On Sunday June 4, Cutters Editor Michael Lippert, debuted his new short film, Miriam is Going to Mars, at the prestigious film festival, Dances With Films.
The short, running time 15:30, is a lovely character study about a woman, Miriam, who suffers from Schizophrenia and attempts to escape her psychiatric ward by applying to the first manned trip to Mars.
I had a chance to sit down with Michael at the Chinese Theater’s Film Lounge and talk about his film, which stars Ann Stoneville, Chandra Michaels and Nathaniel Buescher.
RC: So, this is not what I was expecting at all. Talk to me about your inspiration.
ML: I’ve always had an interest in space travel. And I feel like the idea of traveling to Mars is creeping into the mainstream. It’s looking more and more like a reality. You have people like Elon Musk with Space X, and other private companies like Mars One, all pushing for this. So, I really wanted to tell a story from the perspective of someone who would submit to this kind of program, and hopefully humanize their decision in doing so.
RC: So, in the case of Miriam, um…
ML: Ha-ha. No. When I sat down to write the script, Miriam didn’t start out that way. But what I did want to explore was a type of person who doesn’t fit in. They almost feel like an alien on earth, and I was interested in exploring how they would react if they were accepted or rejected from the program. So, then her character kind of evolved and it became a story more about self-realization than space travel.
RC: Talk to me then about how you did get to Miriam?
ML: Miriam really became a character exercise with me. She was the first female protagonist I ever wrote. Actually, inspired by wife, Kate Carson-Groner, who challenged me with stepping outside of my comfort zone. Really made me look at things differently. As I developed Miriam I really had no experience with Schizophrenia so I started researching and began reaching out to one my wife’s friends who is a psychiatrist. And Ann Sonneville, who played Miriam, really gave me a ton of homework by doing her own research and sending me emails full of details and backstory she had created. Mental illness is a heavy topic with a lot of stigma attached, so we both really wanted to strive for authenticity, and it became a beautiful collaboration.
RC: How long did it take you to bring Miriam to fruition from the time you conceived the script?
ML: About a year and a half. We shot in five days over weekends, using a lot of volunteers. Especially a ton of people from Cutters, from production to post. We really lucked out in finding a great location for the psych ward at a hospital in Uptown Chicago. It was really critical to find somewhere that would be believable, and let’s face it, most hospitals aren’t going to shut down for your film. But this one happened to be renovating their third floor at the time so it was empty! We had found our ward! And it was serendipitous but all of our locations were in or around the neighborhood.
RC: I thought it was interesting that you gave Miriam a biracial son? On purpose?
ML: No not really. But it worked out great, and he stood out among the pack. Nathanial is also an industry vet already. He has played Tiny Tim at the Goodman for the last two years and appeared on Chicago Med and APB. I think the fact that Thomas (played by Nathanial Buescher) is biracial just added a layer of interest and backstory to Miriam’s character. Plus, I think the time is more than right for a female protagonist and a multi-ethnic cast.
Miriam is Going to Mars will be playing at various film festivals around the country. You can follow it on the website, Miriamisgoingtomars.com, or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MiriamsGoingtoMars
Follow Colin Costello on Twitter @colincostello10.