Hi there! Can you introduce yourself and share a bit about who you are, where you’re from, and what you do?
Hey! I’m Gina Omilon, I’m an actress, writer, and director. I’m originally from Canada, but have called the United States home for the past 10 years. I’m excited to be chatting with you and for all the recognition my film “Before” has received in France, so thank you!
“Before” was great and deserved it, which leads me to my next question. You are an actress but also a writer and film director. Is there a specific time / event that made you realize that this is what you wanted to do?
I’ve wanted to perform since I was a kid. I started out as a dancer and then got into modeling but I was too tall. (laughs)
Oh and she’s funny!
Yes, that’s my go to joke. I modelled as long as I could, but yes, I was too short to continue.
I started writing my owns plays in high school and directing them. The rest is history. I just never stopped.
Gina is 5”1 for those who don’t know.
Yes, but 5”1 is great for acting! I always loved it but I had been pursuing modelling more. So when I started to realize I could pursue acting full time instead, that was when a fire lit. I was in my early teens. By high school I was acting professionally, touring and travelling internationally.
I started writing my owns plays in high school and directing them. The rest is history. I just never stopped. I have lived in LA and New York City, and keep working in both. I never want to do anything else.
Why do you love it?
I was a watcher as a kid. And I watched a lot of adults get up every morning and complain that they had to go to work. They went to work and then came home at night, complaining about their day. And I knew I would never be able to live like that. I wanted to wake up every day and enjoy my life.
The only thing that does that for me is the entertainment business. I love acting and I love writing. I love creating stories, from the creative beginnings to the end where the audience sees and feels. It’s a hard business with lots of ups and downs, but I wake up every day and am happy to be working. That’s key.
You’ve starred in a bunch of TV shows including “Criminal Minds”, “Heartland” as well as films such “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” but also theater. How is it different for you to be on the other side, directing films?
There’s no doubt, my passion is acting. I love being on stage or in front of the camera. But the directing side and producing as well, all of the behind the scenes, it’s so important too. It involves a lot more analytics and planning, rather than just the creative. I often direct what I write because I write with the vision and I want to firsthand implement it.
Tell us about your filmmaking process. How do you go from an idea to a produced film?
A lot of what I write, I draw from real life. What I feel, what I see, what I have experienced or thought. So, something in some form of reality needs to hit me and inspire me enough to write. Once I start, I finish my first draft very quickly. I like to just keep writing on the first draft. Then you go through the process of reviewing, rewriting, having your peers review the material.
For “Before”, the actor who plays Leo, Joe Chambrello, was a huge help with looking over the script and giving feedback. Not every set lets the actors have input but I think that often we hear words different because it’s our job to regurgitate words in a natural manner. So, I’m always happy to hear thoughts and feedback.
Once the script is set, it goes all to production and money. Getting the crew and cast ready, and then shooting. In the post-world, I don’t do much because editorial and sound, is not my forte. I just watch the final cuts and maneuver the scenes. When I direct what I write, I already write in the order of how I see the edited cuts so, usually there’s not too much maneuvering. Just tightening. That’s my entire process. Was that too much? (laughs) See, that answer was the director in me. I could have given an actor version, which would have been half of what I just said.
No, that was perfect. It’s always interesting to hear how each filmmaker starts their process and continues.
Yeah, I think that’s my process, but definitely everyone has a different one. Actually, something I’m known for is changing the script on set right up to the last minute. That’s what you can do when you’re the writer. I think everything I’ve ever written, there’s always a moment before curtains or filming where I’m like, let’s change this line.
You’re never gonna hit perfect, but sometimes your ear just hears something and knows, yepp. This needs to be changed and now – after 5 months of rehearsal or writing or whatever – it hits you what it needs to be. Even if it’s just one word that’s different. Even in “Before”, I rewrote part of a scene right before we shot it because Joe and I could hear the rhythm was off. Then we got it. And shot it. Immediately.
“Before”, your latest film, has been well received by the critics, taking away nominations and awards. Could you tell us more about the movie?
Yes! “Before” is a film about two siblings who lost their mom right before the pandemic started. They struggle with the grief of losing their mother, but also losing that chance to grieve because more than just their mother dying changed in a matter of days. They also grapple about whether they’re happy she died before the pandemic or not.
What inspired this storyline specifically?
“Before” was inspired by an old friend from back home. His mother passed away before the pandemic and I kept thinking about their family wondering what it was like, for both the kids and the husband who was left. Were they lonely without her, being in the house quarantined and she’s not there, or are they happy she wasn’t there to see it? I started asking people that.
Our world is always in motion and moving so fast, but I think artists look at everything slower.
A lot of people I asked who were 50 or above, answered if they had could have chosen, they’d have died first. But most of the 50 or less, were okay living through the pandemic. Even more so, the younger end of the millennials, were unphased by living through another big event. So it was interesting writing about the film and researching it.
Once it was released and already in the film circuit, I was in Napa on a wine tour and I found out on the tour that we had won Best Short Film in Italy and the tour guide announced it to the bus. Someone asked me what the film was about and I explained it. He said “So, what do the kids think the mom would have wanted?” and I said it’s left up to audience interpretation.
And he came out and said that he had a brother who passed away 2 weeks before everything shut down and he is so happy he did because he was in a home as he couldn’t fully care for himself and he knew he would have been alone and unable to see anyone. He was glad they got to spend his final moments together and actually have a funeral, rather than what would have been the alternative if he had passed during the pandemic. We don’t think about the right before. We think about way before and the during, and what the after will be. But not those 4 weeks right before.
For instance, my phone died 2 weeks before and I was so annoyed I had to buy a new phone. In hindsight, I’m like thank goodness it died then and not during those first few weeks of March when every store was closed. I know that’s not the same degree of importance, but you get what I’m saying. Those few weeks before reality changed as we know it, hold a lot for a lot of people. Weddings that were able to happen, funerals that were able to happen, final family gatherings. Those stopped for a long time. There was an invisible cut off line no one saw coming.
Why was it important for you to release that film?
I knew I wanted to write a film about the pandemic but not being about it directly, but more so the feeling and emotions surrounding the change and loss that was unrelated to the actual virus, but all the after effects it caused. Our world is always in motion and moving so fast, but I think artists look at everything slower. It’s been about 900 days since I last saw my parents. When I last said good bye to them, I was supposed to see them again in 5 months.
Approximately 150 days later. Now it’s been 900 days. When I turned around at the airport and waved good bye through the security terminal, I didn’t think that’d be the last time I saw them for 900 days. Those moments. The human interaction. Those moments matter. We will have a million movies about this pandemic. But will they catch the humanity and the moments before? I wanted to make sure I did.
What would you like the viewers to take from it?
A better understanding of the humans around them. Sympathy, empathy, and understanding. And I hope if they had a similar experience to Mila and Leo (the main characters) or those who inspired the film, that they know they’re not alone. Also, Mila and Leo laugh in the film. Grieving doesn’t mean just being sad. It can also include laughing, crying, ignoring the problem. There’s different levels, stages, all of it. It’s okay to feel all of those levels.
What have been your greatest challenges in making the film – both on the creative and directing sides?
Chasing the sun! Our final scene, which is the longest, we had to shoot incredibly fast because the sun was going down on our final day of shooting. We had to finish it before we lost the light. Joe and I had to be line perfect and get through a 5 minute scene on the first try, for each shot. We rocked it though. Joe is an incredible actor and I’m so lucky that he agreed to be a part of this project and film!
The film has won numerous awards all over the world. You have won Best Actress in France, nominated for Best Actress in Bali, among many other nominations. Did you expect this reaction?
You always hope but never know. I am so so so so thankful for it. Our very first festival was in England where we picked up 4 nominations and 1 win. And it hasn’t stopped. I’m also so thankful for how all of us have been recognized. I’ve won Best Actress, Joe has been nominated for Best Actor, our editor JG Murphy has been nominated multiple times, we’ve been nominated for Best Script, and then of course have multiple Best Short Film wins and nominations. We’ve won awards in 3 continents currently. It’s amazing. I’m super thankful.
I just hope to be able […] to keep telling stories that more and more people can see, and want to see!
What are the upcoming projects you are working on?
I’m already set to work on another film – I didn’t write it. I’m cast as the lead actor in this comedy and the script is fantastic. We are set to start filming in April if all goes well, so that’s exciting. I’ve also got 2 scripts I’m starting to mesh out and work on. So, I’m busy and I love it!
What can we wish for your future in filmmaking?
Um, an Emmy would be nice. (laughs)
A future Emmy?
Yes please! Obviously, that would be amazing, but at the end of the day, people without Emmys and Oscars are still valuable actors and writers and everything else too. So I just hope to be able to continue making movies and television. To keep telling stories that more and more people can see, and want to see!
Before – About the film
Two siblings battle the loss of their mother and what that means for them.