Enuka Okuma is a young actress and now a director. She will be back on ABC June 16th for season 2 of the summer series Rookie Blue “as the tough talking rookie cop, Traci Nash, that has a secret past and a killer right hook.” She can also be seen on the big screen starting July 1, alongside Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks in the latter-directed Larry Crowne.
Enuka directed her first short film, titled “Cookie,” and has been busy screening it at film festivals. I was pleased to be able to see the short piece, which is a haunting story of a couple escaping reality together, and delighted to catch up with her for some questions about the project. Our Q&A is below!
Elena Nola: So let’s go for the obvious first: What made you decide you wanted to try directing—or, if that was something that you had wanted to try for a while, what pushed you to try it now?
Enuka Okuma: I’ve always thought that “one day” I’d start writing, directing and producing. In my down time between Seasons 1 and 2 of Rookie Blue, the idea for “Cookie” came to me, and I realized that “one day” had actually arrived. I guess it was just time.
What made you go for a short film first? Was it that it would be easier to manage a smaller project, or was there something about the particular story of “Cookie” that you just…had to make it?
Short films have always been a great way to introduce yourself as a director. I felt with a short, I could keep it small and learn as I go, without having to be responsible to too many other people – especially if I screwed it up!
Were you particularly familiar with short films as a film genre, either as a viewer or from having been on a production team for one (or more) shorts?
I was already familiar with short films, but once I started to work on “Cookie,” I become much more interested in shorts and began to seek them out. There are so many more platforms for shorts to be seen these days, and it was so much fun discovering new filmmakers and clever stories within a short context. Short films can be so interesting! I think, in some ways, it’s even harder to do a short film than a feature. The time constraints of a short film mean you need to make your point quickly and get out – not an easy task. What some people come up with is just brilliant.
Okay, so on to “Cookie” itself. First, what was the inspiration for this story? (I will leave this up to you if you want to venture into spoiler territory).
I think “Cookie” just came about as an honest exploration of love, and of the lengths we will go to for the ones we love. There was no one thing that brought the film about, but it just kind of, wormed its way from the back of my mind, through my fingertips and onto my computer and had to be written. Once it was written, it wanted to be filmed, and now it wants to be seen!
How different was the final cut of the film from what you had originally written? I’ve been told that film-making is a lot like writing a novel, in that what ends up coming together at the end is rarely what was envisioned at the beginning (though it might be its equal or sometimes even better—but it’s not quite as “planned”).
I filmed everything I wrote, but it didn’t all make it into the movie. The parts that ended up on the cutting room floor were taken out partly to try and get the film’s length down, but mostly because I realized those story points were actually redundant. It took me a while to part with them, though! Watching rough cuts with the producers and showing the unfinished film to family and trusted friends proved invaluable. When the same comments kept coming up, it was pretty clear to me what had to go. Ultimately, these choices made the film exactly what it was meant to be.
One thing that struck me with this film—and I will admit I don’t watch more than a handful of short films a year, so I don’t know if this is standard or not—was how much it played like a short story. To me, short stories are all about building up to one moment of revelation or change or reevaluation of everything that led up to that point, and Cookie had exactly that sort of set-up. That’s more a remark than a question I guess…feel free to comment on the point if you have anything in response though!
I love that “Cookie” felt like a short story to you! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been watching a lot more short films this year, and something I’ve noticed is that most shorts seem to be about a moment, captured on film. Short films quite often are about a decision that the main character must make, and the audience witnesses the moment of that change. My film feels less about a moment, and more like a mini feature film. There are definitely other shorts out there in this style, but it is certainly less common. Personally, I liked the idea of handling a three-act structure in a fifteen minute movie, if only to give people a taste of what I might be able to do with a hundred and twenty minutes!
You play the main character’s best friend in “Cookie.” How different was it for you to be acting under your own direction versus someone else’s? Do you think seeing the other side of the camera will change your own approach to acting going forward?
I’ve always had respect for my directors, but after doing it myself, I now have MAD respect for this job. I get it! Doing this job made me look at filmmaking and storytelling in a whole new way, and it’s invigorated my love of this art form, tenfold. Now, acting and directing at the same time was not the most fun I’ve ever had, let me tell you. I was warned, and I didn’t listen! What happens when you try and act and direct simultaneously, is that you end up feeling like you didn’t do either job as well as you think you could have. I’ve said I’ll never do it again, but who am I kidding? As an infamous, shag cropped, musical boy wonder once said, “never say never”. :+)
So “Cookie” debuted on May 1st, right, at the 2011 Newport Beach Film Festival? How did that go? Are there going to be any other festival slots for you and “Cookie”?
The Newport Beach Film Festival was fantastic! The city really opened its doors, and I met lots of other filmmakers who also had a great time. “Cookie” played along with six other shorts to a sold out audience – which means it wasn’t just the family and friends of the filmmakers! The festival was great, and the film was well received. We recently played the Santa Catalina Film Festival, also in California, and up next is the Fastnet Short Film Festival in Ireland, and the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Finally, tell me about what you’re up to next either as a director or an actor or both…I know Rookie Blue is about to come back for its second season, right? And you have a part in Tom Hanks’ latest, Larry Crowne? Anything else on the books right now?
Larry Crowne comes out July 1st! It was so much fun to shoot, and I can’t wait to see Tom Hanks in this role, as he wrote, directed, produced and plays the lead character. Let’s see how he does! As for me, I am working on a couple of feature films that will make their way to the big screen soon, if I have anything to do with it. Up next for me though is the role of wifey, as I am getting married this summer. I guess, you could say, I’ll be playing the role of a lifetime….
Elena Nola is the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire.