Interview with Filmmaker Tanya M. Wheeler (MEANS TO AN END)

1. What motivated you to make this film?

MEANS TO AN END has a bit of a history. It started when there was a call out for women to write short horror scripts for a competition to get into an anthology series here in New Zealand. Horror was not really my genre but I sat down and thought of the worst things a woman could do and wrote two short scripts and submitted them. I did not get selected, but I did enter Means to an End into a US-based horror script comp afterwards and was a finalist in 2017. That prompted me to think about it as a film. After real problems trying to bring it to the screen, I finally broke my cardinal rule and directed it myself. I always said I was not going to direct, but I had no alternative, so I first time directed this film. I wanted to portray a woman who was completely lacking in maternal care. It has always annoyed me that women are portrayed as good and men as evil, and yet humans can be either, regardless of gender. I figured audiences would not expect a female character to be that callous and that I could subvert their expectations.

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

I wrote the script in 2017, filmed in Nov 2020, and released it in April 2022. Covid caused delays but also casting issues, sound design problems, and director issues. Initially, I asked someone else to direct it for me to produce, but his vision of the character was very ‘Tom Jones bawdy’ rather than ‘self-possessed and knowing what she wants’, which is how I wanted the lead character to behave. I knew that he was wrong for the film, and no one else would do it so I decided to be a first-time director. I had always avoided directing because I knew that although I could get what I wanted from actors and their performances, I did not have enough technical camera knowledge to be able to get what I wanted on the screen. Once I found an AMAZING Director of Photography and Camera Tech, who were both supportive and sympathetic, they helped create my vision for me. I just had to say what I wanted and I was relieved and was so lucky that they gave their time and energy to this film for free and took a chance on a first-time director. My initial cast for the lead characters changed before filming due to conflicts in scheduling, and it was on hold for most of 2020 while we tried to find replacement cast members. It took about eight months to find someone brave enough to take on the lead. Many actresses I knew were excited to read it then turned it down as it was too close to home (three got pregnant shortly after looking at it) and several expressed fears that they would never work again if they made such a polarising film. A night seeing a two-hander play introduced me to Esther Louise, she played such a gutsy role in the play that I approached her afterwards to ask if she would consider reading my script. She said yes and signed on as the lead. She was perfect. The character is SO FAR from who Esther is, so it shows what a fantastic actress she is. Once I had the right cast in place, everything came together in just a couple of weeks and we shot it over four nights at a friend’s bar. Post-production took time due to covid and other issues with sound design etc, but we finally got it finished and started the festival run in May 2022. Of course, we did not expect the overturning of Roe v Wade to add another layer of meaning to the film for American audiences. The five-year process of bringing MEANS TO AN END to life was totally worth it!

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

Disturbing & polarizing.

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

Overcoming my own self-doubt about my ability to direct it. Then finding a cast willing to be brave enough to be the lead characters.

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

I was excited and proud. I was thrilled when they ‘got’ things like the ageing/fountain of youth aspects of the story as they are really subtle and I did not know if audiences would pick up on them. I was amazed that no one hated it, given the subject matter. They saw so much in my little film. I also felt pleased that no one predicted the ending. These were the first audience reactions I have seen since the cast and crew screening so it was a pretty special and surreal experience to hear my dialogue being quoted on screen by viewers. The whole point to this film is to be horrifying because it is something we cannot imagine a woman doing to her baby… and apparently I succeeded.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

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

In 2008, I decided to try writing a film script and I fell in love with writing for the screen. It took another seven years before I started producing out of necessity to get my written work made the way I wanted it made after a few projects were poorly executed by other filmmakers who did not fully grasp the nuances of what I had written. Once I started producing I really enjoyed being able to ‘drive the bus’ on a project and control casting decisions and expend energy distributing and pushing my projects out to wider audiences around the world instead of passively waiting for others to like my writing. It would be another five years before taking the director helm myself, again out of frustration. Filmmaking is so collaborative so I could not have written, directed, and produced this short film without a whole cast and crew coming on board and believing in me enough to make this film happen. I am eternally grateful to them for their contribution to MEANS TO AN END. It could not have been brought to life without them. Having directed that short film, I am now excited to bring more of my work to life as a director, writer, and producer.

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

Harold and Maude. I love the love of life that Ruth Gordon brings to the role and the darkest of humor that Bud Cort’s faux suicides bring to the film. Plus a Cat Stevens soundtrack… it is one of my top films of all time.

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

Anything that helps small short filmmakers get noticed in a noisy space, trying to find funding for the next film is always hard work but being able to say you were acknowledged, selected, or awarded something in a festival helps your chances. So thank you for the feedback from your audiences, and thank you for the selection and the Best Cinematography Award laurel. You contribute to my confidence when I next approach funders. Third-party approval!

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

FilmFreeway has made applying to film festivals easy and stress-free. Their suggestions for festivals bring festivals to your attention as a filmmaker that you might not have otherwise seen. Once everything is uploaded and on the Freeway, it is so simple to have it all passed to the festivals without having to repeat the process multiple times. I love it.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Schnitzel.

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

Trying to find the money to film the next project. I would love to film another short film this year as a director, but the projects I have in mind are ambitious and require more than the self-funding that I did on MEANS TO AN END. Maybe I need to lower my sights and write something smaller, but finding the money is always the tough part. We do this for the love of creating and filmmaking, but love doesn’t pay everyone. I know that this is only the beginning of my directing journey.

By matthewtoffolo

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

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