Love & empathy: Get to know ‘Mel and Ruby’ filmmaker Julia Manis
Were you watching blockbusters, wondering if you could be the next mega film actress? Thankfully Julia Manis was and has become a passionate and hard-working actress from Orange County.
Currently Julia Manis produces, writes, and stars in a number of iconic & indie films like Ride Overshare & She Had It Coming. But her latest piece Mel and Ruby has brought cinephiles into a whole new level of cinema and took the Sherman Oak Film Festival by storm!
Take a look at the star’s rise to fame!
Have you always wanted to be an actress? Tell us about your journey?
I’d have to say…yes! I remember wanting to be an actor after seeing Rachel Weisz in “The Mummy” when I was a kid. I would constantly stage performances in my living room and entertain my family. My beloved grandpa often said: “She’s going to be a stand-up comedian some day.”
From 7th to 12th grade, I attended the prestigious Orange County School of the Arts. It was a really incredible school. The teachers were wonderful and super supportive of all of us. They taught us that our voice mattered and to make positive change in the world. It was a rigorous schedule, so I definitely honed my training and work ethic there. I have nothing but fond memories from that school. A lot of my classmates and teachers introduced me to cool indie films, music from all eras, and amazing writers. I was exposed to a lot of incredible art at a young age that shaped me into the artist I am today.
Next, I received my BFA in Acting from USC. Here, I fine-tuned my acting process and strengthened my vocal and movement technique. Not to mention USC has a fantastic film school. I was lucky enough to take a couple film classes and deepen my love for the art form.
Since then, I’ve been living in LA continuing my acting and film education. I quickly learned that you need to be a self-starter in order to thrive in this industry. So I started producing small projects with my friends just to have an opportunity to act with some of my talented peers. The productions were very amateur at first. And slowly, but surely I developed my filmmaking skills and graduated from iPhone productions to professional-grade sets.
That childhood love of performing hasn’t gone away. I’m happiest when I’m acting, so I’ve found ways to stay busy. Consistency is key! When I’m not auditioning, I’m in class, rehearsing for a play, producing content, or collaborating with friends.
Are you involved in any acting communities?
I’m a member of SAG/AFTRA. I’m also a member of The Road Theatre. Currently, I take class at Nancy Banks Studios. In the past, I’ve studied at John Rosenfeld Studios, The BGB Studio, and UCB.
What was it like starring in the short film Ride Overshare?
Amazing! And slightly terrifying. It was the first script I ever wrote, so I was incredibly anxious about that. My co-star, Rachel Rosenbloom, had been my classmate for years. She’s such a joy to act with and one of the most supportive people I know. I just had a DP and Sound Mixer on set: Erin Davis & Nathan Edmondson. Both of them were so lovely to work with. My friend Chelsea Lloyd was there for moral support. Yet another friend of mine, Dre Lamparello, was the Hair/Makeup Artist. I was surrounded by truly wonderful people and that made my job as actor, writer, and producer much easier.
As a writer, talk us through your creative process.
I tend to be a very intuitive writer. I’m a big fan of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” So, most of my story ideas have come from writing my morning pages. Once I have an idea I really love, I figure out what the best format would be for that story.
Since I started screenwriting several years ago, I’ve taught myself script structure and craft. I haven’t perfected it yet, but every time I write something it gets a little easier. I write an outline — usually while listening to music that puts me into the world of the story. And then from there, I usually do a vomit draft where I get everything out. There tends to be a lot of exposition and way too much dialogue in that draft, so I edit it down bit by bit until it feels more cinematic. Once it’s gotten to a solid place, I either host a table reading or send it to trusted friends for feedback. And rewrite, rewrite, rewrite!
What’s your favorite film genre to appear in?
Drama or dark comedy! I secretly dream of acting in a fun horror or thriller movie like “The Invitation” or the “Scream” franchise. I’m manifesting it!
Which actors have inspired you the most throughout your career?
Viola Davis, Allison Janney, Phoebe Waller Bridge. I’m particularly inspired by actors that come from a background of strong training and actors that also write and produce.
How did you feel when you saw your latest project Mel & Ruby come to life?
Empowered, proud, and thankful. This film was incredibly close to my heart. Reproductive justice is a cause that is very important to me and it’s been lovely hearing people’s positive responses to the depiction of reproductive care in the film. I took a big risk when I decided to crowdfund this project. It’s something I’ve never done before and that made it so much more gratifying when we successfully surpassed our goal.
My family was also involved in a lot of different aspects of the film and that gave it a personal touch. My mom was in charge of craft services and she makes a cameo in it; my cousin Ryan composed the song “By My Side”; my brother-in-law Justin designed the poster; my parents and sisters made significant contributions to our crowdfunding campaign, as well as all of my cousins and aunts/uncles; my sister Caroline helped me with the film’s accessibility elements. I was so touched to have that support from my family. It means the world that they believe in me and were willing to help out in any way that they could.
Tell us about your working relationship with Skylar Schock?
I just love Skylar. She’s a multi-hyphenate like me and she inspires me to keep creating. We are frequent collaborators and I know we will be for life! We first worked together on the short film Inconvenient, written and directed by Kayla Baken (another fabulous talent who makes a cameo in Mel and Ruby).
Skylar & I also co-starred in the short film She Had it Coming (written by Anna Keizer and directed by Gedde Watanabe) which is rocking the festival circuit right now! She was my rock from crowdfunding to post-production. She’s such a generous soul and is always creating connections and opportunities for her friends. Plus she’s so kind, talented, hilarious, intelligent, and driven. I’m so lucky to know her.
What do you want audiences to take away from watching Mel & Ruby?
I hope audiences connect with the theme of empathy. This story is specific to two friends, but I hope audiences can expand it out into a larger metaphor. In our relationships – whether that’s with loved ones, acquaintances, or strangers – we must take the person in front of us as they are without shame or judgment. Lead from love and understanding.
This film was very much inspired by my own personal experiences with anxiety and vulnerability. I understand how terrifying it can be to share your authentic self with others, sometimes even with the people who are closest to us. I wanted this film to create a space where people could feel safe sharing their truth. My hope is that audiences feel understood and represented.
I hope audiences appreciate this complex, yet ultimately supportive friendship between two women represented on film. That’s something I didn’t see a lot when I was growing up, and I’m so thankful that’s changing in the industry. Authentic representation is essential. It is incredibly harmful when groups are represented as cliches, monoliths, inaccurately, or as the punchline of a joke. I strived for authentic representation when writing this film and I sincerely hope that comes across.
You’ve successfully starred on the web series, Stepford SideChix. Do you see yourself working on more web/tv series in the future?
Definitely! That web series was a lot of fun to work on. Lenore Coer is the brilliant actor, writer, producer behind Stepford SideChix. They were in their second season, but they made me feel so welcome on set. It’s an ensemble of incredibly talented and hilarious women and I felt so honored to be in their presence. Series are so fun to work on, because you get to explore the journey with an ensemble of actors and crewmembers. It reminds me a lot of theater in that way.
You received your BFA for acting from USC and have won many awards since. What do you consider your biggest success?
I would say that Mel and Ruby has been my biggest success thus far. It was my first large-scale production as a writer/producer and I’m proud of what we achieved. My intention was to tell the story in a very raw and honest way – my cast & crew helped make that happen!
Our crowdfunding campaign was a tremendous learning experience. We reached 101% of our goal and that was such a major achievement. Plus, our festival run happened during COVID – the fact that we were accepted as official selections for several festivals is a major accomplishment in my book.
Do you find it challenging to star in the films you’ve also written?
It’s initially nerve-wracking, especially since I’m relatively new to writing. Once I hear my script out loud a few times, I can relax. But there’s always that initial anxiety of “I hope people connect with this”.
What has it been like to work alongside indie filmmakers (like Oran Zegman)?
Oran Zegman was incredible to work with. She is so grounded and has a wonderfully dark sense of humor. Working with her was such a collaborative experience. She’s incredibly intuitive and has fantastic instincts. She’s great at making everyone feel comfortable on set, which helps actors really shine in their performances. I know she’s destined for great things and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future!
Has it been difficult to get your work out into the world during the pandemic?
I’ve definitely had to pivot. In some ways, it was more difficult. For instance, some of the film festivals I had originally planned on submitting to either postponed or cancelled altogether. So I had to adjust my festival strategy. But people have also been eager for new content, so that’s made it easier in some ways.
Do you have advice for actors struggling during lockdown?
Act just for the fun of it! If you live with someone, pick up a play or script and read through it just for fun. During lockdown, one of the things that’s fueled me creatively is creating self-tapes from TV shows or films that I love. The material is so fun to work on and I love sharing it with my network on Instagram.
I spent a great deal of lockdown reflecting on my “why” – why I got into acting, why I still want to pursue it, etc. It’s always good to reconnect with your why, but especially right now. I would advise actors to get very specific on what they want their artistic journey to look like once lockdown ends. Maybe that means exploring a new type of performance like voiceover or theater or one-person shows. Or maybe it means developing new skills like writing, stunts, or improv. Explore every avenue and find what works for you!
And don’t be afraid to reach out. A simple text or email letting someone know that you’re thinking of them can go a long way. I’ve certainly appreciated those messages this past year.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?
I’m working on a few script ideas right now, so we’ll see!
What are your ultimate career goals?
Mainly, I’d just love to be able to be an actor for the rest of my life. More specifically, I’d love to start a production company and collaborate with friends and artists that inspire me. Eventually I’d like to write, produce, and star in a feature film. I’d also really love to perform Shakespeare again. It was my first love in arts school, but I haven’t had an opportunity to be a part of a Shakespeare play in a long time.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Find your community. As artists, sometimes we can feel quite lonely in our creative pursuits. LA can also feel like a very isolating place. I’m thankful that I have a community of talented, passionate, and encouraging friends and mentors. Community helps us feel supported and hopeful.
What’s your favorite film of all time and why?
I have so many favorites! For now, I’ll say Girl, Interrupted. There are so many powerful performances in that film. I remember watching that as a pre-teen and feeling inspired to become the best actor I could be.
What indie writers/filmmakers should be on our radar?
Some of my favorites: Leslye Headland, Amma Asante, Marielle Heller, Lorene Scafaria, Lynn Shelton, Karyn Kusama, Dee Rees, Jeff Nichols, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lulu Wang, Darius Marder, Eliza Hittman, Steve McQueen, Kelly Reichardt, and so many more.