‘Perfecting’ her craft in the movies

1-20ENTweb1A native North Arlington daughter hopes to make an impact in the movie industry with the premiere of “Little Miss Perfect” at the Irvine International Film Festival in California on Jan. 21.

Billed as a “dark drama/ thriller,” and nominated as the Best Feature Film in the festival, it is directed by 23-year-old Marlee Roberts and features the director’s sister Karlee Roberts, who celebrated her 13th birthday during production.

A press release announcing the film’s screening says the plot involves “the story of an over-achieving high school freshman who stumbles upon an online pro-eating disorder subculture and begins secretly starving herself.”

Co-starring are: Isabella Palmieri (who has appeared in Disney’s “Good Luck Charlie, Jessie”) and Lilla Crawford (“Into the Woods”), who play Karlee’s best friends.

Also featured in the film are teen pop-icon Jeremy Fernandez, Peter Rini (“Orange is the New Black” and “Person of Interest”) and STARZ Magic City’s Tom Degnan.

The movie was shot on locations in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut; postproduction work was done in California.

Marlee Roberts, who attended Jefferson Elementary School and the Middle School before graduating from North Arlington High School in June 2010, broke into the entertainment industry as a child actor at the age of 3 and has been a professional, SAG-AFTRA card-holding member, for nearly two decades. She attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to study TV and film production. “Little Miss Perfect” marks her feature film debut as writer and director.

As a performer, she has appeared in “The English Teacher” (starring Julianne Moore and Greg Kinnear) and “Night Has Settled” (featuring Oscarnominated Adriana Barazzaa and Spencer List).

“As a director, I’ve done various short films which have gone on to festivals and music videos which have screened at conferences, museums and other exhibitors, both domestically and internationally,” she said.

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Photos courtesy Demi Chen & Oren Soffer Karlee Roberts stars in “Little Miss Perfect,” written and directed by her sister Marlee Roberts, formerly of North Arlington.

Photos courtesy Demi Chen & Oren Soffer
Karlee Roberts stars in “Little Miss Perfect,” written and directed by her sister
Marlee Roberts, formerly of North Arlington.

She said she has also produced more than 20 short projects, including “Mastodon,” directed by Oren Soffer, which was selected by Film Shortage as a featured short film as well as “Justice in D-Minor” and “Elm Gardens,” which had a world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.

Roberts said that “Little Miss Perfect” started out “as an adaptation of the traditional fairytale ‘La Belle et la Bete’ (‘Beauty and the Beast’) … [which] “borrowed Belle’s studious perfectionist nature and combined it with the Beast’s shame and temper.”

As in the original story, she said, “Belle (the character played by Karlee Roberts) was given a father who sets off on a work venture, a mother who is out of the picture and a confident bordering-on-arrogant suitor. However, as I continued working on the screenplay, the story transformed into its own title and the themes from the classical fairytale have become only symbols in which we pay homage to the original tale.”

Referring to the plot point driving the film’s action, Roberts said: “The online pro-eating disorder subculture backdrop, while not completely autobiographical, was perhaps the most personal element in the film. The backdrop hopes to tell a greater story: one of a girl who struggles to control her life by controlling her weight.

“This need for ‘control,’ like our protagonist Belle, had led me to discover the pro-ED initially. When I found them, I knew that something wasn’t right, and yet, I didn’t know how to come to understand what I was looking at. It was only when I was able to put the sites in context that I realized how powerful and manipulative they could be.

“Through ‘Little Miss Perfect,’ I’ve aimed to place this into a context for other girls into a powerful medium – film.”

As for working with her sister, Roberts said it was “while writing the screenplay, I had envisioned the part of Belle with my sister Karlee in mind. … It was important that the young actress playing the role of Belle felt safe enough with me as a director to guide her in such an intense and vulnerable part. Karlee and I have a very strong relationship and I think it was crucial in a film like this to be able to have that trust in each other.”

Asked about the challenges she faced in putting the film together, Roberts said she invested two years in the script and a year in the development phase, followed by a summer of “prep and production.”

“One of the most difficult challenges was directing the large dance scene in the master ballroom,” she recalled. “We had over 100 people on set that day including over 50 extras and their parents. Our large ballroom needed to be designed, decorated, lit and ready to go in just a few hours.

“In addition, all of the extras and main talent [featured actors] needed to be blocked. On top of it all, one shot in our schedule included a long take of Belle as she enters and makes her way through the ballroom. This was also timed in order to hit pre-recorded musical cues.”

What’s in the future for the young filmmaker? “I hope to tackle my upcoming projects with the same enthusiasm as my first. I also hope to continue challenging myself and, of course, always telling stories that matter.”

For more information about the film, visit www.littlemissperfectmovie.com.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.