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The Sisters Plotz Vintage, Whimsical Fun PDF Print E-mail

Interview by Briege McGarrity


plotz-publicity-photo.jpgA soon-to-be released film The Sisters Plotz caught the eye of IFQ’s Briege McGarrity most likely because the creators described it as a sort of “Downton Abbey”- meets -“Addams Family”- meets “Ab Fab.” Intrigued and a fan of all three, I interviewed the three main stars to learn more about the catalyst, and challenges of making a musical comedy set in New York in the 1930s!

Originally a play turned web-based musical, The Sisters Plotz is now a witty feature film starring Eve Plumb best known for her iconic portrayal as Jan in The Brady Brunch; Lisa Ferber who is also the show’s creator and no stranger to social satire and Lisa Hammer, an award-winning NY underground filmmaker and singer. The threesome play eccentric heiresses living in a Manhattan townhouse with their butler Reginald, brilliantly played by Levi Wilson.


Independent Film Quarterly (IFQ): How did you come up with the creation of The Sisters Plotz. From the web series clips and trailer it looks like a real hoot!

Lisa Ferber: Thank you! The Sisters Plotz came together for a bunch of reasons: The Whimsellica character already existed from a different film I did, so I knew that I enjoyed playing a whimsical heiress. I am also fascinated with the glamorous bohemian life of artist Florine Stettheimer, who lived with her two sisters in early 20th-century Manhattan. Plus shortly before I created the show, my friend Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, who plays Petula Feather in the film, and I had been discussing what it would be like to work as a butler, and then we got on this joke stream about the gloriousness of the world buttle (which led to my creation of the song “I Love to Buttle” later in the film). So all of this was floating around my mind and when the chance came for me to do a short play reading, I knew I wanted to work with Lisa Hammer and Eve Plumb, because we’re such great friends, so I figured I’d have us play three madcap heiresses with a butler (played by Lisa’s husband Levi Wilson) and voila, The Sisters Plotz was born!


Lisa Hammer: Thank you so much, and thanks for this opportunity! It is such a hoot! Well, Lisa Ferber created the characters and the world they live in as an original play, The Sisters Plotz and Their Adorable Butler Reginald, and asked Eve and Levi and me to perform it live with her in NYC.  Her writing was hilarious and unique and we all had way more fun than adults should be having. I felt like none of us wanted the collaboration to end. The night we performed, I felt a strange lightning bolt hit me. I turned to Lisa with urgency: “We need to film this. Leave it to me, I will shoot it.”  For season one, we got together at LF’s apartment and shot the play in one day with a few clip lamps and our wonderful DP Nishell Falcone on her Canon Rebel t3i. After I edited a very raw yet fun and silly season one web series from our day of experimentation, I realized we needed to continue but with a more serious approach. So we went out and bought more clip lamps and borrowed some real sound equipment for the next season. Lisa and I met and created the story for the next season, which was titled The Sisters Plotz and Their Afternoon of Will Reading and Poetry. I drew a childlike chart of how the will reading should take place in the main room, while the sisters keep leaving the room to do other business (which leads to epic musical numbers, scandals, and science explosions) in each of the side rooms, because they have lost interest in the will reading. In the end they wander back into the parlor to find out that they have inherited everything. Our original composer became unavailable, so Lisa enlisted award-winning composer Mary Feinsinger and created amazing songs. We brought in the amazingly talented interns Noel Homyn, Andrea DelBene and Max Liedtka as our crew, and shot the piece in 4 days.  After I finished editing and we screened the 43-minute piece (as well as airing it as smaller webisodes), I was hit yet again with a lightning bolt. I turned to Lisa Ferber with greater urgency: “This web series needs to be a feature film. Leave to me. I will shoot it.” Lisa Ferber and I met, created the rest of the story, and shot it in 10 days over the next 6 months, using pocket money and Indiegogo to fund the shoots. I kind of came out of left field demanding a pie fight, but it really is the best way to bring a slapstick musical comedy to a fulfilling climax.


IFQ: Is it difficult to create so many funny plots for the eccentric heiresses and their unique friends?


Lisa Hammer:  For the storylines that I contributed, it was such a fun and creative process. Lisa and I would get together, drink a little wine and blurt things out that made us laugh for hours (a sort of creative Tourette’s session). Often, when alone, I crack myself up (out loud, like an idiot) with ridiculous gags or inventions (I have at least 10 novelty invention ideas) and email them to Lisa asap. I imagine she cracks herself up when alone too, because she came up with such hilarious ideas.  Basically, we spend a lot of time cracking each other up. We are so in tune with each other that we rarely say no to a joke, haaaa....


lisaferberheadshot.jpgLisa Ferber: Haaaa, what’s hard is to not create. Ideas for The Sisters Plotz are bouncing around my mind all the time. When I work out at the gym and listen to music, I imagine dance sequences for the sisters to do. No matter where I am, something will come to my mind and I’ll think of how the sisters would behave in that scenario. This is the most natural thing for me to do and I never have to force it. When we decided to make it a feature, Lisa Hammer and I got together to loosely sketch out a story plan. I have no interest in working from a heavily structured outline, so we just hung out and cracked each other up, with the understanding that if I’m writing and discover some other story plan, I can run with that. Lisa drew this hilarious chart of the will reading and I keep it hung on the wall near my computer to remind myself of what’s important in the creative process. We had gone to a local restaurant, had some white wine, and then we were writing ideas on a notebook while walking down the street laughing, even though it was raining all over the notebook. Only after about 15 minutes did one of us realize we actually had an umbrella, because we were just so immersed in cracking each other up. The whole process is very symbiotic and playful.


IFQ: Are you surprised that this a hit – you seem to have a lot of fans?


Eve Plumb: I always thought this was a fun, different project. I’m glad that it’s catching on.


Lisa Ferber: I am always surprised if anyone likes anything I do, because as much as I want a happy audience, I write because I need to write. I have ideas that need to come out and writing is both essential to me, like breathing, and transportive, like some kind of free, easy-to-produce, really-good-for-me drug. So the fact that people like it is a wonderful bonus, because it makes me feel appreciated as well as more connected to other people.


Lisa Hammer: I knew our piece was funny, but I had no idea it would go viral on Funnyordie. I wanted to be part of the site, but I thought it might not be their viewers’ cup of tea. Boy was I wrong!


IFQ: You all have obvious chemistry - Have you all collaborated before?


Lisa Ferber: The chemistry is because we were all good friends before, so it’s very natural for us to display closeness and the kind of support that sisters should have for each other. I met Lisa Hammer and her husband Levi Wilson when they starred in a film I wrote and acted in called Whimsellica’s Grand Inheritance, and I immediately knew I had to continue working and playing with them. I had not worked with Eve before this, but I knew I wanted to because of what a funny and great person she is, plus she has that clever dame quality that I love to write for. With The Sisters Plotz, I felt like I was just playing with my friends as opposed to feeling like I was trying to act. I’m the least seasoned performer of the three of us, and Lisa and Eve gave me such nurturing tips throughout the whole production, and I am just incredibly grateful to them for their patience and encouragement. I felt like when little kids play dolls and they get to do voices and make things happen, except we were live dolls goofing around and playing dress-up.


Lisa Hammer:  It’s true, hahahaha!  I met Lisa Ferber when my husband Levi Wilson and I were asked to act in a film she wrote called Whimsellica’s Grand Inheritance directed by Shade Rupe (a mutual friend).  She then introduced Levi and me to the fabulous Eve at an art event (Lisa and Eve are both great painters).  We all had instant chemistry and have been pretty inseparable since then. I’ve been making movies for many years and have not had this much fun on any other set!


Eve Plumb: We always have fun together, on camera and off. The conversation and jokes go round robin in a natural way until we are all crying with laughter.


IFQ: How has post-production been going?  When will the film be ready for the big screen, and of course an eccentric NYC Premiere? 


lisa-hammer-by-levi-wilson3.jpgLisa Hammer:  What a fun question!  So much to tell…Well, after we wrapped I slept for about a week-since I had burned the candle at both ends and in between--directing, producing, and acting on the 6 shoot days. But the footage looked so good I couldn’t rest for long and spent most of May compressing and organizing the footage. After a few near-disastrous computer malfunctions where I almost lost everything, I was back up and editing by June. I have been assembling the footage into three sections: Act one is the initial footage we shot last year with the will reading, act two we shot in the winter and we introduced new characters, and act three we shot in April/May, which included even more characters, a pie fight in a warehouse, a huge Central Park dance number and a psychic gypsy ridding our home of hippies.


After assembling the main clips together, I started marrying the sound files (recorded on the Zoom h4n) to the video clips (I go backwards, editing the film clips, then matching the sound by ear or waveform very quickly--actually faster than using Pluralize). Next I will color correct every frame, add Foley, ADR and sound effects, then start the sound mix then add the visual effects that make the piece look like old film. I do all this in Final Cut pro and Soundtrack. My estimate is that it will be done by December 2013.



IFQ: What challenges have you faced in getting the production from a play to a web series and then expanding to the ultimate goal, a feature film?


Lisa Ferber: I loved rewriting it from a play to a series and to a film. Before this, I had only written a few short films, and this was the first feature I wrote. There was nothing I would call a challenge, in fact, everything was an opportunity. With stage, you can’t do the close-ups and you can’t just say, for example, “Remember when we were in Japan?” and then cut to the characters in Japan and then cut back to the original scene. Theater has its own beauty and the feeling of intimacy between a live audience and the actors, but film allows for a greater freedom and specificity.


Lisa Hammer:  That’s exactly why I work in film more than in theater.  Not horribly challenging for me, I have been creating feature films on no budget for many years. This was less challenging than my previous films, believe it or not.  I’ve never had a big crew--in the past I’ve done almost everything myself. This project has been different: We have had the most amazing crew working tirelessly for no pay. Because of their toil and my years of DIY experience, Eve and Levi’s (and the rest of the cast’s) professionalism and acting chops, and Lisa Ferber’s endless cheerful encouragement (she could raise the dead with her life-affirming enthusiasm) we were able to create a delightful musical comedy feature film in New York for under $3K and without any hospital trips (so far) and be very proud of what we have accomplished.  It looks great, it sounds great, the writing is top notch, the acting is superb, the musical numbers make one giddy, I could go on…In the end the bulk of the work still rests on my shoulders, but I have been blessed with so many talented collaborators, and at times when I feel the pressure of getting a task done, I turn around and someone has done it for me, and so beautifully. What a blessing to be surrounded by great artists!


IFQ: How did you become involved with the project?


Eve Plumb: Lisa Ferber and I had met a few years ago at one of my art shows. She introduced me to Lisa Hammer and Levi, and we all became friends. Lisa approached me with the idea of writing Plotz with a part for me, and of course I agreed!


IFQ: You three are so naturally gifted at comedy, you are so blessed. Who have been your comedic idols growing up and what kind of specific training is important to nail the laughs from all kinds of people?


Lisa Ferber: You are very kind. I think some people are just comedy people, and it’s instinctive. Comedy is the way I view the world--humor might as well be my blood type. I was never trained in it, but my family was always joking around. Growing up, I loved Lucille Ball and Gilda Radner, and I remember wanting to be them when I grew up because they were funny and pretty. As a teen my comedic heroines were Lisa Whelchel as Blair on Facts of Life and Tina Louise as Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. Both of them were glamorous, feminine, and funny, without any of the “making ugly jokes about themselves” that I would come to see in other comediennes. As an adult I became a big fan of Fran Drescher on The Nanny, Jennifer Tilly in Bullets Over Broadway, Delta Burke in Designing Women, Julie Hagerty in Airplane, as well as Rosalind Russell, Mae West, Carole Lombard, Constance Bennett, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow...those ladies from the 1930s and ‘40s were just fantastic.


eve_rtc_crop_8815.tif_20.jpgEve Plumb: My parents both had great senses of humor-telling jokes and stories. I listened to Fannie Flagg’s albums, read Mad Magazine and watched Love, American Style and all the great ’70s sitcoms. I also studied improv at The Groundlings School in Los Angeles, which really gave me confidence to be funny onstage and off.


Lisa Hammer:  Oh my goodness, I remember Love, American Style, fun show!  My brain has been filled since childhood with memories of watching The Three Stooges, Our Gang, Rosalind Russell, Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Jean Arthur, Harold Lloyd, The Marx Brothers with Margaret Dumont, Judy Holliday, Mae West, Lucille Ball, Bugs Bunny, Mel Brooks, etc…all the way up to Monty Python/Fawlty Towers, Carol Burnett, Peter Sellers, Mary Tyler Moore, the cast of SCTV and Kids in the Hall, Ren and Stimpy (and all of the associated writers and directors)…UGH too many to list! And these great comedic artists have created so much gold that if we rub even a fraction of their glitter on ourselves, maybe we can shine a little too.


IFQ: I love the song “Pay Someone to Do the Things You Don’t Want to Do” for Uncle Sinley.  Is Mary Feinsinger another person you have worked with, she seems to really nail the song choices?


Lisa Ferber: I actually chose the musical moments and the ideas for the songs, and I wrote the lyrics. In fact, the song “Never Throw Out a Flask” came about because of a moment when Lisa Hammer, Eve, Levi Wilson (who plays our butler, Reginald) and I were out to dinner. I was telling a story of how I used to own a flask but I threw it out. Lisa Hammer then very earnestly counseled, “Oh, you should never throw out a flask!” I burst out laughing and got out my little notepad that I try to carry everywhere, and announced, “That has to be a song! Never throw out a flask!” Then when I wrote that particular scene in the film, I arranged it so there would be reason to sing a song called “Never Throw Out a Flask.” Much of what I write is about satisfying the need to make one small joke that makes me happy. Mary and I had met at the BMI Musical Theatre Program and when I posted an ad looking for a composer, Mary wrote me a very kind letter. She has a wonderful ability to write music that is both beautiful and funny. I absolutely love her music for the grand finale; I couldn’t stop singing it for weeks after we recorded it.


IFQ: I think it was a great idea to present your footage as a short film initially to industry. How was the feedback?


Lisa Hammer:  Thank you! I have been advised throughout the years to shoot a short first and drum up interest for your feature. The short helped us gauge audience reaction and also helped us to have material to show for our Indiegogo fundraiser. On the other hand my brother James Merendino (dir. SLC Punk) gave me the best advice: “Shoot features, don’t waste too much time and money on shorts. Get that feature done! It’s worth more.” The feedback has been 100% surprise and joy. People just love the film and want to be part of the fun. They have never seen anything like it before.


Lisa Ferber: All I know is that the rooms were packed and people were laughing. This is so silly but I always feel like, “Oh my God, thank you for being here!!!” because it feels really nice when people take a moment to come out and see our work.


IFQ: What kind of exposure or distribution deal are you aiming for to get a wider audience and hopefully make some money?

Lisa Ferber: I’d love to get a run at a respectable New York City art house. A few weeks would be great. So far we’ve shown the shorter version at the Producers Club and the beautiful Tribeca Grand Screening room. Ultimately, a TV show seems a natural next step, because the characters feel so alive in my head, and as far as I’m aware, nobody has done a TV show yet that is a musical comedy about three eccentric heiresses living with their butler. I just know that the project is very alive for all of us and I would love to see it keep living.


Lisa Hammer:  Let’s definitely keep it living. The larger goal is to get a sales agent to take care of selling territories so we can focus on promotion and future work. Realistically my distribution goal is online viewing, but I won’t say no to a theatrical run if it happens. I’d like to screen at festivals and markets and drum up industry interest in creating the TV series. Like a sort of Downton Abbey-meets-The Addams Family-meets-Ab Fab type of sitcom. Let’s do it, why not?


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