Amanda Mazzone is courageously embracing a rapid shift toward the creative industry as a writer, producer, and actor. Undeniably suited to these arts, it is surprising to know that Amanda is only newly inspired, particularly by her experience working on Block, with Carrie Brennan – a Project Forte alum. Understanding the power of telling one’s story, both Carrie and Amanda have risen to the challenge of sharing their experiences, not only for their own expression but also to help others find company and closure. Tune in below to hear about Halfway to Fifty developments and to share in Amanda’s history and humor.
Written and Edited by Kate Feher
Amanda Mazzone: Hello, I’m Amanda Mazzone, but in the creative space I go by Amanda Francis. I am a writer, creator, producer, and actor…always last. I’m whatever I need to be. I like to think of myself as an Asian Phoebe Waller-Bridge [Fleabag] in the creative space, writing my own stuff and collaborating with folks along the way.
Kris Mendoza: Tell me a little bit about how you got started in this industry, where you’re at now, and what you’re working on.
Amanda Mazzone: I am currently in New York. I moved here to work in foster care, which is just completely outside of the film industry. But along my way, I met Carrie Brennan, who’s from Philly, and a brilliant and amazing queer filmmaker. When we met, she was still in the writing stages of Block, and I was immediately drawn to her story. I’m queer. I hadn’t come out to my family at the time, so the story especially spoke to me. But more impactfully, I befriended Carrie, and if I’ve learned anything in this industry, it’s the importance of having a wonderful support team and I knew that I wanted to be a support for Carrie in that space. I was able to help her by embodying that hype man, the T-Pain, of production, and worked alongside her as a production assistant, mostly, and just by being a good friend along the way.
Block inspired me into action. I’d never thought of myself as a creative person, though I was always assumed to be – I had friends and a community in the space – but I was always way too scared to dive in. Being on that set changed everything for me. A few months later I decided to write my own story about being queer, being Filipino, and to focus on mother-daughter relationships, which all meant that her story inspired me to tell my story.
We’re currently in post-production for that web series so, that’s how I got started in the industry: through an inspiring, supportive, and creative friend community.
Kris Mendoza: What was it about Block that attracted you to the project?
Amanda Mazzone: I always joke about that but it really was just… Carrie, you know? She’s effervescent. She knows how to connect with people. And when she first pitched me on the story, I thought, “You’re bizarre. Is this going to be an animated block following you around? Like, is it its own character?” But lo and behold, it is its own character: an actual, physical block, which really demonstrates Carrie’s humour. And it’s something that I think a lot of people can connect with, even if they don’t necessarily have a coming-out or coming-in kind of story. It’s just that heavy weight on your chest which a lot of people have a hard time talking about. Block is starting conversations and allowing people to see themselves within a narrative, making their own stories feel finally relatable. Of course, as soon as I understood the whole narrative of Block and what it could do for folks, I was 100% on board. I knew it could change people’s lives.
Kris Mendoza: You know, that’s the power of the film medium. It creates empathy and brings people together. So many people have their own personal stories and think they’re alone, like what they are feeling is concentrated only within themselves and that “No one else is really going to care”. When you put yourself out there in this kind of medium, making yourself vulnerable, you start to realize so many other people connect and resonate with your story. And the hope is, I noticed for Carrie, to inspire others to feel comfortable and live their own truths.
You’re doing that now with your own project, are you able to tease that a little and talk to me about the approach?
Amanda Mazzone: Oh yeah, it’s not top secret! And you know what? You’ll learn more about me, Kris, there’s no secret in my life unless it’s about my mom [jokes].. then it’s always a secret to her.
My story’s called Halfway to Fifty. It’s a mini web series, so five episodes, each around five minutes. I began writing in March at a time I was feeling super inspired and creative so I was able to get it off the ground fast. I formed a skeleton team from some folks who worked on Block, actually. Talk about having friends in the industry and being on that set… I was able to collaborate with so much of the Block crew. We got Hillary Hanak to DP, Heather Monetti on sound, Kelly Murray directing an episode, and Sierra Schnack directing the other four. It was a really cool collab.
Halfway to Fifty is about a woman named Amanda, loosely based on me, and her relationship with her mom. The two are exactly 25 years apart. It kicks off with Amanda realizing that her mom had her when she was 25, a child. And Amanda’s living in New York, exploring her queer, bisexual identity in a very whitewashed purview, while her mom, who we call Mother Gothel, is in the Midwest (Wisconsin), and has this relationship with Amanda where it’s mostly on the phone or on Facebook, monitoring her every move. So the subjects involve being queer and Asian, but also touches on social media, the autonomy of having to be an adult, upholding family values, and finally “self-realization.” There’s a lot to resonate with, hopefully.
Kris Mendoza: There are so many important notes to unpack. Let me start with something I can easily relate to myself, being Asian and Filipino, because that presents the lens through which these subjects are approached, right? That’s sort of your first identity. I don’t know how it is in your family, but I know it’s a very Asian and Filipino thing to just never have the sex talk with your parents. You don’t talk about things like that. So I’d imagine coming out and announcing that… is maybe harder to communicate in this culture than others. Is that something you focus on in the story?
Amanda Mazzone: Yeah, a hundred percent… Those conversations aren’t familiar, I can definitely say, in my life. I can’t tell you the last time my mom and I had ever gotten close on that subject. In this web series, it jumps right into the middle of all of that. Amanda has already tried coming out, is in that stage of, “I’ve told you a thousand times, and yet you still cannot hear me” kind of space. And Amanda’s mom is very much like, “I’ll pray for you, Ging. I’ll pray for you”. You know? Amanda never asked for those prayers, but she still thanks her mom for them. So there’s a kind of reverence and respect that you need to have toward what your family does understand.
That’s kind of what we sit on in this web series, what I focused on, is that respect. But also again, where’s the limit according to your need to be heard? Just because you’re family doesn’t mean you need to bend to every will and uphold every value, especially if it collides with your life. Another aspect of my history which plays out here is that my mom remarried. I’m a first-gen Filipino in the U.S., but my mom remarried to an Italian white man who is now my stepdad. I call him Papi, Kevin, but he’s from an Italian, White, Conservative family in Wisconsin. So over the past year with Black Lives Matter, coronavirus, there were some-
Kris Mendoza: Stop Asian Hate.. Throw all of these things into a bucket.
Amanda Mazzone: Yeah, no rest… A lot of stuff just came up with family, I’m sure a lot of people can resonate with that right now. I found that the white side of the family was, in person, so polite. Conversations were so like, “Oh, how are you? How’s New York? Blah, blah, blah”. But on social media, it was nasty. People were commenting with guns blazing, showing angry emoji faces as if that was a threat. I wanted to take that and write about it. So you’ll see similarities in the series loosely based on my life where I had my white grandpa, the “patriarch” of the family, coming at me on Facebook, which is just crazy. I didn’t mean to put my grandpa on blast for calling me, a brown girl, a racist, but that was just fundamentally not possible in the context that was going on, so I called that out.
And it involves my mom, who grew up in the Philippines, moved here when she was 23 and assimilated into an American culture. She accepts and acknowledges the fact that I grew up American, but I still have her cultural roots. She couldn’t step up and defend me in that space because her voice was being drowned out from the “patriarch” of the Mazzone family. That put a strain on my relationship with her. I didn’t feel like I was being supported or backed up. It was less about my own queer identity, or my political views, or my personal life at that point. We were on two completely different planes, and we can build a bridge somewhere, but we’ve got to start having conversations about that. And even if it’s a sex talk or anything like that, it’s just so hard to bring that up in Asian familial spaces.
Kris Mendoza: And it’s tough, too, because a lot of the negative stereotypes exist concerning female Asian immigrants that come to the U.S., specifically speaking about your mom’s generation and my own parents’ generation here. The stereotype that they’re submissive because they are soft-spoken and things like that. It’s almost like she feels she doesn’t have a voice, even though at the end of the day, I’m sure there’s a large part of her that disagrees with a lot of the other side of your family. The pressure blurs lines in terms of what you believe in, what you want to just make peace with, and ultimately what you’re going to speak up for.
All those things swirl about before even injecting gender identity, being queer, or even the kind of creative work that you do. It’s definitely a divisive climate these days.
I guess I’ll turn to a more hopeful, positive question now. How do you feel film, media, and television spans this conversation? Do you make a point that you can build a bridge, or that there’s no convincing someone, especially your grandfather who’s probably lived his entire life believing certain things… Is there no changing his point of view?
It’s hard to accept that someone in their 60s and 70s is prepared to turn 180 degrees unless there’s some crazy life-changing event. Can your story build a bridge? Can his love for you help him to better understand, at least a little bit? Is that effort the saving grace amidst the turmoil we’ve gone through recently? How is film helpful in approaching, softening these conversations, and opening doors?
Amanda Mazzone: Ah, those are good questions. I think film provides a space where you can find community and visibility where you want to. That’s a double-edged sword though, right? And the way that media and film and all the ways that we’re able to entertain, it’s like a science now, right? To mess with algorithms and kind of manipulate what you see. But if you’re not manipulating any of that, and you’re just kind of interacting with the things that interest you truly and genuinely, then I would hope that you find folks, people of like-mind, who can inspire you and make you feel heard and seen. I think that’s the most positive, uplifting thing that media can come to. It’s just such a tricky landscape still. As a younger person, I thought I could change everything through social media. I thought I could inspire my grandpa. I could teach… “Are you telling me, Mom, that if I don’t comment, or if I don’t respond to him, he won’t learn something?” But lo and behold, kind of holding true to what you’ve mentioned, Kris, it is hard to talk to anyone who’s sedimented in their ways. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially when an old dog gets on a new social media platform, like Facebook.
And my Lola, it was really funny, she’s not on Facebook at all, but she heard what was going on. She’s in the Philippines now, she Facebook Messages me and she goes, “Ging, why would you trade in your dollar for a white man’s two cents? Mathematically, that doesn’t make sense.” And I was like, you know what, Lola, you’re right. I’m going to take a step back, and only interact with the folks that build me up and support me, and pick my own battles. You don’t have to throw yourself at every divisive comment or post that is out there. And yeah, I think, again, the hopeful positive piece is that you find folks that believe in you, support you. And even if they don’t agree with you, they are able and open to having conversations.
Kris Mendoza: I think oftentimes the written communication is more effective than a verbal one, because in a moment of heat you have so many feelings about X, Y, and Z, that all of the logical facts don’t come out. Instead, you can take an expressive medium, like film and television, in which you’re able to carefully plot all these points and carefully express emotion. It may be a better medium to sway someone’s opinion, or at least get them to think outside their boxes. I think two people shouting at each other or commenting on social media, putting each other down, that’s not going to change anything.
I saw a funny meme that was like, someone’s Facebook rant changed no one’s political view ever, right? People rant all the time, but it’s not going to do anything. But watching a piece of film or hearing someone’s story, that’s the kind of authentic, real-life relationship that’ll expand my mind or make me think differently. If its a well-executed story that sticks with someone for just a day, whether that’s someone who’s been living in their own way for years and years or someone that’s on the fence to being like, “I believe in this, but I’m conflicted because of religion or culture to believe this,” I think film storytelling is a good way to shed a light in someone’s mind. You say it’s a double-edged sword and it is, absolutely. You’re making yourself vulnerable and you’re putting yourself out there in a vast landscape. You’re telling your story in a place where it can be equally rebuked or accepted, but the latter is too valuable to forsake.
Now, I have seen Hillary Hanak and Kelly Murray posting about Halfway to Fifty. So, I see that production is happening on this. What’s next for the film? What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
Amanda Mazzone: Yeah, so right now, interestingly enough, I’m dubbing myself a creator, writer, and editor. Production on Halfway to Fifty is wrapped, it’s fully out the gate, kind of in record timing. We’re currently in post and I’m editing it. My goal is to get this out in July, probably hit YouTube mid to end July, which is a very fast turnaround. And after Halfway to Fifty’s out and the world can see it, which I’m beyond excited for, the next thing on my brain is moving. I’ve lived in New York City, Brooklyn specifically, for the past four years. And Halfway to Fifty is kind of my kiss, and nod, and gift to New York while I’ve been here. Being here was meaningful because it took me a really long time to find myself in this creative space.
I’m very, very proud of my team, myself for once, for writing this, and getting this through production. It’s truly magic, what film and crews like this can bring to a project. And so, yeah, it’s my kiss goodbye to New York, and the next adventure is Los Angeles. I’m moving out there with my partner and we’re planning on making another web series. I’m currently in the writing stage, it’s called Friendly. It’s about queer relationships, because after three months of being together and now moving somewhere totally sporadically, it’s kind of playing on lesbian relationships that move way too fast.
I’m also setting into stone my first short called Lola, about a Filipino grandma and how she plays such an important role – Filipino grandmothers always play such under-appreciated, heartbreaking, or hilarious roles. I want to tell a story for all Lola’s out there. And so, those are some big upcoming projects after this that hopefully will keep me busy for the next year or two.
Kris Mendoza: Those are super exciting projects you’re working on. It’s definitely great to see you tackling all this head on and I’m sure it’s certainly not easy telling these stories and opening yourself up. But in terms of writing what you know, what’s true, and expressing yourself, I think there’s no better way to do it and share your story with the world than the way that you’ve approached it. I wish you the best!
Amanda Mazzone: Thank you for listening. You’re such a grand listener! Having this opportunity is really, really cool. I appreciate it.