Since the age of 16, Ramaa Mosley has been pursuing her dreams to direct films. After tenaciously directing short films and commercials, she premiered her feature The Brass Teapot, starring Juno Temple, at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. But despite finding critical praise and receiving several awards, the next break didn’t seem to come. So, she once again took her career by the reigns, directing and co-writing (with Tim Mosley), her new film, Lost Child.
A dark, modern fairytale, the film is also remarkably personal for Mosley, dealing with the aftermath of family trauma and the loss of her brother. In the film, Leven Rambin plays Fern, a young woman and veteran returning to her childhood home in the Ozarks, hoping to find her younger brother Billy, but instead finding the mysterious, lost child Cecil.
Lesley Coffin: How did the project actually get underway? Did the idea originate with yourself or Tim?
Ramaa Mosley: It began out of my desire to get started on another film, after having made The Brass Teapot. I really thought that after I made my first film in and it premiered at Toronto, that I’d get offers. So after like two years of waiting and getting really frustrated, I decided to make a smaller movie. And part of that came out of my desire to make a film about my relationship with my brother, who was in the Air Force and served for over 20 years. And the other part of the idea came out of a friend of mine, who in her mid-to-late 30s decided, seemingly out of nowhere, to adopt a little girl, but that decision came with a lot of trepidation. She was concerned that the little girl was troubled. So out of my relationship with my brother and my friend, I brought the idea to Tim, who’d grown up in the Ozarks, and we thought it would be great to set a film there. And it became this game of ping-pong. I’d send my ideas to him, he’d take them into consideration and send me his. And it all came together in this organic process.
Lesley Coffin: Considering your friend had adopted a little girl, why make Cecil into a little boy?
Ramaa Mosley: Because the film is also about me exploring my relationship with my brother, and the main character is really trying to mend the broken relationship she has with her brother. So metaphorically, it had to be a boy. She has an opportunity with this young boy that she previously didn’t have with her brother.
Lesley Coffin: The film uses an idea of folklore, the idea the Cecil may be a cursed child. Is that idea based on something from folklore Tim knew about in the Ozarks or was the idea in the film completely made up?
Ramaa Mosley: Tim and I like the idea of creating folklore and legends, we did it on our first film as well. There is a word called “Tattered Chameleon” which means one dressed in tattered clothing and the folklore in the Ozarks goes very deep, so it’s not far from some other folklore that do exist. A lot of the folklore we’re talking about has a direct connection to xenophobia. Tim really brought the idea of using folklore in this film in that way to the project because he said, folklore can be used to keep people safe but it can also be used to hold people back. And so much of the history in the Ozarks comes from immigrants who brought their own folklore, which got turned around and twists as they moved into the mountains and raised families in isolation. The story surrounding Cecil is meant to address the way we treat child who’s been abandoned. Children who go into a system, because of nothing they’ve done, and are just stigmatized. And how much do we concern ourselves with the welfare of children outside our family unit. It’s shocking how xenophobia has just taken over our country.
Lesley Coffin: What was it about the Ozarks that really appealed to you and made you feel this story should be told in this place?
Ramaa Mosley: Well, initially I was concerned about the economics of making a movie and listened to some of what the Duplass brothers said, who talk a lot about the need for low-budget filmmakers to find the right locations. And initially I thought that if we went to the Ozarks, they’d be happy to have us and allow us to make the film on the budget we had, that we never could have in a major city. But the second reason was, it adds a haunting sense of place, which offers a kind of production value which is just priceless. It probably would have been harder for audiences to buy into the idea of this lost child, if we’d set it in Los Angeles or a city. But people know there’s folklore in the Ozarks so there’s less of a distance to buy into the conceit of the film.
Lesley Coffin: Did you do research into the psychological trauma the characters would have experienced in the film?
Ramaa Mosley: To the extent of what I’d gone through and my family went through. A lot of the things in the film I experienced. Not the drugs, but in and around the violence and separation of family. A lot of the film is autobiographical, in terms of the trauma experienced. In terms of deep character research, they did their own specific research based on what their character were around and had experienced. Jim Parrack plays a social worker, so he did research into the foster care system.
Lesley Coffin: Having started directing as a teenager, is filmmaking part of your own recovery process?
Ramaa Mosley: The funny thing about making this film is, while I was making it, I didn’t realize that I was working through my problems. At the time that we were making it, I knew I was drawn to the characters, but almost couldn’t put my fingers on why I felt so strongly. And then during the edit, I realize that I was working through issues that I’d never managed to work through. My brother committed suicide last year, which is a painful tragedy, and only when I saw the film in the theater did I realize, this is a film about him. I realized making this film was my own effort to try to reach him that wasn’t possible when he was alive. I would love to talk to other filmmakers and find out if they went through the same experience, almost subconsciously using the process to work through a traumatic event.
Lesley Coffin: Having spoken to several filmmakers, I don’t think it’s unusual at all to use directing that way. It’s a little bit like art therapy.
Ramaa Mosley: When I was making the film, my brother was alive but hadn’t spoken to me for years. And I tried to reach out to him, I really did. And there was no reason that he could give as to why he’s so completely separated from our family. But now I realize that it was mental illness and it ended in tragedy when he took his own life. And I took his rejection so personally, and I think that in the film, Fern is so surprised and hurt when her brother refuses to see her, because she can’t understand that he’s just lost beyond repair. I had to realize the same thing about my own brother. But in order to move on, to make the choice to move on and live a life, she has to come to that realization.
Lesley Coffin: Regarding the character of Mike, who becomes her love interest, why did you feel that was a necessary character to include thematically?
Ramaa Mosley: I think we were always think about the idea of there being healthy female energy or healthy male energy in the world. And Fern has had to be her own protector at a young age, and taking on some male attributes, including going into the military and being very hard and tough, she’s a loner. So Mike was an important character because he represents the possibility of there being a loving male in Fern’s life. And it’s not that Fern needs a member of the opposite sex to lead the way, Fern’s still very much the protagonist. But he’s a person who chooses to enter her life and kind of wakes her up to new possibilities. And Mike is also a person who is a caregiver himself, so he can shepherd her into a new life as a mother. Mike was loosely based on Tim’s father, who was a social worker. He’s a very tall, sweet, soft-spoken, good-guy. Different from Mike but we definitely were inspired by the idea of this very male presence in the film also being very sweet and protective of children.
Lesley Coffin: Can we talk about the Female Forward directing program you’re involved with right now?
Ramaa Mosley: The NBC Female Forward program is an initiative to help female directors break into directing television. And there are a lot of reason for this, but it all goes back to unconscious bias and the fact that most showrunners are male, most executives are male, and most regular directors of TV are male. They are willing to take chances on new male directors, but less willing to do the same with female directors. And so NBC came together to create this groundbreaking program. For a long time, directors were encouraged to shadow other directors. I’ve done that a few times. But it didn’t lead to a lot of opportunities to direct. And the Female Forward program pairs you with a show and guarantees you an episode. So, it essentially launches your TV directing career. I’m paired with the show Blindspot, I direct my episode in November. And it’s been an amazing process because you are shadowing directors, but you’re also using that time to learn about the show, get to the writers and cast. It’s just setting you up for success on your first TV directing job, which is pretty great.
© Lesley Coffin (9/12/18) FF2 Media
Photos: Lost Child (IMDb)