Los Angeles, California (The Hollywood Times) 2/22/2021 – Debra Lord Cooke has been in CAKE: A Love Story, MOTHER, THE CONGRESSMAN, CAFE SOCIETY, and SOMETIME OTHER to name a few. She has also produced and starred in the award-winning feature, IN THE MOON’S SHADOW. Moon Shadow Pictures LLC, founded in 2017, is a women-owned and managed production company with the goal of offering opportunities for women filmmakers and crew, to disabled filmmakers and actors, veterans, and internships to girls and boys, focusing on telling stories in which diversity and equal opportunity are shown as natural circumstances.
You branched out into casting from acting. Tell us about this time. You eventually came back to acting. What is it about acting that keeps you coming back?
I wanted to raise my children in Maine as I had been raised. I married at age 25 and had my first son 11 months later. Not living in the New York City area was a tough choice. Being an Actor is a strong part of who I am. My family has had property on Great Pond (On Golden Pond) for generations. It’s a great place to grow up. Not a great place to be a working actor though.
Becoming a casting director in Maine was suggested to me by Joe Mayer of WABI-TV. I met Joe years before while in college and he’s been a mentor of mine since. By a fluke, my sophomore year in college, I did a series of 9 commercials for a regional dairy company. WABI’s commercial DP John Beaulieu was covering the University of Maine at Orono’s football game where I was a cheerleader. After, John and Joe came to the university to ask to use the coverage they got of me in a commercial. My experiences doing commercials with Joe included more than just being in the commercial, but also discussing themes for the next one, casting, locations, and even editing decisions, which influenced me to change my major in college from Pre-Med to Theatre based Psychology. My honors scholarship I received my Junior year was used to study Theatre at IAU (Institute of American Universities) with an internship at the Marlowe Theatre, then TV & Film Production at Christ Church College, all in Canterbury, England. Becoming a casting director would combine acting with my TV & Film Production training. Projects quickly began to come in while I was still researching the feasibility of being a Maine-based casting director, and so it began without difficulty. I loved it! Some projects were incredibly challenging. My first major feature film was Mel Gibson’s MAN WITHOUT A FACE. I was very young when interviewing for the position of Local Casting Director. There would be an estimated 1,200 background with fittings, and also a major two-day matching scene. I remember at the last interview saying that I would guarantee all would be provided on time and complete each day – no exceptions. They asked me how I planned to do that, and I remember innocently saying that I would explain to each person the importance of their participation. I think of that and it makes me smile now. Ha! Having perfect attendance from my background became a challenge and was how I ran my company from then on. My last project as a casting director, EMPIRE FALLS (HBO mini-series) had the same UPM as MAN WITHOUT A FACE – Sharon Mann. It was she who asked me to handle local casting for EMPIRE FALLS. I had already sold my casting company so I agreed to work with the new owner in handling EMPIRE FALLS’ local casting. That new owner decided that casting a project with thousands of background and a schedule influx was not for him during the first week of production, so I finished the film series. I worked on casting approximately 3,000 background and 30 speaking roles, and coordinated fittings and days on the set. I always found great people to work in my department so I must give them the credit they deserve also. Shooting dates were always in flux. It was very rewarding to be creative, meticulous, and successful with my work in casting. Successful meaning that everyone showed up on time and at the right location, and that the director was happy with the choices. But acting is where I feel best suited. It feels like home. I love bringing a story to life working as a team with the other actors and crew, the focus it requires, being fully involved and present.
I had a few opportunities to act on projects which I was also casting, which I turned down, but that’s probably what started me really missing working as an Actor. In 2001, a friend was going to Boston to audition for the feature, A STRANGER WITHIN. The director, Lawrence Ferrara, was continuing to look for the two lead female roles. I auditioned too, and we both were cast! I found a buyer of my casting company and sold it in 2002, and I’ve been acting since. Initially, I did lots of theatre to get my chops back! Once my boys were in college, I got an apartment in New York City. Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I’d spent my entire career in acting only, but I don’t regret having that time with my children as they grew up. I’ll always keep my home in Maine though.
My dream has always been to be cast in challenging roles with great directors. I seek opportunities to use every last bit of talent and skills that I have. That’s the best!
What genres interest you? Share your favorite role.
That’s funny you should ask my favorite role because I was just thinking this week how fickle I am with that. Each current role becomes my absolute favorite! My favorite role in film now is Arlene Bailey in the feature film, MOTHER, which is soon to come out. I’ll be going to the cast and crew’s private screening on Feb. 25th, and I cannot wait to see it! Director Michael Morrissey saw a very different character in me than what I usually play. He actually wrote more scenes for me after I auditioned, which is an actor’s dream, right? Working with Michael, I felt free and open to go after that character he saw… kinda scary, maybe evil, maybe… involved. I like both comedy and drama. I enjoy theatre as much as film, and if I haven’t done a live show in a while, I start looking for a show to do. I really loved performing the role of Mother in Tennessee Williams’ play, A CAVALIER FOR MILADY, with White Horse Theatre in NYC, which was very comedic! Another favorite role was Emily Petrocelli in the play, THE SECRET OF COMEDY, which was a comedic drama. Emily, a comedy writer, is diagnosed with a terminal illness on the same day her husband wins the MegaMillions Lottery. It was a role where I never left the stage. It was funny, which made the emotional part hit harder. That’s one thing that comedy does I believe: it removes protective layers in the audience. It was a very moving play and I really enjoyed being able to connect with the audience in that way. The playwright, Michael Kimball, came to see the show twice, which was pretty cool.
Tell us about your company, Moon Shadow Pictures LLC, and your award-winning feature, IN THE MOON’S SHADOW.
I’ve worked with Boston-based director, Alvin Case, on three feature films as one of the lead actors since 2014. The third film was IN THE MOON’s SHADOW. By then, I was also helping a bit with casting and brought in Elissa Piszel to play my sister. She and I met on CAFE SOCIETY. The cast did a staged reading for the investor in February 2017 at Shetler Studios in NYC, and everything was great. We were to shoot in August 2017, starting in Maine then traveling to Nebraska to shoot scenes during the total eclipse of the sun, a challenge we all were looking forward to. Unfortunately, Alvin called me on my birthday – May 2nd, “Happy Birthday! And by the way, the funding fell through and so the film is off.” That was incredibly disappointing! But with a few days of thinking things over, I decided we would produce the film ourselves and Elissa agreed. That’s when I formed Moon Shadow Pictures, LLC. It gave us three months to pull funding together. Getting the film made was important to me. In June, a retired friend, Thomas Kesolits, offered to help us with fundraising. We made him a producer also. The story is a very familiar one in our times where family members rarely get together in person. In our story, two estranged sisters who communicate only rarely by email or text, come together after not seeing one another for years, and journey to see the once-in-a-lifetime event of the total eclipse of the sun, which changes their lives forever. With raising only half of the original budget, we were able to move forward with shooting the Nebraska scenes in August 2017, then raised enough to shoot the Maine-based scenes in September. NYWIFT became our fiscal sponsor for our post-production fundraising efforts. IN THE MOON’S SHADOW is a woman-produced, women-acted film – Alvin actually prefers working with women. Most of our crew were women… IN THE MOON’S SHADOW did well at festivals. In 2019, as a work in progress, the film was invited to screen at MIFF (Maine International Film Festival) where it was sold out. From the 100 films from MIFF, 9 were invited to continue to MIFF in the Mountains and 13 were invited to MIFF by the Sea. We were thrilled that IN THE MOON’S SHADOW were in those chosen few. We were also invited to screen at The Friars Club, NYC, and Prairie Lights Film Festival in Nebraska. We completed IN THE MOON’S SHADOW after these screenings in late December 2019 and submitted the finished film for the first time to several festivals (all other pre-screenings were by invite.) We did a show in January 2020 at Hell’s Kitchen Film Festival, but all other festivals were canceled or on hold due to COVID-19. That was so disappointing after all of our efforts as well as lost festival submission fees. We did receive an “Official Selection” from Flickers’ Rhode Island International Film Festival even though they didn’t hold their festival in 2020, because they said they enjoyed our film so much. In July 2020, I saw something online about LA Femme International Film Festival and decided we should submit it. We were very happy that IN THE MOON’S SHADOW was an official selection to screen! It was a great festival – online for the first time in 2020. We were thrilled when at the awards ceremony, it was announced that we were one of the three Finalists for Best Feature Film! Imagine that! Our little ultra-low-budget heartfelt film competing with multi-million dollar features! We’ve now signed a distribution deal with Green Apple Distributors.
How has the pandemic changed your vision for the film?
It gives me hope. The world can get through this. Not fast enough, but I’ve learned patience! I believe that independent filmmakers will do well. This has been a time of networking and preparation for me and my fellow filmmakers. I believe there is an appetite for new content, especially unique films. Audiences are now adept at finding films of interest on streaming platforms. Producing films is now more affordable, and with the right script, crew, and great actors, great films are possible. It’s a great time to be an independent filmmaker.
What’s next for you?
I’m in the early stages of two independent feature films. One is called EMBER – An Origin Story with the very talented writer and first-time director, Michael Castiel. It’s a post-Apocalyptic-based story, where a young girl is strong and brave enough to save the day. I’ll be playing the character, Maryanne, who has been an important influence in the girl’s life and development. I’m actually training with some martial arts moves for that feature.
The other project I will be working on as a producer for the feature, JAUNT with the director, Alvin Case. Most of Alvin’s projects are written by his brother, Edward Case – a nuclear physicist by day, and a prolific screenwriter at night. JAUNT’s Logline: “After a bitter divorce, a woman goes to her weekend cabin where in the middle of the night, she encounters a scientist who claims he has just teleported into her kitchen by accident.” The story will upend audiences’ expectations, especially the unique twist ending. We’ve had some interest from amazing star actors because it’s such an actor’s script. We would be working with our same tight crew, but with a much bigger budget than we’ve worked with before to cover name actors’ fees. It still leaves us in a Low Budget Category, but the results will be impressive. We are looking to partner with others to raise funding for JAUNT. It’s a great project and we’re excited about it.
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