Catherine Eaton is a director, writer, actor, and producer. Her debut feature film, THE SOUNDING, featuring Teddy Sears (24 Legacy), Erin Darke (Good Girls Revolt), and Harris Yulin (Scarface) will premiere in 2017, and is based on her short film featuring Frankie Faison (The Wire, Luke Cage). She is currently developing two original series for television, both finalists for the Sundance Labs. In 2016, Eaton received a Tribeca “Through Her Lens” Filmmaker award. She is a freelance producer and shares an Emmy for her work with Bloomberg TV. As an actor, Eaton has performed on Broadway, across the country and on screen. Catherine has lectured on directing at Harvard University, serves on the leadership team of Film Fatales, and is a member of NYWIFT, SAG/AFTRA & AEA.
On how she found her way to filmmaking:
I was very shy as a child, but I paid attention and was a good student, so when I was very young—maybe six years old—I was given the role of Mother Goose in a play that involved math. I'm not sure what the connection between Mother Goose and math was, exactly, but it was a big role. I had a real costume and not just a number taped to my back, and that's when I fell in love with performing.
How I became a director is a bit of a story: I was a professional stage actor (Broadway, Lincoln Center, Public, Guthrie, etc), and I wrote a play for myself about a woman who takes on an acquired language woven from Shakespeare's words, and then fights for her right to speak as she chooses (inspired by a crazy personal event, and influenced by a Native-American language-creation myth).
I played the show at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and across Ireland, and (here's where it gets good) also in this unique glassed-in space in New York City on 47th and Lexington where the sound is piped out onto the street. A close friend of mine was the artistic director of the space and had been asking me for a year to perform it there, but I had hesitated because the show felt perhaps too intimate and esoteric to play essentially on a NYC street.
Luckily, I gave in (thank you, Matt), and the show became a kind of mini cult-hit. The sidewalks were over-crowded, the traffic backed up, the police had to come—it was extraordinary. And every day a man came in a tuxedo—rain or shine—with his family or alone, and always with a peach-colored newspaper under his arm: The Financial Times. So the guys in the back jokingly called him “the financier” (despite my being certain he was a caterer, due to the tux).
After the final performance, “the financier” waited for me afterwards, warmly shook my hand and said “I want to turn your play into a feature film.” He was the catalyst (and my first investor) that led to my directing, writing, and acting in my first short film and now my feature film debut, THE SOUNDING (which we are about to premiere.)
On working in film v. theater:
The big learning curve for me was how to technically address my visual goals: camera, lenses, lighting etc. But I have absolutely loved diving deep into that and surrounding myself with fantastic talent who challenge me to match them and play at their level! My DP, David Kruta, and I worked very closely together for my feature to build shot-lists and to establish the look of the film—choosing camera and lenses, discussing lighting and framing, and so forth. I used my short film as an opportunity to soak up information to be able to improvise, which really means having the expertise to be able to let go of the game plan and just rely on your honed instincts when opportunities arise.
On the making of her first feature, THE SOUNDING:
THE SOUNDING is a feature film that is really about otherness and its inherent value. Liv, after years of silence, begins to weave a language out of Shakespeare's words. A driven neurologist, brought to the island to protect her, commits her to a psychiatric hospital. She becomes a full-blown rebel; her increasing violence threatens to keep her locked up for life as she fights for her voice and her freedom.
It's a film inspired by Oliver Sacks’ humanity and curiosity about the mind, and Shakespeare’s insights into the human condition. And it’s made by women, about a woman's journey to defend her choices and her voice—literal and figurative.
We shot for a total of 23 days (including pick-ups) on Monhegan Island (off the coast of Maine), at a monastery in Long Island, at a hospital on Roosevelt Island, and on Manhattan Island. All islands. The single biggest challenge was shooting twelve miles out to sea, on a tiny island that is also a nature preserve with no cars and 30-foot drop-off cliffs, where there is only one ferry per day to the mainland, and where, in all but one small spot, if you swim in the water you will get sucked out to sea. That was a challenge.
On her project in development with Through Her Lens, The Tribeca Chanel Women’s Filmmaker Program:
The project is a half-hour television pilot called ON THE OUTS, an edgy comedy/drama-hybrid. A wild agoraphobic from a backwater reservation in Louisiana moves to a hotel in the city to search for a cure for her illness, throwing the lives of everyone around her into chaos. Terrified of open spaces and crowds, and unable to leave the hotel, she turns to travel writing to pay the bills by stealing the stories of hotel guests. As her pieces go viral, her desperation to cure herself grows, no matter what the cost—or to whom.
On the storytellers who inspire her:
Ava DuVernay and Jill Soloway are heroes. Phoebe Waller-Bridge rocks. Cate Blanchett is a ferocious storyteller. And Angelina Jolie's work with the UN brings it all full circle. ★