Though she grew up spending most of her time as a competitive dancer and choreographer, Paulina Lagudi’s calling ended up being filmmaking.

Aware that there were only a stout number of female filmmakers in Hollywood, Lagudi started a production company (Jax Productions, named after the dog she rescued) and started making branded content and commercial spots before turning her attention to feature work.

Her latest movie, “Mail Order Monster,” is released on VOD in November. A heartwarming family film about an unexpected friendship between a robot and a young girl, it includes important messages about acceptance, friendship, family and repercussions of bullying.

Paulina recently discussed this film, her life as a filmmaker, and more via an exclusive interview.

Directing, projects, and genres

Meagan Meehan (MM): So, Paulina, what inspired you to become a director and did you study this field?

Paulina Lagudi (PL): I have to give a lot of credit to my fiancé who is also my cinematographer. He really was the one who gave me that little push of confidence that led me to pursue this as a career. Coming from a dance background, I’ve always been a storyteller of few words, so filmmaking is actually quite a natural transition for me. When I’m directing, I feel like every artistic pursuit I’ve had in my life comes together and makes sense. But, truthfully, it’s the brilliant collaborators I get to surround myself with on every project who truly inspire me.

I actually didn’t go to film school. Instead, I went to theater school…not my best choice in life. I grew up as a competitive dancer, but after a major foot injury my senior year of high school, I had to rethink my college options and my options for my future as a whole. The theater was the closest option to dance that incorporated my love for live performance and storytelling.

At the time, I didn’t know any filmmakers, so going to school for filmmaking didn’t seem like an option until I was exposed to the film students at Chapman. I never went to the film school there, but I exposed myself to the student films and sets while I was a theater student that really influenced my next steps after graduation.

Looking back, everything happens for a reason, and I am so grateful for that injury that led me to where I am today.

MM: What was your big break in this industry and do you remember getting that first check confirming you had been paid for a gig?

PL: Hmm…I can’t say I’ve had one yet, actually. I’ll let you know when it happens, though. Ha, no I didn’t frame my first check, but I definitely remember it. I actually wish it was less because most checks after that were disappointing haha. I don’t really think you can do this, especially starting out, solely for the money, though. 9 times out of 10, there is no money. So, I always say you need to get one of three things out of a project in order for it to be worthwhile: creative fulfillment (as in something you can use for your reel), a great connection / relationship (building Rolodex wealth), or money (and not a stipend but actual money).

MM: How did your latest project, “Mail Order Monster,” come about?

PL: I purchased the script from a writer that had written for another director/producer that ended up losing the option on the script. From there, I tailored the script to my own life. I made it personal and relatable to issues that today’s families go through.

MM: Does it go without saying that you’re a fan of the family and fantasy genres and how much control did you have over casting?

PL: The film encompasses quite a few genres I’m a fan of. But as far as the family genre goes, I am a fan of classic family films from the 80’s and 90’s or of animated films today. I couldn’t understand why so many live-action family films today were so safe and vanilla.

It annoyed me, to be honest, because I couldn’t understand what point they were serving for their audience. Family films from a few decades ago really were for the entire family. Adults could enjoy them as much as kids. They were a fun adventure that didn’t just involve an animal talking.

As per casting, I had a lot of control. My casting director, Rory Schleifstein, and fellow producer, Robert J. Ulrich who is a co-owner of Ulrich/Dawson/Kritzer Casting, were paramount in getting the cast we got. They brought in so many amazing people for casting the role of Sam and brought so many great options for the roles of Sydney and Roy. They gave incredible advice and guidance, but at the same time valued my say and opinion.

Films, the creation process, and advice

MM: Thus far, what has been the best part of working in the film industry and what are your plan for the forthcoming ten years?

PL: The best part of the industry is the work and the collaborators that come with it. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that incredible feeling of watching a final product that almost seemed impossible during the creation process. It always feels like magic when it all comes together. In ten years I want to be doing the same thing but scaled up. Directing, writing, producing, but just with bigger budgets and projects. I’m lucky enough that my fiancé and I work together on everything, which is a lot of fun. In ten years we just hope to be getting paid a little more haha.

MM: Do you have any fun and interesting upcoming projects that you would like to mention and what bits of advice can you give to fresh young filmmakers?

PL: I have a couple of feature scripts that I’m writing. One I’ve been hired to write, and the other is my own. I’m constantly working on shorts, which I post a lot of that work on my Instagram @paulinalagudi. My advice is: Never underestimate starting from the bottom. It’s the best place to learn. Think of it as you being in the best place to receive all the knowledge that falls down from the top. Failing is inevitable. Embrace it. It’s where growth happens. The most successful people attest their success to their failures, not their accomplishments. Ego is the enemy. I’ve seen ego sabotage so many projects. Listen to your gut, yes, but also be adaptable and do what is best for the project, not just for your image and/or career.