Independent filmmaker Dorie Barton has only been in Richmond for a couple of years, but she’s definitely made an impact. Her latest movie, Welcome To The Show, is the first she’s made since arriving in RVA. It features a group of college kids stuck in an immersive game with shifting rules while lost in and around the city.
Dorie already had a pretty significant career in Hollywood before she moved to Richmond in order to teach in VCU’s theatre program. She not only acted in everything from classic soap opera One Life To Live to indie movies like Bobcat Goldthwait’s underrated transgressive film, God Bless America, but also found time to write and direct a feature film called Girl Flu. But when she got to Richmond and started making her new movie, she quickly fell in love with all the city has to offer.
Welcome to Richmond, Dorie Barton! Welcome to your show.
Dorie Barton: I am a multi-disciplinary artist. First I was an actor, and I worked on stage since I was quite little. I studied at CalArts to be an actor, and then I spent 25 years in the film and television industry in Los Angeles, as an actor on stage, film, television, and voiceover.
And then I’ve dabbled in a lot of other things in the industry — I’ve been a script consultant for 15 years, I worked in development for a while, then I became a screenwriter and then, finally, a filmmaker. I’ve written and directed two feature films now.
R. Anthony Harris: What do you enjoy about acting specifically?
DB: That’s changed over the years, but I’m also teaching now and other things at VCU. And it’s really very sweet for me to encounter the young actors — reminds me of how I felt, with that really raw passion for the storytelling. So it’s very inspiring to be around the young people. I think that that is ultimately what most of us that do this like the best, because we get to tell stories in all kinds of forms.
But I also think that what I love about acting, and has really been true ever since I was little, is getting to become somebody else. [Laughs] Getting to become a different person, spend some time not being myself, and really feeling like I’ve lived a different life, or are part of a different life. I think it’s fun. Actually, I didn’t know that I would feel this way, but becoming a filmmaker, I realized [that] by being a writer and director, you kind of get to be everybody. You get to have that experience of playing all the parts, as when you have a dream and everyone in the dream really is kind of some version of you. So even though as a filmmaker I’m not literally being the actor — in that situation, it still feels the same. So I get to feel like I’ve lived this whole other multilayered life.
RAH: That’s amazing. You have a couple of films, Girl Flu from a few years ago and your newest, Welcome To The Show, which you wrote, acted in, and directed. Is there a part of the process you enjoy more? Or is it like you had mentioned just before, being able to set up your own fantasy and work within that.
DB: I love all the different phases of it. And all the phases of making a film are really different. I do love prepping for it, and at that stage where it’s just pure imagination. I really like organizing and prepping and planning, preparing for the shoot. Doing all the shot lists. I actually enjoy scheduling as well, because it really helps me visualize how to create all the pieces of the film.
I recently picked up quilting again and it reminds me why I like both forms so much. Filmmaking is like quilting. You chop up fabric into all these little pieces, and you take all these little pieces and rearrange them in different patterns over and over, and you keep moving them around.
That feels so much like with filmmaking. You gather all of these assets, all these little pieces, all these little scenes and pieces of scenes, and then you you edit it. You edit your film by deciding where the pieces all go and then at some point, you just have to make a decision that it is done.
But yeah, I really like the prep. I think everyone likes production the most. The actual shooting is kind of the most universally loved, and of course, yes, I’m absolutely like “Any day on set is my favorite day.” [Laughs] But I also co-edited this film [Welcome To The Show], and I was deeply involved with the editing process of Girl Flu as well. And I love editing. I absolutely love that part of it. It’s really so much more isolated than being in production. I really love how painstaking and patient [it is], without making perfect the goal, because it’s art and there’s nothing that’s perfect in art! But yeah, really finding out what’s going to make make the story, down to the frame.
RAH: Where did the idea for Welcome To The Show come from?
DB: The first idea when it started cooking in my mind was literally the first day I was ever in Richmond. When I came here, it was in May, and it was absolutely beautiful here. Even though I had grown up in Northern Virginia, I had never been to Richmond before. I came here to find an apartment and I drove in past the Main Street Train Station and drove into Manchester — and I was like, oh my god! It’s beautiful! I must make a movie here. [Laughs]
And I was just so taken with the look and the feel of the city and how beautiful I think it is. All of its contradictions are really, really interesting to me, and really that day, ideas started cooking in my mind about — how can we get people out into this city? What kind of story would take people out into the city, into parts of it that they would never normally go? I’m not quite sure how this entered my brain, but the idea of doing a piece of immersive theater about exploring Richmond.
RAH: I saw the movie a few weeks ago and saw so much of Richmond in it. You actually answered my next question, which was: how important was the city to the film?
DB: I mean, you could make this film, or a film, in a lot of different cities. It’s sort of like a form for exploration. But there were definitely specific things about Richmond that I find especially inspiring.
One of them is part of the story: the challenge of having to cross the river. When you get up on a tall building, and you look down at the James River, this big, beautiful river is just tearing through the middle of town. There’s 25 ways to cross it, but in this film, because of the rules of the show, they can’t cross it over a place that either trains or cars can use, so they have to find, like, the hard way.
And Belle Isle is the answer, with the pedestrian bridges, and then the rocks. And so, in some ways it very much has to be Richmond. I think it’s a introduction to this beautiful place that I would like people to know about, and to see and to admire.
RAH: The film is mixed in with the city, and it just ends up ends up being such a big part of it.
What was it like working with, I would assume, first time actors? In your role as a teacher, you probably deal with young actors all the time, but trying to direct them in a film — was that an easy experience? Or did you find it really challenging?
DB: I mean, I wrote this script for them. Even though I wrote a script for a movie that I wanted to see, I wrote it for these specific actors. I knew going in that I wanted to write something that I felt like we could all really succeed at. We would have the highest chance of hitting a home run with. So I wrote the script to match the story and the city that we were shooting in. I think that they’re all kind of playing… not themselves, but sort of a version of themselves that are not quite as good as humans as they are in real life. They are much better humans in real life. [Laughs] But I wrote their parts to be what I thought they would be just amazing at playing. So I tried to give everybody the best chance of doing great work.
And then, because I was their teacher, when I met the main cast, I was just starting to teach them in an Acting For the Camera class. So from when I met them to when we went into production was like three months, but because I was in class with them twice a week, that time ended up… not intentionally, but it ended up being practice for how it was going to be on on a set. Where we had a lot of shorthand built in from class, and just knew how we worked.
I’m really grateful for rehearsals for the scenes that I knew would be the hardest on the day. We couldn’t afford to shoot anything too many times — you’ve got to keep moving. There were a lot of things that we actually got in a single take, because we had rehearsed so thoroughly.
RAH: I thought you got a couple of really good performances out of this group.
DB: Proud of them. They’re all wonderful in it and I feel like they all took a leap of faith to work together.
RAH: After you spend so much time planning, writing, shooting and everything else — how does it feel when you get done with a feature film? You are like, “Okay, we’re finally done.” Is there a sort of separation anxiety? Or is it relief? [Laughs]
DB: Have you felt that way before? [Laughs]
RAH: Oh yeah! I’ve worked on projects where I was intensely involved for so long and then it’s finally done. And then there is this period of “What do I do now?”
DB: Well, because the film was immediately at the Richmond International Film Festival, and I love film festivals. It was fun to go to a film festival where the film was shot, and have it open the festival. It was really inspiring just to be around other filmmakers and see other people’s films. I would like to be more part of a community, and not just a maker.
[Laughs] Oh! Immediately after the film festival, I sat down and wrote a screenplay. I can’t have any downtime. Yeah, separation anxiety is a good way to word that.
But yeah as an artist, we’re always going to be doing gig work. Basically, it’s like: you’re in a play, the play ends. You read a script, that part is over. You shoot a film, that comes out, and it’s over. It’s always this cycle, and I’ll probably always cry when something is over. Like, I don’t want to ever get to a place where I’m not that sad about it ending.
RAH: Now that you are in Richmond, and having had your experience in Hollywood, what do you think the city needs in terms of production of films to support independent filmmaking here?
DB: I guess it’s a little hard, because of the timing, and the pandemic stopped so many things — so it’s not always easy to identify, like, who is Richmond-based. When you’re in Los Angeles, pretty much everyone around you is somehow, even tangentially, employed in the film, television, or theater industries, or the music industry. Pretty much everybody in Los Angeles is an artist of some kind, and it’s very easy to pick a conversation up with just about anybody. It’s very easy to, like, crew up in LA. If you have an idea for a weekend, you just get on the phone and, “Let’s find a crew!”
I have a team of people that I work with here that I absolutely love, and I’m super grateful for all the people that worked on Welcome To The Show with me. [They] are phenomenal. And of course, they’re the first people I’m going to call. But I’d like to get to a more expanded view of more people in production and producing. People making things happen.
I really need a community of artists to feel like I’m fully thriving because it is easy to get like trapped in your own echo chamber. I am still in community with my friends from Los Angeles, but it’s not the same.
And so yeah, I would like to see more filmmakers getting together, maybe in writers’ workshops. Like, I would totally do a writers’ workshop right now. Or just a way for us to support each other’s goals. I feel like it would look like a salon. A filmmakers’ salon, to get together and talk about what we’re working on. Or to watch a movie once a month and get together and discuss.
RAH: Last question: for this year, what are you working on, and what are you looking forward to? What are you working on now?
DB: I am working on developing my next film to write and direct. I’m also writing a film, just to write it. I have a really good feeling about 2022. There’s been a lot of ideas marinating during the past couple of years, and we’re moving into a time to take action. To take positive action and think about [how] a lot of us have changed to some extent, and learning things.
RAH: I love that, Dorie, and I also have a feel really good about this year.
DB: Even today, I feel that way.
RAH: That’s awesome. Thank you. I just really appreciate the time.
DB: Thank you so much. It has been so lovely to talk with you again. I really am quite serious, but I think it’s I feel like it’s going to take some like formalization of film people. A plan where people get together and provide support and encouragement and empowerment and feedback. I think that that would be great.
RAH: No, no, I completely agree. Well, that’s it. Thank you, Dorie.