by Alder Sherwood
Cornelia Moore – Producer, Writer and Director
“We all help each other out. Seattle is very much like that. It’s not a top-down situation here. I love that we are so communal, collaborative and creative in a group, tribal kind of way.” –Cornelia Moore
It’s a model that has worked for many Seattle-based high tech companies, and it is working for Seattle Film and Cornelia Moore.
To see one example of model-smashing film sets, I visited Cornelia on the set of JourneyQuest, the hit fantasy comedy webseries produced by Zombie Orpheus that is funded by fans.
Cornelia was perched outside the film set doing Security, in the spirit of collaboration and filling multiple roles on set. She is a producer of both seasons of JourneyQuest. She radiates the spirit of the Seattle film scene, with its high creativity, latest technology and artistic lingo. However, Cornelia is also very shrewd and business-minded. She is one of the filmmakers that is getting funding, bringing her projects to distribution, and getting her work sold.
Cornelia is the screenwriter and director behind Camilla Dickinson, a feature about finding first love in 1948 New York City, adapted from the Madeleine L’Engle novel “Camilla”. I happened to see a clip of Camilla Dickinson at a Women in Film event and it just blew me away. The acting, set design and depth of the characters are phenomenal and intellectually delicious. So I started out the interview eagerly, wanting to know more.
Alder: What is the inspiration behind Camilla Dickinson?
Cornelia: My Godmother, [world-renowned author Madeleine L’Engle , A Wrinkle in Time, A Severed Wasp], came to me in the late 90’s, and handed me a stack of play manuscripts from the ‘40s that she had written when she was young. She said, “I have been thinking about it and I want you to turn these into plays and movies for me.” I asked why, and she said, “You are the only living playwright that I trust.” I immediately switched careers and went to film school. I had written plays and most of a novel, but not screenplays before. Camilla Dickinson is the first one of Madeleine’s plays that I adapted and got funding to do. I have adapted another, and have 11 more to make.
Alder: Do you relate to the character, Camilla?
Cornelia: She is one of Madeleine’s sweetest creations, and I relate to her because I love Madeleine so much. I too, of course, was an adolescent girl; I went through my first love and I felt awkward, and pushed against my parents. We need more coming-of-age stories full of struggle, but also full of light. Even though this is a somewhat dark story, it is filled with of radiant light, which is what it drew me to the character. It is a tough story to get through for some, but worth the deep delving. I think that is why Oprah put it on her summer reading list last year. She loves stories of struggling women overcoming great odds.
Alder: Where is your film right now?
Cornelia: The festival version is done, and we are submitting it to festivals right now, and hoping to premiere somewhere awesome; so people that like movies of this kind can come and look at it.
Alder: Is your goal to get this distribution?
Cornelia: My goal is to get this out so that people can see it, and I am not really concerned with how, that is a Larry Estes (producer) question. I am so glad to have him.
Alder: So your feature, the Dark Horse is now out!
Cornelia: It just came out. It is on every Red Box in America right now, and on Amazon and at many other venues. It has been an interesting dance for us, because it’s not being marketed as a somewhat-dark drama of a family coming together in a crisis; it is being marketed as a horse movie and a kid’s movie, neither of which it is. We are encouraging people to see it as independent film that about a family healing, and to say so on websites if they feel so moved.
Alder: Do you see yourself as a groundbreaking filmmaker and why? I saw on your Kairos Productions website that you have a new way of looking at filmmaking.
Cornelia: “I don’t know if it is very new, but it is very mine. I see making films as my calling, seriously, in the sense of the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition of being “called” to a certain path, and listening to that call and following it. I think all my life has been building up to this point. All my years in the theater, as an actor and director, all the things I have done, right down to my obsession with People Magazine. Everything in my life has come together to make this current path happen. My company’s name is Kairos Productions for a reason. That is Greek for “Time out of time”, meaning “flow”, time not on the clock, in which you are being extremely creative, or in touch with the Divine. Most of the people that work with me have a similar sense of the sacredness of story; of how important it is. I think we suffer in our business from a lot of bad storytelling. A lot of people fresh out of film school are fabulous at cinematography, say; they know everything about the nuts and bolts, but they don’t make their script perfect before shooting it. They don’t do many, many drafts, and workshop it until it is ready.
Alder: How long did you take to write Camilla Dickinson?
Cornelia: It took me a lot of years to bring Camilla Dickinson to where it should be. I started writing it in 2001 and continued to peck at it between other things I was working on. I tend to put a lot of my scripts in the drawer for a while and let them stew. Madeleine used to always say that with her stories, she always had one on the front burner and several on the back burner or her literary stove, and she kept adding to the stew now and then and waiting for it to be done. That is my process, too. Like you, I have a lot of things in process right now, and some of them aren’t ready to be born yet.
Alder: Seattle is getting quite a reputation for female filmmakers. How do you see female filmmakers shaping the industry?
Cornelia: Just look at our female directors and producers, just that category. There are 10-15 or more in Seattle not just making films, but selling them. That is an important part of Seattle film; people actually get their movies out into the world here. There is good writing, directing, producing and talent in every part of Seattle film crews.
I think that in Seattle we have a lot of women working together in film. It is very powerful, because women manage by collaboration. It’s not that men don’t, it’s that women are known for it, and I think for a reason. Women are relational in our film management style, and the Seattle film community has defiantly benefited from that. We are very much team builders – occasionally we have to strike out on our own but not that often, in Seattle film, in my experience.
Alder: When you are not filmmaking what do you like to do?
Cornelia: I am a mother and a wife and that is my main gig, and the most joyful thing I do. I also write other sorts of things and ride horses, and I hope to get back to my medieval reenactment, jousting, and archery. I read and play video games and table games.
Alder: Are there any new projects you are working on?
Cornelia: I am developing a webseries and four features at various budget levels. The webseries is really hot in my mind right now, because I am doing JourneyQuest Season Two with these wonderful people. Everyone and their dog is doing a webseries right now, for obvious reasons, and I am too.
I am also working on some plays and some theater stuff. My husband and his business partner are starting a new theater, “Thalia’s Umbrella” (Thalia being one of the three Muses in Greek legend), and I am on its Board. Yes we are starting a new theater at this time in our life, because we are crazy, and its super fun.
As we finished up the interview, JourneyQuest was wrapping for the day. Although exhausted from the ambitious filming schedule, each person was eager to talk to Cornelia about the shoot and I was mesmerized by the creative buzz on the set. It is well known and talked about among crew members that a happy, well run set equals success for a film. I can certainly see that with Journey Quest, and have a sense that Cornelia’s collaborative spirit is a huge factor in her success here, and with all she does.