The Needle and the Damage Done
Tiffany Billings has done more in her short life than most of us will do before we croak sometime mid-century. As a child, she appeared in the Broadway production of Annie and went on to provide the voice of Lucy in the '80s Saturday-morning cartoon series The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show. She has danced with the San Francisco Ballet Company, was a San Diego Chargers Girl, won awards for her singing around the globe and is just now wrapping up her master's degree of fine arts in dance at UC Irvine. And she ain't through yet. Her new short film, Fallen Star, is a bold exercise that chronicles the last 28 minutes in the life of a heroin addict and does so entirely through dance. This Monday, the film receives its world premiere in Irvine.
OC Weekly: Was it really your choice to go into performing when you were a kid, or did you have the classic, pushy stage parents?Tiffany Billings:Oh, it was totally my thing. I wanted it. There's nobody else in my family who's in the business, but they were really supportive of my enthusiasm. Your career has been quite eclectic.
I get that from my dad, I guess. He taught me that instead of giving yourself 100 percent to one thing, you can give yourself 100 percent to five or six things and still leave room for a personal life. I still manage to have a boyfriend, even with everything going on. Life is more fun when you're busy.
How did you segue from performing to directing your own film?
Well, that desire goes back a long way. When I was with the San Francisco Ballet, I learned a lot, but at some point, I remember thinking the world didn't really need one more girl in pointe shoes. I wanted to pioneer something new. My film is a dance narrative, something that has never been done before. It's linear, but there's no dialogue. There are no tights or leotards, people are dancing in everyday places, wearing everyday clothing. I'm not even sure if you'd call it dance exactly. I don't know what you'd call it.
This is your first film, and those are notoriously tough. Were there any mishaps when you thought you'd never get the thing done?
I wouldn't say that, but it was hard. The biggest challenge was just the time frame: we worked eight days straight, at night, living like vampires. We'd start the day at 4 p.m. and then dance until the sun came up. It was really hard on the dancers, having to do the same dance 15 times in a row at 3 a.m. . . . on concrete.
Were there any bitchy dancer tantrums?
No! I hand picked my cast from people I knew I could rely on, and I flew a couple of them out. There were no tantrums at all; we were a happy family.
Given that this film centers on drug addiction, I wanted to ask if you have any experience with addiction yourself.
Well, I lost someone very dear to me four years ago—a lover. I remember after he died, trying to deal with it through my dancing . . . and the film sort of grew out of that. The character in the film doesn't look like him or anything, but it grew out of what happened to him. I really tried hard to keep it from being phony. I wanted it to be educational without getting too message-y, and I think I've succeeded. When we've shown it to test audiences, they've cried. I've shown it to some Narcotics Anonymous people, and they couldn't take it. It's not too graphic; it's more symbolic. You see some blood, but it's not like you see the needle going into a vein or anything.
Now that it's done, is there anything about the film you'd change if you could?
Well, definitely, I think you learn new things every time. People have pointed out to me that all the antagonists in the film are women. I did that deliberately, but that's something I don't think I'll do again. I was going for something very symbolic there, with this Marilyn Monroe woman and these punker chicks, . . . I was trying to say something about addiction in an abstract way. It's hard to say why, but I definitely saw heroin as a she.
We're just about out of time. Do you have anything else about the film you want to say to people—any final message?
Just go see it! It's free!
Fallen Starscreens at Edwards University, 4245 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-8811; www.fallenstar-themovie.com. Mon., 8 P.M. Free.
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