I had the pleasure of interviewing, Stefanie Sparks, a writer/director/producer & actor living in Brooklyn, NY. Her award-winning feature film In Case of Emergency is being released on July 24th on iTunes and Amazon. She founded her production company Fireball Films NYC in 2012 after winning the Jerome grant for New York Filmmakers.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.
“I spend a LOT of time going to comedy shows for fun (and for work). One of my favorite places to visit (in Brooklyn where I live) is the Brooklyn Public Library, the central branch on Grand Army Plaza. It’s huge and almost like a museum. It’s some of the best people watching I’ve ever found.
“I really don’t like lateness. I have a thing with being at least 10 minutes early to everything, even if I don’t want to do it (like the dentist), so I have a hard time understanding how anyone can be late.”
Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“I love watching people, almost more than TV or films.”
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“I have the film, In Case of Emergency (ICOE), which we are releasing online (on iTunes and Amazon) on July 24th. I’m developing a film about the pharmaceutical industry (Rat Race) and we’re finishing a short film based on a web series I did a few years ago called Screwed.”
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.
“We submitted ICOE to film festivals about a year and a half ago and we didn’t get into the major ones after a few seemed interested.
“It wasn’t until Citizen Jane Film Festival reached out about a year ago and said they wanted to screen it AND fly me out and pay for my stay in a really nice hotel that other festivals started to screen the film. It created this snowball effect.
“The same thing happened when I cast an actress in the movie (almost three years ago now) and she was an up-and-coming actress in the New York City comedy scene. Because of this, she suggested other up-and-coming actors and they did the same (including Phoebe Robinson of 2 Dope Queens and Cathy Curtin of Homeland) and by the time we were done casting the film, we had the best cast of any indie film I’ve ever seen.”
Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?
“I had a bad experience when I was working as a PA on a major network reality TV show at the very beginning of my career. I decided from that moment on that I wasn’t ever going to work for anyone in the ‘industry’ again.
“I went back to school and got my master’s degree in Film and Media and just started doing my own thing. I never really thought about where it might lead, and this was 10 years ago so when I would walk onto my own set and start directing, especially back then, I would always get a chuckle or a roll of the eyes from a few people on set because back then it was considered hilarious that a woman would be directing a film or almost like a novelty.
“So, I started making comedies.”
The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation)?
“There have been a few times on set, especially when the budgets have been really low.
“The one or two times when I’ve really felt like I might lose control of the set, I just take a deep breath and I focus on the immediate situation. What do I absolutely need right now in this moment?
“Okay, I need this actor to say this line and I need to cover it from these angles. Okay, great. And I just look at the actor and my DP and I call “action”. Everyone else in the room disappears.”
What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”
“I hate to use the word “failure” as I don’t ever feel like I’ve failed because I’m learning something constantly. BUT other people might see it as a failure, so I know it’s not a success.
“I’ve learned to treat people fairly, all the time, even when they are not treating you fairly. That is the burden of being the boss. You have to rise above it. Treat people good even when they are holding your hand as you fail.
“Take your time no matter what anyone else thinks. You’re not living based on anyone else’s timeline so don’t worry if they don’t understand why it’s taking you so long.
“You don’t and shouldn’t do it all on your own. If you give other people access to your projects, sure, you might lose a bit of control, but you’ll also have people sharing the burden with you down the road when you’re trying to get into film festivals and get distribution. Film is a collaboration.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“Don’t burn bridges if you can help it at all. You never know who is going to be calling the shots down the road. I have found it’s usually the person you would LEAST expect. And, let your rage be the fuel for your ambition, not your destruction. If you get mad about something, be the change.”
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
“If you can’t find good people to work with, maybe it’s because you’re not good to work with.”
What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?
“I make lists on a daily basis of things I have to do and check in on it a few times a day.”
All actors or musicians have sleepless nights. We have a term we use with our clients called the “2 a.m. moment.” It’s when you’re wide awake and thinking not-so-positive thoughts about your business choices and future. Can you describe a 2 a.m. moment (or moments) you’ve had and how you overcame the challenges?
“I’ve woken up at 2 a.m. a few times in the throes of a panic, and after a few minutes I get out my pen and paper and just start writing. I’ve written some of my best scripts based on ideas that woke me up in a panic at 2 a.m.”
Nobody likes to fail, and we sure don’t like to admit we failed. Can you describe a moment when you confided your most closely-held business issues/problems to someone close to you, and how the conversation(s) helped you work through the issue?
“I was at a point with ICOE when I had some really unexpected things happen and I called my producers to a meeting, we were less than two weeks from shooting, and I just put all my cards on the table and said to them, ‘I think this is what we should do but I need you guys to tell me what you really think because I need you on board with me if we do this.’
“It was a difficult moment and I felt really vulnerable, but I also trusted them immensely at this point, so when we finally came to an agreement on what to do, I knew that we were in it together and we would be successful in shooting the film. And we were.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“I’m optioning a script I read a few years ago and shooting a teaser for my next feature, Rat Race. We’re going to put a short film out later this year called The Dance, which is based on a character from my web series Screwed! In Case of Emergency drops on iTunes and Amazon on July 24th!!”
What did we miss? Feel free to share any other thoughts or advice on overcoming failure, initiatives you’re currently supporting, any other relevant information you would like to share with the readers.
“I’m donating all of my profits from ICOE to Puerto Rico as most people aren’t aware that that most of the island is still without power almost a year after the hurricane. This is not okay, and I don’t understand why more people aren’t talking about it.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
@reelsprksonfire (personal instagram)
@fireballfilmsnyc (production co instagram & FB)
This was really awesome! Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com