SXSW 2020: Bridget Moloney talks Blocks

Claire Coffee appears in Blocks by Bridget Moloney, an official selection of the Shorts Programs at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Jake Hossfeld.

Writer-director Bridget Moloney spoke with Solzy at the Movies last week about her short film, Blocks, which was selected to screen during SXSW.

The short film is available through Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection from April 27-May 6, 2020.

Bridget Moloney
Bridget Moloney. Photo credit: Sela Shiloni.

How thrilled were you when Blocks was selected to screen at SXSW?

Bridget Moloney: I screamed when I saw the email. I was in a parking lot of Party City looking for extra driedels for a “chill” Hanukah kid gathering  and my text chimed—Kate, one of our producers had screenshotted the email and sent it to the team. I couldn’t believe it. I would go so far as to say I was euphoric. I desperately wanted to go to SXSW with my last project and we weren’t programmed so it felt extra special to get in this time.

What did you think of the reception at Sundance in January?

Bridget Moloney: I truly feel that my experience and the film’s reception at Sundance was as good as it possibly could have been. I said that to a neighbor and she said, “did you win an award?” and I had to say, well, ok, no, but even having NOT won an award, I was so grateful and excited about how the film went over. You know, you make the thing and then it’s out of your control. You have to like it but you can’t speak for anyone else. But audiences really liked it and I got representation off of it and now I’m developing it further but I’ll answer that question later.

How did you first get the idea for the film and what was the writing process like?

Bridget Moloney: I have small children (see above Hanukah party) and I was really taken aback by how crushing and overwhelming some of the actual work of childcare is. It’s an endless cycle! And when I was thinking about the constant feeding and cleaning the image of a woman overcome by the mess and vomiting blocks–and then just putting them away sprang to mind. I first wrote it as a one pager and I wrote two other very visual, strange parenting microshorts–with the plan to shoot all three as a piece but then I decided that the Blocks piece could and should be opened up to a larger thing.

How did the cast come together for this film?

Bridget Moloney: Claire Coffee is one of my best friends. We went to Northwestern together and have collaborated before. I asked if she wanted to get the band back together (so to speak) and she was in! Claire is a terrific actor. She elevates all material. She works like crazy and has that magic actor thing of making you think she IS whomever she’s playing. We also have a great shorthand so she spoils me as a director. Mark Webber is the husband of a good friend and I knew his vibe was perfect so I was thrilled he was willing and able to join us. Mark’s also a great actor and brought such nuance to the role. I still giggle every time I see his scenes. He’s so real and so funny. Ruha Taslimi was the only person in the short that I didn’t know before filming. A friend, Chirssy Fiorilli-Ellington, who is a great casting director, suggested her when I was asking for thoughts for comedic actresses. I am so, so happy to have met her and worked with her and gotten to know her. She’s a dream. The kids are my kids.

What was the most challenging part of the production?

Bridget Moloney: We shot in my actual home. My family and I moved out for the week but it was still a real adventure. (That’s my positive reframe.) We have a quirky house that is…not a film set. Emilio, our camera operator was often contorting himself behind things like my upstairs toilet. In all the bedroom scenes I was sitting in my closet with Jake Hossfield our DP, surrounded by my sweaters and running shoes. My saintly neighbors let us use their yard for holding.

How beneficial was the AFI Directing Workshop?

Bridget Moloney: The AFI Directing Workshop for Women was truly life changing. It gave me the confidence to take big swings and to feel entitled to it. I didn’t go to film school, and the Workshop is definitely not getting an MFA buuuuut it did make me feel a lot more confident talking about focal length. It also validated a lot of my film making instincts and skills. But the largest piece of it is the other women in the group. We are still meeting virtually. It’s such an incredible gift to get to spend that much time with other artists who are so generous and excited about helping each other.

You have a master’s degree in clinical psychology. How often does it come in handy when making a film?

Bridget Moloney: I use it all the time. There’s a joke to be made about big personalities but I find that I reach for those skills a lot, especially on set. I actually was a Marriage and Family Therapy intern so I saw clients for a while and those particular skills—cultivating attunement and being open and non-judgmental and just seeing what unfolds in the room—that’s all really valuable for a director.

Things have changed so much since the Austin press conference in March. As a filmmaker, what was going through your mind watching things from afar as so may major companies were pulling out left and right?

Bridget Moloney: Oof. It was like a dread countdown. We were all texting and calling each other (the producers and Claire) saying “did you listen to The Daily today? Is SX going to happen?” I was feeling very anxious and then very sad. I really wanted to go to Austin. But as things starting falling apart, it seemed like there were much bigger concerns than just missing SXSW on the ground. My husband was on location (he’s a writer) and we were trying to figure out the best way to for him to come home quickly and everything felt very urgent. But then, about a week later I did, once again, think “man, what a bummer. I hope I get to be there for it one day.” But then again, I hope schools open again and we figure out socialized medicine and my parents stay healthy and the children in detention centers get out, it’s an endless cycle.

In terms of the quarantine, what are you doing to stay creative and avoid going stir crazy?

Oh Danielle, who says I’m not going stir crazy? Actually, things are very busy. I live with my husband and two young children and small poorly behaved dog. I am working on a feature script and a pitch for Blocks the series so I have meetings (virtual meetings) for those and I’m trying to do “distance learning” and also not slip into despair or panic. SO, my husband and I take 3 hour shifts, one of us can work/exercise/read/fret and the other is one with the kids and then we switch. And then we endlessly pitch on ideas with each other after the kids fall asleep.

Blocks is available to watch online through Prime Video presents the SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection from April 27-May 6, 2020.

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.