There are several directions one can go in filmmaking, depending on one’s interests. Actors are key to breathing life into a film. They manifest the characters. Directors orchestrate the vision of the story. The writers create a world that needs to be built by people in various roles contributing their skills to the realization of the story’s concept. If you’re interested in more than one area of filmmaking, one part can serve as a creative reservoir for the other.
Katie Holmes started out acting but for the last few years has widened her creative net. She has over fifty acting credits under her belt, so it’s safe to say she’s a veteran at her craft. However, she hasn’t stopped there. In 2015, she directed a short, Eternal Princess, and in 2021 she penned a short, Almost a Year. She’s also worn a producer’s hat. We were first introduced to her acting talents in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm (1997). She’s never been typecast and has had an eclectic mix of roles over the years, including as Bruce Wayne’s sweetheart Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins (2005).
The pandemic motivated many in the arts to get even more creative. Living in isolation prompted innovation. Katie’s sophomore directorial feature Alone Together was born during that time. It’s a light and pleasing romantic comedy that hits on notes of staying true to one’s self and what the personal equation for happiness is. The film stars Holmes, Derek Luke, Zosia Mamet, and Melissa Leo and is in theaters on July 22, 2022.
Katie recently took the time to speak with us about her upcoming film and the joy of wearing many creative hats.
What inspired Alone Together?
During lockdown, I was revisiting films that I'd grown up on. Husbands and Wives, Manhattan, Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally. Also, a lot of Agnes Varda. A lot of John Cassavetes. I loved the way they both have this sense of experimentation and keeping the story going. In Shadows, I heard on an interview that he had no dialogue written. He just gave them the situation. Things like that inspire me. Of course, that’s difficult to make work but it's always worth trying. I tried to figure out how we could continue working during the pandemic. What I was hearing from all my friends in various parts of the industry was if you could shoot something in a room with very few people, you might get it made.
How long was the process of getting the film made?
Not that long. Once I finished the script, within three months I got funding. Then I had Jim Sturgess on the phone. He said yes. Then Derek Luke said yes. They were both so wonderful because they came with a lot of ideas, which is essential for this kind of film and what I wanted to get out of it.
Did you find any aspect of the script difficult to write? Did you have writer's block at any point?
Absolutely. But I had five people that I would send it to and get their feedback. They gave very helpful notes. A lot of it changed when Derek said yes. To be honest, that was my weakest part. I didn't know why they were breaking up. We sat and went through what their relationship was. I felt that really helped a lot because they were two people who really loved each other, they were just on parallel existences. They just weren't connected. They're good people. It was important to have that. I didn't want John to be a typical, cliche' jerk. That's just too easy.
You write, act, and direct. Which do you prefer?
I like all of them, but I'm most comfortable being an actor because I've been doing it for so long. But I get a lot of satisfaction directing because I can see things that people are trying to do and like directors I've enjoyed working with, I hope to help them mold the performance that they want. There's great satisfaction in that because as actors we can get frustrated.
How do you feel your acting influences your writing?
A lot because I know you can lose a lot of lines by a look and to have confidence in that comes from years of being an actor, working with a lot of different actors, and seeing a lot of performances. I’m developing my taste as a filmmaker. I like simplicity.
As a director, how do you delegate on the set?
I stay close to my cinematographer and my production designer. We're like one person. I stick by everyone, I don't micromanage. I want to make sure everyone's feeling good about how the day's going and take care of what they need. On a film set, you don't have that many days. If at 10:00 a.m. someone's upset in one department, by 3:00 p.m. the whole set's upset...!
Do you have any anecdotes from this experience?
When we were shooting the scene at McDonald's, there was something where the car was tilted. This was a low budget movie, so one of our grips just sat on the car during the scene to even it out. It was that type of movie. We were all in it together. It was a little bit like being in camp.
Do you find writing a chore or is it invigorating?
It depends on the day. Sometimes things come easily. Other times you have no idea what to do.
Do you have writing routine?
No. I work better under pressure, under deadline.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I just finished a film called Rare Objects. Just finished editing it. That will come out in April of next year. That stars Julia Mayorga, David Alexander Flinn, and Derek Luke. I play a role in it too. We shot it here in New York. It's another sort of love letter to New York. It's about friendship. healing, and resilience. It's based on a book by Kathleen Tessaro. Now I'm writing something with a friend of mine. I also have a lot of things in development for television. I'm looking to do a limited series type thing. Always looking for material for sure.
What filmmakers have influenced your style?
I look at the saturation that was in The Invisible Life, the Brazilian movie that came out a couple of years ago. I just loved that color palette. That influenced me on Alone Together. Steven Soderbergh influences me in the way he's so good at the puzzle of making a movie and the setup/payoff. John Cassavetes is someone I really admire. Scorsese. We all want to be him...!
What would you say the theme of Alone Together is?
I would say the theme is resilience and being vulnerable. It takes strength to be vulnerable but that leads to true connection.
What kind of stories are you attracted to?
I really like stories about strong women. Comedies. I like stories about people, nothing too complicated.
What do you feel your strengths are as a writer?
I don't know. I'm still learning a lot. This was my first screenplay. I read a lot. I try to find a certain poetry to doing this.
How about with directing?
My strengths with directing are working with my actors. I can feel in the moment if it's working. I don't have to waste anyone's time. I can tell if it's working or not pretty quickly.
How difficult is it to stay on budget?
It's actually difficult…!
Because you want it to have high production value. That costs money. You want it to have great people. That costs money.
Is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with that you haven’t?
Oh, yes. I’d love to work with J.J. Abrams. I’d love to work with Chris Nolan again. Joaquin Phoenix. I’d love to do a film with someone like Viola Davis.
How did you get your first film made?
Jane Rosenthal was my producer and Jim Dolan funded our movie. It was quite unusual to have one person fund it. It made life a bit easier.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming filmmakers?
Alone Together was part of the Tribeca Film Festival and one of the events I went to was the animated shorts that were curated by Whoopi Goldberg. She said it best. She responded to one of the filmmakers who said he had an idea and he’d never done this before. She told him the most important thing was he did it. The courage of just doing something is worth it.
Filmmaking is a tough business. What keeps you motivated?
Watching films and having the support of friends and family. I don’t know that it’s the healthiest but also the appeal of the hook of the next job…!
What were the biggest challenges on this production?
Every day is a challenge against the clock. I’ve been on sets where time wasn’t managed well, and everyone was exhausted and unhappy. I don’t like that. That’s also how you stay in budget, by paying attention to time.
Can you think of a mistake you made on this production or another one that you were able to resolve?
I’m sure I made many mistakes…! We had to do an additional day of shooting on Alone Together. What I would do in the future, and this would be part of my advice for aspiring filmmakers, is to put in an added day two weeks later if you can because you get in the editing room and realize all the things you put off when you’re shooting. Those little details matter.
Alone Together is in theaters on July 22, 2022.