Good Girl Charlotte: Interview with Angel Kristi Williams

| April 6, 2016

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Remember how awkward your teen years were? Most would like to forget those cringey times, but filmmaker Angel Kristi Williams has a different strategy: look at those formative moments straight in the face. So it is in her latest short film Charlotte, a deeply patient work that gives voice to the gawky, and beautiful, nature of coming of age.

Charlotte will screen as part of Aspen Shortsfest’s Program TwoWe caught up with Angel to chat up her tender approach with actors, as well as harvest a few kernels of advice regarding crowdfunding.

Zayden Bates and Brianna Cormier in Charlotte

Zayden Bates and Brianna Cormier in Charlotte

Hi Angel. Talk to us about your film Charlotte. How did the story come about?

Charlotte was a short story that I started writing in 2010, while in grad film school. I was interested in telling a story about the complexity of transitioning into adulthood.

The film has a palpable awkwardness. Young women on the cusp of adulthood, exploring feelings they don’t understand. How much were you channeling personal experiences?

The story was deeply personal for me on the page, but then when you start collaborating with actors they bring their own story to the film. Zayden [Bates], who plays Charlotte, had never been kissed before, so that added a whole other layer to her performance.

A tender moment in Charlotte

A tender moment in Charlotte

Casting seems like it was key to the success of the film. How did you go about casting young actors?

We got really lucky. I had scoured Los Angeles looking at every young Black actor in the city. We casted Zayden to play Charlotte first and then her parents were nice enough to let her come back a couple times to read with actors auditioning for Alex. When Brianna Cormier walked in, I knew we’d found our girl and Zayden agreed.

What’s your working process with your actors like, to get the tender performances in this film? Did you have to direct the younger actors differently than the woman who played the mother?

Brianna had never been on-screen before and Zayden had never played a major role, so my approach was just to get them really comfortable with each other. I hoped that they would become friends and they did. They bonded really quickly so that helped. On set in-between setups, I wanted them to be in the space so they hung out in Charlotte’s room even when we weren’t rolling.

Production Still: Charlotte (Credit Cooper Bates)

Production Still: Charlotte (Credit Cooper Bates)

I definitely directed each actor differently but not because of the difference in age – because every person is different. Denise Boutte, who plays the mother has a daughter of her own, so she really connected with the story early on. Even though her daughter is very young in real life, she knows that these are the types of conversations that’ll come up in the future.
I will say that directing actors with less experience makes me more attentive while directing.

The film has a cool realist vibe. The handheld is subtle and inviting. How did you work with your DP to achieve the look?

My DP Michelle Lawler got attached to the project several months before principal photography and we spent a lot of time talking about the story. I knew while writing the script that I wanted it to have a sort of neo-realism, I wanted the audience to experience the story in the same way Alex was.

Zayden Bates in Charlotte

Zayden Bates in Charlotte

Where did you shoot? How was it securing your locations?

Knowing a location always makes scouting easier because you know where to find what you’re looking for.  I shot in West Baltimore where I grew up. We filmed in my grandmother’s house.

You used crowdfunding to fund the film. What was that like? What did you learn?

Crowdfunding is a full-time job and it’s hard, but Seed & Spark made it really transparent for our supporters. I don’t know that I would have met the fundraising goal on another platform. I’ve used others in the past that weren’t successful. The biggest lesson I learned is that everyone isn’t computer and tech savvy. I had to make personal phone calls and visit people to secure donations. This was especially true for people of a certain age. The other thing is when you suggest amounts in a number of increments, people are more likely to give. A lot of times people don’t donate because they assume the amount they have to give is not significant or helpful. When you ask for $5, they’ll give you that plus a little more.

Zayden Bates in Charlotte

Zayden Bates in Charlotte

Did you find anything surprisingly challenging during production?

Working on a small budget always requires you to wear multiple hats and be really creative but shooting in my hometown benefitted the production immensely.

Who do you cite as influences?

Oh I have a ton. I’m influenced by things everyday. I watch a lot of foreign cinema: Wong Kar-wai is a favorite, Lynne Ramsay, Steve McQueen, Spike Lee, John Singleton and I’m a recent fan of Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s. Her film Mustang I’ve just added to my favorite films of all time.

Tell us about your Columbia College Chicago experience.

Columbia College Chicago really helped me hone my writing and directing skills, but more importantly I learned how to collaborate with a team of creative people. I wore all the hats prior to Columbia. I shot, edited, production designed and directed.

Do you have any advice for student filmmakers?

Be on set every weekend. Constantly seek mentors both in and outside of school. Find internships at production companies or with filmmakers you admire. Read a lot of scripts, watch a lot of content and most important – have your feature film or TV script ready before you graduate!

Born and raised in Baltimore Maryland, Angel Kristi Williams received her BA in Visual Art from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. After graduation she worked in television for Discovery Communications before being awarded the Lumiere Scholarship to attend Columbia College Chicago as an MFA candidate in Cinema Directing. Her work has screened in art galleries, numerous festivals both domestically and internationally, and garnered the attention of Participant Media, a production company committed to social responsibility through film. Angel is a Project Involve Directing Fellow, recently named one of ten Black directors to watch by Paste Magazine and in development on her feature directorial debut.

Watch the trailer:

Visit Angel’s website:

Visit Charlotte’s page on Seed & Spark:

Follow the film Charlotte on Twitter:

Follow Angel on Twitter:

Charlotte screens as part of Aspen Shortsfest’s Program Two showcase on Wednesday, April 6, 2016 @ 5:30pm.
All screenings are at Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado.


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