Nicole Gomez Fisher produced, directed, and wrote SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES. The film features Alexis (Gina Rodriguez) on a trip home to NY for her aunts funeral. While home she discovers a lot about herself and about life. This marks the directorial debut for Fisher who based a lot of the film on her own life. I caught up with Fisher about her inspirations, casting Gina Rodriguez, (JANE THE VIRGIN) and what’s next for her.
Has filmmaking always been something you wanted to do?
Nicole Gomez Fisher: I started my career as an actress and stand up comedienne and have always loved writing and performing. I never thought I’d become a filmmaker, as I always wanted to be in front of the camera, not behind. But when it came time to budget FISHES it was clear that we could not afford to bring on a director, and such was the creation of my new life as a filmmaker. It was also a chance for me to challenge myself. Although the learning curve was super sharp, I embraced all the bumps in the road and considered it on the job training. I’m so glad I didn’t let fear take over because what I learned on set, and what I’ve been able to take away with me, is immeasurable. All that I have learned has allowed me to better myself as an individual and as a filmmaker.
What inspired you to make this film?
The inspiration came from my family and my inner struggle to figure who I was and where I fit in. When I began writing Sleeping with the Fishes, I was at a point in my life where I needed to find some substantial meaning. I was a struggling actress who found herself lost in a business that needed to identify who I was, being myself never seemed to be enough. It was seemingly more important to others to define who or what I was. Was I Latina? Was I Caucasian? Filipino? It was so overwhelming and frustrating to identify myself in a town that couldn’t see past my mixed background. That combined with the mother/daughter relationship just melded into this one theme that was based mainly on expectations, self-image and the need to appease everyone, except myself. I wrote FISHES in hopes of getting a chance to have my voice heard – and to hopefully open doors to those who have walked in my shoes.
This film was loosely based off of your life. When writing the film did you find certain parts of your life harder to put into the film than others?
Absolutely! When writing something this close to home, there’s an incredible sense of vulnerability and fear associated with “exposing” yourself and your family. I was insanely conscious of what my family would think and was more concerned about not portraying them in a negative light, but the last thing you want as a writer is to feel constricted, so it was a delicate balancing act. During the writing and rewriting phases, I would be sure to pass a few ideas by my family first, but at the end of the day I made sure they understood that I needed them to allow me some freedom to write the story I wanted to tell.
How much of the film was based off of your life?
The characters are loosely based on my family, but the story in and of itself is a mixed bag of truth and fiction. I wanted to center the story around Alexis Fish (Gina Rodriguez) and her inner struggle to find herself at a point in her life where she expected to be settled and grounded. As I mentioned earlier, at the time that I began writing FISHES, I was trying to figure out what I wanted for myself and not what others expected of me. It was a hard transitional period for me. The mother/daughter aspect of the film is based on my relationship with my mother, but in order to “soften” certain moments I felt I needed to incorporate humor…something I’ve always used as a tool to get by a lot of hardships in my life.
What was your favorite scene to shoot? Was there a specific scene that really meant a lot to you?
I have a few favorites – the family dinner scene was one, the date night scene by the Verrazano Bridge was another, followed by the mother-daughter kitchen scene where the two butt heads. The mother-daughter scene was very significant to me. It was a scene I wrote when a ton of emotions were hitting me all at once. It allowed me to be heard and to lift a weight off my chest. If it wasn’t abundantly clear in the opening game show dream sequence that there was a serious breakdown in their communication, then the kitchen scene definitely brings it to the forefront.
When casting the film what about Gina stood out to you?
Her energy was amazing! She just lights up a room. We took a meeting to discuss the film and the character, and I just loved that she was so open to hearing my story and exploring a world of multi-cultural, interfaith craziness. She was eager and willing to work with a first time director, which is rare, but it certainly made me feel that she trusted in me and in my vision. What she brought to the character and to the screen was exactly what I had envisioned for many years before this all came to fruition.
The chemistry between Gina and Steven is so great. Was that hard to develop or did it come naturally for them while shooting?
Gina was adamant about not seeing Steven until their first day on set together. She wanted to have that element of surprise, that instant connection when they first meet – and she was right, it worked. Their chemistry was instantaneous, and it felt so natural!
What’s something you hope people take away from this film?
I’m hoping that people can find the humor and heart behind the film and relate to it. As much as my mixed culture and background is very much a part of my story, the film overall is just a slice of life that I believe is incredibly universal. I’d like to think that FISHES could be a film that expands people’s minds, a reminder that we are and have never been more of a melting pot than ever. Specific stereotypes are not always true and if we can allow ourselves to be less judgmental and critical of each other, how freeing could that be? That’s something that would be a wonderful take away from this film.
What can we can we look forward to from you in the future?
On the writing side of things I recently completed two original half hour pilots, and my second feature script, an action comedy entitled GOOD EGG. I can’t reveal the details yet; needless to say I’m very excited about all three projects! At the moment I’m in the middle of pre-production on two other projects; one being a music video for singer-songwriter Jennifer Vazquez whose song “Getting Out of My Own Way” is featured in FISHES, and a short I’ll be directing in November called THE BEAUTY of DISASTER by Janet Stilson.
You can watch SLEEPING WITH THE FISHES on October 4th on HBO