Unveiling at the Brooklyn Film Festival this weekend is the world premiere of SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES, the directorial debut of former stand up comic and actor, Nicole Gomez Fisher. Gina Rodriguez plays the hilariously real and spirited star of the movie, Alexis Fish, a role she booked right as Filly Brown started making waves at film festivals last year. A great cast of women join her including Tony Award winning stage and film actor, Priscilla Lopez who plays her mother, and Ana Ortiz (Ugly Betty) who is enjoyably pert, as Gina’s sister. Sleeping with the Fishes is also the first feature produced independently by Courtney Andrialis, a rising producer with many more exciting projects in development (she started her career as assistant to Bingham Ray in 2003). I gotta say, I just love the female power of this film! Check out the just- released trailer of the film, and read the interview I did where I check in with Nicole, a week before she releases her first baby (film) into the world.
How did your Latino/Jewish background and childhood inform your creative expression as you started conceiving of your first feature?
I was born and raised in Brooklyn…a true Brooklynite at heart. My mother is Puerto Rican and my father is of Jewish descent, an interesting mix that has clearly influenced my life and my writing. I don’t necessarily identify with one over the other…both sides make up who I am. I knew when starting SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES that my background and my point of view wasn’t a filmmaker’s voice heard too often. I wanted to express myself and tell a story about a young woman trying to find herself in a world that she felt excluded from…not only from the outside world, but from her immediate as well.
I did not know Gina Rodriguez before making SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. We met through our casting directors Sig DeMiguel and Steve Vincent. Her agent read the script and loved it, passed it on to her and BOOM! A meeting was set. We actually met in the bathroom of Rosa Mexicana and it was love at first sight! Gina was incredibly energetic, bright, enthusiastic and funny! I was excited to work with someone “fresh”. I knew before we even ordered that we would work well together. She was just coming off the Sundance premiere for “Filly Brown”. It was an exciting time for her and it showed. She’s a natural when it comes to comedy, so she made directing incredibly easy. Gina’s choices were spot on and she just understood the timing of comedy. It takes a real pro to know when to “go there” and when to pull back and she did. I would say try this and within seconds she would make a slight adjustment and go. If she thought something didn’t work or wanted to try another shot, we went with it. Collaborating with her was such fun. She made directing my first feature a pleasure.
The tale of a 30something whose life has not gone as expected and must deal with the pressure of returning to a childhood like dynamic at home with the parents, is so relatable and universal, but it can also be quite personal and individual, how personal is this screen variation to you? What did you want to convey that you had not typically seen in this popular canon?
It’s personal. The story itself is loosely based on my family, but there are many aspects to it that are a mix of truth and fiction. For my lead, Alexis Fish (played by Gina Rodriguez), her coming back home after years of living a lie all in the name of “saving face” is paralyzing for her. As you mentioned, her resilience to stay true to herself has been an exhausting journey. Having to deal with the loss of a loved one while trying to pick up the pieces of your life only makes it that much harder to overcome. I wanted to take a classic story and make it new. Yes, she is returning home to the pressures of family, but in Alexis’ case, returning home to her mother is what is so daunting. You have two strong women who don’t see eye-to-eye: one whose pride identifies her, the other whose pride is crushed as she struggles to find her identity.
I love that you chose to do your first film a comedy. There doesn’t seem to be as many first films as comedies tackled in the indie world, and even less from a female written and directed perspective. What are your influences in this vein? Also, what is it about our passionate Latino culture in particular you think that makes family dysfunction so melodramatic and ripe for comedy?
I was a stand up comic for years and I love writing comedy. I’m a huge fan of films that blend comedy and drama. It’s what life is made of—the ying and the yang. Some of the funniest moments in life are also the saddest. When you can stop and laugh at a time when hope seems dim, that is life changing. Laughter has pulled me through some really hard times. …Where there is passion, there is drama. From my experience, Latinos are very strong-minded, very passionate and very vocal about what we believe. The combination makes for some terrific melodrama. It’s who we are—they go hand in hand.
Who were some key collaborators and mentors for you during the launching of your first feature? Tells us about Courtney as producer – she’s from HD net films, how did you two bond about the making of this film?
Some of the key collaborators were my husband Joe, my friend and fellow screenwriter A.J. Meyers, my casting directors, my father and of course, my producer Courtney Andrialis. Courtney and I have built a solid relationship around SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. I met her via our casting directors. She’s young, eager and has a ton of knowledge. She was an integral part of the making the film. She brought on an amazing team that held me up throughout the entire process, which for a first time director is so integral. There were a lot of learning curves for me. Courtney did a great job of keeping me together and supporting me throughout the entire process.
As you navigate the wild west of distribution, how are you feeling and where are your expectations with getting the film out there? Are you going to be exploring the newly paved roads of direct distribution models or pursuing the traditional theatrical and window route?
It’s great that now filmmakers have so many ways to reach their audience. We are excited for our world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival on June 1st. After that, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and see!
Best of luck with the film and have a blast at your premiere, Nik!
For tickets & screening info (June 1 is sold out, but June 8 still available for all y’all NYers)
Film Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.