After graduating with an international studies major from Washington College in 1986, working as a flight attendant, real estate agent, and other odd jobs, Tammy Tiehel-Stedman’s sister pushed her to pursue her passion for film.
While Tiehel-Stedman had an interest in film, she had always assumed that movies occurred in L.A. or New York and thought she should get a “real job.” Through her education at WC, however, she discovered independent films.
“I guess I always felt like film was something other people did,” Tiehel-Stedman said. After taking a film fest class and seeing a black-and-white, low-budget film something “just clicked” for her. “As a filmmaker, you can tell stories in a smaller way.”
After working with her sister at a small production company in Philadelphia, Tiehel-Stedman applied to American Film Institute as a producing fellow. Between semesters, Tiehel-Stedman worked as a casting assistant for Allison Jones and Aisha Coley. Tiehel-Stedman has produced over 100 hours of television for both the Discovery Channel and TLC, also tackling commercials, nonprofits, and short films.
Most notably, Tiehel-Stedman won the “Best Short Film – Live Action” Oscar for her master’s thesis film “My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York” in 2000.
The glittering Academy Award sat between Dr. Michele Volansky and Tiehel-Stedman during their conversation before the screening of her latest film “Slow Learners.”
Thanks to working a variety of jobs behind the camera, Tiehel-Stedman learned a lot of technical aspects to filmmaking, but she felt that it was lacking a story. “It’s one thing to do commercials or small portrait videos, but I wanted to do film to tell a story.”
“Slow Learners,” Rated R, came out Aug. 19, and tells the quirky story of Jeff and Anne, two close friends and co-workers in a suburban high school. The pair are struggling with love, and as the string of bad luck continues, they decide to reinvent themselves to fit the caricatures of the bad boy and crazy girl.
The story portrays a coming-of-age story for two dorky adults and is riddled with funny, awkward, and embarrassing moments that leaves the audience laughing consistently throughout the screening. The characters shifted in and out of clichés, often making fun of the platitudes they were portraying.
Tiehel-Stedman said that it’s “always the character” that draws her to work on certain projects. After her friend read the script and recommended it to her, Tiehel-Stedman brought on a few more producers and searched for a director to bring the script to life.
After trying to fund the movie since 2013, they started filming in 2014, edited through the summer, and began showing the movie at film festivals. The film cost about a million dollars, whereas major studio productions usually cost about $30 million.
During her conversation with Dr. Volansky, Tiehel-Stedman talked about what happened behind the scenes of the movie, like how the two actors improvised the whole first scene, or while filming for about a month, the sound guy was sleeping in her son’s bed and her son slept in her and her husband’s room on a lounge chair.
“It looks like we just had a blast the entire time,” she said. “We did have a lot of fun, but I remember also… the pain.”
The pain though isn’t enough to keep Tiehel-Stedman away, who has recently said she read through two different scripts – one of a romantic comedy, the other dramatic character-centric piece – and seems ready to dive back in.