In Hot Water
IN HOT WATER is a sketch comedy short starring Christie Nicholls Nittrouer (PhD, UCLA, School of Theatre, Film & TV) as an 84-year-old Jane Fonda hosting a talk show in a hot tub. The project was conceived while Nicholls Nittrouer was in the depths of postpartum depression during the pandemic, a time when isolated people found themselves fixating upon domestic minutiae, in an attempt to assert some semblance of control.
IHW delights in the use of surreal comedy -- Jane Fonda stationed in a hot tub conducting heated interviews with a parking enforcement officer who is caught issuing her a ticket, and a pest exterminator attempting to close a deal to treat the house for termites. Their tumultuous conversations are interrupted by even more absurdity – i.e. a mandatory viewing of Jane’s at-home meat slicing work out video. The meat slicing workout stands in as a metaphor for the pressure and expectation to present as if 'all is normal' in both the pandemic and postpartum experience. Also derailing the hot tub interview is Jane’s beatnik sex slam poem, "Tiddly Winks," which is filmed in a classic noir style. The poem is a frenetic (and comical) stream-of-consciousness ballad addressing the conflation of sex and power.
IHW is co-directed by Ed Ballart and Nicholls Nittrouer, a duo likened to a contemporary (and platonic) Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball (Ballart is Cuban-American and Nicholls Nittrouer is a red head). Also fun to note -- IHW was also filmed down the street from the original DesiLu studios.
Remarkably haunting and dream-like spaces of confinement are captured by Emmy-nominated cinematographer Valentina Vee.
IHW also features the comedic talents of Charlz Williams (I think You Should Leave // Netflix), and James Anthony Chiong (Innocence).
IN HOT WATER invites viewers to delight in the ludicrous, to reach for playful, silly, and unconventional humor when pain and isolation have stripped away our humanity. Ultimately, the project intends to shed light on living with and through postpartum depression - a topic most often addressed via tragic family dramas. In this comedy, a brazen, bold, and zany Jane Fonda offers an escape hatch, a jolt of energy, and a light to guide us through the palpable murkiness.
***Please note, if In Hot Water is selected for programming at your Festival, Christie Nicholls Nittrouer will attend as Jane Fonda (or as herself, should you prefer it).
Christie Nicholls NittrouerDirector
Christie Nicholls NittrouerWriter
Christie Nicholls NittrouerProducer
Stuart K. RobinsonProducer
Christie Nicholls NittrouerKey Cast"Jane Fonda"
Charlz WilliamsKey Cast"Davis Skehan"
James Anthony ChiongKey Cast"Gary Whalon"
Runtime:25 minutes 23 seconds
Completion Date:May 7, 2023
Production Budget:14,999 USD
Country of Origin:United States
Country of Filming:United States
Shooting Format:Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 6K +
ED BALLART is a Cuban-American director and cinematographer from Miami, FL. His work has been featured on FOX Sports, CBS and Showtime and has amassed millions of views on the web. He drinks his coffee black and loves your dog unconditionally.
CHRISTIE NICHOLLS NITTROUER is an actor, writer, and comedian with a PhD in Performance Studies from UCLA's esteemed school of Theatre, Film, and Television. Nicholls Nittrouer has starred in numerous critically acclaimed independent films, television comedies and dramas, and she has performed stand-up comedy throughout the United States and in Europe. Christie’s creative work is guided by a devout principle she discovered after researching comedy and living with clinical depression -- comedy is composting. Christie applies this philosophy to her projects, taking any and all pain/fear/anxiety and mining it for nutrients (laughter/slivers of humanity) to share with others.
Hello, I’m Christie, and…
IN HOT WATER is a comedic ode to my experience of living with and through postpartum depression during the pandemic. It is a comedy where I embody my powerhouse alter-ego, Jane Fonda, whom I called upon when I was incapable of seeing my way out of a deeply disabling depression.
Look, I get it – PPD is not funny, and it’s probably annoying for you to even read about, but, it’s out there and it impacts at minimum 15% of mothers. The screening process for PPD is comedic itself -- at your six week checkup, you answer a questionnaire, add up your answers, and if your sum reaches above a certain number you are advised to “contact your healthcare professional.” Six weeks after creating a new human being – growing two kidneys, a heart, a brain, eyeballs(!!!), you’re asked to do math? Nah. And, if I’m mentally unhealthy you’re telling me to ‘eh...just go contact someone…’
I created IN HOT WATER as a way for audiences to playfully encounter something we’ve been taught to ignore. If PPD is discussed in film and TV it’s a heavy drama, a tragedy, something we don’t want to encounter for fear it’ll ‘bum us out.’
So, why do an impression of Jane Fonda?
Well -- it started years ago, when I was riddled with recurrent panic attacks and clinical depression, and found myself stuck in traffic driving my grandparents Oldsmobile with nothing but a tape of Jane Fonda’s audiobook “My Life So Far.” Jane’s voice and character – authoritative, certain, savvy -- took on a new meaning for me and became the alter ego I would call on when my anxiety got out of control. Years after the audio book discovery, I was scheduled to host a stand up show while in the depths of a clinical depression, and when I felt I couldn’t perform as myself, I grabbed a cheap wig and performed as Jane. I found that as Jane I could be brazen, loose, fluid, sexy, unapologetically out there about everything. Jane could talk about depression, Jane could talk about trauma, Jane could talk about horse testicles – absolutely anything was available to her. What freedom!
Thus, when my second child was born six weeks into the pandemic and I developed PPD, I called on Jane. She answered when I was asked to perform on a Zoom show. This brief buoy inspired me to write a special Jane Fonda project I could shoot when I was fully recovered from PPD, and it would be an ode to the people and things I interacted with during the pandemic – a parking enforcement officer, a pest control technician, and of course the meat slicer that inspired Jane’s home workout (a wedding present I finally put to use during the pandemic).
In terms of the aesthetics of IHW, my co-director Ed Ballart and myself wanted to create bright and dream-like spaces; playing to a 1990s-like business/commercial-feel and its emphasis on productivity. Both Ed and myself work in commercial/branded content, hence it was a true delight to tamper with the ‘aspirational domestic space.’ I mean – Jane Fonda shreds a ham using her foot and serves it in a tranquil suburban setting, whilst soaking in a hot tub.
An additional tampering we had fun creating, takes place at the end of Jane’s work out video, where the screen cuts frantically between an idealized Jane and a ravenous Jane. As I recovered from PPD I began to understand the pressure of this split – between what was true for me (“unstable and desperate”) and how I ought to present (“stable and content”).
Regarding acting style, I wanted grounded “tonics” to support Jane’s fire. During the pandemic, the only in-person conversations I had with non-family members were the parking enforcement officer and the pest control technician. The parking enforcement officer was serious, efficient, and unbelievably patient (this was captured brilliantly by actor Charlz Williams). The pest control technician really did take the time to answer my questions about ‘whacking mice’ – he was warm, and he humored me even if he was truly baffled. These same qualities so effortlessly belong to James Anthony Chiong. We wanted to capture the intimacy between two strangers in a hot tub, and the way we rely on patience in times of recuperation (be it from pandemic-induced anxiety, or from PPD).
It was important to me and Ed that we work with a DP (director of photography) who could create ethereal and beautiful tableaus to juxtapose with Jane’s crudeness. Emmy-nominated Valentina Vee knows how to get glamor shots of honey baked ham AND light a beatnik sex slam in a noir style – she is a true genius. Fun Fact: Valentina also designed and painted the IN HOT WATER sign.
In summation, I made IHW for three reasons:
1) So that someone who hadn’t thought much about postpartum depression will feel they connect to it in some way, that they can remember a time when their own pain necessitated silliness. Maybe they'll check in on their sister, maybe they'll speak out on the cause.
2) For those suffering from clinical depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation – I want to share Jane with them – this unwavering voice, assuring them: ‘I’ve been there. You will be okay. We will be okay.’
3) I really want people to laugh, get silly themselves, and access their ‘inner Janes’.
Finally (and you thought I was done after 'summation'!) I’ll say: tragedy and comedy are only separated by time – with enough time we can tease out the humor in our pain, and we can celebrate our uniquely human ability to get really weird, have a lot fun, and mostly to heal. What a gift!
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for watching IN HOT WATER. It means a lot to me and Jane ;)
Assuming this project would be a great fit for your festival, you should know that I will happily attend as Jane Fonda (and do a talkback as Jane), or myself, whatever floats your boat.