Evan Elise Owens
Before diving into your newly released short film, what captivated your interest in the entertainment industry?
An improv class in high school. Fell in love with it. I decided I wanted to be an actress! I studied at Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theatre in NYC. It changed my life. One teacher in particular emphasized that acting is a business and to learn every single aspect of it. So that’s what I did. I started learning the ins and outs. I got jobs as a P.A., grip, stand-in, crafty, & production coordinator. I worked as a background actor. I worked in the library at Neighborhood Playhouse. Anything and anywhere I could work to learn. I wanted to have knowledge in every department. In my core I know I want to help people and I’ve always loved stories. Be it told in a book, song, or film. I thought acting was my lane to tell those stories, but I realized by writing and actually making the films I had the potential to help the most. Telling the untold and overlooked stories. Stories that tell the truth which sometimes hurts.
Linda Gets Justice touches on several themes that you've discussed previously, but above all, its most notably a story that you felt compelled to tell. When did you consider turning it into a movie?
Summer of 2020 was when I found out about Linda’s murder. Through the research I was doing, I discovered that Birmingham attorneys had filed a lawsuit against Linda’s apartment complex on behalf of her estate claiming the complex should’ve done more to keep her safe. They were awarded 10 million dollars. Linda had no known family so it’s unclear where that money went. When I read that, I just thought “ Wow. This lady was murdered, the guy that murdered her is out walking around free and now some attorney’s are taking advantage of her death. I’ve got to tell this story.”
You began your career in the industry as an actress, but eventually expanded into writing and directing. How would you describe the key dierences between them in your experience?
Honestly, I never quite got the satisfaction I have felt directing and producing when I was acting. The differences for me are mental. I loved acting but I felt I was always chasing a job and it got to the point where I was just not enjoying it anymore. It got to the point where I dreaded auditioning. Acting served its purpose in my life by teaching me the type of director I want to be, it opened a lot of doors for me, and allowed me to meet some really amazing people that became some of my closest friends. Writing, producing, and directing a film is something I don’t have to chase. I can just create and tell stories and really connect with other actors and crew on set and hopefully help them in their creative process as well. I feel like the actual filmmaking is more collaborative for me and personally that is more satisfying and the biggest difference.
Undoubtedly, casting is essential for a film like Linda Gets Justice. Did you always have Sandra Lafferty in mind to play Linda, Anna Ritch to play Ray, Chad Zigmund to play Justice, Don Joseph to play Gus, etc.?
When I started writing Linda Gets Justice, I had Sandra Ellis Lafferty in mind the entire time to play Linda. We met a few years prior on a set in Atlanta and thank goodness had stayed in touch. She’s truly a gem of a person and actor. I knew she’d be perfect for Linda if she was interested in the role and thankfully she was! I met Anna Enger Ritch back in 2017, she took my headshot photos! I was so completely impressed with her then and had been looking for a way to work with her ever since. She’s an incredible mother, actor, and photographer. I'm in awe of her and such a big fan. I held auditions for the role of Gus and Justice. This was my first time being on the selecting side of casting and it was truly eye-opening. There were over 200 submissions for the role of Gus and the one guy I was praying to send in a tape didn’t. He missed the deadline. BUT he messaged me on instagram a few days later- he had been sick and asked if he could still send in a tape. I was so stoked he reached out, he sent in the tape and that’s how Don-Dimitri Joseph was cast. He’s a wonderful guy and filmmaker. A true storyteller at heart. Chad Zigmund is an actor and stuntman! He and I had been cast together a few times in the past. I knew we worked well together and I asked him to send in a tape. He nailed it. He was Justice. I mean from how he talked, the look in his eyes. He completely transformed. Mark E. Holmes who played our detective was another actor I had worked with in the past. I knew he could do the job seamlessly, he’s a gifted actor and always gives 110%.
Were there any movies that served as a source of inspiration or provided some direction for you while you were filming?
There are two different worlds within the film. Linda’s world and Gus & Justice’s world. For Linda’s world I looked to Golden Girls and Grumpier Old Men, Steel Magnolias. For Gus and Justice I looked to Spun & Requiem for a Dream.
Despite the fact that the movie is based on a true story, your work takes the initiative to show Alabama as opposed to a more urban setting. Was the movie shot in Alabama, and has being on location always been essential to you?
The film was shot in Alabama! We filmed in Birmingham and in my hometown of Columbiana, AL. It’s about 30 minutes south of Birmingham. I think filming in the city where Linda lived and died helped us all tell the story properly and it was absolutely essential. But I also think each film’s location is circumstantial and specific to its story. Whatever location that will serve the film and actors best is the one that should be used.
Tell us how you came up with your poster; was this a style you always had in mind?
I have recently developed a newfound love for comic books. I love the art in them and they basically read like a storyboard for a film. I think I just took that comic book theme and ran with it.
Unfairness in the justice system is one of the many discussion topics that can be ignited by watching Linda Gets Justice. What can we as viewers learn and take away from noticing some of the injustices depicted in the film?
Just that; noticing the injustices. Injustices happen every day all around us unfortunately and they go unnoticed far too often. Say something about them. They could change someone’s life.
What was the most challenging obstacle you and your team had to overcome during production?
I’d say the audio post production. The actual filming process and shooting days were really great. I’m still in amazement of the crew and cast and their talent. Kind of can’t believe I had them all together in the same place at the same time. Truly got lucky with them. One monsoon kind of slowed us down one day but besides that, the audio in post was the biggest challenge to fix.
As the glue that holds everything together, being the director entails becoming the leader and ensuring that everything is done correctly. How did you feel the rst time you had to begin giving raw feedback to your cast and crew, and was it dicult at all?
Let me say first our crew was SMALL. And the crew was carefully selected. Going into it I wanted them all to know I trusted them to do their jobs and that I was thankful they were there. I wanted the atmosphere on set to be calm. Kyle Roberts was our Director of Photography and Kyle is an artist. He gets it. He got me and he got the story. Any idea I wanted to try he did it, no questions, made it work. We have been long time friends and there's a trust there that we know we can speak openly and honestly and we did. No biggie. We also understand and respect each other's jobs. I don’t do his and he doesn’t do mine. He handles lighting and camera and assembled an excellent crew of grips and gaffers and A.C.s. Hair and Makeup was done by Alex Smith and she just blows my mind. She researched and studied what needed to be done and she did it. 6 days in a row on 5 actors single handedly. And the actors made my job easy. They truly went above and beyond for their roles and I’ll forever be grateful to them. I think being clear and thorough in pre-production with cast and crew and having people on board that were in it to tell the story and believed in it made all the difference in the world. Being an actor myself I knew what kind of feedback I liked to receive and I also know that actors are artists and I wanted their creativity to flow and not be stifled. I wanted them completely comfortable and to feel safe to play. I never had to give negative feedback to these actors. Only suggestions of trying a different way sometimes just for variety.
In your opinion as a moviegoer, what qualities are essential to a great film?
To me, films that tell the truth and make you laugh, cry, or just feel something. I tried to incorporate some humor within Linda’s story. Life is full of ups and downs and tears and laughter. All of my favorite films have either made me laugh, cry, or left me thinking about it afterwards. So if it does one of those things, it's great to me.
What is your overall message that you hope your audience and viewers will take away from watching Linda Gets Justice?
Don’t do meth. (Kidding, kind of.) But really Linda trusted Justice, she considered him a friend. He took advantage of that. He took advantage of his skin color and used it against Gus. The law firm took advantage of Linda after she died. Just stand up for people if you see them being mistreated. Don’t be afraid to say something. Adopt, don't shop! Linda was a volunteer at the humane society and she took care of the feral cats around Birmingham. And to anyone who does watch, know that I am grateful that you’ve taken the time to do so!
Are there any directors or other filmmakers that have influenced you throughout your career thus far?
Yes! One of them is Fredgy Noel. She was the first female director I ever had the pleasure to work with in 2014. Her work ethic and drive has influenced me ever since. She creates her films in a way that's truthful to her artistry and to the story. Another is a friend of mine, Matthew Lincoln. He’s an awesome actor’s director. He knows how to pinpoint exactly what needs to be said, he’s an excellent communicator. Ethan Milner is another. He’s focused, kind, prepared, and knows exactly what he wants. Being an actor for them helped me more as a director. Just by watching them, I learned so much about the qualities I wanted to embody as a director.
We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us Evan! Are they any future projects in the works that we could expect to see soon?
I appreciate you so much! And yes! There’s a short film I’ve written called “Thank You, Kindly” that I’m beginning pre-production on now. A lot of the same crew from Linda will be working on it as well!
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