Cinema Bandit is devoted to supplying young and new filmmakers with resources, articles, and interviews to help artists develop themselves creatively and professionally. Today, Cinema Bandit talks to actress and director Elena Melener. Known for her acting work, Elena Melener has now ventured into writing, directing, and producing her own show called The Mom List.
Cinema Bandit: What is your background and career in film?
Melener: For the past few years, my main focus has been voice-over work for TV and radio so The Mom List is the first time I’ve ever directed, produced or written anything for the screen.
Cinema Bandit: Can you tell us about what The Mom List is about?
Melener: The Mom List is about two overzealous and self-sabotaging moms, Liz and Molly, who are trying to achieve “mommy greatness” through a locally famous parenting guru. I think a lot of Moms and Dads can relate to our show because we’re all trying to achieve “mommy greatness” in our own way. Yet, we put so much pressure on ourselves that sometimes it can get to the point of ridiculousness. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish on The Mom List. We highlight the outrageous, silly moments of parenting that every Mom and Dad has had to survive through these two kooky moms who also try to figure out their purpose beyond motherhood and margaritas.
Cinema Bandit: What was the pre-production process? I know you wore many hats, considering you wrote, produced, and directed The Mom List.
Melener: Having never produced or directed for the screen, this process was a huge learning experience for me. Honestly, I feel like I went to film school because I learned so much about what goes into creating a show.
When I wrote the script for The Mom List, I had no idea how much work was ahead of me, especially since we had a shoe-string budget. I took on many roles because we couldn’t afford a full pre-production team. So I created the props, auditioned actors, interviewed the crew, designed the sets, developed a show aesthetic in terms of color, put together the shot lists, sent out the call sheets and even ordered the food for the set. I learned by doing, and that was invaluable.
Though I sometimes questioned myself since it was my first go at creating a show, I did trust my instincts, and I’m very grateful for it. I was fortunate enough to find my dream team who supported me every step of the way. My actors; Melody Fadness, Julie Finefrock, Andrew Lazaroff, Gladys Perez and Christopher Makrides only had two rehearsals before we started shooting. They all brought their A game and were prepared on set every day. They are amazing, hardworking and funny human beings. My director of photography, Alexa Wolf brought my vision to life and I knew when I interviewed her that she was the perfect person for our series.
Cinema Bandit: Are there specific things you learned on set?
Melener: At times it was difficult to wear so many hats on set. For instance, directing while also acting was definitely a juggle but one that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was helpful to have our AD, Rebecca Lazaroff, let me know if things weren’t working on the monitor. Especially if we were running behind and couldn’t do the playback. Trusting and having a good relationship with your AD is essential if you’re taking on multiple roles on set. Luckily, I did 🙂
I also learned that it’s very important to make sure the set environment is a positive one. Shooting days can be very long and tiresome and keep everyone happy is key to getting the right shots and performances. In our case, chocolate, sushi, and flavored seltzer did the trick 🙂
Cinema Bandit: How large was your set?
Melener: We had a very small crew. We had a sound ops person, a gaffer, a DP, an AD, and an AC. We also had two PA’s the last few days of shooting which was very helpful.
Cinema Bandit: What do you have to say about motherhood in this day and age?
Melener: I think today, we as parents set these extremely high standards for ourselves. To the point where we’re all stressed out trying to make the right decisions so our children won’t die. I’m just kidding. We all know they won’t die, but that’s the level of energy we can sometimes create for ourselves. If they don’t eat organic food, if they wear the wrong kind of fabric, if they don’t learn how to share. Will they die? Yeesh! I’m feeling stressed just talking about it. I think I have to go take a nap I’m so worked up. Oh wait, who am I kidding. I haven’t napped since I had kids.
Cinema Bandit: How long have you been writing?
Melener: I started writing when I had my first child, which was almost ten years ago. At first, it was just short stories and some blog posts. As the years went on, it morphed into comedy sketches and then scripts. While the kids slept at night, I took a few online courses to help me with formatting and plotting, and I learned how to be a storyteller by writing every day.
I think it helps to be an actor/writer because it gives you the tools to visualize and understand characters on a deeper level. My favorite part of writing The Mom List was not only developing a story I could relate to but also creating these characters and bringing them to life.
Cinema Bandit: A Drink & Drum Story is another project you directed. Let’s hear a little bit about this.
Melener: My husband, Glenn Schloss who is the co-producer, sound designer and composer of The Mom List created a monthly drum circle here in Nyack, New York called Drink & Drum. In the past few years, it’s grown into an amazing event where people come to drum, dance and feel the rhythm. It’s pretty incredible to see so many people from different walks of life connect and relate to rhythm. So that’s why we created A Drink & Drum Story, which focuses on the people who attend and how this drum circle effects them. We’ve done about five short episodes, and we’re going to continue doing it in the hopes of creating a long-form documentary.
What I learned about creating A Drink & Drum Story with Glenn is that every creative project can help you with the next incredible thing that you do. Because of A Drink & Drum Story, I learned how to edit and get the right shots. This particular project helped me tremendously when I had to direct and edit The Mom List.
Cinema Bandit: Any advice to new filmmakers?
Melener: Be a self-starter and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know the answers. There will be a ton of stuff you don’t know, and that’s okay. I also think it’s important to believe in yourself and what you’re creating. Love the process and love your vision. Don’t get bogged down with the details of how it can’t be done and focus on what IS possible. Ultimately, having a positive attitude is everything.
The Mom List is now streaming on Facebook at this link.
The Mom List was written, directed, and produced by Elena Melener. The show stars Elena Melener and Melody Fadness. The show also brought in Director of Photography Alexa Wolf and veteran TV Composer and Executive Producer Glenn Schloss.