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Two filmmakers, one script: Anna Martemucci takes Starz challenge

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In Starz’s competition series The Chair, two filmmakers are given the same script and the same budget—then challenged to make two different movies. Last week, we caught a glimpse of YouTube star Shane Dawson’s trailer, Not Cool, which featured a some broad humor. Today, we’ve got the new trailer for Anna Martemucci’s Hollidaysburg and some explanations from the director herself as to why she took her film in a more relaxed direction.

“I set out to make a classic teen sex comedy,” Martemucci said, noting she tried to include elements she hadn’t seen before, like “a grounding in reality, and a representation of female characters that was complex and nuanced—where they are just as important, if not more important, to the story as the male characters.”

Martemucci’s first decision was to extensively rewrite the script she was given, How Soon is Now by Dan Schoffer. With the help of her writing team (including her husband Victor Quinaz), she reimagined everything from the structure to the characters. “I realized that I didn’t really have that much interest in directing someone else’s words,” Martemucci said. “I had an interest in directing a story that I came up with from the get-go with my team.”

Hollidaysburg, as it was eventually named, centers around a group of college students who return home for Thanksgiving. Martemucci was interested in the autobiographical possibilities of the project, and eventually took the name from a town near her childhood home in Pennsylvania. “We were trying to re-create a rustic, small-town feel,” she said of the film’s shoot in Pittsburgh, “not unlike the real Hollidaysburg.”

Though Martemucci found herself directing a feature for the first time in this competition, she’s had plenty of experience working on similar projects. Martemucci and Quinaz started Periods. Films, a collective which has produced a series of humorous shorts set across history. She also produced, co-wrote, and acted in Break-Up at a Wedding (2013), a similarly budgeted feature that her husband directed. Martemucci brought most of that team along for production on Hollidaysburg.

She also had the help of Zachary Quinto and his production company Before the Door Pictures. Quinto, who executive produced Break-Up at a Wedding and has appeared in several Periods shorts, enthusiastically signed on to The Chair. “He’s always finding new ways to share [his success] and to promote people he believes in,” she said of Quinto’s support. “I’m so lucky to be one of those people.”

But while Martemucci might know her way around production, part of the challenge of The Chair lies in navigating everything else. This means doing press, traveling to Comic-Con, and facing off against another film. Still, Martemucci says she’s trying not to get too caught up in the competition, and she thinks of the experience not as participating in a “reality show,” but as “a documentary about the creative process”—one where you have to get used to the fact that cameras will always be rolling, even during interviews.

Both Martemucci and Dawson’s films will air on Starz and in theaters this fall, with the winner of the $250,000 prize being determined by viewers’ digital voting and ticket sales.