Owner of Side Gig Productions, AUTUMN McALPIN is an award-winning filmmaker who recently directed her first feature film, Miss Arizona, which she also wrote and produced. Miss Arizona follows a former pageant queen on an all-night adventure with four unlikely friends she meets at a women’s shelter, and premiered at the Bentonville Film Festival in May 2018. The film won the Audience Award for Best Feautre. The film stars Johanna Braddy, Robyn Lively, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Missi Pyle, and Steve Guttenberg.
In 2015, Autumn co-wrote and produced the feature film Waffle Street, starring Danny Glover and James Lafferty. Now available worldwide on Netflix, VOD, and DVD, Waffle Street is a riches-to-rags tale based on the memoir of financier turned waffle shop waiter James Adams. On the festival circuit, the film won “Best Feature Film” at the Hollywood Film Fest, the “Carpe Diem Award” at the Woodstock Film Fest, the “Audience Award” at the Red Rock Film Festival, and Autumn was awarded the “Screenwriter Award” by Leonard Maltin at the Coronado Island Film Fest. Autumn also wrote, produced and directed award-winning short films Shadow and Another Time, and has three other features in development.
Hailing from USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, Autumn’s creative body of work spans several markets. Her stage play, In Front of the Children, won first prize at USC’s 2015 Writing for Stage and Screen Competition, and her play, Ten Years Left, was a selection of the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2015. The former model, actress, and English teacher is also the author of best-selling graduation gift book, Real World 101, and freelanced as a humor and entertainment columnist for The Orange County Register for ten years. Autumn has directed national public service campaigns for the American Parkinson Disease Association and “Are You Ready?” emergency preparedness initiative. Beyond creative storytelling, Autumn is a wife and mother of four who runs the non-profit Aspire Higher, an organization that links families to volunteerism causes, and she also actively supports Operation Underground Railroad, which rescues children from sex trafficking.
(photo credit: Rich Marchewka - Eitan Almagor, Jordan McKittrick & Autumn on the set of miss Arizona)
What do I do best?
I’m a pretty zealous multitasker. I’ve always felt mothers make the best producers because we produce non-stop: birthday parties, backpacks, book reports, playdates, lunches, vacations, vaccinations, you name it. When people find out I’m a mother of four, run my own production company, and have been making a film a year for the last five years, I get the “how do you do it?” But I find the more that’s on my plate, the more I’m forced to manage my time and priorities wisely and focus on doing my best – always. There’s just no time for errors and laziness. Admittedly, I don’t hire as much office and home help as I should (probably because I don’t have the time to train anyone to understand my brain/system and usually, it’s easier to just do it myself). Of course, I have a secret weapon – a very supportive husband and children who put up with the chaos and occasional distracted stare.
What makes me the best version of myself?
A genuine love for people and desire to make the world a better place. I inherited a strong sense of altruism from my mother, the most charitable person I know. I don’t take on projects unless I feel they could broaden perspectives, or in some way make the world a better place. Life’s just too short. I was drawn to filmmaking for the emotional connections I feel when experiencing strong story, and I desire to create stories that connect with others in a positive way and inspire change.
What are my aspirations?
While I’ve always been a writer, I did life in reverse: I had a family before career, so my 20s were spent raising four young children (and a young-at-heart husband), and in my 30s, I went back to school to get my masters degree (in professional writing, from USC) and start my filmmaking career. I’d love to spend the next 10-15 years producing and directing domestic dramas and comedies, the rest of my life writing, and… once my youngest leaves home for college, I’ve always had the ambition to get my PhD in theology and film studies (from Columbia in NYC, wouldn’t that be nice). I’m fascinated by the history of civilization from a theological perspective and why people believe and behave the way they do spiritually. I’d love to complete a thesis documentary project in which I step inside the lifestyle of the worlds’ major religions and explore the process of indoctrination. Then… someday I see myself as a professor of literature/creative writing.
My Biggest Success?
Their names are Alex – 17yo, Gavin – 15yo, Blake – 12yo, and Gracie – 10yo. I don’t feel I can take credit for their spectacularness – they came the way they are. But I thank God for them daily. They are my best friends, and I consider my family my greatest blessing.
My Most Challenging Moment?
A few years ago, I received sizable funding to direct my passion project – a feature film loosely based on a personal experience. Only caveat, the investor wanted two major A-listers to star. This presented a problem as I had not yet directed a feature, and I knew I’d struggle to land the kind of talent necessary – which we did. I kept feeling in my gut I needed to direct a smaller project first, at roughly the same time the story for my feature film “Miss Arizona” showed up, begging to be told. Stepping away from the other project which I had spent three years prepping and working to get financed was very difficult, and various partners and people involved in that project didn’t seem to understand my decision. Making our lower budget film “Miss Arizona” was a very challenging experience start to finish, but I learned so much on that journey, which has been immensely rewarding and has only better prepared me to now refocus on my other passion project. Through this experience, I learned to trust my gut and listen to that inner voice.
(Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Shoniqua Shandai, Autumn McAlpin, Johanna Braddy, Deanna Cooper, Otmara Marrero, Robyn Lively)
My dad was a successful commercial real estate developer and he always had Henry Ford’s quote “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right” written on the white board at his office. This made an impression on me at a young age, and instilled a strong sense of ambition and confidence. I love this no excuses, just do it philosophy. I love being someone who gets things done.
My Favorite People/Role Models?
My grandmother, Marilyn (“Nino”,) and her psychology practice and life partner, Art, have always strongly influenced me. They’re brilliant, entertaining, selfless, loving people who taught me to love people, movies, all things California, and several years back, they passed the torch to me to host our annual family Oscar party. Their opinion is one that matters most when I test new work. Professionally, I greatly admire the body of work of Chris Weitz, David O. Russell, Reed Morano, Gary Marshall, Aaron Sorkin, Meryl Streep, and Saoirse Ronan. I also absolutely love the projects Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine banner is developing. (hire me!)
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Though I technically “work” in LA, I get asked almost daily why I don’t live there. I live in a little village by the sea called San Clemente just along the border of San Diego and Orange County, and I just can’t give it up. It’s one of America’s last great small towns where everyone knows everyone and we’ve oft been voted “World’s Best Climate” (and there’s no smog or traffic)! I’m addicted to my home on a quiet street that’s tucked into a beautiful mountain with hiking trails and a gorgeous ocean view. I love to get my calls done and sneak in some Audible reads on my commute to L.A. for meetings, then come home to paradise where I do my writing outside next to a water feature, overlooking a beautiful golden hour sunset. I also love to travel – everywhere and often, with Lake Bled, Slovenia, and Siena, Italy some of my favorite spots.
My Favorite Products/Objects?
I’m a minimalist – I can travel for a month or more with just a carry-on (as long as I have my beloved slipper socks), but my most prized possession – or what I should say brings me the most joy – is my book collection. I’m kind of obsessed with books and reading, and can’t walk into a bookstore without walking out with a stack of at least ten. I often feel the world inside a book feels more real than the actual world. Also, if my house was burning down (and everyone was safely outside, obvs), I’d probably run back in for my favorite piece of art – an African prayer circle carved out of a single block of wood with nine interlocked figures that represent my mom and her eight children.
My Current Passions?
I got married young and told my husband back then I wished I had travelled the world and lived abroad first, something I had always seen myself doing as a child. He said, “Someday let’s do it together.” This August 1st is our 20th anniversary, and we leave on that day with our kids to move abroad for 6 months. We’re taking a bit of a sabbatical from the daily grind of work, and I’ll be working on my first novel. We’ll be migrating through Europe, then making stops in New Zealand, Thailand, and South America. Travel planning and meeting new people and cultures along the way are my favorite pasttimes, so it’s safe to say I need to be pinched.
(Photo credit: Chelsea Curtis - McAlpin Family at LA Premiere of Miss Arizona)