Director Maggie Kiley talks about her second feature Dial A Prayer starring Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect, Finding Amanda), and William H. Macy (Shameless, Cake). Giving I Am Entrainment the exclusive low down on casting, and filming on location in dreary slush Michigan.
You were one of just eight directors selected for the AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women. How did this experience help your career?
It was a great honor to be selected for DWW and my time there 100% solidified and launched my future career as a director. Before AFI, I had really only acted and I wasn’t entirely sure I had the skill set or drive to direct. My time there was really life changing and I am still a large part of that community. The DWW alumni pool is a pretty fantastic collection of accomplished working female directors.I wouldn’t be here without it or them.
Dial A Prayer tells the story of a troubled young woman answering phones at a Prayer Call Center. Can you tell us where the idea came from?
I honestly think I heard an ad for a prayer hotline on the radio and it stuck with me. I wasn’t writing movies at the time but it planted a seed for a story I later went back to. I was fascinated with the idea that someone would farm out this kind of hope. Then it got me thinking about who is answering the phone and what that room looks like the same way you imagine the disconnect at a Sex Hotline or the integrity of a place like a Suicide Hotline. I thought what if you could make a difference over the phone? And what if you did but you didn’t really mean to?
The writing was exceptionally good between all the different characters. How did you approach the more comedic tone in Dial A Prayer?
Thanks! I hope it’s funny. It was important to me that the people who worked at the center were fully realized in their quirky uniqueness. As an actor whose played supporting roles it was always satisfying for me when someone more on the sidelines had a real sense of wholeness and their own arch so especially in this script I wanted everyone to have that. I write a lot for actors I know and I imagine how they’ll play it I think that helps things comically. If I’m laughing when I‘m writing and still laughing at the auditions that’s usually a good sign.
MTV Movie Award winner (2013) the immensely talented Brittany Snow plays the lead role of Cora. What was the audition process like for Brittany?
Brittany was someone we were certainly really aware of right off the bat. We worked with incredible casting directors Paul Schnee and Kerry Barden and they had cast Brittany in Pitch Perfect. But for me she wasn’t exactly what I had pictured in my head so we agreed to meet before going further. That meeting really changed everything for me. Brittany had such a strong connection to the script and Cora she had insights into the character I had never been able to articulate. She is charming and lovely as you would expect but her approach to the material as an actor really floored me. We met and worked through some scenes at her suggestion and it was instantly clear she was Cora. It was a really exciting discovery and I’m so happy audiences will get to see her do something like this. It’s very different for her and I think her performance is fantastic.
Oscar nominated actor, and star of Showtime’s Shameless William H. Macy played the lead role of Bill. How do you cast the beloved William H. Macy?
I’ve known Macy since I was an acting student at NYU. He is a longtime mentor and friend via off-Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company (founded by Macy and David Mamet) where I am en ensemble member. I wrote the part with Bill in mind but, you certainly never know how things will end up. I was very nervous when I first sent it to him I remember and I have his email back on my bulletin board in my office. It said ‘I think you’ve got something with this script’ and well that was just pretty cool coming from someone who I look up to so much. So I kept writing and eventually he signed on to play Bill. I should say we did try to change the character name right before we shot but we kept it as we were all so used to it. He is just such a class act actor and I really love him in this movie.
Dial A Prayer was shot in what can be considered small town USA. Can you tell about the location scouting specifically how you created the Dial A Prayer center?
My producers are Michigan/LA based and we are able to participate in the Incentive via the Michigan Film Office. I had originally set it in my own hometown of Rochester, NY but Michigan delivered the dreary ‘slush life’ small town winter I was after. There was tremendous support in Michigan for the film locally and we used a lot of homes and locations via connections my producer Jason Potash had. It was really fantastic being there and digging into that world. My production designer Lauren Fitzsimmons gets full credit for the amazing Dial a Prayer Call Center. We built it up from scratch in an office space designing the cubicle layout so that we could maximize shooting angles and change the feel of the space depending on where we were with the film. Lauren and her team (and many many art interns) created all of the materials prayer binders, call order forms, inspirational posters, details on all of the desks. It was amazing to watch it all come to life.
While doing research for the film I found out Dial A Prayer is a real 24-hour service. Have they contacted you at all inquiring about the movie?
I haven’t heard from any prayer centers as of yet! I didn’t actually research any centers for the film I wanted to take the story and imagine it on my own. I’m sure the work they are doing is wonderful and I entirely respect all of the different ways of ‘believing’ that are out there. The DAP of this film though is entirely fictionalized.
Congratulations! Vertical Entertainment picked-up Dial A Prayer for worldwide distribution earlier this year. Can you tell our readers how you landed the deal?
Thanks! We went out with the movie via a great sales team pretty closely on the heels of completion and Vertical was one of the first companies to take a real interest. We sold the film ahead of a festival debut and the sale was announced at Sundance. I’m really excited to be releasing with Vertical. They responded to the film in such a deep and full circle way it makes it all the more exciting.
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