People to Watch
(page 9 of 11)
By: Valerie Havas
If Ulster County resident Nicole Quinn has her way, more films will be made in the Hudson Valley, featuring homegrown talent and themes that are infinitely more diverse than the ones typically served up by Hollywood.
Quinn, the award-winning writer, director and executive producer of the 2007 independent film Racing Daylight, isn’t a big fan of the Hollywood movie-making machine, which she feels runs on a stultifying combination of repetition, reputation, and imitation. Many compelling stories aren’t being told, she believes, including ones by and about women, people of color, and anyone over the age of 40.
“I’m a storyteller,” explains Quinn, who is in her early 50s and is of mixed black, Puerto Rican, and Belgian heritage. Over the course of a recent interview, she told tales of a California childhood steeped in the arts and touched by racism. Magical experiences (watching Mitzi Gaynor rehearse for a Las Vegas show being choreographed by a family friend) are juxtaposed with ugly ones (finding dead animals in the mailbox after her family moved to an all-white neighborhood). And then there was the vicious Valentine’s Day card handed to her on the school bus, which prompted her mother to send her to a Catholic boarding school at the tender age of eight (an experience that inspired Habit Forming, her as-yet-unpublished memoir).
As a pre-law student at Berkeley, Quinn ditched her plans to become a lawyer on the advice of a drama professor who helped her get a union card and a job at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Ten credits short of graduating, she walked away from school and the law and into a whole new world. Her professor’s intervention “changed my life,” she says. “Or what I thought was going to be my life.”
Quinn focused on acting for a decade or so, appearing in movies, television dramas, soap operas, and on the stage. She later became a screenwriter, writing for John Singleton, HBO, and Jodie Foster’s Egg Pictures, among others.
She and her husband bought a weekend house in Ulster County in 1995, and became full-time residents in 2000. Quinn threw herself into the local arts scene, becoming a member of Actors & Writers (a group of theater and film professionals who live in the Valley), helping to run a play-writing workshop at a local high school, and serving on the board of the Poughkeepsie-based Children’s Media Project.
After raising two children, Quinn was ready to tackle her own projects. Shot entirely in the Hudson Valley, Racing Daylight marked Quinn’s debut as a feature filmmaker. For the film, a quirky romance/ghost story that glides between two centuries, Quinn chose historically rich locations in the Shawangunk Ridge area, and benefited from a local talent pool that included Melissa Leo and David Strathairn (both Academy Award nominees). Made on a shoestring budget after expected financing fell through, the film won the Women’s International Best Narrative Film Award (2007) and the New York Film and Video Festival Best Feature Award (2008).
Quinn is currently collaborating with her producing partner, Sophia Raab Downs, on Chick Flicks Studios, a full-service production facility promising “content by, for and about women who think and the men who think with them.” The partners are currently working to open a sound stage in a former carpet store on Route 209 in Accord, which will allow local independent filmmakers easier access to a hefty New York State tax credit. “We’re trying to grow a crew who can stay here and work,” she says.
Work has already begun on Quinn’s next movie, Slap and Tickle, which will also be filmed in the Valley. Thus far, a teaser has been shot, which Quinn says will be up on YouTube shortly. The film stars Quinn’s daughter, Caitlin, as well as Gloria Reuben (of the television show ER), and Broadway actress Linda Powell (daughter of Colin Powell). In addition to Slap and Tickle, Chick Flicks is producing a script by local author Kim Wozencraft called The Meaning of Wife.
The project closest to Quinn’s heart, however, is arguably The Gold Stone Girl, a trilogy of fantasy/adventure books for girls set two million years in the future. Quinn set out to craft a “heroine’s story” through which she could address some of the things she finds terrifying in today’s world, including the murder of girl babies in cultures where boys are preferred, “the daily erosion of women’s rights,” and a societal infrastructure that is failing to acknowledge the end of the peak-oil era. The books’ setting is a nightmarish world, she says, one in which “girls are feared, their whereabouts monitored, and their numbers kept low.” Plans call for Chick Flicks to produce The Gold Stone Girl as a three-season, Web-based series.
Quinn cites a Women in Media gathering some years back that included feminist Gloria Steinem and Friends cocreator Marta Kauffman with helping her realize that it was useless to sit around and whine about a Hollywood infrastructure that wasn’t geared towards welcoming people like her. The solution, she realized, was to take matters into her own hands.
“Once you know that all hits are flukes and you have as much of a shot right out of the gate at being successful, then you don’t really need to play in the same sandbox,” she asserts. In other words, there is no reason that filmmakers like her can’t “play” in their own backyards. For Quinn, her sandbox of choice is the Hudson Valley.
» Next: Meet Dan Shapley