Interview with Kelley Kali and Deon Cole of the movie “I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking) by Suzanne 7/27/21
This was a fun interview! These two are so talented and amiable. We had a great time chatting. I look forward to Kelley’s next film, too. She’s a DGA winner, and he stars in two ABC shows, along with being a hard-working standup comic.
Suzanne: I watched it last night. I enjoyed it. I liked how you made us really feel what she was going through, how she was hot, tired, and having a bad day and worried, and all that made me anxious to watch it. I was like, “Sell the ring! Sell the ring!”
Kelley: I know, right?
Suzanne: “Don’t do that!” But that I’m glad the way it turned out.
Kelley: Thank you so much for saying that.
Suzanne: I don’t– I don’t watch a lot of independent movies, because so many of them are sad and depressing and boring, but I liked yours so much.
Kelley: Good. Thank you. We tried to have a balance of that indie sad, depressing, but this is why Deon’s here, because he brought the funny to it.
Then, even the characters, like Brooklynn’s character, [she’s also] one of Deon’s closest friends, so, you know, he brought her along, and so he definitely was the light in the storytelling of serious social matters.
Suzanne: Yeah. No, it was nice and positive. I like that. I’m more of a popcorn movie person. Marvel, Star Wars, Harry Potter.
Kelley: Good choices.
Suzanne: But I enjoyed it. I loved the dream sequence and what you did with that, because I’m watching going, “There’re really big holes of water there…?” and you had me. You got me.
Kelley: The greatest parts to wake people up, and it’s a great metaphor to show that she’s drowning in so much trouble that she’s trying to get through and just to protect her daughter’s innocence.
Suzanne: Right, and it really does grab you in the, “Oh my gosh, what’s gonna happen next, if she loses her money and the ring and all that stuff? Is she gonna drown?” So, I like that. And it really showed LA really well, too. I love that. It was almost like LA was another character in the movie.
Kelley: It was, yeah; that city is where I grew up. It’s a suburb of LA, in San Fernando Valley, Pacoima, and so it was also just paying homage to a town that helped raise me.
And even Danny Trejo, the actor, is from that town. So, that’s why we named the character Danny. We even are featuring his mural, because he’s just one of the one of the many artists have come from that city that represent that town very well.
Suzanne: Right. Yeah, I noticed his face on the mural. So that explains why you set it in Pacoima. I’m from San Diego, but I didn’t know. I had heard of Pacoima, but that was about it. I actually thought it was in Washington State. I’m like, “Wait, that’s LA.”
Kelley: It was also our resource, because we were shooting during a pandemic and had to find places we could film safely, and so, I just used my hometown. My dad was a pastor there. So, I was really connected to the community. In fact, where Deon pulls up [and] his character talks to me, that’s the steps of my church, the church that I was raised in where my dad was a pastor. So, when he says, “Are you are you a pastor?” I love it. It’s one of my favorite scenes.
Suzanne: So, how did you come up with the idea for this film?
Kelley: So, just, it was in the middle of the pandemic, the middle of 2020, I woke up, and was like, “I’ve got to do something,” because we weren’t allowed to do anything. And one of the things that I have been noticing is that there were a lot more women on the streets here in Los Angeles. You know, we already have a large homeless population, but this increase was due to houselessnes, which was a new term that I was learning. So, it just really showed how paycheck to paycheck we are as a society, [during] this pandemic. So, a lot more people ended up in their cars or sleeping on a friend’s couch or family member’s couch, or heaven forbid, in a tent, temporarily, while they were just getting back on their feet, because maybe they do have a job and maybe the job shut down or whatever it may be.
So, I went to my writing partner, Deon Cole, and went to my girls from USC, Angelique Molina, who’s my co-director; Roma Kong is producer, and then also our other producer, Capella [Fahoome], and we came up with this concept to reflect what we were going through during 2020 and what is even more prevalent now. There’re still so many people who are houseless currently.
Suzanne: Yeah, I can’t even imagine what it must be like there. I grew up in poverty in San Diego, and I still have plenty of relatives who are in poverty. I had actually one who, before the pandemic, was camping with her husband – no children, thankfully, but she and her husband were camping all through LA and Bakersfield where they had lived in a car, basically. So, I know how that is. So, the film did remind me of those things and make me really feel it.
So, was Danny based on a particular person that you know or just…?
Kelley: No, no, Danny was a reflection of the women I’ve seen on the street. So, there is one story, it’s not based on her, but one thing that really triggered me was I was actually driving to get a COVID test, and I got off on the 110 [accidentally]. It’s like you exit along the side of the overpass, and I saw this beautiful black woman who just looked like she came out of a business meeting, look perfectly put together, but had her suitcase and everything. And she was dragging this chain link fence, this old fence that was kind of laying around under the freeway, and boxing herself in, because it looked like she was about to stay there for the night. And I just couldn’t believe [it]. Like she didn’t look – you know how people are like, “Well, you don’t look homeless.” A lot of people don’t look [homeless], and that’s one of the things we talk about. We want the movie to reflect it or to evoke empathy for people, to let them see it, because you don’t know people’s stories. People have this concept of others on the street being lazy or like they put themselves there, and that’s not the case of the majority of the stories.
Suzanne: And I assume you had a certain vision for the movie before you made it. Did the finished product live up to that ideal?
Kelley: It was better, and that just comes from a team effort. This not just from my head. It just was a team. It was Deon watching it and giving notes and catching things that I didn’t see.
And then we’d go back to the editors. We had two editors, Angelica [Lopez] and Katie [McClellan], and just the input that they gave, because, you know, when Angelique, my co-director, and I are in the grind, you’re too much in it, and you need other eyes around you, other creative eyes, to help. And I just think, as a team, it became better than I could have even imagined.
Suzanne: That’s great. And Deon, can you tell us how your role came about? Was it just like she said; she came to you and said, “I want to put a movie together?” And you said, “Sure,” ?
Deon: Yeah, it was just another obstacle added as far as to heighten her decision making on what she needs to do for the character and just bringing lightness to a heavy situation. Yeah, basically, that was it.
Suzanne: And can we assume that after Danny got her apartment that she went to her friend Brooklynn and told her all about running into Chad, I hope?
Kelley: I don’t know. Does Danny kill Brooklynn’s joy? Does she just let it ride? I’m gonna leave it up to you to decide.
Suzanne: Honesty, I would like to see a sequel all about Brooklynn and Chad.
Kelley: Wouldn’t that be fun?
Suzanne: Maybe a TV series. Get your own sitcom based on that. I would like that. That was so funny, that part.
And what was the most fun thing for either or both of you about doing the movie? I know it was a lot of work, but what was fun about it?
Kelley: For me, it was the roller skating, because I’m obsessed with roller skating. So, although I was on skates for like, ten or more hours a day, every day, I just was having a blast. And my favorite part was, I had to bomb this hill. It’s in the opening credits. You can’t even really see the grade of the incline that it is, but it is extremely steep and dangerous. And we decided just to get the drone shot and bomb it, and it scared the crap out of my co-director, Angelique, and my producers. It was just fun seeing them freak out as I’m going this hill. They talk about to this day how traumatized they were, but thank God, I made it. No little pebbles or twigs got in the way.
Suzanne: That’s right, because you weren’t wearing a helmet? Were you wearing protection?
Kelley: I was in a half top and biker shorts, which wasn’t going to protect a thing. So, that’s why they call that hill Devil’s Hill, because it’s one of the hardest hills to go down.
Suzanne: I’m surprised you got the insurance to sign off on that.
Kelley: You know, sometimes you ask for forgiveness.
Suzanne: What about you, Deon? What was fun for you?
Deon: Like, waiting around, and us just laughing in between takes and just laughing in that situation and coming up with different ideas. And there was a lot of funny stuff that we didn’t use.
Kelley: Oh, yeah.
Deon: So, it was just fun creating all these different scenarios. You know, it was great.
Kelley: Deon’s improv, it was so hard for me to keep a straight face [with] the stuff that he was saying to me on the steps. We could just cut a whole series of all of the stuff that he shouted out of that car, because we couldn’t put it all in there, but he was hilarious.
Suzanne: That was all improv, that whole part?
Suzanne: Okay, and I was told the movie will be on BET, will it be in theaters as well, or just on BET?
Kelley: It’s going to be in theaters at Film Festival. So, we’re going to Gina Davis’s Film Festival next week, and we’re going to be screening there in the theater on August 5th and virtually as well. So, if you want to check it out at the Bentonville Film Festival, but other than that, yeah, we’re going to be premiering on BET Her on August 7th.
Suzanne: Okay, good. And do you have any other films that you’re working on, besides this one? Like are you’re thinking of one, or are you working on one already?
Kelley: Well, we have one that we wrote together. It’s what we actually started with as writing partners, and then this one kind of just wiggled its way in again, but we have a script that we finished. It’s a pure comedy. It’s hilarious; it’s so hilarious. And it’s now with Macro, the producers of Judas and the Black Messiah, Sorry to Bother You, Mudbound, and all of that stuff. So, we’re working on getting that out, but Deon has a lot of other great things [coming] in.
Suzanne: Yes, and that was my next question. You’re still on Black-ish and Grown-ish, right?
Suzanne: And you have you have some other movies coming out. Have you started shooting Black-ish season eight yet?
Deon: We start next week. We had a second table read yesterday, I think. And yeah, we start next week.
Suzanne: Oh, cool. And you have some other movies coming out? Is there anything particular that you wanted to tell us about?
Deon: Yeah, a movie on Netflix called The Harder They Fall. It’s coming out soon, probably in the fall. Yeah, that’s just about it right now.
Suzanne: I watched some of your Netflix comedy special last night, that was funny.
Deon: Thank you so much Yeah, I’m working on a new one now.
Suzanne: Oh cool. And who would you say your comedy influences are?
Deon: So many, from Eddie Murphy to Richard Pryor to [unintelligible] to Ellen DeGeneres to Steven Wright to George Carlin.
Suzanne: Cool. That’s great. That’s probably why I thought it was funny. I grew up listening and watching all those people.
Deon: Yeah, I [was influenced by] all of them.
Interview Transcribed by Jamie of http://www.scifivision.com
Here’s your chance to get in on one of the few critically lauded, award-winning feature films at the upcoming gems premiering on BET HER in a couple weeks, Saturday, August 7th at 7pm ET/PT, 6pm CT. Filmmakers KELLEY KALI and DEON COLE (Black-ish star) talk about their critically lauded film, I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking). The 2018 Oscar, DGA winning young director, Kelley Kali, also stars in this Pandemic-era indie along with Deon and we have them available together next Tuesday morning, July 27th (Pacific).
The important movie, which incorporates humor into the most important issue of our recent times, is as refreshing of a film seen you’ll see emphasizing a reason this early 30 year-old filmmaker has been kept an eye on by the biggest names in Hollywood over the past year. Add to the attraction the riveting Deon Cole, a truly authentic cast and a gifted crew to a compelling story which addresses issues within often marginalized communities by using the art of filmmaking to create dialogue and action towards positive change.
- “I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking)” trailer: https://youtu.be/5DsFvNFL2oc
Filmmaker Kelley Kali, one of the breakout talents in Hollywood, won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Film for her narrative short, Lalo’s House, and brought in a number of talented filmmakers including co-director Angelique Molina, fellow USC Cinema School graduate Roma Kong as well as award-winning producer Capella Fahoome. Kelley developed the plot line of “I’m Fine (Thanks For Asking)” looking around Los Angeles as the Covid crisis started to shutter businesses, diminish earnings and jeopardize so many single parents ability to pay rent and feed their families late last spring. The storyline centers on a recently widowed mother who becomes homeless and convinces her 8-year-old daughter that they are only camping for fun while she works to get them off the streets.
As the whole crew with this gem of a film rise to the apex of both Hollywood and the What To Watch at 2021 film festivals, we are certain coverage in wide-reaching outlets is a win-win. To see how brilliant some of the press has been, scroll belowto read a couple rave reviews or click on this recent interview with Kelley and Deon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGpn7KPsUcs
Read the review: https://tinyurl.com/
Read the review: https://tinyurl.com/
Proofread and Edited by Brenda