Producer Cecilia Frugiuele Discusses the Making of Sundance-winner The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Her Collaboration with Desiree Akhavan

Posted August 14th, 2018 by Helen Jack


Cecilia Frugiuele (left) and Desiree Akhavan (right) Photo: Jeong Park

As a networking organisation for indie filmmakers, we’re always fascinated by how creative collaborations are formed and how these relationships work. One partnership in particular that’s intrigued us is the one between producer/writer Cecilia Frugiuele and director/writer Desiree Akhavan, the powerhouse team behind indie hit Appropriate Behaviour (2014) and the soon to be released The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018), which won the much-lauded Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance.

Frugiuele and Akhavan’s new feature is set in the early nineties and centres around American adolescent Cameron Post (Chloë Grace Moretz) who, one night, is caught in the backseat of a car kissing the high school prom queen and is immediately outed. Cameron’s aunt responds to the news by sending her off to God’s Promise, a remote gay conversion treatment centre run by the formidable Dr. Lydia March, where she befriends fellow outsiders Jane (Sasha Lane) and Adam (Forest Goodluck). We recommend you watch the trailer below to get a little taste.

Based on the novel by Emily M. Danforth, Frugiuele and Akhavan have adapted the story for screen with a a maturity which avoids a clear delineation of ‘good and ‘bad’, instead offering a sensitivity towards all of their characters in this complex human drama. We thought it was an absolutely brilliant piece of filmmaking and so so pleased it’ll reach a wider audience when it hits UK screens on 7 September.

We sat down and talked with Cecilia about the making of The Miseducation of Cameron Post, her creative partnership with Desiree and what the future holds.

You set up your production company, Parkville Pictures, with Olivier Kaempfer in 2009. I heard you guys met through Shooting People? What’s the story?

Every summer since I had started uni I had been finding jobs on features and shorts through Shooting People.

It was an incredible way to network, but most importantly to discover what filmmaking really was. Growing up I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker but that to me meant being a director, it was the only role I was really aware of. I was itching to be on set, watching Truffaut’s Day for Night over and over again and it wasn’t until I stepped on my first proper set that I fully understood what kind of machine is behind the making of a movie and started to zero in on the idea of being a producer. In 2007, I was finishing uni and Olivier had just finished London Film School and had set up Parkville Pictures. He was producing a short called Ralph (which was then BAFTA Nominated) and was looking for someone to help on another project. We met up and clicked immediately. We shared the same taste, didn’t fear getting our hands dirty when it came to producing and most importantly we both believed you should only work with people you like. It’s been great building Parkville together, finding a partner you trust and shares the same goals and ethics with is crucial, especially when starting out and in desperate need of an ally and a sounding board. Throughout the years we have pushed each other to be more daring as well as listening to each other’s many neuroses!

You’re best known for your creative collaboration with Desiree, making your two features, Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which we LOVE). How did you first meet and start working together?

I met Desiree in 2005 at Queen Mary University where she was doing a year abroad. I was much more shy and unsure about my English and found myself in awe of how outspoken and loud she was. We became fast friends, bonding over TV, eating noodles and being late bloomers. We shared a sense of humour and would get such a kick out of making each other laugh. When she went back to New York and eventually started Grad School at NYU we kept flying back and forth every few months to see each other. I joined Parkville and started producing shorts and eventually she started making her web-series The Slope. I loved watching The Slope the way I loved hanging out with Desiree and soon it became obvious that I wasn’t the only one. I knew she had started writing a feature and at Parkville we were thinking of putting together a small fund through an EIS – it was the perfect fit. Desiree and I developed the script together and a year later we were filming in New York. I don’t even remember the first time we met up to “work”, there wasn’t a gear shift from being friends to working together we just naturally fell into it.

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What’s your process of writing collaboratively?

First of all we love getting inspiration from real life so knowing each other and each other’s world so well is a great tool – we breakdown story together, outline scenes etc. I tend to write the very first draft, then Desiree goes through it and makes it her own. She’s an absolute genius when it comes to dialogue so by the time I get the script back it’s 100 times better. Then I might do another pass and we go back and forth.

Is there much cross-over in your roles as producer and director?

If I do my job well there should be minimal crossover for her so that she can concentrate on the creative aspects of her job. For me, working with her is incredibly rewarding as she loves being collaborative. We do seem to be pretty much always on the same page and with Desiree being 100% confident in her own vision, I can give her my opinion freely without ever feeling like I’m overstepping or steering her in a direction she doesn’t want to be steered towards.

Are there other collaborators you’ve worked with across all your projects?

Sara Shaw the amazing editor of Appropriate Behaviour and The Miseducation of Cameron Post. We re-shaped both films massively in post and she’s an integral part of the process. She has impeccable taste, plus she’s on record for saying “positivity is a waste of time” which is a genius line and often true during the editing process. Miren Marañon was our production designer on Appropriate Behaviour and now on The Bisexual – the only way to describe her is that she’s an absolute artist.

Your new feature, The Miseducation of Cameron Post, won the U.S Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year which is an incredible achievement. Can you tell us what some of your biggest lessons were from the process of making the film from start to finish?

As filmmakers our rule of thumb is pleasing ourselves, trusting our taste to make the film that WE want to make as ultimately that’s the only thing we are in control of. That carries us through the different stages – development, writing, production, pre and post, and it’s about finding collaborators that share that vision and enable you to make the best possible version of that film.

Once the film premieres though, you’re reminded of the incredible responsibility you have towards the people who invest in your movie, you want the audience to love it, to be praised by the critics but ultimately all you want is to do well by your investors and make a decent sale. Despite the prize it took us a while to sell in the U.S, but in the end we found the right distributors who were as passionate as we were about the film. We went from opening on two screens to 110 and will hopefully grow further. The film is finding its audience and it’s a very proactive audience that understands the nature of the business more than I thought, and wants to do well by it.

I think my key lesson stays the same. I’ll continue to use my own taste as a benchmark, not out of megalomania but because it’s really my only weapon. Dare I say I wish U.S. distributors would learn a lesson, and that’s to trust your audiences more.

What’s been the knock-on effect of having won at Sundance? Any surprising outcomes?

Not yet, maybe I’m just oblivious to it.

What’s next for you and Desiree? Do you have other projects in development?

The TV show we co-wrote together The Bisexual starring Desiree, Maxine Peake and Brian Gleeson will be on Channel 4 this autumn. On the film front we are still processing Cameron Post but hopefully we’ll start working on the next one soon.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is in UK cinemas from 7 September.

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