Creating a compelling protagonist who’s nuanced and full of imagination is one of the most vital and gripping aspects of the thriller genre. That’s certainly the case for the main character in the new film, ‘DieRy,’ Instagram model Marie Clark, who’s played by Claudia Maree Mailer in her first feature leading role. Throughout the story, the popular social media influencer uses her status as the one of America’s seemingly perfect models to pay for her masters degree, but little do her followers know how subtlety and artistically she romanticizes her true feelings, personality and history for her-and their-benefit.
The actress’ real-life husband, John Buffalo Mailer, wrote and produced ‘DieRy,’ which was directed by Jennifer Gelfer. The drama is now available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play and Vimeo.
‘DieRy’ follows Marie as she uses her influencer status to pay for her masters degree in comparative religion, while moving on from an abusive past. It seems Marie’s life is finally on the right track, until her diary is stolen by an obsessive fan who begins sending her love letters that inform her that they’re going to kill anyone who is a danger to her. As friends and colleagues, including overly eager photographer, Kevin (Brendan Robinson), start feeling like suspects, and bodies begin piling up, Marie must confront the demons of her past, in order to unmask the killer and reclaim her life.
Gelfer, Buffalo Mailer, Maree Mailer and Robinson generously took the time recently to talk about directing, writing, producing and starring in ‘DieRy’ recently during an exclusive interview over Zoom. Among other things, the crew and cast discussed how they all enjoyed collaborating with each other on the development of the characters and story, before and after they arrived on the set. They also mentioned how like Marie, many people only put their best moments on social media, so their followers don’t see their bad days, and what they’re truly going through in real life.
ShockYa (SY): John, you wrote the script for ‘DieRy.’ What was the inspiration in penning the screenplay, and what was the scribing process like for the movie?
John Buffalo Mailer (JBM): The movie was inspired by a chapter in a book called ‘The Diary.’ It’s really great; it’s basically the letter that’s in the movie. The script springboarded off of that. We then brought social media aspects into it, and the story began to take on a life of its own. It was so much fun to write a psychological thriller.
SY: Jennifer, you directed the thriller. When did you become involved in helming ‘DieRy?’ What was overall experience like of directing the film?
Jennifer Gelfer (JG): It was probably the best film experience that I’ve had so far. It was great because of the people I cast; I love working with really talented actors. I found people who may not have big profiles yet, but are super talented. That aspect always makes it really exciting for me.
I became involved because John and I are partners in our company (Mailer Tuchman Media), and we were looking for material when we found this story, and the project sprung from there. I had just made my first movie (the 2018 drama, ‘The Second Sun’), which was a love story that’s set in the 1950s.
This (film) was the complete opposite of that (movie). (‘DieRy’) is a bigger piece with a lot of different locations and characters, while (‘The Second Sun’) was an intimate piece. So I really had a good time working on (‘DieRy’).
SY: Claudia, you star as Marie, and Brendan, you play Kevin, in ‘DieRy.’ What was it about the script that convinced you to star in the drama? How did you become involved in starring in the movie?
Claudia Maree Mailer (CMM): Well, I became attached through this one right here. (She pointed to Buffalo Mailer, who was seated next to her.) It was such a blast; it was my first lead role, and I couldn’t have asked for a better (one), because (Marie) had a little bit of everything.
The best thing for me, like Jennifer said, was working with such talented cast members. Every single time we got to set, (we had) so much fun. Every take was different, and it was such a blast; I couldn’t have asked for a better time.
Brendan Robinson (BR): My story of how I became involved isn’t nearly as interesting! I auditioned (laughs) like all the other actors. Sometimes parts just seem to click…and this one was just a really natural fit.
I actually put myself on tape first, which is happening more and more in the industry these days, especially with COVID. A lot of actors will do a self-tape at home for the first (audition), which will be sent into the producers. If they like you, they’ll bring you back in for a live reading. That’s what happened with me.
SY: Once you were both cast, what was the process of working together to build your characters’ motiviations and backstories? Did you have a chance to rehearse together?
BR: I spoke with Jennifer briefly over the phone a few days before I went to the set to shoot. We also spoke about it at length on set. One of the luxuries of making a movie is that there are always these moving pieces; the crew’s setting up lights and the shots, so (actors) can sneak away with (their) directors and talk about the character.
On films and TV, you don’t get a long rehearsal process. So as the actor, you really have to show up on set, having done your homework and research for your character, and really get to know the tone of the (story). You can then get some time with the director on the day, and then you play.
Luckily both Jennifer and John are so open to collaboration that it became a really great set to throw things out there and see what happens. You don’t always get that, so that was a luxury.
CMM: I was incredibly grateful to have Jennifer with me at my side throughout this process, because she is an actor’s director. Before anything was set up, we would meet with our castmates who were with us in the scene, as well as Jennifer, and we would have the set to ourselves for as long as we needed, which never happens.
The rest of the crew then worked around us; we would present the scene to them, and they would do the lights and sound, and that doesn’t normally happen. I was so happy to have Jennifer with me during all of that, because that doesn’t happen.
Like Brendan said, you have to have everything ready when you show up to set, and you don’t always get a chance to play. But with Jen, we did (have that chance) through rehearsing and getting to know each other…I think through that, you find parts of your character that you may never expect to find otherwise.
People may judge Marie on the surface, through her looks. So to be able to explore that further than I normally would was really exciting.
SY: The story in ‘DieRy’ follows Marie, who’s an Instagram model, as she uses her influencer status to pay for her masters degree. Do you all feel that social media offers fans more of an intimate, but not always true, knowledge of celebrities they admire, and how should influencers protect themselves?
CMM: I think it’s become more of a problem since the start of the quarantine, but it’s definitely something that we all deal with. You see people fully dressed up, with full make-up and hair, and they’re ready to shoot, but I was lying in my sweats, and was like, what’s going on? I was constantly comparing myself to everyone. I think you do that normally, but during this time, that was definitely amplified.
Everyone always puts their best moments on (social media), and you don’t see their bad days. Of course, people say they can be vulnerable, but they still use Photoshop, and put a filter on (their pictures). So it’s definitely interesting, and something that every generation who’s been introduced to social media has to deal with. So I definitely wanted to bring that to life.
(Marie) may have these highlights that she may put up, and she use social media to pay for school, but her life’s not perfect. Social media’s not real, even as much as they might convince you that it is.
JBM: I’m part of the last generation that grew up before the rise in social media. So to witness what has taken place over the past 20 years, and to know that we now have three generations that are growing up with no concept about what the world was like before them, has been interesting. For many people, what’s real on their screen is more important to them than what’s happening in front of their face. This movie feels like a playground to explore that in.
SY: John and Jennifer, in addition to writing and directing the thriller, you also served as producers. Why did you decide to also produce the film?
JBM: One of the things I’m so grateful for with this group is that everyone wore multiple hats. Everyone also had each other’s backs in a different role. When I was writing the script, Jen and I were going through each page, and were crafting each word. Then on set, I got to be a producer, and really let her do her magic as the director.
For me, it’s all storytelling. As I’ve gotten older, I really have come to appreciate and enjoy the art of producing. A lot of people ask, ‘What does a producer even do?’ (laughs) I tend to answer, ‘Everything, and you get no credit for it.’ But that’s not the point; the point is that we make things happen, and it’s a really gratifying thing when you see everything come together.
With Jen in particular, we were constantly flipping hats. We’d have five different meetings each day, and we’d have different roles in each one.
JG: To be honest, when I direct and produce a film, I produce it up until the moment I set foot on the set as the director. I then let that (producing) hat go, and trust that the people I hired to produce, including John, are going to do their job. Producing films is a very tough job; like John said, you have to wear every hat.
JBM: We were also blessed to have Matthew Berkowitz and Samantha Watkins as our producing partners on this through every step of the way.
SY: ‘DieRy’ is (now available) on VOD. Why do you all feel the digital distribution model is beneficial for this type of movie?
JBM: It’s crazy right now, with everything we’re all experiencing. We’ve had a lot of talks about this, and the general consensus was that people need an escape right now; they really need an hour and 40 minutes that can take them on a ride, and remind them what it feels like to be scared in a fun way again. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t going to theaters right now, but some theaters are beginning to experiment with reopening.
But in general, you don’t really take an indie movie like this one, and blast it out into theaters right now. Obviously, there’s an immediacy to how (the release) can be done now with VOD.
JBM: I think this type of film really blends itself to a VOD release, because of all the social media (elements in the story). We were able to do some really cool stuff with the ad campaign through social media. So I do think the VOD platform is really a good one for releasing this movie.