INSIGHTS into upcoming films at Heartland Film Festival…
Katie and Matt Celia are coming to Indianapolis to share their documentary OFF THE FLOOR with Heartland Film Festival goers: Saturday, Oct. 18 – 5:00 pm, AMC Traders Point Showplace 12.
"The Celias (aka Butter&Sugar) are a husband & wife film-making team who love telling stories about dreamers and outsiders.”
"This is the inspiring true story of one dancer, Jessica Anderson-Gwin, and her struggle to find acceptance and respect for her art. Jessica and her dance company, Jagged, challenge audiences to embrace the artistic potential of vertical dance, a fusion of aerial pole fitness and traditional dance techniques."
This week Katie Celia took time out from packing and travel preparation to share some insights about co-creating the film with her husband and co-director/producer Matt. Here’s what she had to share…
O’LRL: I read that you were inspired to create OFF THE FLOOR after attending the very first performance of Jagged’s innovative hybrid modern dance/pole dance work and being surprised by what you experienced. Can you share about the process of recognizing there was a documentary waiting to be born? How did the two of you explore the idea together and how did you reach out to Jessica Anderson-Gwin and the troupe to convince them to let you in to their world?
KC: Going into the show we had no idea we were about to see the subject of a documentary, we went simply to support a friend of mine who was in the show. But we knew right away that very night that this was something incredible. It was like being in the ocean and seeing the perfect wave forming in front of you. After the first dance number, Matt and I turned to each other and it was clear the light bulb had illuminated over both our heads. We were just so intrigued at the way Jessica had seamlessly combined two dance styles that we would have thought were contradictory but turned out to actually be very complimentary. As artists, we saw the vision it took to make that leap and were astonished we’d never seen it before. It’s rare to stumble on something new and fresh.
There really wasn’t much discussion, we were so curious and interested in the company that we had my friend get us into the wrap party that night and approached Jessica then and there. Of course as first time filmmakers we didn’t know where that road was going to lead, or that it would turn into a feature. We just thought she had an interesting story and perspective and wanted to see where it lead us.
Jessica is the most inclusive person I’ve ever met. She loves showing people her world because she is confident in who she is and the choices she makes. It’s one of the reasons you fall in love with her both in person and in the film. We talked to her the night of the show, took her out for pizza to get a little more backstory, and by our third meeting were filming rehearsals. She really didn’t need convincing. I think some of the other dancers were a little confused the first time we showed up because she forgot to tell them we were coming, but being performers they were fine with the camera being there.
O’LRL: OFF THE FLOOR at its heart feels like a story about tenacity in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. As the dance troupe struggled to shape their artistic vision and battle the strip club stigma were there ever times when you worried that the situation would implode leaving you without a satisfying arc for your documentary? What kept you going? And what signaled to you that it was time to complete the film?
KC: Being around Jessica, you just can’t help but believe that one day pole dance will be as accepted as ballet and hip-hop. I know that sounds crazy, but her confidence is just that infectious. I think it was always shocking to us when that stigma would rear its ugly, because we couldn’t believe that others didn’t see pole dance the way we saw it. The funny thing is, it’s never during their self-produced show with live audiences where there’s a problem with perception. Yes, initially there’s this awed silence of people holding their breath, trying to comprehend what is going on, but soon you see the preconceptions melt away and then you have folks cheering and pulling out their phones to take photos and videos because it’s the coolest thing they’ve ever seen. We’ve seen it happen over and over again, and there’s never been an audience they haven’t won over. It’s on mainstream media where the stigma tends to come up, and that’s because it’s much easier to play the salacious angle then to dive deeper and show how pole has evolved. It was very frustrating to witness that disconnect. It made us all the more determined to show the other side of the story.
Ending the film was tricky. We wanted more than anything for Jagged to go on national television and be a success because we truly believe what they do is art and is incredible! But after their experience on America’s Got Talent, we came to see that this is a movement that is making in roads one person at a time. And we realized that through the journey of watching the film and seeing Jagged’s journey, audiences see that just by changing their mind Jagged has been successful.
O’LRL: The mesmerizing images of the opening title sequence served as a strong touchstone for the artistic nature of the dance work. When in the filmmaking process did you decide to shoot that sequence? Can you talk about your choice to run a Kickstarter campaign to help make that possible?
KC: When we started editing the film, we realized that seeing Jagged perform would quickly establish for audiences what exactly pole dance has become. Their dance is worth a thousand words, and we felt that the quicker we dispelled the biases the more engaged audiences would be. We’d always wanted to film the company in a controlled setting, and the opening of the film became the perfect reason to do it!
Kickstarter was still relatively new at the time, and we were the first people we knew to run a campaign so it was definitely a leap of faith. But we had a lot of friends and family who knew about the project and was a way to get them involved. We did a ton of research and spent about 2 months planning the campaign. Luckily it all paid off!
O’LRL Any thoughts you’d like to share with other filmmakers about the joys and challenges of sharing the directing and producing roles with your life partner?
KC: Working with my husband is truly a gift. There is really nothing like getting to make your dreams come to life with the person you love.
Being creative partners has made our personal relationship a million times stronger. We got married in the midst of making the film and it was the best lesson in learning how to be successful life partners. You have to communicate, you have to listen, you have to be patient, and at the end of the day you have to go sleep in the same bed, so you better figure out how to resolve your differences.
We heard Judd Apatow say once that as a couple you are always one fight away from never fighting again and it’s so true. Like every couple we have ‘that fight we always have.’ Ours is both of us saying the same thing but debating who said it better. It makes our friends roll their eyes every time we do it, because we are saying the exact same thing. At least now we’ll stop in the middle and go “Are we having that fight we always have?” It diffuses the situation and kind of makes us laugh. The truth is the more passionate we are about what ever we are fighting about, the more we both care. And I think we see that now.
Seriously though, we are only one fight away from never fighting again.
O’LRL: I’m sure there’s a fun story behind your company name Butter&Sugar? Care to share?
KC: When not making films we are cooking, eating, or tracking down something new and fun to eat. Food is a great hobby because you have to eat, might as well make it interesting! We often cook for our friends, and one night Matt made a chicken for one of our friends, Ben. He was at first amazed it tasted like a restaurant chicken and then was appalled to discover the reason was because Matt did what restaurants do which is put a bunch of butter on the outside to crisp the skin and make it delicious. So Ben started calling Matt ‘Butter.’ Ben also is love with my chocolate cream pie, so I soon became ‘Sugar.’ The rest was kind of history (thanks Ben!) It’s a good reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.
O’LRL: What’s next on your filmmaking horizon?
KC: We are currently working on few projects. Right now we’re in the middle of developing a show tentatively titled “The Dying Art” about artists who practice dying art forms such as darkroom printing and stone lithography. Matt’s spearheading this with one of our frequent collaborators Keith Lancaster, and it’s really exploring the spirit of the people who continue these forms that more and more are becoming forgotten by the general public. Together we are also in the early stages of developing a show about the new modern food scene in Los Angeles (clearly right up our alley).
My favorite part of making the documentary was structuring the story and crafting the character arc. I discovered my love of writing, and so to work on that I am currently in the Professional Screenwriting Program at UCLA. If there’s anything you learn in making a project as ambitious as a documentary, it’s that you are never done learning. It’s a new challenge to work on a narrative piece and how to bring that to life, but I’m really enjoying it.
In making Off The Floor, we found that we’re drawn to stories of dreamers and outsiders. While we were editing the film, we had a phrase printed out in giant words above the computer with the theme of the film: “Passion overcomes even the harshest critics”. I think that’s a theme we love to explore and these new projects are taking everything we learned making this film and applying it forward.
O’LRL: Thanks for taking time to share with O’Leary’s Reel Life. Have a great time at Heartland Film Festival.
View the Heartland Film Festival’s website for additional screening dates and to acquire tickets.
Off the Floor: