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‘Messy’ character: Screenwriter creates comedic female protagonist for ‘Family’

Laura Steinel knows what it’s like to be under the gun.

As a screenwriter, she’s had to meet deadlines daily.

Taylor Schilling gets instructions from director Laura Steinel on the set of the film “Family.” (Courtesy of The Film Arcade)

Yet with her most recent project, “Family,” she decided to not only write the script but also direct.

“I wrote it originally, and I felt it was a sensitive subject matter to get right,” she says. “I didn’t want to give it away to anyone else.”

“Family” will begin screening today at United Artists High Ridge in Albuquerque.

The film follows Kate Stone, played by Taylor Schilling, who is focused on her career and enjoys living that way. Her brash attitude keeps relationships at arm’s length, making her an outcast in her own right.

When her estranged brother calls asking her to baby-sit her tween niece Maddie, she reluctantly agrees to help. But baby-sitting overnight unexpectedly turns into a week, and Stone’s life spins into chaos.

As Maddie reveals stories of being bullied and of wanting to run away and be a Juggalo – a fan of the group Insane Clown Posse – the two form a unique bond.

Steinel began working on “Family” in 2016 to create precisely the kind of comedic female protagonist she wanted to see on screen.

“I wanted to do my own version of a messy lead character,” she says. “Someone who was funny, gruff and selfish, as opposed to nurturing, supportive or seductive – the type of part that usually goes to a guy. I wanted to write it for a woman and level the playing field.”

Stone is brusque and socially maladroit, prone to saying what she thinks, no matter how awful it might sound. She regards office celebrations as pointless distractions, although she will slink in to grab a slice of cake. Although it’s not surprising that Stone is shunned by her colleagues, Steinel points to a long-standing double standard.

“If guys are straightforward and direct, it’s called ambition, while women are seen as bitches,” she says. “I think Kate took on masculine behaviors to become successful. In some ways, she’s misunderstood.”

Steinel says that the production was done in 19 days of shooting and that editing took over a year.

“With a child as your second lead actor and 19 days, we were just racing around,” she says. “At certain points, we were just trying to get the shot. We had to think quick on our feet and get it done.”

Steinel says the editing was done in two time periods.

“We did a rough cut and shot a pick up at the Juggalo Unity Tour,” she says. “This festival isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s kind of like a crazy music festival.”

After filming the movie, Steinel says, she’s now a fan of Insane Clown Posse.

“It was an interesting counterculture,” she says. “It worked out well with the theme of embracing who you are. Being a Juggalo helped Maddie find a family.”

SEND ME YOUR TIPS: If you know of a movie filming in the state, or are curious about one, email film@ABQjournal.com. Follow me on Twitter @agomezART.

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