The seventh annual Winter Film Awards starts later this month, February 22nd, in New York City, New York. I spoke with Lydia Fiore and Dana Marisa Schoenfeld about their short film, Swiped Right, which is competing in the festival. Lydia, amongst other roles, serves as producer, co-writer, and star of Swiped Right, while Dana, also balancing a number of jobs on the set, directs, co-writes, and stars in a supporting role in this film about two people-a woman and a man-who have given up on finding love, and resort to a meaningless hook up with each other through a dating site.
Me: I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about Bella Fiore Productions?
Lydia: There’s two production companies involved. My production company is Bella Fiore Productions and then Dana’s is Main Sequence Entertainment. The way Bella Fiore came about is I started the company in 2017-just last year-and I was involved with a film challenge at a school I was attending. I wanted to become a filmmaker. I had ideas for film, and so last February, I produced and starred in my first film, a short film, called High Deny, and then a second film which became Swiped Right.
Me: Dana, if I could ask about Main Sequence?
Dana: Sure. I founded Main Sequence Entertainment in 2010 in Los Angeles, and then I moved the company to New York in 2016. Main Sequence has produced, I think around 8 short films, maybe 9, or been attached to other projects as well. Some I’ve financed on my own with the company. Others I get hired to direct or produce on other people’s project, but Main Sequence has produced East, which is an award winning T.V pilot. Dead Drunk which is a short film that I’m going to make into a feature film. Sasha which is another short film that has won some awards, and I’m also going to make that into a feature. Then several others that I’ve either directed or produced or starred in.
Me: How did you two meet?
Lydia: We met through The Actor’s Green Room which is a school here in New York City that has film challenges that they run monthly. I started coming to the school doing interview workshops and acting classes, and that’s how I started attending the film challenges. I saw there was a woman who was extraordinarily talented, and I was like, “Oh, I want to work with her.” So when I came up with the idea of Swiped Right, I then approached Dana, and asked her to collaborate on this project.
Me: Dana, you’ve collaborated on scripts before. You’ve also worked solo. Are they two separate challenges? Do you prefer one over the other?
Dana: Oh, absolutely. I mean, both have their benefits. I love to collaborate with people, because it’s tough. Writing can be lonely. It does add a lot for me when I collaborate, but I enjoy both. It just depends on the project that I’m working on, and the people that I’m collaborating with.
Me: What was the collaboration between you and Lydia like?
Dana: It’s been great. Lydia’s had some really funny ideas. She’s very authentic in her approach to comedy. It was really fun to direct her and watch her step into this role which is very personal to her. Our collaboration on set was great. She was responsible for some of the logistics including the location. We both brought a lot of casting suggestions to the table, and we’ve pretty much been in agreement with these decisions.
Me: Lydia, you two are balancing a number of jobs on Swiped Right’s production. What was that during filming?
Lydia: It was exciting. It was definitely exciting because, you see, my background is I worked in fashion as a fashion executive, and ran a catalogue and website for a number of years, and so working on the film set was pretty much like my days working at my corporate job. I had to juggle many hats in my civilian life. Even the preparation before that, we would produce catalogues every week, and then I had the website running, selling merchandise every day. It was interesting though, I did like taking my producer’s hat off, when I had to act. You do need to separate yourself from the work that needed to be done on-set and then concentrate on where you were with the character. It was really nice because Dana ran such a tight set that I was able to do that. Then, the people that we brought in for the crew, everybody knew their job, and they knew it well. The set ran very smoothly.
Me: Dana, did you feel like you need to take off your director’s hat while acting, or is that something that never comes up?
Dana: It’s such an interesting thing, because I’m actually really getting used to both directing and acting, but it is a challenge, because there are, obviously, different skill sets, and to step into a role completely, you really don’t want to look at the scene from the director’s perspective. You really just want to get in the moment with your scene partner. So, it’s a challenge. I find that hiring people that I’ve worked with before, working with people I know and trust allows me to do the best I can taking off the director’s hat, but it is always sort of still there.
Me: Coming now to the film, dating can be an awkward, terrifying experience. Where did the idea for Swiped Right come from?
Lydia: The idea came from my experiences with online dating. I had a crazy date, and as I was telling my girlfriends at dinner one night about what transpired, I just looked at them, and I said, “Oh my god, this is a movie.” Once Dana and I started working together, Dana took that script and that original idea, and then transformed it into Swiped Right as we see it today.
Me: Were you interested in examining how the dating world changes with age, as your protagonists are both over forty?
Dana: The idea came from Lydia, so I wasn’t really interested in exploring that world until she came to me with it. It seemed more important to bring back some of the romantic elements, because so often, both characters happen to be over forty, but it goes to online dating in general and just dating in modern society, the romance sometimes gets lost in the tech and the apps. The “this person’s hot and this person’s not.” There’s something kind of sad about the lack of modern day romance. When I was relating the script, I wanted to bring some of that to it, and although these characters are over forty, I think it’s really a film for everyone. I think that can happen when you’re 23 or 28 or 33. At any age, people can lose sight of the importance of romance and love. I wanted to bring that to the surface.
Lydia: Also, it’s really about two people who’ve given up on finding love. They’ve kept searching for it. They couldn’t find it, and then, they just said, “to heck with it.” We’re just going to go on the internet, and just look for sex, because they still want human contact or intimacy.
Dana: We normally think that’s a very male perspective, but I think in today’s world, it’s very female too. So we run into the danger of, if both sexes are only thinking about sex, what’s the next great love story? Where’s that?
Me: You end the film on an optimistic note. You’ve talked about wanting to bring in romance, was this the direction you wanted to go in from the start?
Dana: It actually came to me during the casting process. I wanted to work with Anthony Grasso. I’d seen his work at one of these short film screenings. When Lydia and I were discussing the role of Angelo, I brought his name up, and we decided to cast him. After a conversation with Anthony, and seeing his work, I really wanted to create a character that had a lot more depth. That was important to him, and it was important to us. I remember getting off the phone with him, and I had this revelation. It was a love story. Once I understood this film was a love story, it kind of opened everything up for me. To be able to write these very authentic characters, and I asked Lydia if I could do it, and she said, “ Go for it.” And that’s really how that came about. Initially, the intention was not to make it a love story-it was to be crude and Lydia’s idea of this raunchy date- but then it just turned into one. Also, I had worked with Stephanie Weppler a lot, and she’s a really talented actor and also comedian. When we decided to develop Anthony’s role, I wanted to give him somebody that he could open up to, to make him three dimensional, and I immediately thought of Stephanie, and that kind of brother-sister dynamic.
Me: Lydia, your character, Ava’s, two friends are very different personalities. Do you find friends and family can make dating more confusing at times?
Lydia: I don’t know if I’d say confusing, but they definitely have opinions, and everybody takes their experiences and puts their opinions in on you. You know, where I have the one friend who is in the happy marriage, and everything worked out for her romantically. I have another friend who is very sure of herself and who she is as a woman, and, you know, you’re getting those opinions from two different directions, and here you are trying to navigate and figure out yourself and where you are in your dating life. Then, you asked about family, family definitely has a lot of opinions about your dating life. Sometimes you don’t tell them anything.
Dana: I never talk about who I’m dating and when I’m dating with my family. I just prefer not to, but your friends, it’s hard not to. You trust your friends and respect their opinions.
Lydia: The other thing about this is what different people need. What one person needs is different than what another person might need, and then people have an opinion about that, whether positive or negative, but I agree with you Dana, you don’t introduce them to the family for a while.
Dana: If ever. Sometimes, I’m like wow, it’s a good thing I didn’t bring that one home.
Me: Finally, online dating is a big part of modern society, how do you feel it’s affected dating as a whole? I know you mentioned that it’s taken some of the romance out of the process.
Dana: Yeah, well it becomes so easy to swipe left, right? People just become pictures and not 3-dimensional human beings that bring their personalities and chemistry to dates. It becomes really easy, I think, to say no, when maybe you should say yes. So I think the dating sites that have done a lot for a number of people, a lot of people have gotten married and met the love of their life, I also think it runs the risk of making everything very shallow. So I say proceed with caution.
Lydia: It’s because you don’t have that visceral reaction to somebody. You know, all senses are on when you meet someone. So maybe they don’t photograph well, but maybe their voice is just so sexy, maybe they smell good to you. There are so many other things when you meet somebody that you can’t get from a picture, or even if they do a video. Everybody’s presenting their best quality in a way that, like Dana said, is just so superficial. I find it, going from a time when you used to just meet people out and about at a bar or whatever to this, almost kind of lonely. You’re on your computer and swiping, and they might have written one thing that turns you off, and then that turns you off. Where when you meet somebody, that one thing might not be a deal breaker, but for some reason when it’s in print and online, it’s a deal breaker.