Sunday, September 1, 2013

And Where Do You "Where To?": Writer/Producer/Actress Madia Hill

In an industry that inhales people, chews them up and then spits them out mercilessly, writer/producer/actress Madia (pronounced MAH-di-aye) has managed to successfully wear many hats in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years.

She started off as a child actor/model, appearing in her first national commercial at four years old. She’s had a whirlwind of a dance career, performing with scores of recording artists, including Nicki Minaj, Diddy, Chris Brown, Shakira and Miley Cyrus. She’s conducted celebrity red carpet interviews for BET and SprintTV; she’s been a Jr. Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader.

And, she’s done this all while also receiving her bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from the University of Southern California (Fight on!). Now that’s what I called talented and smart.

Recently, Madia added the title “producer” under belt, with the creation of Solely, a short film about the tough decisions one dancer must make once she finds out she’s unexpectedly pregnant.

While she’s been busy hosting inaugural screenings for Solely and producing other exciting projects, fortunately, I had a chance to catch up with her over the weekend. She candidly shared everything with me, from Solely’s upcoming debut in the LA Shorts Fest to the film’s bloopers, and advice for making a short and for surviving in the entertainment industry.

Quite honestly, I respect Madia as one of the most resilient, hard-working women I know, and the story of her journey to the creation and ownership of her own projects is one of inspiration for anyone who’s ever contemplated launching any type of project without the backing of major investors. Read on to hear what she had to say!

Miss Wilson: What’s the genesis for Solely?

Miss Madia: Solely began as a therapeutic expression. One day, I woke up with this little idea in my head and sat down to write it. I didn’t know where to begin or how the story was going to end, but I was always extremely inspired by the story. I had a strong dance background, so I knew I wanted to showcase my dancing skills. But also, I wanted to showcase my ability to carry a dramatic film as lead actress. Once I got into the story, ideas just kept flowing. When you read the screenplay, it reads almost like a novel. It’s very poetic. I thoroughly researched for this project because it’s important to be authentic and accurate.

Miss Wilson: How long did it take to create the short, from writing to post-production?
Miss Madia: After making the transition to acting after a very successful dance and hosting career, I felt very stalled. I wasn’t working nearly as much, barely auditioning and felt frustrated with my acting career. It was during this rough patch that I discovered my love for writing. I began writing roles that I saw myself doing. But more than that, I love storytelling and bringing that story to life.

Solely was my first solo writing project. It began more as a therapeutic expression. A year and several drafts later in June 2012, I knew that I had to make the film, and right away. In July 2012, I began my pre-production process, which I originally planned to be about five weeks. I was eager and overly ambitious. Being the first film I wrote and produced, I had no idea how much time and preparation is needed to put all of the pieces together. The director Anna Nersesyan thought I was crazy and really pushed to push shooting back a month. Thankfully I did and we began shooting at the end of September 2012, for four very long, hectic days (as most indie productions are).

We definitely took our time with post-production. Anna is very brilliant at what she does. She was very particular about the shots we used, the way it sounded, the way everything flowed. I have really learned so much from her.

The movie was finalized in July 2013.  

Miss Wilson: Abortion is an extremely tough and sensitive topic subject matter, but you managed to address it in a manner that was relatable and very human. What steps did you take in the creation process to ensure that it was transparent to viewers?
Miss Madia: During the writing process, I knew I wanted Solely to be this ‘fly-on-the-wall’ experience. It was very important for me for the audience to go through the journey with Lexi and really feel everything she was feeling: the loneliness, the pain, the difficulty. I wanted the audience right there with her, as if they were going through the whole experience themselves. Throughout the movie, there is very little dialogue. Everything must be conveyed through her facial expression, her eyes, body language. It’s a very raw movie and I didn’t hold anything back.

Miss Wilson: Although this is a serious matter, were there any bloopers?
Miss Madia: So many, where do I begin? Well, we had a lot of crazy people who needed to be fired—and some that were. People who quit in the middle of production. People who threatened to call the cops on us. People that came hung-over to work, dropping the $200,000 camera used to shoot. We ran out of tape one of the shooting days and were delayed about an hour. And, I have always been number dyslexic so I gave the wrong address—twice. Although I was lead actor for the film, I was also the producer, in charge of making sure the production went smoothly. It was quite the boot camp experience, those four days. I took a two-month hiatus after shooting.

Miss Wilson: How did you manage to get through the challenging times when shooting?
Miss Madia: During shooting, I had this crazy laser beam focus, unparalleled to anything I have ever focused on. My heart definitely fluttered with panic for a second when anything would go wrong. But then immediately after, I would think “Ok, everything is going to be fine” and began talking about possible options to fix the problem. I think with any new project or business, you realize you can’t avoid the chaos that will occur and the only way to get through those challenging times is just figuring it out. Simply put.

Miss Wilson: Do you have a favorite scene?
Miss Madia: I have to say after Nurse Clara leaves Lexi in the room to change. What we see in the final edit was completely spontaneous and happened truly in the moment. I think the audience at the moment really feels for Lexi and empathizes with her. I also love the dancing scenes, because it’s shot so beautifully and really symbolizes so much in the movie.

Miss Wilson: What was the most rewarding part about creating a short?
Miss Madia: When I can impact someone with what I have done or created, it’s really one of the most rewarding experiences. I truly feel honored. That is why us actors act. Or writers create. So we can leave someone feeling a little bit differently than before they saw the piece. Also, what has been extremely touching is that so many women, close friends but many not, after seeing my film have shared their own personal experiences. It’s almost a form of therapy where you can feel like you’re not alone and that someone can relate to what you have been through.

Miss Wilson: What advice would you have for anyone attempting to making a short?
Miss Madia: Just do it! With Solely being my first project, I had no idea where to start or what I was doing. Do your research and always, always, always ask questions. A filmmaker friend of mine gave me the best piece of advice: “Don’t try to get it perfect.” As I can be a bit of a perfectionist; I had to release that and take making my first short film for the experience that it was. I made a lot of mistakes and learned plenty along the way. Now I’m that much more prepared for the next film project!

Miss Wilson: What’s the secret to maintaining longevity in the entertainment industry?

Miss Madia: I think you have to put the power back in your hands. This industry can be very demoralizing and draining. I hear a lot of “NOs.” All the time. It’s very easy to begin to feel like you’re not good enough or deserving. For me, I focus on the work, on honing my craft. I really believe that at the end of the day, as long as I put all of my energy into the work, I can’t go wrong. Plus, I love to write and create, so I can always create these roles for myself, without having to depend only on casting directors, executives or directors casting me.

Miss Wilson: What’s your proudest professional accomplishment?
Miss Madia: I really would have to say watching the final cut of Solely for the first time. I was taken aback by this beautiful piece of art, that by the grace of God, the cast and crew had created. All the work and pain, and stress over the last year was worth it. All of the pieces really came together and now I can call myself writer/producer/actress. I hope to have a long career ahead and have other “proudest professional accomplishments.“

Miss Wilson: What’s next for Solely? And Madia?
Miss Madia: We just got accepted into the Academy Award-qualifying, LA Shorts Fest, one of the largest international short film festivals in the world. We play September 5, 2013 at 3:15 p.m. and it is the first stop on our festival journey!

I am so excited to share this film with enthusiastic audiences. I really put my heart and soul into this—not to mention my bank account [laughs]. I look forward to the progress of Solely. I just want everyone to see it. I think it’s a beautiful film with a very powerful message. I would love to do an educational tour with the film, because every young man and woman needs to see this and realize the consequences of unprotected sex; it’s not a game and not a joke.

I have a web series coming out late September, completely different from Solely. It’s called Girl’s Guide to Blacking Out, or gg2bo. I created, produced and directed the series. It’s a mix between Mean Girls and Hangover and follows Jess on her misadventures in blacking out. The actors in it are hilarious and I can’t wait for our launch date. Check out the site at www.gg2bo.com and follow us!

I am also in the process of pitching my thriller feature, The Stacks.

Miss Wilson: Where is your favorite restaurant, bar, lounge and/or social setting in LA and why?

Miss Madia: I have a favorite lunch spot that has to die for sushi—Shiki Sushi. It’s hidden in a Studio City shopping complex. They have awesome lunch specials and a cute patio. The sushi always tastes so fresh. Add a glass of plum wine and it’s the best lunch spot. My mouth is watering for it now.

For more information, http:www.madiahill.com,