Outtake sat down with Katherine Waddell, executive producer, actress, and co-founder of the female-led production company First Bloom Films, to discuss her journey in the industry so far as well as her array of upcoming projects.

How did you get started in the industry? What was your journey in?

Katherine Waddell: So, I started acting, like most people do, in theatre. My very first show, I was in fourth grade and I was cast as Mrs. Bucket in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Funny enough, Mrs. Bucket is supposed to have a solo, but my solo was cut because I can’t sing. So it was just the acting part.

And ever since then, I fell in love with it. From then on, I’ve been in every acting class that I could, scene study class, whatever my high school or middle school offered. I studied it in college and then when I left college, I started working in a way that I felt was more responsible – on the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. Because you never know, you can go like a year without an audition sometimes, or you can have a lot of auditions and you get none. But I was like, “I love the industry regardless, so I want to be a part of it.”

I was working in a theatre as an administrator, I was writing theatre reviews for a website, Broadway World. And then of course, I was auditioning all the time, or trying to and eventually that concept of trying to be responsible in the industry segued to getting into producing, because that was now a way to be on film sets in the industry. Even if I couldn’t act on them, I still wanted to be a part of film and so that’s kind of why and where and how I’ve sort of become this two-tone person.

Katherine Waddell in Balloon Animal by Em Johnson

You obviously get the question all the time like, “what are you going to fall back on, if it doesn’t work?” And I’m like, “I’m still gonna be on film sets. It may not be in like my dream capacity, but I also love producing and everything like that, and you never know opportunities arise”.

As long as I’m on set, in any capacity, I’m happy. You know?

Did you always know that you were going to go down the producing route?

Katherine Waddell: Actually, I didn’t, I mean, I have worked in admin in theatre so I knew I could sort of handle the business aspect and I definitely consider myself a workhorse and a lot of producing is just getting something off the ground, you know, like the business, the work aspect of it.

So when the opportunity arose and I was offered an internship at a production company, I was just like, “Oh, this just makes sense. You know, this is just something that I feel like I would be good at.”

And more so than that, I don’t consider myself only a producer, but a creative producer as well. You know, I have a creative background as an actor and everything like that. So, I’m not just doing the workhorse stuff, but I’m helping develop the story, the creativity behind it, the vision, which is very satisfying as well. It’s not just getting to-do lists done, but engaging with the story hands on.

What does an average day look like for you as an executive producer?

Katherine Waddell: It’s so funny, I had someone ask me that the other day, and I was like, “sometimes there’s nothing!”  You know, because it’s really like, project by project. When you’re working on a project, either in pre-production, or you’re filming, you’re on set, and it’s go, go go, and it’s really long days.

But if you’re in post or you’re in development, it’s just a lot of emails, sometimes a lot of phone calls, a lot of waiting on other people to give you updates or more information. It’s like a watered-down version of what I would normally do. And then of course, it’s always looking for new opportunities, reading scripts, talking to people, figuring out what they want to do. Thinking, does it align with what we want to do? It’s an ebb and flow.

Do you like to be on set a lot or do you prefer to take more of a backseat?

Katherine Waddell: It depends on the project, you know, Dinner in America, I’m an executive producer but I also have a small acting role in it. So, I went to set for one day to film but you know, I got shown around and everything like that.

Katherine Waddell in Balloon Animal film

I’m an executive producer on We Need to do Something, but that was filmed during COVID so I couldn’t visit the set, you know. But with Balloon Animal, which is the film my company [First Bloom Films] is doing, I’m a producer, an executive producer, and I’m the lead actress so I was definitely on set all the time, every day. But we have another film called Pride coming up, that I’m an executive producer on, it’s in association with our company, and that’ll be filming most likely in New York. That’s definitely something that I would love to go and visit. It just depends on where it is, what’s going on, what the rules are.

I also try to not be a bother, you know. If it’s not something I’m producing directly, and I’m more like a guest – a guest is not the best word – but it’s like, I don’t want me being on set to be detrimental to what you need to get done during the day. So, I play it by ear.

For people who are unfamiliar with the film industry, what do you think are the main differences between an executive producer and a producer?

Katherine Waddell: I mean, technically the producer is the person who makes the film, gets it from the ground up, building the team, building the world, putting the whole film together from start to finish. An executive producer is usually someone who has helped the film in a – I don’t want to say ‘special’ way – but they’re an investor or they help the film get started, maybe they did a favour for the film. An executive producer is a term that can be used for a lot of things, so it just depends.

So, what can you tell me about one of your upcoming projects, your feature film Balloon Animal?

Katherine Waddell: So, Balloon Animal was actually a concept that came to me when I was visiting the Dinner in America set. I was just so inspired. You know, I loved Dinner in America so much. I loved the script when I read it. I visited set and it was just such a blast, even though I was only there for like a day, and I was like, “I want to make a film, you know, I want to make another film.” Especially with Em, [Em Johnson] who is the director of Balloon Animal and my creative business partner.

And I was literally sitting in the car, going back to my hotel on the first day, thinking “what is something I could even do, what’s a visual that I like?” So, I came up with a girl with blue hair, who makes balloon animals. Funny enough, I went to Em, we were at the Portland Film Festival together, because we had a film there called Love Club. We had already worked on a couple of projects by then and I went to her, and I said, “what do you think? Let’s make another movie. What do you think of this visual?” And she’s like, “no, I hate it. I don’t like it. I don’t even know where we would take it.”

I spent the whole festival trying to convince her, I was like, “this is gonna be great!” She was like, “hmm.” And then two months later, out of the blue, she texted me and she was like, “let’s do it.” So we started developing it and we developed it for about a year and a half. She wrote it, I helped her edit it, you know, once again acting as a creative producer, like helping her go through the storyline.

It launched us into creating First Bloom Films, because by then it was like, “this is our umpteenth project together. We love each other. We love working together. It’s just you know, the time.”

But yeah, Balloon Animal is about a girl named Poppy, who has grown up in a travelling circus and her specialty is balloon animals and she is now trying to decide what’s next for her. Staying in the travelling circus or kind of going off and forging her own path. There’s basically two backdrops, which is the travelling circus and then the small town that they’re in currently.

We had to postpone twice because of the pandemic so by the time we got to it, it was like a really surreal dream come true. We’re super proud of it. It’s in post now. We’re hoping to submit it to film festivals soon to see where it goes. We’re really proud of this team and everything they’re able to accomplish, especially with the impossible going on.

Em is a genius. I mean, it’s visually stunning, it’s an interesting story and I think there’s a lot of people who will really enjoy it.

Behind the scenes of Balloon Animal starring Katherine Waddell

So how did you meet your creative partner, Em? What’s the story of your friendship?

Katherine Waddell: So, this is an interesting story. We went to college together and we were in the same theatre department but we basically never crossed paths, which is quite unusual, because it’s a small school, and an even smaller department. You’re usually in a show together or a class together, and we just never did that. We knew about each other but that was about it.

And then a couple years later, after we had both graduated from college, she was in Chicago getting her Masters at Columbia for film and I was in South Bend, Indiana, and I would commute into Chicago and do auditions. And one day, I walked into an audition room for one of her films, just by coincidence. And that was the film Love Club (2017), which did really well on the short film festival circuit and that just jumpstarted a whole relationship of working together and eventually becoming best friends. She’s my best friend.

Like being in South Bend, Indiana and doing something so specific as like commuting into Chicago. It’s just wild. It was meant to be. It really was. That’s how I feel.

So, what do you look for in potential projects? What draws you to certain stories?

Katherine Waddell: I mean, one, I don’t ever, like limit myself, right? I never want to be like, not this genre, not this story, not this structure. First and foremost, I think of it through an audience member perspective. I, as a consumer of films, do I want to watch this film? Do I think that I would really like it? Because at the end of the day, we’re making movies, because we want to watch good movies. So for me, that’s really like my compass.

But more importantly than that, for First Bloom Films we want to focus on, is the story of women-centric, you know? Is there an opportunity for a female lead? Are there strong female characters? Obviously, our company doesn’t just focus on women in front of the camera, we care about female directors, female producers, female DPs, all that kind of stuff. So, for us, that’s the spectrum that we’re looking at, you know?

For Balloon Animal we pushed and pushed for women to be department heads, and I think most of our department heads were women, except for maybe two department heads were men. We had a lot of female PA’s. We had a female director, female producers, female DP.

You know, it’s hard, because a lot of women don’t have the opportunity to get the skills where you would be like, “okay, I want you to come on and do this.” Or maybe we don’t have the money to afford the best person for the job, because it’s an independent film and everything, and we can’t take risks like that.

Executive producer Katherine Waddell

But we’re trying our hardest. That’s what we care about and if you’re not pushing for it in the capacity that you can, it’s never going to happen. Even Fry, the movie that we have coming up with Feel Film or Pictures, it’s about two men, but with us on the team, we’re gonna be able to be in those meetings being like, “where can we put a woman? Where can we put a woman behind the camera? Can this character be a woman?” You know, being able to be that voice that’s really pushing other people to try and do the same if we can’t do it ourselves.

Just steering the story on the right path and making sure it’s told in the right way?

Katherine Waddell: Like Black Widow, have you seen Black Widow yet? It’s amazing. I was like, crying in the theatre, because I was like, “this is this is girl power without like girl power being shoved in your face.”

There were so many things that they did right. And, you know, that’s just the possibility that’s out there. So yeah, we look for great stories and we love for opportunities to put women in front or behind the camera. That’s what’s most important to us.

How do you find balancing your acting and your producing? Do you find one easier or more rewarding?

I mean, I find them both super rewarding for different reasons. Acting is my passion, it’s what I love, it’s what I want to do. But I also love producing and it’s also my passion. And I just love making movies, you know.

It can be difficult, not that producing is easier to break into, but there’s more opportunities for it, since it is a behind the camera sort of thing. I definitely do it more often than I get the opportunity to act. But I always try and see if there’s a possibility to audition for the projects that I’m working on. I would never like force anyone to put me in, it’s not like nepotism or anything like that! But I’m like, “can I audition? Because I also love acting, you know” and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

But it can be hard, you know, I worry sometimes as an actor that being a successful EP and being a successful producer will put me in a box. But I think it’s just, the right opportunity at the right time. I’m happy with my career, you know, I’m moving forward. It can be a juggle, but nothing that’s too surprising, knowing the industry and how it functions, you know?

What was the process behind We Need to do Something, the horror feature you executive produced that was selected for the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival?  

Katherine Waddell: So, Bill Stertz, who has Atlas Industries, one of the production companies for We Need to do Something, he also worked on Dinner in America. He was a producer on Dinner in America. We had met at Sundance and sort of bonded and really enjoy each other’s company. He has a really sweet wife, too. So, we had known from Sundance, that we wanted to work on more things together. And so when he’s hit by the pandemic, I’d been talking to him about Balloon Animal and everything and he had also said, “oh, I’m fast pacing a horror film, We Need to do Something. I’m going to send you the script, I’m going to tell you everyone who’s on the team.” And obviously, the team is phenomenal.

I read it, and I was like, “yeah, I think this is a no brainer for me, to come on as an EP.” And it got into Tribeca. But that was really great, I mean, they filmed it during COVID, during one of the heights, early on, you know, when films weren’t really back in the swing of things.

So, super proud of them, super proud of the film, can’t wait to see it in theatres. Can’t wait to also stream it. I know here in the US on September 3rd, you can stream it and it’s having a theatrical release as well. It may be small just because video on demand is like, ever since the pandemic, what’s big now. I think it’s going to be a simultaneous thing. Super exciting.

Speaking of Dinner in America, writer and director Adam Rehmeier recently spoke to us at Outtake.

Katherine Waddell: He’s great. You know, he was so sweet to me on set as well, a great director. I mean, I’m only in like a small little scene, but even then, so patient and kind and welcoming. You know a director can be any sort of way and a lot of the times they’re not that great, you know, but he was wonderful.

Am I right in thinking that you grew up in Brazil?

Katherine Waddell: I lived there from age five to 13 so I consider that you know, my home. Definitely the foundation of my life and personality and where I was cast as Mrs. Bucket as well. That’s where it all started.

Do you speak Portuguese?

Katherine Waddell: I do, I do speak Portuguese. I have a little bit of an American accent and I’m a little shy when speaking it but yeah, I grew up speaking it.

Do you ever find that your experiences in Brazil influence your work now?

Katherine Waddell: It’s so funny, I feel like I’m like a walking advertisement, but Em and I also signed on to help develop and eventually film a script called Meninos with a guy named André Felipe, who is also Brazilian. He’s won a People’s Choice Award. He’s amazing. I went to high school with his girlfriend, and he wanted to start getting into feature films. He’s now here in LA, and he hit up Em and I and he was like, “I have a script, I have an idea. What do you guys think?”

Executive producer Katherine Waddell

‘Meninos’ is ‘boy’ in English, or ‘boys’. So, we are now developing a script about a young Brazilian man in Los Angeles, who is exploring his identity under the constraints of his conservative Brazilian family. So, that’s going to be written in Portuguese and English. There’s a lot of massive aspects that we’re bringing in from Brazil so it’s pulling on my experience, it’s pulling on André’s experience, you know – the foods that we like to eat over there, how we spend our weekends, what are the issues that a conservative Brazilian family deal with? How are they different than an American conservative family? So that’s a project that I’m super excited for and will really get to sort of go back to my roots.

What are your ambitions? The next five years, what do they look like for you at the minute?

Katherine Waddell: I think making really good movies. Making good movies that people like. In a selfish way, I just want to work a lot. You know, I just want to always be working either as an actress or a producer. Obviously, I want First Bloom Films to sort of enter the game, you know, get on the same playing field as others and have the opportunity to get our work out there. Just having our films do well, and always being like, “what’s next?”

Em and I love to work. As always, I’m like a broken record. We love films and so it’s just, you know, we’re hungry for it. We’re hungry for the next best story. We’re hungry to write more stories. You know, we’re just getting started with Balloon Animal, you know?

And finally, what films do you always recommend?

Katherine Waddell: Well, first of all, I always recommend Lord of the Rings, but I feel like everyone has seen it. It’s always like, if you could take one thing to an island with you, what would you take? And for me, it’s always like the extended edition. All three, yeah.

I watched Doctor Sleep the other day, even though that’s been out for a while. I was like, working up the courage after watching The Shining, and it was really fantastic. I wasn’t sure what to expect, obviously. But it was it was really, really, really good.

There is a hidden gem that I really, really like. I think it’s The Fall (2006) with Lee Pace. It’s a little fantasy based but I always think of it, especially if you’re looking for something off the beaten path. The Fall is amazing

I love Benjamin Button. I love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Virgin Suicides. I think Juno is a cinematic masterpiece. The Croods, they just had a second one come out. When I watch The Croods, I cry like a big fat baby. I mean, the family dynamics are perfect, very well explored.

I’d also say The Two Popes, I think Jonathan Pryce was robbed of his Oscar. And no offence to Joaquin Phoenix, but Jonathan Pryce in Two Popes was just like a masterclass in acting.

I also like the French thriller, Tell No One. That’s a fantastic thriller. I love thrillers. They’re my favourite.

But yeah, I think that’s a good start. It’s a little peek into what I enjoy, I think.