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In Conversation with Madison Hatfield

WORDS BY CAMERON LINLY ROBINSON

Chase Anderson
 

Meet Madison Hatfield – actor, screenwriter, director, and filmmaker based in Atlanta, GA. Madison’s work includes Jenna Gets an Abortion, which she co-wrote and stars in; Courtney Gets Possessed, where she returned as a co-writer and actor, and also co-directed; Post-Citrus, her solo directorial debut; and coming soon: I Could Dom, where she wrote, directed, and stars. I got the chance to sit down with Madison and ask her about her work. Here’s a look into our conversation.

 

I want to start with your background and how you got into filmmaking. I know you’re also an actor. Did you go to school for the arts?


MADISON: No. I’ve had a weird life. I went to school to study biology to be a high school science teacher, which I was. So, when I graduated college I taught at a public high school in Atlanta, mostly biology. And I did love it. That had been my plan for my life for a long time. You know, growing up I went to public school here in Atlanta, and at the time the school didn’t have any sort of drama program. There was a math teacher who would sometimes direct plays, but we weren’t sure if we’d get to perform them cuz there was no stage. It was this very sort of scrappy arts program, and I did enjoy doing that. I think I’m a great example of why art education is so important because growing up I didn’t know that being an actor, a filmmaker, a director, whatever – I mean, my parents had never met a screenwriter; they’d never met an actor in real life. So, I remember having a conversation with my mom once where I was like, "Maybe I wanna try to be an actor for a little bit,’ and like the look on her face… It was just fear. For my parents, at that time, they couldn’t conceive of how that would be possible. And so I was like, "Okay. Let me stick with my plan.” And so, I was teaching high school. I started doing sketch comedy around town as a way to make friends as an adult. And, I did it a lot. And I loved it. And I did succeed – I made friends. I made a lot of friends, but I also just realized that I’m really good at this, and it makes me really happy. And I started acting in friend's film sketches. And there was a situation at the high school where they were going to move me to middle school, and I was like, "Do not move me to middle school.” So, it was like this kind of gentle push that I think I needed to be like, "Okay. I do love this job, and I love this life. But I think I’m gonna regret it if I don’t try to pursue a career in this other passion that I found.” And I did it. I worked in this children’s book store for about 5 years as a day job, and then about 2 ½ years ago I made the decision to leave that job and just be an actor and screenwriter full time.


I also wanted to ask you about Peach Jam Pictures. So, is that a company that you founded? What is its role in your work?


MADISON: Yeah, so I met Jono Mitchell –who is a frequent collaborator of mine and creative partner– on the set of an independent movie at the very end of 2017. And, very quickly he saw something in me before I necessarily saw it in myself and he was like, “I want you to help me write this feature.” And we ultimately crowdfunded and got that feature made – that was Pageant Material, which premiered at the 2019 Atlanta Film Festival. And then, after that–I think the first project we would have designated as a Peach Jam project was Jenna Gets an Abortion, which he directed, and we co-write, and I starred in. So, yeah that was a company that formed as a home for the projects that really spoke to both of our tastes and interests and that we were working on together. That was almost 4 years ago at this point, and we’ve made several films under that banner. And now he’s got his own production company that’s more in line with some of the dramatic, character-driven work that he wants to do. And the tone of Peach Jam still very much aligns with what I want to do. So, you know, it’s the kind of thing where it is a company that exists if we want to make something together or separately, as long as it fits the kind of joy-forward, hope-forward, comedy with heart kind of brand. I Could Dom is a Peach Jam production because it very much falls in line with that. So, yeah, it’s something that we created together, and I would love to continue to make stuff over the years and have it be the kind of thing where eventually I can help produce other people's work. That’s the dream.


Peach Jam Productions debut film Jenna Gets An Abortion (2020) is a dystopian romantic comedy that follows Hatfield as Jenna weeks after a one night stand that left her impregnated. In this (at the time) dystopian world abortion is illegal after 6 weeks in most of the country–with the exception of Maryland. But, the father’s permission is required to perform the procedure. So, Jenna must find the man that she slept with, Hank (Michael Reagon), and convince him to drive across the country with her. This is a super funny romantic comedy that follows these two characters put into an incredibly high stakes situation. Basically strangers at the beginning of the film, Jenna and Hank grow closer on this road trip adventure–and they’re developing relationship is captured with really clever and creative cuts and shots that show both the farcical situation they are in and they’re budding romance–they argue about who gets the bed in the motel then quick cut they’re both on the floor looking at each other over the bed as they share one of the more intimate conversations in the film. The heart of the film comes when Hank suffers a moment of second guessing at the abortion clinic, and Jenna must rely on the other women in the clinic for emotional support. Here, we see a group of strangers, all femme presenting, supporting Jenna and holding her as she cries. The weight of their rights being stripped is heavy and they support her the way only another woman could. From the writing (Go Madison!) to the cinematography, directing, and acting (Again, Go Madison!), this is an exhilarating piece that goes from having you in stitches laughing to weeping in a matter of moments. 


Lola Scott


You have a lot going on. How do you balance all of it? Or what is your intention as far as writing, directing, acting–writing your own work, doing your own work, and then going out and doing other people’s things?


MADISON: My two main sources of income are acting and screenwriting. So, I have Acting representatives in multiple cities, but most of my work comes through Atlanta. That’s sort of just a constant–auditions come through, I audition for them, if I book something we figure out the scheduling. It’s very much something that I’m always doing. And then, on the writing side, those jobs are going to be bigger, but also less frequent. But, kind of like auditioning, it’s a lot of meeting people–and I know my representatives are doing a lot of work that I don’t see like pitching me for projects and sending my work out and all this stuff. So, you’ve got these two machines constantly churning, and every once in a while it’ll spit something out. And you’re like “Ok, okay! Let me go!” And then, you’ve just got to keep an eye on what money is coming in, has come in– you know it may be a while. That’s the thing about, especially acting, there are rules around when you’re supposed to get paid, but these companies–the big ones–they don’t care. They’ll just pay the fine. And so, like, I went two years without getting paid money I was owed from, like, a big show–everybody knows what it is, and yet they can get away with just not paying you. So, I feel like I struggle less with the balance of it, and more with just the uncertainty of it. And then you get into a spot where you’re not sure where the next job is gonna come from and you’re not sure where the next paycheck is gonna come from, and the trap in that for me is that I start to sort of lead with a kind of desperate energy. And I’m really holding tightly to every opportunity that comes along, and that is something that opportunities hate the most. They really don’t like when you want them. They really don’t like when you’re really eager. They want you to just let it be. But, over the years I know I have gotten really better about that.


I would love to shift into the specific works that you wrote and directed and just talk about how you found your style, if it’s evolved, or if there’s anything new that you’re interested in doing. 


MADISON: The first project I technically directed was Courtney Gets Possessed, which I co-directed with Jono Mitchell. And the way that we split it up was that he really focused on the cinematography, the production design, all those lighting choices that you saw. And then my focus was the actors. So I was working on them with performance–I was also key on wardrobe–you know, anything that dealt with people, that was me. It was a really intense learning experience and a really fun learning experience because we had a big ensemble cast that I was a part of. And so, I was directing them, and also performing, and also being one of the writers and having to make adjustments, and then also supporting Jono on his side of things. And I was also a Producer on that project as well. You know, that can be one of the hard things about being a Director, Producer, Writer, Performer, you know, when you are wearing multiple hats, and it does feel very much like this is my set. Like I feel a sense of responsibility for the set. And I learned a lot from Jono. Over the years, I’ve learned so much watching him direct. He’s a really gifted Director, and I like directing. And I really want to be able to do it proficiently and confidently. I don’t feel called to it the way he does and the way so many other people do.

 

Post-Citrus was the first thing I directed by myself. I purposefully picked something that was going to be simple, that was going to be all in one place. I picked something where a hand-held cinematography style would make a lot of sense. I knew given my experience and given my skill, I was like, "I wanna have that flexibility. I want the cinematographer to be able to adjust very quickly if we need to.” I remember I shot-listed so many shots, like so many. And then we got on set, and it was like, “Oh, yeah it’s gonna be like half of these.” But, Post-Citrus was my, like, I need to prove I can do this, I mean in a way that I was really enjoying. It wasn’t like I was sacrificing the kind of story–no it was the kind of dumb shit I love. But, I did purposefully pick something that felt very manageable for me to do. 


And then I Could Dom was a big leap forward for me. I worked with a new production partnership, so it’ll be a Peach Jam and Wax and Wane Production. And they really pushed me to go for more days, more time, more equipment, more crew. And my cinematographer–it was his first time doing a narrative piece. He was more of a commercial, documentary kind of guy, but he heard a live reading of the script back in January, and he loved it. And he was like, "Listen I know I’ve never done a narrative before, but it’s more I’ve never been excited to do a narrative before; I never wanted to do it." He was like, "I really want to do this, and if you are willing to trust me, I’m gonna give you everything I have.” And so, that pre-production process was so intense, because I knew I was going to be in every shot of the movie. So, I have to know that my DP knows what I want. We did months of preparation. We did storyboards together. And then, as we got closer, we went to every location and took photos and did everything. And it was intense, but also once we started filming I was like, "I’m good.” I really have a lot of trust in him. And also having done Post-Citrus, and feeling more confident in my skill, there are some more interesting choices in this film. We are –both narratively and visually– taking some swings that I think are fun, and I think it’s cool to do that in the context of a comedy, and a sex comedy.


So what is the plan for that film?


MADISON: It is technically a proof of concept for a feature, so I’m working on the feature script right now. The goal is by the time we have our first festival, the feature script will be done, so if people have questions I have something to show them. So, I’m investing a lot into festival submissions. And I do think, we’ve gone several years now with film festivals either not happening or being kind of weird, and now we’re existing in the world the way we did before the pandemic so film festivals are very much back. And so, I’m eager to spend time in filmmaking spaces and meet new filmmakers and travel the country. And this film, it is my second, it’s like I’ve invested more of myself into this than I have in anything, so let’s see who wants to show it.


Chase Anderson

I Could Dom (coming soon) is Madison’s current work, and it is actively in the Post-Production process. This film follows June, played by Hatfield, a people-pleaser who feels challenged to prove to her sexually experienced and adventurous friends that she could be a Dom in the bedroom and really take charge. So, she goes on the hunt for a perfect partner to be her Sub and she discovers, seemingly, the most friendly and un-intimidating man on that corner of the internet, Jeff (Derek Evans). What ensues is a hilarious display of Madison Hatfield’s comedic timing, direction, and voice. From exciting cuts and shots to surreal lighting choices and some truly hysterical lines, this short keeps you on your toes–well until you find yourself on the floor laughing and begging for me (such a masochist!).


I’m very impressed with your social media presence.  I think that your’s looks so well done and very professional. And so I’m just wondering about your relationship to social media. How did you get it to where it is now?


MADISON: Facebook became a thing right at the end of my high school experience. And I bring that up because social media began as a friend-making tool for people going to college. Like that was literally all it was, so we all got it because, yeah, I really need that. And obviously over time, social media has morphed into something so different. And I feel trapped in it, less from a social perspective and more from a business perspective. And what I found was, there was a period of time, where I found myself just being on it more and more and more. Because, for me, the addictiveness is less about looking at other people’s stuff and more about if I posted something, I wanted to know who’s liking it and who’s commenting and I wanted to engage with them and blah, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, "This is taking over my fucking brain." And it was probably in January of 2020, where I made a conscious decision and I was like, "I look at this too much, and I can’t get rid of it for professional reasons, but I need to find a way to not be on it so much." And so, it essentially has become a professional website for me. Basically all I’m posting most of the time–especially on the grid or whatever–-is like shit I actually need to be talking about. If I have shows coming, I’ll put it on there. If one of the organizations I’m a part of is doing an event, it goes on there. Sometimes with my story, I’ll do fun stuff. But I know that everytime I post something, it’s going to become a major temptation for me to be on my phone a lot. And so, I just have to decide, "Is this worth that loss of attention to all the other things in my life for a day." And sometimes it is, and usually it’s because it’s part of my professional life. I also think about deleting it. But I think, mostly being an independent filmmaker, you go to festivals and you meet people, and like, "I don’t have business cards. You can have my instagram. And I want your instagram. That’s how I now can contact you." It is a professional tool.


Paul McPherson

Returning again as a writer and actor, and stepping into the role of co-director, Courtney Gets Possessed was released in 2022. Here, we follow a bride, Courtney (Lauren Buglioli), and her bridesmaids the night before the wedding as they fight off the devil (Jonathon Pawlowski) who has possessed Courtney. The groom and his groomsmen get involved and this group of wacky characters tries to free Courtney from her battle with Satan while also avoiding getting caught in the crossfire. The strength here is definitely in this ensemble cast who all maintained such precise comedic timing and chemistry with each other. Again, Hatfield proves herself as a force when it comes to comedic, farcical story as well as deeply personal emotional beats. As everything unfolds, we are left with a story of siblings who just misunderstand each other, who must come back to each other and really listen and learn to move forward. This film certainly stems from a very creative and off the wall concept, and the execution is really enjoyable and engaging. 


This is one thing that I really wanted to talk to you about–Seed&Spark. How did you find Seed&Spark? What do you think the value in crowdfunding spaces like that for filmmakers specifically is? And then, also, do you have any tips for other filmmakers to have a successful campaign?


MADISON: The first time I was really intimately aware of Seed&Spark, and I was not in charge of the campaign, but I was helping a friend of mine in New York do a crowdfunding campaign for a film of her’s called Ladylike. That was my first time being in the mix of it, but I was not the one building it or having a lot of contact with Seed&Spark directly. But, I watched them run a very successful campaign because they walked away with close to $50,000 I think. And they earned that with the amount of work they did ahead of time. And I remember when I was doing I Could Dom I was like, "I’m not anywhere close to what they did." They followed every rule. You know, Seed&Spark provides so much guidance for what to do, and those women followed the guidance, and it fucking shows. Me? I followed some of the guidance. But, I made the mistake of doing my crowdfunding campaign in the final month of pre-production. Like, we finished the crowdfunding campaign and then like a week later, we were shooting. So, I just didn’t have the bandwidth. And I also did a lot of it by myself. I mean I had help in the building of it, but once it got going I definitely felt like, you know, it was my film. That was my job. So, if I can offer a tip: Do not do your crowdfunding campaign close to your shooting date. I’m glad that we did it that way ultimately because I do like the timing of when we shot, but had I been smarter; we just would have done it earlier. Seed&Spark is designed for independent filmmakers, and they really have put so much thought and so much effort into providing guidance for how to build your audience, because the big thing is: how do you reach people outside of your own circle? Like, I was really excited when Kemari (Editor-In-Chief, Film Club 3000) donated because that was one of the few people who I didn’t know, who came on board. And I will say, I had a couple people that I didn’t know come on board in a major way, like I had some Executive Producers that found me, and I was like, "dang.” But that’s what they do. They’re looking for things. I didn’t do anything, besides have a solid campaign page. That’s not how I found them. With Ladylike, they were really intentional about sending out personalized emails, just like building and building and building this web of people. They really successfully built that new audience in the way that Seed&Spark urges you to do so. I think that the pattern of how mine went, it was a testament to the fact that I have been doing this for a while, and I do have a wonderful community of people in my life who want to support what I do. I now feel in this position where I don’t know when I will be in the position to do that again. I don’t know when I would feel comfortable going back and asking for support in that way again. And the dream is that you don’t have to! The dream is that you crowdfund, and then you make something, and then that work speaks for itself, and then there’s a system of people who fund movies that fund your movie. But the system is so broken right now. And unfortunately even these really well established filmmakers, I see crowdfunding, and I’m like, "Oh, fuck me! If you’re crowdfunding, what am I gonna do?" And so again, with the chaos of this business, it’s like the machines are always going. I have my independent filmmaking machine. Maybe something that I make, someone will see and they’ll want to give me a job or help me make my next thing, but then also I’m working with a machine LA and if I could get on an open writing assignment, if I could just do a pitch for this company and a script for this company and then that comes out in the trades eventually. And so, the machines are always churning, but I think people are growing frustrated with the independent film machine because it has, like, stopped. Those wheels with the larger Hollywood apparatus, they’re no longer aligned.


 Because fat people are so eager to see ourselves on screen in ways that are not a punchline, or a cautionary tale, or even like a sassy best friend who has no life outside of that protagonist.

Well, Madison, this has been really wonderful. Is there anything else about you or your work that we missed that you wanted to chat about?


MADISON: Well, I guess, the one thing that we didn’t talk about that I do talk about kind of lot is that I do make an effort, and I think it’s important, that I put myself in my work for a lot of reasons–I do like performing, and I do like the challenge of writing for myself and performing characters that I’ve written. But, I also know that bodies that look like mine don’t often get to be the lead characters of the things that they’re in. And I talk a lot about something called the “Fat Gap”, which is the gap between the percentage of characters on TV and film that are fat versus the people in the world who are fat who are watching those characters. And it’s enormous. There’s just this chasm between what is actual and what is presented on screen, and so I like to bring it up because I think that there have been so many strides in recent years–and the work is not close to done– but we are seeing a better reflection of the real makeup of the world in terms of race, in terms of gender identity, gender expression, sexuality. At least, in the projects that I’m seeing, I really see that stuff, but also I see a lot of shows that are obviously making a push for “diversity”, that do not have a single fat person in it. And it’s just this weird final frontier of representation and unfortunately for reasons that are tied up in ancient colonialism, racism, and misogyny we have attributed fatness to a lack of will-power and laziness. It has become a moral failing to have a body like mine. And I disagree with that so completely. I’m very proud when I show something like Post-Citrus, and at the festivals that I did, every screening I’d have a fat person come up to me and be like, "I’ve never seen that before. I know exactly what that character is talking about. I’ve had that happen to me, but I’ve never seen anyone say it.” Obviously so many of us are going through it. And so, I like to mention it, especially to other filmmakers, because this is something you can be thinking about too. Because fat people are so eager to see ourselves on screen in ways that are not a punchline, or a cautionary tale, or even like a sassy best friend who has no life outside of that protagonist. Sometimes, we can be the lead and it doesn’t mean that your piece has to be about fatness at all. Post-Citrus is my first and hopefully my last film where fatness is front and center. Everything else I do I just wanna put fat people in these roles and let them live their lives. And this is a conversation that everybody in every marginalized group has, right? Like queer people, we’re tired of coming-out narratives and homophobia narratives. People of Color are tired of the narratives that, yes, include them, but also play on really harmful stereotypes or histories. We don’t need those anymore. We have enough. We can just have people being people. And so I love seeing those conversations that are happening. I do feel like body-size is being left out of that conversation still. It makes me happy to put myself in this stuff because I like doing it, but also I like the idea that a fat person might watch that and think, "Oh, I guess I could do that too." Or a thin person might watch it and be like, ‘I hadn’t thought… I hadn’t thought about fat people in years!’ But, seriously, we all love someone who is fat. They’re in our families; they’re in our workplaces; they’re in our friends; they’re everywhere. But on TV, we have just become accustomed to, like, being fine with them not existing at all.


Madison Hatfield has proven herself to be a person to watch in both the independent and mainstream film industries! Her work has such a unique vision and style that is solely her own. And I cannot wait for you all to see her upcoming film. “I Could Dom”, as well as whatever she does next! Stay tuned for updates on Madison, and give her a follow @madhat31

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