Trending News
Annika Marks from the Indie film, 'Killing Eleanor', celebrated the premiere at the 2020 Savannah Film Festival. Here's what Marks had to share.

Has Annika Marks made her mark in the indie film ‘Killing Eleanor’?

Annika Marks from the Indie film, Killing Eleanor, who celebrated the premiere of their film at the 2020 Savannah Film Festival which resulted in a WIN for Best Narrative, will release it in the U.S. via streaming on October 12th, 2021 (acquired and distributed by 1091).

The film features a wide variety of dynamic, flawed, relatable female characters. Over half of the cast is female, including both leads (Annika Marks & Jenny O’Hara) and both major supporting roles (Jane Kaczmarek & Betsy Brandt). There was strong female representation behind the scenes as well. 

With 50% of Producers and 60% of department heads being female – including Director of Photography (Jessica Young – 2 Distant Strangers, Oscar Winner for Best Live Action Short Film), Production Designer (Chelsea Daly), and 1st AD (Jennifer Wilkinson). In addition, 100% of the vocalists on all 16 songs used in the film are from female artists. Here’s Annika Marks and her take on her indie film Killing Eleanor.

Q&A with Annika Marks

Tell us about your history in acting. How did you first get your start? 

I attended the Circle in the Square Theatre Conservatory in NYC right out of high school and never looked back. At the time, I figured a back-up plan was a bad idea, because maybe I’d use it. So I just dove in and committed 150% to acting. I started in theatre, both in New York and LA. At the same time, I started doing background and stand-in work, and that became my acting-for-the-camera training. I did a whole season of stand-in work on “The Sopranos” and every day, watching those masters work from the sidelines, was an education. I never took a leap as an actor. I feel like I touched every rung on the ladder, up to as far as I  ever got. And I often took steps backwards before advancing. I did countless shorts and readings and workshops and I made a lot of mistakes when the stakes were low.  

The job that really changed things for me was “The Sessions”— a job that only came about because the wonderful casting director, Ronnie Yeskel, had been brought to a play of mine years before by Dawn  Steinberg— the head of casting at Sony, who is exactly the kind of person you hope becomes the head of casting— she loves actors so much and champions them with all of her might. And Ronnie remembered me when a role came up that I was right for, opposite John Hawkes, and had me meet with Ben Lewin, the writer and director. 

Once that small movie became a big movie, it helped change things for me, and a lot more opportunities opened up. But I was still doing what I’d always done— saying yes to every opportunity  (unless it was porn— that’s where I drew the line), walking through the open doors, staying grateful and available for the next turn in the road, and remembering that every gig, no matter the size or venue, was a  chance to grow. 

What great actors are you inspired by? 

These days I’m most inspired by multi-hyphenates. Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel, Sharon Horgan.  The content they’re all making blows me away as a writer and an actor. Their voices are so clear and they’re telling the kind of intimate, personal stories I want to watch. I’m so grateful to be a storyteller in this moment, because when I get beaten down, all I have to do is look to them and my optimism is reinstated. They pulled up a seat at the table, and the table was so much better for it. 

What films first made you fall in love with the craft? 

I was obsessed with musicals as a kid. All of them. I was allowed to rent one VHS each week, and I’d only rent musicals, in alphabetical order. When I finished “Yentl” I’d start again with “All That Jazz”. They transported me to another world and they combined the theatricality that I LOVED (and still love) with the intimacy of the movies. It was the best of both worlds, and it really helped set my course. 

You wrote and starred in Killing Eleanor. Can you tell us where the concept for the story came from? 

Sure! When I was 21 I subletted an apartment from an old woman in NYC. She’d hand-written the lease on this yellow legal pad, and before having me sign, she off-handedly said— “unless you want to agree to help kill me when I’m ready to go, in which case, you can have the place for free”. I assumed it was a joke and laughed. So she laughed too. And I signed and got the place. 

But, I never stopped thinking about that moment, because I’m not sure she was kidding. And, even if she was, she was having that thought. And she was sharing it with a stranger. And I started to wonder how someone might get there– to a place in their life where they’d ask that of a stranger. 

That’s where Eleanor was born. And then I decided the person she roped into her plan should be someone who was also dancing on the edge of life and death, so I  made her an addict. I have addiction in my family, and I know the family disease side of it, which is what I  ultimately wrote about. It’s a story about how we die, but what it’s really exploring is how we live. 

Have you always been a writer? 

I have, but not publicly. I did a lot of writing in secret. But I didn’t have a discipline around it, so I had lots of ideas and would just dive in and start projects that I couldn’t figure out how to finish. It wasn’t until I met my husband, Rich, who read some of my work and was so clear-eyed about the fact that I was a writer—  and knowing this person who saw me so clearly, saw me that way— it helped me see myself differently.  And I asked for his help, to build a discipline. He went the film school route, and he’s mostly a director  (and a FANTASTIC one), but he’s also done a lot of writing, and he was able to offer me structure and verbiage that helped me find my footing.  

It’s funny, looking back, I had mistakingly believed that you had to pick a lane and stay in it. And I felt like I  needed to stay in the lane of being an actor. I was the actor who never went to her trailer. I was always hanging around video village to watch everything; always tackling new plays because I wanted to help doctor scripts. But it took me a long time to really believe that I could be more; that stories could start with me. And then, once I got there, it was like learning a new way to breathe. I still have the old way. And when I get to use it, I love it. But day-to-day, I breathe in this new way that uses all of me. And I feel very lucky that I’m finally here. It’s where I belong. 

Will you walk us through your creative process when you’re writing? 

Inspiration hits me in all sorts of different ways— sometimes it’s so slow— all I’ll have is an image or a  sentence or a title or a name. Sometimes it’s that I see the ending of a story. Or the twist. Sometimes it’s more cerebral— a theme or topic I want to explore. Sometimes an idea comes and I don’t write it down— it just sits in my cluttered head, and manages not to drown, and the fact that it’s still alive a year later means  I have to write it. Sometimes the idea grabs ahold of me and I start writing and burp out a draft of something before I’ve taken the time to figure out why.  

However it happens, I pretty much reverse-engineer the course. I write first and outline second. I know that sounds crazy, but once I’ve written something (most of which isn’t in the script in the end!)— that’s  when I start to get clarity about what I really want to say. I find it hard to do the VERY important work of piecing apart the story, the arcs, the themes, the beats until I’ve found my characters voices and created the world, and I only know how to do that by writing.  

That said— if I’m working for someone I can work very differently, and that’s a really fun exercise. It’s not like I can’t write in a more traditional and efficient way. It’s just that, when I’m writing for myself, this is how I go about it naturally. 

What music inspires you to create? 

I’m not much of a music listener when I write. Rich and I have an 8-month-old, so there are a lot of Casper  Babypants in our life, but music distracts me. I want to be one of those writers who creates playlists for my characters (I always create playlists when I’m acting) and writes songs into my scripts for key moments. I’m just not. Every once in a while it’s an undeniable need, and I have to find the right thing. But typically, I like to write in quiet, so I can hear my character’s voices. Which, as you can imagine, can be hard to come by with a baby! 

How did it feel to act in a role that you created yourself? 

So natural. I never had to search for anything. I knew Natalie inside and out. I could think of her. It was a  real dream come true artistically. I felt like I could go anywhere and do anything in her skin. 

What was it like to work with director Rich Newey to bring your story to life? 

Well, Rich is my husband, and we’re still married, so pretty great! Like I said before, Rich is a truly incredible director. There was never any question in my mind that he had to direct this movie. But it took a  while for it to really become his. He was so respectful of the fact that I wrote it, that he was hesitant to take the ownership of it that he needed to in order to direct it. We spent a lot of time in very early prep talking about that, and how this had to become a shared vision now. And really, it had to become his vision. I knew he would never shoot me down. I could always interfere if I thought he was making a choice that wasn’t serving the story, but I honesty can’t remember a time that I felt that way. He’s so sensitive and passionate and he cared so deeply about this project. I trusted him completely as a writer and then as an actor. And then— he edited it, so I watched him really create the finished product in our little home office.  And as tough as I’m sure it was for him to have me over his shoulder, he was very gracious about including me.  

“Killing Eleanor” was a total act of partnership all the way through. I would never have finished the script without his encouragement, so from the very beginning, I always knew this was ours. Our first baby. In preparation for our second baby. Who we managed to make in 10 months. This first one took us 3 years! 

How much did the story change from the page to the screen? 

In some ways very little, but in some ways a lot. I wasn’t precious about the script— I trusted our actors to respect it, but Rich and I both wanted everything to feel lived in and natural, so we wanted them to make everything theirs, and if that meant tweaking lines, I was fine with that. So the script shifted as we were shooting. But bigger than that— we were moving so fast. We shot this in 17 days, and there were like 30  locations and 30 actors or something crazy like that. So there were lots of creative solutions to 

production issues that changed things on the day. And then there was the edit. Everyone talks about the editor being the final writer on a film, but it’s so true! I think we had 14 different openings. And because it was Rich editing, I got to watch that process up close and really take in why the changes were happening.  I learned so much. Watching cut after cut and hearing feedback from people we trusted— we’d have these little living room screenings for friends and then drill them afterwards— it was such an education!  

Also— Rich’s first cut was over 2 hours long! So, you know, cutting. So much cutting. Painful, but necessary. Like, we had a whole storyline with Sharon Lawrence– one of my favorite actors and humans—  and she was amazing, as always, but in the end, the whole section got lifted. It breaks my heart. But,  anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary to tell the story had to go. 

What was the biggest challenge you encountered while working on the film? 

It was a very hard (but incredibly fun) shoot! We didn’t have enough time. Sometimes we were doing 3  moves in a day, and we could never go back to a location once we were done with it, so there was so  much pressure to work efficiently.  

There was one day when it seemed like we were going to get rained out— like the forecast was a torrential  downpour and the skies were grey, and everyone was really anxious— we had the brilliant Camryn  Manheim in town for one day only, and we needed to get this scene on the side of the road— and then, like  magic, the sky cleared and let us film. And even more magical, this train sort of framed our shot and  pulled up right on cue and pulled away on cue. I’m not pretending there weren’t huge challenges. There  were. Lots of them. But this shoot felt magically protected somehow. It was really hot when we started  the shoot and then it was freezing and the hours were long and the budget was tight, but in the end, we all  got a lesson in trust. Well, trust and Jennifer Wilkinson. Our 1st AD who made the impossible possible. I  actually don’t know if we could have done it without Jenn. She’s EXACTLY who you want with you in the  trenches. Calm, centered and composed, but knows how to keep things moving. And she’s also a writer and director, so she offers ideas that help get you out of tight corners while totally honoring the story.  

For me, letting go of the practical stuff once we started shooting, after I’d had my hands in every little detail— I mean every single one— because I had to turn off my producer’s brain and become an actor— that was really tough. But knowing Jenn was holding down the fort, along with our truly incredible producing partners, Richard Kahan and Angie Gaffney, so that I could act and Rich could direct— it allowed me to let go. I mean, that takes so much trust. But I knew it was safe to do, because of the 3 of them. 

What did working on the project teach you as an actor and writer? 

I feel like I’ve answered a bit of this already, but so much. I’m still unpacking the endless lessons. It changed me. I’ve always wanted to be a better team player than I knew how to be. Actors are very siloed,  and it can keep you from understanding the whole sport you’ve signed up for. When actors show up, these little sandboxes have been constructed for them, so they can play safely and do their work. But no one explains the work that went into the construction of that sandbox, and I think there are a lot of actors who would benefit from knowing more about that. I gained a lot of humility and a lot of confidence on this journey. It’s wild to ask this many people to turn your passion project into their passion project. And the way this cast and crew showed up for this story blew my mind. And the responsibility I felt for them was huge. I hope they all felt as appreciated and respected as they were. I think more than anything this project taught me a lot about leadership. And I’m excited to keep learning. 

Do you hope audiences take away anything in particular from watching Killing Eleanor? I hope it helps them have conversations they might otherwise shy away from. We don’t like to talk about death. But it’s this one constant truth. We’re all inching towards it. That sounds dark, but a lot of the darkness is imposed by our discomfort. Our insistence on ignoring it until it’s upon us makes it harder, in my opinion. We want agency over our lives. Why wouldn’t we want agency over the end of our lives? And the only way we’re going to get there is if stories like this one help us get more comfortable with these conversations. That said— “Killing Eleanor” is a really fun ride. Or I should say, I hope it is! Because the easiest way for my mind to be opened is through humor. Make me laugh, and I’ll follow you anywhere. 

Can we expect to see you writing more feature films in the future?

Absolutely! I have a couple features in development right now. I’m working on some bigger studio projects  too, but I never want to stop making indies. I can’t wait to make the next one. Because the freedom that  comes with the scrappiness of it is something I really crave. 

Is there anything you still have on your acting bucket list? 

Oh, sure. I love acting. I’m excited to play aging female characters— the more complex and flawed, the more I want in. But writing has given me the ability to create every day. Even with an 8-month-old, I find the time to write every single day. Whereas, with acting, you have to wait for so many people to come together, and then decide to hire you, before you get to do your work. So I feel like writing is the air that I breathe now and acting is like getting a case of the hiccups— it’s fun and overwhelming and an all-consuming total trip, and then it’s over, and I’m back to breathing this constant, refreshing air. 

If you could only watch one film for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Probably “Once”. I don’t know what it is about that movie, but I never get tired of it. And I always find something new in it. 

Do you have any advice for new actors and writers getting their start? 

Well, mostly not to listen to anyone’s advice. I mean, if there was a road map we’d all have followed it.  There isn’t. There are as many back doors as front doors. But if I had to give advice, it would be that you can’t call yourself an actor and not act. You can’t wait for the opportunities. You have to make them.  Whether that means writing a web series for yourself, or making a bunch of student films or getting involved with a theatre company that does a weekly reading series— you just have to do it. It’s the only way to get better, the only way to get to know your peers, and the only way to be sure that this is what you’re on this earth to do. And I think if you don’t feel that way, better to find what makes you feel that way,  because this isn’t easy. But it is an absolutely wonderful life, if it’s truly for you. 

What can you tell us about your upcoming projects? 

I’ve got a couple TV shows in development that I’m really excited about. And Rich and I are working on an adaptation together, which is a blast. And then I have a few of my own projects that Rich and I are trying to make ourselves, like we did “Killing Eleanor”. And I’m continuing to come up with new ideas. Because I  think that’s the key. I never ever want to stop creating for myself. Forget whether it’s on trend or of the moment or what anyone wants (or thinks they want)— we have to keep telling our own stories. Stories that scare us and move us and excite us. So, I’m going to keep doing that, and hope that some of them even make it to your living room, to potentially scare and move and excite you as well.

Share via:
No Comments

Leave a Comment