A Film by Vera Vaughn

Over a year ago, manically talented screenwriter Zeke Farrow and I began developing a puzzling, film-in-film psychological thriller about identity and obsession in the digital age. As the feature script evolved, it became clear we needed to test our premise. When it was time to shoot, would I really be able to create gripping suspense and compelling mystery with just an actress, an apartment, and a computer screen inside a logic-defying world?

I set out to answer that question with a short meta-film: A FILM BY VERA VAUGHN. Written specifically for the short format with an M.C. Escher-like circularity and inspired by the early work of Roman Polanski, I assembled my dream team and got to work.

With my usual partners-in-crime on board — producer Stephanie Haberman, cinematographer Jeffrey Kim, editor M. Brennan, and costume designer Erika Munro — I knew our craft would be solid. But with such an intricate script focusing on two women played by the same actress, the whole thing hinged on the performance. We needed someone with serious chops.

Working with casting directors Allison Twardziak and Jodi Kipperman, we found her. Known as much for her work in film and television as for her virtuoso stage performances, Marin Ireland put on a master class of sharp precision and delicate vulnerability that had our entire crew spellbound, take after take.

After three grueling nights (and the very real threat of eviction), it was time to begin the edit. Because of the technical complexity of the screen-in-screen scenes (all of Vera’s shots are horizontally flipped to create subconscious discomfort), editor M. Brennan and assistant editor Jay McConville had prepared extensive pre-cuts of select sequences. Slotting these together worked seamlessly but the art of it lay ahead. Four months ahead, to be precise, as M. Brennan and I tweaked the cut’s pacing to hit the heights of tension without losing our audience's interest.

The creative contribution of three special artists carried us across that finish line. The creepy but hypnotic score of Leanna Primiani, the exquisitely detailed audio engineering of Joseph Miuccio of Pure Sound, and the subtly enriched color grade of Mike Howell from Color Collective.

We’ve been honored to have the film premiere at the Nashville Film Festival and go on to play the Maryland, Brooklyn, Portland, and Paris Film Festivals as well as win the Jury Prize for Best Narrative Short at the Sidewalk Film Festival. Our online premiere through Short of the Week has been another great privilege as was receiving a Vimeo Staff Pick. We’re all looking forward to bringing the feature version of this odd story to a theater near you.

Finally, I’m immensely proud of, and deeply grateful for, the top-level work our crew put into this film. It simply would not exist without their incredible contributions which is why the film begins like this:

The Rockettes

Some shows are lucky enough to become institutions. The Rockettes are one of them.

Last month I had the pleasure of working with these icons of the New York stage on their Christmas campaign.

Collaborating with the excellent and friendly team from the Martin Agency (James Robinson, Lassiter Stone, Brooke England, Colleen Hopkins, Kelly Sutton), we labored to capture genuinely joyous reactions to a "surprise" appearance by the real Rockettes.

As satisfying as these undirected reactions were, the big treat was working with the Rockettes themselves. I left the shoot awed by their physical prowess and rigorous precision. These dancers are no less than professional athletes performing in micro-second synchronicity. Truly stunning. Thank you for letting our motley film crew step into your world. 

As always, thanks to my excellent team, including the consistently breathtaking photography of DoP Jeffrey Kim, the organizational management of producer Stephanie Haberman, the morale boost of AD Arle Bordas, the fine cutting chops of editor Eric Wais and the musical genius of James Morgan.

We DID Start the Fire

Socialist leanings can make for awkward conversation among hyper-Capitalist advertisers.  Which is why creating a film for Firefox to celebrate their 10-year anniversary as an open-source, non-profit dedicated to a free and open internet was so personally refreshing.

From the beginning with the Firefox team and Occam’s David Lipson, we envisioned a metaphoric world of cooperation based on the construction of a fire sculpture larger than any one person could make alone.

Mirroring that story, our community of artists and producers and makers and doers joined together to pull off an incredible, and incredibly fun, shoot.

Producer Anne Johnson overcame seemingly impossible obstacles on a daily basis.

While DoP Alex Disenhof leapt into pre-pro with an energy and enthusiasm that the project really needed.

alex disenhof.JPG

Production Designer Eric Archer and his cool, calm team made sure everything looked perfect, moving 20 tons of rock in the process.  

anne

And Emilie Pereira made sure everyone looked good, styling their wardrobe inside that narrow niche between rugged outdoors and street chic.

Bringing the footage home, editor Terence Ziegler crafted an elegant and moving story while visual effects wizard, Vadim Turchin, turned his magic toward the final shot.

Beautifully graded at Nice Shoes by Lez Rudge and mixed by Joe Miuccio of Pure Sound, the final touch was added by longtime collaborator and composer James Morgan whose score takes the story to the next level.

I’m grateful to all of my team and pleased we were able to contribute a small part to the global story of communal minded folks who believe in net neutrality and the power of a collective.  Thanks everyone!

Small is Smart...

As with anything, it all started with an idea.  Actually, more like a Facebook post asking friends to think of "things that are small but have a huge impact.”  Armed with some examples -- some obvious, others obscure -- I invited my new friend and accomplished DoP, Jeff Bierman, to come out and play.  His champion answer was, of course, “YES!”

jeffbierman

Together, we tooled around the City of Angels, capturing macro imagery of small-but-powerful things, culminating in the by-now-obvious reveal:  "Small is Smart".

It brought me back to those carefree (long) days of scrappy productions where sweat and tears intermingle with hopes and fears to create an intoxicating mix of high expectations on low resources (and low blood sugar).

Once trusty collaborator Eric Wais and I were done, you’d never know it was shot for a dollar and a dream.

mix

Solid thanks to Lenny Mastrandrea over at Nice Shoes for the excellent color, Joe Miuccio at Pure Sound for the smooth aural design and mix, Melissa Huffsmith-Roth for her “just right” vocal stylings, and my honey pie for her trim waistline.  Music by Sonny & the Sunsets.

I’m very proud of our final piece...

Service, Texas Style

Every so often, you get a client and an agency with the confidence to place their trust in a single vision.  In Dallas, Texas, I found exactly that.

We knew we wanted to portray moments of service.  Moments in a hospital that felt unique and intimate - not drawn from the healthcare commercial handbook.  To get these, we were given unusual freedom of access and subject matter which made all the difference.

I'm as proud of my collaborators as I am of the final piece and, though it was a tight schedule, we never had to compromise a shot.

Producer Meredith Witte pulls the MVP award for both shepherding the project through her agency as well as demanding the highest quality during post-production.  Without her belief and insistence, our crazy idea of using only sound effects for the "musical score" would never have gotten off the ground.  Nor would we have discovered the real Friday Night Lights!

Jeff Kim, as always, delivered sensitive, high quality images with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of skill.  I'm just glad none of us walked away with a haircut from the helicopter.

Keeping the train on the tracks was Shane Kalman, AD extraordinaire and staunch defender of zionist rights (the best AD is one with a gun).

And of course, pulling the whole thing together, was my producer, Stephanie Haberman, whose attention to detail, sensitivity to people and aesthetics, and genuine enthusiasm for "doing it right" have made her an indispensable partner.

Unexpectedly, this has become one of my favorite new pieces.  Thanks guys!