Stefanie Sparks has been working in film for almost half of her life. Starting out on indie film sets in Seattle and reality TV in LA, Stefanie quickly made her way to NYC and the New School. She earned her MA in Media and Film in 2009. Her thesis film, Bleed, screened at STIFF (Seattle) and won special recognition for short form comedy at the Dorothy Hirshon Film Festival.
She was granted a Jerome Foundation New York Filmmaker Grant for her debut feature, Cathy Coppola, which was nominated for the audience award at Brooklyn Girl Film Festival and Best in Show at the Female Eye Film Festival (Toronto). For the last few years, Stefanie has worked at the Ghetto Film School’s Midwinter Institute (the nation’s first all film high school located in the Bronx, NY) where she teaches no-budget film making to high school kids. In Case of Emergency is her second feature film and continues her obsession with female ambition, comedy and the dark side of both.
London Prestige Interview with Film Director Stefanie Sparks
London Prestige: How long have you been making films and videos?
Stefanie Sparks: I have been directing films and videos since grad school so about 10 years.
London Prestige: What is your recent film about?
Stefanie Sparks: My most recent film is a buddy comedy about a woman who realizes she’s living a fake life and the only way to be happy is to get real. She’s fighting an internal battle of status vs. substance and when our film begins, the status is winning, by the end, substance has taken over.
London Prestige: How did you go about casting for the film “In Case of Emergency”?
Stefanie Sparks: I spent about a year in comedy clubs in NYC watching comics and working on character development as one of my main characters is a struggling stand up comic. I hired an intern from Hunter College to help me cast the lead characters through backstage but when we found our lead, a woman I had been wanting to work with for about a year, she recommended all these incredible actors she knew from the comedy scene. It snowballed from there.
Each time we’d hire a new actor, they would have other actors we should look at and so we did. It gave us one of the best casts I’ve ever seen in an indie film (I’m obviously biased but I’ve also heard others say that) especially for a low budget indie film.
London Prestige: What do you hope people will take away from the film?
Stefanie Sparks: I hope that people will laugh and have a good time and hopefully learn that it’s okay to not take yourself so seriously.
London Prestige: What do you hope to achieve by making the film?
Stefanie Sparks: I want to be a working director who gets to direct TV and other people’s scripts so the only way to prove myself as a director is to make my own films, in my mind. I wanted to become a better director through the process of making this film and I think I did.
London Prestige: When is the next screening and tell us about any competitions/festival submission.
Stefanie Sparks: We don’t have any screenings to date but we will be releasing it in iTunes and Amazon in July. We won the audience award at Bushwick Film Festival and Broad Humor and we are a finalist in the Sundance Institute Creative Distribution Fellowship.
London Prestige: Tell us a bit about the other films you’ve made.
Stefanie Sparks: I made a feature film called Cathy Coppola about a struggling film director that doesn’t think she’s being taken seriously in the NY indie film world because she’s a female nobody so she pretends to be the illegitimate daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. It’s available on Vimeo. We won a few awards with it and shot it with less than 25k. I have a web series called Screwed about a drunk dancer from Omaha who moves to NYC to join the Bushwick Ballet. We’re actually shooting another episode this spring. I star in it. It’s pretty fun.
London Prestige: What makes beautiful art in your opinion?
Stefanie Sparks: I don’t know if my art would be considered beautiful by most because I prefer to challenge norms of what we expect in terms of female representation in media but that to me is what makes is beautiful. Real is beautiful to me and everything else is gross.
London Prestige: Which other documentaries/films that you’ve seen have made an impact on you, personally?
Stefanie Sparks: I recently saw a film called Werewolf about recovering meth addicts in Nova Scotia that blew my mind. I saw Madeleine Olnek’s new film, Wild Nights with Emily and loved it. Both are vastly different films in style and tone but both are challenging the current language of film, which deeply moves and inspires me.
London Prestige: How has your style evolved?
Stefanie Sparks: My style has become more self-conscious over the last few years. I’m trying to adjust to being seen because for many, many years I felt very invisible. Now I’m getting used to the fact that I have to be seen as a representative of my film if nothing else. You want to be professional but also feminine and some times that’s tricky to pull off in a way that really works for me personally and still captures my rather big personality.
London Prestige: What skills/personal attributes are most important to being successful?
Stefanie Sparks: I work very, very, very hard and I am extremely driven by a fear of failure. I also wake up at 5:30am.
London Prestige: What other hobbies do you have?
Stefanie Sparks: I spend a lot of time walking around Brooklyn.
London Prestige: What are you thinking about doing next?
Stefanie Sparks: We are shooting another episode of my web series “Screwed” and I have a short that I want to shoot this summer while I develop my next feature.