A story exploring our search for connection and love, August at Twenty-Two unites the talents of three queer female storytellers in their early twenties– Ali Edwards, Sophia Castuera, and Mary Elizabeth Monda.
Known for her role as Jenn Potts in the horror feature Alan at Night and as Margaret in the musical Voce, Ali Edwards has been involved in the production of experimental films, shorts, and a variety of web series including One Four All and Connecting. In August at Twenty-Two, Ali is Cal Davidson, a struggling actress trying to navigate relationships and a budding career. Cal discovers that her childhood “soulmate,” Jacob, has a serious girlfriend, Emily. Feeling unfulfilled by disappointing auditions, pressure to succeed (whatever that means), and failed attempts to reconnect with Jacob, Cal seeks a new companion in Em. As Cal gets swept up in her exciting new social life, she begins neglecting her best friend Bobby, who is becoming increasingly concerned about her rapidly changing focus. As Bobby and Cal’s friendship disintegrates, so does Cal’s sense of self. Meanwhile, her relationship with Emily develops in unexpected and incendiary ways.
Latina director Sophia Castuera helmed August at Twenty-Two. She has also worked with Sony Pictures Animation and served as executive producer of the award-nominated short film VOCE. And she starred in the musical drama, 2008.
Mary Elizabeth Monda has worked on the horror/mystery The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, the crime drama Luke Cage, and the crime/action The Punisher. She has guided projects for Netflix, AMC, Marvel, Warner Bros TV, Google, and Meta.
Ali, Sophia, and Mary are co-founders of Lady Parts Productions, an all-female production company that prioritizes telling feminist narratives.
So Ali, August at Twenty-Two has kind of a St. Elmo’s Fire vibe? What inspired you to write it?
Ali Edwards: Thank you. In many ways, it’s my coming-of-age story. I wrote it loosely based on my misadventures of being a naive and optimistic early twenties-something. It was inspired by my life when I was going through my community and my own August 2022.
Ok, the Cal-Bobby relationship. What were you going for there?
Ali: I think Bobby is Cal’s rock. He’s the one person in Cal’s life who she feels truly comfortable with. While she does take that for granted, I think that relationship symbolizes purity, goodness, and friendship, and the importance of not disregarding that and not taking it for granted.
So, Sophia, the film had lots of subdued lighting, close-ups, and some back-of-the-head dialog scenes. What were you going for there?
Sophia Castuera: I wanted the audience to feel as if they were right there in the action of these people’s lives. To be literally there behind these people. Like you’re actually in the car seat witnessing this father-daughter conversation. It’s kind of like the same vibe when you’re at your friend’s house, and their parents start arguing.
So, Mary, the constant struggle with time and budgets. Was it a battle or relatively smooth sailing?
Mary Elizabeth Monda: It’s always a battle, but not in a discouraging way. I think the three of us have been so insistent on this film being made that there wasn’t really anything that could’ve stopped it. Obviously, we always want more time and more money for production, but we were given somewhat of a gift. When the pandemic hit, we could take our time with posts, with color, music, and sound, specifically because we didn’t see any rush to get this out to the world. We wanted to wait for people to go see movies and festivals again, to want to see things that are based in reality at that time. It was jarring during Covid to see people in masks. So we really took our time with posts. And that ended up being a gift because we got so many incredible post crewmembers to help us out. In production, it was smooth sailing because we were also excited and anxious to get this out there. We were able to shoot this early, in 2019, and we didn’t have a hint of what was the come at that time, which kind of shows in the way we optimistically made this with young people and a fully female crew. We were all in close quarters and cramped spaces and just running around New York City with the freedom that we had.
So, Ali, how did the film do in the festivals?
Ali: Really well. I’d like to say that we’re artists first and self-promoters like eighth. We didn’t have the most planned-out festival strategy. We applied to places where we would like to play. And we wound up playing some absolutely amazing festivals. We capped off our festival circuit at Provincetown, which was more than we dreamed of when you’re making a film because it’s such an epic and prestigious festival. And, of course, not to mention ours was a very New York film, so we also played some fantastic New York festivals where we were really at home and felt so loved and supported. So we were incredibly lucky. We’ve had some amazing feedback and Q&As. Our audiences have been so enthusiastic about this film.
I love the dialog between Cal, Bobby, Jacob, and Emily. Very organic and natural. Can you go into your approach in terms of dialog?
Ali: I come from an acting background, so I think performance is rooted in naturalism, which is as close to reality as you can get; the closer you feel to just dropping in on the moment. For me, that’s what makes a successful performance. So as I was writing it, I was speaking these scenes out loud and improv’ing my way through them by workshopping each scene. So yeah, we really focused and honed in on naturalism. And, of course, I was very inspired by the Mumblecore movement and by Joe Swanberg. Those were things I brought to mind while writing and during rehearsals. We wanted our audience to feel like they just dropped on this moment and not a movie. Like you’re living someone’s life right next to them.
Why did you decide to take the role of Cal? How did you prepare for the role? Is there a bit of Cal in You?
Ali: So it was never really a decision for me. I just knew that it was mine. I couldn’t imagine not playing her even though I knew that it would be scary because she’s so self-conscious and lives with so much anxiety and self-doubt. So I knew that it would be an intense experience. I am Cal. I think that there’s a part of her in me, that she came from me. And since she comes from me, I felt it necessary to play her. I’d like to think that I am past being a Cal because she represents this nervous, dark part of me that I hope to move forward from.
First Ali then Sophia. Do you have a favorite scene or scenes?
Ali: Yeah, that’s a really good question; so my favorite scenes from an actor’s perspective are where Cal and Emily are sitting on a park bench and Emily reveals that she and Jacob are opening up about their relationship. And Cal, at that moment, opens up and says, I have feelings about that. I’m not sure why I do. But something tells me that this is important to me. That scene felt highly intense. And the follow-up to that scene was this nine-minute-long single take at the end of the film where Cal and Jacob are forced to explore all of the unsaid things. So from an acting perspective, that was so exciting and kind of sexy in a way to get to explore; and heartbreaking because it doesn’t necessarily work out the way she thought she wanted.
Sophia: I think the whole sequence in the East Village with Emily and Cal was my favorite; also because it was the first thing we worked on. We made it a concept as part of our funding process, and we did that sequence, like taking pictures and having a blast and having that park bench conversation where Emily brings up that Jacob has considered an open relationship for them. And that was like some of the first storyboarding I did. Then we shot it in one crazy night. It was the same thing in the future. It’s such a nice illustration of the chemistry that Emily and Cal have. It was so much fun to shoot that in the streets of New York in a guerilla filmmaking style.
Ali, can you talk about Cal’s intimate final scene?
Ali: I wrote that scene as a metaphor for Cal learning to love herself. She’s looking everywhere for love during the entire film. I think in the end, it’s important for her how to come back to center.
Mary. Can you talk about Lady Parts Productions?
Mary: Absolutely, so Lady Parts Productions is a company that Ali, Sophia, and I founded in August 2022. We have a development slate that includes a feature from Ali and a short from Sophia. We are just moving forward with female-focused stories with a female crew and create what we feel passionate about. We’ve built a really exciting community in New York and we just love working with those people. We’re currently in development with several projects.
Have you guys ever considered doing a sci-fi project like Cloverfield or something like it?
Ali: You know, I think our next projects will be bigger. I think August at 22 is like this perfect time capsule that feels so young and fresh. We were just so excited to make it that making it on any budget was a dream come true. I wouldn’t change a thing or give up more resources or money. I think it’s exactly how it should be. That being said, there’s no way, I can do this again with a small budget. We all come from this scrappy background and we’re always art focused. I don’t think there’s a genre we’d shy away from. It really comes down to the story and heart.
Ok, Ali, Sophia, and Mary. In that order. What have you learned about working in this business that really surprised you?
Ali: For me, it comes down to what learned in the film festival circuit. A lot of artists and filmmakers were somewhat shocked when they learned how scrappy our filmmaking process was; like how we lifted ourselves by our bootstraps without any external investors. A lot of it was self-funded or crowdfunded. One thing I walked away with was the importance of just going for it. Gaining confidence and working around any roadblocks.
Sophia: I learned that your team or crew is truly everything. As the director, I would be nothing without my assistant director, the cinematographer, the writer, producer. All of these people lift each other, which is what makes indie movies happen. And I think a lot of people don’t realize that. I would be nowhere without this amazing crew of women.
Mary: I was surprised by the joy that a certain team can bring to a set. I came from a production of very big TV shows in New York. So coming off those productions, a lot of people in this industry get jaded and discouraged. For a lot of people, these are their jobs and not a lifelong commitment necessarily. So I think it was really interesting to leave that world of big-budget, Netflix TV, and watch a group of young people and mostly young women love what they’re doing every day and not have a jaded bone in their body when they show up on set to make something together. So that was really surprising to me that I could find that in a new community outside of the one I had left.
Ok, Ali, Sophia, and Mary. What were you like in high school? The girl most likely to….?
Ali: I’ll let Mary go first (laughs).
Mary: I had been voted most likely to take over the world and then I didn’t show up for the yearbook photo because I was too cool for it (laughs).
Sophia: To think about my high school self is to cause me a lot of pain (laughs). I was a really big musical theater kid growing up. I was probably the one most likely to be on the stage. I’m not saying I still don’t want to do that but I’m really glad I went to film school because I discovered an entirely new side of myself.
Ali: The girl most likely to forge her own path and forgo all social norms.