Lila French says she's been underestimated before. I'm not sure how she could feel that way having garnered a degree at MIT, but it goes to show we don't really know the who behind many of the people around us.
Lila's upcoming theatrical premiere, Birdbath, is a film adaptation of the beloved Off Off Broadway playwright Leonard Melfi's most famous play. Since the play opened in New York's East Village in 1965, over 4000 productions of it have been performed around the world. This is the first adaptation done since 1971, when a TV movie was made starring Patty Duke and James Farentino.
Birdbath takes place over the course of one February night in New York. It is, as Melfi described it, an "encounter" between two strangers, a lonely waitress and a prodigal poet, who meet and over the course of the night, form an unexpected connection." It is an archetypal Melfi piece in which the author skirts sentimentality and achieves a state of wistfulness. As Melfi explained, Birdbath was written at a time when, as a bartender himself, "I was almost always dealing with people who were practically strangers to me, but that evokes a whole world of late-night collisions and broken individuals."
Birdbath explores the theme of what it means and what it takes for people to ultimately connect in this large and often isolated world.
Which brings me back to the film's Director/Producer/Actress. Ms. French could also be described as a techie/yogi/pole vaulter. That's right pole vaulter. She doesn't seem to fit into the category of just off the bus looking for fame, which historically describes many of Hollywood's humble beginnings.
As producer, Ms. French tracked down the rights to the play from Leonard's brother, John, where others had failed. Using her day job in technology she saved enough money to embark on the short film (40 minutes). However, as in technology so in Hollywood, things never go quite to plan, projects generally take longer and cost more than expected. In order to finish the film, Lila decided to organize a Kickstarter campaign.
"It was exciting to do the campaign because I got to sort of "share" the project with everyone who knew I was working on it," said Lila. "I was surprised that lots of people I knew from college and high school and even elementary school participated, as well as people from other areas of my life and friends of friends and a few random people. It was gratifying to have the support, and it made me want to make the film as great as possible."
On Directing: Lila originally thought someone else would direct, since she had never directed a film before but during the planning process, she realized she had a clear vision for her version of the play, and wanted to bring it to life. It didn't hurt that her MIT background helped in that she's very comfortable in situations where she has no idea how she's going to get something done.
Every week we'd get some homework assignment or project that seemed impossible at first, but step by step it would be figured out. The film was like that. I'd never made a film before, but I knew step by step I'd figure out what I needed to.
On Acting: Lila plays (and identifies) with the film's main character Velma, who is underestimated. "I love her resilience," says French. French says she always liked acting growing up, but never thought of it as a career option. In high school, she got really interested in math, so she went that route.
Seems like whatever direction Lila French goes, resilience and never to be underestimated, would be a title to add to her many others.
Birdbath's theatrical premiere will be this weekend at the Laemmle in Los Angeles.