Chelsea O’Connor is a Los Angeles based filmmaker who loves making genre films and often writes dystopian sci-fi scripts with undercurrents of important social issues. When she’s not writing, directing, or producing, you can probably find Chelsea somewhere near the beach. She is a native Michigander, and will still show you where she’s from by pointing to her hand.
How did you get started in the film business? What are some projects you’ve worked on?
I actually got started as an actress. I studied Theatre Performance at The University of Michigan. While there, I worked on a couple short films and the feature film Bilal’s Stand, which premiered at Sundance in 2010. That same year I moved from New York to Los Angeles to continue acting, and that’s when I began writing and shooting short videos. I discovered my love for working behind the camera and never looked back!
In the beginning, I shot a lot of shorts meant for the internet. Some of my favorites of those are “The Waitress Rap” and “Girls on the Street.” But my biggest, most exciting project to date is my sci-fi/ fantasy short film Susie Sunshine, which I wrote, directed, and produced. Susie Sunshine had a full year screening at film festivals across the country and is now available to watch on filmshortage.com.
Susie Sunshine is a very unique take on the science fiction genre. What inspired it and how long did it take to make? Tell us more about the production process and some of the challenges you faced.
The inspiration of Susie Sunshine is multi-layered but mainly comes from my past job experiences as well as my own awareness of my emotional self. The summer after I graduated high school I shoveled coal at a power plant in Michigan. (I know this sounds untrue, but I have the photos to prove it). I also have worked in a large corporation that inspired a lot of the ins and outs of my fictional conglomerate Martin Energy.
As far as the idea itself – women who can turn their emotions into a useful energy resource- this stemmed from a long train of thought that begun by the simple question, “what if my emotions could be sold for a profit?” Honestly, I could go on forever about the inspirations for the film but I’ll leave it at that.
I worked on the script for a year before bringing on a team of people, and then we worked another 15 months until the first screening at the LA Women’s International Film Festival. The production process was challenging just by the sheer volume of people and departments working on the film (in the end the cast, crew, and post-production team was over 90 people). That’s a lot of moving parts to keep track of! But I had such an incredible group of people working on this film. They are the reason the film really came together as well as it did.
The biggest singular challenge though was probably locations. We shot two days on a soundstage, one day at the John Ferraro Building, and one day at Sony. The soundstage we initially booked (I won’t say who) gave our reservation to someone else and didn’t tell us until the week before filming began. And we didn’t find the location that ended up being shot at Sony until 5 days before filming. It all turned out great in the end though. Sony was perfect, and the new soundstage we found was bigger, better, and more affordable! But I would be lying if I didn’t say there were a couple days where it was not looking good.
Now that the film is out, how has it been received and what are you working on next?
It is very exciting for the film to be out in the world and for people to finally see it. We had quite a few supporters along the way that weren’t able to make it to a screening. It has been wonderful for those people that stood by us for so long to finally see the film.
At the moment, I’ve got a few things going. I’m actually developing a one-hour drama based off Susie Sunshine. And as a producer, I worked on a short film directed by LaMonte Edwards that is in post-production, and I’m in production for a 16 episode web-series called “Duck World”, written and directed by Alex Grybauskas.
And in a totally different direction, I am co-hosting a podcast with Michael Zannettis titled “We Can Talk About.” It is going to touch on the framing of current politics and dystopian sci-fi films that touch on political and social issue expressions. It’s going to be fun! The first episode comes out on June 29th.
You’ve produced many comedic shorts and music videos that feature issues facing modern women (waitressing, work opportunities, etc.) – What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing females in film and what can we do about them?
The biggest issue facing women in film is that more people need to hire us. It’s really that basic. The film industry, like almost every other industry out there, likes to hire people based on connection and referral. I know I do! I hired almost my entire team for Susie Sunshine (90 people!) because someone somewhere vouched for their work. But this industry is so dominated by men that it is difficult to break the cycle. So the same people get hired over and over again, and very few of those people are women.
You know what you can do? Read the resumes with female names first. I’m not saying don’t look at all the referrals, but consider them first. And if you ever put out a call for a job and only men are referred for it, ask more people until you can find at least one woman to consider. Basically, just be aware. We’re out there!
We also noticed you perform in some of our videos; what inspires those portrayals?
I started filmmaking as a means to create more roles for myself (which is kind of the norm these days). So a lot of those performances just came out of little parts of my personality.
Describe your dream collaboration project.
My dream project? Which one? Haha! Honestly I mostly dream about working on high-quality stories with awesomely talented people. I have made so many incredible friends with actors, writers, producers, costumers, makeup artists, the list goes on and on. And I just want to keep working with all of them. Because who doesn’t love working with their friends?
We loved your Waitress rap video. If you became a full-time rap star, what would you rapper name be?