Q&A with ‘The Moon & Back’ director Leah Bleich

An emotional blonde woman hugs a brunette woman wearing a pink shirt.
Young filmaker Lydia, played by Isabel May tries to make her father’s dream film a reality in “The Moon and Back.” (Courtesy: Prodigium Pictures)

For more about the film, click here.

The interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

TSL: What is the inspiration behind ‘The Moon and Back?’

Leah Bleich: It was instigated because I had found out about this competition called the Six Feet Apart Experiment, which was a grant fellowship, hosted by Wayfarer Studios, where they were giving five filmmakers the opportunity to make a microbudget feature. And so I found out about the competition. I really wanted to submit –– it seemed like an amazing opportunity … This is the first feature script that I wrote to complet[ion]. …

I was trying to find my own creative voice and trying to learn what kind of stories I wanted to tell, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I ended up writing a story about a girl trying to find her own creative voice as well. I think that that is very much where I was coming from as a storyteller.

And then also it was in the middle of the pandemic, and I was brainstorming because I was staying at home with my family, and thinking about how much I was grateful for them and how much I love them. And so I think a lot of that joy and appreciation made its way onto the pages as well.

TSL:  What was it like shooting during the pandemic? Are there any challenges you faced from shooting because of the pandemic and because of everything going on?

LB: Yeah, absolutely. We shot in November of 2020. So that was definitely an early moment, in terms of the industry, figuring out how to shoot safely and legally during the pandemic. So we had ample COVID-19 testing; we tested for COVID-19 every other day. We also were very careful about distancing … And so we had a compliance officer on set that made sure that everybody was sanitizing and keeping six feet apart and wearing their masks.

We really played it very safe because we also had such a small tight budget. We knew that if somebody got sick in the production, we were done, [and] we were almost definitely not going to be able to get back on our feet. If we had to delay, we were going to lose our actors. We were going to lose our crew.

TSL: Did you have to get creative when shooting just because the budget was so small?

LB: Absolutely, all the time. … I think there’s a lot more value on the screen than the budget necessarily is an indication of, partially because people were so passionate about the film, and they put so much time and care into it for free … But otherwise, yes.

I mean, it was a really, really, really challenging production. We shot in just nine days, our principal photography was shot in just nine days, which is an absolute whirlwind for the fact that we were doing car scenes and extras and multiple locations and big fat pieces, like it was just an absolute bootstraps, nonstop roller coaster of production — but we got it done. And I feel like we were able to get it done without making any sacrifices that influenced the central story. So I’m really grateful.

TSL: Is there any advice that you have for any aspiring undergraduate filmmakers in the 5C community when they’re reading this article?

LB: Hello undergraduate readers! I think the number one thing that an aspiring filmmaker can do is to make a film, which I know is easier said than done. But I think that something that can make that easier — when you’re in an early stage of your career — is allowing yourself to make not just films, but to make bad films. I think that it is so important to let go of your expectations a little bit and make within your means … That’s gonna take you to the next step creatively.

And I’m not actually a great example of this because I think I got really, really lucky when it came to the Six Feet Apart Experiment. I think that expedited my ability to make a feature in a big way, and I totally recognize that, but along the way, being ready for this moment, I [have] also made a lot of other things and some of them are not very good. And I think that that’s okay, because that’s part of the process of learning how to be better.

TSL: Finally, what do you hope viewers take away after watching the moon and back?

LB: I think what I tried to get across, as the editor of the film, is this idea that comedy and joy can coexist with pain and sadness, and I hope that a viewer that engages with the movie can have that sensation of duality. This feeling that life is never all bad or all good, but that that’s what makes life really beautiful. And so if anybody can find a little bit of comedy in a low moment because of this film, it would make me a very, very happy filmmaker indeed.

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