Cinema/Chicago News

Director Spotlight: Haroula Rose on All Happy Families

Published: September 29, 2023  |  Filed under: Behind the Scenes, Festival News

headshot: Haroula RoseHaroula Rose is a Chicago native musician, writer, producer, and filmmaker. We were thrilled to screen her debut feature Once Upon a River at our 55th Festival in 2019, and we’re so excited to welcome Haroula back this year for the World Premiere of her next feature, the delightful family comedy All Happy Families, starring Josh Radnor, Becky Ann Baker, Rob Huebel.

We chatted with Haroula about her very Chicago film, how music fits into her filmmaking, and of course, her favorite Chicago movies.

You adapted your first feature Once Upon a River from a novel, whereas All Happy Families is an original story from you and co-writer Coburn Goss. Can you speak to the differences in the writing process?

For sure this was a totally different experience because it wasn’t an adaptation.  So I felt like we could go anywhere with it, and didn’t have a plot already lined up of course, without having a novel to base things on. So I would say the biggest difference was that kind of freedom, but also in the way we approached the writing. Coburn being primarily an actor first and foremost (though he has also always been a writer!) helped us craft really naturalistic dialogue, and plot stemmed from character. Which I always love the most, in films, where it’s not about the plot so much as who is the plot. I am on the ride for those people not necessarily the worlds they have to conquer, though that is also important and I love movies that are beautiful cinematographically speaking, of course.

What drew you to this comedic story of family dysfunction, at a time when similar indie dramedies are a bit harder to find on the big screen?

That is maybe one of the reasons we wanted to make this film, because we like the idea of making a throwback to the films we love, that inspired us to make this one. Everyone has a family, so everyone can relate to this, in some way or another, hopefully. And I like human stories, authentic stories, ways of seeing all of our complexities onscreen. Make people feel joy, feel some moments of tearfulness, moments that ring true performance-wise, that is what I am always after.

From the filmmakers to the setting, All Happy Families is very much a Chicago film. Did you have any favorite memories from filming here? Did you discover anything new or surprising about Chicago’s creative community?

This is my second film here in Illinois, although we were in more rural Illinois for Once Upon a River. So I already know there is a ton of talent here, and I love how cinematic a city it is, in every way. It’s nice to share its beauty represented in a natural manner, and show off a bunch of the neighborhoods I grew up in.  So I wouldn’t say there were any surprises, but that it was meeting the expectations I already had from my first film too, everyone is pretty welcoming and friendly overall and there are just a ton of talented people. I am really glad to see shows like The Bear highlight it in this way too. It was awesome to have these people who aren’t from here – the cast and our DP – enjoy the city as well!  Seeing it through their eyes, that was a fun experience. Always is.

What role did music play in the making of All Happy Families? And as a musician yourself, how do you compare the process of writing and producing songs to filmmaking?

Music plays a huge role in this, because it helps move the story along and helps with the tone of it. I wanted this to feel like a really fun and friendly sound space, so people know they are watching a comedy. But it’s definitely not slapstick or anything, so the music was a way harder process to sort than a straight up drama, in fact. Took more experimenting and throwing things at the wall, so to speak, but I was excited about the idea of having the bass (and drums) be front and center stage instrumentally. So it’s more rhythm – based and that was a cool experience I owe to my composing team, Zac Rae and Oliver Hill. The songs were a collaboration between Oliver Hill and myself, because, well, he is my husband and it’s a natural collaboration.  We met at a songwriting retreat!  Music is way more low key than filmmaking, but they are both super fun in that it’s about bringing people together and finding some authenticity together.  I am very lucky though, because films take so long, and I plan on never stopping with the music which you can make anywhere anytime. I have a whole new record done and I definitely wanna tour it next year. And also this soundtrack and score for the film is so much fun, I hope to share that on its own soon too upon release of the film 🙂

What was it like working with Chicago native (and #ChiFilmFest favorite!) Michael Shannon, who was an executive producer on your film?

We are so grateful to Michael for his support!  I can’t wait to see his movie too, at the fest.  Pretty cool that he is a musician as well.  I hope to catch one of his shows with Jason Narducy.  I have yet to hear his thoughts on the music specifically so I am going to ask him about it when I see him at the festival.

From Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Michael Mann’s Thief, Chicago is known for some signature portrayals on the big screen. What are your favorite Chicago movies?

The Fugitive! Seriously is one of my all-time favorite movies and I also just love it as a Chicago movie.  Others are Blues Brothers, The Dark Knight, Sixteen Candles, While You Were Sleeping, Risky Business, Home Alone.

Get tickets now for the World Premiere of All Happy Families on Oct. 13 at the Gene Siskel Film Center – Haroula will be in attendance and join for a Q&A following the film.

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