Julie Simone & Vicki Vlasic
May 2019’s Filmmakers of the Month
Our May 2019 Filmmakers of the Month are sisters Julie Simone and Vicki Vlasic. Simone is a director, writer and actress based in Los Angeles. Simone’s directorial debut of the multi award-winning music documentary Fiddlin’ won 14 awards during its festival run this year. Audience Award, Best Documentary, Best Film, Best Score, and Best Cinematography are among the many awards accorded to the film. Simone and Vlasic grew up on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Simone attended the University of South Carolina and followed her passion to New York where she acted in theater, film and television. Now in Los Angeles, Simone is involved in multiple aspects of filmmaking, including directing and writing.
Filmmaker Interview with Julie Simone
Tell us your backstory. How and why did you get into the filmmaking?
I grew up on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Every weekend my mom would take my three sisters and I to a movie at the one theater in our small hometown. Seeing these films influenced the direction of my life. In experiencing and watching this world outside of my own existence through movies, I knew I wanted to somehow be involved in film. My high school drama teacher was an inspirational influence and after time at the University of South Carolina, I headed to NYC where I studied and pursued acting. When I later moved to Los Angeles, I joined a film production group where we filmed, wrote, acted, directed and crewed for one another creating many short films. It was a great experience and made me realize I loved being on both sides of the camera. I had a good eye and enjoyed filming. With my acting background I had a knack for directing actors or making people comfortable during on camera interviews. I have always loved stories and my writing tends to be on the quirky/comedic side. Working with this group of creative and inspiring filmmakers made me realize it’s never too late to try new things. My dream started when I was that little girl in that small-town theater.
Fiddlin’ is my feature directorial debut. I teamed up with my sister Vicki Vlasic and we returned to our roots to film at the 80th Anniversary of the Old Fiddler’s Convention. It was only after Moose Lodge members realized we were locals and that they knew our grandpa that we were given permission to film for the first time in the conventions’ 80-year history. Vicki and I wore many hats in making Fiddlin’ and our skeleton crew included our kids and their cousins. It was a family affair, with even our mom and dad pitching in.
What are the specific qualities that, in your opinion, make a film great?
A great film pulls you into the story and into the lives of its characters. It evokes emotions or moves you in some meaningful way. Sometimes a movie hits you hard and you don’t even know why. Powerful films stay with a person and are often reflected on, sometimes even years later. We all have certain movies still etched in our memories that affected us as children.
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?
The classic films that have stayed with me since I was a child are “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Sound of Music”, “Mary Poppins”, “Its’ a Wonderful Life” and “Gone with the Wind”. Other films that have left a mark and influenced me in some way are “Forest Gump”, “Being There”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos’ Nest”, “Fargo”, “Blazing Saddles”, “Big”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Silence of the Lambs”.
What’s harder? Getting started or being able to keep going? And what drives you to continue making films?
For us, getting started was the easy part. We were excited about the idea and because we were filming at an event, the timing was dictated by that. The challenge and a common theme among indie filmmakers is how to keep going when you don’t always know where your funding is coming from. For us, that was a constant struggle, but we so believed in the project, we knew we had to stay with it. We had to be creative in finding the funding and then frugal in how and where we spent those funds.
How do you know when your story’s finished, when to walk away?
Knowing when our story was finished was difficult. We discovered so much talent during filming and wanted to include everyone, which just wasn’t possible. When you make a documentary, you start out with specific ideas in mind but that constantly changes while shooting. The story then takes more turns and evolves as you edit. We were thankful for our amazing team, including editor Janice Hampton, composer Nicholas Pike, and producer Jill Mazursky, who helped bring all the pieces of the puzzle together. We made a festival cut with the idea we would go back in and make some small final changes. We are in the process of doing that now.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration comes from conversations, from the news, from the corners of everyday humanity. The smallest incident or observance can expand into a big idea. In the case of Fiddlin’, my sister, Vicki Vlasic, and I had grown up going to the Fiddler’s Convention and what struck us going back as adults was that kids were carrying around instruments instead of phones. They were engaging and jamming with their elders. It was like taking a step back in time. They were our inspiration for this film.
What is your favorite aspect of film production?
One of the best aspects of the production was filming and meeting the incredibly talented musicians that we documented in the film. They have continued to be part of our lives and are like family. At some of our festivals, we had young Presley Barker, Wayne Henderson, Jake Krack, or Martha Spencer perform and participate in Q and A’s. This was a real value add for the festivals and the audiences who got to see them.
Why did you choose to submit to the Breckenridge Film Festival? What do you look for in a festival where you hope to show your film?
We heard amazing things about the Breckenridge Film Festival, particularly about how audiences were really engaged and that was super important to us. We loved everything about our festival experience at Breckenridge! Winning the Best Documentary Award as well as the Audience Choice Award did add to the excitement but it was a favorite festival experience all around. We met so many interesting filmmakers and everything was just top notch.
Can you describe the business behind independent filmmaking and how you are trying to get your film seen?
While there are more opportunities than ever before to get a film seen, choosing an avenue that gets the film both seen and offers hope of recouping the investment to make it can be a challenge. Many filmmakers are going the self-distribution route and for some films, that can work. We had interest in our film early on but felt getting it in the hands of the right people was crucial We needed someone who got what Fiddlin’ was about and who we could trust to handle it with integrity and respect. Our patience paid off and we recently signed a distribution deal with a new company called Utopia. Its founder, Robert Schwartzman, is not only a filmmaker but also a musician. He has a vision for Fiddlin’ that matches our own and is creative in the way he plans for the movie to be seen. We anticipate a limited theatrical release starting In Los Angeles and New York on or about August 23 with other smaller cities following. Utopia plans to have talent from the film performing live at many of these screenings.
What are the next project or projects you are beginning work on?
I am currently working on a satire/comedy script for a new television project with my writing partner at Calamity J and have a feature idea in the works with my partner at Gasp Studios. Vicki is developing some ideas for stories she has put on hold during the making of Fiddlin’. There is also the possibility of us continuing to build on the success of Fiddlin’ by creating it as a musical on stage. We both enjoy writing and telling a good story.