Amanda Jane Stern writes, stars in the independent film feature “Perfectly Good Moment”
By NATHAN MAYBERG
With the gripping, erotic thriller “Perfectly Good Moment” hitting the San Francisco Independent Film Festival this month, the independent film world has an opportunity to appreciate its star Amanda Jane Stern – a talent who has been acting in films for two decades since she was a child but who has finally found her first starring role in a feature she wrote and produced.
Which is baffling for a 29-year-old actress who resembles a mix of Julianne Moore and Ann-Margret with the determined confidence of Reese Witherspoon and the occasional, mischievous high-brow air of Christina Ricci.
In “Perfectly Good Moment,” an unforgettable tale with swift dialogue written by Stern, her character goes through several changes. For classic film enthusiasts, she could be Janet Gaynor or is she Myrna Loy? Modern audiences may ask is she Jodie Foster or Anna Paquin? Perhaps she is more Ida Lupino, a talented 1940’s actress who became a pioneering filmmaker directing, writing and producing her own films. There is certainly a thoughtfulness and mysteriousness to her acting approach.
Those who watch Stern in “Perfectly Good Moment” can decide for themselves as you can’t miss her – she is on the screen for the entire film in what the screenwriter says is a film inspired by movies like “Last Tango in Paris” and “Hard Candy.”
“It’s about a young woman named Ruby who returns to her older on-again, off-again fiancé who she’s been with since 19, now she’s 27 and he’s 42,” Stern said.
Her love interest is played by the British-born Stephen Carlile, known for playing Scar in “The Lion King” on Broadway. Stern calls Carlile’s character “controlling” and “quick to snap.” The “cat and mouse plot,” as Stern calls it, delivers a lot of suspense.
“I do like making movies that are unsettling,” Stern said. As for the sexual content of the movie, Stern said “sex can be an important tool.” She cited the 1980’s erotic drama “9 ½ Weeks” with Kim Bassinger and Mickey Rourke, as an influence.
In addition to writing “Perfectly Good Moment,” Stern is a co-producer on a flick that runs 75 minutes and was shot on a $60,000 budget during the 2020 covid pandemic. The craftsmanship includes skillful direction by Lauren Greenhall and sharp cinematography by Matt Braunsdorf. Julian Seltzer co-wrote the story with Stern and is a co-producer. In the backdrop is a powerful musical score written by Mikey Coltun.
The movie follows the tale of a young college student who meets an older alumni at a cocktail party. The movie was shot in a rented apartment in Soho and in a bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The film is heavy with sexual intrigue and psychological drama that leads to a startling ending.
Stern started in the movie business at a young age as a child actress. She studied theatre arts and film history at Brandeis University, where she developed a taste for 1970’s Italian cinema.
She has had minor roles in a number of indies but has yet to find a breakthrough role.
Her first role as a child was in the movie “Martin & Orloff” when she was nine and had to recite an excerpt from “Macbeth.”
More recently, she acted in the award-winning indie film “1 Angry Black Man.”
Though she wrote, starred and produced “Perfectly Good Moment,” Stern was not tempted to direct it. “I didn’t want to direct it at all,” Stern said. “I’m on the screen the entire time.” Through a connection of one of the film’s producers, Greenhall was chosen to direct the film. This is her first feature.
Stern met Carlile after seeing him on Broadway. They met backstage after a performance of “The Lion King” in his dressing room along with her mother. “We drank champagne until 1 a.m.,” Stern said.
“The two characters have kind of been bopping around in my head for a long time,” Stern said. “They first showed up in a script I wrote at 14. I kind of revamped that script when I was in college.”
During the pandemic, Stern became serious about making the movie. She said she thought about Carlile for the part opposite her. “He’s a good actor. Why don’t I write for him?” Stern said she was finally able to complete the script “looking at it from the lens of an adult and not an idealistic teenage girl.”
She sent two-thirds of the script to Carlisle and “he said ‘I’m in,’” Stern said. “I’m still shocked to this day he said yes.” Carlile handles the dialogue-heavy script deftly, delivering a number of extended speaking sequences for the love interest of Stern.
Based on previous experiences in shooting intimate scenes and with a script that called for some graphic scenes, Stern hired an intimacy coordinator.
“Filming it was really easy because we hired an intimacy coordinator,” Stern said. The intimacy coordinator, Acacia DëQueer, made sure “nobody is doing anything they are uncomfortable with,” Stern said.
“I had filmed movies that had scenes with sexual content but nothing like this,” she said. “It was definitely scary going into it,” Stern said of shooting intimate scenes with Carlile. “There is a jump I have to do where she straddles him in mid-air. I’m 5’2, he’s 6’3.”
Stern credits her experience in a blues-dancing group with helping her act out that part.
Actor Stephen Carlile (above, left) and Amanda Jane Stern in “Perfectly Good Moment.” Photo courtesy of Phaedra to Black, LLC
In between her acting roles, Stern has taken on jobs from writing about movies and editing on websites including a gig as film editor for the website ProvokR and as a columnist at Film Inquiry, to a recent job running events for a marketing firm.
A native of Manhattan who calls Brooklyn home, Stern is a rare 29-year-old who knows classic movies from the Golden Age to the silents. She likes “don’t trust your husband movies” like the Alfred Hitchcock film “Rebecca” with Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier and the 1947 Fritz Lang picture “Secret Beyond the Door” with Joan Bennett and Michael Redgrave. Another favorite of hers is “Corridor of Mirrors.”
One of her favorite Hitchcock pictures is “Shadow of a Doubt” with Joseph Cotten and a young Teresa Wright. Stern says the story is “creepy” and makes you think “what am I in for? You are really uncomfortable while watching and you need to keep watching.”
Stern said she likes “weird, kind-of-erotic movies.”
She credits watching old movies with her grandparents growing up as the roots for her love of classic cinema. “It just kind of stuck,” she said. Some of those movies growing up were the 1930’s Eddie Cantor and Ann Sothern flick “Kid Millions,” and the 1950’s classic Danny Kaye film “The Court Jester.”
Stern’s personal favorites also include the 1920’s silent horror classic “The Cat and the Canary,” the 1925 version of “Phantom of the Opera” with Lon Chaney, the 1940’s Howard Hawks screwball “His Girl Friday” with Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, the 1940’s film noir “Out of the Past” with Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum. One of her favorite filmmakers is Billy Wilder, with his 1950’s film noir “Sunset Boulevard” starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson her favorite. One of her favorite actors is Fredrich March, particularly for his performance in the 1931 version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”
As for “Perfectly Good Moment,” Stern hopes its exposure on the film festival circuit can land it a distribution deal. Stern has been scoping out her next career move, while she works on a new script. In her spare time, Stern enjoys baking bread, attending Broadway shows and watching classic movies.
‘Perfectly Good Moment” is playing at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival through Feb. 12 and can be viewed online at https://sfindie.com/.
Connect with Nathan Mayberg on Twitter at @MaybergNathan