New York Film Academy MFA Film student Sarah Louise Wilson is riding a wave of success. Her films have played at 30 festivals worldwide. Her first short film, which premiered 3 years ago at Frameline, continues to make the rounds on the festival circuit, and is used as an educational tool in classrooms. She wrote, produced, and starred in her first feature film, Jelly, alongside Natasha Lyonne (Slums of Beverly Hills, But I’m a Cheerleader), and Ed McMahon in his last film role. Shot on 35mm, the film was sold to Sundance Independent and IFC. Her second feature length film, The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue, was bought by PBS, and will make its television premiere this weekend. Variety called it “Stylish and strange enough to mark Sarah Louise Wilson and [co-writer/producer] Neal Thibedeau as helmers to watch.”
The Southern California native met her business partner, Mercedes LeAnza, while working at Encore Hollywood, a post production house. The pair decided to start their own company, Stella Bella Productions. A true Renaissance woman, Sarah already had a degree in theatre. She is also a painter, and made the first money for her film Jelly by selling her abstract paintings.
Sarah came up with the idea for her second feature while on a road trip. She had written a play that was featured on the REDCAT stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall. She found out the music used in the play was going to be performed by a symphony in the Bay Area, so she and longtime friend Neal Thibedeau decided to make the trip. It was during the drive that the pair came up with the concept for The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue, beginning with the title. They wrote the screenplay over the next month, and the project started to come together.
Sarah had met Glee actress Ashley Fink when the two were working at the Samuel French Bookshop in Hollywood. The two hit it off and have been friends ever since. She wrote a part for Fink just before the actress got her big break on Glee. She also wrote a part for Steve Talley, who had co-starred in Jelly (as well as the American Pie franchise, and many television roles). She also lucked out in getting actress Lin Shaye, known for her roles in There’s Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, and Insidious. “It was a master’s class watching her, she’s that good,” says Sarah.
Shot over 7 days at Los Angeles’ historic Plaza de la Raza, the movie explores the relationship of a young couple on the Day of the Dead, and features stunning visuals of the holiday’s celebrations. The movie was shot on a Canon EOS 7D. Sarah says she expects many more features will be shot on the 7D, saying, “It opens something up for people who can’t raise $1.5 million. You get a good story and get a couple of faces. Your overhead is so low, you’re not going to kill yourself trying to make the money back.”
Sarah is ready for success. As she says, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to do huge things: win a couple Oscars, produce big films. But to continue to make and create art is a privilege.” Check out the television premiere of The Accidental Death of Joey by Sue in the New York metropolitan area on WNET Thirteen. It airs on the following times and dates courtesy of PBS.
Saturday, June 30 at 10:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 1 at 1:35 a.m.
Wednesday, July 4 at 1 a.m.
Don’t forget to tweet @AccidentalMovie, @NYFA, and @PBS before, during, and after the broadcasts!