Spotlight is ComingSoon’s interview series with below the line and/or up-and-coming talent in the world of TV and film. Our goal is to shine a light on the diverse roles that make the entertainment you love possible rather than just focusing on actors and directors.
ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames spoke with actress Katherine Waddell about her work on Animal Balloonwhich stars Karla Alfonzo-Smith, Tayler Beth Anderson and Danielle Baez.
Katherine Waddell is a multi-talented actress and producer. She is best known for her work as an actress and co-executive producer on the acclaimed independent feature film dinner in america, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Recently, Katherine completed the feature film Animal Balloonfor which she plays lead character Poppy in this coming-of-age film featuring a girl who makes balloon animals in a traveling circus, which was filmed entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Jeff Ames: What led you to become an actress and producer of the film Balloon Animal?
Catherine Waddell: I constantly attended events such as workshops, panels or networking evenings where I could hear from other professionals what their advice or wisdom was for the film industry. One line I kept hearing was to create work for yourself if you felt like you weren’t getting hired often or had trouble finding roles. It was true for me (as for many actors) and one day I decided to act accordingly. I kept saying to myself, “Okay, if I had to create a film just for me, what would I want to play? What haven’t I done before? I wanted to thrive as a creative while simultaneously trying to advance my career.
I knew my creative partner, Em Johnson, who is a director and writer, was also struggling to find work. For me, it was logical to go see her and collaborate on this film together. I just had a vision, of a girl with blue hair making balloon animals in a traveling circus. From there, we started working together from the start to make Balloon Animal a reality. This included me producing and being the lead actress, as well as writing and directing it.
What made you want to work on Balloon Animal?
It all depended on what worked for Em and me as creative partners. We wanted to finally have that relief (and excitement) of being able to work on a film that was important to us and that could showcase our strengths. I knew I wanted to play a strong female character that a lot of people could relate to, and having blue hair was a definite bonus! We wanted to make a slice-of-life movie that was turned upside down.
Not only that, but we felt Animal Balloon was a perfect starting point for our production company, First Bloom Films. The film is led by women on screen, full of female characters, and was perfect for us to push a diverse set life, which we weren’t used to at the time. It really is a film where all our hard work could end up in something beautiful.
What was the most difficult aspect of Balloon Animal and how did you overcome it?
To be honest, and I’m sure it’s no surprise, but COVID-19 has been the biggest challenge! This led to a myriad of issues such as having to postpone the film twice (which meant we constantly had to hire new people because there would be scheduling conflicts), having to rework the script to have fewer people, having to rework for budget to adapt to the COVID protocol, and much more. We were also obviously working in an entirely new work environment where we had to keep our distance, wear masks, test often and have to isolate ourselves.
That’s the norm now, but at the start of 2021 when we filmed, the vaccines had only just begun to roll out, so everything was still precarious. It’s been tough for the time being, but I don’t think it’s dampened our ability to put out a great movie with an amazing crew. Everyone really came together to make the movie work and be as successful as it is. We just did our best to roll with the punches and rotate when necessary!
Do you have any funny behind-the-scenes stories of how Balloon Animal was made?
Honestly, our producers, Monica O’Hara, Ruvi Leider, and Ben Plotkin really took care of us with late night In-N-Outs, tacos, a coffee truck, and other great snacks. There’s just something to be said for the tasty food on the platter that can totally brighten up your day. It would just be the best feeling to come out of a long stage and be able to eat a burger or have a fancy, tasty coffee late at night. These little gestures mean a lot to me when I’m tired and looking for a pick-me-up.
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What are some of the things you learned from Balloon Animal that you can’t wait to apply to your future projects?
Honestly, any new set I’m on is an opportunity to learn and apply it to the next attempt, especially since it was our company’s first official feature. As lead actress, executive producer and founder of the production company that made Animal Balloon, my eyes and ears were close to the ground, picking up any feedback in hopes of learning as much as possible about how we can grow as a company or how I can grow as an industry leader . This even extends to growing up as an actress! Learning is a lifelong endeavor.
Do you have any other upcoming projects that you could share with us?
Em and I are currently working on a script called Kismet. It’s a thriller centered around a young woman named Gerry who, in desperation to create a new identity, joins the world of multilevel marketing. We are beyond excited about this and what it could mean for us as creatives and as the next film for First Bloom Films.