Meet Britt Rentschler, The Alabama Native Taking The Independent Film Scene By Storm

 Her debut feature film, Pretty Problems won the Audience Choice Award at SXSW and has been picked up by IFC Films.

Britt Rentschler
Photo: Tiziano Lugli

Britt Rentschler is one of the lucky ones. She found her calling at a young age, fourth grade to be exact. While she was growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, Rentschler couldn't wait until fourth grade. Every year at Grantswood Elementary, Melanie Palmeri's fourth grade language arts class produced a big Disney musical. Rentschler told Southern Living all about how when it was finally her turn, Ms. Palmeri had selected Aladdin for that year's production.

"I remember very distinctly that there was kind of this moment where it was like oh, if it's Aladdin then you have to audition to be Princess Jasmine. And I didn't really want to be Princess Jasmine. I wanted to be Aladdin because Aladdin was the lead of the play. So I think that was my very first unfiltered tug in the direction of wanting to tell the biggest stories that I possibly could." She said it was Ms. Palmeri who suggested that she just go for it and audition for Aladdin. So she did, and she outshined her male competition.

"That was the moment that I started to understand how much I loved it." she said. She was sold. She was in love with performing and telling stories and she was going to do it her way.

From that first leading role, Rentschler with the help of her parents took every opportunity she could find in the Magic City. She participated in community theater at Canterbury United Methodist church, and took in shows as the Broadway national tours rolled through the theater at the BJCC downtown. She listened to Broadway show tunes nonstop. "I actually got headphones for Christmas one year because my dad could not hear Into the Woods or Phantom of the Opera one more time. So I got my very own brand new set of Sony headphones so I could listen to the lyrics over and over again," she told us.

Rentschler continued to be involved in theater throughout high school and earned a scholarship to UAB for theater. When she graduated she headed south to Orlando, having earned a scholarship to University of Central Florida to pursue a masters of fine arts for theater. As she wrapped up her program in Orlando, she weighed her options. "I just thought, am I going to go to New York and just audition and keep touring? I just lived my last year in residency at a Shakespeare theater doing regional theater. I feel like I might want to try something different just to see what it could be like elsewhere, " she said.

The Alabama native knew she had to either start her next chapter in New York or California. That's where the most opportunities were at the time. She knew that New York would be a lot of trying the same things she was already doing. Auditioning for theatrical roles and working in theaters. She'd never been to California before and that presented a brand new set of challenges with possible opportunities in TV and film."I kind of looked at it as a gap year because why not have an adventure? And film and TV were adjacent to what I was doing. I thought oh the weather will be beautiful and I'll hike around and if I hate it, I can leave. And I didn't hate it. In fact I found out I loved it so much!"

She found a brand new community in L.A. and a place where she could hone her craft while forming strong bonds with others dedicated to the same goals. She found new passion in performing in intimate spaces, small theaters, and realized that TV and film fed her love of "right there in front of your face performance." She said, "I think there is nothing more intimate than being on someone's television screen in their house or now even with smartphones, someone watching you on a plane. It's wild…That's what hooked me for TV and film and that's what's kept me going, is the power of that kind of global storytelling and the intimacy of being in so many public spaces with people while they're having private experiences is really incredible."

But much like she did in fourth grade, Rentschler eventually found a way to forge her own path. Only this time, not just for herself. "I had a group of wonderful friends that I knew from acting class and I knew from being in Los Angeles. Incredible actors. Absolutely stunningly talented people who were not getting a lot of work because they were not born into the industry, they were not already famous. And my friend Michael and I were just like, 'why don't we write something where we can showcase everyone?'"

And that's exactly what Rentschler and her friend, fellow actor Michael Tennant did.

"There is a bit of a festival tactic where you can write something and then you give yourself a smaller part and you try to hook a big fish. So you get either one or two big celebrities to either come in and do a cameo or play the leads and then people will invest in the movie because they definitely think it will sell because there's famous people in it. And we just thought, 'you know what? What if we didn't do it that way? What if we wrote a movie for all of our friends?'"

Rentschler and Tennant wrote Pretty Problems and they cast their friends.

"We know we all have chemistry and let's give it a shot. And if it goes nowhere, it was an experiment, right? We want it to go somewhere, we want people to see it but at least our friends will leave this movie with good footage and they'll be able to show people amazing scenes for their reels instead of trying to fight for two lines on television. And that's how it started."

Pretty Problems debuted at SXSW and it was a hit. It was the only film in their category that didn't have a famous name in the cast and they walked away from the Texas based festival with the Narrative Spotlight: Audience Award. "We actually did prove that you can sell a movie and you can do it a different way from the way everyone thinks that you have to." From there, the ball was rolling. IFC films purchased the spicy comedy and it was released in over a dozen theaters across the country this October and is currently available wherever you rent your movies.

After the success of SXSW, Rentschler brought her cast and her film back to her hometown of Birmingham for the city's Sidewalk Film Festival. Pretty Problems was originally scheduled for a smaller venue at the festival but it sold out so quickly that festival organizers changed the plan. Rentschler's debut feature film would run closing night of the festival, in one of the largest venues, the historic, recently renovated Lyric Theatre.

"I was just overwhelmed with gratitude and astonishment that it was happening that I had to stand in the back the whole time. [It was like] electricity was running through me. The house was just so responsive. There were so many laughs and giggles. And to just be able to stand in the back of the theater and receive all of that, it's the best audience that we've had. To have that happen in my hometown was a dream come true."

She added, "I don't say that lightly. Truly, as a child, I grew up in this town dreaming that I would get to do this for a living. And to create something that I did myself with my friends and have it be what brought me back in that way was the most impactful because I wasn't waiting for somebody else to give me that opportunity. We did it. We got ourselves there. And Sidewalk gave us this platform. I was a big part of my community that night. My original community and that meant everything to me."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles