Exclusive Interview with Rita Merson for ‘Always Woodstock’

– by Gig Patta

There’s always something magical about Woodstock for all musicians.

“Always Woodstock” is a coming of age story for an aspiring singer, Catherine Brown, who was stuck at a dead end job in New York City at a mega music record label. She spends her days as a wrangler for the company’s most difficult star. After she was fired for an incident with the company’s most important talent, she came home to her long-time fiancée in the arms of another woman. It triggered a change for her to move back home to Woodstock where she meets a handsome doctor, Noah, and writes music with the help of a local musical legend Lee Ann. As she starts to learn about love again, she realizes that becoming successful means becoming your true self first.

The film has a good well known cast with Allison Miller (“Selfie”), James Wolk (“Mad Men”), Katey Saga (“Sons of Anarchy”), Rumer Willis (“House Bunny”), Jason Ritter (“Parenthood”), Anna Anissimova (“The Whistleblower”), Brittany Snow (“Pitch Perfect”) and Ryan Guzman (“Step Up: Revolution”).

The film was written and marked the directorial debut for Rita Merson. The film also features original songs written by Katey Sagal, Kurt Sutter and Allison Miller—with the performance by Sagal and Miller.

Latino-Review had an exclusive phone interview with director Merson on her experiences and assembling this wonderful project. We discussed about putting all the pieces together, the music, and the original idea behind the movie’s story.

“Always Woodstock” is currently playing in select theaters and available on various digital platforms.

Read the interview transcript below.

Latino-Review: How did you come up with the idea behind “Always Woodstock?”

Rita Merson: I actually went to Woodstock. I grew up going to upstate New York in the summer. I loved the country in New York. I was with a friend who was recording an album. I was so inspired by the town, the history and the creativity. I was so inspired that I wrote a movie with it set there. It was very organic.

Latino-Review: Was this movie was actually filmed in Woodstock itself? Were all the sceneries and scenes in that area?

Rita Merson: We actually had a second unit go out to Woodstock to catch some establishing shots and some of the town. The actual shoot was actually on the west coast in California.

Latino-Review: When you were writing the script—why did you decide to write it as a romantic type of story?

Rita Merson: I was actually going through a breakup. [Laughter] I honestly wrote the movie just to make myself feel better. I wanted a happy love story somewhere in my life—so I just went ahead and write it. That’s the honest answer. Literally, it was the Band-Aid to my broken heart.

Latino-Review: So did Woodstock really made you feel better then?

Rita Merson: Yeah. We’ve said it along the way that Woodstock had been a lucky charm for us filmmakers. For me, personally, it changed my career path. It was the place for the first film I’ve ever wrote. Hopefully, the energy and the message translates to the audience as well.

Latino-Review: You just mentioned that it changed your career path. Are you talking more towards writing or directing?

Rita Merson: Both. I was never accepted to be a writer or a director. I never had aspirations in that direction. At the time of writing, I was thinking about probably going back to school to be a medical doctor like my dad. When I was writing this film, it just organically moved me into an entire career doing this. Thank God.

Latino-Review: What did you found most enjoyable about this newfound path of your career?

Rita Merson: It’s very hard, because the entire dynamic experience to write and to actually film it due to so many different experiences along the way. The actual writing process is actually cathartic and beautiful. It’s been an amazing experience to make something out of nothing. The casting process is just incredible. There were the most amazing actors that come in to show the different ways your words could be spoken. And there’s all that collaboration to put everything together.

Ultimately to answer your question, it’s the collaborative experience for these making these films and television. It’s to meet all these interesting people who come together in a short period of time. It’s really exciting. You get to be that kid and that adult on the excitement for this project.

Latino-Review: So what was the greatest difficulty for you on this production?

Rita Merson: It probably the most difficult part was with the budget. It’s always a problem when you’re an independent film with a super low budget. Some of the things we weren’t able to shoot were kind of painful such as cutting scenes that you were super attached to. So to get through the day knowing that you can’t get that shot or to get it right—brought on a lot of pressure.

It also about staying focused on what you wanted to say and on the vision. There are millions of distractions every day. That kind of concentration takes a big effort. I found that to be a challenge throughout the process.

Latino-Review: I watched the film and pleasantly surprised with the cast. How did you manage to recruit all these actors to be in your movie?

Rita Merson: Thank you so much. They’re excellent. We had an amazing casting director, Angela Demo, who brought in all those talented people. We met with a lot of the actors and it again became a very organic process. Katey Sagal came on after we’ve heard her interview on Howard Stern. My producer and I called each other within minutes and said, “She has to be in the movie!” She had a strong passion for music and I’ve never known that about her. That’s how we got Katey.

That’s just one part of our casting. There were a lot of great coincidences and got lucky with a lot of really talented people.

Latino-Review: Speaking of singing, one of the greatest things about every Woodstock movie is always about the music. I understand that a lot of the original songs are from the talent themselves. Can you talk about that?

Rita Merson: That was a big part on how the casting came together. Allison [Miller] is a songwriter and was very interested in working with Bob Thiele, who was our supervisor and producer of all the tracks in the movie. I really encouraged her to write her own music. I wanted that experience whether or not it was used in the film. It was a great way to get into the story for the actors.

And Katey was also interested in writing. They all came to the table with so much. They wrote their own songs and recorded them. Three were original songs that the cast wrote and all of the songs were original for the film. They were great and wonderful pieces of music. That is the blessing of having a very talented, creative cast.

Latino-Review: It does sound like it. Did you have any input yourself into the music, especially on the writing of it?

Rita Merson: There was a moment that I wanted to write some of the music. I had to stop myself. We would come into some of the recording sessions. We were just excited for them to come up with some amazing things.

I wished I had more [involvement]. If I could do anything over, it would probably be [involved] with some of the music moments in the movie. We already had great people behind the sound of the film. It was a lot of fun for all of us.

Latino-Review: So are you not a musical person then?

Rita Merson: Oh, no. I’m a very musical person. [Laughter] I lived for music. I made playlists before. I do write music. It was just a lot to take on [this project] besides directing. I didn’t want to do everything. I left it up to the professionals.

Latino-Review: It sounded like you had a terrific experience. You would definitely do directing again then?

Rita Merson: I would love to do it again. I would love to keep exploring with the projects I’m already working on. There’s a lot of TV develops and other films I’m working on right now. So if there’s opportunity to direct it then I will. It’s all about making good work. To put more content for women. There should be more roles for women. I’m enjoying the creative process in whatever form it takes.

Latino-Review: You just mentioned that a lot of roles in this creative process should be for women. Why did you want to gear towards that direction?

Rita Merson: Why do I? First of all, I am a woman. I have a good perspective for someone in her late 20s emotionally on what a female is going through. It’s also that a lot of my friends are actors. They mentioned that through the years a lot of parts weren’t very interesting for women. There weren’t a lot of leads that had dynamic changes from the beginning to the end of the film. These are things I wanted to dig deep into.

There’s a part of me that want the responsibility to create good roles for women. And I want to make sure I want to commit and spend my time into with these roles. So another part is to support other women, other artists and other actresses. It’s part of the bigger picture goal on why I’m doing all of this in the first place. It’s part of my mission, I guess.

Latino-Review: Let me wrap this up. Can you talk about any other specific projects coming up soon?

Rita Merson: I have a few things in the TV area. They’re very different from “Woodstock.” That has a lot of debauchery. [Laughter] Girls behaving badly. [Laughter] That’s all I’m going to say, but it’s really fun. It’ll be a lot of juicy, delicious and exciting stuff for television.

Latino-Review: Terrific. Thank you for this conversation, Rita.

Rita Merson: Thank you for taking the time.

“Always Woodstock” is currently playing in select theaters and available on various digital platforms.

Source: Latino-Review

Interviews, Film, LRM Exclusives Rita Merson, Always Woodstock