Melora Hardin | All About You

you_melora_sm.jpgYou, which was written by her husband, Gildart Jackson, has already achieved considerable success since its release.






Sure, you know the talented Melora Hardin as crazy Jan on NBC’s The Office. You might even know her as a singer or dancer. But now, with her first indie film, You, Hardin holds the title of director and producer under her belt. It’s a talent and gift that has been years in the making.

"When I was about 25, I was making a movie that had kids on the set," says Hardin, who was interviewed by phone, "and the director was completely incompetent at dealing with children. And because I had been a child actor, I was very aware of the challenges, so I helped out, and the producer at the end of that came in and said, ‘You really should direct! You really have this amazing quality of having the iron fist and the velvet glove.’ And I think he kind of planted the seed. I guess that’s a gift that not everybody has."

There, Melora Hardin the Director was born. You, which was written by her husband, Gildart Jackson, has already achieved considerable success since its release. It’s a tearjerker—a story that deals love, loss and family—a labor of love project that was shot with a low budget, but with a true heart.

One of the film’s finest moments comes from the young daughter, Quincey, who coolly and confidently recalls her deceased mother as "kind of like a presence," but one she really doesn’t remember. "Don’t you think about her just a little too much? That was over 10 years ago," she tells her still-grieving father.

It’s this kind of frankness that makes You not just another love story, but one that is founded on real love itself; thankfully, showing the difference between the two realities is something that Hardin and crew magically caught on film for everyone to see.

You, which can be purchased and downloaded here, was obviously on Hardin’s mind as she spent 30 or so minutes to talk with PLAYBACK:stl.


Melora, can you please talk about a little about You and what it took for it to become a reality?

Well, when you’re doing something like this yourself and you don’t have the big money machine and publicity machine behind you, I guess you just kind of reach out in every direction. I’ve been really moved by how many people have reached back in so many different areas. I guess this has been sort of the first thing that I’ve ever done that has really motivated me to be so shamelessly aggressive. Just trying to get people’s attention and ask for help and ask for guidance and advice. And people have been more than excited; I guess they can feel my passion and excitement, so I’m really hoping that continues. I hope we can keep the ball rolling. I think if we can keep up the pressure and interest and keep leading people there, we’ll find a way to make our money back and hopefully make a profit and make another film.

I think that’s the right attitude. If you’re going to release a film the way you’re doing it, you almost have to be self promoting it in a way that seems like, "Man, am I talking about this too much?"

You do! It’s easy with this, because I really am passionate about it. I feel like I poured so much heart and soul into it, and so did my family and my friends. We all just kind of worked our butts off, you know, guerilla-style filmmaking. You know, when you’re scrambling eggs in the morning for the crew—so that they’ll have a hot breakfast—while you’re getting your hair and makeup done, you’re kind of committed to making sure it’s a certain kind of experience. It’s not like I worry that I’m talking about it too much, but it’s more like I’m crossing my fingers and hoping it’s going to work.

Well, this is your first chance at directing a movie, and you’re also in the film. What was your experience like taking this on? I imagine it’s something that’s a little weird, since your husband wrote it. Was there ever a time when you were thinking, "You know, I hope I’m getting this right…"

You know…no. It’s interesting, I didn’t ever feel like I had to make a perfect movie, or it had to be this or it had to be that. Gildart wrote a beautiful, emotional script. And I responded to it, and so did everyone else who read it. And I felt like if I can just translate that emotion that he put on the page onto the screen, then I’ve succeeded. It really was my only intention; I knew I was going to get great performances because I knew I had great actors. I knew I was going to be able to tell the story visually because I’m a really visual person and I see things in pictures. I knew that I was going to be able to do all those things, and I’m very comfortable on a set, and I’ve spent a lot of time directing myself over the years anyway. I’ve worked with great directors, bad directors, mediocre directors…and you learn very much from that. You just learn by osmosis from being on sets since I was six years old. So, I just wanted to make sure I was taking the emotion to the screen.

And the fact that now I find that people are very emotionally moved by the movie is so satisfying to me, but even more satisfying than that is they come away from the movie very uplifted and it opens their hearts. I keep hearing people saying, "I want to call my husband or wife and tell them I love them." It’s a really beautiful thing. If our film is creating connection—it was certainly a connected way of making a move from start to finish with my husband writing it, me directing it, us co-producing it together, making it with our own money and our own house and all of our friends’ houses. You know, if that connection that we put into it translates through the screen and creates more connection amongst other people in their lives, I feel really good about that. I feel that’s a really good message to put into the world.

So, it sounds like there weren’t too many doubts in the process.

I think there was a certain moment, before we got to the point of making the movie, when I did run into a lot of people…a lot of people who did want to put doubts in my mind. I heard a lot of comments like, first of all, the movie bounces around a lot in the time, it spans 21 years. So, one of the first things was, "How are you going to deal with all the time? There’s so much time!" And then there was, "What are you going to do with all the aging, and all the age makeup?" And my feeling about that from the beginning was it almost didn’t matter. Yes, it bounces around in time. But my way with handling that was I wanted to be very simple with it; I didn’t want it to be a big makeup movie, or have special effects like, "Here we are in spaceships!" This movie could span 21 years in any time in history, and it could still be roughly be the same story. Because it really is about human emotion, it’s about family. It’s not about all those other things. So, that was one of the first ways people tried to put doubts in my mind.

Another way was, "Why would you do this? If you’ve never directed a film, why wouldn’t you direct a short film first? Why would you try to direct a feature and not direct a few short films?" In fact, my last conversation with somebody who tried to place doubts in my mind was someone I was considering working with on the film, and I came home and said to my husband, "He’s wearing a ‘No’ hat." I was literally sitting across from him, we were having conversation, and he was blabbing on and on about how everybody who makes a movie wants to make a good movie, but most people make bad movies. And as he kept talking, literally it was like his mouth was moving but no sound was coming out…and suddenly on his head appeared this cartoon-sized top hat and across it it said, "No!" And I literally came home to my husband and said, ‘He’s wearing a ‘No’ hat.’ And I said, "I don’t want anyone on this movie who is wearing a ‘No’ hat. I want everybody to have possibility in their realm."

So, it’s not that there weren’t doubts, it’s that I had the gift of coming up against some big, hard people wearing "No" hats early on, and I was able to see that and get clear about the fact that a lot of people wear "No" hats, and then there are a lot of people who are really there to get a job done and make it happen, even if it’s hard. Don’t sit around and talk about why we shouldn’t make it; let’s talk about why we should!

And then you assembled your cast, and some of it is your family. Was it a little awkward working with your family on a film like this?

There were moments; I would say most of those moments were when my husband and I would have some disagreements. There are very complex relationships between a director, a producer and a star, a costar’s wife and her husband, writer-director, writer-producer — we were crossing all those bounds! Plus, we were also mommy and daddy, because our kids were on the set a lot, too. So, we had pretty complex dynamics to be dealing with, and I’d say we handled it very well. There was some silent tension sometimes, and maybe verbal disagreements, but we didn’t get divorced. We still love each other, and we still want to make more movies together, so I guess we did OK! [Laughs]

That’s good to hear. When it was done and you had your first chance at watching the final product, what kinds of thoughts were going through your mind?

Well, it’s funny, because it’s a pretty unusual moment. You’ve been cutting the film, and you’ve seen many versions of it, and then when I finally settled on what it was going to be, there was a time we screened it, and then there were quite a few months when we were doing color correction, and we were doing all the music, so I didn’t really watch the film in its entirety for a couple of months, which was so refreshing! I saw it in bits and bobs, and then I watched it, and then I didn’t watch it for another like two or three months. Then we had a screening for family and stuff, and I think the only thing that wasn’t done with that was the title sequence. And I was pleasantly surprised; I was moved in places, and maybe even surprisingly so—I had seen it so many times that you wouldn’t think I would be moved by anything anymore. But, I still got moved in a couple places.

Back to your earlier question, too, I think the part of the reason why I never put pressure on myself for this to be a perfect movie was because I don’t want this to be the only movie I ever make; I want this to be my first movie. I had the great honor of working with Clint Eastwood in Absolute Power, and I really do look to him as an inspiration. I want to have a library of films when I’m his age. I want to look back and say, "You was the first film that I made." I had, as my daughter says, happy tears. [Laughs]

Did it bring you back to the days when you were making your first album?

Certainly. I think that one of my greatest gifts in life is just collaboration. I’m a really great collaborator, I really enjoy it. In that regard, making a record is a smaller collaboration, but it is a collaboration. And making a movie is a big, big collaboration. I think I’m always searching for those opportunities to be creative in life, so I think that’s what drives me. I think I’ll do a lot of things in my life that people will say, "Well, why would you wanna…?" And it’s not because I’m trying to outdo myself; I’m just trying to find those big arenas to be creative. This just happened to be kind of an amazing arena to do that, and I felt so blessed to be in collaboration with so many great people, and just to feel every atom in my body was desired and needed.

So with all these talents, where do you go from here?

I feel like the doors have swung open, and I feel thankful for my therapist who gave me an incredible perspective that really did change a lot of things for me. I sort of think of myself as a racehorse that needs to be on a big racetrack—that’s where I need to be—with other racehorses that are all running for the blue ribbon. That’s where I belong, and that’s where I can give the most back. | Jason Gonulsen

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