By Suzanne Ordas Curry
Catherine Eaton is a filmmaker, writer, actress, professor and also a director. The latter came to her in a most unusual fashion, which she explains in this interview. (You just never know who is around to lend a helping hand, or even point your life in a totally different direction.)
Her feature debut as a director and writer, The Sounding, starring Harris Yulin (Training Day, Ozark) and Frankie Faison (The Wire, Silence of the Lambs), has won two-dozen awards on the festival circuit (including four Festival Grand Prizes) and was called “a lyrical and audacious debut feature” by the WSJ. Catherine and The Sounding are the subject of a branded mini-doc by Stella Artois currently running on Hulu. Catherine was chosen for Tribeca's "Through Her Lens" Lab and Grant for her pilot "On the Outs," Her newest pilot script "Breaking News" – based on her personal experience working with freelance news crews in conflict zones – was selected for IFP's Independent Film Week Project Forum. She also co-wrote the dramedy pilot "Flawless - A Feminist Fairytale" currently being shopped. As an actor, she's been seen on Broadway, TV and film, and is currently nominated for a Helen Hayes Award. Catherine teaches Screen Directing at Harvard. We talk to Catherine about The Sounding and more. See the video for the full interview.
SBTS: I watched this movie with my husband. There are very few movies we both agree on...and we watched it to the end because it’s the kind of movie you have to watch to the end! So tell me how all this will be got started. I know there’s a fascinating story behind it.
Catherine Eaton: Yes there’s a super fun story behind it, thank you for saying that. It's super fun to hear when a couple is watching it together and talk about it. The Sounding is definitely something that people want to talk about afterwards to compare notes and things like that so I love hearing that.
SBTS: And figure it out!
TO WATCH THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE EATON:
Catherine Eaton: Yes it is mysterious. We like to say that it’s a mysterious romance that turns into a personal revolution!
The way it happened is a crazy story. There's a number of them but I will tell you about one of them. This is what kind of launched me into being a film director as well. I came up as an actor classically trained and had done stage, TV and film and things like that. I had written this one woman show - a version of what eventually became The Sounding with just the character of Liv, and that show has been toured all over the world. I did it at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.
And then a very dear friend of mine who was the artistic director of the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan. It's surprise that they had an artistic director at a hotel but it’s owned by a sculpture Jim Knowles who is just extraordinary. And so my very dear friend saw the workshop production of this play in these artist salons that were being held up in the penthouse that I was running for artist that I knew to share their work.
And he said that I should do this in our glass front performance area (facing the sidewalk. He said that they had never done anything narrative there before but they had done installations and performance art. So initially I said, "No way I’m not going to do that." It’s like being a monkey in a cage - you’re in Manhattan. You’re in a box and people are walking by - hundreds of people an hour.
|Behind the Scenes with Catherine Eaton, Bryan Delany, Patricia Yi|
Photo by Asya Danilova and Mariya Bulat
Catherine Eaton: Yes, oh how we love New York City. And God bless it so knowing that and knowing how outspoken they are I said no way am I going to do that. It’s a quiet show. It needs an audience that’s willing to listen that buys a ticket and pays attention. And he wore me down and asked me why am I in New York if you’re not going to do something amazing, exceptional and outside your comfort zone?
He was completely right. So I brought in a wonderful director that did the stage play. And we made it a totally white room like a seclusion room in a psychiatric hospital. And in it there was a woman in a gown scrolled in Shakespeare spouting Shakespeare and I became an immediate cult hit! It got piped out onto the street. People from walks of life moms saw it.....moms with babies, pizza delivery guys.. everybody saw it.
SBTS: And what street was this? This was 47th and Lexington.
Catherine Eaton: This was 47th and Lexington, so right in the heart of Manhattan - very busy. And what happened was it became a fire hazard! The sidewalks became packed and the police had to come and move people along because apparently if there are too many people on the sidewalk it’s a fire hazard. Cars would stop in the intersection and they wouldn’t keep going and then they would be honking. There were stockbrokers on their phone saying there’s a woman and a gown spouting Shakespeare! There were moms with kids and the kids were like no we want to stay! There was a man that was unfortunately homeless but he would come and bang on the glass and say "I’ll get you out I’ll get you out!"
|Catherine Eaton as Liv in The Sounding|
And every night front and center there was a man in a tuxedo. And I thought that he was a caterer because I didn’t know anyone that wore a tuxedo. And he wore it every day. And he always had a peach colored newspaper which was the Fnancial Times.
So they (the people involved) called him the financier and they always asked "Did the financier come tonight?" And the last night of the play he waited for me afterwards and said I want to turn your plate into a feature film. And he really was a financier and the reason he wore a tuxedo every day because was because he was a fancy human being who have fancy things to go to every day!
And that changed my life. It completely changed my life. I had never thought about directing before and we began this very long process of figuring out what we meant by making this into a film and how to direct it. I had to write the screenplay with my co-writer Bryan who’s an amazing writer full-time writer.
And now I will never look back. Literally directing, acting and writing is the most creative and rewarding life I could ever imagine.
SBTS: What a story.! That’s like in the old days getting discovered of the Brown Derby or something like that in Hollywood. This rarely ever happens. Did he end up being the executive producer?
|Teddy Sears as Michael in The Sounding Photo by Asya Danilova|Catherine Eaton: Yes. And he became very close to us my co-writerr - also my romantic partner Bryan Delaney. And it’s really an extraordinary story. I’m so grateful to him he’s a dear friend now. We had no idea -wither of us, what we were getting into because he had never backed a film before.
SBTS: This film is an intersection of film and stage and also literature. Can you explain to me the origin of the Shakespearean angle?
Catherine Eaton: Yes, and it’s so kind of you to say it like that. So the story is for those of you who’ve not seen it at home, it’s the story of a woman who was silent most of her life and she takes on this acquired language woven out of Shakespeare’s words. It's a really extraordinary.
Shakespeare is such an incredible body of work we still see so much being done with it. We’re always going back to it... there’s hundreds and hundreds of Shakespeare productions still being done. Shakespeare in the Park in New York City is one of the most popular and I was very curious about why that is. Why do we keep going back to his work? Yes it is genius,yes it’s brilliant. It paints an incredible picture. Also at the time that he produced it these plays were the entertainment for the masses! There was romance and battles and wars! And jokes and humor, They weren’t esoteric.
They were really raw. The sounds of the language was what it made it so raw. So the exploration of Shakespeare to me was a really exciting avenue of the film because my big question was, "Why might someone choose this language?"
I had a personal experience where I was pulled away from my work as an actor for a period of time to help a family member and at that time I found myself turning to Shakespeare. And I just wanted to hear the language, to see the language and I kept thinking why would someone want or need that language today? And what would happen if that was the only language that they had?
So out of his words Liv (our protagonist) is able to select the language that she needs out of his words for what she needs to say in the present time. So for me the real gift is that people who have no exposure to Shakespeare, those who have never liked his work or felt that they could relate to it and have watched the film said, "I understood everything that was being said. I didn’t need to know anything about Shakespeare. Her urgency to communicate was what was communicated." And the rest was just gravy on top of that!
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instagram: @catherineveaton @soundingmovie