Interview With The Extraordinary Ordinary Crew: Natalie Rodriguez
1. What was your motivating factor in making the film?
The journey of “The Extraordinary Ordinary” has been a long one; like many stories, it started off as an idea. For about a year or so, I was thinking of these group of characters—especially, ERICA. The main motivation came from both my perspective on the expectations that are put on teenagers and young adults, as well as the stigmas with mental health. Even until this day, it is extremely difficult for me to not say something when it comes to certain stigmas such as “snap out of it/it’s in your head,” and so forth. Perhaps that was always the motivation of learning to find my own voice and never being afraid to stand up for something you believe in. I hope others can see that for themselves.
2. Which character can you relate the most and why?
This might be a cliché answer, but I have to say that Erica, Bianca, and Alex are truly third of each other.
Around 2016, I just shot one of the two short film versions of “The Extraordinary Ordinary." It had been about a month or so since I lost someone who was very close to me—my stepdad who suddenly passed away—and the journey of Erica, Alex, and Bianca was so raw and difficult for me to look at. This was part of my grieving process, where everything was so confusing.
One night, I was unable to sleep—and still living at home with my mother—and I was lying down on the living room floor, watching TV. Only, I was unable to focus on the show I was watching—I do not even remember what is. Instead, I texted one of my best friends at the time, confessing how I was feeling unsatisfied with my life, both professionally and personally. Then, I went on (what I call) a text rant on how I felt this urge to do my best with the soon-to-be filming of “The EO.” At some point, during our text conversation, my friend flat out asked me why I wanted to tell the story of Erica, Alex, and Bianca. Without a hesitation, I told him how the characters always felt like the past, present, and future for me.
To me, Erica has always been someone who is feeling like she is ‘toxic’ or perhaps, ‘damaged’ due to her past. In reality, she is NOT. Bianca is an individual who tries her best to live in the moment and not think too far back or too far ahead. This is her way of learning to help herself by connecting with someone who has a similar journey as her—who happens to be Erica. As for Alex, he always represents the future; those worries, thoughts, and fears over the ‘what if,’ trying to find a balance of planning for the future but having an understanding on when to pull yourself back to remain sane.
That is why I feel the three of them bounce off each other because while they are trying to help themselves, they are truly helping others.
This is always a tough question for me to answer too because characters in stories I write about feel like my children. I just LOVE them all and feel so protective of them, almost wanting to hover and keep them away from the bad in the world. Until, of course, it comes to that release—or filming in this situation.
3. What was the selection process in hiring the actors for each role?
The casting processing is a story itself with all the actors. Some have been on board for years, while others came in anywhere between weeks to days before filming had started. But that is sort of expected when it comes to casting, especially when it has to do with an ultra-low budget feature film where people are running around.
I met John Posey, who plays Erica’s dad—Rob, in 2015 after I reached out to him. Even back then, John was always with this mindset, “Great! So just tell me when my shoot dates are.” That is what I admire about John.
A lot of the actors like Jacqueline Bustamante (who plays Erica and Alex’s boss, Janet), Shaun Guzman (who plays Ricky), and Eddie Organist (who plays Diego) were either classmates or friends of mine. It was one of those, “Hey, I’m filming this movie on these dates and I want you to play this role.” Neither of them hesitated, which is when you know they not only believe in the product but you as a creator. And someone like Della Lisi Kerr (who plays Erica’s mom, Cathy) was cast about a week before her scenes where to be shot. Mad kudos to my casting director friend, Natalie Costa, who sent Della my way within minutes after texting her what role I was casting for. Della and I met that same day and we spoke for a few hours and she signed onto the project about a day or so later.
I met some of our other cast through Maddison. She went to earlier acting classes with Ana; and Alex I believe had auditioned for a movie of hers that she shot in 2017 called Ice the Movie.
We also had a mutual colleague and friend, James Elden (who plays Erica’s therapist, Dr. Mansell). But the first person I cast was Maddison. She and I connected on Facebook a few years ago. When Facebook started making actor and filmmaker pages, everyone sort of added each other and followed one another when Instagram and Twitter became tools for promotion. Plus, Maddison and I had a lot of mutual colleagues and friends, so it always felt like we knew each other. Especially when we started cheering the other on with projects that we had going on in our lives.
She and I just sort of bonded virtually for about a year or so before we actually officially met in person. At the time, I was working on another edit of the feature screenplay and was planning to shoot the short film version. So, it made sense to invite her to send in a self-tape for the role of Erica before asking her to attend an earlier table read, I held at a theatre in North Hollywood. Maddison was officially cast for the role of Erica in 2017.
A few months afterward, we ended up filming a sizzle pitch short version with she, Jesse Posey who played Alex, and our soon-to-be cinematographer, Trevor Roach.
4. What was the hardest scene in the movie and why?
There were many emotional and scenes where the actors had to be vulnerable but the one shoot day that sticks out to me was day one of principal photography. Our last scene to shoot for the day was with Alex and Bianca, played by Alex Montalban and Ana Marte.
The scene called for Ana’s character, Bianca, to comfort and help Alex’s character, Alex, out of this self-loathing and self-worth mindset. Both actors had a different prep routine and by the time we got to take three or four, my shoulders were tense.
I remember feeling this guilt for having Alex and Ana go through those intense emotions repeatedly. It was after take three or so when I approached Ana and Alex to see if they were mentally okay. Alex is very method acting, where an actor will stay in character until the end of the shoot day or the completion of the project.
So, when I saw Alex kneeling with his head buried into his hands, knowing NOW that he was trying to stay in the zone, it broke my heart a bit. I also think most of us first-timers of a feature film—this movie being my directorial feature—have this rush of adrenaline, a mix of excitement and ‘what have I just done.’ Let alone, making your directorial feature a story about mental health, recovery, and those ongoing themes of hope, lost, and grief…it can have a toll on the cast and crew.
5. How long did it take to make the film?
Like many independent feature films, especially if they are self-funded (or close to it), it takes YEARS. I wrote the first draft of “The Extraordinary Ordinary” when I was seventeen years old, during the summer before I started my junior year of high school.
I was twenty-four when I directed and produced the first short film version of “The E.O.” I turned twenty-six on the set of principal photography of the feature film. So, it has taken eleven years from penning down the script to distribution. That is WHY it is so important to never stop pursuing that dream; especially if you keep thinking of the story and characters day and night as I did with Erica, Bianca, and Alex.
6. What is the core value that you would like to instill in the minds and hearts of the viewers?
I just hope that the viewers understand that everyone has a mental health and getting help for it IS OKAY. Whether that is seeing a counselor, taking medication, or going through a difficult time, it IS possible to still have life afterward. Your past does NOT define you, let alone your trauma as we see with a lot of the characters in this film.
7. Have you ever experienced anxiety and depression? If yes, what was the first step that you took?
Yes, I have experienced anxiety and depression on and off for years. It is SO COMMON and that is something I, myself, wished I learned sooner. But that is perhaps, part of the recovery stage as well—learning to let go of those wishes and thoughts.
It took me a while to ask for help. I started going to therapy to treat my anxiety in college after experiencing ongoing panic and anxiety attacks that triggered some depression.
During one of my Winter breaks in college, I did not leave the house for the month because I would break out in this cold, panic. Plus, the attacks were physically burning out, so I slept a lot too.
Today, I continue my therapy which has been such a BIG HELP and support in my life. That is why I think everyone should at least give therapy a shot once to see if it works for them.
8. When you have a troubled mind, whom do you talk to and why?
This might be a bit cliché to say but the first person I reach out to, especially during this pandemic and quarantine, is my therapist and sometimes the crisis support text group. For me, I struggled with asking for help and admitting if I was not feeling okay about something or with life, in general. It is a big step for me to immediately text my therapist when I feel the need to talk or simply vent.
For me, my therapist is someone who does a great job at guiding me through the what, why, and how after expressing how I am feeling. For me, that only makes me trust them more.
9. Was there ever a time when you wanted to give up? If yes, what made you choose the right decision?
Oh definitely! The thought of quitting is part of the process when it comes to the entertainment industry because it is a dog-eat-dog world. From the rejections to meeting people who are not your true friends and supporters, it can get draining and scary.
Particularly with this movie, I wanted to give up before we started filming, while we were filming, during post-production, and days leading up to the festival runs. That is reality, however, for many writers/directors of their first feature film—you truly do go through this roller coaster of self-doubts and fears.
Some of my fears dealt with the idea of failing, running out of the budget, or no one showing up to our festival screeners. I KNOW what helped was a lot of the rejection process while trying to get this film made by so-called friends or colleagues.
Thankfully, I was able to vent a lot of these experiences with Maddison, who shared her journey of making her first feature film. Individuals such as her kept me grounded to turn those thoughts off by getting up and proceeding with the shoot.
So YES, by not pulling the plug or overall quitting this project was the right move.
10. What are your takeaways in making the film?
This film will ALWAYS hold a special place in my heart. It is honestly something that both excited and terrified me. From the development to filming to the festival run and now getting distributed next month, it is all SURREAL and I am still processing.
11. Can you share your upcoming project(s) and social media?
So, while we are preparing for the AUG 28th release of “The Extraordinary Ordinary,” I am currently working on a few things. Right now, my other producer and I are wrapping up post-production on my second directorial feature film, “Howard Original,” which we co-wrote with each other. The film is based on a short film we shot in 2016; and it did well and went to a few film festivals. So that experience encouraged us to try and film the feature film version. The film is set to be released this holiday season. What excites me about this film is it is a comedy-drama and a bit more for the adult audience.
About two months ago, my first young adult thriller novel, “Elephant,” hit the virtual shelves on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I am finishing the second round of edits on the sequel, “Skeletons.”
During this quarantine, I have been brushing up older scripts and trying to catch up on my favorite TV shows and films too. I feel it is important to also give yourself a break and find that getaway in other creators’ work.
12. Lastly, can you give an elevator speech for your prospective viewers?
What scares you is called F.E.A.R. – False Evidence Appearing Real. Never give up, no matter who tells you that you will fail – prove them wrong.
The Extraordinary Ordinary Trailer
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