We had the chance to chat with Courtney Baxter (Sharknado 2) over the weekend about her latest project, Chasing Yesterday, which made its Newport Beach Film Festival debut on Friday. Courtney told us all about the film–which she both produced and starred in–what drew her to producing, and much more (including a fun Sharknado-inspired animal mash-up!)
You got to be a part of CHASING YESTERDAY’s debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival on Friday and do a Q&A for the audience — what was that experience like?
It was wonderful. I always love doing the Q&A’s because it’s just this awesome time. We’ve been working so hard, and you have this project to yourself for so long–you work on it, and you have the script, and then you have pre-production, you film it, and then you have editing… And there’s always this kind of anxiety where it’s like, “Are they going to get out of it what we want them to get out of it?” So it’s always so wonderful when you get to do the Q&A’s and get to be there with the audience and get their reactions, and [Friday] was no different from that. It was really cool–a new city, a new place, a new festival. We had some really awesome, very enthusiastic audience members last night. I was sitting next to our writer/director, Joe [Joseph Pernice], and I think we were getting more enjoyment out of just hearing some of the laughs. We had some people with some really great, big laughs during some of our little small jokes, and we were excited about that.
What can you tell us about the film and your character?
The film centers around this character Junior, who is kind of a washed-up high school and college track star who, after losing his college sweetheart, goes into this downward spiral and faces an addiction with prescription medicine. The film starts about two years into this downward spiral, and Junior meets my character, Jenny, and through kind of an interesting turn of events, she convinces him to get back to running and to find his passion and to get his life back on track. In the meantime, in the course of it, he’s also helping her achieve her dreams as well.
My character–she’s a lot of fun to play, one, because she’s kind of a hard-ass. She’s very, very strict, and she’s very straightforward. There’s a couple lines in there where they’re just, “What is wrong with her? What is wrong with her?” She plays by the rules; she plays by the book–which I really like to do, because it’s kind of rare now, you know? I feel like in this world, you’re constantly looking for ways to cheat the system or get ahead without maybe doing all the work, and I think it was just refreshing to play a role where it was somebody who was just dedicated to doing the work to achieve her dreams and to not taking any shortcuts. And it was fun to kind of yell at the guys a whole lot.
What do you hope audiences will enjoy most about the film?
I think that I really care the most, I would say, about the demographic of the younger people–the ages around where Junior is, so in their teens or in their early twenties–just so they can relate and see, okay, well just because you come into a hard time, it’s not permanent. I think everybody does face these times and these years of trauma and it doesn’t have to be, you know, a week or two and we bounce back. I think it can just be so discouraging, and the world that we live in right now–it’s a really tough one, and especially dealing with schoolwork and dealing with all the stresses with that. I mean, that’s a huge part of it, and that’s a part of it in our film. I just want people to kind of be able to relate and say, look, you can come through hard times and you can come past them. It doesn’t matter where you were, and it doesn’t matter how low you go. You can still work forward. It’s not a reason to give up, just because you hit a hard place, you know?
In addition to acting, you have produced a number of projects (including CHASING YESTERDAY). Can you talk about what drew you to producing and the experience of both acting in and producing a film at the same time?
Initially, I was drawn to producing just by the fact of when you’re an actor, you kind of have to wait around to get your auditions. I’ve had an agent for a long time, and I’ve been working with them forever and they’re wonderful. But at the same time, it kind of feels like things can be out of your control. When you’re acting, it’s never your project–I mean, once you get to the really high levels, then you have a little bit more control. But for most of us, it’s not your project, and you’re kind of always a part of somebody else’s–which is really wonderful, to share somebody else’s artwork–but I wanted more. I just kind of felt this void that I wasn’t getting everything that I could’ve gotten out of the industry. So I thought maybe that through producing, that by putting together the projects and helping writer/directors by getting their stuff initially off the ground and getting it made, it would be more rewarding–and it absolutely has been. I always say there’s a really different feeling when you have a film that you got casted in and you acted in that’s successful, because in that situation, you can be proud of your performance and you can be really happy. You can be proud of your cast and your crew, and it’s a really wonderful feeling. But when it’s the film that you put together and that your team is responsible for making it happen and seeing it through fruition, that’s when it just feels so much more fulfilling for me. It’s this kind of addiction to the industry that we all face, I think. I mean, I know you know it’s a very, very brutal industry, so for those of us who are addicted to it, you really don’t feel like there’s an option. You just want to get in there as many ways as possible, and producing is a really great outlet for me.
Then, in regards to producing and acting–that’s definitely tough. I try to break it up a little bit. CHASING YESTERDAY is definitely the one film that I’ve most intensely been the most involved as a producer and as the lead actor. But it wasn’t too horrible, because I was lucky in that I was there with Joe through development, through before we had our script, and it was really just the two of us working on the project for many, many months. And then the next person that came on to the project was Eric [Nelsen], who plays our lead, Junior, and is also a producer. So then we had the three of us, where just within these three people, we have the two lead actors, we have our producers, and we have our writer/director. It was this really small team, where we were able to just all relate to each other and be very honest and forthright and have a very tight-knit little community between us. Then, in pre-production, I was able to focus for the most part on producing, and as we got closer to production and while we were shooting, it was really just all up to having the right team and having the right people to be able to pass on some of those duties while I’m shooting so that I could focus on my role. It came down to just having a really great crew behind us.
You’re also attending college for Film and Economics–how have your classes helped you as an actor and producer?
I think just, one, you grow as a person when you’re in school and in college. In addition to the way that I find that having more responsibility in producing has helped me with my acting skills, the same thing goes for school–I’m growing as a person, I’m learning more. My film major is actually Film Studies–it’s not Film Production, which is usually the common film major. It’s really kind of an English-based major where we study the history and the theories and the philosophy behind films, which I really think has been beneficial–knowing not so much the industry part of it, but just understanding the art of film a little bit more and having that solid foundation and understanding where a lot of the practices that we use and the techniques we use started. Just having that solid education in the history of your industry I think is very important.
Then with Economics, that definitely comes in. One, we’re all consumers in the economy. I think no matter who you are, you should take a couple classes in Economics–you’re never gonna regret taking those or regret having understood how the economy works. For me, it was something that I had no plans of studying when I went to college–I had planned on saying, “Oh, maybe I’ll do a Business minor. That would be smart; that would be a safe thing to do.” And then when I got to school, I just took an Economics class, and I loved it–which I hear is not common. Most people don’t take that route. But I just loved it so much, and I thought, “Okay, well maybe I’ll just study this because it’s really cool.” So I just decided to declare a major–a double major–and it’s just been a really great thing, where the producer side, it’s just understanding business. A lot of times, I think that independent filmmakers unfortunately kind of suffer in the industry because they have such strong creative roots, but they don’t necessarily have the business skills behind them to back it and to get their work seen–and sometimes just to get their work made. Through having that foundation in Economics and an understanding of the business world, it’s really just helped me to become a more fully developed producer.
You also starred in SHARKNADO 2 — just for fun, if you were to mash up another animal or natural disaster for a film, what would you pick?
Another animal? Hmm… Well it’s got to be ferocious, right? So what if we had a lion and a shark? I think we’ve got to mix in the land in there. In SHARKNADO, that’s part of the problem–when they come on to the land, they can’t swim, so that’s why we get the advantage. But if they were mixed with a lion, then they could be unstoppable. I don’t know if that’s smart, to give them that much power, but I’ll just go with it.
What’s next for you and for CHASING YESTERDAY?
For CHASING YESTERDAY, next up after Newport, in a couple weeks we are over at SoHo International Film Festival in New York–that’s on May 17. We’re excited to head back over to the East Coast, and that’ll be our New York premiere, which we’re excited about. I’ve been to the festival a couple times before, and it’s just a wonderful, wonderful festival, so I’m excited that we’re able to show there.
For myself, I’m currently in pre-production for two features–one that I’m just working on as a co-producer that’s called BLAME. That’s a feature that’s written, directed, produced, and going to be starred in by a 19 year-old girl named Quinn Shephard–she’s phenomenally talented. Then the other feature is one that I’m co-starring in and producing called DONNYBROOK that we’re going to be shooting in the Bronx in August.
On Fangirlish, we are all about sharing our pop culture obsessions. What show, movie, and/or book are you obsessed with right now?
Well I would say GAME OF THRONES, but that’s like, so basic–but I am totally obsessed with it. But right now, I’m actually–well, I’m like, let me look at my Netflix. I watch a lot of shows. I’m actually, right now, for the first time, I’m on the 10th season of FRIENDS–I’m watching the whole thing, because I haven’t watched them all before. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to watch movies and TV shows as I probably should. You know, it’s kind of sad, but I’m really behind on a lot of what the popular shows and movies are. But when I do, I usually just pop on my Netflix and see if I have a little bit of time. But I’m really excited to see the new season of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK. I can’t wait.