Paulina Lagudi has written, produced and directed her first feature film aimed at highlighting the challenging yet, positive aspects of stepfamily life. Starring Charisma Carpenter of “Angel” and “Buffy”, and “The Expendables” and Josh Hopkins of “Cougar Town”, “Quantico”, and “Bones”, “Mail Order Monster” is predominantly told from the perspective of Sam, a young girl who is struggling to accept her father’s new girlfriend following the death of her mom.
In this interview, Paulina discusses “Mail Order Monster” (M.O.M) and why making a movie that shows the ‘grey’ areas in family life, as well as portraying stepmoms in a positive manner was important to her.
Hi Paulina! Congratulations on the movie! Where did the idea for the storyline come from?
Thank you! The storyline came from classic family films that I grew up watching and loving. The classics like ‘E.T.’ and ‘The Iron Giant’ were inspirations for the film for sure, but I also wanted to put a spin on the classic family genre and make it relatable to families today.
You dedicate this movie to your stepmom and consider her your best friend. Has your relationship with her influenced how you wanted the theme of the movie to be portrayed?
Very much so. This film is very personal to me, so I was able to pull on a lot of my own emotional experiences with my stepmom to make it as relatable as possible when you have a robot-like monster running around. Like most blended families, both my stepmom and my siblings and I had to go through many emotional changes. My stepmom came into my life when I was 13 years old, Sam is 12 in the film, and that age can be really tough when not only trauma happens, but when a new parental figure comes into the picture. My goal was to show how the best of intentions from parents can come across as the end of the world to a child who is trying desperately to hold on to a life that just doesn’t exist anymore.
There has been a lot of stepmom roles portrayed negatively in TV and movies. How important was it for you to highlight stepfamily life, in particular, the role of the stepmom in a more positive manner?
This was definitely one of the motivating factors for making this film in the first place. It was not only frustrating to see stepparents portrayed negatively in stories, but these family roles in general portrayed so black and white. ‘Mail Order Monster’ isn’t so much about portraying anyone or anything as positive or negative. It is about the grey area. This grey area is the essence of blended families. Often times hurtful things are said or done because of fear of change and the pain that comes with that rather than an actual dislike for the new member of the family.
Has your experience as a stepdaughter influenced how you were able to write the perspective of Sam?
Absolutely. It allowed me to tell a more authentic story I think. So many times these roles are written by older men who have never been a stepdaughter. I’ve lived this. It was actually a really therapeutic process for me to write this film because I was able to write from not only Sam’s (aka my own) perspective but also from her dad and Sydney’s. I could empathize with my dad and my stepmom’s intentions that I just couldn’t do when I was going through it all at a young age.
Sydney is clearly a loving stepmom, who is keen to bond with her stepdaughter, and get to know her better; however, she is met with resistance, as Sam is still grieving the loss of her mother and is struggling to adapt to changes within the family dynamic. As a stepchild, what advice would you give to stepmoms who are in Sydney’s position?
Be patient, be you, and don’t take it personally. If you authentically care for your new stepchild, they will eventually take down their guard and let you in. My stepmom’s nickname for me is Turtle because I used to have such a hard shell when she first came into the family, but I eventually let her in and she discovered the gushy, emotional mess I truly am. My stepmom never tried to be something she wasn’t. She never tried to be my mother. She was authentically herself, which was dependable, loving, funny, and caring. Eventually, as I got older, I was able to see that and our relationship grew very strong.
“I know I’m not your mom. I could never be Wendy and I know you weren’t born to me, but I choose you. I choose you and your father.” – Sydney to Sam
Many children following separation/divorce of their parents will grieve the loss of their original family dynamic. For Sam, the creation of her monster, M.O.M, not only ended up providing her with comfort but it also inadvertently aids her to re-connect with key relationships in her life. How did the idea occur to develop M.O.M as Sam’s friend?
I wanted to play on the acronym of “Mail Order Monster” being M.O.M. so that character really took shape from that place. When Sam builds M.O.M., she builds it from a place of desperation to escape her current situation, when in fact, that character leads Sam to confront and let go of her grief. The character of M.O.M. is also a personification of the idea that “what helped us survive as kids ends up hurting us as adults.” Showing this through a fun character like M.O.M. allows for that message to come across a lot easier for kids.
Finally, what message are you hoping to deliver to the audience with the theme of this movie?
How I would’ve loved for there to have been a film during that time in my life where I could’ve watched it with my father and stepmom as a young girl and said “See what that girl is going through! See how her dad just doesn’t understand!” Then he or she could point back and say “See how they just want the best for her!” Maybe a lot of hardship and grief could’ve been avoided.
Hopefully, this film opens up the opportunity for families to have a conversation about this massive change they’re going through and see each others’ perspectives. I know a lot of grief can be avoided this way. This is why I love telling stories. They have a beautiful way of holding up the mirror to a different perspective than our own. Growth happens this way I’m told.
Mail Order Monster US release date: 6th November.
Genre: Family, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
More About Paulina Lagudi
After graduating from Chapman University, Paulina moved to Los Angeles to pursue her filmmaking endeavors. Aware of the extremely small percentage of female filmmakers working in Hollywood, Paulina decided this was the perfect opportunity to create her own films. She’s always felt comfortable being the underdog.
Paulina launched her production company Jax Productions, named after her first rescue dog, in 2015 when she was directing branded content and commercial spots for startup food brands and 5-star resorts. A few of the food companies she’s worked with are Straight from the Root, Your Way Fresh, and Ralph’s Grocery stores. She’s also created work for Solage Calistoga’s Michelin star restaurant and 5-star resort.
Having grown up as a competitive dancer and choreographer, Paulina wanted to push the boundaries of her directing style through narrative content. She wrote and co-directed her short film “This Is How” that premiered at the Holly Shorts Film Festival in 2016 about a woman convicted to herself intimacy and normalcy in a budding relationship while trying to hide her unique form of self-harm.
Committed to telling stories that hold up the mirror to a different perspective than our own, Paulina directed her next short film, “Holly’s Girl” starring Francia Raisa. “Holly’s Girl” is a narrative drama that breaks down the stereotypical image of an eating disorder and exposes the reality of its abusive relationship. “Holly’s Girl” went on to screen at multiple festivals as well as win the Award of Merit from Best Shorts Competition and Outstanding Excellence Award for content/message from the Depth of Field International Film Festival.
In 2017, Paulina wrote and directed her first feature film “Mail Order Monster”, a female-driven, blended family positive, bully sympathetic, sci-fi/family drama. Frustrated by the current, live-action family films being made that painted life in black and white, Paulina sought to make a film about the grey, something today’ families can relate to. Due to the dark, mature content of her short films, Paulina never thought her directorial feature film debut would be one involving kids and a monster, but the universe has a sense of humor.
No matter what the genre or the form, Paulina is dedicated to creating work that allows us all to dig a little deeper into ourselves, question our perspectives, and, hopefully, bring our communities closer together.