Dianne Diep is an Aussie expat living in NYC for the past nine years. She shot “Cloud Gazing” to get her feet wet as a first-time filmmaker. Now she’s drenched to the bone and quite philosophical about this. She cooks a mean chicken soup and as a humble gesture, wants to make new friends who can help her make more films that bring a deeper empathy, compassion and humor to a world that feels heavy (at times).
Synopsis: After her umpteenth move in NYC, a woman and her best friend embark on a journey through imagination to a place of child-like wonder.
REBECCA MARTIN: How did you come to this project?
DIANNE DIEP: As a hustling actress in NYC, I wasn’t finding a good number of satisfying parts to play, so when I decided to write something for myself, I was amazed at how natural it felt. “Cloud Gazing” actually came about from having writer’s block on a particular section of my web series “Mia: Unraveling”. I was developing the story over a few years, but in retrospect, it was more of an inner compulsion to hone and refine my writing skills. Anyway, this writer’s block became more stubborn and resistant over time and I felt frustrated that my series would remain a concept on paper, incomplete. “Cloud Gazing” was the unexpected, bold chess move. It was short, cute, envisioned to be shot in one room and I could act in it. A “slice of life” between episodes three and four, I considered it a test run. I long dreamed of having an all women crew for my first film, so I made sure that I made that happen and hey, why not expand upon the dream by being the director and producer a well? All of this being a “first timer” mind you, and yes – it was a steep learning curve. I didn’t go to film school so I really threw myself into the deep end but I have to thank my Consulting Producer, Phil Newsom, who really helped me navigate through some choppy waters and stay the course until completion.
MARTIN: The apartment comes to life when those women inhabit it. I love the whole constellation aspect of the ceilings. Can you talk about what brought you to this apartment and how it inspired the imagination and playfulness of the short?
DIEP: I actually lived in that crumbling apartment with my husband at the time, in fact, I made this film as we were going through a divorce. It’s natural to associate imagination and playfulness to good times and we did have good times, but what you see on the ceiling, those drawings, actually came about from a dying marriage in slow-burn. As I was learning these hard life lessons, every night I would look up at that ceiling and see the cartoon coyote, husky, sock puppet as my personal constellation. In a strange way, I was gold mining the shadows. As a first-time filmmaker finding my voice, I was able to transmute this sad, eventual goodbye to something innocent, hopeful, creative that is “Cloud Gazing”.
MARTIN: I think that’s great. I’m all about finding the beauty in anything. What I love is how you brought the animation into the film, like when you’re looking up at the ceiling you see the sock puppet face, or a coyote, or two fists pumping each other. Who did the animation?
MARTIN: That’s so cool, can you talk about your process?
DIEP: My editor, Stacy Kim, was the technical wiz in making it happen. I was able to meet her halfway by using the Procreate app on my iPad Pro, where I transposed my drawings (using my Apple pen) onto the stills of the ceiling shapes via animated GIF.
MARTIN: I love it, it’s very scrappy, which fits well within the environment you were in. It’s also so playful. It makes me think of the French New Wave, such as the cinema of Agnès Varda, which would illuminate the magical and playful aspects of day-to-day life. The short reminded me of that, but it seems so fresh to me. It’s personal as well.
How did you find Shannon Whalen for the part of Dylan?
DIEP: The casting notice was put up on Backstage and auditions were done via FaceTime which entailed getting a natural feel of the actresses through casual banter. No script. Callbacks were done in person where I recall for Shannon, I was able to wrangle in a window during my lunch break at Phebe’s Tavern in the East Village. I liked how she was naturally open and flexible in the audition, when it came to callbacks, she read the script beautifully and was able to off-the-cuff improv with me. Energy-wise, she was that right counterpart, it just felt easy. I recall having a salmon burger for lunch at the time and she and I were munching on the wedge fries like old friends. Yeah, at that point, it was a no brainer to cast her as “Dylan” in my little film.
MARTIN: I’m also interested in your female composer, Joanne Harris. I loved the music in the film.
DIEP: JoAnne is awesome, she has composed and lead orchestrated some notable projects for Film and TV. It was really all about gumption for me, I recall feeling proud of my rough cut and I thought if she could just give me a chance then I got this. So I reached out to her, she was so kind, open and compassionate. She responded to my film in a way that was purely instinctual, so collaborating with her was easy, fun.
She’s very astute, she knew I was a first-time filmmaker learning as I go, so she said to me that there’s a strong possibility that she will miss the mark on the first go and may need a couple of rounds to get the right feel. She nailed it on the second go. As a seasoned professional, I really appreciated her empathy, she remembered her beginner roots and saw that in me.
MARTIN: That’s amazing. I think what drew me to you was your Director’s Statement, where you spoke about how important it was for you to work with women and collaborate. You can feel that when you watch it on the screen as well. My last question is, what do you hope people will see in your film?
DIEP: Your inner child is alive and kicking when you give yourself the permission to play and create. For me, my inner child was eager to explore storytelling through film. For first-time, underrepresented filmmakers finding their voice, I hope it gives you a boost of confidence when you see the brush strokes in my film. I know it’s scary to take those first steps but give it a go. I’m aware that I still have so much to learn when it comes to filmmaking but I’m very proud of my first little film. I feel like that mother [Toni Collette] in “Little Miss Sunshine”, when the daughter [Abagail Breslin] is up dancing on the stage at the pageant. I hope it inspires other tentative artists who may not feel so confident to just try.