Name: Alysia Reiner
Home: New York, New York
Profession: Producer, Actress
Ava’s Possessions 2015
5 Flights Up 2014
Fort Tilden 2014
Kelly and Cal 2014
That Awkward Moment 2014
The Girl in the Book 2015
Alysia won a SAG award for her role as “Fig” in Orange is the New Black. She’s now filming Season 1 of Better Things for F/X, brought to you by the inimitable Louie CK, as well as Michael Showalter’s new series Search Party.
Alysia has also appeared on television in: Rosewood, The Mysteries of Laura, Unforgettable, Orange is the New Black (as Natalie Figueroa), Bones, How to Get Away With Murder, Down Dog, Hawaii Five-O, The Exes, Blue Bloods, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Law & Order, White Collar, 30 Rock, The Starter Wife, Puppy Love, Love Monkey, The Sopranos, The Jury, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Jack and Jill, Family Law, and The Practice.
She starred in and produced the film Equity, which premiered at Sundance and which Sony Picture Classics bought for a Summer 2016 release. Alysia loves working as a change maker for women, and has been invited to the White House and UN to speak about women and entrepreneurship. She was just awarded the Sarah Powell Huntington Leadership Award by the Women’s Prison Association, recognized as an Intelligent Optimist in Ode Magazine, and profiled by NYWIFT as a woman to watch.
Speed Grieving 2009
In 2014, Kira Bursky met Alysia Reiner at the All American High School Film Festival in New York City and became friends.
Alysia recently completed her new film Equity, which she both produced and acted in with director Meera Menon. The film premiered In competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Shortly before its premiere, it was acquired for theatrical distribution by Sony Picture Classics. The film is ground-breaking in that it is the first female-led Wall Street film produced by Equity actresses Alysia and Sarah Megan Thomas, written by Amy Fox, directed by Meera, and starring Anna Gunn. In the lead role of Naomi Bishop, Anna Gunn plays a senior investment banker who finds her career undermined by scandal and corruption.
Alysia and Meera recently had the opportunity to speak with Kira via live chat about the film, their backgrounds, and their experiences.
The Live Interview
Or… Read the Interview
Part 1: Can You Hear Me Now?
OR, The Trials and Tribulations of Getting a Live Chat to Work Properly
Kira: Can you see me?
Meera: I can’t see you. Oh, I see you.
Kira: Alysia, is the camera button turned to “on”? Still waiting on Alysia’s face. I’m frozen. Can you hear me? Hello? Can you guys hear me?
Alysia: Kira, you can just ask us lots of fabulous questions and then we can fill in the picture.
Kira: Can Meera hear me?
Kira: Can you hear me?
Meera: I can’t really hear you guys.
Kira: Really? Oh, I see both of you now.
Meera: I don’t know if I can hear you guys. Can you hear me?
Alysia: I can hear you. Can you hear me?
Kira: Yes, I can hear both of you.
Meera: You guys are coming you guys are
Alysia: Yeah, not working. I can’t hear anybody.
Kira: Okay. I’ll speak and type.
Alysia: There’s crazy static.
Meera: Yeah, the static is what I’m getting mainly.
Kira: How did you first get into film?
Alysia: Should we just do a phoner? Oh, got it. Okay, should we try – yeah.
Kira: Do you want to answer –
Meera: Yeah, I can hear you, Alysia. I think Kira’s the one that I’m getting some static from. We can do it this way. I’m fine with this. Yeah.
Part 2: Houston, We Have Lift-Off!
Or, How I Got into Film and Made One of My Own
Alysia: Meera, you answer the first question.
Meera: How did I first get into film? I always was interested in it. I grew up trying to make some films with my friends and then I made some short films in college. I ended up going to film school because I really liked doing it and I needed to learn more. I just kept building on an interest of mine that started as a very young child.
Alysia: And I’m not in film, actually. [Laughter]
No, I’ve always loved film and I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of it and once you do a lot of it, you ask yourself, “Oh, I wonder what it would be like to make a movie?” And then you do and you realize you never want to make a film ever again.
No, just kidding! [Laughter]
And you make a film and you realize, wow, I bow to everybody who makes a movie.
That’s really the truth.
Kira: How do you spell “segued”?
Alysia: Oh, this is really funny!
You wrote, “Alysia, can you talk about acting and how that seaweed into film making?”
Well, in fact, I love seaweed and I had seaweed broth for dinner tonight. It had dulse in it. I’m not kidding. Yes, I love seaweed.
I’ve been an actress and I always wanted to act. I wrote my college essay about how the science of neuro-biochemistry and acting were really the same thing. To me, they are both studies of human behavior and why we are who we are. I’m fascinated by humans. I will forever be deeply fascinated by human beings and why they do what they do and how they do what they do.
Filmmaking was just a bigger part of that, about telling stories.
I remember in my 20’s when I wrote a mission statement about what I want to do with my life… I still am in my 20’s, but… no, in my teens.
I wrote a mission statement about what I want to do with my life and I said I want to tell stories that make the world a better place. I want to tell stories that other people might be afraid to tell. Both of those things are the underlying idea behind being a filmmaker. It is exciting to me to want to make films as a woman because a lot of times, as a woman, the roles that you’re offered don’t necessarily tell stories that make the world a better place or are stories that others might be afraid to tell.
Kira: I would like to talk a bit about being female in the film industry and your experience with that. Has your gender been a hindrance or has it helped you in some ways? How have you felt being a female in the film industry? I want to hear from both of you.
Meera: I think it’s funny because whenever this question is brought up, my first thought is, well, I don’t know what it would be like to be a male filmmaker. I don’t necessarily know what any experience outside of my own experience would be.
Objectively, and after watching other filmmakers and seen what they have experienced in the film business and relating it to my own, I think the challenges come from the fact that there is such a small and brief filmmaking history. There is almost a template that people in the business drop into place for female filmmakers, which tells them how to package female filmmakers and how to present them and sell them to the world. When a female filmmaker is just starting to get out there and make a name for herself and become a voice in the business, the film industry is not quite sure what to do. There is just not a built-in vocabulary that can help the film industry understand how to talk about a female filmmaker in a room or what a female filmmaker brings to the table.
Meera Menon behind the camera
And, ultimately, I feel that they are over-complicating the issue.
The voices are voices.
The artists are artists.
Regardless of sex, creed, belief, anything.
So, discussing the role of female filmmakers in the industry is a bit over-complicated as an issue, but because it is such a large issue, and it’s kind of a systemic issue, it affects the industry, in general, and affects female filmmakers, in particular.
Alysia: Very well said. I have nothing to say. [Laughter]
Seriously, anybody who knows me knows that I’m kind of a crazy Pollyanna. I hate looking for the negative in anything. I hate looking at the “women are not equal” biases. Having said that, I made a decision to tell a story about women by women, to be a producer who very purposefully looks at stories where a female is the lead, where we have a female director, where we have a female writer. However, the statistics concerning women’s roles behind and in front of the camera are staggering and deeply upsetting.
To me, the only choice in the face of this obstacle is to be the change you want to see and don’t complain about it and don’t moan about it and don’t even talk about it. Just change it.
I’m not one for complaining and talking. Just change it up.
Just do. Just be.
Kira: The next thing I wanted to ask is about your collaboration. Alysia, how did you go about putting together the crew and finding Meera? How did that all happen? And then could you tell us about the process of working together?
Alysia: Sure. Crewing up, Sarah [Note from Mr Ed: Sarah is Sarah Megan Thomas, the co-producer of Equity] and I talked about working on something together. We didn’t want to tell a story unless it was very deeply compelling to us both. It had to be a story that had never been told and a story that we felt needed to be told. And when Sarah brought up this idea of women on Wall Street, at first, I didn’t find it very interesting. I talked to my friend… I have a dear friend named Lauren who started a nonprofit called All In Together, which is concerned with bringing more women into politics and helping to keep more women in the workplace. Lauren was telling me all of these insanely amazing stories about what it is to be a woman on Wall Street and in any high-level corporate environment. I was blown away by the stories and I turned to Sarah and said, “I think we really could have a movie here.”
Actress and co-producer Sarah Megan Thomas (left) and Anna Gunn (center) in a scene from Equity
We started to develop the concept together and then we wanted to hire a writer. Amy Fox became our writer. She is someone who we had both worked with separately. I had worked on a script with Amy years ago about Stuyvesant Town in New York City that Kerry Washington and I did together. It was brilliantly done but it never went anywhere. At the time we wanted to bring on a writer, I was thinking, oh my God, Amy is a writer and she’s a playwright and a screenwriter and teaches screenwriting.
When we first reached out to Amy, she had just had a baby and said no. We then did some more searching and started a whole set of relationships with other people that didn’t work.
A while later, Amy saw our announcement in Variety that we were planning on doing this project and she reached out to us and said, “Congratulations. I’d love to do your next thing.” We called her and asked her if she actually, wanted to do this film. Within 24 hours, we had hired her and were working with her. Yeah, that’s the magic of it. If someone’s meant to do a project, someone’s meant to do a project. And Amy has been stellar throughout.
And then Meera. We really wanted a female director. We were in conversation with a lot of very well-known female directors and two things happened. First, I was really curious to have someone who wasn’t as well known and someone who I thought was outrageously talented but not necessarily a name yet because I love the idea of giving someone new an opportunity. And second, some of the people who were more established had very definitive ideas of what this world was.
Actress and producer Alysia Reiner in a scene from Equity
One thing that I loved about Meera is she saw the world in the way that I saw the world. When she first wrote her director’s statement, I felt she articulated things that I felt deeply about our script and our world that I wasn’t able to express. She articulated my thoughts better than I could express them myself, but they were very much my thoughts. And she had insight into it and a spin on the world that was different and fresh. Meera was just stellar and outrageously talented. I immediately knew that I wanted this person.
We actually found her through a script and a guy named Mark Stolaroff who runs No Budget Filmmaking School. I reached out to him and I said, “Give me your number one female director who you think is the most talented person you’ve ever worked with.” Meera is who he mentioned.
Kira: Nice. Amazing.
Meera: It was just that connection of the right people at the right time.
Kira: Then when you guys started working together, how did that collaboration process go?
Alysia: Oh, it’s been horrible ever since! [More laughter}
Meera: It’s very fast.
Kira: Oh yeah?
Alysia: Meera, really?
Meera: They had been developing the film for over a year and it was so strong and all the pieces were already in place. I felt like I had just jumped onto a moving train. I tried to hold on for dear life. It was very fast. Instantly synergistic because I think and continue to hope that I understood what these gals were going for and felt very connected to them on that level. That initial stuff one usually goes through to get to know each partner and build a working relationship… we didn’t need to waste too much time with that nonsense. It was just a matter of putting together all the practical elements for making a movie happen at that point.
Kira: Big Little Filmmaker is about empowering younger filmmakers and inspiring and showing them what’s possible out there. If you could go back to your younger self when you were first getting involved with filmmaking, what’s one piece of advice you would tell yourself?
Meera: I was talking to someone recently about this. I did jump in whole hog pretty early, but I think I would have told myself to just do it even earlier. By the time I got around to really thinking that filmmaking is what I was going to do, which was in college, the technology was extremely accessible. What made me realize I could do filmmaking was that I learned how to use Final Cut Pro. I had a little camcorder and I had a laptop. And I could just do the whole thing myself. I filmed little things in my dorm room and put them together myself.
Just jump into the beauty of the moment. It’s all accessible and all possible right now. Don’t hesitate and wait for the perfect set of circumstances to arrive at your door to make films. Experiment whether it’s something that you want to take to the moon and back or whether it’s something you just want to share with your friends or whether it’s whatever you’re doing. You can only get better by doing. Just jump in and start doing and practicing and seeing where it takes you.
Alysia: Yeah, similarly, I would go for the just do it. And there is the other piece of the puzzle.
I remember when I was a little bit younger… actually in my teens. Actually, really in my teens… not just saying that. But there were connections that people offered me and I thought, “No, I’m not important enough or I’m not big enough. I’m just this high school student. What do I know?” Take people on their offer to connect you and stay in contact with people.
Kira, you’re a fantastic example of that. You were in high school when we met and I said, “Hey, if you need help, I’m here.” You were like, “Okay!” You ended up living in my house because that’s how I roll and that’s how you roll. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no, so you may as well ask.
Kira: Awesome. Could you guys give some advice on collaboration, in general, and how to make the most out of collaborating? What is your advice on communication? It seems that you have a really good connection with one another and you work really well with one another. Tell us how to create a positive environment and positive communication.
Alysia: Comedy. When I think about it now, it’s funny we are not making a comedy. One of my favorite things about Meera is that I knew she had a sense of comedy and humor and that was really important to me. And the ability to laugh at one’s self. The ability to laugh in the room is really important. That’s a huge thing in all of life.
Number two, creating a sense of safety for people, where people feel safe to say whatever they mean and are welcome to say whatever they need.
And to feel safe to say really stupid things. For instance, everybody has a different vernacular for saying stupid things. I even have that with my agent when we’re trying to figure out a solution to something, such as right now, we are balancing two jobs. We would call it “black boarding”. I’m black boarding here in a room, creatively. Sometimes I’ll say something like “spaghetti at the wall”.
The producers of Equity: Alysia Reiner (left) and Sarah Megan Thomas (right)
And then the biggest thing for me is that if you want to be a great collaborator, take an improv class and learn the real rules of improv, which, interestingly enough, are the rules of comedy and the rules of safety. You never shoot people down. You never say, “No, that’s a bad idea.” Instead you say, “Oh yeah, and…” That way everybody always feels valued in the room, whatever room that is, be that when you’re with the editor or when you’re with your costume designer or when you’re with your first AD [Note from Mr. Ed: AD is short for Assistant Director] or when you’re with your PAs [Note from Mr. Ed: PA is short for Production Assistant]. You always want everyone to feel valued. That’s really important because particularly in lower budget filmmaking, people are not making a ton of money. We are doing it for the love. It’s for the love and the passion of the work. I always want people to feel valued, not just when I’m on a huge budget movie.
God willing, you’re always doing filmmaking with passion and love, but sometimes when doing a huge budgeted film, it’s a different feeling on a much, much larger scale.
Meera: Yeah, I think that is absolutely something that Alysia gives to all of us who are working on the film. Assuring that people feel listened to and valued and heard is something that I too agree with as a core value. Be willing to engage in the dialogue before necessarily performing your hard and fast opinion on things and recognize that one’s opinion has to be formed in collaboration. That’s a gift on this project to have had that tone set.
Kira: Cool. The final question is just for the fun of it. I would love to hear about any unexpected or humorous or strange moments that occurred while you were making the film.
Alysia: Well, there was that time when the ghost came on set. No, I’m trying to think.
Kira: Or an unexpected lesson.
Meera: I think that’s the thing. When you set that tone that Alysia is talking about and that she sets with the film, it is a tone that is open to collaboration and one in which people feel a sense of authorship and a primary engagement with the material. They are not doing it for the paycheck.
Then you are in situations like we were in a month ago when we were doing reshoots. We were shooting outside for an entire day during Hurricane Joaquin. It was insane and we were all standing outside, completely physically miserable but totally laughing about it because we were in it together and we all just had that love for one another as a team. We were all there for the same reason, which was that we really wanted to make this movie together. That tone was set with the film very early on and I think you can face really incredible things together when that tone is set.
Kira: Nice. And Alysia? Do you have a story?
Alysia: Yeah. One day we decided to do Equity the Musical between scenes. It was this crazy day where we were shooting all of the scenes that took place in this one location and there were twelve different scenes. We had one day in this location. Between shots, we would sing made-up songs from Equity the Musical and everybody would come up with a new verse. That was really fun.
Kira: I love that. Do you guys have any last comments you’d like to make or anything you’d like to just get out there to young filmmakers?
Alysia: I would keep on asking questions. You can post on my Twitter and Facebook pages. The film company is Broad Street Pictures at www.broadstreetpictures.com. I’m Alysia Reiner. My Twitter account is @AlysiaReiner and on Facebook it is alysiareiner. And Meera’s Twiiter is MeeraOnTheWall.
Ask us questions. Keep on asking. Keep on being curious.
2 Wonderful To Be Limited is the name of my personal LLC [Note from Mr. Ed: LLC is the abbreviation for Limited Liability Corporation], which is is my husband’s and my company. The name is based on two people full of wonder and it is the way we think of it. And keep on wondering.
As artists, one of the most important things we can do is to keep on wondering and not know. The more I live on this planet, the more that I am curious and the more that I am wondering and that is, to me, the most delicious place to live. The people whom I’m most interested in spending time with are the people who are curious and wondering, as opposed to the people who know things.
Meera: Very well said.
Kira: Are there any last things you want to say?
Meera: I love how there’s been this throbbing heart on the side of my screen this entire time from this emoticon you sent over. It’s just been pulsing to the side of your faces the entire time. Pretty funny I would say.
Kira: That was awesome. Thank you, guys, for making this interview work and getting on-line with me tonight. You are both very inspiring individuals and I’m very excited to let other people feel the inspiration and feel the passion that you have for being filmmakers and telling stories. Thank you.
Alysia: Thank you!
Meera: What you’re doing is super, super cool. Alysia knows that we are right in the thick of it. I have no idea what to think or how to talk about this movie yet. But when she forwarded to me what you were doing, I knew that was exactly the kind of resource that I needed as a kid to empower me. I’m still a kid. I’m going to use your site..
Kira: Sweet. Thank you.
Meera: It’s awesome. I’m really excited you’re doing this.
Kira: Thank you. I’m excited as well. Yay! Thanks for being a part of it.
Alysia: Good luck with it.
Kira: Thank you. Alysia, send my hugs to your family.
Alysia: I promise and I’m sure Liv [Note from Mr Ed: Liv is Alysia’s daughter] would give you the biggest, biggest, biggest hug back.
Kira: I love you guys and I hope you have a wonderful night. And thanks again for doing this.
Alysia: Alright, bye love.
Alysia Reiner is a powerhouse actress and consummate pollyanna who uses her superpowers for good (even though she’s known for playing some amazing bitches!). Alysia just finished filming Season 4 of Orange is the New Black. She won her second SAG award (the first one was for the film Sideways) for Best Ensemble Cast for her role as “Fig,” the tough as nails assistant warden, and can be seen in Seasons 1, 2 and 3 now on Netflix. She just started filming the new FX show Better Things, brought to you by the inimitable Louie CK and Pamela Adlon. Additionally you can catch her as D.A. Wendy Parks in Shonda Rhimes’ breakout hit How to Get Away With Murder on ABC, and Lilian Izikoff on Rosewood on FOX. Oh, and over in “cameo land,” she is playing another diva (okay, bitch) on the new Michael Showalter/Sarah-Violet Bliss/Charles Rogers series Search Party for TBS.
Film and Television
On the film front, she just starred with two-time Emmy Winner Anna Gunn in Equity, the first ever female driven Wall Street film, which she also produced. Equity premiered at Sundance in January and was sold to Sony Pictures Classics for a summer 2016 release. EQUITY was Alysia’s seventh independent feature as an actress in 2015, but the first in her life as actress and producer.
Also on the film front, Alysia was recently seen opposite Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton in 5 Flights Up, and in That Awkward Moment for Focus Features. She also continues to make her mark in indie films, appearing in Fort Tilden [Grand Jury Prize at SXSW] and Kelly & Cal [Emergent Director Award at SXSW]. Additional film credits for Reiner include the period thriller Primrose Lane, Arranged, Kissing Jessica Stein, One Last Thing, The A-List, For Love of the Game with Kevin Costner, and Lee Toland Krieger’s The Vicious Kind, which was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.
In addition to her recent starring TV roles, Alysia has also appeared in top television series including Bones, Hawaii Five-0, Blue Bloods, 30 Rock, Law & Order, White Collar, The Sopranos, Love Monkey, The Drew Carey Show, The Exes, The Starter Wife, and as a series lead in several TV pilots you will sadly never see.
Actress and producer Alysia Reiner as Natalie Figueroa in the multiple winning Netflix series Orange is the New Black
A classically trained theatre actor, Alysia has also appeared on stages around the world; from the Sundance Filmmakers Lab in Utah to The Royal Court Theatre in London; from the famed Apollo Theatre in Harlem NYC to The Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. She starred in the New York premiere of Pentecost by Tony-winning playwright David Edgar, and the provocative two character play An Oak Tree with Tim Crouch, which won a Special Obie Award. Her portrayal of June Miller in Anais Nin: One Of Her Lives was critically acclaimed, as was her turn in Wasps in Bed at The Beckett Theater, of which The New York Times wrote “Alysia Reiner is priceless.”
Alysia loves working as a change maker for women and has been invited to the White House and the United Nations to speak about women and entrepreneurship, and has appeared on panels at the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. Additionally, she was awarded the Sarah Powell Huntington Leadership Award by the Women’s Prison Association, was recognized as an Intelligent Optimist in Ode Magazine, and profiled by New York Women in Film and Television as a “Woman To Watch.”
Passionately committed to protecting the environment, Reiner is a champion of all things eco-friendly. Her completely green Harlem brownstone renovation has been featured on World’s Greenest Homes, Home & Family, and Renovation Nation, as well as in various magazines including Dwell, Gotham, and The Nest. She is also a celebrity spokesperson for Best for Babes and Healthy Child Healthy World. She is a celebrity contributor to the Huffington Post and Maria Shriver’s website, and has been featured on CNN, People.com, Celebrity Baby Scoop, Stroller Traffic, Healthy Child Healthy World, Family Focus Blog, Today I Ate a Rainbow, Your Green Baby, and others.
Additionally, Reiner is involved with many other charities including The Cancer Support Community, Actors for Autism, The Young Women’s Leadership Network, Amnesty International, PEN International, SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young, Bent on Learning, and Safe Kids Worldwide.
Speed Grieving, the award winning short film that Alysia created, produced and stars in, had its world premiere at The Hamptons International Film Festival, has screened at over a dozen more film festivals, and is now used as a grief counseling tool in every Cancer Support Community center in the country.
Please follow Alysia on all social media because she loves to share inspiring and funny stuff (also because she is deeply insecure and it gives her a false sense of security/safety/confidence/control):
Meera Ephron presented with the Tribeca Film Festival’s inaugural Nora Ephron Prize presented by Vogue’s Sally Singer (left) and festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal (right).
Film and Television
In 2009, Meera wrote and directed the short film Mark in Argentina, a story about a governor searching for his mistress in Argentina. However, it wasn’t until she released her feature-length debut when she started to get a great deal of recognition from the media.
Meera’s first full length feature film, Farah Goes Bang, was the product of an idea she had from a university class and was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign. In an interview with The Believer, Meera said the idea came to her while she dealt with university life, which has such a strong focus on having sex. She wanted to see films where women exploring their sexuality later in life was not seen as abnormal. The film was described by Jennifer Mills as one that, “explores many genres: the road movie, the sexual coming of age movie, the political film, the buddy movie.” Meera co-wrote the film with Laura Goode, who also acted as a producer. The film is under Elephant Shoe Pictures, a production company Meera created with her partner, Paul Gleason. Not only did she win the Nora Ephron Prize for Farah Goes Bang, but the film also won awards at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and CAAMFest.
Meera has also worked as an editor for Larry King Now, and has done camera work and art direction for other independent projects.
For her latest project, Meera signed on to direct the upcoming female-driven Wall Street drama, Equity. The film was produced by Broad Street Pictures. Broad Street was founded by Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas to produce films with strong females both in front of and behind the camera.