New York by way of Pennsylvania artist/filmmaker/actor Kelly Sebastian has been steeped in the arts for a long time; both as a lover and maker of them. As you’ll soon find out during the conversation I had with her recently she’s always had an interest. The need to create came a little later, but when it did there was no going back for her.
Sebastian has the girl-next-door look of a young Meryl Streep, and the on-screen charisma of Jennifer Jason Leigh at the point of near boil over. In her latest film Forever Into Space(www.foreverintospace.com), she plays a down on her luck writer named Audrey Harrington. At the beginning of the film Harrington is kicked out of her apartment and has no choice but to move in with her friend Lauren(La.) From here we follow Audrey, La, and their friends Ollie and Aaron through the harsh, cold, and unforgiving winter months in New York City. We see that regardless of the expensive college educations, obvious talent, and drive to succeed that none of that is enough to make ends meet. At one point Audrey points out she has two Masters and still can’t even get an interview for an entry-level job without someone pulling some strings for her. It’s a long, demeaning, and sometimes dirty road to making a living doing what you love, and this film portrays it honestly with humor, some darkness, and plenty of humility.
Writer/director(as well as editor, photographer, and probably coffee guy) Greg W. Locke shot this film with his cast and a couple other folks entirely in New York City for $880. 09. That’s an important number as when you do finally get to see this film(and you will, trust me) you will see what an amazing job this group of individuals did with next to nothing. Locke truly lucked out in meeting and casting Kelly Sebastian. He needed someone that could humanize Audrey. Someone that could make a mildly dislikable character likable in the end. Kelly Sebastian turns Audrey Harrington’s self-doubt and stubborn determination into something you end up rooting for by the time the credits roll. It’s a warts and all performance that should open many doors for Ms. Sebastian.
But you’ll see that for yourself, I’m sure. In the meantime, here’s my chat with the lovely Kelly Sebastian.
J. Hubner: Hi Kelly. So let’s start at the beginning. Where are you from? Where did you grow up?
Kelly Sebastian: My hometown roots are in Reading, Pennsylvania, but I “grew up” in New York City. I moved here in the late nineties, a young, teenage artist transplant on a quest of something … an E.B. White “third type of New Yorker.” As a young creative in a complex place of deep culture and wild diversity, I only had a responsibility to make something of myself – so this is where adulthood started for me.
J. Hubner: What was your childhood like? Were you a wild child?
Kelly Sebastian: I was a good, oftentimes trouble-maker, artsy kid. I was super into art, a total music nerd, sports jock, catholic-school-girl that listened to loud heavy-metal and punk music, and did all of the mind-altering substances and experiences I could find. I was friends with every “click” in school, but never fully felt like I fit in anywhere except with my best buddy Justin. I hung out with guys mostly and I have two older brothers … total tomboy! I had one serious boyfriend and didn’t know I was allowed to be gay.
J. Hubner: So what was home life like with your parents?
Kelly Sebastian: My parent’s house was in the suburban part of the Reading area in the middle of a County full of beautiful, rural farmlands. The Sebastian household was a conservative one. I was raised with manners, etique, giving back to the community, so of course I rebelled against it all and did all the things most college kids do in my early teens. Also, in high school I was the record store chick at the mall.
J. Hubner: I can only imagine you had quite an imagination growing up.
Kelly Sebastian: There hasn’t really ever been a time in my life when I didn’t have several creative projects going on … so yes a big, flowing, ever-growing imagination. As a teen, I was really into painting, writing music (guitar and lyrics), writing short stories and ya know, depressing-artsy-teenage-angst-dark-rose-poetry. I would lock myself in my poster plastered, Christmas light lit room, put on my headphones, crank up the tunes and draw, paint, and do illustrations for hours. At one point I was obsessed with print advertising and drew tons of mock-ads in my own “wacky packages” style.
J. Hubner: Where else did you spend time in your formative years?
Kelly Sebastian: A lot my youth was also spent in south New Jersey; fishing, at the Jersey Shore, and at my grandparents house swimming, gardening, watching this The Uncle Floyd Show on TV, helping my Nana cook old Italian recipes. My dad had a fishing boat down that way too. Every chance we got we went fishing. To this day I love fishing, it’s bloody, dirty, it stinks, and when you catch a big keeper you feel like a king.
J. Hubner: When did you first find an interest in film?
Kelly Sebastian: As a kid I really liked films, mostly the kind of stuff programmed on USA’s “Up All Night” or anything I could sneak watching in the basement at 2am, some Scorsese or Kubrick films or “Trainspotting” and “Dazed and Confused” and I LOVED these films, but I didn’t have a real desire to make them, or write screenplays, or act until I was living in NYC.
J. Hubner: So no defining moment while watching Godard’s Breathless, or Fellini’s La Dolce Vita?
Kelly Sebastian: There was no big ah-ha defining moment for me. Filmmaking was more of a big wave that I slowly started to ride in my later teens.
J. Hubner: Were you a theater kid in high school? Did you ever star in a production of ‘Les Miserables’?
Kelly Sebastian: Ha – you’re funny! I vaguely remember my high school putting on “The Wizard of Oz” but I didn’t take real notice because I was trying to line up “Dark Side of the Moon” to it.
J. Hubner: I tried that once with ‘The Whiz’. Totally not the same thing. Anyways, so you said that desire to create didn’t begin till you were living in NYC. When did it start for you there?
Kelly Sebastian: The pursuit of filmmaking was sparked in college. I was a Fine Arts major, but after taking a core-curriculum film history class, I got interested in the idea of film/video as art. I transferred to the Communication Arts Department to take writing, production, and video editing classes alongside my art history, photography, and psychology classes. I started making these avant-garde videos and short documentaries that eventually led me to think about a way to show these projects. So, I created “Oh the Ladies.”
J. Hubner: “Oh the Ladies”? Was this the public access show I’ve heard about?
Kelly Sebastian: Yes. In the tradition of Jeff Krulick, I hit hundreds of households, pre-YouTube, through public access television. After I had DIY’ed my own show, I knew that writing/directing was something I was good at and wanted to pursue. I co-hosted with my girlfriend at the time out of the simple necessity of needing a host, not because I wanted the camera on me.
J. Hubner: Where does acting fit in with all of this?
Kelly Sebastian: Acting is a whole ‘nother thing. I was working on sets as a production assistant and had my art films and my Public Access Show … and had a gig as a video store clerk at Kim’s Video on St. Mark’s in the East Village. While working there, I got asked to be in a photoshoot of skateboarder chicks, then the photographer from that shoot asked me to be in advertising campaign he was shooting, and from there I started doing in-front-of-the-camera commercial work.
J. Hubner: How did you feel about being in front of the camera, as opposed to being behind it?
Kelly Sebastian: I got paid to play someone’s vision of a cleaned-up, aspirational version me. And you know what? It paid my rent – fast and well – and allowed me time to write and make other projects – I had written several narrative scripts during this time and directed two of them. Over the years, friends have asked me to be in some small roles for their films, but I never took acting that seriously until I met Brad Calcaterra, my acting coach. Once I started training with him I saw the art in craft and the craft in the art.
J. Hubner: How do you feel about acting now? You seem to have learned a thing or two with Brad(Calcaterra), as you were pretty great in Forever into Space.
Kelly Sebastian: Here’s my thing with acting, I don’t care about being in everything or anything or a mute role opposite so-and-so, that’s just not my story. Sure I had been approached to be in films before “Forever Into Space,” but I had no interest in playing those roles and the scripts didn’t read as distinct from others. I only get to carve out this story once, so I’m pretty particular – quality not quantity. Brad knew the right role would come my way and then Greg showed up.
J. Hubner: So let’s talk about Greg and Forever Into Space. How did you get involved with the film?
Kelly Sebastian: Greg had posted a casting notice I responded to. Something like, “indie feature film seeks actress to play an off-beat, struggling, film blogger millennial, who can also help with set stuff.” We then met in Lower East Side to talk through his “manifesto” and his plan for making a feature film in NYC with no-budget and that the actors/crew would all need to step-up as producers as well. Being a Dogme95 fan, this was all very exciting. From what I could gather he wanted to make sure that he could find the right little people to actually help make the film more than just bringing characters to life. I knew my years of producing/set-jobs/and all my years of work behind-the-camera could help pull this off.
I have a producer’s statement on the film’s website and in our EPK that speaks to all the great layers and social commentary and cleverness in the film and why I had to help make it. One of these points I want to elaborate on is that once we dated it, it became a cinematic time capsule. People may not “get” this film until 2099 and it could be this huge hit to see how twenty-somethings were like living in NYC in the early ‘teens. That could happen in 2020 as well. This city is ever-changing. It’s not the city I knew in the late-90’s or even early oughts, it’s actually different already from yesterday. This forward-thinking mentality made me realize what Greg’s documentary background was bringing to the film and I needed to be a part of that.
Kelly Sebastian: After Greg had a first pass at an assemblage, he showed it to me and asked for feedback. By this time we both binge-watched each other’s work online and had forged this rad cinephile camaraderie. He knew we worked really well together, so it was pretty cool he valued my opinion. There was an agreement that the film needed to be refined, so he asked me to do them with him and that’s how I jumped on as a co-editor. After a film is cut, there’s still so many steps to take and much more than on the creative end of it. Sure we knocked out some badass posters and promo materials – Greg is a wizard with that work so it was cool to help him a bit with that – but the whole film festival circuit is an industry unto itself. I began researching festivals and doing my best to understand it all and keep us organized. It was at this time I was introduced to indie film vet advisor Bob Hawk, google the guy, who helped us make a few key decisions on festival strategy.
Yes my involvement has been varied and plenty, but hells bells you only get out what you put in and I really believed in Greg’s work.
J. Hubner: Let’s talk about your character in the film, Audrey Harrington. How much of that character that we see on the screen is what Greg put on paper and how much is you developing her into a living, breathing person?
Kelly Sebastian: On the page – that’s all Greg. He wrote a complicated, sarcastic, and not easily likable female protagonist with a certain character arc over the course of particular plot points. However, there was always room for some improv for scenes if it came up and really felt right when running a scene.
J. Hubner: What’s one of those scenes, for example?
Kelly Sebastian: For instance in the long six-something-minute, one-shot, bathtub scene I have with Aaron there were key points we had to make to keep the story on course, but we were given the space to play and ad lib. Or the beginning of the scene I have with my older sister Molly the morning after we get wasted and she reams out my entire generation, that was me and Julia Kelly having “sister fun.” Her and I invested in our sisterly relationship and our director let us play before the scene started on paper.
J. Hubner: So it sounds like Greg really let you and the rest of the cast wear these characters around, dirty them up a bit, and make them your own as long as you kept a decent orbit around the story on the page. There was a lot of creative collaboration.
Kelly Sebastian: Part of Greg’s manifesto stated we could only use stuff we had access to and that included wardrobe. So late at night I would email him photos of “looks” I came up with like Audrey’s “a Clockwork Orange outfit” or her “nod to Hitchcock dress.” Greg said pigtails and I said yes! I said pearl earrings and he said yes! He said Audrey is a film blogger and minimalist, so I suggested she owns only one bag that she carries her “office”, her laptop and notebook, around in. Ya know, her “Linus blanket.” There’s also a lot of inner-weight I developed on my own – writing out her backstory for the work I need to do as an actor – but it all started with Greg. Bringing Audrey to life with him is an experience I will not too soon forget.
J. Hubner: Audrey mentions in one scene that she has two Majors but can’t even get an interview for an entry-level job. Is that your experience? Was college essential to where you are now?
Kelly Sebastian: If I hadn’t gone to college I probably would not have come to NYC at such a young age or at all. I have no clue what path I would have taken if I didn’t go to MMC. I do know though, I probably would not have had the long list of adventures, the long resume, the mile-wide list of contacts and the two mile stretch of everyday city-life characters in my life if I didn’t go for a degree here.
J. Hubner: MMC? Which school is that? What was it like?
Kelly Sebastian: I went to Marymount Manhattan College – a small, liberal arts school in NYC. I graduated as a member of Lamda Pi Eta, the National Communication Association Honor Society – so yeah, I indulged in as much art and education I could get. Since the school is literally a single building, our campus was THE CITY – the big, beautiful beast that she is. So college was my access to New York City. So in that regard yes it was essential. I had some very influential professors there as well. Terri Dewhirst gets credit for introducing me to the work of Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Sadie Benning to name a few. Dr. David Linton didn’t blink twice at the content of my public speaking class presentation on William Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch.” Professor Sanderson let me use the school’s editing bays late at night to edit my public access show and I worked in the library’s Media Center and to get access to cameras and gear after-hours too.
J. Hubner: A big thumbs up for college. You hear that, kids? Back to the film, so how was the overall experience on Forever Into Space? It sounds like it was some serious guerilla-style filmmaking.
Kelly Sebastian: I’m not sure if a feature film could get any more guerilla than “Forever Into Space.” A man and his camera, some really barebones lights, no permits, no permission, utilizing all the stuff we collectively had access to already, no money, all guts. You use your hands, heart and soul and you make it happen.
J. Hubner: Where are you guys at currently with the film? It’s been done and a living, breathing thing for over a year now.
Kelly Sebastian: Here’s the thing … nobody gives a shit about your indie-feature-film until Werner Herzog does … or fill-in-the-blank with the person you’d take an endorsement from. Making a film is a long process. Getting it OUT THERE can take even longer depending on the connections you have.
J. Hubner: And I’m sure the festival circuit can be equally hard and soul-crushing of an experience.
Kelly Sebastian: The festival circuit/distribution work has been my second full-time job for over a year now. Yes in that time we have been approached by some offers, but several times over it was someone asking us to give them money to possibly get “FIS” distribution. Ummm hello, did you not read we are a literally zero-budget film – and DIY. There’s a lot of hope placed around getting distribution from being screened at a film festival and I’m not so sure this happens for “ultra-indies.” I’m talking about zero celebrities, no highly credited prestigious film school director with a total grass roots ad campaign with no after-party. I’ve had people straight up ask me, “who is walking your film into festivals”? I’ve also been asked is it horror? Is it sexy? What genre is it? Again, is it sexy? Greg’s vision is complex, layered, slow. The distributors and production companies I’ve talked with are seeking a simple flip-for-profit, an easily digestible formula film that audiences won’t have to think about. Huh? Where’s the fun for the cinephiles? The distributor for this flick is someone who likes the off-the-cuff artsy stuff – someone who will want to look at a sensational profile shot of a beautiful naked guy sitting on the toilet over and over. As a friend of mine said, “you may never see a penny from that movie, but you will see a bunch of fans, it’s very cult-worthy.”
J. Hubner: It seems like the general public and young filmmakers have been fed this fantasy of “you hit a festival with your film and then you get picked up and things will be great.” It seems you also need some pretty thick skin and willingness to eat plenty of shit along the way.
Kelly Sebastian: Yes, a lot of filmmakers and people believe that – and right now, since I’m in the middle of “the process,” I do. Being a part of festivals is great, but if you don’t have smart strategy you will spend a lot of money for people to judge if they can make money off you. But then again, I need fests to get the film press and the more press – the more chances people will read about me and Greg and the film – and the more that happens, the more fans – the more fans, the more money a distributor can make off the film. It’s the art of business. Everyday is another step closer to achieving our distribution goal. It’s a long, bumpy road and yes requires very thick skin … and a really good pair of boots.
A lot of people just want the fun experience of being a part of a film and to leave set when they hear “wrap.” That’s fine, but since day one of meeting Greg and looking at his work, and seeing his distinct style, I believed in this project and having been brought in as a co-producer as well, I have a responsibility to getting the film out there.
J. Hubner: So to date, where have you gotten the film in to play?
Kelly Sebastian: To date, “FIS” has played at four excellent, international film festivals. Our big world premiere was at CINEQUEST, which was recently ranked as the No.1 American Film Festival by USA Today. We had our big mid-west premiere at INDY FILM FEST in Indiana which is not only Greg’s home state, but also our soundman/mixer Andrew Litton is from there and Jon Keller who did an amazing soundtrack and score for the film too. We did a Hoosier State encore at GEN CON and also had our big East Coast Premiere at the 20th Annual New Jersey International Film Festival. The film was nominated for awards at all of these fests. We also screened at an “insider” non-public-screening contest where we received a whopping seven nominations including “Best Picture” and “Best Actress” for myself.
J. Hubner: So you’ve lived a little in this world of independent filmmaking. You’ve seen some things, you experienced more. The good, the bad, the ugly, and maybe even the wonderful. What would you say to a young film school student who wants to jump into this crazy world of independent film. What sage advice do you have for the young Kelly Sebastian?
Kelly Sebastian: Hustle. Hustle hard. Find your way onto a set any way you can. Listen and learn from other people and their films. Lose friends. Make film allies. If you can’t get paid to do what you want to do, find a gig to pay your rent and then do the work you want to do. Be a day-laborer, a bike messenger, dog walker, whatever. Never go into debt. Sleep on the couch in your office if you have to. Align yourself with people way smarter and more creative than you. Only work with people that take you seriously. Only work with people that smile and love this wild adventure called life. Never think you are owed shit. Earn it. Break your back…fail…try again. Expect everyone to ignore you. Remember the roller coaster has its ups AND downs, let go – and put your hands UP. Get off the internet and go make something!