(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- On Saturday, June 3, 2023, the New Jersey International Film Festival presents a screening of the full-length feature Bibi by Christopher Beatty. The film will be available virtually for 24 hours starting at midnight with an in-person screening at 7:00pm in the beautiful movie theater on the Rutgers University campus. In this wonderful psychological thriller, a mother and daughter live in a secluded mansion that is hiding a terrible secret.
After a tragic loss, Vivian Ashwood is failing to cope. Struggling to raise her daughter Bibi, she turns to prescription medication and alcohol to soothe her anxieties and depression. Soon, the lines begin to blur between Vivian's routine nightmare and her reality. A strange man begins stalking and tormenting Vivian, causing her to unravel even further. She turns to Bibi, her only confidant, to confirm what is real and what is delusion. Bibi, also devastated by the loss of her sister and upset at Vivian for not protecting them both, only makes Vivian more unsure of the truth. After continuous torment, Vivian searches to find a way to protect herself and Bibi from the stalker by whatever means necessary.
New Jersey Stage reached out to Christopher Beatty, a filmmaker born and raised in the Garden State, to learn more.
The story is well thought out. Was this a story you’ve been working on for a while?
I have been working on this story for close to ten years. I have written draft after draft, reworking scenes, changing characters. It was a challenging experience but it's such an unbelievable feeling when you finally finish the script and sign off knowing that the pieces to the puzzle fit seamlessly. That is a special feeling.
One of the most impressive aspects of Bibi for me is the sound. You’ve got a great ability to use sound in the classic psychological/horror manner. Sounds like the music box, bouncing ball, pounding door, static from the television, and footsteps are some that stood out to me. What is it about sound that works so well to create suspense?
I have always felt that sound was such an intricate piece to this puzzle. How could we create suspense in this film besides what we see on the screen from a visual perspective (what we see as an audience) so I wanted to engage the viewer throughout the entire process of the film using not just visual but sound. A few examples you listed, the television, the bouncing of the ball, were definitely utilized to create suspense. In fact the television was used as an outlet for Vivian Ashwood as she becomes consumed with the static screen which leads her to all kinds of hidden secrets in regards to her past.
The carousel music box was created by a close friend of mine who happens to be a musician. I wanted something simple yet creepy enough where there is an uneasy feeling every time the audience hears the music box being played.
The acting in this film is very strong. I always think that’s a credit to the director and the cast put together. How involved were you in the casting process?
The casting process was interesting to say the least. Our wonderful casting director, Stephanie Holbrook presented me with some wonderful actors and it was my decision on which actor I felt was right for the role, which in turn, led to some difficult decisions. In regards to the leading actress, we actually had this role casted months prior, however I received a call from our producer Glen Trotiner two weeks prior to filming to let me know that the leading actress was dropping off the film. This hit me extremely hard, but Glen said something to me which I will never forget. He said, don't worry, if she dropped out then she wasn't right for the film. You will find your leading actress, don't stress. Stephanie put together a small list of some extremely talented actors based here in New York and it was the second to last audition tape which is where I saw Elizabeth Paige for the very first time. I knew she was it, I knew from the moment I saw her and heard her read a few lines from the script that this was our Vivian Ashwood. We had a zoom call, I told her she had the part and to take the next flight home (as she was vacationing in Minnesota at the time).
The rest as they say is history.
How difficult is it to cast an indie film with a limited budget?
It is very difficult as the truth is, budget always comes into play. I was also a producer on this film so my head was thinking in two separate spaces. My director's hat would say that this actor is perfect for the role but then my producer's hat would say "well how much is this going to set us back.”
The beauty of casting is that there are so many talented actors out there that have not had their big break and it was my job to find the right talent for the role. It's a meticulous process but a rewarding one as casting the film was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had.
Along the same lines, was it a challenge to work with the young actors?
In regards to the two little girls, Juliana Davies and Rowan Castro, they were such a joy to work with. In Rowan's case, who happens to play Ava, I believe this was her very first film she has ever worked on but she handled it like a true professional. Her scenes in the film are some of my absolute favorites. As for Judith Ann DiMinni, she was fourteen years old at the time of filming and I have to say that the film would not be what it is if Judith wasn't playing the role of Bibi. She took direction very well and I usually had what I needed after only a few takes. She worked like a pro and I am thankful for everything she did for that character, a character that was complex on so many levels, Judith figured out how to portray Bibi the way she needed to portray her.
What I find so amazing about Judith is most of her acting does not consist of any dialogue so for her to express those various emotions, I see nothing but a bright and prosperous future for her as the sky is the limit. In my opinion the hardest part of being an actor is to tell a story through your eyes. Judith told the story of Bibi through her eyes and her eyes alone and that is what was so remarkable. I was in complete awe of her performance.
As mentioned before, I was very impressed with the sound and lighting crews. Were these people you have worked with before or knew for a while? Or simply a good crew?
I was blessed with two great producers, Glen Trotiner and Logan Hunter. They are responsible for the crew, which started with our Director of Photographer John W Rutland and trickled down through the rest of the crew. Making an independent film takes a certain type of person and we were fortunate enough to have a dynamic crew that worked together and got the job done.
At the beginning of the credits it says “In Loving Memory, Glen Trotiner (1957-2022)” - Did you know Glen well? Did he offer you advice on filmmaking?
Glen Trotiner was the head producer on this film, he was my mentor, but most importantly he was my friend. Glen was always even keel throughout the entire process, when he spoke I listened because he was always right. He knew how to put a picture together from the script all the way through to the screen. Glen past away during post production and it literally broke my heart. Without Glen, this film would not have been made and I owe him so much. The least I could do was dedicate the film to Glen Trotiner.
It's very cool to that Bibi is going to be part of the 2023 "Dances with Films" film festival at the Chinese Theater in LA.
Yes, we are an official selection for the 2023 Dances with Films and are actually in the "competition section" of the festival for narrative features. It's such a highly respected festival and I cannot wait to get out to Los Angeles and screen Bibi at the infamous Chinese Theater at the end of June.
We are also an official selection for Cinequest Film Festival which takes place mid to late August in Northern California. Again, another powerhouse festival that I am humbled to be a part of.
Have you done the festival circuit before? Do the costs really add up for a filmmaker during a festival run?
I have not done the festival circuit yet but am definitely excited for it. Bibi was just completed so our festival run begins with the New Jersey International Film Festival. In regards to cost, I have not paid anything as of yet besides the submission fees for the festivals which runs anywhere from $50-$90 per submission. I am sure Dances with Films will be a steep price (plane fare, hotel etc) but definitely well worth the trip as screening Bibi has been a dream of mine and now it's finally becoming a reality and coming full swing to fruition.
Tell me about yourself. Where did you grow up in Jersey? Any college or film school?
I grew up in Wayne NJ, and attended Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, then transferred to William Paterson University where I double majored in English and Communication. I have always loved film, always enjoyed writing screenplays but it wasn't until I met a producer in Los Angeles where I realized that this is what I wanted to do with my life. He taught me the ins and out of how the film business operated.
Your bio mentions Stanley Kubrick as an inspiration. What are your favorite films by him and what would you say you’ve learned from them?
I just love Kubrick. I love his style, his boldness. In regards to Bibi, I wanted to always keep the camera moving, no matter what, even if by the slightest margin. I wanted to capture the film through wide dolly shots to set the tone. The Shining stands out as inspiration because the way Kubrick shot that film, was how I envisioned Bibi while writing it. Wide, slow moving dolly shots, and the sparse use of stedicam to emphasize and elevate tension.
Was there one film that inspired a love of film for you? Something that made you want to be a filmmaker?
I am a big Stanley Kubrick fan, loved watching Harrison Ford on the big screen, loved Spielberg. So many fond memories in my childhood watching films that I doubt I could pinpoint just one. For me, film is about losing yourself. When I watch a film and can literally lose myself while watching the picture, (which mind you, happens few and far between) well that is what filmmaking means to me.
Finally, anything you could say about your next project?
My next project is a script I have been working on. It's more along the lines of a Sci Fi film but definitely a film I feel will engage an audience.
The New Jersey International Film Festival runs across two weekends (June 2-11) with a combination of virtual screenings and in-person screenings in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Click here to purchase tickets for Bibi.
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