Collaborating with close friends on finding your sense of purpose in your professional and personal lives is an endearing lesson that not only applies to the lead characters in the new short comedy, ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard,’ but also the actors and filmmakers of the project. Actress Bree Michael Warner, who was already friends with the short’s writers, Christian Keiber and Tyler Hollinger, who also star as the title lifeguards in the film, before they began filming, learned valuable lessons as a first-time producer on the comedy. As the scribes’ characters worked together to figure out their true calling after the summer ends, Warner also relished in working with them on the completion of the movie from start to finish.
The skilled actress elegantly showed off her humorous first producing effort during this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. Since the premiere in April, the short has also been accepted into several other noteworthy festivals, including the Soho International Film Festival, the Brooklyn Film Festival Shorts, the Arizona International Film Festival and the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard’ will next screen next Thursday, July 10 during the 5pm film block at the 2014 Long Island International Film Festival at the Bellmore Movie Theater in New York.
‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard’ follows friends Sam (Hollinger) and Murphy (Keiber) as they confront the end of the best summer of their lives, and are forced to face the reality that life is moving forward. As the two ponder what comes next, the friends are finally prepared to face the challenges in their lives. Sam is ready to win back his childhood sweetheart, Sandy (Katie Henney), even though she’s set to someone else. Murphy, whose own engagement to Gwen (Warner) is on the verge of ending because of his neglect towards her, is set to overcome his fear of the water. Sam and Murphy ponder their decisions as they realize this summer has been changing everything, for better or for worse.
Warner generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard’ at a restaurant in New York City. Among other things, the actress and producer discussed how making independent films like the short in New York and the surrounding areas pushes the cast and crew to band together to creatively complete their projects; how she appreciates the film being accepted into the various festivals its played at and how much support they’ve received from audiences, and what an incredible experience to have the comedy premiere at Tribeca; and how besides acting and producing films and television shows, she would be interested in returning to theater in the future, as she values being able to develop a character over time.
ShockYa (SY): With a diverse cast in ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard,’ are there any other comedy actors you’re interested in working with on future projects?
Bree Michael Warner (BMW): It’s funny, because my world has been filled with so many dramatic roles, I often think of those actors and filmmakers. But one person who comes to mind, and is at the top of my list, is Paul Rudd. I feel like with my own sense of humor, I’m more interested in dark humor than slapstick comedy, and I think he’s the epitome of that. He’s the everyday guy next door, who’s thrusted into real-life situations that are very funny. I think his sense of humor is very tongue-in-check, and I appreciate that. I’m very drawn to that sense of humor and comedy, so I also like Ben Stiller.
With the women, you can’t think comedy without mentioning Goldie Hawn. I think she’s given some tremendous performances throughout her career. Comedy’s effortless with her, and she’s this goofy woman who’s basically inserting her foot in her mouth most of the time. I appreciate that, and think it’s very funny and endearing.
SY: You attended college in California. How does working in L.A. compare and contrast to shooting on the East Coast, including in New Jersey for ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard?’
BMW: It’s interesting how they’re very different. I wouldn’t necessarily say one is better than the other, but they are different. I think in L.A., I would qualify it as there being so much studio work that happens there. With independent films there, a lot of the crew comes from whatever television series they’re filming during the week to shoot the movie on the weekend. Los Angeles is very driven by the studio system. Everyone is following that rule book, and it’s become commercialized.
I’ve discovered in New York that it’s such a small community, which is why the Tribeca Film Festival is so phenomenal. Indie filmmaking is truly independent. Even if you have big actors or directors attached, New York is still the little brother to L.A.; it’s a tight-knit community. I feel like since you have to struggle to survive in New York, it’s definitely a city that will challenge you. But I feel like that also correlates into the film business here.
So with our film, we put every ounce of our soul into this project. There weren’t any egos involved. You had a title, but if anyone needed an extra hand on set, you went and helped them. We all came together to make the film happen, and I feel like that’s very indicative of New York City and the independent world here. If you have a dollar and a dream, you go for it.
SY: Speaking of making ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard’ independently, do you feel that helped with the movie’s creativity? Do you enjoy making independent films?
BMW: Yes, it’s really fun. It tends to be an incredibly collaborative experience. Often times, when someone’s just starting, or has a long list of hits, I think the sense of independent filmmaking is that everyone comes on board and contributes creatively. Honestly, I think it makes the project that much better.
When you pigeonhole everyone into their specific role, you can cut them off from having any sort of creative influence. It doesn’t mean the project’s going to be bad, but it’s clearly going to be one direction. But I think in the indie world here, it’s such a team effort. People can contribute in a way you may have never imagined. We’re all open to suggestions, and sharing ideas can’t help but make a project better. So I feel like independent filmmaking is really a good thing.
SY: Speaking of the fact that ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard’ had its World Premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, what id it mean to you that the short was selected to play at the festival?
BMW: I had to pinch myself, and I know that sounds really cliche! There’s a bucket list of things I want to accomplish in my life, and having worked as an actor for so long, you go in and do the best work you can do. You watch where it goes, and see if it gets attention. When we shot ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard,’ I think it was the first time in all of our lives as artists that we had no expectations. We did the project because we really loved it and thought it had a purpose in the world.
So when we started submitting the film to a number of festivals, Tribeca was obviously the first on the list, since all of us are from New York. We put it out there to see what stuck. So when we received the notification that not only was it going to be included in the programing at Tribeca, but they were also adamant at world premiering it, they were so enthusiastic about it. We were amazed they were so supportive of our film.
It was amazing to receive the amount of support and attention that we did at the festival. I think our opening screening sold out in minutes. We were in disbelief, and very excited. To open in a New York festival, this is the best of the best. We were also included in a number of other festivals, including the Soho International Film Festival. They all have value for different reasons.
We’re all amazed at how much love the movie’s gotten, especially since we worked so hard to make it happen. There were moments where we didn’t know if we would be able to pull it off. Like with every production, things go awry, but you learn to keep going with the punches. To go through all of that in such a short time, and then receive this incredible opportunity at this festival, made us think, “Wow, this is actually happening.” This is the thing we’ve always been working towards.
SY: Christian and Hollinger are in talks to develop the project into both a television series and a film franchise, after the short finishes its festival run. Would you be interested in continuing with the role of Gwen if the short is further developed?
BMW: I would absolutely love to continue with the story. I really worked hard with my roles with the film, including playing Gwen and working as a producer. We actually utilized our opportunity of playing at the Tribeca Film Festival to generate investor interest. We are looking to expand it into a feature or a television series. From the attention it’s gotten, we’ve seen there is a market for this story. I think everyone loves this type of comedy, and we haven’t seen it in awhile. So I’m interested in staying on as an actor and producer.
Now that I’ve gotten the bug for it, I’m stoked to say the first job I have as a producer played at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s definitely given me the encouragement to keep going in this direction, and help the team push this to another level.
SY: Also speaking of television, you’ve starred in several TV series, such as ‘iCarly’ and ‘Without a Trace.’ Are you interested in working on television again in the future?
BMW: Yes-if you ask any actor, we want to work, and we’re not that picky. We want to do good work (laughs), but sometimes you never know. Sometimes you can read a script and it’s good on the page, but then when you actually see it, it’s a different story.
I think for myself, having the opportunity to do both offers something uniquely different. With television, hopefully that’s a long-term investment. As an actor, that’s an opportunity where you can really hone your skills. You’re with a character as they’re evolving over the seasons. You have more time to explore the character, and grow with the role. That reminds me a lot of doing theater, as you have that time to explore.
Whereas with film, when you’re given a project, you do as much research as you can before you shoot it. You bring all your skills out at once, since you have a finite amount of time to infuse the character with as much life as you can. Then the rest is done in the edit. So with films, you’re constantly reinventing yourself, but with television, you’re given time to really explore and conquer your role.
SY: Speaking of theater, are you interested in doing Broadway, or a play in general?
BMW: Yes, and I’m fortunate to say that since I’ve moved to New York, I’ve become involved in theater. Even now, as I’m focusing on being an actor and a producer, there are a few plays I’ve always been interested in, and also a couple original works that I like. I’ve also been strongly considering producing, and being in, Off-Broadway theater.
Theater is something I’m very much interested in, but it’s a whole different game. Even though it’s the same job description, there’s a completely different set of rules. But right now, I have so many irons in the fire, that my focus for the next year or two will mainly be on films and television. But theater’s something that has surely crossed my mind.
With Broadway right now, a lot of actors who have successful television shows or films are doing theater. They’re being brought in because of the weight their name has. That’s the direction I’m interested in going towards-doing more television and film, and then hopefully using that to do bigger sows on Broadway.
SY: You mentioned that ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard’ was the first film you produced. Would you be interested in trying directing, as well?
BMW: It’s definitely something that’s occurred to me most of my life. As an actor, you spend most of your life dissecting a script and working on a character. As a director, I think that’s such a huge component. Most great directors are actor-directors, as they understand our process and know how to communicate that. So as an actor, I think it’s a much easier transition into directing.
But sometimes someone can be a really strong actor-director, but they lack the strong visual component. As a film director, you have to understand how to convey an emotion, but in a way that’s on camera, and not just in the spoken word.
For me, what helped fuel my interest in directing is the fact that I also do photography. Since I’ve done it for years, I have that visual eye. So I think the marriage of the two would be incredible. It would be a welcomed challenge to only only use my actor brain, but also the visual aspect of how I’m going to tell a story. If I had to tell a story without words, how would I do it?
SY: Speaking of your photography, has that aspect of your career helped with your acting at all?
BMW: My background with photography has mainly been with portraits. So through the years, photographing people has helped, because I’m a story person. So generally speaking, whenever I have a portrait session, I’m almost always asking them 20 million questions. I’m fascinated by people, and enjoy their psychology. It’s given me the opportunity to come across so many different stories.
There have definitely been some occasions where I’ve used their stories in my characters. Sometimes a character I play is reminiscent of a story I’ve heard, and I use their emotions. As an actor, you’re trained to absorb everything, and sometime down the road, you can use what you’ve picked up as a tool.
SY: Besides ‘Trust Me, I’m a Lifeguard,’ do you have any upcoming projects you can discuss?
BMW: I do have a few things coming up. I have another comedy film I’ll be appearing in, because comedies are really fun. I never get to do them often enough. It’s a romantic comedy feature Film called ‘Rhyme or Reason.’ It was written by two incredible brothers, Armando Fente Jr. and Robert Fente, who are incredible guys.
It’s set in New York City, and it’s the underdog story of love, and the guy finally getting the girl. Everything has come across his path to stop him from doing so. It’s his personal quest to overcome his anxieties and fears. I’m such a supporter of underdogs. The characters are completely endearing, and we can all relate to them.
The movie will also star Jose Zuniga, who’s an incredible actor, and has a great history in film and television. He and I have been working with the writers to develop the project. I’ve also expressed my interest in not only coming on as an actor, but also as a producer. We’re really excited about it. It’s in the early stages, and they’ve been shopping it around. I think it’s something that once it goes, it’s going to go very quick. So we’re excited about it.
Written by: Karen Benardello