A few weeks ago, we were fortunate to have a conversation with Atlanta-based Actress, Writer, and sometimes Filmmaker, and Producer Leanna Adams. Hailing from Spartanburg, South Carolina, Leanna has moved to Atlanta four times and now has no plans to leave anytime soon! Once Leanna relocated, she visited Sketchworks Comedy and realized that comedy was something she had to do, and felt it was her job to give and receive joy.
Leanna shares about what she does in the Atlanta Film and TV community.
I threw myself into shows with writing and acting, and over time I thought, ‘Oh. I can film these. I joined with a partner named Ken MacLaughlin. Ken and I formed Decent Humans on YouTube and filmed a sketch every two weeks. It was kind of my own film school, where you learn it is harder to shoot outside, and there are variables you can’t count on. There was a lot of great learning! A few years later, I realized I wanted to tell bigger, longer, and more meaningful stories that reach a larger audience. I have written pilots and features for the last several years, which is another learning process, because writing is rewriting, and for me, it’s hard. I am not John Hughes, and I don't crank out gold in a weekend!
I am lucky to be in Atlanta where so much is happening. There are good people, and has been a good vibe of those who love and continuously want to work with me. Over the years, I have seen some of the same people on different projects because Atlanta is a big city/small town. I am fortunate to create right now and write strong, female-driven stories that are meaningful, featuring a diverse cast and a different story that we have seen on a bigger level.
Leanna's journey dates going back to the Sketch Comedy Theater and realized that Comedy was the one thing she had to do.
I thought, ‘How can I get into that? I started taking acting and writing classes at Sketchworks Comedy. It was a great learning process. Doing their shows and seeing how it worked. Once I began taking writing classes, I put up my writing to try to get into their shows. To hear your piece on stage is some big learning! Things land, or they don't. The sketch sings or it doesn't, which is all invaluable learning. Then I started shooting my own two-person sketches. Afterward, I thought now what? I’m on the acting/writing side. We need a crew and people behind the camera. Do you want to work with the director, or do you want to direct it yourself? Do you want to do it as a team? From my perspective, just doing taught me about who I am, how I am, and what it was. Sitting in with an editor, seeing them work, and thinking, ‘I can do some editing. Let me try that!’ For me, failing forward has been a great learning experience, because you don't know what you're doing. You didn't know you were going to lose the light or the sound wasn't going to be good.
Now that I am trying to make bigger and longer projects, I feel like I am using all that learning, and I am working on getting a feature shot this fall. My strengths, weaknesses, and impatience -- I want everything done yesterday! But, I have learned the hard way! I don’t want to rush this project because I want it done well and the timing and partners to be right which has worked out very well. I found a director, Charlie Fisk, who is incredible and excited to come on board. We have a lot of conversations about how my film will look and who we can team up with. You can't guarantee success, and I think a great film is like lightning in a bottle. But, you can start with a great script. Charlie pushes me to rewrite and rework the script with my writing partner, Rachel Cross, and has gotten us to pay for coverage, which is hard, but also good. We use a wonderful screenwriting consultant Pat Verducci, who has told us every beat she loves in our film, and everything she thought wasn't working yet. I realized, ‘Oh, my gosh! I have so much more work to do!’ We have been working on this script for two years, and now I have to put six more months of hard work into it. Charlie pushes me to guarantee success on this project.
Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast. These are the hard lessons I tell myself everyday.
- Leanna Adams
Atlanta Film and TV: Growing up, did your parents recognize your love of the arts, and if so what did they do to help nourish your gift to facilitate growth?
Leanna Adams: We were a sports family, and you either had to play sports or work. If you wanted money, you had to do both. I was always a ham. My parents were encouraging and liked that I was the family clown. Later, when I began doing shows, my parents would see me perform and encouraged me to keep going. They didn’t know what to say when I wanted to quit and would tell me to ‘ keep going!’ Which sometimes is all you want to hear anyway! I often look back and think, ‘gosh, I wasted so many years not doing the thing I wanted to do.’ Now, when I'm in a theater production, I think, ‘when’s halftime?’ Sometimes, I forget the lingo! In the end, it does not matter, you get in when you should. My parents are now very supportive. When I share what I am up to, I can see it in their eyes; they don't know what I’m saying! But, they listen, nod, and tell me to keep going, which is wonderful!
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share with us about how you got started in Comedy writing?
Leanna Adams: I was taking acting classes at Sketchworks, and I was acting. I felt like I wasn't getting the roles I wanted, which isn’t any fault of the Sketch Comedy Theater. Sometimes they flipped genders from men to women to have enough people. I thought, ‘You can complain or show what you want.' Once I started writing, I realized I could write parts for myself and other people, and it expanded from there. It was a gateway to writing sketches for my characters and for theater. I had a hand in the narrative and wrote about what wasn’t there. But, showed what could be there or what I saw. Anytime I meet a new actor in Atlanta who is not where they want to be or wants to be somewhere that's hard to get there, I’ll ask, ‘are you writing?’ For some people, it is hard to put pen to paper, and I understand because the learning curve for me was long and hard! Now you can record yourself using your phone. You can write just by talking in your car and catching something.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you share your experience with Sketchworks Comedy?
Leanna Adams: I began taking classes at Sketchworks and started writing in their writing group. For a short time, I produced shows. From there, I joined my filmmaking partner and produced Decent Humans on our YouTube channel. Once we did that, I realized I didn’t want to produce theater. I am, however, glad I did because I know what goes into it and how hard it is. But, the filmmaking experience, being on set, creating and telling stories is something my friend in England could see. I think there is no right or wrong thing to be interested in, or what part of this art you love. For me, it was filmmaking! I still love getting on stage. We are doing a parody of ‘Grease’ this fall called ‘Vape,’ which is a commentary on the issues with Grease. We had a super successful Atlanta run, and we were going to perform in New York in 2019, but the creators of Grease sent a cease and desist letter to the theater in New York. We sued the sole surviving copyright holder of Grease, and - all these years later - we won! I still love performing, and there is nothing more exciting than being on stage, feeling the joy of the audience and giving it back. But, when I think about what I want to do day-to-day, it’s filmmaking!
Watch our conversation here.
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you talk to us about your production company, Randy Mandy Productions?
Leanna Adams: I formed Randy Mandy Productions to make a feature. Often, you form an LLC to make a feature, and it will live for the life of it. It’s also how you’ll set up your bank account for the film. We’ve been putting the pieces to the puzzle together, so we could get the green light and go this fall. I wanted our production company to have a funny name - Randy in British means ‘sexually excited!’ But, the name Randy Mandy is a character I performed for Sketchworks on stage for years, who was a fun character, and I thought it was the perfect name for this production company, for this female-led comedy.
Atlanta FIlm and TV: If I could travel back in time and speak to 18 year old Leanna, and tell her about all the wonderful things she would become, what would you least likely believe to be true?
Leanna Adams: I grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina and entertainment and filmmaking seemed light years away. I thought there was no way I would get close to doing that. In order for you to get into entertainment, it seemed as though your dad would have had to be on the Young and The Restless. I would tell my eighteen-year-old self, 'you won't believe it. But, Atlanta will be the third largest production hub in the world! You will get in on it. You will love it, meet people, and it’ll be a lifetime of learning, creating, and collaborating. It’ll be hard, but, the hard will be what makes it gratifying.' I think my eighteen-year-old self would say, ‘are you kidding me? No! I need to be a lawyer. Let’s get real here!'
Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice for someone who is an aspiring sketch comedy writer?
Leanna Adams: I would say, to aspiring sketch comedy writers to just shoot it! Put it out there on Facebook. The best way to just shoot it is to do a film race. I love film races! Especially the 48-hour Film Festival, because I love the limitation it puts on you. You'll get a genre, a line of dialogue, a prop, that you have to use under seven minutes. And, you’ll have a literal 48 hours to get it done. The first year I did it, we did so many great things. But, the sound wasn’t render done, which was okay! I was proud and met so many people that weekend. You will somehow work with those same people again if it goes well. Or, you’ll say, 'I will never work with those people again,' which is fine because it’s all good learning! People in our business need to show and not tell. It’s okay to make something terrible with your phone and learn you need to find a collaborator. There are other people new to the business who are going to want to learn with you.
Atlanta Film and TV: How important is networking and building relationships to you, and can you share any networking events that you have attended recently, or in the past.
Leanna Adams: It is important to network in this business. It's been hard during the pandemic to not be on set and networking. But, in the past, I loved going to Get Connected. I also love going to a film night called Mighty Shorts, which runs out of RoleCall Theater at Ponce City Market, which runs tons of shows, and hosts industry nights. Lastly, The Atlanta Film Festival has networking events for people in different specialties.
Leanna shares some G.E.M.S. for budding artists in Atlanta
I think we all have imposter syndrome, or people will say, 'I'm this. I can't do that.' I think it’s important to advocate and push yourself. Take classes, and do that scary thing. If you want to be a producer/director, take an acting class, and see what it's like. Be sure to find your tribe, who will be the very people who push you to keep going. There are people who will want to meet and invite you to work on projects. Or, you’ll show up on a set thinking you know no one, only to find out you know a bunch of people!
Atlanta Film and TV; What can we expect next from Leanna Adams?
Leanna Adams: I am making a comedy-heist film called CLASS OF 2000. It's about someone grappling with self-worth. At the beginning, the main character feels like she is not good enough, and by the end she takes down the robber with other people she’s bonded with. This film is also about a class reunion. It’s been a journey because I am figuring out how to do this, how to make a movie that’s ultra low budget and that you want to see, that’s meaningful. But, I’m going to do it the best I can. Be sure to follow the Class of 2000 film on Instagram @Class00movie
Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you?