If Project Involve were a person, it’d finally be able to rent a car this year (no doubt some sort of sensible hybrid sedan.) That’s right: Film Independent’s signature mentorship and diversity program—dedicated to fostering the careers of filmmakers hailing from underrepresented backgrounds—turns 25 this year. And with PI’s quarter-century celebration comes an opportunity not just to celebrate the program itself, but also the many great filmmakers who have passed through its doors—numbering literally hundreds of talented new artists.
As part of the program, each year teams of PI Fellows gather together to work on a series of original short films. Many of these films have gone on to acclaim at film festivals worldwide and have helped to launch the careers of Fellows including Andrew Ahn (Spa Night), Effie T. Brown (Real Women Have Curves), Justin Simien (Dear White People), Rhys Ernst and countless others.
To celebrate Project Involve’s 25th anniversary, we’ll be revisiting some of our favorite PI shorts of yesteryear on Film Independent’s YouTube channel—something we’re calling “Project Involve Selects.” First up, from PI’s 2013 edition: 7 Day Gig, written and directed by Kate Marks.
The film tells the story of a young man (Winston Story) who’s left adrift between two cultures—Guamanian and Jewish—when his father dies, eventually hiring a trio of unlikely freelance mourners to help sit shiva with him after his father dies. The results are equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. Watch the film below:
We recently spoke to Marks to discuss her time in Project Involve, the personal experiences that led her to create 7 Day Gig and what she’s been up to since finishing the program. A lot, it sounds like! Here’s the conversation:
KATE MARKS AND ‘7 DAY GIG’
Tell me about when you decided to apply to Project Involve. How did you learn about the program and what made you want to apply?
Marks: Well, I’d done an internship at Film Independent when I was in film school. My mentor was Abigail Severence. I came from the theater and I was looking for an organization that was hub for independent filmmaking because I’d done a similar internship for theater in New York. I was like, well, what’s the equivalent in LA? It became clear that there’s nobody supporting independent film in the way that Film Independent is. So that immediately seemed like the place to go. I was graduating from film school when the applications were out and my mentor was saying you should apply. So that’s the story.
How did 7 Day Gig come together? How did your team settle on that idea, with you as director?
Marks: They assigned us a prompt. It was like, “Talk about a character and their conflict with a cultural tradition.” I started out by thinking about a story from my family. When my grandfather wanted to marry somebody who wasn’t Jewish, his mother sat shiva for him. He announced that he was getting married and his mother was like, okay, “Well now you’re dead to me so I’m going to sit shiva for you.” I was thinking about that and my proposal to them was that story. But it was really hard for me to get into that story. It was at that time, in-between graduating from film school and [getting into Project Involve], that my dad passed away. I remember coming back to LA and being sort of disoriented. There was no map through my grief, basically. I had no tradition that was going to walk me through the grieving process. I felt like what was lost when my grandfather married outside of the faith was this tradition.
Tell me about the actual shoot itself.
Marks: We shot in my husband’s and my apartment. I always like to work with design elements. So we basically transformed the apartment to a different person’s apartment. We had to move all of our furniture into our bedroom and paint the walls. I had just made a film out in Lancaster and it was a really crazy adventure through the desert and this was like waking up in your own home and stepping onto a film set. It was hard, because the things you wouldn’t think about shooting in your apartment are like, there’s not enough space for all the equipment. So every time we turned around we had to move all of the equipment to the other side of the room. But I just remember feeling like it was like a shiva, just the beauty of everyone going out to eat together.
Wow, that’s so great.
Marks: It was in the air, it wasn’t just me. The production designer had also just lost a parent. The composer Beth Caucci—I adore her, I met her through this project and we continue to work on other projects—it was this strange thing where she also lost her dad a couple months before the project. It was the whole team working through their grieving process.
Taking a step back, what are some of the most helpful things you think took away from Project Involve?
Marks: That year, the money was coming from very specific organizations that we needed to collaborate with, basically. So it was a really great way to say, “Okay, this is my voice, how do I stay true to my voice and then work with these other guidelines. I think that was a really awesome experience.” The other thing is, the program throughout the whole year had a lot of workshops and so many amazing experts and industry gurus who would come in. You’d sit around a table and they’d tell you all their secrets. It was a crash course in the industry. I’m still meeting with Fellows and [we’re] still supporting each other.
Lastly, tell us what you’re working on now or what you’ve been up to post-Project Involve.
Marks: After PI, I did the HBO Access directing fellowship and in that program I made a pilot, Manic, that screened at the Project Involve showcase and that we’ve screened at a bunch of festivals. I also finished another film that premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It played at the Queens World Film Festival and won Best Narrative Short there. I’m working on my first feature; I’m working on the script of that and a couple of pilots. I just like making work.
To learn more about Project Involve including how to apply, just click here. Are you interested in supporting Project Involve? Just click here. To learn more about Kate Marks, please visit her website.