Saturday, November 15, 2008

Interview with Andy Ostroy of the Adrienne Shelly Foundation

In February 2006 accomplished actress, writer, and director Adrienne Shelly was tragically murdered when she walked in on a robbery in her office. Adrienne, best known for roles on television and in Hal Hartley’s films had just finished directing and acting in the feature film Waitress which was released to acclaim posthumously. Adrienne’s husband, Andy Ostroy, started the Adrienne Shelly Foundation in her honor to support female filmmakers.
Monday night the second gala will be held at N.Y.U.’s Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and will feature performances from actors and singers such as: Cheryl Hines, Mary Louise Parker, Keri Russell, Dana Parish, and Lili Taylor. Tickets are available at:

I had a opportunity to interview Andy Ostroy about Adrienne's career, the foundation, and the upcoming gala for Short and Sweet- here's a exerpt from my interview.

Tim Needles: I wanted to start by asking you a little bit about your wife, Adrianne. I know you started the foundation in honor of her, could you tell me a little bit about her and the kind of person she was? I wanted to know how she progressed in the industry from an actress to a writer to a director.

Andy Ostroy: Well, her first love was writing and directing was always her goal. I think she came to New York and very quickly landed the starring role in Hal Hardly’s Unbelievable Truth and from that landed Trust (in which the part of Audrey was written for her by Hal based on their operation in Unbelievable Truth). Ever since that moment Adrienne was writing plays and screenplays and quickly started her theater company called Missing Children down in the West Village. Her focus was always screenwriting and play writing with an eye to eventually direct film. She started with directing plays and moved into doing her three short films which she wrote and directed and from there developed into features.

T: What about her philosophy?

A: Acting for her was always sort of a secondary priority- a means to an end. Which it is for most actors who eventually want to direct- it’s almost like being an employee as verses the person who owns the company. Same mentality- it’s the matter of wanting to control your own destiny and get your own creativity out there, to exercise your own vision rather than being a piece of someone else’s vision. She always had a very strong vision and amazing creativity in terms of writing and concepts and how to make them happen. And then as a director, of course, directing is all vision. She knew early on what she wanted to do and in this pint-sized little woman- it was quite interesting to see her on a movie set directing 60 or 80 big, burly gaffers and grips- telling everyone what to do (laughs). She had a lot of vision and a lot of courage and a lot of determination packed into that little body of hers.

T: That’s funny. I always wonder why you don’t see more women in film but it sounds like Adrienne had a fairly smooth progression. Did she have any difficulty getting the directorial jobs or did it happen organically?

A: Well, I think the answer to the first question you just asked is that much of anything in this world, be it Hollywood films or independent films or Wall Street or Madison Avenue, is that a lot of it is controlled by men. It’s a power thing and ego thing- they don’t want to give up the control or the glory and all that good stuff. This is why you don’t see a lot of women in the power seat in a lot of places. Yeah, she faced a lot of struggles because of that. Women in general, especially attractive women, they are objectified in many ways. Certain men like to look at women not as someone with a brilliant mind but a pretty face and sometimes the brilliant mind gets shot down when someone is just trying to keep you as a pretty face. I think being in an industry where pretty faces are in high demand, you know at some point she was taken very seriously as an actress but found it hard to be taken seriously as a writer and director. I think it’s all about the work. I think Waitress, which should have been her coming out party, and it was in a sense anyway, she just wasn’t around to experience it, but I think if you look around at the reviews of Waitress, and all the Top 10 lists it made over the year, that’s when she got her due as a filmmaker, as a director, as a writer and so her struggle was basically getting to that point. And even thought she got to make a few films before that, Sudden Manhattan and I’ll Take You There, they didn’t really achieve any kind of acclaim or notice. Some of them were not even theatrically released- so just as an artist, as a filmmaker, there were naturally struggles but being a woman in that maze made it that much harder, and being an attractive woman made it that much harder because certain places and certain people wanted to keep her in that little box that she was in- but she broke out of it. I always said she was 5’1” but stood tall in an industry that had mountains to climb for her. Had she lived, it would have been a much different story for her, she would have quote-unquote arrived even after a 20 year journey so Waitress was her, would have been her launch pad.

T: I remember reading about her death and aside from being tragic as an artist I just found it frustrating on a lot of levels. I wanted to ask you how you managed to deal with it and what lead you to create the foundation.

A: Well, I dealt with it on two levels. One was personal which was horrific. With me, our daughter, our families, and friends- what they went through was unfathomable horror. On a professional level I was always able to have a little piece of me that could step aside from my own pain and grief and say how tragic it was. To recognize the tragedy of this woman who finally did arrive and after I watched her struggle, and get to that point- that’s why all the success that she had at Sundance with Waitress was incredibly bittersweet- because she wasn’t there to experience it. It didn’t really matter at that point that anyone else saw it, it was heartbreaking that she couldn’t see it. Just as a human being, detaching myself from her as her husband, to accept that here’s this person who worked so hard and finally achieved greatness in an area where most people don’t get to skim the surface like she did and she was just cut down so early and tragically. So no matter how you look at it, it was just a horrible tragedy and terribly unfair but legacies live on after people pass and part of that legacy will be the foundation in her name that we funded. We helped fund a film that won an Academy Award this past year.

T: Wow!

A: Yeah, we will have the filmmaker at our gala on Monday and she’s going to speak. You know she’s going to say that without the money from the Adrienne Shelly Foundation she couldn’t have finished her film and go on to win an Oscar. I mean that’s profoundly gratifying to hear, not just as someone who runs the foundation but more so as someone who runs the foundation named after a beautiful person who now can touch other people in some way similar to the way she touched people when she was alive. The organization was really formed after people said to me- how can we contribute money somewhere in her name? The circumstances of her death made me not want to just blurt out Save the Whales or The American Cancer Society because to me that cheapens everything so I just asked people to patient. Then I had a moment of clarity amongst the chaos about two weeks after she died and it just dawned on me that I need to help women filmmakers. I didn’t know about the existing organizations that help filmmakers, particularly women filmmakers. I had no idea that Women in Film existed that IFP existed, that wasn’t my world. When I put together a board of directors and an advisory board, it quickly became my world because these people helped me navigate through that maze of organizations. We ended up partnering with these groups because it was easier for me to say let’s start a foundation I didn’t know to tell people, why don’t you just send checks to Women in Film in Adrienne’s honor. It’s been great, it’s just been a great element to Adrienne’s legacy that hopefully will be for many years.

T: Excellent, well thank you very much and good luck with the event- it should be pretty exciting.


Scott Bulger Photography said...

Nice interview.

Anonymous said...

BRavo tim - you always wow.
-Nada, LI Pulse Mag