- Read Press notes about the family behind Five Sisters Productions
- See photos of the five sisters (High resolution publicity shots available by request)
- Find out more about the five sisters system of “First Turn.”
- Here are some thoughts from sister Gabrielle about the idea of “Voting at the Box Office”
1) Why did the sisters decide to work together?
Our working together really came together organically. We each had different careers, and we had also worked together at times. Ursula and Maria produced and acted in the LA Premiere of the show A…MY NAME IS ALICE, which ran for a year, and after that, they were approached to develop films. A year later, we all came together to work on the first film, JUST FRIENDS, primarily as sisters to help Maria, who was helming the project. After that, Gabrielle had written TEMPS, and it fell into place that we could make the film in Boston, so Jennifer and Charity came in, and we all decided we would do that full-time for a year. We really enjoyed working together, so we kept going.
You know, in filmmaking, one sort of creates a family during the making of a film, and we’ve got our own, which expands and retracts depending on the stage of production, but we’ve always got this base family and support. We get along very well, which is a good foundation in filmmaking, where good partnerships are hard to find. We also can communicate in shorthand, which saves time.
2) Why filmmaking? Why not another profession?
Our parents used to ask the same question(!) — but now we’ve roped them into it too. (Our mother, a novelist, wrote MANNA FROM HEAVEN, and our father retired from his job as a professor at the University of Buffalo to join our company.)
Why filmmaking? We believe that film is one of the most powerful mediums today, and we feel a responsibility as artists to make films that are entertaining and also have a sense of hope on a personal or social level. Our father was a professional jazz musician, and our mother is a writer, so we grew up in an environment which highly valued the arts. They took us to movies all the time too. Movies used to be programmed with back to back showings, so we often saw a movie twice, and after, we would all talk about it for an hour or so–what it meant to each of us, what we thought about the story, the characters, the filmmaking. Our parents took us to a lot of the arthouse movies, and those movies used to leave a lot more open to the imagination or guesswork, so we would really dig into them. Films and television are now even more present and influential in the world; and it also synthesizes all of our artistic interests — music, visual arts, writing.
3) How do you work together? Is there a process of communication? A Burton style?
We talk in shorthand, like most close siblings. We work like an inner democracy, where everyone in our family has an equal vote, and then we speak as one voice. A lot of people don’t understand how we can not have one of us as a boss of the company, but we each have our realms of responsibility in the company (one sister deals with financial work; another with PR, etc.). However, all major decisions are made together. Most of the time, we are all in agreement without much discussion, which makes it easy; so when we disagree, we feel strongly about trying to come to a consensus. This is important, in that we all want to be happy with any decision we make, and in working things out together, we come up with well-thought-out decisions about which we all feel good.
When we were growing up, there were (obviously) seven people in the family, and seven days in week. Our parents set up a system called First Turn, which started out as a way to make pecking order not always revert to birth order. When a guest would, say, bring a box of chocolates, who got the first choice? Our parents assigned each of us a day of the week (Maria was Monday; Charity, Friday), and whoever’s day it was got the First Turn. That developed into that person also having chores on those days (to cook dinner, take care of the dog, etc.). This allowed my parents some time for their own work, and it taught us responsibility at the same time that we got our special perks. The system also gave us a sense of interdependence and of working together as a unit. We understood how a household works, and to appreciate each other’s work, etc. It was smart on our parents’ parts too, as First Turn probably also avoided a lot of fights over trivial things like who gets the first chocolate. In the long-term, it also meant that we saw each other, perhaps, more equally — more as partners. (By the way, we still use First Turn all the time.)
As a family, and our liking to socialize together, we end up sometimes feeling like we never get time “off” from work. So we also try to set up rules to not talk about work when we out together or on holidays, or to not call about business before and after certain hours. That never really works, but we try…!
4) Do you plan to work together for the long-term?
Yes, now that we’ve established the company, we hope always to continue to make films together. At the same time, we continue to work separately, and we see the company as an umbrella for us, or a point of central gravity to which we can return. It is a wonderful way for us to make films we care about.
Charity continues to teach in the LA city public school system, which we all believe is extremely important. Jennifer also continues her work in academia, editing literary anthologies with Henry Louis Gates. The others continue their work separately as actors and directors and writers too.
5) Do you fight?
(No we don’t, says another sister. Sure we do, another says. No we don’t, retorts the other sister quickly — and then they all laugh.)
Obviously, everyone fights, but as sisters, we can disagree, yet know that we are on the same side, or more easily see where the other is coming from–and, at the end of the day, we know that we’re going to be spending every holiday together–so we have a base level of trust on top of our shared artistic values. We also compliment each other artistically, with some sisters loving action films, others, romantic comedies, so we broaden and strengthen each project with our different perspectives.
6) What inspires you as a group?
Our parents inspire us sisters a great deal. They enjoy the process of living, and this business can be very hard at times, and they always enjoy the small pleasures along the way.
We were very fortunate as children in that our parents used to save up and takes us on long trips in the summer with them. We backpacked in Asia, and retraced the Donner Trail another summer for a novel our mother was writing. We learned that the only way we could do these extraordinary trips was making choices throughout the rest of the year, and also keeping to a very limited budget — which was probably the best preparation for independent filmmaking someone could get! We also saw how fortunate we were, and the strong influence of American culture around the world, which influences our approach to our choices in filmmaking too.