Movie Interview “The Filmmakers Who Sold Pens”
How four Chicago actresses and their short-film, Sell Me This Pen transcends the “Me Too” era by showing women at the forefront of the industry.
By: Oscar Rodriguez
Runtime: 23 min
Production Company: Faux Pas Films, Portia Chellelynn Films, I-17 Studios
Director: Michael Jolls | Written by: Cleveland More
Starring: Cleveland More, Portia Chellelynn, Dusty Seavoy, Alexa Hartfield, Olivia Sieck, and Natalia Samoylova
Produced by: Nick Allexon, Portia Chellelynn, Alexa Hartfield, Michael Jolls, and Natalia Samoylova
Director of Photography: Alexa Hartfield & Michael Jolls
Editor: Michael Jolls & Clint Cottrell
Two weeks after Sell Me This Pen began shooting, the New York Times published an article that exposed Harvey Weinstein and kicked off the 2017 celebrity sex-scandal. The hashtag, “MeToo”, hadn’t become a household term yet. The Time’s Up initiative was still a few months away from becoming an industry-wide endorsed movement. Nevertheless, the 22-minute short film, Sell Me This Penwould appear to have been taylormade for the current culture that emerged after last winter.
“Whether or not this drama happened, the movie would still be the same,” says Natalia Samoylova, the executive producer of Sell Me This Pen. “The scandals only change what someone might see or think about the movie, but our fictional story didn’t change.”
Sell Me This Pen is a mockumetnary, told from the perspective of behind-the-scenes footage in which all the actors plays themselves. The crew attempt to produce a parody of Martin Scorsese’s 2013 blockbuster, The Wolf of Wall Street, with the lead actor (Cleveland More) and director (Portia Chellelynn) butting heads.
“You get to see all that goes wrong during their production” explains Chellelynn, “from Cleveland putting real vodka into glasses, and using ‘real’ cocaine.”
Following her breakout performance in 2015’s Candie’s Harem, Portia Chellelynn has been a participant in numerous horror films including her directorial debut,Second Chances, a trailer-trash slasher. “My biggest challenge directing Second
Chances was the multitasking,” says Chellelynn. “You know, I have to say that it is pretty natural for me to boss people around! I have directed a household for almost 20 years now, so when it came to directing movies, I think it just came naturally, be it Second Chances and playing the director in Sell Me This Pen.”
In the story of Sell Me This Pen, Portia’s bustling crew consists of an energetic film student played by Olivia Sieck, and a sassy videographer played by Alexa Hartfield. As the behavior of the screen-talent continues to spiral the production out of control, the ladies rally together.
“Honest. Bold. Creative.” are some of the words Sieck uses to describe Sell Me This Pen. Playing a film major was something Sieck found very easy: “I loved movies growing up and being on a film set was a lifestyle I wanted desperately as a kid.”
Hartfield describes her role as “the right hand to Portia, and the voyeur of everyone else’s ridiculous antics.” An actress herself, art imitated life for Hartfield as she was also a producer on Sell Me This Pen. “Being on the production side really changes how I view things on the acting side because now I’ve felt the strain of trying to make it happen to the best of your abilities with so many limiting factors.”
The complications of filmmaking and relationships becomes the crux of the drama in Sell Me This Pen, as an underlying battle of the sexes arises between a chauvinistic actor and the women. The brazen behavior of Cleveland More’s character consists of degrading insults, hard drugging, sexual innuendo, and lots of yelling. The parallels between More’s antics and the likes of many celebrities whose career saw swift decline in recent months appears intentional. Even more acute was that the heavy handed, mocked S&M revenge is seen played out by the women. Nevertheless, the production of Sell Me This Pen was one of careful consideration. “If we were going to do anything that would make the other cast member uncomfortable,” explains Sieck, “we would talk beforehand to make the environment more safe.”
“Chemistry is so important for us”, says Samoylova, who also stars in the short-film as the Margot Robbie parody. “The relationship between actors and the crew has to be comfortable and free to converse.” Samoylova’s producing credits include similar mockumentaries that blend fiction and reality, a style that started when she wrote The Great Chicago Filmmaker in 2013 (released in 2015) which spawn off dozens of videos in the same vein. “The movies that were a problem for us in editing all had bad atmospheres on set. The movies that were the successful all had positive energy when we were shooting them.”
For a satire that would inadvertently resemble the culture shift of the emphasis on women in film, that mindset seemed to be an afterthought. “‘Me Too’ came about shortly after we had already begun shooting” says Chelleynn.
“It wasn’t a thing that was brought up,” adds Sieck, “but I think having a diverse production crew helps to have better equality on set and opportunities to have our voices heard.”
“Sell Me This Pen definitely reflects the culture shift,” says Hartfield, “we each went through the same nonsense that any typical male in the same role would, and we came out most triumphant in the end.”