I first came to know Andy Phillips when I took his spin classes at SWERVE Fitness in NYC. I immediately fell for Andy's teaching style - energetic, supportive, and encouraging! Then I found out Andy was an actor, writer, and director and I couldn't wait to see what he did in that arena. Well, Andy left NY for a bit to go make his film Words and I couldn't wait to see it.
I had a good friend in high school who had a stuttering issue. All through high school she struggled with it. It wasn't until college, that she learned how to combat her stuttering & and speak without it. Fast forward to Andy's film Words, an incredibly inspiring film about stuttering, poetry, and achieving your dreams! You bet I thought of my friend.
Words has already been featured in Cannes International Film Festival, Cayman International Film Festival, Louisiana International Film Festival, and New Filmmakers New York. Now, out of 1,000 films, Words has been selected as one of the Top 50 Shorts at the InShorts Film Festival in London on October 21 and as a Finalist in the Short Film Competition at the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival November 4-5 in Austin, TX!
1. Your short film Words tells the story of "William," who is searching for the courage to overcome his stutter and share his poetic gift. What influenced you to write this film? The story of Words really evolved throughout the development process but I guess the genesis of it was pretty simple with the combination of a couple ideas. Initially I was inspired by a neighbor I had growing up, Bobby, who had a stutter and still does. He is one of the funniest and smartest guys I know and he's never let his stutter inhibit his talents as a writer, software developer, husband, or father. I also love Spoken Word poetry and really wanted to do something highlighting the style of the poetry club scene I had experienced in New York. Putting those two concepts together I asked myself what if my creative expression was through some kind of outlet that I was either petrified of doing or physically unable to do? Those thoughts eventually led me to what would become "William's" stutter and poetic ambitions.
2. Not only did you write and direct Words, but you also star in it. What was it like to write, direct, and star in your own film? How did you stay objective with the creative process being all three positions? Preparation, flexibility, and teamwork. Filmmaking is a team sport and I can't say enough about the team we had. They made it possible for me to wear multiple hats without going completely insane. We rehearsed with most of the cast in New York so by the time we were on location in New Orleans there was already a beautiful chemistry. The crew in New Orleans was absolutely fantastic. They all went above and beyond to bring this story to life. And then our post production team in New York worked tirelessly to ensure everything looked and sounded great. To see this idea that I had conjured up in my mind brought to fruition through the collaboration of so many amazing artists was humbling and wildly exhilarating.
3. Words is making it's way around the world in various film festivals from Cannes to Cayman International Film Festival to the Louisiana International Film Festival to New Filmmakers New York. Now, Words will be in the InShort Film Festival in London & it's a finalist at the Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival in Austin, TX in November. I can see why everyone is clamoring to accept this film into their festival. With all this screenings and publicity, what is like to see this film, which you created from infancy have this kind of life and resonate with so many people?Words is about having a dream and finding the courage to go after it. It's exciting hearing how audiences relate to that. I've had a lot of people talk to me after screenings about their own struggles with stuttering, which is really special. Statically over 70 million people in the world have some form of stutter, yet unfortunately they are rarely represented in entertainment. Even rarer is for them to be represented with dignity, empathy, or strength. When we first premiered in Louisiana a young lady came up with tears in her eyes and thanked me for telling her story. That meant a lot and was all the affirmation I needed.
4. How did you prepare for the role of "William"? What do you relate to most about "William"? What is one characteristic of his that you wished you had? Mostly I wanted to talk to people who stutter and hear about their own journey with it. I met with Taro Alexander, the founder of Say.org, an incredible non-profit in NYC that hosts after-school programs and summer camps for kids who stutter. I interviewed members of the National Stuttering Association, Speech Pathologists, and people from all walks of life who have experience with stuttering. I learned that it didn't discriminate and that no two stutters were the same. That was freeing in creating the character. Then I hung out around the Bowery Poetry Club and The Nuyorican Cafe, which is a spoken word institution in New York. I needed to understand the energy of the performers and the kind of vibe that those venues have.
I relate to "William's" need to express himself. And I wish I had his ability to let things boil over. I think it's good to lose it every now and then. But I tend to keep the lid on.
5. "William" stutters and that affects many aspects of his life. What is something in your life you feel is stuttered, but you wish it could be more fluent? I love to cook but pretty much specialize in scrambled eggs and fruit smoothies. I'd love to take my kitchen skills to the next level.
6. In Words, "William" runs away from public speaking. What have you run away from in your life that you would really like to combat? Having just relocated to LA from NYC, I haven't driven in years. I am now regretting never learning any kind of mechanical skills and would really like to combat that right about now!
7. "William" has a fear of public speaking because of his stuttering, but his friend "Elaine" really pushes him to overcome is fears. Who, in your life, pushes you to overcome your fears? "Elaine's" character is actually based on an incredible teacher I had in undergrad, Reuben Mitchell. He is the reason I became an actor. He was the first person in my life to see the dream I had and work with me to help cultivate my craft. Like "Elaine," Reuben just knew which buttons to press to bring out the best in me. His belief in me was affirming and gave me the courage to pursue my dream. Tragically Reuben passed away a few years ago in a motorcycle accident, but he continues to inspire me. And somehow his memory and presence will always give me courage to overcome any fears.
8. One theme that ran through the movie, I felt, was the issue of privacy. Everyone kept looking through "William's" journal, invading his privacy. When has your privacy been invaded and how did you get it back? That's really cool that you noticed that. I guess I'm lucky because I don't think my privacy has every truly been invaded. But I will say that that particular component of the film is rather autobiographical of my own journey in working to build the courage to share my art. For the longest time I hated anybody reading my work or watching me in a film or play. It's a vulnerable thing to open yourself up to criticism. It just took time for me to become comfortable enough to express myself freely despite fear of judgment.
9. Words was filmed in your home state of Louisiana. Why did you want the film to take place here and what was it like to now see your home through the eyes of the camera lens? It was a dream come true. I've always wanted to return home to shoot a film and hope to have the opportunity to do so again. Louisiana is just so culturally rich and New Orleans provides a soulful backdrop to the story. Seeing the city through the camera lens is special because it's so sensorial - you can hear the music, feel the heat, and taste the flavors. The energy is palpable.
10. As someone who influenced the creation of this section, I need to ask you the question I ask everyone! On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? I love that! It took me over a year chipping away at Words little by little before anything even got off the ground. So I firmly believe in the consistent little steps or like you call it, the 1% percent everyday, to achieve your goals. Recently I've been working on patience. Writing and working out are my meditation and usually help get my mind right to keep things in perspective. If I can manage do at least one of those everyday, I'd say I'm on track to my daily 1% improvement.
Director Andy Phillips fell in love with movies at an early age in large part due to his father's rather premature introduction to the great comedies of the late '70s & early 80's including The Jerk, Stripes, The Blues Brothers, Animal House, and many others. With such influences, Andy spent much of his elementary and high school years writing and filming sketches with friends. He eventually moved to New York City to study and perform at The Upright Citizens Brigade and then ultimately went on to earn his MFA from The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University. Originally form Louisiana, Andy now lives in LA and is the founder of Y'ALL MEDIA, a narrative film production company with a focus on telling diverse stories through strong artistic collaboration.