Alumna Natalie Rodriguez Readies for Release of Film
Natalie Rodriguez graduated from California State University, Fullerton in 2014 with her Bachelor’s in Radio-TV-Film. The program has since changed its name, and Rodriguez has made some major career moves. This fall, Rodriguez will release her first film, The Extraordinary Ordinary. We recently spoke about her time at CSUF, her film, and tackling mental health stigmas.
Rodriguez tells me that while at CSUF, she took all the classes related to production and editing that she could. Now that she’s about to release her film, she thinks these classes definitely helped her navigate it. She also gained real-life experience by earning a Production Assistant internship at Conan, and then with development at Mandalay Pictures.
It was while taking the Story Structure course, with then-Professor Edward Fink, that the screenplay for The Extraordinary Ordinary began to come about. She tells me that one of the greatest outcomes of attending CSUF was having the support of Fink, and his mentorship. With his feedback and support, she kept developing the project post-grad. Rodriguez says, “It’s the story I’ve always come back to, that one project I’ve always wanted to make. It’s the story about college students (young adults) dealing with their mental health when old wounds resurface. And the main character, Erica who is played by Maddison Bullock, starts focusing on her issues with anxiety attacks that resurface when her friend, Bianca who is played by Ana Marte, starts having a similar experience.” She explains that she struggled with anxiety and panic attacks through college, and decided to see a doctor before she ended up seeing a psychologist to work through cognitive behavioral therapy. They made it seem like it was so normal and common, even though no one really talks about it. Because of what she was experiencing, she began to incorporate it into a script.
Rodriguez tells me the project was initially rejected by a lot of different producers and directors, and was told it would fail because no one wants to talk about mental health. She had seen these types of topics covered at Sundance and Tribeca, and couldn’t believe projects like this were still being shut down. She decided to self-fund and turned to CSUF to find interns to help, which ended up helping her find people who truly believed in the project.
We talked about the importance about discussing mental health, and Rodriguez explained she believes the lack of it has to do with culture and ideologies. She says, “I know a stigma exists but it’s important to ask questions and make storylines about it, and show people you can still function even if you’re struggling with a mental health disorder, or going through a difficult time.” Rodriguez has been very open with her struggles with mental health, and has written articles about her experiences for Thrive and HuffPost.
For her film, Rodriguez wrote, directed, and produced it, and I was interested in how she kept her own mental health in check with such a heavy load of work, and the topic. She tells me, “I was really in the zone to make sure I focused on certain things to keep from getting overwhelmed. So during filming I’d come home and go to bed right away. And we were filming some heavy things so I would check in with my cast and crew to make sure they were okay. I’d tell them to make sure they were getting sleep, and not emotionally exhausting themselves, giving them time to get into a good headspace. And just having that option helped me too because that’s how I’d want my work environment to be with myself too.” She explains how common it is for people to do all the roles when they’re starting out, and having a strong support system and team makes all the difference.