SXSW 2019: Lauren Blumenfeld talks Stepdaddy

Patricia (Lauren Blumenfeld) drinks too much wine while Wyatt (Max Jenkins) does not. Photo Credit: John de Menil

Lauren Blumenfeld took some time to speak with Solzy at the Movies about short film Stepdaddy during the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.

Lauren Blumenfeld
Lauren Blumenfeld

Congrats on Stepdaddy being selected for SXSW!  How thrilled are you for the opportunity?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  We are all so thrilled to be premiering Stepdaddy at SXSW! This is my first time in Austin and I’m so excited to be here.

What was the genesis behind the project?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  Stepdaddy is inspired by a decade-old joke between me and my co-producer/co-creator/co-star/friend/style guru, Max Jenkins.  Max and I met freshman year of college in a mandatory Writing the Essay class, where we were both over-sharing and aggressively asserting our personalities (I was desperately trying to channel Amelie and Max was wearing very tight, pink pants). Since Writing the Essay, Max and I have experienced a lot together–the weirdness of drama school; a shared day job teaching gymnastics and “Gym Rock” to toddlers in Tribeca; making weird theatre pieces Off-Off-Off-Broadway (most forgettably, a 10-minute reenactment of the movie, My Girl); and blasting Kesha and Lady Gaga in my tiny car.

The inspiration for Stepdaddy occurred ten years ago, when Max met my parents, or more specifically, when he met my dad. My dad has never remembered a single friend I’ve introduced him to over the years, but he instantly took a bizarre interest in Max and to this day, continues to ask about “my charming friend.” This eventually turned into a joke–Why is my dad so obsessed with Max? What if he left his over 40-year marriage to my mom and married Max? What would happen if Max became my stepdaddy? And thus, grew the premise of Stepdaddy and the cinematic realization of my worst nightmare.

Both you and Max Jenkins wrote the story for Stepdaddy while Anna Greenfield wrote the screenplay.  Did you two ever think about writing the script or was it always going to be Anna?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  Max and I have always envisioned Stepdaddy as a television series. I am currently writing a pilot based on the premise of our short. But a year ago, we were hungry to make something with our friends and decided to shoot a proof of concept for Stepdaddy.  We tried writing the script but got sidetracked when Max introduced me to Beyonce’s Lemonade (two years after that masterpiece dropped) and all writing stopped because my brain exploded.  Later, we shared our idea with our close friend and brilliant writer, Anna Greenfield, and Anna came back to us with a funny, weird, and disturbing short script that we eagerly decided to produce.  Anna also connected us to Lisa Steen (our very talented director), John de Menil (our great DP) and Matt McBrayer (our gifted editor). I have been involved in many creative projects that have been uphill battles, but once we connected with Anna, Stepdaddy easily fell into place in bizarre and beautiful synchronicity.  Close friends offered their home to us for filming; one of the most talented DP’s I’ve ever worked with (Adrian Peng Correia) connected us to Keslow Camera and Point360 (two amazing companies that generously donated an amazing camera to and provided beautiful coloring in post), and thanks to the kindness of mutual friends and a brilliant email composed by Max to Peter Gallagher, our dream daddy agreed to be in our short!

Peter Gallagher aside, it seems like most of the people involved with this film went to NYU.  How beneficial was the NYU experience?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  Max, Anna, and I studied at NYU’s Experimental Theatre Wing (ETW), a drama studio very close to our hearts, that emphasizes collaboration and encourages students to make new work.  Though I didn’t know Lisa, John, or Matt (all graduates of NYU’s film school) in college, it has been wonderful to connect with them years later in Los Angeles.  We all genuinely like and respect each other and continue to work together on new projects.

Lisa Steen just had Sundowners premiere at Sundance.  What was it like to be able to work with her on Stepdaddy?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  Yes, Lisa and Anna premiered their beautiful short, Sundowners, at Sundance. They are a dream team! Lisa is a quiet, calm, and deeply collaborative director. Her experience as a producer, technical skills, and her openness and artistry, make her the MVP on any set. She is wonderful!

Is there anyone in particular who has had a big influence on your career?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  I have been lucky to work with great and inspiring artists in theater, television, comedy, and film who have generously mentored and supported me. Early in my career, I got to play Judith Light’s daughter in a play on Broadway and her kindness, generosity, integrity and warmth continue to inspire me. I also learned so much about comedy, listening, and quick-thinking from the hilarious Ali Wentworth, on the set of a partially improvised television series called Nightcap.  I think my strongest influence was actually a storyteller named Kathleen Zundell, who visited my elementary school with her puppet, Herbert.  I fell in love with stories and storytelling because of Kathleen and Herbert and I think they are a major reason why I have pursued a career in acting. It has been really exciting to explore writing, producing and directing in the past few years.  It all feels like an extension of that initial excitement and curiosity sparked by a great storyteller and her sweet puppet many years ago.

Meanwhile, you’re also working on your directorial debut with Doggy Club.  Are you excited for this opportunity?

Lauren Blumenfeld:  Yes! I am so excited about Doggy Club, a documentary short about my Grandma Nita’s weekly gathering of feisty eighty-somethings (and their rescue dogs).  The group has been meeting for over a decade to kibbutz, eat baked goods, drink Folger’s coffee, and support each other like family, as their dogs run free in a thriving retirement community outside of Palm Springs, CA.  In our youth-obsessed, death-avoidant western culture, doggy club has opened my eyes to a different model for aging—one that doesn’t shy away from the existential realities of getting older, but instead focuses on joy, friendship, and doggies. This group of friends are an inspiration to me. They have given me hope and solace when facing disappointment and despair during the years that are supposed to be my happiest. They have made me believe that it’s possible for life to improve with age.

Doggy Club marks my first attempt at directing and my first venture into the world of documentary filmmaking. This short is a love letter to my Grandma Nita and her friends. And it was a dream to get to make it with my dear friends from Stepdaddy. Lisa Steen edited it (she really can do everything). Anna Greenfield was our PA (and also our go-to golf cart driver), John de Menil was the Director of Photography and Dan Schimpf was our Sound Recordist. I really hope that we will still be making movies, drinking coffee, and eating Bundt cake together in a Palm Springs backyard filled with dogs when we are eighty.  That, to me, is the dream.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.