"All through my twenties I was sabotaging relationships": Madeline Zima on the inspiring loneliness in 'Warm Human Magic'

'Warm Human Magic' is a longer way of saying "love" and "connection" and "acceptance," says writer, director Madeline Zima


                            "All through my twenties I was sabotaging relationships": Madeline Zima on the inspiring loneliness in 'Warm Human Magic'

You fell in love with Madeline Zima as Miya Lewis of 'Californication' and Gretchen Berg of 'Heroes,' she is now flipping the script altogether and donning the director's hat with a short film which she also wrote.

'Warm Human Magic,' Madeline's first directorial venture, has been a long time in the making, with the first draft having been written several years ago, and movie itself having been made by a producer nearly four years ago.  

The movie, which is described as an "anti-romantic comedy about a girl's desperate attempt for human connection and her inability to extricate herself from the technology that keeps her isolated," features Madeline's sister Yvonne Zima in the starring role of Mary and her friend Chasen Bauer as the other leading character Ben.

Meanwhile, Madline's other sister Vanessa Zima worked with her behind the scenes. You could call it, more or less, a family affair.  

"I decided to do it on a smaller scale and have the ownership of the story and everything and just sort of produced it myself. But I knew that I had to write something in order to have the opportunity to direct," Madeline told Meaww, further elaborating, "Anybody who writes something knows how difficult it is and, unless they have no interest in directing, they would never give their material to some random person to direct it. I have always wanted to direct it and this was just opportunity to make it happen." 

Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)
Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)

Madeline, clearly was very sure of what she wanted, having decided early on that she would do a "contained" project. As she explains, "I wanted to have an attainable goal – one location basically and just two characters for the most part so that it could be as easy a shoot as possible." 

Now that the "attainable" goal has been achieved, Madeline is wasting no time is eyeing new goals. "I am writing the next short film but I am not sure if I am going to be in that or not. I want to write roles for myself because it is a whole different level of creative control and you get to tell the story you want to tell and you get to have the freedom in a way that you don't get when you are just an actor." 

She elaborates, "When you are just an actor, you are sort of at the tail end of the creative process. You have to fit into the specific mold that people have in their minds and, if you write it and you direct it and you are in it, you have the complete freedom over whatever that character becomes. It's very exciting. I look forward to doing that soon." 

Freedom to explore a character and a subject also comes from personal experiences, which is exactly what Madeline has done with 'Warm Human Magic.' The movie is an homage to her twenties and  is reminiscent of her own lonely nights as a young woman, she says. 

"I had many nights like this in my twenties. All through my twenties I was lonely and not really knowing how to love myself or love anybody else really. I spent a lot of time sabotaging relationships in my twenties," she recollects with a chuckle.  

Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)
Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)

With 'Warm Human Magic', Madeline was able to stay true to her initial intentions, which was to incorporate as much of her real problems as possible. The script then evolved to become the masterpiece that it is today. "The first version of the script did not have too much of the cellphone in it, and then as time goes on (it changes). I actually had an experience where I found out that one of my exes was dating somebody new via Instagram. It destroyed me, it actually messed me up for a very long time."

She continues, "I wanted to incorporate as much of my real problems into the film as possible as a way of sort of trying release that and also because I know that we live in very new and strange times when it comes to the digital image and when it comes the things we experience socially. Also, when it comes to matters of the heart and love, where we need other people to tell us if these things are normal to be upset about and that it is not normal to know the second that your ex starts sleeping with somebody new; that that's not natural and it's upsetting and that's okay. I wanted to infuse the film with as much reality as possible." 

'Warm Human Magic' is Madeline Zima's directorial debut (photo credit: Vanessa Zima)
'Warm Human Magic' is Madeline Zima's directorial debut (photo credit: Vanessa Zima)

'Warm Human Magic', Madeline explains, has really sort of become a longer way of saying "love" and "connection" and "acceptance." The, love and connection and acceptance that we give to each other, that Mary doesn't know how to get or to give herself.

"She is so heartbroken and depressed at the beginning of the film. And, even when somebody is present and willing to give her some form of that connection and love – even if it isn't the form that she wants – she doesn't know how to accept it. She only knows how to sabotage it," she says referring to the character of Ben, who tried to be there for her.  

The beauty of 'Warm Human Magic' is encapsulated in the title, which surprisingly was a not a big among Madeline's sisters. "It was just something that stuck in my head and I wanted to make it the title. My sisters who were involved with the movie – one of them in it and the other one working with me behind the scenes – didn’t like the title. I think certain people like the title and certain people don't. I just liked it. I just like the three words strung together. It's the thing we are all missing, that wonderful connection we give to each other," Madeline says.

Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)
Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)

The roles of Mary and Ben in the movie are portrayed beautifully by Yvonne and Chasen, but their audition for these roles were completely at random. Madeline had even considered playing the role of Mary herself, but decided against it because she decided to respect the roles of directing and acting enough to just focus on directing for her first time.  

"Yvonne was just around and was nice enough to do a table read, and said, 'Oh, I can get my friend Chasen to do the table read as well.' And when they read both, honestly there was no one who could have done a better job," she says, adding, "They captured the essences of the characters so well, clearly no one else could do it. The second they read it out loud for the table read, I was like, 'Well, those are the characters.'" 

Turns out, Madeline also had an ulterior motive behind hiring her sister to do play her leading lady. "I figured, if it went wrong, if I didn’t do a good job – which is always a possibility – I wouldn’t lose a sister. I have lots of friends who are very talented and very successful, who I might have been able to get for the short film. They might have actually been able to get may be a little more visibility, I am not sure." 

Then again, she knew Yvonne is a fantastic actress who could deliver the performance Madeline wanted out of her. "I knew that I could get the performance out of her that I wanted, which was very specific in my mind," says Madeline, adding, "I was lucky enough to be able to have a short hand with her because we have known each other all our lives, so that it was pretty easy to get there." 

Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)
Screenshot from 'Warm Human Magic' (courtesy of Madeline Zima)

Now that her film is done, and it has been selected for a world premiere screening at the upcoming Dances with Films Festival on June 14, Madeline is on to her new project. Versatility seems to be the decisive force in her career, having written another short film on a completely different subject – a lonely coin collector.

She says she wants to have an acting role in it but even if she did, it would be a small one, she teases. The project is picking up momentum as we speak and would hopefully be out soon for her fans to enjoy. 

Further, she is also writing two features right now and both have more roles for somebody like her, she says. 

The project that excites her the most seems to be web series which she had written along with her sisters. "We had written a web series for the three of us to be in but we need somebody to give us some funding for that. My dream would be to make things with the people I love and respect, that love and respect me the same way I do."



Besides her directorial ventures, Madeline also has some feature projects coming up, including 'Painkillers.' She plays Chloe Clarke and describes her role in the film as "The wife of John Clarke. She is a former nurse who married one of the doctors at the hospital. And they had a life together and a family. They experienced a tragedy and it changes John and Chloe's life forever." The brilliant film had premiered on 12 April at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival.

Another film of hers to look forward to is 'The Chain,' a feature she did right before 'Painkillers,' which features John Patrick Amedori of 'Dear White People' fame. The film features actress Adrienne Barbeau as the mother of Patrick Amedor's character. She also happens to be the mom of Mary in Madeline's short film. "She is a fabulous, super talented actress," gushes Madeline.  

Madeline, who is a self-confessed softie when it comes to scary films and thrillers, claims to be a huge fan of directors such as Kathryn Bigelow, Michel Gondry and Lena Dunham. She says she would love to work with all the emerging female directors.