“I learned to just connect with the material and that it’s not about you. It’s about what you have to serve to the material and to the character.” – Raeann Giles on Directing Her Film, ‘Angel’
When life gives you lemons, might as well make some make lemonade, right? That might be a poor choice of words to describe the evolution of Angel, a new film that is based on actor Raeann Giles’ traumatic miscarriage.
When Giles, who not only stars in the movie but is also the writer and director, found out she was pregnant, she began filming a docu-reality series about the “events of this 40-year-old woman going through another pregnancy,” she told me recently. But after the miscarriage and with all the footage already filmed, she had an idea to use it as flashbacks and fit them into a story she had already written the year before.
Angel is the story of three thirty-something women (Giles, Chelsea Gilson and Angela Relucio) who travel to wine country for a weekend getaway. After drinking a forbidden wine, they wake up in an alternate reality, showing them a life of what-might-have-been.
I should add that Giles and I are friends and that I play have a small role in the film, playing Gilson’s husband, Andy. But that being said, the movie is funny, sweet and sad with some really nice performances throughout.
In this interview, Giles chats about why she decided it was time to make her directorial debut with the film, directing herself and how she liked being on the other side of the table when casting the roles. These are edited excerpts from that conversation. For the full interview, check out the video below or watch it on YouTube.
Angel is streaming now on most platforms. For more information, click here.
I know that you’ve written and starred in a couple of your own projects over the years but hadn’t directed anything prior to this. Why did you decide to direct this one?
Raeann Giles: My manager actually wanted me to direct something and when I told him about this project, he asked me why wasn’t I going to direct it? And I was like, “Because… ” This is my honest answer. I was like, “I don’t know what a director does. What do they do? I don’t know how to do that.” And then, I was just like, “I want to know.”
I usually hire someone to direct because I knew I wanted to act in it and it just seems easier. But when this actually happened to me and I changed the story around to fit real events, then I felt like this was finally time. I was like, “Okay, this is my story.” I mean, no one’s going to tell it quite the way I’m going to tell it. Since it’s based on true events, I’ll go ahead and give this one a shot.
This was going to be a documentary about your pregnancy but with the miscarriage, you molded that into what it is now?
Raeann Giles: Yeah. Originally, the script was written as a regular screenplay. When I got pregnant, we started filming a docu-reality and we did five episodes of it, five months into the pregnancy. And it was just supposed to be kind of a fun. It was called, 40 and Pregnant, and it was just supposed to be the events of this 40-year-old woman going through another pregnancy, having kids and just kind of a fun family type of thing.
And then, when we lost the pregnancy, obviously I stopped filming it. But then I had all this footage, and it was just so ironic how it kind of fit in with this story that I had written a year before. It just kind of occurred to me at one point… “I wonder if in all these flashback moments, I actually use these events that we had filmed from the docu-reality in the narrative as my character’s memories of when she was actually pregnant.”
It was definitely kind of a risk. Like, I’m going to mold this essentially reality footage with a narrative story and throw it in there? My husband had to play my husband in the narrative and he’s not an actor and, bless his heart, he did the best job he could. But because he was my husband in the other footage, we had to match it, right? So, things like that happened.
How did you prepare to direct this?
Raeann Giles: It first started with me asking people and going, “Hey, what does the director do?” [laughter] And then people explaining to me, “Okay, well, you’re going to work with your actors,” which that part I knew how to do, thankfully, “And you’re going to work with your cinematographer and your first AD, and your lighting department.” So basically, David Gutel, who directed my other two projects, he so graciously agreed to be my assistant director on this project. He gave me a lot of insight as we walked through it. And thank God he was my first AD because I asked him a lot of questions.
I learned how to make a shot list and I learned how to decide what I wanted everything to look like. I learned a little bit about what equipment we needed. Basically, it was my AD and my cinematographer, David and Taylor Leach coming to my house and we walked through every scene… where it was going to be, what the lighting was going to be. A lot of prep work.
I think, especially when you’re going to be acting in it as well, just preparation, preparation, preparation because you’re not going to have time to do other stuff when you’re also trying to be in hair and make-up and wardrobe.
I know if I were directing something where I was also acting in it, and we shot a scene, I’d be like, “You guys you were great. I stunk. Let’s do it another 10 times.” Did that ever happen with you?
Raeann Giles: It’s hard. I mean, you kind of just can’t watch yourself and have to trust other people’s advice. I would ask David, my AD and a script supervisor, “What do you think was the best take?” And I think just naturally, I would put my attention more on the other actors and then just hope I didn’t suck. It’s hard, you can’t critique yourself necessarily, right? Because if you do, you find everything wrong with it.
The hardest scene to do that was in the movie theater room, and its very sad scene. I’m acting with Angela Relucio, who was incredible, and having to watch the playbacks of that and having to be so emotional and cry and… It was hard because it really happened. It wasn’t just a story I wrote and could pop myself out of. It was my real life.
I think that was probably the hardest one to not critique that. And that was just truly relying on the team and everybody else there to be like, “We got it,” or ” We don’t got it.” They would play it back for me and honestly, I think I did the best I could to watch it and critique, but there was probably a lot of me not really watching it and then being like, “Okay, yeah, that’s good. Let’s move on.” I think it’s kind of hard anyway, until you’re sitting there in the editing room to go, “Did we really get it?”
I was there that day. I wasn’t watching the filming. I was probably at craft services stuffing my face. Tell me about casting this. What was it like to be on the other side of the table? And acting-wise, did you learn anything watching those auditions that you might be able to apply to your own auditions?
Raeann Giles: I loved casting. Being an actor, I think casting is so fun. And thank you for your help. You were there and that’s actually how you got cast because you read so much better than everyone that came in. Like as the reader, we were like, “Wait, Lance should really be playing this role,” [laughter] because you were so good.
As for what I learned, just learning to connect with the material and that it’s not about you. It’s about what you have to serve to the material and to the character. When all these people came in and read, because this was a true story, I was really looking for people that were connecting to the material.
As an actor, we prepare and then we go, “This is what I’m going to do. And this is what I have prepared.” And you go in and you do your thing and then you pop out and you’re done. But when it becomes this human experience where you’re connecting with the person that you’re, one reading with, and two, that’s trying to cast you, then you’ve stepped out of that zone. You appear… I don’t know, just more passionate about it than everybody else.
I know you watched a ton of self-tapes too. What made you want to see someone after watching their tape?
Raeann Giles: I think there’s two categories: There’s like professional and not, right? You can tell like when the lighting is right, the camera is right, it’s crisp. You can hear them really well. It’s a nice solid background. And just the production quality looks really good.
I mean, there’s so much you can do now that can up the production quality and automatically, people just engage better than if it’s all grainy and dark and they’re in their bathroom.
I’d say making sure it looks really professional and crisp and then just having fun with it. People use props, people change their outfits, and those are the people that really stood out.
But at the end of the day, it’s just the talent and the preparation and the skill level. Some people have been doing this for a long time and you can see it and, they’re just really good.
Why did you decide to start producing your own projects? From Stay-At-Home Mom and the other things that you’ve done, what made you want to start that?
Raeann Giles: It was a couple different things. One was that I always wanted to know what it was like to be behind the camera, because I’d always been in front of the camera.
The other thing was I needed a new reel. I had taken like a few years off. I had had children and I was a mom now. Everything I had was from me playing 18 to 25, which I wasn’t going to play anymore. So, I needed a new reel and I just kind of thought, “Well, I have this thing that I wrote, it kind of fits the type of reel I want. Let’s just try and make it.” I didn’t know that it would lead into continually making things like this.
Are you going to keep on directing?
Raeann Giles: I would love to. Especially my own writing. There’s something about being able to direct your writing that’s so cool. So, to really get to say, “This is how I want this to look and this is how we’re going to do this…” It’s really fun. I would love to direct again specifically something I wrote. I think it would be harder to direct someone else’s writing, but I’ll take a stab at it.
It’s just such a great way to stay busy and to learn and to meet new people. And then you have this new calling card of something you made. And I like the freedom of being able to do it and how you want to do it when it’s your own project. It’s freeing to be able to do that.
Most of your projects, did you pay for them yourself?
Raeann Giles: Yeah. I mean, yes and no. The first one, I had saved to make that. But then that generated some money and then the next one generates some money and you put it back in.
Is that scary?
Raeann Giles: To think you’re going to lose money? I mean, no more scary than this whole business and thinking you may not get a job. [laughter] I mean, it’s all a gamble, right?
But I also look at it this way, even if you don’t make money back, you essentially paid for a class, right? Like you paid for reel or your own new footage. You paid to network and meet people. So, I mean, I don’t really think it’s a loss. Now, I guess if I was putting my house on the line or something, then it would be really scary.