Alexandra Kotcheff & Hannah Leder
Katch University interns had the pleasure of meeting Alexandra Kotcheff and Hannah Leder, a young female filmmaking duo who wowed the independent film world with their first feature-length production, The Planters (2019). They offered an inside perspective on their recently-released film and their unique collaborative process. The pair left the interns with some valuable advice about creating quality films when faced with limited resources and financial constraints.
Kotcheff and Leder may be relatively new names in the independent film festival circuit, but they have spent their lives in the Hollywood bubble. Both have parents in the entertainment industry, and Leder has accompanied her mother to sets since she was in the womb. Prior to The Planters, their filmmaking experience consisted of countless amateur projects and a few shorts. Kotcheff wrote the short Fearless (2014), and Leder directed the short Auto-Cowrecked (2015). As for acting, Kotcheff has played many small parts in film and television, and Leder has recently acted in a supporting role on the acclaimed Apple TV series The Morning Show (2019-).
Having met one another at age eight, Kotcheff and Leder’s collaboration is built on a lifetime of friendship and a shared love of storytelling. When asked to speak to their collaborative style, Kotcheff was adamant that “Film is a collaborative medium… [you have to] get comfortable with it!” Leder agreed wholeheartedly, stating that filmmaking “is about finding the people you love to work with and keeping them close because it is such an intimate thing.” Leder also advised asking a single question to assess someone as a personal and/or professional partner: “Are they making you better?”
The Planters (2019) is a feature-length independent film that made its world premiere in London at the Raindance Film Festival in September of 2019. There, it received “Film of the Festival” and went on to rack up accolades from domestic and international festivals until the COVID-19 pandemic cut their festival run short. Kotcheff described their shock at the film’s success, saying, “We weren’t expecting anything, really. We were just happy we had accomplished this thing.” Leder described the film as “a dark comedy about a reclusive telemarketer who is grieving the loss of her elderly adoptive parents and has a chance encounter with a very strange woman who has multiple personalities. They become very unlikely friends.” Kotcheff and Leder play the film’s lead characters, Martha and Sadie. There are only two other parts in the film, both small and played by actor friends of theirs. The platonic female power-couple also wrote, directed, shot, and edited the entire film over the course of two years and 127 shooting days. After their success on the festival circuit, they were approached for distribution by 1091 Pictures. The Planters made its limited theater release on October 9th, 2020 and will be available to stream on December 8th, 2020.
Audiences and critics alike were shocked at the quality of the film given the lack of a crew. Their crowdfunding efforts yielded considerable interest in the concept for The Planters, but a limited budget typical of independent titles. Kotcheff and Leder challenged themselves to learn new skills on a short timeline in order to achieve the production value they wanted for their first feature. Leder’s advice to interns; “The beauty of the internet is that you have so much access to anything you want. Anything you want to learn is right there, so use it.” Kotcheff encouraged budding filmmakers to “gently break the rules” if it means getting closer to perfection. To that, Leder cautioned “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good or great,” quoting advice she’d been given while working on The Planters.
Motivated by their passion for filmmaking, Kotcheff and Leder have wasted no time in starting their next project. They are already in pre-production for their second feature film, titled Peachville. Given the unpredictability of production capabilities and timelines during the COVID-19 pandemic, they have yet to determine a release date for Peachville. One thing is certain; we can’t wait to see it.