Filmmaker Leslie Lanier is fairly new to the indie film scene. She’s a native New Yorker, who now lives in El Paso, Texas. Leslie started her film production company, Luna Soleil Studios, just last year and considering that her company works on what Leslie says is no budget, Luna Soleil has been doing well, having completed several short films and a music video, so far.
Leslie says says her original goal for her company was to create one film project a month. She tells me; “We were actually doing it and keeping up with it but after a few months, we really felt like our quality was suffering and we were burning ourselves out, so we settled back a bit.”
Currently, Leslie and her team at Luna Soleil Studios are working on their next film project, entitled Tell Me Anything, which is slated to be a 30-minute (give or take) short film to be released later this month on Amazon Prime and Vimeo. All accompanying photos courtesy of Leslie herself.
LESLIE LANIER: A military marriage, of course. My ex-husband got stationed here in El Paso and I came with him. We ended up getting divorced soon after, but we remained friends and I stayed here in El Paso.
CHRIS: I understand you began acting as a child. When was the very first time you set foot on stage?
LESLIE: I was three the first time I set foot on a stage. However, I think the catalyst for me was a musical I did when I was in sixth grade called Runaways. My social studies teacher, Anne Wrobel, was the choreographer, her husband at the time, who became a mentor to me, Vince DiMura, was the director. I remember my after school care counselor, Jenn, was in it too. Because I knew people I was comfortable and I was able to be myself and that is what makes a great performance. If you’ve ever seen or heard of Runaways, you know that there is a ton of adult content in it, drugs, prostitution, lots of cuss words. And my mom got the script and read it first and she asked me; “Are you sure you can handle this? Are you sure you can do this?” and I said yes. So she let me. She let me invite all my friends and their parents, some of whom were not too happy about this (laughs), and she supported me. That was my catalyst. That was the first time I felt like, I have the support here, I can do this, I can be an actress. It was the first time I got to die on stage too (laughs).
CHRIS: Did you know from that point on, you wanted to work in performing arts?
CHRIS: What was your very first film role?
LESLIE: I have done so much background and extra work that I barely remember all of it. Going to school and living in New York was amazing. There was always a set, an audition, a musical, a modeling gig …I did a lot of that as well, a role to fill. The opportunities were endless. Here in El Paso, it’s a lot harder, especially if you don’t speak conversational Spanish. At times, when the acting bug has struck and there’s no role to play, I’ve written my own script and create my own role. But honestly, that’s great for me, because that’s how Luna Soleil Studios was born. To give credit where credit is due, I would have to say, working with Ramon Villa of MuVimon Studios on his film, Juana Doe, was probably my favorite role, even though I feel like I botched it (laughs). But as an actress, you always feel like you screwed something up. I just hope he still likes me (laughs).
CHRIS: Do you have a favorite film genre?
LESLIE: Science fiction. I am obsessed. If you haven’t seen Firefly, Serenity, or Odd Thomas, you’re missing out on life.
LESLIE: We’ve actually completed nine short films so far. Our original goal was to create one film project a month. That was, beyond ambitious, to say the least. We were actually doing it and keeping up with it, but after a few months, we really felt like our quality was suffering and we were burning ourselves out. So we settled back a bit. We are still creating, we are still releasing. We are actually in a place where we can release one film project a month again and the quality won’t suffer. If you go to our Youtube channel or our website (links following the interview), you can see the films we’ve released so far. We have Til Death, Broken Chords, Be Mime, Comic Trippin, and our music video for “Tell Me Anything.” We released our holiday film, Escapism, exclusively on our Patreon page. And we did that for our friends, family, and fans. Everyone loves exclusive content. And for $1.00, you get to see our 20 minute “Hallmark” holiday movie, so it’s really a treat for them. We also have Broken Chords and Be Mime up on Amazon Prime US, UK, and Vimeo. So, we opened that up to a broader audience as well. We’ve had people from the UK buy our short films and to me, that’s amazing. We have three more to release in the upcoming months; Roll Initiative, Tell Me Anything, and Doll Delirious. Be Mime has won at one film festival so far, the Wimberley Film Festival for best silent film, and Tell Me Anything just played at the Santa Fe Film Festival.
CHRIS: Also, you have released a couple of teasers for your featured film; Tell Me Anything. What can you tell me about that film and when is it slated to be released?
LESLIE: We’re currently working on, I believe, five scripts, a documentary about the cosplayers of El Paso, and we are collaborating on a feature film called Ghost Train with Summer-Set Pictures. It’s one of those scripts you get and you’re just like; “Yes, I need to be a part of this, all of this.” Joshua Paul Smith and Ian Gillen created an entire world here. I would love to tell you more about our projects but ….non-disclosure agreements (laughs).
CHRIS: In your future projects, do you plan to spend a fair share of time in front of the camera as well as behind it, or just occasionally?
LESLIE: I would absolutely love to do both, it’s just a matter of finding the time. I definitely want to be back on stage and on film. I love being behind the camera too. If I could afford to leave my job and do both of these things full time, I would and eventually I probably will. In the meantime, I keep auditioning and keep putting myself out there. That’s all you can do.
CHRIS: What would you say are your biggest challenges working with a limited budget?
LESLIE: No budget! We work with no budget! If we need props or costumes, we make them or find them, we have a caterer that does craft services for us, Ms. Koko Keil. She’s amazing. She feeds us all for basically nothing. Whatever funds we manage to get, we try to put back into our productions or to our cast or crew in some way, shape, or form. Even if it’s just, here we’ll do your reel for free, or something. I think the biggest problem, for me, is not being able to pay our cast and crew what they deserve. If we were getting paid to do these films, or making money off these films, which we will eventually, then we could afford to give people what they deserve.
CHRIS: How would you describe the indie film community in El Paso?
LESLIE: It’s very interesting. There are many talented filmmakers in El Paso. I’d be lucky to work with any of them and I hope they feel the same about me and my company as well. We shouldn’t feel like this a competition. We’re all working towards the same goal; to create films that people want to see and be successful in the careers we choose. It’s worth it to try to build each other up, not tear each other down.
CHRIS: Is there anyone in indie films, on either side of the camera, you’d particularly like to work with?
LESLIE: I would love to work with everyone and that’s not even an understatement. As an actress and model, anyone who will give you a chance to show off your talent, of course you’re going to say yes. As a filmmaker, one of the goals of Luna Soleil Studio’s is to create and foster a film industry here in El Paso that will be comparable to LA or New York. We want big projects here, we want Netflix to create films and TV shows here. First of all, the talent in El Paso is amazing and they deserve an opportunity to be heard and seen. Secondly, it will bring opportunity, it will bring jobs, it will boost the economy. We can bring feature films here and we can bring big name stars and directors here. So, yes, I will work with anyone who wants to help me achieve my dreams and my goals.
LESLIE: I don’t know about others, but it hasn’t really affected us at all yet. Let’s see what happens in the future. I personally think it’s kind of sad that Amazon would do that. The amount of work that goes into making horror films, creating a creature or villain from scratch, the makeup alone is a process that can take hours to create. It’s something I give our makeup artists credit for and not something to be taken lightly.
CHRIS: Do you have any interests or hobbies, outside of films, that most people don’t know about?
LESLIE: Not really. I read a lot, write poetry, watch a lot of television or movies. I can roller skate and I now know the proper way to ride a horse.
CHRIS: With that, I’ll thank you again for doing this with me, Leslie. In closing, do you have any shout-outs to anyone?
LESLIE: I gave a lot of shout-outs in the interview. I definitely want to thank my business partner, Ruben Tadeo Garcia and everyone on my team and my family and friends that love and support me in everything that I’m doing. I really have to give credit where credit is due. To my mom, who would get up on Saturday mornings, after having worked a full 60 hour week sometimes.
Leslie in her short film Broken Chords