Madeline Zima Makes her Writing and Directorial Debut with "Warm Human Magic" at Dances With Films Festival
June 14, 2018
At the age of two, actress Madeline Zima performed in her first TV commercial. From there, she went on to roles in The Nanny, Californication and Heroes. Recently, Madeline stepped into a whole new type of role — that of writer-director.
Her first film, Warm Human Magic, premieres at the Dances With Films Festival today, on June 14th. An anti-romantic comedy, Warm Human Magic tells a very timely story of a young woman’s desperate attempt for human connection and her inability to extricate herself from the technology that keeps her isolated.
FD: What led you to step into the world of writing and directing?
Madeline Zima: I’ve always wanted to direct. As long as I have been on a set, I’ve wondered what it was like to be the captain of a ship, so to speak. When I was little, my sisters and I made a film called A Time To Decide. I was 11 years old and I made my sisters enact what was a cautionary tale about drugs. We used a camcorder where you had to rewind and play and record over things.
FD: What was your biggest challenge as a first-time writer-director?
Madeline Zima: Writing was the biggest challenge. It’s so difficult. I don’t really consider myself a writer, although I’m working on it. I knew that I had to write something in order to direct; that basically nobody would give me a piece of writing to direct, so I had to create my own opportunity.
FD: What was your greatest joy in your first venture as a writer-director?
Madeline Zima: Just being on a set. I feel like it’s really a magical experience where everybody can come together and put their egos aside and try to make the coolest, best film imaginable. I’ve only ever seen that kind of emergence of willingness and excitement on a film set. It’s something I really believe in as a way for people to kind of reveal their best selves.
FD: As a writer, what brought you to this story?
Madeline Zima: My personal experience. I would like to say that there isn’t a semi-autobiographical element, but that’s just not the truth. There were so many nights where I was heartbroken and lonely and staring at my phone, wishing so badly that the phone would bring me a person to be with in real life.
FD: Your sister, Yvonne, is the lead and your sister, Vanessa, worked behind the scenes. What does it mean to you to not only work together with your family on a film, but having that be your first project as a writer-director, too?
Madeline Zima: As a human being and as a woman, I don’t feel competition with women. I feel empowered by women who are successful. It makes me feel good to empower the women who have supported me my whole career; to give Yvonne this opportunity to show what an amazing actress she is, to give Vanessa an opportunity to work on a film and work with people I love and trust. It was an amazing feeling to share in that with them and to now share in the success of the film with them; for us to be able to pitch the web series that we’ve written and the next short film that I’ve written.
I’m working on two features right now as well. The plan is for the Zima takeover. We want to make stuff together that we get to act in as well, because we have a lifetime of relationship history that is invaluable on screen. Just the idea of it fills me with so much joy and satisfaction.
FD: In addition to Yvonne, Warm Human Magic stars Chasen Bauer and Adrienne Barbeau, plus the score is done by James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins. What was it like working with these talents and seeing the project come together from the standpoint of a writer-director versus being involved on the acting side?
Madeline Zima: I can’t stop smiling. I showed the film to Adrienne on our lunch break when we were working on this film called The Chain. I said, “hey, would you want to be the voice of Mary’s mom?” And she said, “oh, yeah. I think it’s pretty great.” I was so grateful to have her because she’s an amazing actress. I’m a fan of her from Sons of Anarchy and even Swamp Thing back in the day. I worked with James on a short film for the women’s directing program at AFI. He told me that he was a fan and if I ever wanted any music, just to let him know. So when I finished the film, I showed it to him and he did the music. It was incredibly exciting and validating just to have people that I respect like the film enough to lend their talents to it.
FD: The film’s world premiere screening is coming up at the Dances With Films festival. What are your thoughts heading into it?
Madeline Zima: The fact that it’s been accepted into a few festivals now just gives me peace that the film has an audience and that it connects with people. Hopefully we’ll make people feel less alone.
I’m excited to emerge into a new community of filmmakers. Those are the people that I always felt like I connected to a little easier because they’re really searching for ways of cracking open a story and telling that story effectively. Actors are as well, but there’s something about the filmmakers; they’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. I love that attitude and that willingness.
FD: What advice would you offer to actors when it comes to getting into writing and directing?
Madeline Zima: Being an actor, you’re at the tail end of the creative process as far as the bigger world of filmmaking is concerned; you have to fit in a mold that somebody has carved out for you. If you’re the writer-director, you build the world. It’s much more satisfying. You get the freedom to be what you are and not have to fit into something else. I was just tired of sitting around waiting for somebody to recognize my talent. I was so grateful to finally get off my ass and do something about it.
FD: What’s next for you?
I hope Warm Human Magic affords me the opportunity to get a budget for the next short film and that perhaps somebody will take our web series and we can get a micro budget for that to just start making stuff.
I’m hoping that just being in a position of being a creator and a writer-director, I’ll be able to create my own stuff and that other people will afford me the opportunity to be in their things as well. I love acting and I love directing and I love being on a set so much and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life. Hopefully I’ll continue to get the opportunity to do that.
Written by: Kelly Jo BrickKelly Jo Brick is a TV drama and documentary writer. A Sundance Fellow and alum of Women In Film’s Writer/Showrunner Mentoring Circle, Kelly Jo is also the Vice Chair of the WGAW Genre Committee. She wrote the Telly Award-winning film PAUSE and the Frank Lloyd Wright documentary, The Jewel In The Woods. Follow her on Twitter @KellyJoBrick.