It's not unusual for independent filmmakers to juggle numerous roles in the production of their films. With "How to Cheat," a tonally ambitious blend of comedy and more serious situations playing as part of the Narrative Competition at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Amber Sealey is credited as director, writer, producer and actor. During an interview Monday afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, she was bouncing her 4-month-old daughter and nonchalantly began breast-feeding while answering questions without missing a beat.
Yet serving so many different functions on the film was not without challenges.
"On the one hand I like being involved in all aspects of it, the acting, the editing; it's nice to have your finger in all the pies," said Sealey. "But it is hard, and I think the thing that probably suffers the most is my acting. While I'm in a scene with someone I'm thinking, 'Will we use this take?' Or I get distracted. And it can take me out of it as an actor. But I try."
In the film, Sealey plays one half of a couple trying to conceive while also grappling with the lingering emotional baggage of a miscarriage. Her husband, played by Kent Osborne, searches for something in his life to claim only for himself and decides to have an affair. Going on a series of dates, he brazenly admits his intentions until he finds a woman (beguiling newcomer Amanda Street) intrigued and amused enough to get involved with him.
While it would be incorrect to say the film puts a positive spin on marital infidelity, for its trio of characters the affair does become the catalyst they all need to get out of the respective ruts they have found themselves in. Even the film's title, with its hint of instructional aid, points to helpfulness rather than condemnation.
"I was just trying to approach the subject of cheating with the least amount of judgement possible," said Sealey. "Does Amber think cheating is wrong? Yes. But for the sake of the story I wanted to look at it with no judgement on any of them. Essentially they're all good people, they're not setting out to hurt other people, they're just struggling for some sense of satisfaction.
"So I wanted to look at them all equally and the reasons for doing what they are doing. They all have valid reasons for the choices they are making. I'm not trying to say cheating is right in any way but you make the best out of what happens. They may not be the best choices, but they're making them."
Though the film has a few racy moments -- including an encounter between Osborne and Street involving some rope and a cellphone that is equal parts sexy and scary -- it remains behavioral and grounded, never tipping over into situational raunch. Which is to say that despite having a female writer/director/star and taking a rather startling shift toward the perspective of its female characters in the final stretch, the film might not quite fit into any emerging trend of potty-mouthed lady-centered comedies. (You can catch its final screening Saturday at 7 p.m.)
"I see this as a comedy in some ways, but I don't see it in the same realm as 'Bridesmaids,' " added Sealey. "But I love the idea of more women's comedies and women's stories. And by that I don't mean stories about women, but where women are in charge of where the story goes."
-- Mark Olsen
Credit: Amber Sealey and Kent Osborne in "How to Cheat." Photo by Gabriel Diamond.