Look who's unleashed her inner Scorsese! Emmy-winning General Hospital star Finola Hughes (Anna) is making her feature-film directing debut with The Bet, a multi-generational tale about the sweet, sad, landmine-filled quest for romance (TheBetMovie.com). The movie will have its premiere April 4 at a starry benefit screening — hosted by Kenny Loggins and The Young and the Restless ' Michele Stafford (Phyllis) — at the Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara, a city that played a crucial role in the making of film. The Bet, featuring an entire cast and crew of first-timers, is produced by the new Community Film Studio Santa Barbara (CFSSB), the world's first and only non-profit, all-volunteer, community movie studio. TV Guide Magazine spoke with the London-born Hughes about this thrilling — and incredibly ballsy — venture.
TV Guide Magazine: Congrats on the film. Has this long been a dream?
Hughes: Not in the usual way. About five years ago I started directing theater in Santa Barbara, which is where I live, and out of the blue I was offered the chance to direct The Bet by Jack Presnal, the founder of CFSSB. I loved the idea that everybody on the film would be doing jobs they'd never done before — no money, just for the love of it — and what a great thing that would be for the community of Santa Barbara. I instantly said yes. Didn't think twice. [Laughs] There's great bravery in ignorance.
TV Guide Magazine: Didn't working with an entire company of newbies make your directing debut extra stressful?
Hughes: I didn't sleep for three days before we started shooting. But as soon as I said "Action!" for the first time, I was like, "Damn! I love this! This is good!" The first day it was so astounding and gratifying to see that we had an actual crew show up. But then it became, "I just hope to God they come back tomorrow." Because, if they didn't we were screwed. But they did come back! At first, I was being extra nice to everyone on the set. [Laughs] But once I knew they were hooked, I started to snap the whip a bit.
TV Guide Magazine: From your posh director's chair?
Hughes: That's not my style! You know me. Somebody did buy me a director's chair but I didn't sit in it once. [Laughs] In fact, about halfway through the shoot, we lost it somewhere! There was definitely no pretense. For the auditions we put up flyers at the local high school and advertised on Craigslist, making it clear there was no pay whatsoever. If you want to be part of a movie, come on out! We had a ton of high-school kids come through and a lot of other people who'd never acted or worked on a crew before. It was very cool. Making films can be quite democratic. I love this idea of punk-guerilla moviemaking. Just roll up your sleeves and get on with it!
TV Guide Magazine: So veddy British! What appealed to you about the plot of The Bet, which involves a teenager, his mother, and his grandfather all searching for love?
Hughes: I've been exploring and thinking about age for a long time, especially how people of a certain age get thrown away by society and are not well represented in storytelling.
TV Guide Magazine: Sounds like GH a couple of years ago!
Hughes: It's ridiculous, a terrible waste and a shame. When I was growing up, I loved listening to the older people in my society. They had great stories and great opinions and insight and that really fed my imagination.
TV Guide Magazine: There's a reason Maggie Smith is the hottest chick in the world these days!
Hughes: Exactly! She liberates everyone with her point of view. And did you see Amour? Amazing. I have another story in me about an older couple. There are a lot of stories to tell that will help people not be so freaked out about the terrifying ogre of aging.
TV Guide Magazine: How did you pull off an entire feature film with no money? That would be tough even with a short film.
Hughes: It's amazing what you can beg and borrow. We went out to the community and said, "Can you help us? Who knows a carpenter to help us build sets?" And suddenly five carpenters came out of the woodwork! And it just went on and on like that. It was pretty magical, really. Even in the planning stages, people were so helpful. My friend Susan Flannery [Stephanie, The Bold and the Beautiful], who has done a lot of directing, is very knowledgeable about cameras, so she helped me out a lot. And Kimberly McCullough [Robin, General Hospital] is directing now, too. [Laughs] My daughter! She showed me how to set up shots and how to storyboard my ideas so I could explain exactly what I wanted to my first-time cinematographer.
TV Guide Magazine: What's your grand plan? Do you want to direct at GH?
Hughes: I would love to. I haven't approached [exec producer] Frank Valentini yet. I want him to see the film. I'll tell you one thing: I have a newfound appreciation for the directors at GH. On The Bet we'd shoot maybe six pages a day. On a long day at GH, we shoot 120! It's crazy! And the grand plan for CFSSB is very exciting. We'd like to take this model of a community film studio out to the rest of America, so everybody can make movies. That's the big dream. The plan is to help other cities establish this same kind of a studio plan, where you can take classes, refine your art and learn from professionals in your community. Nowadays everybody can make their own little shorts on their iPhone and put them up on YouTube. But there's still a craft to be learned. Add some real education to all that exuberance and creativity and it can be very exciting! We've come up with a beautiful thing with CFSSB, something organic and interesting and rough and really earthy. I love the idea of owning your own creativity and not having to answer to anyone or depend on anyone's permission. Just get out there and make it happen!