Filmmaker 5 with Julia Aks and Steve Pinder: Jane Austen’s Period Drama

England, 1813. In the middle of a long-awaited marriage proposal, Miss Estrogenia Talbot gets her period. Her suitor, the dashing Mr. Dickley, mistakes the blood for an injury, and it soon becomes clear that his very expensive education has most certainly missed a spot. Miss Estrogenia, the all-too-honest heroine, in her sincerity could thwart her chance at marriage as this period drama unfolds.

Co-writer/directors Julia Aks and Steve Pinder’s wonderful partnership began in 2016 when Steve was directing a Sound of Music parody while studying at USC and discovered Julia’s impeccable Julie Andrews impersonation. In 2019, the two came together once again to co-direct a Julie Andrews parody of Ariana Grande’s 7 RINGS. The parody went viral, and the pair began a string of collaborations for Julia’s YouTube channel. The duo currently live in Los Angeles and are developing a feature film of Jane Austen’s Period Drama.

Jane Austen’s Period Drama can be seen at the Tribeca Film Festival on Friday June 7 at 9:15 pm at the AMC 19th St. East 6, on Monday June 10 at 8:45 pm at the Village East by Agelika and on Saturday June 15 at 8:30 pm at the AMC 19th St. East 6.

Our Classic Couple Academy interview with Jane Austen’s Period Drama filmmakers Julia Aks and Steve Pinder follows.

Filmmakers Steve Pinder and Julia Aks

Filmmaker 5.1: Parody is a specific form of comedy. How did you two know this was “your thing,” and where do you get your inspiration?

Julia Aks: I guess I’ve known since I was 13.

Steve Pinder: I think I’ve also since I was very young kid. It’s taken me a long time to realize this but I grew up wanting to make my mom laugh. That almost makes me want to cry just talking about it. But I love making my mom laugh.

I used to do Jim Carrey impersonations for her. We also grew up watching Mel Brooks movies and Monty Python movies. Then I worked at a summer camp for a long time, and a lot of the skits and sketches were rewriting famous songs with different lyrics. So, I think, for a long time, it’s been something I’ve enjoyed and a skill set that kind of came easily to me or naturally.

Julia Aks: For me, my dad has always loved stupid dad jokes and puns and plays on words. I think I was 13 at the time when Pirates of the Caribbean the first film came out, and my dad made some joke about Pirates of the Caribbean—don’t you mean carrots of the pirate van? It was some very silly spoof and inexplicably—I still don’t know why—but little Julia just ran with it. I went to the grocery store and bought carrots and dressed them up as the characters from Pirates of the Caribbean. And shot for shot, I remade one of my favorite scenes from that film with my best friend but using carrots. We had a Mac computer in our house that came with iMovie iDVD. So then not only did we film that scene with carrots, but we also made an entire DVD with special features like interviews with the filmmakers about filming with the carrots. So, I guess that was the first iteration of me really taking a single stupid pun of a title to its absolute maximum.

And I feel so lucky to have found Steve on our life journeys together because how weird that we found each other where we have similar sensibilities in this way.

Filmmaker 5.2: Let’s talk about your collaboration as storytellers. What’s your process?

Julia Aks: It does usually start with like this simplest, stupidest joke. And I mean stupid as a compliment. I mean, that’s a good thing. Then I think what’s so wonderful about finding someone like Steve is that our natural storytelling sensibilities are really similar in that we both look for how to balance out that fart joke with something more meaningful or something with heart. We both naturally kind of have the same desire to balance between highbrow and lowbrow in the stories that we tell.

Steve Pinder: I think that’s totally right. We also are drawn to cinematic images and moments. So, when one of us has a cinematic vision for a piece of the story, it’s usually really easy to jump on board and start to build it out and think what else could happen or how—what does this look like when it’s really flushed out? And then just becomes a game of what if this happens and what if this happens?

Julia Aks: We’ve definitely go off the rails. And sometimes that stuff stays in the script and sometimes we’ll leave it in for a week and one of us will come back and be, “You know what? I thought about it. I think is kind of distracting from the core of the story or kind of takes it in direction we don’t want to go.” I think we complement each other well. There are things that I take more seriously and things that I think are silly. Steve is more serious about other parts of it, but we both respect each other’s different views. We make two parts of a whole in a really cool way.

Filmmaker 5.3: How did you work with the cast to create their “period”—pun intended characters? And what were the biggest challenges in creating the drama in a comic piece?

Steve Pinder: I think a lot of it was just in the casting. Once we’re on set, we have so little time to get everything that we want to get. We were very intentional about finding actors who could do exactly what you’re describing—who could play dramatically these very silly scenes. Because we sort of had the sense that once the audience would feel the drama of the piece, the jokes would actually be funnier.

Julia Aks: As we were casting it, we were looking for actors who had a foundation in dramatic acting, not necessarily comedic acting. They also had to be able to handle the dialect work because we’re a cast of Americans making an English send up. They had to be able to handle the language of it, because we wrote it in sort of an Austen Style, which requires some just dexterity of speech, good script analysis and good understanding of what the scene is about—and comfortability with language that maybe doesn’t feel so natural to them. I had kind of a shortlist of actors that I had worked with elsewhere that I knew that I wanted to work with again in some capacity. All of them are dramatic actors, who could also be funny, but their comedy came from how seriously they were able to take the material. The whole joke is that we are very seriously and very earnestly in this Jane Austen world. And the circumstances happened to be funny.

Steve Pinder: I think that’s the only reason the names really work as they do, because they’re so silly. It’s the fact that the characters are ignorant of the innuendo that makes them play. You can believe it, and it works on both levels. You believe that this is really the world that they live in. And we as a modern audience, get to laugh at what they don’t know.

Filmmaker 5.4: The film’s costumes, setting and cinematography are certainly on par with other beloved Jane Austen films. Can you talk about the collaboration with your crew and production partners to achieve this level of authenticity of the Jane Austen cinematic world?

Julia Aks: Well, first off, that is a huge compliment. Thank you. That’s where we fit in. It was a priority from the beginning for whatever money we could find to make this film. We were clever about where we invested more of it. And we also candidly called in favors.

We knew we were doing a period piece and costumes are a huge part of that. So, we ended up having an absolute dream team of costume designers. There’s a woman named Paula Higgins, who was my costume professor in college, who also had costumed me in various operas that I had been in professionally. She just has decades of experience doing all different time periods. She’s done all the historical research; she can make something in a night that looks phenomenal. She came out of retirement to help.

We didn’t want Paula to be the only costume designer so Barrett Hutchinson signed on. He’s Steve’s partner and an incredible fashion designer in his own right but his background is in fashion. He and Paula together just made this wonderful team. There was historical knowledge and working very quickly with this detailed polished. The details are so polished, because Barrett brought that kind of attention to detail to the costumes and that shows up on camera. And then Shirin Enayati came on to help make sure everything looked pristine on set. We just got really lucky that they were all available.

Steve Pinder: It was a lot of drawing on our little family, and people were just really willing to help out.

Julia Aks: There was also our production designer Dong Lei. He had a lot to do and he really kind of knocked it out of the park in very little time. He built that door in the movie that they’re constantly going in and out of. It was not actually part of that house; he built that.

Then I would say just the other the other part of it is our cinematographer Luca Del Puppo, who didn’t necessarily come from shooting a lot of comedies. We wanted someone who was really kind of a painter that could make beautiful images that would fit into that Jane Austen cinematic universe. When we sent him our reference images and said this is kind of the world we want to live in, he got very excited.

Filmmaker 5.5: You’re developing Jane Austen’s Period Drama as a feature. What can you tell us about the project?

Steve Pinder: Julia had this idea as a sketch, and pretty early on, I was like, I wonder how that could expand. There was something about living in this world and playing with this subject matter. It felt like such a lovely pairing, and it felt like on the surface, there’s a lot going on that’s funny and playful. But there’s also something really important to say beneath it all.

For me, I just think feature films are my favorite story form because of how characters can change in that amount of time. Pretty early on, we started talking about that being a possibility. And then as Julia started writing, and we started collaborating more and more on it, it just kept kind of growing outward. We kept coming up with more characters, more funny character names, and more points of view on the subject matter. Little by little, it just sort of kept growing outward.

Julia Aks: We’re really excited about it. We’re really happy with how it’s expanded. Sometimes people who see the short they’re like, I don’t understand how—where else do you go from here? How does this joke sustain for an hour and a half?” But the feature is really kind of like the short but even more so it’s a Jane Austen romance. It’s a rom com. There are more characters. There’s more drama, and there’s more romance. And so, I’ve come to kind of like it. Call it like an absolutely bonkers Jane Austen romance.

Bonus: What has been the best part of sharing this film with film festival audiences?

Julia Aks: The responses so far have been sort of overwhelmingly positive. And what’s wonderful about the film festival circuit is that you get to take this thing that you love and share it with people who also love the medium The thing that Steve and I have recently started talking about is how we have the same viewpoint on our audience. We just love our audience, and we make things that we love, but we also are always considering the audience because we love them.

Steve Pinder: It’s so fun to make people laugh. It’s so joyful. We watched this movie many times by ourselves and then we had a small crew cast and crew screening. And all of that paled in comparison to screening it when we had our premiere, where we heard 200 people—strangers—just cackling. It’s a profoundly moving experience.

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