Heartland Film Festival Interview: Maggie Baird, Co-Writer and Lead Actress of Life Inside Out

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From the early frames of the movie, it is obvious that Life Inside Out is a very personal story. Yet how far back that goes is rather surprising. Maggie Baird has been a working actress for many years before she turned to screenwriting. In Life Inside Out, Maggie is the co-writer and the lead actress but even beyond that this is a story that hit close to home in many ways—even literally.

We’re thrilled Maggie was able to talk with us about the formation of this story, what it’s like to be a leading actress and the inspiration from “small” movies.

Heartland Film Festival: The bonding between Laura and Shane is essential in this movie. How did you develop a chemistry with Finneas O’Connell? How did you two approach your scenes together?

Maggie Baird: Finneas and I have had great chemistry right from the beginning of his life…in 1997 when he was born. He is actually my son!! A lot of the plot of the movie was inspired by him.

Approaching our scenes together was an incredibly natural process for us. I was in fact, a little concerned of casting him in the part because I didn’t want him to be uncomfortable and because I was aware that it would be hard for him to say “no” if he really didn’t want to do it. It is kind of strange to play a part that is inspired by yourself but not actually you (the character of Shane is different in many ways from Finneas, although they do have things in common as well.

Fortunately, he did want to do it and he was wonderful in it (he is a very natural actor and a great performer). He was fantastic to work with and in the end it was just an incredible experience.

Heartland Film Festival: How did you start working on this screenplay? How did you team up with Lori Nasso, your co-writer, and director Jill D’Agnenica?

Maggie Baird: The idea for this story was inspired by several events in my own life. I have worked as an actor since I was 21 years old but I was pretty much a closeted songwriter until much later. When I started recording my CD’s (my first CD was recorded as a gift to my dying father who had always wanted me to try to sell my songs. My second CD was We Sail and I actually released on iTunes etc.) I realized that I needed to actually go out and perform in public. As a mom, it was very hard for me to find the time to do this. So, I teamed up with another mom to form a group called The Performer’s Collective. This we intended to be a group of women (and some men) who would go to open mic nights and do shows together etc. to support each other. The idea was that if I had to play guitar or sing harmony for someone else, I would make the time but if it was only for me, I would probably bail.

When I found out that an old friend of mine (Jerry Collins) wife Lori had just sung at her first open mic night, I invited her to join us and off we went. I loved Lori and we had a lot of fun singing and playing together. We laughed a lot together and so when I had the idea for the story I asked her if she wanted to write the movie with me. Turned out she had a screenplay idea that touched on some similar themes so we were a great pair.  My story was largely inspired by the fact that in my pursuing my songwriting and singing, I started taking my family with me to open mics etc. My son started singing and then writing songs constantly and I was so blown away by him . That was the genesis.

BTW I warned Lori right off that my intention was to “make” the movie (rather than sell the script). I wasn’t sure exactly how we were going to do it, but if it involved an iPhone, that was okay.

Ultimately, our script and our conviction that we were going to do it attracted others to the project. Our director Jill is actually a close friend of mine. We met with our first babies (Finneas and her daughter Isabella) at a La Leche League meeting in our pediatrician’s office. For years we talked about the fact that we should make a movie together one day. When we finished the script she read it and really wanted to be involved. Originally she was going to edit it but it turned out that she ended up directing it too. Our cinematographer Guido Frenzel is another person that I know through parenting.

Heartland Film Festival: I have to imagine when you were working on the script, you were always picturing yourself as the lead. What was it like on set to finally be able to embody that character? Were you still able to learn things about Laura as you were filming?

Maggie Baird: I like that question. Yes, we wrote the script with the full intention of playing the parts (Laura and Lydia – the part that my co-writer Lori plays). The crazy part about embodying the role is that I had almost no time to “prepare” the way an actor usually does. I had no time before we shot because I was so involved in so many aspects of the production (for one thing, we shot 7 days in our own house). I had no time during the shoot because I was always helping with one thing or another. However, all of this was really great because so much of Laura I have been preparing for, for years. The music she plays, I wrote.  The kitchen she is in, is mine, the piano she plays is mine etc. etc. Keeping busy with the production and then just going right into “acting” mode, meant that I was totally relaxed and at ease and could just be in the moment.

I definitely did keep learning about Laura as we shot however, and about myself. The old song notebook in the film is my actual one from my teenage years. I combined lyrics in one place from when I was 16 with a melody I wrote just for the movie. There were songs I played as Laura that were not so much written “for” the movie but that the movie was written inspired by the songs.

Heartland Film Festival: You have had a lot of supporting roles in your career. What is it like to be the lead of a film where you are in almost every scene?

Maggie Baird: To be completely honest, it was absolutely a dream come true. Making movies has been what I wanted to do since I was a little girl. Along the way, I fell in love with the Theatre (in NYC and then with The Groundlings in Los Angeles) and I had some great experiences. Television, voice work and supporting roles have been the way I have supported myself and my family for years but actually playing the lead and getting to tell a whole story felt like what I had been waiting to do all these years.

Just for the record, it is actually in some ways more challenging to play the small part that just has to come in and do their bit and leave. When you are the lead, you are so involved, that it all gets easier and easier. Also, because we had such a low budget, we had no trailers etc. so we were all just hanging out together; cast, crew, everyone. That made it much more fun than going off to a trailer while your stand-in takes the heat (literally).

Heartland Film Festival: What has it been like to work on the Mass Effect franchise and how have you enjoyed the evolution of Samara?

Maggie Baird: I love working on Mass Effect and I love the fan base for the series! Samara is really cool to play because she is so specific. I love to do voices that are really exact for that character. I guess I miss the fact that in Mass Effect II she just had way more to say than in Mass Effect III. I know that is because they cut out a lot of the dialog in that version (I added more later for the different versions they came up with) but I enjoyed playing her so I wanted more.  I most enjoyed the part of the game when I played Samara and Morinth because they had changed personalities or something…don’t quite remember.  We only see the parts we say so it isn’t always easy to follow the plot and I don’t actually have time to play the game but I have watched other people play it.

Sometimes I hear my voice in things and it surprises me. I often work in LA as a looper…doing ADR (additional dialog replacement) so my voice shows up in weird places. Usually you can’t really even hear it but sometimes it is very prominent…like in the new Iron Man saying something about “Retinal Scan”…it’s kind of fun.

Heartland Film Festival: Are you working on a next project?

Maggie Baird: Yes, Lori and I are writing another script (this time we are writing ourselves tiny character parts!) and I have a few other scripts in the works too. However, we are still very involved in this movie so our time has been pretty limited.

Heartland Film Festival: What are the films that have inspired you as an actor and a writer?

Maggie Baird: As a writer, I have always been inspired by “small” movies, if that makes sense. I loved Ordinary People and Tender Mercies when I was a young actor. In the past ten years I have really been inspired by The Duplass Brothers movies. I saw the special features on the DVD of The Puffy Chair and one of them looked at the camera and said “go make a movie” or something like that and I took that to heart! I also loved Jeff Who Lives at Home which is a more recent one of theirs. I thought Lars and The Real Girl written by Nancy Oliver and directed by Craig Gillespie was a perfect movie, I love Boys Don’t Cry by Kimberly Pierce, Win/Win by Thomas McCarthy was great……clearly I love indie movies. That is what I love about Heartland!! Heartland seems to really care about indie filmmakers!!

You can purchase tickets for Life Inside Out for the following days…

  • Friday, October 18 at 10 a.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14**
  • Friday, October 18 at 6:45 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14**
  • Sunday, October 20 at 12 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14**
  • Tuesday, October 22 at 12:45 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Wednesday, October 23 at 2:30 p.m. at AMC Traders Point 12
  • Thursday, October 24 at 12:15 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, October 25 at 1:45 p.m. at AMC Traders Point 12
  • Saturday, October 26 at 8:30 p.m. at AMC Castleton Square 14

 

**Maggie is scheduled to be in attendance for these screenings.

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