Interview with Filmmaker Vanessa Powers (A LIVE OF VERSE)

A LIVE OF VERSE was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the March 2022 ROMANCE & RELATIONSHIPS Festival.

1. What motivated you to make this film?

It is actually a remake of sorts of a project I did in film school. The assignment had been a one take scene, and I had done a 5 minutes short of 2 actors running lines for ‘Taming the Shrew,’ which is MY FAVORITE Shakespeare play. Then, during COVID, my friend Tristan Corrigan through his company Under_score Productions did a weekly script contest to inspire creative folks not to give up during a time that felt dark. For the first week of that contest, rather than writing something completely from scratch, I transcribed my Film School assignment (there hadn’t been a script) and reworked and refined it, coming up with a more complete, more sophisticated version of the story. I won the contest that week, and from that point on, I got really excited about revisiting the film 5 years after the original with all the new skills I had gained and connections I had made.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Mmm, That is a trick question, on account of it being a remake. Original, ‘Learning Lines,’ to Final New Film, ‘A Line of Verse,’ would be over 5 years, but from the idea to do ‘A Line of Verse,’ to finishing it would be just under a year. The script contest was in March 2020 and the film was completed in Feb 2021.

3. How would you describe your film in two words!?

One Shot. One of the most exciting things about this film from conception to execution was doing it in one take. And we wanted to really commit to that fully, to the point where we wanted to make sure we started outside the building and moved inside, so that we would have to make a really tricky manual adjustment to the lens to keep the correct aperture for the change. My cinematographer was also in my class when we did the aforementioned assignment that this was based on, and understood that the philosophy our film professor had wanted us to execute was like, ‘if you were using multiple angles to film this, what would they be?’ – Creating that sort of ‘shotlist’ and then stringing it together with articulate camera movements. So it was really fun to approach it with him from the same mentality.

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

You would imagine that it was the same answer as above, one shot, but it really wasn’t. Our actors and crew approached that challenge ready to kick its ass, and they did. I think the greatest challenge was… well one of two things. First the fact that we filmed during COVID, and we had all safe set procedures and no one got sick, but it was RIGHT on the cusp of the second lockdown in 2020 and even though we were as safe as we could be it still added a lot of stress. Secondly, our audio was a big fail. The transmitters/receiver we were using didn’t do well with all the concrete in the BEAUTIFUL old theater we were in, and so our audio ended up REALLY low quality. We were so worried about the one-take aspect we didn’t focus enough on the sound, and so we didn’t really notice until it was too late, sad to say. Our sound engineer, Eli Owens REALLY brought it back from the dead and while they did do an incredible job, it still makes me grind my teeth when I hear it.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

That was extremely cool. I am a believer in intelligent audiences. There seems to be two philosophies filmmakers have regarding their audiences, 1. That they will be stupid, or 2. That they will be omniscient and somehow read the filmmakers’ minds and will grasp every detail whether the film was actually well-made or not. I try to meet somewhere in between and know that my audience is smart, and that it is my job to execute my concept well. In this case, it was really fun to hear not just the broad stroke impressions that people had, but the nuances of performance, technique, and storytelling that they noticed. It was a valuable reminder of how all those details matter. Not every audience member is going to see each one of them, but they will be visible and make a difference, as parts and as parts and as a story being greater than the sum of its parts.

Watch the Audience Feedback Video:

6. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

When I was 8-years-old, I really loved ‘Matilda.’ I got a book about the making of the film. It talked about how the actors who played mean characters were really nice people, how the cake eating sound took a whole week to film, and so on. One part in particular that stood out to me was that Mara Wilson herself had been allowed to make Matilda’s doll. Her materials were fashion magazines, phonebooks, and old clothes, the idea being that her parents wouldn’t have given her crafting supplies to make the doll. For some reason that was really the first time that it struck me that making movies was a job that someone could just like… do. That there weren’t just actors and cameras, but there was a whole unseen team that made movies happen. I didn’t suddenly decide at that moment that film was what I wanted to do with my life, but it was the first time I remember thinking about it.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Mmmm. Like any kid there were a few films I watched on repeat – ‘The Lion King’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ come to mind, but as an adult, ‘The 5th Element,’ ‘Zoolander,’ and the ‘Aliens’ trilogy all have been watched many-a-time in my household.

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I really love doing interviews as a promotional tool moving into the fest, rather than after – particularly group interviews with other filmmakers with projects in the fest. That would be really cool I think.

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

I love FilmFreeway. It is a well designed, intuitive site that makes tracking different projects, festivals, and submissions easy. Truly a great resource for filmmakers trying to make the most out of their film festival entries.

10. What is your favorite meal?

Mmmm, great question. Probably something with crab legs. I loooove crab lol

11. What is next for you? A new film?

We are currently in post-production for a feature length horror film, ‘Sins of the Father,’ that we made in association with Under_score Productions. We shot it last year in fall, and it is coming together really well. We are about to move into sound, color, and music — all the fun parts. The film tells the story of an inherited house which becomes the battle ground for a troubled teenage boy, and his family, where faith and loyalty are measured in blood. Keep an eye out for news on the website: https://www.sinsofthefatherfilm.com/

By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival www.wildsound.ca

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