Interview: ‘On the Scene’ Director Mary Kay Cook on CIMMfest Premiere on April 14, 2016

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CHICAGO – One of the many merits of CIMMfest – the Chicago International Music and Movies Festival – is how they provide a showcase to new programming and emerging talent. On the second day of the 2016 festival (April 14), Potenza Productions will premiere their new music show, “On the Scene,” with the director debut of Mary Kay Cook.

Cook has been an actress and producer of note throughout her career, and now adds director to her resume for the new web series. “On the Scene” is described as an all-access-pass to what is happening right now in music, and is about performance, conversation and “whatever we get on camera,” for the backstage perspective on the particular band being profiled. “On the Scene” is hosted by Rocco Cataldo.

Mary Kay Cook, Rocco Cataldo
Director Mary Kay Cook and Host Rocco Cataldo of “On the Scene”
Photo credit: Potenza Productions

The premiere is in partnership with ReverbNation CONNECT, and will also feature performances by several bands as part of the showcase. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here. talked recently to Mary Kay Cook about the show, and her philosophy behind sitting in the director’s chair. So “On the Scene” is debuting at CIMM Fest, and this is your debut as director of the web series. What do you think makes this series different from other music profile shows?

Mary Kay Cook: It’s really unique in content, because it shows the musicians in their element without any outside influences – like publicists – around them. We’re trying to capture who they really are, for their fans and fans of the show, just a raw and unfiltered look into what it’s really like to hang out ‘on the scene’ with them. We’ve got a half dozen episodes done, and every one of them is different, because the musicians themselves are different. We did a singer/songwriter, a piano man, a cover band and a pop/synth group, so it’s about different genres with different vibes. The visual style of presenting music, and music groups, has many options and different camera tricks. What did you learn about your visual style through directing this series, and where do you think it’s apparent in the series?

Cook: The first couple of times we went out, our director of photography wanted a formal set up, a polished look and formal interviews. I said f**k that, there are too many shows that are like that. I wanted a ‘fly on the wall’ feel, and that’s how we found our groove. We’re shooting on smaller cameras, the Canon 5Ds and even iPhones, so there isn’t a massive amount of set-up.

This was intentional, to put the bands at ease, and I wanted them to be themselves. It’s basically two cameras, a sound guy and me. And I’ll interrupt anything, either with Rocco the host or the band themselves, if I feel it’s not relaxed. That way it doesn’t look super-staged, and it stays loose and light.

On the Scene
Framing the Shot in “On the Scene”
Photo credit: Potenza Productions Potenza, the production company representing the show, is trying something new in its distribution model for the show. In explaining it, how was that strategy created, and what are the advantages for it?

Cook: We actually worked with a branding agency on this, and they came up with the idea that if we’re going after exclusive content, let’s make it exclusively available for a shorter amount of time. That’s what we felt would set us apart from the other shows. It’s like having a VIP pass at a show, because that’s only experienced once, and we’re trying to mimic that in an online format. On our site, there will be a timer countdown that will indicated how long fans will have to like and share the show, before it’s too late and no longer available. What characteristics do you believe make for a great director, and which of those characteristics did you find to be most valuable when you were actually running the production for ‘On the Scene’?

Cook: The best thing I think for a director is a clear vision. I’m the captain of a ship, and I need to focus my communication to best keep it afloat. Also clearly, that communication has to be understood by the crew. I come from a producer background, so the pre-production process is in my DNA, I do believe the more prepared I am, the better it is when that first curve ball on the set occurs – flexibility and adaptability are essential components. To get a sense of what you wanted in the production or visual aspect of the show, what sources did you study to decide on how the show would be structured?

Mary Kay Cook
Director Mary Kay Cook
Photo credit: Potenza Productions

Cook: There are a ton of music shows out there, but we didn’t focus on any one and say, ‘that’s what we want to be like.’ It was really about having a vision of what we wanted, that defined how we wanted to do it. It’s our own thing. We also do a lot of research on the band themselves, and try to learn something obscure about them, so we get some spontaneity. It’s important, because they need to know that we’re in their corner, and we can talk about anything, to open them up. As a woman in a very competitive and difficult business, what have you observed as your career has evolved, that encourages you about overall gender equality at all levels?

Cook: There is a broader conversation throughout all of media about bringing in more diversity, not only female voices but other minority voices as well. There is much good that is happening, because those conversations are more public and prevalent. You co-produced a film last year called ‘The View from Tall’ – co-directed by two women – and it is currently ready to screen. What can you say about the film right now that has everyone excited regarding their involvement in it?

Cook: We secured our World Premiere at a festival I can’t divulge yet, and that’s what has everyone excited currently. As far as my experiences on the set, I was impressed by directors Erica Weiss and Caitlin Parrish, because they had a hive mind language, a shorthand that made it really easy to execute their vision. Finally, since you began your career as an actress, what element of that skill and training best supports your transition into producer and director, and what level of directing would you consider the ultimate goal as you get more experience?

Cook: I think about this question a lot. I view myself as a storytelling artist, so I feel the acting background has been helpful to me as far as transitioning into directing, because it’s very natural for me to talk to actors. I understand how I wanted to be talked to as an actor, and what worked for me and what didn’t, and I want to extend the same courtesy. I want them to feel that they know they’re appreciated, and what is essential for the project, and that is what sets me apart as a director.

My goal is to be a content creator, which includes more writing. The two things that help me determine forward movement on a project, or anything I’m developing on my own, is number one, is it art as activism? I want to do things that provoke a strong reaction and a conversation for change. Secondly, is it a voice we haven’t heard before? I’m looking for new and unique voices, and a different point of view. Can I give a platform for those voices? Those two things are important to me.

Potenza Productions presents “On the Scene,” premiering on April 14, 2016, during CIMM Fest – The Chicago International Music and Movies Festival – at the 1st Ward, 2033 West North Avenue in Chicago, beginning at 8pm. Click here for more information, and to access all of the schedule for the 2016 CIMM Fest, which runs through Sunday, April 17th. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2016 Patrick McDonald,

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