Director, screenwriter making Hollywood dreams reality - Wheaton Quarterly
by Andrew Faught
Alexa-Sascha Lewin ’97 working on the set of “The Honeysting”
It was as a student at Wheaton that Alexa-Sascha Lewin ’97, while studying the historic contributions of women around the globe, made a vow that she’s following through on 18 years after leaving Norton.
“I promised to myself that one day I would direct a feature film about a maverick female trailblazer—a complex, multifaceted female protagonist,” says Lewin, a German major who also did an independent study in film by taking courses at Brown University, Ludwig-Maximilians-UniversitätMunich and the University of Television and Film Munich in Germany.
With her husband, Brad Rister, Lewin penned “Kingmaker,” a screenplay that highlights seven years in the life of Gertrude Bell, the English writer and archaeologist who was known as the “female Lawrence of Arabia.” Bell is credited with creating the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921.
When Lewin in 2013 entered her script into the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Contest—one of more than 7,000 submissions—her work was judged a top three finalist in the period/historical/war genre. She next plans to raise funds to bring her dream to the big screen.
Carving out a successful Hollywood career is anything but a sure thing. But Lewin has dreamed of a life in film since watching classic movies with her mom as a little girl.
“I have a very clear memory of being 8 years old with my mom, and we were in a London hotel watching Hitchcock’s ‘The 39 Steps,’ which just captivated me,” she says. “We watched all of the classics.”
Her screen hopes were bolstered at Wheaton by such boosters as Sheila Dvorin, then the associate director of the Filene Center.
“Sheila was so supportive of my dreams of working in the film industry,” Lewin recalls. “She taught me how to write an effective résumé and captivating cover letters, and we would sit down in her office together working and reworking them so I could apply to internships at film production companies.”
The efforts paid off. Every summer and winter break, Lewin landed an assignment—from Propaganda Films to Alliance Atlantis to Robert Redford’s South Fork Pictures. She also interned for Days of OurLives. (“I talked my way into the internship from my dorm room,” Lewin says.)
After working as a wildlife filmmaker for 10 years, mostly in Africa, in 2008 Lewin was selected as one of eight women for the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, where she directed the short crime thriller “The Honeysting.” The film received a Panavision New Filmmaker grant and aired on cable channel ShortsHD, as part of a program called “100 Films by Her.”
Eric West, a director of photography who worked with her on “The Honeysting,” calls Lewin “one of the best directors I have had the pleasure to work with.”“She is a director who is driven by her vision,” he adds. “The images she creates are already captured in her mind, and she transforms these to the screen using her own unique voice.”
Lewin has further honed her craft the past three years by shadowing directors on eight television shows that include “Modern Family” and “Castle,” and she was recently selected as one of 20 directors, from an applicant pool of more than 450, to participate in Sony Pictures Television Diverse Directors Program.
Lewin says she can’t think of her life any other way. “This is what I was meant to do. I just love actors, cinematographers, film and television. It is my life, my passion.”
Alexa-Sascha Lewin ’97
Durang Deranged in the Fringe - On Stage Los Angeles
by Michael Sheehan
June 12, 2014
Christopher Durang writes plays: some very funny stuff over the years including one acts like Actor’s Nightmare and Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You. Gnarly word play and silly satire extend to his ‘DENTITY CRISIS, under the brilliant direction of Alexa-Sascha Lewin as part of the current Hollywood Fringe Festival. Only three performances left, but for half an hour of high energy silliness and a nice slice of banana bread, it’s a ‘don’t miss it’ situation.
Just to the west of Theatre Row on Santa Monica are some neat little performance spaces. The 56 seat venue, Theatre Asylum, is a seat of the pants space ideal for the Fringe Festival. One show comes in and plays as another sits on deck. As we enter the theater we are greeted by Edith Fromage (Sela Victor); fresh banana bread (actually her own invention… or so she says) and a smile. A little guitar music lulls us into a false sense of the demurity. And, then, the fun begins.
Durang shocks us time and again with Robert (seventeen year old dynamo Nicholas Podany) whom we think for a moment is Jane’s (Haley McFarland) brother and Mme Fromage’s son. Proteus has nothing on this kid as he morphs madly from one character to another: the son, the father/husband, granddad and a dandy suitor who also woos his mom. It really doesn’t matter who’s on first. Poor Jane, sitting quietly, is the eye of the whirlwind that continues to swirl about her as her mother insists that she play the piano, though she has never had a lesson and never really plays. Enter Mr. Summers (more transformational Townsend Coleman) who gets to the essence of the issues that have Jane previously attempting suicide before ending the session abruptly. It seems that as a child, Jane has been traumatized by a frightening production of Peter Pan where, after Tinkerbell drinks the poison to save Peter, the audience doesn’t respond loudly enough with applause and Tink dies. Was it a dream? Do you believe in fairies?
Off the wall hijinks ensue. Deborah Marlowe appears announcing that SHE is Mr. Summers who has had a sex change operation! Imagine Coleman then reappearing. There are fish net stockings involved.
It’s a pure romp. The tickets are ten bucks and there are only three more performances. It’s worth finding parking off Santa Monica and enjoying a well written, well directed and nicely acted one act.
Thespian Thoughts - the Best of Hollywood Fringe 2014
by Sandro Morelli
June 17, 2014
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is underway in LA with hundreds of theatrical productions celebrating creativity and cutting edge
Actors Reporter has been all over it like a blanket and presents here some of the best plays and performances worth checking out.
for ticket information about these and the many more shows that are part of this fun theatre festival, including the following six we recommend; 'Dentity Crisis, Fat Pig, 52 Pick Up, Ammo, Demon-Slaying Drag Queens and Waitless.
Stage Scene LA - Spotlighting the Best in Southern California Theater
by Steven Stanley
June 18, 2014
Multiple personality disorder, attempted suicide, sex reassignment surgery, incest, and abundant cleavage are just about the last things you’ll ever see at Hollywood’s Christian-based Actors Co-op, which is just one reason to catch the outrageously R-rated ‘Dentity Crisis at this year’s Hollywood Fringe, Christopher Durang’s 1978 one-act just happening to star a quartet of Co-op stars set free from the shackles of the duly-esteemed (but even at its most risqué never more than PG-13) troupe.
‘Dentity Crisis stars gorgeous Co-opper Selah Victor as curvy housewife Edith Fromage, self-proclaimed “inventor of cheese” and mother to sullen suicide-surviving teenaged daughter Jane (Hayley McFarland), who’s understandably confused by Mom’s passionate lip-locks with Jane’s equally adolescent-appearing brother Robert (Nicholas Podany).
Then again, since Robert keeps morphing United States Of Tara-style from brother to father to grandfather to the très français Count de Rochelay, it’s no wonder Jane’s been seeing therapist Mr. Summers (Townsend Coleman pre-sex-change and Deborah Marlowe post).
Oh and there’s the pesky matter of Jane’s recurring childhood recollections of a Peter Pan production gone horribly wrong. (“And then the crocodile that chases Captain Hook … fell off the stage, crushing several children in the front row.”) Ouch!
Playwright Durang’s recent return to Broadway with the Best Play Tony-winning Vanya And Sonia And Masha And Spike makes this 30-minute excursion into early (and considerably wilder/crazier) Durang-land a particularly tasty treat (with co-producer/star Victor’s home-baked banana bread a yummy added delight).
Co-producer Alexa-Sascha Lewin’s fabulously frenetic direction, sparkling performances by Victor, Coleman, and Marlowe, a deliciously deadpan turn by McFarland (of Fox TV’s Lie To Me), and above all the brilliant young Podany’s marvelously manic tour-de-force as Robert et all add up to a half-hour of madcap mayhem you’ll never see at Hollywood Presbyterian.
Scenic, costume, and lighting designs further elevate ‘Dentity Crisis from standard Fringe fare. Rita Cannon is stage manager.
Though ‘Denity Crisis’s Actors Co-op connection may well be “entirely coincidental,” I’m keeping fingers crossed for future Hollywood Fringe fabulousness from what I’ll henceforth dub “Co-op: Ooh La La!”
We Make Movies
Fringe Corner 2014: 'Dentity Crisis
by Aubrey Mozinio
June 16, 2014
‘Dentity Crisis by Christopher Durang and directed by Alexa-Sascha Lewin, is a 30 minute, non-stop whirlwind tour through the aftermath of a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt by young girl named Jane (Haley McFarland). Don’t worry—I won’t get too dark here, despite the rather heavy premise, this is a hilarious romp through one girl’s struggle to feel sane in a world of complete insanity. Jane’s mother, Edith Fromage (played perfectly by Selah Victor whose stage presence is a force to be reckoned with and manages to wrangle Durang’s broad comedy into moments with wonderful subtext) claims to have invented cheese and also seems to be having an affair with Jane’s brother, Dwayne.
However, it doesn’t stop there—Dwayne also seems to be Jane’s father, grandfather and a salacious French count, all played awlessly by 17-year old character-prodigy Nicholas Podany. Podany rotates through these four characters in rapid-re speed, sometimes switching mid-sentence, yet somehow manages to bring each one out in a fully realized form.
However, the talent doesn’t end there—Jane’s therapist and his wife decide to both get a sex change (Townsend Coleman and Deborah Marlowe play off each other brilliantly!) rendering Jane’s vision of her own sanity even more cloudy. Many may recognize Jane’s monologue half way through about a rather distressing version of Peter Pan she saw as a child, where the audience was admonished for not clapping enthusiastically enough to save the life of Tinkerbell.
Fortunately, Alexa-Sascha Lewin expertly led this production to such a well-deserved fervent ovation that no cast members were harmed nor any audience members chastised. In fact, we were all treated to a slice of homemade banana bread worth the price of admission alone!
‘BROKEN’ (2013). Interview with director Alexa-Sascha Lewin
I recently interviewed Alexa-Sascha Lewin about her latest short film Broken, which premiered at the 16th annual Sonoma Film Festival. In Broken, a couple (played by Scottie Thompson and Dominic Rains) drives through the California desert hoping to celebrate their anniversary, but their truck inopportunely breaks down. Instead of a romantic getaway their trip becomes a veritable nightmare and cause for a breakup.
ME: What inspired the story of Broken? Is it based on a personal experience and is the desert a kind of metaphor?
ALEXA: My last film, The Honeysting, was a fast-paced crime thriller with guys and guns. With Broken, I wanted to do something different. I was intrigued by the idea of exploring a moment in crisis between two characters played out in emotional subtlety. I wanted to tell a layered, open-ended, and unsettling story about a relationship stuck in limbo, where open communication has broken down and where every word and gesture becomes an emotional trigger....Everything is compounded between Tom and Kate when their truck breaks down in the middle of the desert and they find themselves stuck in a 'fish bowl' where they can see for miles but have nowhere to go, no way to escape the mounting tension between them. Broken wasn't based on any particular experience; however, we've all been stuck in an unhealthy relationship, where we stayed in way too long because we were either afraid of the unknown or convinced that somehow we could fix it. The film is intended to act as a Rorschach, inviting viewers to imprint their own emotional experiences onto Tom and Kate. We are all products of our past; it shapes who we are and influences responses...I also liked the idea of flipping the gender roles, placing Kate in the dominant position in the relationship....The breakdown of the truck serves as a metaphor for the breakdown of the relationship - but it was really the location that played such a critical role in the visual story. I wanted the desert's wide vistas, giant boulders, and scorched Joshua trees to visually mirror the emotional cadence in Tom and Kate's relationship. I found it interesting that in this vast expanse they really had no place to go. They were truly stuck, both physically and emotionally.
ME: How did you pick Scottie Thompson and Dominic Rains as your cast? Did you know you wanted to work with them from the start?
ALEXA: I'm friends with Scottie and Dom, and I asked them to be in the film. I really admire their work and their commitment to the craft. To capture the emotional subtlety of Kate and Tom's relationship on film, where most of the tension is simmering just beneath the surface, I knew that I needed collaborate with actors that would embrace a rehearsal process in the spirit of John Cassavetes... There were a lot of layers to explore, and I wanted Scottie and Dom to be actively involved in their character’s development. While the Writer, Brad, and I had fleshed out backstories for the characters, we welcomed Scottie and Dom’s ideas about their characters. The four of us initially sat down for the first rehearsal and talked about these two people and how they got to this point in their lives. And then, over the course of several intense rehearsals, we began to build their 5-year relationship. We needed to create the memories of how Kate and Tom first met (which ended up being an amazing hour-long improv), to their first date, to moving in together, to the painful moments that created the fissures between them. Their relationship grew and developed from the fun, free-spirited days of young love, to the dark pain of years of unresolved resentment and hurt. It was an intense, creative, and ultimately beautiful experience for all of us involved.
ME: What were some of the challenges of shooting in the desert?
ALEXA: The heat. It was during the summer and the temperature was around 100 degrees. We shot over a weekend on a bare bones budget with a nine-person crew of friends. From cooking meals, to lugging gear, everyone eagerly pitched in, wearing whatever ‘hats’ were necessary to ensure the production’s success. Broken would not have been possible without this collaborative spirit and I am truly grateful for our amazing team.
ME: Broken featured at the 16th Sonoma Film Festival. Where else has the films screened?
ALEXA: In addition to its World Premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival in April, Broken recently screened at the Big Island Film Festival.
ME: You have made a number of shorts and have worked for TV for years. Can you tell us about the feature you are now working on?
ALEXA: Yes!! I'm thrilled that my next film will be my feature directorial debut on a script that Brad and I co-wrote.
ME: Can you tell us about Kingmaker?
ALEXA: I'm directing Kingmaker from the feature script that Brad and I co-wrote. It's about maverick adventurer, Gertrude Bell, the female "Lawrence of Arabia", who became entangled in the back room politics of World War I era Mesopotamia as she battled her commanding officers, and her own demons, to crown Faisal as the first King of Iraq...It's my passion project and I'm honored and humbled to tell this remarkable woman's story. I am so thankful and appreciative to be able to do what I love - tell stories. It's all been such an incredible adventure and I've been blessed to work and collaborate with some amazing people.