Molly Coffee embodies all challenges of her field. She’s versatile, creative, and can command a workspace as well as she can delegate to a team. Coffee has come a long way over the last seven years since she relocated to Atlanta from small town Georgia. Reliable and dedicated, her presence on set adds to the crew dynamic on both indie and union projects which she can transition between without batting an eyelash. Even when faced with limited resources she can turn nothing into something pretty spectacular.
Art department is not where her skills end. Molly is an avid fan of stop-motion and has created several short films in the genre. She is also the mastermind behind the successful website, Zombie Cat Productions, which doubles as the name of her production company. The site reviews movies, entertainment news, and other creative enterprises. You can find the latest in-depth updates on her current project, Magic The Gathering The Musical there too. It only takes one look at this site to see that she has a lot to offer.
In addition to wearing many hats, Coffee also serves as a resource to people looking to break into the industry. She is more than willing to sit down with someone she barely knows over a plate of hash browns at Denny’s on a rainy Thursday morning and share tips of the trade and more importantly words of encouragement. Molly has a way of seeing promise in unlikely places.
Doobious.Org was lucky enough to catch up with the busy lady and get some extensive answers to some of our most pressing questions. Check out what Molly Coffee had to share!
Doobious: Even though you’ve been involved in set design for some time, you only recently quit your day job and took the plunge full-time – How did it feel to dedicate yourself like that to what you wanted to do? Have you ever had second thoughts?
Coffee: I moved to Atlanta seven years ago because I wanted to be creative. I had spent a few years doing photography, was interested in film and wanted to learn more and be around opportunities. Being from South Georgia, Atlanta seemed at the time like the best jumping off point. And like every cliche story, I immediately began working in the food service industry. I had tried to constantly keep time for my own projects but I kept taking on more responsibility at the restaurant I was working in, so the creative stuff kept being pushed further and further back in importance. But it also eats at you. Not doing what I wanted to be doing and investing time in something that personally wasn’t really going anywhere for me. It was a scary leap to try to do something where you are an independent contractor. The money isn’t dependable and you constantly have to think so far in advance. But it was also never really a choice. I had to do it and the perfect opportunity arose. Even though I’ve been incredibly lucky that people are willing to depend on me when it comes to art and their projects, you don’t ever know how long it is going to be between jobs, but as long as your manage your money well and work hard, it turns out to be surprisingly easy. The beauty of the film industry is that dependability and a strong work ethic is appreciated.
Doobious: What are some of the benefits of being in this line of work in a market like Atlanta? What are some of the drawbacks?
Coffee: I am a huge fan of Atlanta as a whole. We have a great film and art community. There are voids here when it comes to the classic gallery systems but if you look around, it has spawned more of a DIY, community feel. As opposed to backstabbing and incredible competitiveness, everyone supports each other, and find new ways to do things. It spawns a new kind of creativeness. And when it comes to film, there are people that are constantly giving their time and skills to help other people’s projects and there is an unprecedented pay-it-forward kind of attitude. It’s beautiful. Another great plus when it comes to working in film in Atlanta is the communities here are still excited by the fact that TV and movies are happening here. Communities constantly donate locations or are helpful in some way. You will never get that in California where everyone has become jaded by the process and just want a piece of the pie. The drawback really lies in the fact that the Georgia tax incentive that is responsible for so many big budget projects coming to here could be taken away every year. It makes things uncertain. Avengers was scouting here last year around the time that the legislation had to be re-voted on and they didn’t want to take the chance.
Doobious: In November you traveled to Gary, Indiana to be part of the production crew on the psychological thriller Altered – What was that experience like? How was the weather?
Molly: Ha! The weather was definitely chilly and we had some long hours out in it, but the experience itself was awesome. Kely McClung is making an incredibly ambitious film. And the locations! I didn’t understand why we had to go to Gary until I got there. McClung has a vision and he is slowly managing to bring that vision to life on a shoestring budget. He has surrounded himself with a talented crew and between him and Imoto Harney, the cinematographer on the project, they are making something that visually is going to be brilliant. As someone who works in art, it is always exciting to work on something that has such a heavy art focus and this project is that through and through. McClung is really focusing on the way the film looks and the gritty world that it takes place in.
Doobious: For Altered, you had to create an apartment room that looked lived-in inside of an abandoned church – Do you prefer constructing a set inside a structure that already has character like this or completely from scratch?
Coffee: That’s hard to say. It would have cost thousands and thousands of dollars to construct something with that kind of gritty texture and ominous personality that McClung was able to find in that abandoned church. And McClung impressively secured permission to be in there. I don’t know that I prefer one over the other. I can say that my favorite part of working in films is the act of creating and getting my hands dirty in the process. If I get to build the set from scratch, then I’m only limited by my imagination and when I see it on the screen, I am truly proud of it. But if you have a location, whether it’s a plain white room, or a huge abandoned room, you still have lots of work that you get to do. You get problems that you’ve got to figure out how to solve, you’ve got to find things to fill the room, and you’ve got to make sure that the director is happy while staying on budget and meeting your deadlines. My favorite thing simply lies in working with people who think art is an important department. On independent projects, that is usually the first place budget gets cut, and it’s a shame because we could have made it look incredible.
Doobious: One of your current projects requires you to construct animatronic bees, that can’t be the easiest of tasks – How did you meet this challenge?
Coffee: Working art department in the film industry is about two things. The first is a “can-do” attitude. “No, we can’t make that happen for you” isn’t an option or a possible way of thinking. Whether someone tells you three weeks ahead of schedule what they want, or a film crew is standing around about to roll and you are just now being asked to make something happen, the answer isn’t no. It’s your job to figure out how to make it happen. I cherish the obstacle of figuring out how to make it happen. The second thing is you are only as strong as the people you surround yourself with. I have been lucky to meet and work with people with a vast assortment of tools and abilities. Dan Slemons had the tools and electrical help I needed to fill in the blanks where I wasn’t sure how to implement my vision. I also am completely dependent upon Amber Goodrum and Beth Gleason. The ability as an art director to tell the people you trust what you want done and how you want it to look, and then to be able to walk away and know that it is going to be done by dependable people the way that you want……is invaluable.
Doobious: Your next big project is taking on the directing role for Magic The Gathering: The Musical – How did this all come about? Can you give us some details on the production?
Coffee: Sure! I started dabbling in stop-motion film a few years ago while working in that restaurant. Dabbling turned into producing a 21 episode stop-motion web series called Orgazimation and then moving on to a stop-motion short film titled “Frowning” that had a bit of success this past year. MTGTM is the result of an obsession with the Muppets exacerbated by some friends sitting around joking and essentially writing a fun geek musical with Magic the Gathering simply as the vehicle. The project started rolling and taking a life of its own when local film friends got excited about the prospect and wanted to lend their capable hands. I’ve been incredibly humbled by the fact that so many professional working people want to lend a hand.
Doobious: What are some things that you are most looking forward to on this project?
Coffee: It doesn’t hurt that we have an incredible puppeteer community here in Atlanta. I can’t wait to work with puppets. It’s going to be an interesting change moving up from clay figures in my studio to large sets and directing adorable felt puppets with real people behind them. I’m up for the challenge though. And you better believe that we are putting a lot of time in the art concept and execution on this project. We plan to build the sets from scratch and go for a very bright, exciting and happy feel. Add singing puppets and professional puppeteers and you have something that is truly going to be special.
Doobious: Who are some of the people that will be involved and in what capacity?
Coffee: Dan Slemons is my Director of Photography and is a staple in the local film community. I am very lucky to have Aimee Holmberg as my production designer. Aimee has a history in welding and foam, recently production designed the highly anticipated feature film Congratulations!. Her credits also include Necessary Roughness, and Detroit 1-8-7. I also have to mention Raymond Carr, our head puppeteer. Raymond, the head puppeteer on the arena show Walking With Dinosaurs, has recently had tons of success with his own art career. He art directed one segment of V/H/S, the first film to sell at Sundance this year, production designed a pilot episode for a new Discovery Channel TV show and directed an art heavy music video for Blair Crimmins that has been very well received. The crew goes on and on but this is a just a little to let you know that we are serious about doing this.
Doobious: How can fans of Magic The Gathering keep up with news about the project?
Coffee: We have the tumblr account which will constantly be inundated with behind the scenes pictures. Zombie Cat Productions, my production company will have updates on their website and Facebook pages and we will be running a Kickstarter campaign soon. The project will be happening no matter what. Things are well on their way already. The Kickstarter is simply to subsidize the funds we already have so that we can make the sets even more elaborate, feed everyone well and help with the future of the film. Things don’t end after you are done shooting and even though this is a fan-film, we have big plans for this project.
Doobious: Do you have any other things lined up?
Coffee: Center for Puppetry Arts’ Xperimental Puppet Theatre is a grant based program that helps people create puppet pieces and I am art directing a project based on the mythology around Medusa for Beau Brown and Darrell Hazelrig. I start work on Season 2 of Necessary Roughness on March 7th but couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Beau and Darrell. Their premise is amazing, ambitious, larger than life and they have the skills to implement it in a way that will be truly special. Darrell’s film The Dark Companion was recently accepted to the Atlanta Film Festival and Beau’s puppet work is far reaching beyond the things he does at the Center for Puppetry Arts and I feel honored that they are letting me be involved.
Doobious: What does Doobious mean to you?
Coffee: I have made it no secret that I love Atlanta and take pride in being a part of it. Doobious very much embodies that same spirit and I get behind that 100%. Time and time again when I go out to local functions, members of Doobious are there. They are supportive and current and friendly and hard-working and that’s everything that makes me proud to live and work here.