For writer and first-time director Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ was a two-year labor of love created initially for family and friends to honor his New Jersey upbringing and love of hip hop. It’s little wonder the director now describes the standing ovation the film received at Sundance this year, followed by a heated bidding war amongst several film distributors immediately after, as a “…dream having a dream having a dream come true!”
At a sold-out member’s only screening of Patti Cake$ at Raleigh Studios on July 12, Geremy, Aussie leading-lady Danielle Macdonald and co-star Siddharth Dhananjay took part in a lively and informative Q&A session, sharing a number of invaluable, humorous and often unconventional insights into their two-year filmmaking process.
For Geremy, his background as the lead singer of New York indie guitar band The Fever, followed by a successful career as a music video director with credits including Florence + The Machine and Selena Gomez, writing and directing Patti Cake$ was somewhat of a next logical step in his career. But still an immensely challenging one at that.
For Danielle, her initial reaction to playing the title role when first contacted by Geremy back in 2014 was “…he must be a little insane!” The Sydney-born actor had no prior singing or rapping experience, nor had she mastered a New Jersey accent, but after spending three weeks working with Geremy on the project at the Sundance Labs, she more than proved her ability to tackle Patricia “Killa P” Dombrowski with aplomb.
Fast-forward three years and Patti Cake$ was one of the hits of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Fox Searchlight secured the worldwide distribution rights for $9.5 million, and Danielle, was one of the breakout stars of the festival.
Below, both Geremy and Danielle share their top tips and insights for emerging filmmakers and actors as a result of their incredible collaboration with the project:
Geremy Jasper – Writer/Director
1. Simplify the Screenplay – the hardest part of the entire filmmaking process for me was writing the screenplay and the initial drafts of the script were quite different and much more complicated than what we ended up shooting. When I attended the Sundance Labs in 2014, Quentin Tarantino was my first advisor and after reading the original draft for Patti Cake$ he said to me; “You start really strong, second half of the movie, all a dream sequence? You kind of lost me there.” I ended up writing over a dozen versions of the script in the end and just stripping back the story so it became much more about connecting with the characters than overcomplicated plotlines.
2. Unconventional Casting – when I first saw Danielle I knew straight up she was the only actor I wanted to play Patti. She looked exactly like the image of her I’d been carrying around in my head for years and it didn’t matter to me that she had no music or rapping experience. Or that she’s Australian and would need to learn the Jersey accent and how to rap with it. I found Siddharth via his hip hop parody videos on Worldstarhiphop and instantly knew he’d be perfect to play Jheri in the film. He’d never acted a day in his life before doing the film. My point is, filmmakers can often feel pressure to go with bigger name actors when it comes to the casting process but I believe our unconventional approach with Patti Cake$ was actually one of our biggest strengths. Go with your gut especially if the characters are close to your heart.
3. Hold Your Horses – there’s a lot of temptation to start production on your first film as soon as possible, especially if/when money becomes available. But my biggest piece of advice for first-time indie filmmakers is to make sure you get your script as close to perfect and finished before you start shooting. You only ever get to make your feature film debut once so make sure it’s coming from a place where you’re really happy with the screenplay.
Danielle Macdonald – “Patricia “Killa P” Dombrowski”
1. Say “Yes” – my biggest piece of advice to other Aussie actors is to build your credits up as much as you can and just say “yes” to any opportunities that come your way...even if you initially doubt yourself about them. I was definitely apprehensive about taking on the lead role in Patti Cake$ but I am so glad I did! It was an incredible experience and it’s lead to so many other wonderful opportunities now.
2. Don’t Quit – when I first arrived in L.A. I had one of those crazy, dream starts where I went to an audition for a series regular on a show (ABC’s Huge) and I booked it. But then because my visa approval wasn’t processed in time they ended up having to give the role to someone else which really sucked. In the end, I was so grateful for the experience though because it was a lesson in letting things go and just staying positive and knowing that it’s all about persistence. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t get the show because it helped me to learn how to live away from home without any guaranteed work. I really started from the ground up here.
3. Give Yourself Time – life in L.A. can definitely take some getting used to and it did take me awhile to adjust to being over here. This is my first time living away from home and I didn’t know anyone when I moved over. But in the last few years I’ve created a life filled with people and places I love, I have a dog and a cat who are best friends, and L.A. feels like home now.
Patti Cake$ opens August 18th in the US.