Keep It Short Presents
A Mother’s Work Is Never Done
Monica Bartley (Director), TJ Webb (Producer), and Emily Sanchez (Cinematographer) recap on their upcoming film A Mother’s Work Is Never Done, discussing a gross house, a scary sister, and a weird shared wavelength of friendship.
Jonah Garrett: Hi and welcome to Keep It Short. I’m your host, and we’re here with a few people from the crew of A Mother’s Work Is Never Done. Monica, can you give us a short summary of the film?
Monica Bartley: So A Mother’s Work Is Never Done is a story about two sisters whose mother passed away and they’re faced with trying to decide what to do with her body, and the little sister decides the best thing to do is to eat her.
Oh okay, alright. Well, TJ, we’ll start the questions with you. What logistical hurdles did you face in pre-production?
TJ Webb: So in pre-production, the biggest hurdle was probably getting the green-light book all together: Getting the forms from everyone, but Monica and Emily were on top of it. It was terrific. There was a constant stream of communication. We didn’t prepare as early in advance as someone should but we did that. We did that.
Whenever you went out to search for locations, did you have an ideas where you wanted to shoot or was it aimlessly driving around Denton to find something?
TJ: Monica and Emily actually had a friend’s house in mind before we did any location scouting, so that was mainly their whole deal. It did end up working really nicely, because we were able to shoot the garage scene there; we were able to shoot every single room in the same house, so it was pretty convenient.
What made that the location that you thought would be the best?
TJ: I’ll let Monica answer that.
Monica: So a friend of ours moved into that house recently and we’ve been over there and it was really gross.
Emily Sanchez: It was really dingy.
Monica: It was very dark. Not a lot of lights.
Monica: Really, it was just like -
Monica and Emily: Gross.
Monica: But yeah. We thought the colors like the brown walls and the red paint- it really fit the vibe, and the garage was just gross enough. Everything was just gross enough to work.
From pictures and videos on set, there was a bucket of meat with a lot of red liquid. What was that?
TJ: So that was various types of meat. We had chicken breast, we had -
Monica and Emily: Cow tongue.
TJ: I was going to save cow tongue for last, because that’s the hitter (Laughter). But we had cow tongue and that was what really threw it. Huge stench throughout the entire house. It was dreadful; it was awful. It wasn’t even the fact that it was laying out for a while, I’m pretty sure cow tongue just smells like that.
Monica: As soon as our production designer, Lauren, opened up the bag, it filled the house and it was disgusting.
TJ: And the blood was a mixture of water, cocoa powder, and flour sugar.
Onto cinematography, what were some of the aesthetics you went for working with the production designer to really pull out the post-apocalyptic feel for the film?
Emily: We wanted it to look very naturalistic. We didn’t want it to look weird or something crazy, so we talked a lot about neutral colors and natural lighting. We talked about how I was gonna want some practicals. We just talked stuff like that, but for the most part it was pretty simple because the house itself had all of the qualities that we wanted and it was already dressed for the movie, so it didn’t take a lot. It was pretty easy from that point.
Anything with the location that affected how you shot it? Maybe you didn’t have something there that you needed?
TJ: The stove.
Emily: Oh yeah, they had their stove taken out at some point -
Monica: On the first day of the shoot.
Emily: Yeah, and they told me it was gonna be put back in on Saturday and I was like “Oookay.” So, that was kind of weird that we had to work around with. Other than that, everything worked really well. Lighting-wise, I wanted to have a window and they had a very big window and it worked for what I wanted. The location was just great honestly. It was like a great location for everything we needed.
Is the story told more through visuals or was it dependent on the narrative and dialogue?
Emily: It’s a good mix of both. A lot of it had to do with the dialogue and the little sister’s character brings in the creepiness aspect to it, because visually I wanted it to look really natural so it doesn’t look just like a normal world. The weird part comes from them: the little girl, the sister, and their relationship.
Okay. Moving onto the direction of the film, with it being such a dark theme throughout the movie, did you find yourself having to leave your comfort zone to get into the mindset?
Monica: Yeah, I’ve never thought about eating my mom, but this was not the kind of movie I ever thought I would be making. I don’t generally enjoy horror films personally, so it was a nice challenge to go from my comfort zone which is just shit-posting and comedy to a serious horror film. Well, it’s not really horror film, but it sort of lead itself to the genre. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.
What about the actors? Did you have to help them get into the correct mindset or did they come on set ready?
Monica: Honestly, I had to do very little with the them. TJ’s sister was born for this role. She was perfect and Sarah, the older sister, was really great. She came on super last minute. She was really great.
When everyone got onto set, did the ball get rolling or did you have to find a rhythm?
Monica: No, this- I’ve said this a lot and I’ve said it to the crew a lot but this movie wouldn’t have been made without the crew that we have. We got really lucky, because everyone was just randomly placed but we got super lucky. Everybody was hard-working; everybody fell into their role easily. One of our PA’s [Production Assistant] had to take over as boom operator, which he didn’t sign up for but he did phenomenal all weekend. This literally would not have been made without the people.
Emily: We worked really efficient together. We went through it really quick. It’s crazy how much we shot on Saturday.
Monica: Saturday we shot most of the film. We added a scene we were supposed to shoot on Sunday and we only finished an hour behind which was really cool.
Emily: We were really efficient with time. I was really into that.
Monica: I think it also not lends itself to the crew, but the location alone. We didn’t have to move around the house a lot. Most of it was set in one area, so we just had to move lights around. Everything just fell together.
With the actors being so ready for this role, did you found yourself working with Emily more than the actors or did you still found a balance?
Monica: There was a good balance. Emily and I have this weird shared wavelength, so we can read each other’s minds. Whatever I was thinking, she was already thinking and if at at any point we weren’t on the same page, we were quick to work it out.
Emily: For the most part, we talked a lot what we wanted or at least how we wanted it to look and stuff so that was easy because we just came on set, “Alright, let’s do it.” We planned it in our heads a lot. We talked a lot about that, so it was pretty easy from there.
Anyone can answer, what are you most excited about this film that you want the audience to take away from it after they watch it?
Emily: I’ll start (Laughter). I’m more excited, I think it’s more of a personal thing, but I’m excited to see it because it’s the first thing I’ve actually shot. I’ve done a lot of stuff with cameras and that’s what I want to be doing but it was the first time time I’ve done it myself and I’m excited to see that to get something out there as my own. That’s what I’m really pumped about.
Monica: I have to agree with that. I’m really excited to have this be a thing that I made with a bunch of other people. This was the thing that I was in charge of which is really weird. I shouldn’t be put in charge of anything, but yeah, I’m really excited to see what we all collectively made together because, again, we all worked really well together. I genuinely enjoyed everybody on set, so I’m really excited to see what we made.
TJ: It looks really good, so I’m really excited to see what it’s going to look like in the screen at the Lyceum. I’m really excited to see my sister act, because she never acted before. She’s excited to attend the premiere as well, so it’s going to be fun.
Monica: She really was the star. Again, both of our actors came in super last minute, because our original actors had fallen through but TJ was like, “By the way, I have a 13 year old sister if you wanna do it.” I was like “Uhh yes” (Laughter). At that point it didn’t really matter if she was a good actor or not, it was just that we needed somebody but it really worked out. She has the perfect personality to fit in this character (Laughter). She was like just weird enough but just -
Emily: Just the right enough of scary (Laughter).
Monica: Yes! That’s a very good way of putting it.
TJ: She’s inherently -
Monica: Scary (Laughter).
TJ: Yeah. She can be very creepy sometimes, especially if she doesn’t want to talk to you.
Monica: There was a part where the little sister hits the older sister on the head with a bat, you know what sisters do, and Savannah had a really hard time acting like she was gonna hit the older sister on the head when TJ was like, “Well, let me stand in just so you can practice to go at it.” She did not hold back (Laughter).
TJ: In between takes, she came up to me with the bat like this (holds bat aggressively high) to scare me. That’s what she did at first and we were like, “Why aren’t you doing that?” and she was like (quietly whispers), “I don’t know” (Laughter).
It’s not you, that’s why.
TJ: Yeah, so I stood in and she repeatedly did it and I was like, “Go, go, go!”
Monica: And it was good every time.
One last question, did you have a favorite moment on set?
Monica: I will say my favorite part of the entire weekend was probably the first day when we shot the garage scene, because of the weather. It was disgusting. I have never smelled a worse smell in my life.
TJ: It was awful.
Monica: It was just like the perfect day. That was the day we all figured how each other worked and it was a good icebreaker too, because it was a literal blood bath inside the garage which was really cool.
Emily: It got really close.
Monica: Yeah, it got really close. We had to share that room. That was my favorite part of the weekend.
Emily: My favorite part of it was probably the first day too just like getting into it, starting, and how having the camera was mine and getting to hold it and that was just really fun. In general, as a whole, I really enjoyed getting to be on set with old-Mon Fartley, and this is lot of my good close pals and I was like, “You know, this is nice.” It was just a good overall experience. I think everyone worked really well together.
TJ: Making movies and stuff, you know? I would say my favorite day was the first or the last one. The first one because it was such a great ice breaker to literally be so close within each other with a bunch of stinky meat and fake blood getting on everyone in the garage. It was great. I’m sure for Savannah, my sister, was great for her to be able to be ridiculous the first time around, because some of the BTS [Behind-the-Scenes] pictures are just gold like Lauren laying under my sister and as she was hacking, Lauren takes blood from a tupperware container and throws it in Savannah’s face. It’s just gold. It was awesome, so the first day and the last day. On the last day, we wrapped up and Monica’s mom made us some awesome craft service. It was awesome. She made us vegetarian enchiladas, they were terrific.
Monica: She’s an incredible woman, what can I say?
TJ: She made a great dead mother.
Monica: She’s also in the film, she played the dead mom. She did phenomenal- she did a good job. I also wanna say too- the weekend itself, and again I said it before, but the crew really helped out. The weekend went so smoothly. I’ve never been on a film set that’s gone that smoothly. We didn’t have any problems; nobody stuck out a sore thumb; nobody was an asshole on set; there were no issues with the camera; there was no problems getting equipment. The week leading up to the shoot was so stressful, but the weekend itself was so nice like actually starting the shoot everything just fell into place. It was really, really nice.