Have you ever imagined a reality where cats could talk? Wouldn't that be awesome?
But what if your cat tells you he doesn't understand what your date sees in you and that you have a drinking problem? Would you still think talking cats are cool?
The American indie comedy Chatty Catties takes place in such universe. At the center of the film is the tabby cat Leonard (voice of deaf actor John Autry II). His "relationship" with Shelby (Megan Hensley) isn't exactly fulfilling. She's a borderline alcoholic who whines all the time and is on the brink of losing her job. But then Shelby starts dating Nate (Matthew Grathwol), and the world seems a better place again, not because Shelby becomes emotionally stable, but because Nate is everything Leonard ever wished for in a human.
Though the star of the film is Leonard and the focus of the story is the relationship between Leonard, Shelby, and Nate, director Pablo Valencia added several conversations between other cats and their humans which have nothing to do with the main plot. These conversations are varied – Can cats see ghosts? How can Batman ever compete with Superman? – and exist in the film with the sole purpose of letting the viewers know they existed in an idea of a world where all cats can communicate with people. “If the film had only shown one cat, it could seem that Leonard is a one-off special cat of some sort, either magical, or viewers might question the reality of the world and idea, and question Shelby’s mental state,” Pablo Valencia said in an interview with Celluloid Diaries. “I wanted to show that this was a world of chatty cats, but to highlight one of those cats.”
“As for the conversations, we scripted some of the material and improvised other things,” Pablo Valencia added. “The actors were all great and had lots to say to their cats, and Timothy Stafford and I improved against them or read lines. There was a lot of great material that didn’t make it. Maybe we’ll see it in Chattier Catties: 2 Chatty.”
Agency and communication
At its core, though, Chatty Catties is about agency and communication. Deaf or hard-of-hearing actors voiced the cats to highlight this theme. “We aimed to address issues facing the deaf community and other under-represented groups subtly, and to give deaf actors opportunities to play parts they are not usually offered, roles in which their hearing loss is not part of the plot,” Pablo Valencia said. “Leonard is subjugated because of her cat status, without any consideration of her intelligence, abilities, desires, etc. Our lead voice actor, John Autry II, loved the role of Leonard. He was interested in playing the part because he felt so closely aligned with Leonard, that he was angry at always being told what his limits are, instead of being given a chance. He got the point of using hard-of-hearing voice-over actors.”
In many cases, the actors were working with their own pets. “We did a call looking for actors who owned cats,” Pablo Valencia explained. “In some cases, we used the cat’s apartment as the location and our human actors would go to them. It was really fun to see people acting with their animals.”
How challenging was it to direct all those cats? “For the most part the animals were easy to work with,” Pablo Valencia said. “We had, after all, traveled to their homes and cast their humans as scene partners. It’s all about who you know in this business."
Just like Avalon, Leonard was born to act; she loves sitting still on a mark, in spotlights, on warm film equipment, etc. She’s alarmingly docile and not frightened of people at all. “To help Leonard acclimate to the set we decided to move her a couple of weeks early, while the set was being dressed and some pre-production was still happening,” Pablo Valencia explained. “Leonard was a total pro while filming. She had one cranky scene and one sleepy scene, but not bad. And she certainly loved how much access to the food she had while filming.”
The budget of Chatty Catties was low. Shockingly low - $11,200, to be exact.
That being said, the producer, Cecilia Curran, and Pablo Valencia each worked several jobs and did many things that didn’t show up on the real budget. The set was also the production office as well as the Airbnb where Cecilia was staying during the filming. Executive producer Lee Stobby edited the film, but more commonly works as a manager, representing writers and directors. “He did this for a shockingly low price,” says Pablo Valencia, “but I also had to do his laundry for a year. It ended up being longer than that, to be honest. Later, I would figure out how long other movies would be if they had the Chatty Catties budget. Chatties is equal to less than six seconds of There Will Be Blood or about two frames of Avatar.”
Luckily, the crew received some unexpected perks which helped keep the budget low. “The last day of filming we received a call from the location. They said they knew we had been filming pornography and that they’d called the cops,” Pablo Valencia said. “Cecilia and I rushed to start loading up equipment and hiding signs of a film shoot, along with every other crew member who wasn’t working on getting the last couple of shots, which our cinematographer, Jeffrey Schneider, handled. The owners showed up, and there wasn’t any film equipment left. They told us they knew we were up to something and told us to get out. We left. They refunded us a bunch of money for several days that we had rented the location for after photography was to be completed. We planned on taking our time cleaning the place and returning it to how it looked before we moved in. Luckily we had everything we needed already shot, and getting kicked out saved us hundreds of dollars in location fees. We were already making money!”
“We are such a teensy tiny little movie. Every little bit of word of mouth goes a long way. If you see the movie and you like it, please tell people, or tweet about it, or show it to someone who loves cats and movies.”
Chatty Catties movie trailer
Smarthouse Creative is offering a free download of Chatty Catties to one lucky reader of Celluloid Diaries. To enter, fill in the Rafflecopter below. The giveaway is open worldwide and ends September 16th. Good luck!
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