About The Film
“We may be over 40, but we’re not dead yet. We may be changing, but we embrace that change as opposed to mourning it and withdrawing,” says writer and producer Susan Hess Logeais of her film’s uplifting message about menopause as a powerful new beginning.
A dramatic comedy about three midlife women who join forces to revive their acting careers, NOT DEAD YET brings a dramatic new perspective to a range of women’s issues rarely embraced by American cinema.
“Each character represents an aspect of what we face as women in life,” says Logeais, 50, who spent several years developing the story, which incorporates insights from her two co-stars, as well as others. “They say: ‘Write about what you know. Well, this is what we know. It’s what we’re going through right now, and what we felt was relevant.”
JANE (played by Logeais) is a former model-turned-television actress. Continually typecast as the sexpot, she finally gave up and joined the ranks of late-in-life moms who funnel their creativity into their children. Now that her two kids are school age, this high-achiever with Hollywood credits is yearning to get back into the game. But carving out enough time for auditions, much less gigs, is a real challenge as Jane copes with her husband’s festering resentment that her family is no longer her only priority.
Happily absorbed in motherhood and homemaking, CINDY (portrayed by Betty Moyer) barely noticed that her on-screen presence had dwindled to an occasional line or two over the years. When her only child leaves for college, all that remains for this empty-nester with a compulsion for cleaning (she doesn’t just wipe off a countertop, she rubs it until it shines) is a marriage that has grown hollow for lack of attention from both sides.
MICHELE (played by Sherilyn Lawson) is a still-sexy mother of two pre-teens who appears to have it all – including a husband who is sensitive to her mood swings and a mother who loves helping the kids with their homework. But Michele’s happiness is being sabotaged by self-doubt and negative thoughts, the result of a lifetime of needling by a hyper-critical parent.
NOT DEAD YET was inspired by the real-life frustrations of trying to make a comeback by Logeais and her two costars. Like their characters, each has spent countless hours at casting calls, only to watch roles appropriate for women their age go to actresses a decade or so younger.
But what about earlier in their careers? In her case, Lawson says, with just a tinge of regret, a lot of where she is at today had to do with personal choices – like living in Portland instead of Los Angeles, and opting to stay home with her kids instead of aggressively pursuing roles.
Likewise for Moyer. “I moved to Los Angeles in my twenties to do this, and then I met my husband three months later. So, I made the choice to move here. Then I started raising a family, and loved being a housewife. I was able to work still, whenever films came to town. But now that my son is in college, I’m free to work. We want to move on with our careers, and there’s a lot of resistance!” she says with a wry chuckle.
The turning point for Logeais – who had abandoned Hollywood out of frustration over being typecast as a sexpot – came when she visited a Portland talent agent, assuming it would be a breeze to re-launch her career. After all, she had starred as Don Johnson’s girlfriend in a highly-rated two-hour season opener for Miami Vice, and in prominent roles in four network television movies, a mini-series and a few episodics. Before that, Logeais spent six years at the top of the modeling world, appearing on a dozen major magazine covers – including international editions of Vogue, Marie Claire, and Elle. “I asked him what my possibilities were,” she recalls. Then he basically said I shouldn’t count on making a living here, but that it could be a good hobby.”
After a year or so of sitting around, waiting for something to happen, Logeais says she had an epiphany while watching Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger. I remember thinking, ‘I’m tired of being resentful of women my age who are still acting.’ I know there’s stiff competition and that if I don’t I give myself a chance then nobody else will. I’d already written screenplays and created short films, so I figured ‘I can do this.’”
Logeais headed back to the agent and asked him if he knew of other women in Portland “who might be interested in this sort of thing? And he gave me some names and one of them was Sherilyn.” Their paths crossed when Logeais walked into hair and makeup on a local production, and Lawson was the one on duty. Once they started talking, Lawson realized immediately that Logeais was the person her agent had been urging her to meet. Both had waited to have kids into their late 30s. They were also approaching the big 5-0, and struggling to find parts for “older women.” Lawson in turn introduced Logeais to Moyer. And the three began meeting to share experiences and personal insights, as Logeais crafted the story that NOT DEAD YET would become.
“It didn’t start out as three women getting together to know one another and having fun. Susan had her agenda,” Lawson says with an affectionate laugh. A few drafts into the process Lawson found herself being careful of what she revealed. “I had started doing more theatre again. And there was this one incident when the director wanted me to sing, and I’m like, ‘I don’t sing,’ I mean, I lip sync ‘Happy Birthday!’ So Susan wrote it into the script that I sang. And I said, ‘Susan, you can’t do that. Because if you do, then I will have to sing in the movie.’ She looked at me with this churlish grin and said, ‘Yes, I know.’”
The rising tension in the film between Cindy and Robert, sudden empty-nesters whose marriage is quickly running out of fuel, was loosely based on her own experience, Logeais says. “I was sliding into menopause, and whenever I’d find myself annoyed by something, out would come a lashing remark. And everybody around me would be so stunned by it that they’d recoil. So then out would come a bigger remark, and as the remarks got bigger and bigger, the farther back everybody would get. When I was all done, it was like – ‘WHEW!!! That felt good!’ It happened a few times before I realized, ‘Wow. I’ve got a lot of bottled-up rage.’
An issue from the story that will resonate with many female viewers is the lack of self-esteem that has paralyzed Michele’s ability to explore her full potential. “I have a mother who was highly critical,” says Lawson of her character. “Every compliment I’d get would be countered with a ‘but this is how you could have done it better ‘or ‘this is how you should have done it.’”
For Logeais, making NOT DEAD YET was both a cathartic experience and a back-to-the-present awakening. “When we first began meeting, we asked ourselves, ‘What should this movie be about?’ And it was Betty who said, ‘I think it should allow us to do everything we’ve always wanted to do, but never got to.’ So I wrote it from that perspective – giving ourselves a second chance.”
But then, as the former professional ballerina began to prepare for the film shoot, she discovered some unanticipated consequences. “ I tore my ankle, hurt my knee, hurt my hip and then I had to wear a lift. All these things happened and I had to admit that I was no longer 20! So that became an element of the screenplay. In the end it was the journey that we were going through as individuals, and what we were getting as roadblocks that ultimately shaped the story.”
About The Production
NOT DEAD YET was a natural fit for first-time film director Sam Hull, who grew up literally surrounded by women, including 21 aunts and 41 female first cousins. “I know these women,” he says of the three characters. “I’ve lived around these women. So I could understand what Susan, Sherilyn and Betty were trying to convey. I never saw this as a female ‘chick movie.’”
A classically-trained thespian and stage director, Hull earned a M.F.A. in Theatre from the University off Florida. His association with the production actually began as one of the actors participating in an early reading of Logeais’ screenplay. As the script progressed through rewrites, Hull’s insights on the characters’ development proved more and more indispensible, making him the women’s unanimous choice to direct.
“I knew that we would need a real actor’s director to give us the confidence to take the risks we’d never had the chance to take before.
And Sherilyn’s husband, who works on studio films, was impressed at how Sam was capable of getting the three of us to listen and take direction. Which was not an easy thing!" says Logeais.
NOT DEAD YET was shot in the greater Portland, Oregon, area over a period of 18 days. For a full month prior to the start of principal photography, Hull worked closely with Director of Photography Brian Liepe. One of the most experienced crew members on the production, Liepe’s credentials include an undergraduate degree from the Colorado Film and Video Institute, nearly two dozen short-form documentaries for a Northwest PBS affiliate, and commercials for Nestle, Microsoft and Harley Davidson, among other companies.
“Brian and I really analyzed every aspect of how we wanted to capture the story,” Hull says of the collaboration. To produce the computerized story boards that made it possible to stay on schedule, Hull sketched each set-up, which Liepe scanned into a ‘shooting book.”
“This being my first feature film, I needed that visual. I could have it all in my head, but I needed something on paper. It was very beneficial when we got into production and some piece of equipment would act up and we’d have to start cutting shots,” says Hull.
At a time when financing for independent films has all but evaporated, Logeais knew that it would be a waste of valuable time looking for investors who could see the box office potential of a film starring women over 40. So she personally picked up the tab for NOT DEAD YET out of the modeling money she had stashed away to help pay for her transition into acting… the first time around.
“I wanted to act again, and I knew that no one would hire me for a major role in a feature film. So, I realized if I was ever going to star in a feature film, I was going to have to hire myself,” she says with an ironic laugh. “And I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I found Sherilyn and Betty. And then I found Sam and Roland. And it came together.”
First-time producer Roland Sarrazen had studied filmmaking at the Art Institute of Portland, after obtaining a degree in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine. His previous work includes the feature-length documentary, Larke Ellen Circle, and a short film for the White Wolf Sanctuary in Tidewater, OR, which is a permanent part of their exhibit.
“Making NOT DEAD YET has been an amazing educational experience in which a number of people had the chance to step into a role they’d never fully held before, including myself. Everyone rose to the occasion, but the most notable was Roland. Working as my co-producer, he not only got us through filming with humor and ease, but trouble-shot every step of our post process. We couldn’t have done it without him,” says Logeais.
The world premiere of NOT DEAD YET is scheduled for August 2009 at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, for which the film will premiere as an official entry.