Spotlight is ComingSoon’s interview series with below-the-line and/or up-and-coming talent in the world of television and film. Our aim is to shine a spotlight on the varied positions that make the entertainment you love possible rather than focusing purely on actors and directors.
ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames spoke with actor Katherine Waddell about her work on Balloon Animal, which stars Karla Alfonzo-Smith, Tayler Beth Anderson, and Danielle Baez.
Katherine Waddell is a multi-talented actor and producer. She is most known for her work as an actor and co-executive producer on the acclaimed indie feature Dinner in America, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival. Recently, Katherine completed the feature Balloon Animal, for which she performs as the lead character Poppy in this coming-of-age film featuring a girl who makes balloon animals at a traveling circus, which was shot entirely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeff Ames: What led you to become an actress and producer of the film Balloon Animal?
Katherine Waddell: I was constantly attending events such as workshops, panels, or networking parties where I was able to hear from other professionals what their advice or wisdom is for the film industry. One line I kept hearing over and over was creating work for yourself if you felt like you weren’t getting hired that often or were struggling to find roles. This was true for me (as it is for many actors) and one day I just decided to act on it. I kept thinking to myself, “Okay, if I were going to create a movie just for myself, what would I want to play? What haven’t I done before?” I wanted to fulfill myself as a creative while simultaneously trying to help my career forward.
I knew my creative partner, Em Johnson, who is a director and writer, was also struggling to find work. To me, it just made sense to go to her and collaborate on this movie together. I simply had a vision, of a girl with blue hair who makes balloon animals in a traveling circus. From there on out, we started working together from the get-go to make Balloon Animal a reality. This included me producing and being the lead actress, and her writing and directing.
What was it about Balloon Animal that made you want to work on it?
It was all about what worked for Em and me as creative partners. We finally wanted to have that relief (and excitement) of being able to work on a movie that was important to us and could feature our strengths. I knew I wanted to play a strong female character that many people could relate to, and getting to have blue hair was a definite bonus! We wanted to make a slice of life movie that was turned on its head.
Not only that, but we felt Balloon Animal was a perfect launching point for our production company, First Bloom Films. The movie is female-led on screen, is chock-full of female characters, and was perfect for us to push a diverse set-life, one that we weren’t used to at that point. It really is a movie where all of our hard work could culminate into something beautiful.
What was the most challenging aspect of Balloon Animal and how did you overcome that?
To be honest, and I’m sure this isn’t a surprise, but COVID-19 was the biggest challenge! That brought on a myriad of issues such as having to postpone the movie twice (which meant we kept having to hire new people since there would scheduling conflicts), having to re-work the script to have fewer people, having to re-work to budget to fit in COVID protocol, and so much more. We were also obviously working in an entirely new work environment with having to keep our distance, wear masks, test often, and having to isolate ourselves.
This is the norm now but back at the beginning of 2021 when we filmed, vaccines had only just started to roll out, so everything was still precarious. It proved challenging at the moment, but I don’t think it debilitated our ability to put out an awesome movie with an amazing team. Everyone really came together to make the movie work and to be as successful as it is. We just tried our best to roll with the punches and pivot as necessary!
Do you have any fun, behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Balloon Animal?
Honestly, our producers, Monica O’Hara, Ruvi Leider, and Ben Plotkin really took care of us by providing late-night In-N-Out, tacos, a coffee truck, and other great snacks. There’s just something to be said about tasty food on set that can totally make your day. It would just be the best feeling to come off a long scene and be able to eat a burger or get a fancy, tasty coffee late at night. Those small gestures mean a lot to me when I’m tired and looking for a pick-me-up.
What were some of the things you learned from Balloon Animal that you’re excited to apply to future endeavors?
Honestly, any new set that I am on is an opportunity to learn and apply it to the next endeavor, especially since this was our company’s first official feature. As the lead actress, executive producer, and founder of the production company that made Balloon Animal, my eyes and ears were close to the ground picking up any feedback in hopes of learning as much as I can on how we can grow as a company or how I can grow as a leader in the industry. This extends to even growth as an actress! Learning is a life-long endeavor.
Do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
Em and I are currently working on a script called Kismet. It’s a thriller centered around a young woman named Gerry who in desperation to create a new identity, joins the world of multi-level marketing. We are beyond excited about it and what it could mean for us as creatives and as the next movie for First Bloom Films.