On New Years’ Eve 2014, Jasmine O’Donnell cancelled plans with her friends and stayed in. Struck with sudden inspiration, she spent the first four days of 2015 writing a feature titled Same, which came to fruition this year as Succulent & Savory.
The story follows Valentina (played by O’Donnell), a professional chef whose boyfriend Sebastian (Cade Carradine) passed away one year ago. Ushering in the anniversary of his death are new people and events that urge her to let go and move forward: new love with Saxin (Mario Melchiot), new friendship with Chef Maximilian (Ricky Whittle), and new work challenges in the form of a cooking competition tv show proffered by Chef Alexander the Great (Christopher Holder).
Relevant to the times and spicing up the character complexity, several of the characters push traditional gender boundaries. The script is laden with symbolism, metaphor, and double meanings that hint at the secrets each character carries. O’Donnell uses words like a delicate brush, obliquely painting in the complete picture of each character’s story in the warm, intimate conversations at their gatherings. And the visuals line up so that each detail tells even more. Besides the meaning you can glean from multiple watchings, this is a good movie for a comfy, domestic afternoon: heart-centered, friends who are like family, creature comforts surrounding.
O’Donnell drew on an array of her own and others’ experiences for the film’s story and characters. Years ago she survived a violent crime, which fueled inspiration. She has worked with American and international actors as a voice therapist for years, so her writing and directing assume a therapeutic curve. “After people have a tragic experience, we all need time to process it and work through it. If people avoid working through the experience…it does not go away, it does not get better. In those cases, the life story owns the person and affects the person’s life decisions. When I work with my actors, we work through the experience and they own their life story… Instead of seeing myself as a victim, I realize how strong I was/am to have had that experience… Making Succulent & Savory has given me a platform to speak out!” Because she was so knit into the acting community, when the lightning of inspiration struck, she did not have to look far to find the right talent. As directors’ wisdom goes, she put more energy into casting so that directing was carried effortlessly by the actors’ abilities. “I give my cast full credit!” bragged O’Donnell “They all did an amazing job!” Directing herself was not too difficult either; as she described, “delightful”.
Probably the biggest challenge was the cooking itself. While some of the characters, like Manouschke Guerrier (playing herself), were actual chefs, O’Donnell was not as comfortable in the kitchen. At a younger age, she had been curbed from culinary school by her distaste for butchering, so she looked forward to cooking lessons and gaining culinary competency for the film. But a tight shooting schedule and conflicts left her with spotty training at best when she arrived onset for the cooking competition day. O’Donnell spoke humorously of these scenes: “I was unable to see the monitor, so when my lips move I am directing the DP… ‘Is the camera on me? Go to Chef Great, I’m about to moved my hands, and I don’t know what I’m doing!…. You can come back to me, I know how to grate cheese!…. Did anyone find the eggs? We need the eggs!’… Finally, I sat down to watch the dailies. We had great footage! Now I adore the montage scene!” Two restaurants opened their doors to the Succulent & Savory cast and crew: La Boheme in West Hollywood and Bugatta Dinner Club in LA. O’Donnell was ecstatic to wear the real chef’s outfit and work in these shining, professional kitchens.
On the deadline of the Sundance Film Festival, O’Donnell’s computer crashed with the film on it. Fancy stepped in at that dire hour. “I called Fancy Film and Dave Weinstein welcomed my movie… Upon my arrival, Bill Macomber introduced himself to me, and he assured me that my movie would be submitted to the Sundance Film Festival that day! Kritteka Gregory sat with me for hours rendering my movie in 30 second clips.” Succulent & Savory did get submitted to Sundance that day.
Since the deadline race passed, Fancy has performed more finishing on the film. O’Donnell is extremely grateful for the support she receives at Fancy. “They understand that independent movies and documentaries are projects of passion,” she beamed. “They work with precise skill and great compassion!”
Watch the Succulent & Savory facebook page for its release information in 2016.