The sweet aroma of buttered popcorn filled Emmaus Theatre for a private premier of Lonely Girl, a twenty-minute short film, written, directed, and produced by Michael Judkins. The cast, crew, family and friends, armed with their favorite movie time snacks, took their seats as a very proud Judkins took the stage and graciously welcomed the audience.
Lonely Girl tells the story of Jo-Renee (starring Tatiana Torres), married with two children, who wants to return to the workforce, only to discover her husband is not on board with the idea. She is placed in a heartbreaking situation and emerged with a fresh and positive outlook on life. The film was shot locally in Allentown and Bethlehem and features the amazing talented Jerry Roe as the Director of Photography and Editor.
As the movie ended, the audience cheered and applauded. This is a great movie. Because when you only have twenty minutes to effectively tell a story, this film does not waste one microsecond. The script and editing are concise and tight. The actors reach for the emotions, grab it, and nail it successfully.
The audience headed towards the back of the theatre for photo opportunities with the cast and crew. As the crowd thinned out, and the theatre became quiet, The Valley Ledger had a chance to sit down and talk to Michael Judkins.
TVL: Where did this all begin? You’re originally from the Bronx, right? Were there influences from your upbringing that are still vital to you today?
MJ: Yes, I have many influences growing up in the Bronx, New York. For one, my neighbor birthed lifelong friends, growing up in an urban setting and experiencing life together. I had the opportunity to grow up with the majority of my immediate and extended family in the same community. So there was always someone around and something to do. It’s a place in my life that’s always home for me-growing up in the Bronx teaches you how to stay strong and keep going.
TVL: So when did you move to the Lehigh Valley ?
MJ: That was 2013. A personal relationship ended, and prompted me to move from New York to Pennsylvania. Also, some of my family lived out in the Lehigh Valley before I transitioned full-time. Growing up, I spent the weekends out here, and my Grandmother used to run bus trips to Lancaster. So Pennsylvania is a part of my journey.
TVL: What kind of influences have you found in the Lehigh Valley?
MJ: The Lehigh Valley is such a creative space and environment for artists to grow. Seeing the difference genres of music, visual arts, performers, and producers in creative arts inspires me to continue to create and support local arts.
TVL: What was the initial attraction? Why did you choose to work in the film industry?
MJ: I started my college education in Journalism. I achieved my AAS in Journalism from SUNY of Morrisville, NY. One semester, I took a film review course that examined and analyzed different book films. This course sparked my interest in how stories shape into visual images from a different perspective. At that moment, I watched movies, TV shows, and documentaries. I would find the story and analyze what the creative conveyed to the audience, and how it impacts current trends and cultural influences.
TVL: You know, Steve Jobs used to talk about the line and connect the dots. If you look back on your life, you should be able to connect the dots, to a line, a direct path, that leads you to where you are today. Do you think this is true for you, or is the line a work in progress?
MJ: It’s a mixer of both. I recall experiences that planted the seed to be expressive in my life. And I’m also still learning to be creatively free and spread my voice. Both!
TVL: I have to say, the path you’ve created so far is impressive! With two poetry books published, a children’s book, work in theater, radio; podcast/host, work on television/web ranging from PEAK TV (WFMZ 69 News) to the Hallmark Channel, you’ve worked as a writer, script supervisor, Production Assistant, Production manager, Producer, Executive Producer, Director, and believe me, I could probably go on another ten minutes! What do you love the most about making a movie?
MJ: I love the pre-production phase the most. It’s surreal to develop characters and find talent that matches your vision of that character. That part motivates me throughout the production. It is bringing the page to life!
TVL: Ok, let’s talk about Lonely Girl. Where did the idea of Lonely Girl come from?
MJ: It started as a working title for a poem. In my second poetry collection, ‘Interlude to Sentimental Me’, and it was a challenge to write this title. Until I received a phone call from one of my sisters, and immediately after, received a phone call from my brother in -law. Funny thing, they both were venting about each other. That sparked the writing for Lonely Girl, in this, I worked with a musician, and crafted a song titled, Lonely Girl. Fast forward a few years, and the screenplay came about after a conversation with the future lead actress and building the character with the actress in mind to play the role of Jo-Renee.
TVL: Why do you feel this story needed to be told?
MJ: It’s essential to develop content that’s theme based. And learning how to respond to emotional challenges develops our character.
TVL: What is the message you’re trying to convey to the audience in Lonely Girl?
MJ: I wanted to tell the story that sometimes we can go through challenges in our life. However, its how we respond that makes our character more potent.
TVL: Who is your target audience for Lonely Girl?
MJ: The target audience is the liberate female that understands the power of love, and when to put herself first. However, it’s also for the brother, sister, uncle, wife, husband or friend that might need some reminding that knowing and loving yourself, loneliness is just a word.
TVL: Was the script initially longer than the movie? Did you lose scenes in editing?
MJ: Absolutely! I had four revisions and several scenes cut due to length. During the process, it was shaping as a feature. The story was flowing out of me. Overall, I’m happy with the final product.
TVL: What makes you the most proud about Lonely Girl?
MJ: Making it! Seeing it come to life! Being around creatives and making it come to life, that’s the proudest feeling in the world.
TVL: How is Lonely Girl being distributed? What type of recognition will it receive?
MJ: I’ve planned a film festival run for 6-9 months, that started in November, and will run until July/August 2023. After the private premier, Lonely Girl received two laurels; 1) Finalist-Best Short Film-Blackboard International Film Festival and 2) Official Selection-Direct Monthly Online Film Festival. In addition, I submitted the film to several festivals within that time frame, and will make it publicly available in the Summer of 2023.
TVL: And what’s next for you? Any projects in the works?
MJ: I’m working on my next short, and will be joining other creatives on projects. So, I’ll be keeping busy. I want to learn, grow, and eventually have a platform to create content.
TVL: And for any of our inspiring future filmmakers reading this, what advice would you offer to break into this industry?
MJ: Believe in yourself first! Accept good criticism from supportive people and accept mistakes as learning curves.
TVL: Well, Michael, thank you so much for your time, sitting down with us. The one thing I wish our viewers could see is the amount of positive energy that just radiates all around you! How do you keep such a positive attitude in a world with lots of negative moments?
MJ: I have the opportunity to create something out of nothing. The feeling of hope. The sense of service and giving something helpful to others.
TVL: Sounds like a great recipe for happiness!
MJ: Understanding that I decide I want to be happy, and that is up to me every day.