For student director Florence Heller and the rest of her all-female production crew, there is no time to cry over Spoiled Milk.
“We’re telling a female-empowered story with female-empowered lead who’s trying to break free from an abusive system,” said Heller, a third-year graduate student in the USC School of Cinematic Arts film and television production program. “I feel like so many women go through that, and who better to tell that story than the women who go through it. It just makes sense to do that.”
Set in the early 2000s, Heller’s thesis film Spoiled Milk brings to life 7-year-old Izzy, who dreams of pursuing music, and her father Jim, who promises to always support her. Fast forward to Izzy’s acceptance to the Berklee School of Music graduate program, and Jim makes it clear that he will only support Izzy if she lives by his rules. In the film, Izzy is forced to choose between her father and following her lifelong dream.
Heller co-wrote the script with her friend Hayley Trafzer, an MFA student who is in the same SCA program. They started working on the project last April and took it into their thesis prep class last semester. The class allows students to workshop scripts and then start working on producing and pre-production for their films.
For months, Heller and Trafzer wrote drafts, exchanged notes back and forth and began preparing preliminary budgets and shooting schedules.
“By December, I’m sure we were on draft 30-something … We stopped counting,” Heller said.
But by the beginning of the spring semester, they had solidified the majority of their crew. To Heller, it was a no-brainer to ensure it was all-female.
“I think that most of the conversation on campus at USC, specifically in the film complex, is about diversity in the industry and about everything that’s going on,” she said. “And I don’t know how I can run my mouth about that and not do something. So I feel like if I want the industry to change, I have to be a part of that and this is an opportunity where I actually have enough say to do that.”
The crew is still a work in progress, but Heller says they have approximately 40 women already working on the film.
“[Heller] reached out to me about shooting it for her,” said Madeline Leach, the film’s director of photography. “And we sat down, we talked about it. I kind of knew her script for a while because I knew she was working on it.”
Leach is a third-year MFA graduate student in the School for Cinematic Arts studying cinematography and met Heller at USC. She heard about Heller’s idea for her thesis film and was immediately drawn to the prospect of working with an all-female crew.
“I have never worked with an all-female crew and it’s exciting … to have an entirely female camera department and electric and grip department,” she said.
USC is one of the only schools that has a contract with the Screen Actors Guild, which allows students to work with professional actors for free. At this point, Spoiled Milk, which reached its Kickstarter goal of $18,000 in just 37 days, has almost finalized its cast, and plans are in place to begin shooting in April. Heller aims to complete the film by Aug. 8, so that it will make the deadline to be submitted in the Sundance Film Festival.
“The reason I got into film, or theater or art in general is because I wanted other people feel a little less alone in the world,” Heller said. “This film means a lot because I feel like we’ve had this amazing opportunity to finally shed light on a topic that — more often than not — the majority of people have actually experienced.”