Nothing Special

Nothing Special

Julia Garcia Combs as Louise and Karen Black as May star in NOTHING SPECIAL, a film by Angela Garcia Combs. Picture courtesy Yellow Wallpaper Productions. All rights reserved.

Nothing Special

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* Most external filmography links go to The Internet Movie Database.

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Nothing Special (2010/2011)

Opened: 11/11/2011 Limited

Music Hall 311/11/2011 - 11/22/201112 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Rated: Unrated


In her debut feature film, writer/director Angela Garcia Combs spins a dark and witty tale of an ambitious young woman at a crucial turning point in her career and her relationship with her bipolar mother.

Louise (Julia Garcia Combs) is an insurance underwriter living in Los Angeles with her mother, May (Karen Black), who has recently been evicted from her Section 8 apartment after the building was condemned. May's shaky grip on her emotions begins to loosen when she becomes aware of the close relationship between Louise and her trailblazing boss, Catherine (Barbara Bain), whom Louise admires and adores. Catherine is secretly fighting cancer and has an estranged relationship with her own daughter, and reaches out to Louise as a surrogate. At the same time, Catherine is pushing Louise to accept a big promotion, which will compel Louise to relocate to New York. Things heat up when May and Catherine meet by chance on Mothers' Day and an alarming confrontation ensues. Throw into the mix a budding romance between Louise and the local bartender, and we find ourselves in the midst of a gripping story of the joys and heartaches of mother-daughter relationships, and the intense emotional lives of three remarkable women living in the shadow of the Hollywood sign.

Cast and Crew Biographies

Julia Garcia Combs (Louise) has been working on stage and screen for ten years and was introduced to film audiences in Henry Jaglom's "Going Shopping" (2005). She graduated from Boston University's prestigious acting conservatory with a BFA in Theatre Arts in 2008. "Nothing Special" marks Julia's auspicious film debut as an actress in a leading role.

Karen Black (May) became a star in Dennis Hopper's "Easy Rider" and is an Academy Award nominated actress and a Golden Globe winner for "Five Easy Pieces" and "The Great Gatsby." She starred in Alfred Hitchcock's last film, "Family Plot" and her work with Robert Altman on "Nashville" led to a Grammy Award nomination. Ms. Black's broad range and nuanced performances are the stuff of Hollywood legend.

Barbara Bain (Catherine) is probably best known for her role as "Cinnamon Carter" in the landmark television series "Mission: Impossible," becoming the first actress to receive three consecutive Emmy Awards for Best Dramatic Actress. She followed with the role of "Dr. Helena Russell" in the now classic syndicated television series "Space: 1999." Her film and stage work has been critically acclaimed and has garnered Los Angeles Critics' Circle and Dramalogue Awards. Ms. Bain is the founder of the Screen Actors Guild's "Bookpals" Program, for which she was recognized by the President of the United States.

Angela Garcia Combs (Writer/Director/Producer) has published, produced and directed numerous works concentrating on the female perspective while maintaining a light touch, a sharp wit and an accessible style. As a single mother, Angela graduated from UCLA's School of Theatre, Film and Television and has made a series of short films, including "A Better Mother" and "The J.C." The Mississippi Review published her essay "Plus ca change" alongside Bill Moyers and Noam Chomsky, and the Arts and Letters Journal of Contemporary Culture honored Angela for her novella, "Creature in a Box". Angela has also directed at the highly respected Odyssey and Blank Theatres in Los Angeles and is a contributing writer for LA STAGE, Southern California's performing arts magazine. "Nothing Special" marks Angela's feature film directing debut.

Sascha Schneider (Producer) is a veteran producer of Film and Television. His feature film work includes "D-Wars", "Police Academy II", "The Hellstrom Chronicles" and "The Bridge at Remagen". For television, his credits include "Dirt", "Commander In Chief", "The Division" and "Hill Street Blues", in addition to numerous documentaries for National Geographic and others. Since 1999, Sascha has been a facilitator for One by One, an organization that brings together participants and survivors from both sides of the Holocaust in intensive dialogue groups in Berlin each year. Their work is ongoing.

Morgan Pierre Susser (Cinematographer) has been behind the camera for over 15 years, shooting film, television, commercials & music videos. He is credited for David LaChappelle's award-winning documentary "Rize", "Cold Case" (Season 3), "Barry Munday" and the Sundance 2010 hit, "Hesher". Morgan was thrilled to have been a part of "Nothing Special": "It has been an honor working on a film with such a strong director, as well as a smart script and a fantastic cast."

Laura Karpman (Composer) is a four-time Emmy award winning composer with a vibrant career in film, television, concert and theater music. Her distinguished credits include scoring Steven Spielberg's Emmy-winning "Taken"; Showtime's "Odyssey 5" (Emmy-nominated); "In Justice" and "Masters of Science Fiction" (Emmy-nominated) for ABC. Ms Karpman recently collaborated with soprano Jessye Norman on "Ask Your Mama", a multimedia hybrid opera on a text by Langston Hughes, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2009. Her concert music awards include the Ives Fellowship, ASCAP Foundation Grants and residencies at Tanglewood and the Sundance Institute. Ms Karpman received her Doctorate from Juilliard and is an active faculty member of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television.

Jill D'Agnenica (Editor and co-producer) has worked in film and television since 1994. She edited and co-produced the independent films "The Cuckold," "Loaner," and "Ricky and Melinda." Television credits include "Undercovers," "Dirt," "The Division," and "Third Watch." In addition, she has edited several documentaries and art, music and performance videos. Jill received her MFA from Claremont Graduate University and a BA, Magna Cum Laude, in Cultural and Intellectual History from UCLA. She recently cut "Magic Boys" starring Michael Madsen and Vinnie Jones.

Q&A with Angela Garcia Combs, Writer/Director of NOTHING SPECIAL

Tell us about why you wrote this story.

I thought about some of my favorite characters over the years, like Annie Hall, Aurora Greenway, Belle de Jour, Rose Sayer. They all share a sense of frustration, self-esteem issues, but they also do brave, crazy things to break out of their social prescription. The cognitive dissonance of being female with its unique social expectations interests me. I wanted to explore the effects of suppressed sexuality in an otherwise intelligent young lady, by allowing her mother's romance novel view of relationships to infiltrate her fantasy life, while she actively rejects her mother's world view on an intellectual level. I think today's young women are up against so many different messages, it's impossible for it not to complicate the psyche and indeed the culture. I got to use three characters to illustrate that tension. The girl (Louise) sort of embodies all of the dysfunction juxtaposed in her many real lives against her secret fantasy life. She maintains a low level of depression, which sadly preserves some kind of stability, something she never found as a child. And the mother and the boss are also searching for something to hold onto, some thing that gives their lives meaning. They are desperately searching for evidence of a life well lived and in the case of the girl, a life worth living.

What was it like working with TWO Hollywood legends?

Well, it was great! I've had the pleasure of directing Karen Black before in a stage production and we have developed our own private language. I knew to just watch her body language for her needs. For instance, just before I would say "Action" I'd look over at Karen and I could tell when she was ready by the position of her head or a look in her eyes. She suddenly transforms and you can see it in her whole body. It's amazing. I've worked with Barbara Bain on a few readings of my various writings in the past, but I had never directed her. She comes at the material in a totally different way, almost like she's wrestling it to the ground! She walks on the set with ten tons of gravitas, which is exactly what was needed for the character.

Karen Black was last nominated for an Oscar in 1971 and won a Golden Globe in 1975. Do you think this film marks a late career come back for her?

Karen is an American Treasure. She is such an incredible actress that sometimes people actually cannot extricate her from the characters she's played. She's so convincingly truthful. In life she is incredibly principled and she treats her characters with such a level of respect that the viewer gets lost in her performance. She has such a huge fan base and her work has covered just about every genre, yet she hasn't been properly recognized for her incredible talent. I think her portrayal as May in "Nothing Special" is a true work of genius. I know that word is used a lot in Hollywood, but in this case, it is appropriately applied. She's complex, vulnerable, repellent, genuine, kooky, lovable and scary all in the space of one scene! I can't see why she shouldn't be nominated and finally properly recognized for a great performance and a remarkable career.

This film looks and feels like you spent a lot more money than you actually did. How did you accomplish that?

Well, we made sure we spent what little money we had where it mattered, for instance, we got hold of great lenses, and a great D.P. who happens also to be a really good collaborator and communicator. We had amazing people in wardrobe, make-up, hair, sets, locations etc. And I wrote the script with a specific budget in mind, which is why (spoiler alert!) there are no high-speed car chases or aliens! Also, we were very resourceful and my wonderful Producer, Sascha Schneider pulled in a lot of favors...

Why did you cast your daughter in the leading role?

I wrote it for her! Obviously, I've been able to observe her growth as an actor and during her studies at Boston University, Julia worked in some new forms, exploring characters through the influence and study of Grotowski's work. I just knew she was going to be that rare actress that could hold up in the presence of these celebrated Hollywood icons (no small task) and dramatize the very complex emotional world of this character. It's a tour de force performance! Let's just talk about her ability to twist around those incomplete sentences to start with! She stayed on script verbatim and made it feel like she was stuttering. And her ability to illuminate and move seamlessly through the many separate and complex layers of the character is the stuff you expect from an older actress. It's a performance that stands out for an actress of any age, really.

How did the film's dynamic and beautiful score come about?

Well, Laura Karpman is an amazing composer with a PhD from Julliard, and she's a Professor in UCLA's film department, so she understands the role of music in film like few others. The dramatic action is pretty complicated in this movie and Laura understood that. There were a few times I said "This is where the turn comes" and it wasn't always in the obvious place, but she would say "I see, yes, yes" and then she'd score it and we would nearly cry. When we were done she turned to me and said "I want to thank you for letting me score this complicated movie. It's been an absolute pleasure." I could have fallen off my seat, because I was so lucky to get her! She took the film to the complex emotional level it begged for and she kept us on that roller coaster in the subtlest ways.

The Los Angeles you show us in "Nothing Special" is not the shiny, glamorous city we usually see in the movies. Tell us about that.

I wanted to show Los Angeles more honestly, as Angelinos see it. It's not all glamour, but it can be stunning! It's a city that doesn't open up unless you ask. Also, I wanted to give the audience a sense of how precarious life is for the mentally ill and those living in the margins of our society; how tough it is for groups like the low income retired to survive. But that is outside the car, through the glass. The main character does not want to engage until her mother is taken away and she begins to actively see the world on the harsh streets of L.A. But also, there is the glamour, the deals, doing lunch, the Hollywood sign and the dreams of so many people that come to this city. It all crashes against itself. It's the disparity between the American Dream (bootstraps and all of that) and our collective responsibility for humanity.

This is an accomplished debut as a writer/director; were there any challenges that came with filling both roles?

When I was at UCLA, I told a professor that I wanted to be a writer/director and he said, "You have to choose. People will find that offensive!" He was so adamant. Shortly after that, some of my contemporaries, men, were making wonderful debuts as writer/directors and I thought, "Screw that!" I guess a woman will always be offensive if she insists on doing the same thing as men, or worse, even thinking of doing it before they do! Now, it's quite normal to be a writer/director. I'm a storyteller and I feel confident about the dual roles for myself. I can think in different ways at different times. It's like science and art combined. Anne Bogart said: "Artists and scientists share a common approach... with one hand firmly grasping the specific and the other hand on the unknown." I had a rocket scientist father and an artist mother, so I'm of both heads. I like quantum physics and logic as much as I like poetry and visual art. It just seems natural to me.

Can you tell us something about your influences?

I'd have to put Julie Taymor at the top of my list, even though I do not work with puppetry! I have an approach I like to call "saturation" that I try to apply to the emotional/dramatic content of the story. This is how I experience Julie Tamyor's work. There is an intense saturation of ideas and she uses any material she can imagine to achieve her ends -- and she undoubtedly achieves brilliant story telling. For me, saturation doesn't have to be color, it is an attention to detail, depth, text, movement, set, etc. It can be a sparse set, a silence or a slow movement to saturate with loneliness, and so on. I'm from the theatre, so I relate to that approach. Also, I've always loved the old Hollywood Women's films, where the ladies were cheeky self-starters walking with confidence in great suits! The women were independent and the men admired them and competed with them and for them. There was a subversive strength in those models, despite the fact that they were always laid low by love! Henry Jaglom is a good friend and mentor and I've learned a lot about filmmaking from sitting in his editing room and watching his rough cuts. He unerringly finds the story buried in the detail. I have learned to really think on my feet and be flexible, because after you've filmed the thing, the story begins to tell itself on some level. My theatre background really helps you think outside the box, especially when it comes to doing a lot with a small budget. Theatre can be anything, it has so many possibilities. You aren't constrained by rules, just dollars! So you figure out how to make things work. And plays are very carefully and lovingly written. The blueprint has to be there, so I believe in the text first, then you work on tone and find the devices to get there. Also, Morgan (Susser) and I share a love of Ingmar Bergman and many Woody Allen films, which are daring in their visuals without being obvious or drawing you away from the story. We both like the look of zooms. They were used very heavily in the movies of the 70's and 80's and they let you use longer shots and yet not be in a static frame. I could go on about influences for hours. Danny Kaye, Bette Davis, Jody Foster, Carol Burnett, and especially Chekhov, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams.