Contributed with curiosity by TK Studio Staff Writer and Alumni Lucia Sawh
Not gonna lie, graduating from Terry Knickerbocker Studio scared me. A lot. After two years of intensive training, I knew I was ready(ish) to tackle the industry, but with no clear path of what to do next.
I felt lost.
Fortunately, TK Studio’s Third Year Program alleviates much of this post grad anxiety; but let’s get real. I am way too antsy to wait for the next opportunity.
Like many other TK Studio students, I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit paired with a profound desire to share my stories. But, like…how do I do that? I then remembered Jenna Ciralli, former Terry Knickerbocker Student who helped establish the foundation of TK Studio. I desperately wanted to talk to her about her experience creating her first short film, Willow Creek Road.
Jenna’s generosity and candor sheds so much light on the idea of taking control of my passion. All I need is a belief in myself and the perseverance to continue despite any adversity I’m sure to face.
I know. Easier said than done. Here’s what she learned…
So what is Willow Creek Road?
Jenna Ciralli: Willow Creek Road explores the internal world of a lonely, Montana, ranch hand, Ruth. When Ruth is unexpectedly drawn into the lives of two children, she slowly assumes the role of a mother, awakening a sense of play, femininity, protection, and connection. Ruth must face reality and ultimately herself, when the kids’ mother returns home.
How did you find a story to tell? How was Willow Creek Road born?
JC: It was born from a feeling that came from an artistic miscarriage I felt happen on the theatre scene in New York City. I wanted to look in the eye whatever was at the depth of what I was experiencing and processing in my real life as an entry point into my work.
In order to connect with a larger audience, I had to have the courage to go to the seed of my pain. I call it “going home,” whether it’s a physical or an emotional place. I imagined the story of a woman who had some literal miscarriages, and the longing, desire, and humiliation it had brought up for her.
What was the most difficult part of your process?
JC: The perseverance, and staying the course. It was a two year process, and we had our first film festival in October. To wear all hats throughout that as creator, to being on set, to post production, as well as handling all of the PR, marketing and film festival submissions, requires a lot of endurance.
It has given me a backbone, and some fierce maternal grit, which I am very grateful for, but it’s also very lonely. You’re the person who believes in it the most, and who’s guiding the team along. I was interested in quality over quantity, at this particular point in my life, and allowed a couple years of investment.
Lucia Sawh: I can’t imagine how emotionally tough it must be to weather having to manage collaborators, honor your story, while having to wear so many hats.
JC: Yeah, and people fall away from the project, and that can be heart breaking. There’s this idea that you want to see it through with the full team, but that’s not really fair to the project, because the project wants to be born on it’s own terms. The right people for the project will see it through, but not everyone is going to go through the whole process with you. And that’s okay.
As an aspiring content creator, I feel like I have no idea where exactly to start. Do you have any advice?
JC: A major step was working with graduate students at NYU and Columbia in the directing and writing program. Not only did it help me hone film technique, by working with them, I met a lot of great screenwriters who were going to
school for that very thing.
I read a lot of their work, and learned from seeing what was communicated in the final product, and what didn’t make sense. I then invited them onto projects so I could learn from them in the writer’s room.
Anything else actors as entrepreneurs should know?
JC: Know your strengths and weaknesses. As a producer, I’m a good fire starter and team builder. I can continue to green light and move things forward. Be a great listener and figure out where the energy is filling your sails and giving you the steam to move forward when the industry feels overwhelming.
OH! And if you’re interested in producing your own work, you need another producer going into rehearsal and while on set as an extra set of eyes.
Is there anything you wish you knew before [producing Willow Creek Road] that you know now?
JC: I’d beat myself up for not enjoying auditioning. It can be so heartbreaking because you can feel like your dream is falling away from you, or you don’t have what it takes to follow a particular path, and that’s what I had hopes to
communicate to the TK Studio audience.
It’s okay to be unconventional. It’s been so meaningful to see how when I can work privately with a team I trust, how that can reach an audience. I can work deeply in a way that suits my strengths and not beat myself up for not getting it
in the audition room. Everyone has strengths. If you cultivate those strengths, your path will be unveiled before you.
What’s next for you? Has this inspired you to create more or to take a new path?
JC: For me, it’s been helpful to get really clear on where I live. I had given myself so much grief over what I am and what I am not. Some people are great at auditioning, some are business savvy and know how to network and market,
while some have an organic reach by their personality and who they are.
I tend to be a maverick content creator. As a result, I’ve found that this project has opened doors for other opportunities. We’re moving forward with our Willow Creek team for a modern day western with two female lead characters.
I found one of my artistic callings through this project. I want to revisit the western genre through the female gaze and deconstruct it a bit. This feature is in that direction.
Can I just say, Jenna Ciralli literally speaks in poem.
It’s beautiful. No wonder she’s created such a beautiful story. Although a two-year pursuit to share something so personal feels overwhelming, especially at the beginning of my career, my desire to create is present and ignited.
Maybe the metaphor will come to me in the shower or on a run, as Jenna says so often happens.
Or maybe I’ll need a little more therapy.
Either way, I’ll now know exactly where to start.
Thank you, Jenna, for being such a generous and kind human. Stay tuned for more information on where to watch Willow Creek Road.