Interview with Filmmaker and Writer Easmanie Michel
(Filmmaker and Writer Easmanie Michel On Film And Why She Wants To Bring Edwidge Danticat’s Work to The Big Screen)
Easmanie Michel is who you might call an ambitious filmmaker. In her last semester at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where she is majoring in Cinematic Arts, the Bahamas-born, Florida-raised filmmaker of Haitian descent already has a prize project in mind: bringing “Caroline’s Wedding” Edwidge Danticat’s short story from the author’s award-winning book Krik? Krak!.
Michel has worked as a production assistant on “CSI: Miami”, “Miami Ink”, and on the TV series “Burn Notice”—among other productions. She wrote, directed and produced Harlem Echoes, a short film.
Tell us about yourself. My early memory was of my family feeling homeless. As a child, my dad worked on a farm in the Bahamas and when the Bahamian government would round up Haitians for deportation we would hide on this farm. My parents were so strong and proud despite this. They decided to come to the US because it promised a better way of life. We made the journey to the US in the 1980s without my mom because she didn’t have her papers. I always wanted to tell the stories of the Haitians who lived with each other, loved each other, cried together about the hardships in their new homes away from Haiti. I am in awe of the superstition that makes everything magical and sometimes a bit frightening. When I graduated high school I was unable to go to college because I didn’t have the right papers but two years later I was approved to get my Alien Registration card and I was able to go to Miami Dade College. I transferred from Miami Dade College to Florida International University were I majored in English Literature, minored in Women Studies and received a certificate in African New World Studies. My senior year in college I studied aboard in London at the University of Westminster for a semester and that was where I fell in love with film. I loved that film is a collage of the different arts and loved that it is visual form of storytelling.
Of all the stories and novels that Edwidge Danticat wrote, why “Caroline’s Wedding”? What drew you to it in particular When I read “Caroline’s Wedding”, I was struck with how much it reflected me own personal story. It was as if Edwidge Danticat knew me and that she had somehow witness the life I was living. I like the nonjudgmental way Grace observed Ma’s adherence to Haitian tradition and superstitions and Caroline’s ballsy ways that was very much part of American culture, but what is sometimes considered rude Frekan in a Haitian-American household. For example I remember replying “what” to my and have her say it what ill mannered to reply in such a way. I was to say, “Yes manman.” Having your papers is very important in “Caroline’s Wedding” and I grow up always wanting the right papers to which meant I belong.
You started out as a production assistant. What sort of insights did you get from working on so many different productions? As a production assistant, you have to be “jack of all trade.” I learned that flexibility is necessary to work on a set. That things are constantly falling apart and there are so many variables, but if you can be that calm in the storm then your are half way there. The set is organic and you must be able to adapt. Always remember that you are collaborating and try to take everyone ideas into consideration. You have also produced. I produced most of my short films, which means finding all the equipment, locations and actors needed for each project. It is especially pertinent to have these skills when you starting out since you have to wear may hats.
I think a lot of times when a reader reads a piece of literature, and they hear that it’s going to be adapted for the big screen, they get excited at first. And then they start to develop this semi-anxiety about how faithful the work will be to the literary work. What are your thoughts? In a recent interview I did with Edwidge Danticat, she was asked a similar question and I thought she gave the most insightful answer. She said that she is looking for an experience as a viewer and I think this is what the audience want. The experience should remain the same even though some of the plot may change. By this I mean, certain things had to change in order for the story to be visual, but I do think though that the essence of the story, the Haitian-American tug of war is very much present.
“Caroline’s Wedding” is a short story, and we’ve seen a lot of those adapted into feature films. The project was a finalist at the prestigious Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. What was it like adapting it from its original form and readying it for the big screen? I worked with two phenomenal writers France-Luce Benson and Darcy Miller both are phenomenal writer who help with making Grace’s story visual. In the short story “Caroline’s Wedding” Grace thoughts are internally represented. We hear her thoughts. One of the hardest parts of adapting the script was making actionable choices for Grace, since these choices had to remain true to the story and true to Haitian-American experience.
Previously you directed a short. How do you think that has prepared you for directing a feature? The short have allowed me to hone my storytelling skills and I have learned how to work actors. A crucial part of directing is learning to create the kind of environment the actors needs to embody the part.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? Shoot whenever/wherever you can. Watch a lot of movies—the classics, the indies, and the experimental. Consider taking an acting class.
You have a great deal of credits under your belt, and you are about to get into a new phase of your career. What do you hope to accomplish with this project, and for projects to come? I am interested exploring in the quotidian way of life, this comes from my own desire to live more in the present. I of course want to entertain, but I want to do this while showing the preciousness that can be found in what is often considered ordinary.
Help Easmanie Michel and her team bring “Caroline’s Wedding” to your local movie theater. CLICK HERE to support her campaign on Kickstarter.