With a solid awareness of his roots and priorities, pliant spirit and balanced attitude, Mollica has and continues to carve out opportunities for himself as a performer and content creator. In anticipation of Je Vous Adore, we are excited to share actor/writer/director Chris Mollica‘s zen-beyond-his-years approach to life, art and his various crafts.
WMM: Where are you from, what is your background, and how do you think that informs what you do as a filmmaker?
CM: I hail from the quiet suburbs of Long Island, New York. Long Island definitely influenced me. Like I said, suburbs, quiet, quaint. There were no threats to me daily or anything, I didn’t have to grow up fast. I may actually have remained pretty innocent much longer because of it. Add to that the fact that I lived in a cul-de-sac (a dead end if you don’t go for the fancy words). I played around the neighborhood a lot, on bikes, with my friends, with my imagination. Separately and together. We played outdoor sports, baseball, kickball, right there in front of the house. I look back on it, and it has that magical, Gaussian blur around the edges. Recently when I visited home, my brother and I played frisbee there.
WMM: When did you know you wanted to pursue your craft as a career? Were you supported in your dreams?
CM: I was always artistic. I loved drawing and writing strange stories. I’d have these vivid dreams and would wake up, write them down. They were bizarre and intimately detailed. Then I’d edit them and share them with my parents and teachers, you know, make them appropriate for public consumption. I have a shitty memory, but my mother tells me around the age of seven I said I wanted to be an actor. I can dig that. Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out when I was seven. How does that movie, a man hanging out with cartoons, not make a kid want to be an actor?
My imagination was one of my best friends, still is. I would take my Legos, of which I had a great deal, and construct elaborately plotted adventures of which I, Lego version, was always the hero. Sadly, I wasn’t one of those kids whose mom got approached in the mall and begged them to let their kid become an international star. I’d describe little me as similar to Gollom, body wise, with a couple of big buck teeth. Add to that a healthy dose of clumsy awkwardness. Then I got braces. And glasses. Poor kid.
I was supported in being me, which in retrospect is the best things my parents could’a done for me. I had a drafting table. I had a fold out couch for a while. I would sit at my drafting table, make a comic book or comic book cover (I was into comics) and then lay on my couch and listen to music. I was like a 30 year old man if he lived with his parents. They signed me up for an acting course one summer and I was in the obligatory “Fiddler on the Roof” production, but I wasn’t lightning. No one raved. But I was working on stuff, seeing what I liked in terms of art and who I was, and they supported that. Still do. I think they’re crazy for doing it.
WMM: Did you study anywhere in your field? Where? Any notable stories / experiences / peers / teachers?
CM: I started at Ithaca College. I didn’t make the acting program, but gut feeling brought me there anyway. It was a lucky failure, because the BA Drama program had just the kind of flexibility, and schizophrenic focus, that seems to be a part of my DNA. It also made me work a bit harder, managing to land roles in the mainstage productions. I had some amazing teachers there, notably Susannah Berryman, who wasn’t even my teacher, but a director for a production of “Romeo and Juliet”. She taught me a trust in my presence as an individual that wasn’t there before. I also had the opportunity there to write and direct and really just get things off the ground which, as we all know, is a bitch.
I bounce around when it comes to further training. I like to try everything, see what works for me. Two notable people out here in Los Angeles have been Tracy Aziz and Billy O’Leary. Tracy is over at Playhouse West. They focus on the Stanford Meisner approach. Tracy is brutal in the most beautiful of ways. She sees everything, knows when you’re putting anything on, the moment you betray the truth of a scene. She really helped bring an honesty to my acting that wasn’t there before. Billy is a whole different kind of genius. He just understands film and television, sees through it. Just tiny adjustments he gives you brings something from stagy to camera ready, which I feel is recognized in even the smallest of casting rooms. The most wonderful thing about these people is that there is no pretension about them personally. They’re straight shooters and they care, about the person, about the craft, about the work. It’s passion that draws me in. I don’t go for the hoopla over one acting school or teacher over another. It gets a little zealous in schools, people feeling that their talent lies in the lesson as opposed to themselves. I can easily say that’s a united thing I’ve been taught by the beautiful people through my life: It comes from you.
WMM: What else do you do besides your craft? Day job?
CM: These days I’m lucky enough to not have a day job. I have the occasional odd job still. Recently, I had the joy of collaborating on a feature length documentary. I worked with the director in shaping the piece, finding the right story to tell, helping her stay motivated. It was a wonderful collaboration and if possible I’d like to keep that sort of thing going. Roger Ebert said he would review a film on how well it achieved it’s intention instead of judging it against the great pantheon of films. I try to take that concept into my work, whether acting, writing, collaborating. Understand the thing for itself. There’s no need to put your ruddy fingerprints all over the damn thing. Let it be what it is and get the heck out of the way.
That advice extends to oneself and traffic.
WMM: What is the lowest budget you have worked with? Highest?
CM: I recently shot something for free. We had the camera and sound equipment already. Locations were easy. I fed all the actors well. That’s always a commitment by In the Garage Productions (the production company I run with Brett Brandle, my girlfriend, and our two best friends, Ken and Shawna who happen to be her sister and brother-in-law. Sitcom premise!!).We aim to pay everyone the best wage possible. Since, currently, that isn’t possible, we feed them good food, home cooked and fresh so people can do the best work possible. Therefore lowest, not counting all the Dinosaur episodes I shoot when I’ve got an afternoon free, ZOOOM at $300.
I’ve gotten to play on a few huge budget things; Commercials where a whole city starts and stops at chime of a bell. A TV show that was about aliens. I got shot in that one. Like, mowed down. Personally though, something that I’ve spear headed, is the feature, currently in the “Working Title” department, that we shot earlier this year. All told, she’ll probably come in around ten thousand, give or take a few hundred. That was a hard fought for number. It started at five, but, wow, making a feature. It’s just so much bigger than you can imagine. And in the good/fast/cheap triangle where you can only pick two, ours was good and cheap, so planning, that was extensive. Rewriting. Rewriting. It was a process that has been so immensely rewarding and tiring. It gives you such a respect for everything each member of a cast and crew put into a film. The people working with us, it was side by side, were amazing. Just gave so much. Highest budget, if I could adjust that number for the worth we got from all the creatives… How much did Waterworld cost?
WMM: Describe your first foray into professional film making/acting? First screening? First show?
CM: In 2010, I directed and starred in a short called Freeport. My best friend, Ken Frank wrote it. It was a sprawling little film, shot over three days, $700 shooting budget, twenty eight minutes long. That shit sprawls. And the better for it. We made a movie we liked, and we didn’t know better, and we made thousands of mistakes. It landed itself in the Atlanta Film Festival. Seeing it on the big screen for the first time… It was magic. There were maybe twenty people in the theater and most were there to see some other guys short that played before ours. But I had my popcorn, sat there with the people I loved and watched our movie. Afterward, some other filmmakers that we’d met during the weekend came up to me. They congratulated me on the film and said they were impressed. “You’re a real good actor. We thought cause of the way you were you wouldn’t be good, but you were.” I still don’t know what that means.
WMM: What is the most stressful situation you have found yourself in as an artist? Most rewarding? Most memorable?
CM: I was in a student film forNew York Film Academy. Someone’s thesis. It was this epic movie about vampires, so we’re shooting at night. We shoot something like seven days and didn’t get half the film. It was just this horrible, horrible vibe everywhere. Professional, paid crew were walking off. I found myself fighting on that set and I’m not really a fighting guy. I was just making sure, at a certain point, that people, myself included, wouldn’t get stepped on.
I’m still in the middle of making the film, so I can’t really say the feature. That was an experience though. Learned something new about filmmaking and myself every… fucking…day. The shooting schedule, my co-director Greg Townsend, remarked that it was like camp, and it kinda was. We were all together, these 12 hour days, and everyone is driving. So that was cool, extremely cool.
I had theater group when I first left college and for a short time it was awesome. There was still this ignorant optimism that college perpetuates and we were stinking to high hell of it. We were making ART. A little weird, a little daring, very fun. It was a wonderful thing to have happened. It’s the way, in our industry, to always be forming these little families. You come together for a time and make something together, this weird little baby. Then you split apart, into other couplings. That was my first taste I suppose. I really felt that group splitting up because it was the first. Now, I can see it’s good to be where you are, when you are, with the people you are there with because any moment, curtain falls, we move on. Damn. Death analogy. Sorry about that.
WMM: What are your current project(s)?
CM: Zooom. That’s the no budget short just dropped on the various social medias. I wrote it, directed it, shot it, edited it, made the music. Loved every moment. Then I put it online, for free, because sometimes the babies have to leave the nest.
The feature. Currently titled “The Devil You Don’t”. That may change. I say this, and it’s not like you care. You’ll only know the final name. It’s a comedy drama, a strange look at what a person is made of framed within the context of a pathetic kidnapping. There’s love and death and cookies. Fresh baked cookies. I’m extremely proud of it. Let’s look for it in the new year. Cross your fingers for some sexy festivals.
Working on a few writing projects, alone and with Ken Frank, my writing partner and best friend. We’re just printing money, you know? We’re not going to shoot all these, but they are stories which are pretty dang good so if someone, say Lifetime, or the Hallmark Channel, wants to buy something, we’ve got it. I’ve also got a few for those who want something of meatier substance.
WMM: How has WMM influenced / shaped / supported you with this process/project?
CM: Specifically for “je vous adore”, WMM was huge. They did the first reading of it. Right after, Chad Kukahiko, the freaking swiss army knife himself, comes up to me and offers to direct. It was beautiful, just to feel that excitement, of people wanting to participate. At that point, we already had a director for the whole piece, all three segments. Brett, my girlfriend, producing partner, most trusted confident, is very kind when it comes to my artistic ambitions. I believe I proposed the idea of having a different director for each segment in the film. I tried to spin it as a cost cutting thing, I don’t know. Chad ended up working on the middle section, the meat and potatoes of it all, and killed it.
Sam Mestman did color. Sam Zvibleman directed a segment. Kendall Hawley made a sexy, sexy, sound mix. Denny Kukahiko, cinematography. Honestly, it’s like I walked into a We Make Movies meeting and just hijacked the room. And they delivered, each one. This film was very much about understanding how we wanted to make something. About working with professionals on a professional set. “Freeport” was my dip in the pool, but with je vous, we tried, everywhere, to make the best product possible. WMM helped that happen.
WMM: Who are your biggest influences? Directors? Actors?
CM: Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Wes Anderson. Paul Thomas Anderson. I like the heighten realism the four of them lend material. Everything’s grounded, but at the same time anything can happen. A little magic can seep in. Acting wise, I generally fall in love with performances. I don’t think there’s one person in particular I rave about all the time. David Hyde Piece killed it every episode of Fraiser. Comedy master class. Adam Sandler is wonderful in “Punch Drunk Love”, but I wouldn’t force my worst enemy to watch “Blended.” I could make that list of great roles all day.
WMM: What are your top 5 films? Top 5 directors? Books?
CM: Let’s just shoot fast and loose with this one. Shawshank Redemption, Rushmore, Manhattan. Those jump up and say, “WE MADE YOU THE MAN YOU ARE!” Back to the Future. That didn’t make me but, man o’ man, do I love time travel. Richard Linklater. I’d say his Midnight trilogy but really, I just like the way the guy rolls. Small films, big popcorn comedies, daring ART that still manages to be completely accessible. That new film, “Boyhood”, that he shot over 12 years. That kind of thing is a dream. To be able to make shit like that and keep the lights on…
Slaughterhouse Five. I read it every year. Started senior year of college. Everything in my life is going to change except that book. My perception as I read will change, but it won’t. Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It’s about a revolution. One Hundred Years of Solitude, because life.
WMM: What is your favorite project you have worked on and why?
CM: I don’t have one. Sorry to bail out on that, but I honestly find some aspect of every project that, for me, was the tops. Mostly, it’s if it’s bad, there’s the feeling, “let’s not do that again.”
WMM: What would you change if you could, about your career trajectory?
CM: Not a thing. I’ve gotten to place where I really enjoy what I’m doing, making work I care about and having a ton of fun. It’s a good life. I should get audited.
WMM: Any advice for filmmakers?
CM: Work. Make things. Anything. Today. Just get out there. Fail and get better and better at that as well. Grow as a person and your perception and creatively will flourish. We give of ourselves when we create. Wouldn’t you rather give of a full well then be constantly handing out buckets of mud?
WMM: What is your favorite thing about WMM?
CM: Community. It’s hard sometimes, being self motivated. I say that believing at the same time I’m pretty self motivated. My dad always said “rising tides rise all ships” and I believe that’s what they’re going for. Some endlessly talented people just float through meetings sometimes and you’re amazed. You remember the struggle, that so many great talents are still fighting their way through the door, but you also remember that joy at just seeing something awesome, if only for a moment. It’s happened to me at a few meetings where I felt compelled to thank someone after one of the readings. Just thank them, cause they gave me a moment, a feeling. Any place that can give artists that opportunity to give and receive is doing the right thing.
WMM: If you were stranded on an island for 6 months, what 5 items would you wish you had on your person?
CM: A note book, a pen, matches, a hammer, and really super powerful location tracker. I’ll survive fine for a bit, really have some deep spiritual growth, but don’t fuck around. Come rescue me. I’m looking at you Brett.
WMM: If you were not doing what you do now, what would you want to be doing?
CM: Psychologist. I dig people. I like how they work. I want to figure it all out, have a superhero complex. All the normal stuff. Time, space and a gazillion other factors aside: Soul singer. You ever hear Sam Cooke at the Harlem Square Club? It’s thirty minutes of the most rarefied kind of joy you’ve ever heard. Damn. That man walks onstage and brings them with him for a half hour of non-stop, unfettered cool. Otis Redding. Those guys, they had a feeling I don’t hear a great deal of in music these days. I’m not talking about quality, cause there’s some great music, just the feeling. Frank Ocean touched on it a little. I’d also like to be in the mountains somewhere, just floating in the ocean or space. There aren’t a great deal of job openings in space so I’ll just put a blanket “space” out there.
WMM: Describe yourself with 3 adjectives.CM: Old, Young, Happy.
WMM: What’s next for you now?
CM: Post on the feature. Brett and I are planning on shooting a short after the summer. I knocked out this lovely little one note script and it’s just begging to be shot. Life. I’ve got some tomatoes starting up. Looking to have a nice harvest this year.
WMM: What, other than your craft, brings you joy?
CM: My life. More specifically, Brett, my family, my close friends and the wonderful, ever expanding world of collaborators and acquaintances. I am rather enjoying the journey these days. The feisty, angriest man in the world that stomped around in my twenties has chilled a bit. I think he realized that you can’t force anything really. In acceptance of all the absurd minutia, good and bad, we can find happiness in the right hereness of it all. Hippie dippie bullshit I know, but I like my days, my nights. I have a beautiful amazing woman by my side, who’s just as creative and absurd in her own direction. She keeps me occupied. I garden now and cook and make things like bread. I like following the inception of things, the seed in the ground, the flour to dough. there’s something for me about feeling the process of life that helps me to understand it, appreciate it. Everything is only getting faster and busier and my reaction is to slow down, just drink the whole bitch in. If this is it, despite whatever beliefs you have ascribed to, if all we are getting is this life in front of our face, I’m going to give my all to it. So fame and glory, that sounds nice, but happiness sounds a little rounder. Like it will fit the years a lot better. I’ll aim there and someone can feel free to hand me some fame and glory on the down low.