When I first heard I was interviewing young filmmaker Symone Ridgell I was immediately excited because I found out she studies at Parsons in New York City. Apart from living my dream life she has been busy directing the short film, My Best Friend that is described as a ‘neo-noir psychological thriller’. Ridgell dishes to TEO Magazine on her new short film and reveals the one film in all history she would love to go back and direct. She also teases her latest project and why she saw TEO Magazine as the perfect platform to launch her film.
TEO: Apart from living in New York, studying at Parsons must be a dream come true. What drew you to that school and how have you found it?
Symone: I just knew I never wanted to attend a campus-orientated college that surrounded Greek life and (American) football games. I felt that was too similar to my high school experience. I wanted to separate my scholars from my personal life. I relish in the fact that with Parsons the city is my campus.
Can you explain your directorial style to our readers?
My style evolves to best tell the story at hand. My Best Friend is really different, visually from other films I’ve worked on. However, I do tend to focus on the same themes, symbols, and feelings that occur.
Your 2015 American neo-noir psychological thriller short film, My Best Friend is launching tonight with TEO Magazine, which is so exciting! How did you create the story concept?
I was spending last summer in the small Michigan suburb, Grand Blanc. I was born in Michigan, so I went to school there until I was eight. My closest and oldest friend lives there. I was having a rough summer of feeling like we had grown apart upon seeing her again, but also feeling that love for someone who has been in your life for so long. I wrote the narration one night therapeutically to vent. I never intended to do anything more with it. It developed into this concept that I knew needed sound and imagery to accompany.
Since I had recently returned to Manhattan and fallen in love all over again, it felt natural to use the city as a character. I had just seen the Garry Winnogrand exhibit at the Met that year and found it inspiring to involve the street photography style of his era. I had a professor, Justine Kurland, take a look at the film who said to me, “I could go on for a long time about the woman turning around to confront the shadow, how in that one small gesture you reinstate women’s power/agency that decades of street photography (Winogrand women are beautiful) have stripped away from them.” I knew I had accomplished my goals then.
What was the casting process for this film?
I had met Maggie a few months before in a cinematography class I took at Eugene Lang, the New School’s liberal arts college. I remember her saying she was an actress the first day of class and logged it in the back of my mind. Parsons professors are adamant in preaching how students should build work relationships with other students, rather than looking too far. I’ve always taken more to directors who have chosen to cast a friend. When I decided to make the poem into a fully-fledged short film, I thought Maggie had a great face I hadn’t seen in anything this decade. I thought there was a dynamic we shared in the previous semester that I wanted to further explore.
What was the filming process like?
Though, I’m still very young, I know what it’s like to be on a film set where the stress and tension affect how you work. I read New Cinematographers, a book on just that, back in 2012. There’s a section where Lance Accord speaks of his time spent on set with Sofia Coppola during the filming of Lost In Translation, and how they preferred small intimate sets of only necessary crew. I keep that in mind for all my work. It’s helpful for the performers, but also the crew to feel that connection.
Other than the lead actress (Maggie McLaughlin) and myself, there were only the assistant director, DP, wardrobe stylist and my assistant on set. I even took Maggie out one night alone to film her wandering the streets. We all had a great time filming and think back on it the way old friends do when catching up.
The music is quite enchanting. Did you play a role in the creation of scoring the film?
Yes and no. My Director of Photography, Armando Zamora, is also a musician. It just so happened that since he knew exactly what I was looking for visually he could translate image to sound. Since My Best Friend is shown through two sequences I needed the romance of New York City to begin to fade once the second sequence occurred. The result was this Eraserhead type sound against a very Cassavetes and Scorsese New York City image.
If you could go back in time, what is one film, short or feature length you wish you had directed or written?
The obvious answer here is Pulp Fiction. Never in my life could I think up dialogue that profound. Since that’s so film school of me to say, I’d have to go with my unobvious answer of Scream. I was a petrified child of the horror genre, but now that I’ve studied film I can’t look at a horror film and not see the production aspect of it. Nothing’s really that scary when you think, “that poor actress has to scratch at that wall in front of dozens of crew members pretending she’s possessed.” It’s made me appreciate well thought out thrillers that are more conceptually chilling versus visually. Wes Craven’s brainchild exploits the teen slasher clichés while perfecting them at the same time with just the right dosage of humor. It’s a very smart film.
Which film directors or photographers do you look up to?
As strange as it sounds, being a photo major, I don’t really have any favorite photographers. I constantly look at the work of Gia Coppola and Juergen Teller, however. They have a great color palette and first person perspective I enjoy. Gia and Sofia Coppola will always have a major influence on me for their storytelling styles. Though, I attribute my initial intrigue in film to watching the early works of Scorsese, Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan.
What projects are you working on now? Can you give us a little teaser?
Right now, I’m in pre-production for a featurette I wrote. I spent many summers in a small suburban town in Central Michigan called Grand Blanc. My father lives there and I’ve always wanted to write a film about what it was like living in that town. I also have been interested in writing about my friends from Palm Beach, Florida. I always felt very split between my two homes, which is just a side affect of being a child of early divorce. My brother made a comment about how these places don’t have to live separately. He wanted to hear a story about these high school friends meeting again after college, but under the circumstances of if they grew up in Grand Blanc. Needless to say, the plot revolves around a party scene. It’s a coming-of-age story, at a time when coming-of-age is no longer in your teens, but in your twenties.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
As much as I love New York, I plan to move to LA after graduation. I’m originally from South Florida. I just can’t handle the northern chill anymore. Five years from now, I hope to be working on my own feature film, spending downtime stuck in LA traffic. I have no illusions of their highway congestion.
What attracted you to TEO Magazine? Were you a reader previously?
I was on a friend’s phone lurking through whom they follow on Instagram. I clicked on TEO’s page and remember scrolling through for way too long and it lead me to read a couple of issues. There’s something light and airy about the content that is refreshing of most youthful magazines today. I also am a fan of the editorials that feel underground to me, living in America.
What do you hope TEO readers will take away from this film?
I never want to tell my viewer what to see. Otherwise, they’re constantly looking for it and nothing else. I have always found it more interesting for someone else to tell me what my work is about. I discover things I may have not noticed consciously that way.
Words: Taylah Minchington
Photos: Alison Viana
Watch My Best Friend here: https://vimeo.com/136222916