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SXSW Interview: Tiffany and Jayce Bartok

March 6, 2009

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With Little Pumpkin playing SXSW next week and Cake Eaters having its theatrical run and DVD release on the same day, I talked with Vinyl Foote Productions Tiffany and Jayce Bartok. The duo is in for a big week in both their career and personal lives, with their first baby due the same day that Little Pumpkin plays SXSW.

OFF: You had previously co-directed the documentary Altered by Elvis. Little Pumpkin was your first narrative short to direct. How was the transition going from documentary feature to narrative short?

Tiffany: Great question.  It was fantastic because what I am most interested in as a filmmaker is human behavior and seeing what happens if you just put actors with each other and objects and roll.  We shot the fight between Stephanie and Jayce so many times and we shot it first so she was bursting to go and took Jayce by complete surprise.  Drawing from documentary where you just watch and don’t interfere, the scene unfolded into something real that even makes the viewer uncomfortable instead of it being kind of silly.

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Tiffany & Jayce Bartok make up Vinyl Foote Productions


OFF: You and your husband Jayce work as a team – Jayce even stars in Little Pumpkin. What are the positives of working together? What is difficult?

Tiffany: What is difficult is that he gets all the credit- he’s a Leo!  No, I am kidding.  The disadvantages are probably for the people surrounding us.  We aren’t very private people, we fight loudly and then look around the room for allies who hide at the craft services table.  I can’t think of a project that I would rather do without Jayce’s advice and third eye.  Sometimes, I can be a little brutal on him I think, but it all evens out.  When we are involved with a project we really get obsessed, so I am really grateful that we go home together and can keep talking about something until we fall asleep.

Jayce: I am so lucky to have a partner that shares my love and tastes, but it can get hairy.  Like if I won’t do a rewrite, she hounds me.  It’s rough, seriously.  And I can’t get anything past her.  She has NOTES!  But she is the idea person.  Tiffany comes up with all the ideas like a bubbling spring and then moves on, and I just catch them and spend two years writing and rewriting them.

OFF: Tell me about The Cake Eaters – about to have a theatrical release and coming out on DVD. Tell me about the experience about getting the film made. I know the story originated from personal experience for your husband Jayce. How did it develop from there?

Jayce: Well, I wrote the script based on things that were happening with my family, and we at first, wanted to make it with some really amazing friends of ours.  We did a staged reading in LA at the Egyptian Theater where ironically it’s premiering on March 11th 5 years later!  We came back to NYC and a company optioned it, but could never raise the money which was frustrating.  After 1 year, it all fell apart.  We got SO close, had lunch with some super amazing famous-like people.  But then nothing.  Finally, 57th and Irving optioned it, and they actually had the money.

OFF: How did you get Mary Stuart Masterson to direct?

Jayce: Mary Stuart and I share the same agent, David Lewis.  When we were looking for a director, he suggested Mary Stuart.  Of course, I was a big fan of her acting work and thought she would be perfect for the tone of The Cake Eaters.  We sent her the script, and didn’t hear for awhile.  Apparently, she thought we were asking her to act in it!  When she finally heard, we wanted her to direct…we met like that same day and things moved really quickly after that.

Tiffany: We ran after Christopher Walken with early drafts and stalked Kyra Sedgewick in the bathroom, but once it was optioned, I turned my attentions to getting Altered By Elvis together.  I am just a cheerleader for The Cake Eaters.

OFF: Cake Eaters stars Kristen Stewart in what I think is one of her best roles. Do you feel the success of Twilight has contributed to getting more attention paid to the movie?

Tiffany: Twilight absolutely contributed to the release, that’s just the was the business works.  It was killing all of us to know that there was this AMAZING performance right under everyones’ noses and it was not getting distributed.  I for one am so grateful that her fans can see her in this role because she is absolutely amazing.  There is so much more to Kristen than Twilight and I know people will get to know that in her upcoming years.  Aaron Stanford is also so understated and incredible as Beagle- he often gets overlooked which is a shame.  It’s hard to be so subtle.  I love all the roles.  And the script..!  Ok, so I am biased….

Jayce: thank God for Twilight is all I can say!

OFF: Back to Little Pumpkin, where did the story come from?

Tiffany: Little Pumpkin started when we moved to Ft. Greene Brooklyn and were spellbound by the fall colors.  I have a picture of myself at age 8 sleeping with, yes, a pumpkin….  this image was haunting me…  Jayce took it from there…

Jayce: Tiff kept talking about this Little Boy walking around with this pumpkin that he couldn’t let go of, and I loved it.  It reminded me of The Red Balloon.  I think originally we set the story around a funeral of the boy’s grandmom, but after the loss in The Cake Eaters, Tiff was like “NO MORE DEATH”.  So it became a divorce.

OFF: Where did you find Chase and Stephanie Rickert, the stars of the film along with Jayce?

Tiffany: Stephanie and I went to college together forever ago (I know I’m dating myself) and had recently started talking again.  We were Theater Majors at the University of the Arts in Philly.  I knew her son was getting into commercials and the like, and at the time that I asked to use Chase, we didn’t have a part for the mother, but then the story developed differently and I think Stephanie did an phenomenal job!

OFF: The film won the SXSWClick! Popularity Contest. What does that mean to you?

Tiffany: Winning SXSWClick!  was kind of mind blowing!  I was so thrilled that it was picked as a finalist, and  I didn’t do anything special to get the short out aside from the usual email blasts and I was SHOCKED at the reaction it was getting.  Some had previously thought of it as cute and trite and kind of like “eh?” which I did not take offense to.  We shot it over only 2 days by calling in favors from our amazing friends so I was just happy that it told the story I wanted to tell.  But I was finding that it brought some people to tears!  I have shown it to all different ages and audiences and am always fascinated by the response.  I showed it once in a class of 8th graders and that was by far the most interesting to me.  They really got into arguing over Stephanie’s character and weather she had a right to be so angry.

OFF: You write, direct and produce. But you began in make up. Tell me a little about your makeup career and if that is something you will continue to pursue despite the success as a writer, director, producer?

Tiffany: Well, I actually started as an actress. I graduated from University of Arts and moved to New York to act and had some luck in the theater, but quickly found I was a HORRIBLE waitress and I couldn’t support myself.  I had always had a passion and skill for makeup so I got a job with MAC and fell in love.  When I met Jayce (doing his makeup on a short film) I found myself fascinated with filmmaking and it evolved from there.  I still do makeup for film, events and productions to this day- I don’t think I will ever stop.  I just love it.  But I don’t solicit myself the way I did when I was younger.

OFF: I’ve seen all your work except Stricken. Tell me a little more about the film and where I can see it?

Tiffany: Stricken was a lot of fun.  Jayce originally wanted me to play Stephanie in The Cake Eaters when we wanted to make it for like 50 cents with friends.  I needed a reel and so Jayce wrote Stricken.  Hayley Mills played my mother and it was such an amazing experience.  You can see the film on Jaman.com, but it is definitely a “first” piece.  Oh my goodness- when I think of what we’ve learned since then!  All I can say is Hayley Mills was so gracious to take part in that project.  She is a fantastic woman and a great talent.

OFF: You have a few films in production currently. What’s next for Vinyle Foote Productions?

Tiffany: We are putting our heart and soul into Red River.  We are trying to get it financed currently. We are doing some really fun things with it like creating a character blog- it is based on some real drownings that have been mysteriously occuring in the midwest.  It will be Jayce’s directorial debut.  There is another script of Jayce’s Tiny Dancer which is a dance film and it is really beautiful.  We are shopping around as well.

OFF: You are expecting your own little pumpkin the day that Little Pumpkin screens at SXSW. Any names picked out yet?

Tiffany: The due date of our son is the day Little Pumpkin screens at SXSW.  It is bittersweet- SXSW is a fest we have always dreamed of attending  with our work.  I can only hope that Red River will be there one day and we can take our son!  It is also the same day that The Cake Eaters premieres at Cinema Village in New York.  You just have to laugh!  Oh and yes, we will name the little man Jaxon Riley Bartok:)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Liz Tomski permalink
    March 20, 2009 9:25 am

    Hi:

    You don’t know me. I am a very good friend of your aunt, Karen Zacharias. She is so proud of you both. I started acting 4 years ago and your aunt knows I am very interested in the field so when something new is happening with you and Jayce, she passes that info onto me. I viewed the Little Pumpkin; it was great.

    You both are very talented. Keep up the good work.

    Liz

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