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‘Roxy’: Student filmmaker shoots feminist musical in the Valley

  • Matt Hixon, left, who is originally from Amherst and is now a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, and Zachary Barragan, who is the director of photography for the film “Roxy and the Renegades,” adjust a light during a shoot at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eleanor Levine, an Amherst native and Wheaton College student who is directing the student film "Roxy and the Renegades," works with Zachary Barragan, director of photography, during filming At The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kyla Amick, front, of Amherst, the choreographer for "Roxy and the Renegades," leads a group of actors in a dance scene before a shoot last month at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eleanor Levine, an Amherst native and Wheaton College student who is directing the student film "Roxy and the Renegades," enjoys a moment during filming last month at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Zachary Barragan, director of photography for the film "Roxy and the Renegades," adjusts a light during filming last month at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton.  GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Matt Hixon, left, originally from Amherst and now a filmmaker living in Brooklyn, and Zachary Barragan, director of photography for the film "Roxy and the Renegades," prepare for a shoot at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. Hixon also plays Enzo in the film. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kyla Amick, front, of Amherst, who is the choreographer for “Roxy and the Renegades,” leads a group of actors in the rehearsal of a dance scene before a shoot. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kimaya Diggs, of Northampton, who plays Roxy in “Roxy and the Renegades,” performs during a shoot at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kimaya Diggs, of Northampton, who plays Roxy in "Roxy and the Renegades," performs during a shoot at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Eleanor Levine, an Amherst native and Wheaton College student who is directing the student film “Roxy and the Renegades,” talks to actors during filming last month at The World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton.



For the Bulletin
Thursday, April 19, 2018

It isn’t officially a genre, but maybe it should be — the darkly comic, feminist movie musical. That’s one way to describe “Roxy and the Renegades,” a short film that stars Kimaya Diggs as the titular Roxy and centers around a band of four women in the 1970s as they try to take down a misogynistic drug lord in the span of 24 hours. 

The film was written and directed by Eleanor Levine, 22, a film and new media studies major completing her final year at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

A graduate of Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School (PVPA), Levine grew up in Amherst, so it makes sense that she decided to return to the area to shoot her girl-power-packed, ’70s-inspired project right here in the Valley. One day last month, she corralled 15 people to shoot the film’s big dance finale at the World War II Club (The Deuce) in Northampton. “For that scene we had the most number of extras included in the dance choreography. There were 15 cast-members and four crew members present,” Levine said. “It was a lot to shoot, but it worked out really well and was super fun! We invited all our friends, texting people, and made a Facebook event for this shoot.”

“Originally, I thought that maybe this should be set in a city,” Levine added, “but the more I thought about it, I thought it would be more weird and interesting for it to be in a rural setting. It makes it kind of ambiguous.”

The “Roxy and the Renegades” cast consists largely of Valley locals (including Diggs, who also went to PVPA) and Wheaton students. Funded partially by Kickstarter, “Roxy” is Levine’s senior capstone project, and she plans to have a rough cut of the film by the summer. The runtime will be around 40 minutes long, and the final film will feature musical tracks like “California Blaze,” “Blondie Queen of Mystery,” “Reverie” and “Toxic Shock.” 

To learn more about Levine’s project, we chatted with the young filmmaker and musician about her inspirations, future plans and how “Roxy and the Renegades” came to be.

Daily Hampshire Gazette: How did you come up with the idea for “Roxy and the Renegades”?

Eleanor Levine: I started thinking about the story about a year ago before I had any semblance of script. This was actually before “La La Land” came out and before the #MeToo stuff came out with Harvey Weinstein. It just kind of ended up being a very good coincidence that all of that was happening while we were writing the script. But I don’t know, I guess I just wanted to do a musical because my band from college, we were recording an album, and I thought it would be pretty cool for a movie. It was kind of unusual — we had all of the music before we’d even written the script.

DHG: So you sing, too?

EL: Well, I write all the songs, I play guitar and bass. And I do sing. Basically what I did [for ‘Roxy’] was I had the recording with me singing lead vocals and backup, and then I just swapped out the lead vocals for the cast.

DHG: What’s your band called?

EL: It’s called Tampon/Tampoff. (Laughs.)

DHG: Great name. How did growing up in Amherst inspire you to get into filmmaking?

EL: My dad had a video camera, and he showed me how to do basic editing and filming. I would just make dumb movies with my friends and music videos, that kind of thing. And then when I got to college, I was like, well, I’ll seriously pursue that. I also went to Deerfield Academy Summer Arts Camp (DASAC), which I’m now a counselor at. I had a really great mentor there: Melissa McClung. She showed me that [film] can be something I can actually do. 

DHG: How did you scout for locations in Amherst?

EL: We’re actually all over the Valley. We’re going to be shooting in Amherst, Easthampton, Hadley and Northampton. Since we live in such a pretty place, we figured we can do exterior stuff, farms. We just contacted people we knew — the lead in the movie, Kimaya Diggs, works at Abandoned Building Brewery in Easthampton. So, we’re shooting two scenes there. It just kind of came together slowly.

DHG: Who or what were your influences in making this film?

EL: The music is kind of like disco, new wave. Our big influences were Blondie and Donna Summer. And I’ve always just loved the ’70s as a decade, so we decided to make it set in the ’70s. In terms of movies that inspired us, definitely “Saturday Night Fever.” There’s also this super-weird Australian ’80s musical that my dad showed me when I was little. It’s called “Starstruck,” directed by Gillian Armstrong, and it’s about this girl who really wants to be famous as a singer, and it’s super wacky and sort of like a magical-realism thing. 

DHG: Since “Roxy” is essentially a period film, how do you avoid all the modern technology while shooting? Is it difficult?

EL: Yeah, we’re still working through that. We actually hadn’t decided it was going to really be set in the ’70s until — well, I don’t know if we’ve even decided that now! At first we thought, “Well, you know, if we shoot stuff outside, we can’t control if cars go by.” We also had to get two cars. My grandpa has a T-Bird from the ’60s, and we’re using that. One of our actors has a car from the ’70s, so we’re using that too. There are some things that are modern-day references in the movie, but we liked that mix. So it’s still going to be ambiguous with the time period.

DHG: While filming, how much do you wonder about what an audience would think?

EL: A lot… it’s inherently political because it’s about a girl gang that fights injustice. We really wanted it to be an intersectional thing, so we thought a ton about casting. We didn’t want it to be an all-white cast, so we have a really great mix of girls working on it and different points of view. It’s really been good to have the cast involved in telling the story. 

DHG: What was your favorite part to write?

EL: I wrote the script with my sister, Madeline Levine, and she is a really incredible writer, so it was good to have her there. I worked with her on some other things in the past, so I knew she was good at writing natural dialogue, which is something I struggle with because I’m more visual than anything else. But, as for my favorite part to write, it might be the second to last scene, which is the climactic point in the movie …  it’s a big fight between six different characters yelling at each other all at once. It was probably the most difficult to write, but it was really fun to figure out how that would work.

DHG: Was there anything you had to lose due to time or budget constraints?

EL: Before, this was originally like a 70-page script. Then we were like, “OK, that’s way too long.” We can’t make a feature-length film, especially a musical. We had to cut it down and change a lot of the plot. We had so many different side stories, and it was going to be a longer time span, and now it’s a one-night adventure, so it’s only in 24 hours. But I like this version a lot more. It’s a lot more consolidated. 

DHG: Do you want to continue filmmaking after “Roxy”?

EL: Yeah, definitely. Right now I’m looking for work mostly in editing and assistant editing in New York and L.A., or wherever. So we’ll see where that goes. 

DHG: Were there any difficulties integrating your music with a film plot?

EL: It actually worked pretty well. We have seven songs that we’re going to be releasing on the album, but only four of them are in the movie. So we had to make some tough decisions about that. In a lot of musicals, they’re singing about what’s happening. These songs obviously are not that literal. But I kind of liked that, that they were more non-musical.

DHG: Is it the kind of musical where somebody breaks out into song and everyone goes along with it, or is it more like there is a performance that everyone is singing in?

EL: Something we tried to do that we thought would be kind of funny is that, in most musicals, [people] break out into song, and it’s like they weren’t really singing there. But in “Roxy,” someone will start singing and somebody else will be like, “Oh my God, what is she doing.” 

DHG: Do you have a favorite film or director?

EL: That’s really hard. I really like [Quentin] Tarantino, and we’re trying to emulate him in some of this because it is sort of cartoon-y in some ways …  Probably my favorite movie of all time is “Rear Window.” But my favorite musical of all time is “Singin’ in the Rain.”

DHG: What is the key to a successful collaboration to you?

EL: I think just being honest with each other. A lot of these people we’re working with are not professional actors. Some of them are, some of them aren’t, and this is a big project for us and the first time any of us have done something like this. So I think it’s probably going to be really stressful, but it’s also going to be really fun. 

DHG: What have you learned from your filmmaking process so far?

EL: Collaboration is so important. You seriously can’t make any type of movie on your own. You need to rely on so many other people …  We have this really great UMass grad student named Kyla Amix, who is our choreographer. She has helped so much, and we definitely wouldn’t have been able to pull off a musical without her; she came up with some really great stuff. 

My parents have helped a ton with figuring out budgeting and food, feeding everyone, putting up the cast and crew. So that’s the biggest thing I’ve realized at this point: You need to trust other people, and if you can have a support system, that’s really crucial.