you have other people in the ring with you. Build yourself a creative community and support each other.

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