Interview with Writer/Producer/Star Emma Speer (HYSTERICAL)

HYSTERICAL was the winner of BEST FEATURE FILM at the Toronto Comedy Film Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

One thing I appreciate about this difficult brain of mine is that it doesn’t rest when something is unresolved. I was never interested in living a musty, begrudging life. I always knew sunlight was the best disinfectant. At some point, in order for me to have a life-well-lived, I needed to address my mother-daughter issues head-on. Hysterical is the product of my determination to live a sunshine-based life.

Originally, Hysterical was a stage production, but when the pandemic hit, I adapted it to film.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Oh god, this is a trippy question. I see two answers:

1. I sat down with the idea to write a one-woman show about my mother and me in December 2019, and the final film version was completed in April 2022.

2. After starting to write that December, I went back to some of my old journals and drawing pads and saw the word ‘hysterical’ in the center of a large page with free association nonsense all around it. I know I did that brainstorm session in July 2017. I don’t really see that as the actual ‘idea’ for this show, but it was a cool kind of unintentional time capsule.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

Hm… The two words I’ve heard most from others are “powerful” and “absurd”.

My words would be “earnest” and “nourishing”.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

There are many things that were difficult— for example, shout out to Ian from Fairfield Theater Company who let us stay 7 hours past when our contract was supposed to end in order for us to finish filming. Performing under that pressure was surely challenging.

But, if we’re being honest here (and if not, then what’s the point), I am still struggling with showing the film to my immediate community, since so many people know my mom (I still live in Bridgeport, our hometown). My mother has seen all different iterations of it and is comfortable with it, but there is something about having her neighbors or friends-of-friends viewing it that makes me uncomfortable. This is certainly my story, my memory, my truth, and I fact-checked it a bajillion times with her and any other eye-witnesses, and yet…

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Oh I squirmed like an adorable little worm. Once I got over the shock, joy, and discomfort at hearing good things about me, I was very grateful and sobered, for lack of a better word. I had a great team to produce Hysterical who ‘got it’, but there was still a part of me that was like ‘does this make sense to anyone who is not me?’ To hear complete strangers articulate the messages, strategies, decisions, etc. of Hysterical was so grounding. And motivating!

Watch the Audience Feedback VIdeo:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

In all honesty, my deepest love is performing live. I love connecting with people and dancing with their attention to distract from the deeper dance the art has with their hearts. That’s been the case my whole life, and only in my adulthood (starting around 18) have I been able to articulate it as something profound, beyond “fun”. I’ve always been enchanted by audience-performer co-enchantment. What I crave most ultimately is a collaborative connection, which most certainly happens in small films like Hysterical.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Truly, Cats the musical simply because I had it on VHS growing up. I had my sexual awakening to the Rum Tum Tugger.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I am new to the film-festival world, so the elements I am about to list may already be in place. My two biggest goals in submitting to festivals are:

1. In the hopes that Hysterical gets to someone who resonates with it

2. To meet like-minded creative people for future collaborations

Most certainly goal 1 is getting satisfied. Goal 2 involves more exploration on my part. Perhapsfestivals can facilitate some sort of “meet the other creators” page where the other filmmakers can communicate with one another.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

It was good! I had to search through the site to figure out the format of the festival, and to be honest, I’m still a little unclear about that. But overall it was good and easy with a lot of info.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Hm… I’m in a multiple year phase where I just love me some roasted veggies and hummus with sooooooooo many olives and sun dried tomatoes. Truly, though, my favorite meal is any meal with a group of people who are down to have a game night afterwards.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

I want to collaborate!!!! Hit me up! I am interested in brainstorming, writing, performing, directing…. In a word, realizing—to make real. Maybe that means to make reel, or to make on stage, or some other medium.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep hosting my radio show


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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