Laura Hunter Drago on her company New Girl Pictures and ‘To the New Girl’
Laura Hunter Drago may come across as your typical actress, but that’s exactly what makes her stand out. Educated at the Tisch School, Drago spent many years as an actress before deciding to branch out into producing. But it was more than just wanting to shift behind the camera: Drago wanted to give female filmmakers opportunities to use their voice.
Founding New Girl Pictures alongside her lifelong friend Samantha Macher, the two worked together to produce their first full length feature, To the New Girl. Premiering this August, the film focuses on ten women at an open mic night sharing letters they wrote to their ex’s new love.
The film has been wildly successful on the festival circuit, with screenings at the Queen Palm International Film Festival, the Golden State Film Festival, and the FEMINYSTA Film Fest. We were lucky to speak with Drago about To the New Girl and the success of New Girl Pictures.
Make sure to stream To the New Girl on Vimeo and Amazon.
Tell us about your journey in film. What did you do before becoming a filmmaker?
I began as an actress. I started out in theatre in the Washington, D.C. area when I was a kid, ended up going to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for acting in college, and then eventually found my way out to Los Angeles and branching into more film acting. I’ve definitely been through the years of auditions and callbacks, and all the ups and downs that come with being an actor.
I also started helping out friends who were making their own projects as a producer, which gave me a little bit of a bug for that. The film I just released, To the New Girl (a movie about the end of relationships with a slam poetry vibe that’s currently available on Prime Video Direct) is my first feature as producer and has really sent me into full scale filmmaker mode.
I’ve found that I love championing the work of other people after so many years of trying to promote myself as an actress, there’s just something that feels much more rewarding to me to be focused outside of myself these days!
What movie or TV show inspired you to become a filmmaker?
My dog’s name is Buffy after Buffy the Vampire Slayer because that show was completely formative for me as both a filmmaker and a feminist. I wrote fanfiction, was in all the online forums back in the early 2000’s, the works. I even wrote my college application essay on the show!
Do you have any experience with mentors? Would you recommend them for up and coming filmmakers?
You know, that’s something I wish I had more of as an adult and I do think it becomes harder and harder to find just because everyone’s time is already stretched so thin. Certainly when I was in school I had teachers that served as great mentors. These days it is more that I’m working with peers and collaborators to inspire and lift each other up.
I’m the Assistant Editor-in-Chief of a website that focuses on female entrepreneurs in entertainment, Ms. in the Biz, and that community has been invaluable for me in terms of meeting other women who are doing independent film and making things happen.
Walk us through your creative process.
I’m a planner, for sure. If there’s not a solid to-do list it isn’t happening for me. By day I also do a lot of work in project management, so that’s heavily influential in my creative process. I find that if I manage my days well timewise I end up with extra hours where free thinking can happen.
In recent history, a lot of my creative work has been about taking content and writing that other people have worked on, translating that into projects with limited budgets, and figuring out how to make them work. For To the New Girl, we were working with a play… often filmed theatre loses its excitement in between the mediums.
I had an idea to shift the premise of the project just slightly to make it so that our lead actresses were participating in an “open mic” night rather than in a play. That allowed us to keep within budget, shoot word-for-word from the play script, but give an exciting new take on the project that allowed the film aspect to amplify it rather than take away from it.
Is there any music you listen to to help you create?
I’m a big music listener while I’m working, for sure, there’s a lot of Spotify going on. I’m not picky, either, and I wouldn’t say I even have a specific type of music that I listen to… I like to hear new stuff! Lately I’ve been on a lot of Maggie Rogers, Ben Platt, Halsey, and Taylor Swift’s awesome new Folklore. We also made a “Breakup Playlist” on Spotify for To the New Girl, just for fun, which you can listen to here.
What was the first movie you worked on? What did you learn from that experience?
I was a stand in for the lead actress in a Disney movie right after I finished college, that’s how I got my SAG card! It was such a good experience on many levels. Learning a set, the lingo, how the days work, who does what, and seeing how someone at the top of the call sheet handled her position and was so professional and kind.
It was a real crash course in movie making and I found myself fascinated with the production side of things even then.
What made you want to open your production company, New Girl Pictures?
That was born out of creating To the New Girl as a film, since it is our first big release it felt right to name the company after that project. It also encompasses our mission well, which is to get more women working both in front of and behind the camera.
We’re really proud that To the New Girl is many of our team’s first feature film. I love being able to give that initial opportunity to other women and seeing them able to use it as a launching point to get other work, too.
You founded the company with longtime friend Samantha Macher. What has it been like working closely with her?
Sam and I have been friends since we were 14 year old Catholic high schoolers! We have always gotten along really well, and we were doing theatre and other creative projects together even back then so this all feels very easy and fun now.
We live on opposite sides of the country, too, so it has been a great excuse to stay connected through the distance. If you’ve seen To the New Girl or read any of Sam’s writing, you’ll know that she is also absolutely hilarious, so quick-witted, and smart as heck. Those are all great things to have in a friend and creative partner.
Is there a part of the filmmaking process you prefer more than the others? Why?
Essentially I enjoy all of the parts when I’m working directly with other people, and not so much the long hours alone dealing with administrative stuff!
What inspired you to create To the New Girl?
The movie is based on a play of the same name that started being workshopped about seven years ago, and I saw one of the initial public readings.
I thought it would make a great film project, and would be something that actresses would be excited about because it is difficult to find projects for women that are so character-driven and meaty like this. Since Sam and I had known each other for such a long time, it was a pretty easy decision to move forward with it.
What was your experience making To the New Girl?
The movie was funded through a Kickstarter campaign that I ran, but we were still working with a true micro-budget of around $20K. We shot the whole film in three days, and then spent several years in post-production, not so much because things took a long time but because we had to wait for everyone’s schedules to open up in between picking up other work.
So, it was a long process, but in a way that’s been nice because I’ve had a chance to get to know everyone we worked with really well and now that we’re finally released everyone is even more excited about it.
You tend to wear a lot of hats during your productions. What’s that like?
Are you an astrology person? I’m an Aries stellium… so I tend to like being in charge of things. It’s a blessing and a curse! I do like to do a lot, and I love learning new things in general, so if there’s something that needs to be picked up and I think I can do it, I will.
To the New Girl has been working the festival circuit to great praise. What has been your favorite part of the press tour with the film?
Thank you! It’s been an interesting year with festivals because so many events have been cancelled or sort of indefinitely postponed, so that’s been a little sad (though in the grand scheme of things, a very small thing.) We did get to do both our cast & crew premiere and our festival premiere early in the year, though, and I’m so grateful for that.
We premiered at the TCL Chinese 6 theatres at Hollywood & Highland, which was a complete dream come true for me. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I did a ton of volunteer work for various festivals around town as a way to meet people–something I highly recommend that people who are new in town do!
I had spent countless hours watching other movies at the Chinese 6, so seeing my own there was a pinch me moment for sure.
With COVID-19 affecting film festivals around the world, how have you adjusted your promotion plan for To the New Girl?
One of the things that happened was that we pushed back our release date from May to August, just because things were such a roller coaster this spring. I think we were hoping that everything would have been more “back to normal” by now, and unfortunately that hasn’t happened as we all know.
In a weird way, though, I do think that with people staying home more everyone is looking for new and fresh content to watch, so we’ve gotten a little more traction for an indie film than we might have in a more “normal” year.
New Girl Pictures has several projects on the docket for 2021. Is there anything you can tease about your upcoming work?
We have a couple of options for what’s next and are kind of waiting to see what state the world is in before we make a decision. We have one script that’s focused on a bachelorette party that could be shot with a very small team, so that may be what falls into place!
Over the summer, we also made a micro-short animated film called The Echo which was done entirely remotely… that was a fun little piece to put together at the height of the quarantine times that really helped me stay feeling sane and creative.
What does your five year plan look like?
I’m hoping to write more of my own work, and have a couple of things brewing there. I’d like to get another feature off the ground, and since To the New Girl took about four years from concept to completion I’ll say that I’d love it if the next one took half that time!
Could we see any episodic TV from you in the future?
I’ve actually always been a TV girl at heart, because I enjoy long-form stories. That’s something I’d love to get into. I recently had a friend tell me I should be a showrunner, which is a lofty dream for sure but I’ll put that out to the universe!
Are there any indie filmmakers we should be keeping an eye on?
So many of my friends are just doing amazing work. Alexandra Boylan, a filmmaker and actress who actually plays Alexis in To the New Girl, is always doing really cool things in female-lead faith based films and has an awesome new project called Switched that’s coming out next month.
My good friend Deborah Lee Smith also released a film called Here Awhile this summer, starring Anna Camp in a really wonderful performance, and I love that movie.
If any director could direct the story of your life, who would you choose and why?
Oh, Greta Gerwig for sure… but the movie might be a little redundant for her because I way overidentified with Lady Bird enough that it felt like it could have been my life story! ;)
If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would you choose and why?
Almost Famous. I’m a sucker for music-focused movies (one of my big dreams is to produce and write one) and that one for me just always hits right in the heart. Great soundtrack, perfect performances and script, Kate Hudson just being generally magical, and that bittersweet ending… what more could you want?!
Don’t miss out and make sure to stream To the New Girl on Vimeo and Amazon.