CineWomen Interview

Strange, funny, surreal: the playful aesthetics and irony in All Sales Final is a distinctive mark of Ingrid Serban’s filmmaking style. The absurd story of Samuel A. Dillon is rendered in clear, precise images, echoing the oldest forms of cinema. We are pleased to present Ingrid Serban for this year’s CinéWomen Edition. Ingrid, how did you get into filmmaking?

It’s truly an honor to be selected by CinéWomen and I am happy to share a bit of my creative and filmmaking journey with you.

The short answer to this question is this: I had an idea for a story and the irresistible impetus to give it life. I grabbed my IPhone, a tripod and a few brave friends and in seven hours and five locations, we created “All Sales Final.” The longer version of this answer involves a trip back in time to a small town in Romania where I was living with my grandparents. I was about five years old and my grandmother, who was a big fan of Indian cinema, took me to see a three-hour flick at the only film house in town. I was enchanted and didn’t mind the lack of ventilation, the uncomfortable chairs or the sweltering heat of the summer. The colors were brilliant. The music was intoxicating. I decided then that cinema was magic and that I was going to be a part of it somehow.

You have studied piano and voice at the Sigismund Toduta Lycee in Cluj-Napoca. What is the influence of your musical background on your filmmaking style?

When I was about two years old, I knew I wanted to be a pianist. For the next four years, I would pretend to play on my grandmother’s kitchen table and dream of the day when I would touch a real piano. That desire became reality when I was accepted into the prestigious Sigismund Toduta Lycee and my parents had finally saved enough money to buy an old grand piano. We lived on the eighth floor of a communist block building so you can imagine the effort it took to transport it to the top. I was practically dancing around the eight heavily sweating men who were painstakingly dragging it up the one hundred and thirty six steps.

That hundred-year-old piano moved into my room joining the existing sparse décor of a small couch and a bookshelf and became my closest friend, confidante and creative partner. One of my favorite games was making up stories and scoring them as I went. To me filmmaking has a musical rhythm to it, a sort of breath that transports the viewer into a waltz of images, a minuet of stories. Every story is like a song and every song is like a story.

– Improvisation is a fundamental aspect of your art practice aiming less for the traditional and all-round success of a film than at giving each shot a certain emotional quality. Can you tell something about your creative process?

This is a truly wonderful question that captures the essence of what I attempt to create with my storytelling. In improvising I follow my inner compass to uncover what may already be there. I am a miner seeking the treasures already in existence, the gems within and without.

– We want to take a closer look at the genesis of your film: how did you come up with the idea for All Sales Final?

I love notebooks. They hold my dreams, fantasies, stories and those empty pages that always beckon me to be fill them with more. On the morning I wrote “All Sales Final” I woke up thinking about a dream I just had about a hopeless man who didn’t want to live any more and was too scared to end his own life. I thought about several things: the traumatic reality of suicide, the hopelessness that so many of us live with, lack of connection with one another and the effect of love and nature on our psyches. I grabbed a notebook and jotted down these thoughts and the idea of an Elimination Agency whose sole purpose is to eliminate hopeless people. The rest was a matter of assembling the puzzle. Casting is so important for any film and I feel very lucky to have worked with the actors who did an amazing job bringing this tragic comedy to life. Thank you Nathan Benjamin Johnson, Alisa Rose, Lucy, Finn and Dawn Shalhoup and my husband, Forest Sun who not only had a featured role but also co-produced the film.

– The film’s strength lies in its plot. It’s a beautifully told story that succeeds in asking important questions about the weaknesses of our human condition. What do you hope viewers will take away from the film?

Storytelling opens a window into one’s soul and the world around, or as Shakespeare once said, “… to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature.”

My chief hope is that in some small way, this film, aside from being entertaining, would remind us who we are and inspire us to live more fully. Hearing film festival audiences laugh out loud has been a true delight. As the opening quote of the film says “Sometimes, to find hope, it is enough to gaze into the face of a single flower.” It takes just one action to set a whole world in motion.

– Could you take us through your creative process when starting a new project?

There’s an absolute giddiness when I create. I cherish that special moment when my creation exists nowhere else but in my own mind. Then come the notebook, pen and the outpouring of images into words. I write as if I am following a scent, or a secret path I have just discovered. When I create, I feel more like myself than any other time. It’s as if I am walking the path towards my own soul, to a place of pure bliss and play. I am five years old again and I believe in magic.

– Can you tell us something about the sound score?

I love talking about the music of “All Sales Final.” It was pure joy from the very beginning to the end.

Unbeknownst to him, Wynton Marsalis sparked the collaboration that created the score of “All Sales Final.” I had recently reconnected with a dear friend and former band mate, Scott Steiner, who invited us to Wynton’s show at the San Francisco Jazz Center. Sitting in the theater waiting for the show to start, it occurred to me that Scott is a film sound designer. I told him about the project and a week later we were in the studio. As I watched the film on the screen and played an improvised score on the beautiful grand piano I was reminded of my childhood stories and my dear old piano. As C. G. Jung beautifully states, “the creative mind plays with the objects it loves. ”

– All Sales Final contains a clear reference to the silent era. Can you tell us your biggest influences in art and how they have affected your work?

Growing up, I didn’t watch a lot of television. There was a Russian cartoon about a rabbit and a cigarette-smoking wolf, some Laurel and Hardy skits and a few Charlie Chaplin films, all of which no doubt left an imprint on my creativity. In silent film, I appreciate the tight embrace of comedy and tragedy, the highly expressive emotional moments, and the speed at which everything happens; just a little faster than life, like a heartbeat rushing to catch up.

Everything influences my creative output. Rather than ascribing to individual people’s styles, I am more of a collector of moments. As in a pool, I gather sensations, sounds, images, ideas and then I let them churn and swirl and meet each other. When the time is right, something pops up for me to grab and create anew.

There are so many filmmakers I admire. Wes Anderson creates a world of magical realism filled with delightful and quirky characters. Guillermo del Toro takes dark dreams and makes them beautiful and grand. Quentin Tarantino is bold, brilliant and epic. Matthew Vaughn is a giant of storytelling who brings powerful myths to the screen in a breathtaking way. Francis Ford Coppola is a poet of the soul. Peter Bogdanovich is a master of both comedy and drama and a friend and mentor to me when I lived in Los Angeles. Peter showed me how to organize a story with sticky notes on a wall and we watched all of Cary Grant’s films together.

I am truly inspired by the talented independent filmmakers working today whom I’m proud to call friends: Richie Adams, Phillip Thomas, Marsha Baxter, Luis Bordonada, Tom and Sandi Anton, Marco Antonio Martinez, Alejandro Montoya Marin to name a few.

My choice in creating “All Sales Final” as a silent movie was deliberate. This being my first film I felt that my own filmmaking endeavor should begin like cinema itself; silent with a simple piano score.

– Thanks for sharing your time, Ingrid, we wish you all the best with your filmmaker career. What’s next for Ingrid Serban? Have you a particular film in mind?

Thank you again for speaking with me and asking these thoughtful questions.

Very soon after I finished “All Sales Final,” I had the worrying thought that maybe this was it, that maybe I just had the one story to tell.  I am happy to report that this has not been the case. More stories are lined up in various stages of production. We just finished shooting the pilot for “Death in North Beach” a murder mystery short series set in the historic section of San Francisco with the same name. I recently acted in a short film under the direction of the brilliant Cassie Jaye called “Who’s There?” set to join the festival circuit this fall. The San Francisco Film Society is supporting me in creating a feature documentary about vampires, “Strigoi, the Real Vampires of Transylvania.” I am also writing a short film to be shot in Japan as well as a short film trilogy set in 1980’s communist Romania.

If you’d like to stay in touch with me and find out about my upcoming projects, please do so either through my website or on the social media platforms @ingridserban.

The Weatherman

The Weatherman, a short film by Ingrid Serban and Kim Rollo Emanuel…. all I’m going to say is that you might enjoy this if you enjoy silliness. I’m a little nervous, I admit it, to share this with you, but I laughed a lot making it and laughter is good.

Quick story of how I came to make it.
4 years ago I met Kim at the farmer’s market. He makes the best skin care ever and I’ve been using it ever since.
We soon became good friends and he confessed this wacky idea he had some 30+ years ago about a man who changes weather patterns with his special skill.
With the help of Emily Rudisill and Elena & Phoebe who are Kim’s business partner and employee, we made that crazy idea into a film.

It’s almost midnight so I must get on with sending you this email.

Big thanks again to Cassie Jaye for the use of her camera and to Dan Damman(my office neighbor and awesome filmmaker) for lending me some really nice lenses and Forest for helping with the edit and encouraging me to create original sound effects.

Tell me what you think of it.

My monthly films are only available to people on my mailing list. To watch the Weatherman, email me. I’ll add you to my list and send you the link and password to watch the film.


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Murder in North Beach


I hope this letter finds you well. Along with this month’s film I’ll give you a quick recap of the month.

I’ve been preparing some more for making our feature documentary about vampires. As it stands now, I’d like to go film it in the fall and winter in Romania.
I had a great meeting with 2 doc filmmakers I really admire whose latest film was featured by the New Yorker as part of their new film series on Amazon. Zach and Alyssa are super cool and knowledgeable and very generous with their expertise.

Last week, I was hired to go and direct/film a feature doc in the Santa Cruz mountains. That was crazy! I learned and sweated A LOT. I can tell you more about that later.

And now, to the business at hand, this month’s film: Murder in North Beach.
I love a good murder mystery. I’m a big fan of Agatha Christie, especially of her “Hercule Poirot” series, of AC Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” (I really like the 80’s British series with Jeremy Brett) and the Australian series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” on Netflix.

Murder in North Beach by Ingrid Serban and Cassie Jaye

This film is only available to people on my mailing list. If you’d like to join, email me and I’ll add you and send you the password to watch this film.

How it all began:
One evening, I went over to my neighbor Kristie’s house. I was hanging out in her kitchen and just couldn’t get over the lighting in there. It was so perfect! I took a few photos that night and decided to do something there. A few days later, I woke up with an idea. I went to my desk and wrote it; a murder mystery short film to take place in my friend’s kitchen. You can imagine my excitement at this little wish come true. I wrote a part for myself in it too so the playfulness of this project just went up another notch. And it does’t stop there! As I’m writing and thinking about names for my characters, it’s very clear to me that the name of the victim should be Ms. Molinari.
A couple of days later I’m walking down the street and I happen to look up just in time to see Molinari’s Delicatessen in large letters on a wall. Chills and giddiness and meant-to-be-ness!

Murder in North Beach, short film

Long story short, I asked my dear friend Cassie Jaye to co-direct with me (she is my favorite director ever) and Evan Davies to be the cinematographer. Allie Larkin whom I love like a sister googled special effects makeup techniques and did a pro-job on Ms. Molinari’s neck as well as script supervised. Forest played the role of the detective, made lentil soup for everyone and is also the music supervisor.
I asked Kristie who’s kitchen we filmed in to play the leading role and the other neighbors to play either themselves or the dead body.
Scott Steiner recorded all the dialogue and lent us his house to shoot the murder scene in.
No one had acted before! It was crazy fun.

Murder in North Beach, a short film by Ingrid Serban and Cassie Jaye

Challenges we worked with:

Evan had pulled a muscle in his thigh and was in a lot of pain but  still carried a heavy camera with no easy rig AND pulled focus all by himself. He’s a super human!
Not having acting experience on a film set poses all kinds of challenges too. I love working with non-actors.

The craziest challenge of it all was that Kristie worked for … I still don’t know what it’s called, but some sort of place where they take dead people and “process” them for organ donations. Not pretty. Just as we started filming someone died in strange circumstances and Kristie had to do her job. Imagine shooting scenes in-between phone calls to mortuaries, a crazy boss yelling at her over the phone and a possible real ghost floating about. Kristie was a trooper!

Murder in North Beach, a short film by Ingrid Serban and Cassie Jaye

All that said, the production was really fun for us and the neighbors, Evan’s leg recovered and I would work again with these guys in a heart beat.
I would really like to re-write this story in a longer format, maybe a 20-minute episode. Or turn it into a series? What do you think?
It’s not perfect, but it’s a sketch of something we’d like to create later down the line.
I had a lot of fun acting. Hope to do that again soon. I’ll talk to the writer and see what she can do. 😉

Thank you SO much again for watching these films and giving me your feedback!
I think it’s time to think about festivals.
Which one is your favorite film so far?


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Soul Music

Soul Music, a short film by Ingrid SerbanHello my dear friends, old and new and all cherished.

As usual, this and all my other monthly films are not perfected but finished. It’s my practice this year. To let it go and not tinker with it until it’s “perfect.” Thank you for watching and being so supportive. I can’t wait to hear what you think of this one. 

If you can think of a better title for this film, let me know. I’m open to ideas.

Here comes the impossible task. I wanted to compose real musical pieces that I “hear” in other people’s bodies and souls. Yes, I’m not forgetting the soul. The Soul is the grand orchestrator and conductor.

I am writing you from the bus driving down Lombard street in San Francisco. There’s wifi on the bus. Slow but good enough to write you this letter.

What a day! I just finished the edit and ran to the bus station. The film is not uploaded to vimeo yet (slow internet at work today) but by the time you get this message it will be there waiting for you.

This month I took on an impossible task!

Let me rewind for a bit. It was June 1st and I was lying in bed at night awake, thinking about sound and planets and what is it that brings harmony and discord between us. I grabbed onto a mental thread and followed it.
Sound is vibration. We, our bodies are constantly vibrating with life. This means that we are producing a constant sound. A song! Maybe the harmony and dissonance that we feel with each other has to do with the clashing or harmonizing of our “songs.” Kind of like Pythagoras‘ “Music of the Spheres” but within. It gives a whole new meaning to listening. The symphony of life.

Soul Music by Ingrid Serban

Password protected film link here: I asked a few people I love to stand in front of my camera and look into the lens for 2 whole minutes. Amazing vulnerability, beauty and a sense of the infinite … That’s what I’ve been feeling all day editing. As if I traveled to the stars and saw what we’re made of. Powerful stuff, looking into each other’s eyes.

(If you’d like to watch this film, please email me. I will add you to my mailing list and send you the password for this film. My monthly films of 2016 are only available to people on my mailing list.)

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Weep and Wail, music video

My computer is at 24% (we’re in the city and I forgot my power cord), the video is slow …. ly uploading to vimeo, I’m breathing and staying calm …. ish. It’s been a total mad dash.

This music video for Forest‘s song “Weep and Wail” has been by far the most challenging monthly movie project for many reasons. I felt extra pressure to make it so that the artist aka my husband would love it. I had to work with the most actors I’ve worked with so far who were all just delightful, including the most exemplary music video extras you could ever find. Plus, I did lots and lots of driving in traffic to and from the east bay. Twice.
The editing has been borderline torturous. Lots of “I love it” “I hate it.”

Ok, enough with the hardships, I really like the way it turned out. Not perfect, but that’s the point of these monthly exercises; to live with imperfection.

(If you’d like to watch this film, please email me. I will add you to my mailing list and send you the password for this film.)
WATCH it here

Weep and Wail, Forest Sun music video

My friend Suzanne came though for me and videotaped Nevada clouds because there was not a could in the sky here in the bay. The benefit of Facebook. 🙂
Big thanks to Jordan and Joaquin for sending me the most beautiful Australian and New Mexican skies.

I finished filming on Wednesday evening, started editing on Thursday evening and had bits of time yesterday and today in-between films and events at the San Francisco International Film Festival. I even got to be on a Virtual Reality filmmaking panel. What? It was virtually captivating.

As always, thank you SO much for taking the time to watch my films. Write back if you can.

About sharing these films: Feel free to forward my email to friends. I’m not sharing any of these films publicly on social media as they are in progress but if you feel that someone would enjoy them forward away.


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March Movie

The Joy Project a film by Ingrid Serban

The Joy Project …

… is the title of my March movie. A race to the finish line for sure!
Next month, I’m going to finish the edit a week before the end of the month. Big plans! ha

How did this film come about? I was inspired by one of Forest‘s new songs “Won’t wait ’til I get to heaven to share my joy.” I can’t wait to share that music with you. I’m singing an entire gospel choir’s worth of voice. Glory, glory!

(For the password, please email me. I will add you to my mailing list and send you the password for this film.)
So here it is:

As always, I love hearing your feedback.

Extra credit!
Would you like to share what brings you joy? 
Post a short video of yourself sharing what brigs you joys on FB and tag me and if you’re feeling fancy, add #IngridsMovieChallenge to your post.
Maybe we can start a wave of gratitude on the social media platforms.

Lots of love,

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Vamp Questionaire

First off, how are you?

Second, if I told you I was making a vampire documentary (which you already know that I am) what would you want to see in it?
I’ve never ever had this much ahead-of-time to prepare for a film. I would love to hear your thoughts. I’m going to put all your ideas up on my board and let them incubate.

Third, lil ol’ me has been invited to be on the filmmaker advisory board at Tallgrass Film Festival in Wichita, KS. Every year, they choose 6 filmmakers and I am one of them. This is such a great honor. I didn’t want to share the news right away because I thought that maybe they made a mistake and I wanted to give them a couple of weeks to change their minds. This isn’t false humility on my part, it’s me looking at the other 5 filmmakers and realizing how accomplished they are.
I’d better hurry up and get more amazing …. by October 2016. ha!Michael Romanowski, Ingrid Serban and Forest Sun at the Grammy Nominee Party in San Francisco, CA

Lastly, in music news, Forest and I have been working on some new material that we’re hoping to release in the next couple of months. We recorded with one of the top engineers in the country, Michael Romanowski (above) in a beautiful historical studio in Berkeley, CA called Fantasy. I am planning on creating some visual treats to go with the release. … more on that next time.

As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my letters and be interested in what I do. This goes both ways. I always love hearing about you and your life so write back when you can.


PS. Lately, I’ve been having a lot of fun with Instagram which prompted Forest to make up a contest. Whoever gets to 1k followers on Instagram gets a 20-minute foot massage from the other. That’s a big commitment and he’s way ahead of me.

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