by Kylie Madry; Photo by Maria Wilson
Alumna Tori Titmas’ new film The Girls of Summer is a family affair.
Titmas, who wrote, produced and starred in the film, describes the movie as “one girl going after her dreams, while taking her family with her.”
And that’s just what the 2015 film grad did while making The Girls of Summer: casting her younger sister Cali to play her in-film sibling, while mom Maren led art direction, Grandma Joanie danced on stage and brother Jake took a shot at gaffing.
But it was her relationship with her “adopted grandparents” – John D. Hancock, director of cult favorite films like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death and Bang the Drum Slowly, and his wife, Dorothy Tristan, an actress and writer – that helped the film come together in the first place.
Titmas and Hancock first met at Chicago’s Second City, a comedy house that’s trained comics like Steve Carrell, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert, where Titmas was studying in the conservatory program, and where Hancock teaches in the Harold Ramis Film School.
“We just hit it off,” Titmas said. “Soon enough, I would go spend the weekends with them at their house in Indiana, and they both became my mentors.”
The two started working on a script, eventually landing on the story of a young singer-drummer who crushes on an older country musician. “It’s a coming-of-age story that really wrote itself,” Titmas said – including plenty of the comedic moments that brought Titmas and Hancock together in the first place.
“There are lots of improv moments in Girls of Summer,” Titmas said. “I love improv because you get to create whatever is on your heart or mind at that moment. It’s wonderful, but it’s fleeting. But with film, you truly can create another world.”
The film’s release did come with some hiccups, though. The Girls of Summer was set to make its way through the festival circuit at the beginning of the year, and as the screenings started to cancel due to COVID-19, the filmmakers were left looking for a Plan B. Luckily, they had already made a deal with Indie Rights, a film distribution company, to find the movie’s new home, and The Girls of Summer landed on Amazon Prime Video April 22.
Will the global disruption of the pandemic change the way films are made? “I think it will affect the kind of content we’re looking for,” Titmas says. “People are always going to want fresh narratives – now, they’re going to want something outside of this experience we’re collectively going through.”
And for now, the filmmaker is staying busy online, taking clown classes, logging into Pande-MIC poetry readings and hosting her newly launched Virtual Variety Show every Friday night with Meadows alumna Geenah Krisht (B.A. Journalism/B.A. Film and Media Arts ’15).
“Making the movie taught me so much that I’m putting into practice now,” Titmas said. “You’re not supposed to have all the answers. Giving up control allowed the film to move, to breathe.”
Now, sheltering through the storm near Ft. Myers, Florida, Titmas says she’s “just letting it be.”