ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR
Interview by Nate Ludwig
NL: What's your story so far? How has that informed your work in the world of filmmaking?
RC: I grew up in a household of artists and found that creating stories was and still is my favorite form of expression. As a child, I loved reading, watching movies and plays, and getting lost in my endless imagination. I was extremely drawn to stories about our flawed human condition, and devoured first person accounts, historical dramas, and any story in which a character struggles and faces an unhappy albeit realistic ending.
At 13 years old I used my Bat Mitzvah money to buy my first digital Hi8 camcorder. I spent endless hours making short films starring my family and friends. I was officially hooked.
In 2006 I moved to New York to study film and television production at NYU Tisch School of the Arts. I was suddenly surrounded by like minded filmmakers and inspired by each corner I turned. My four years at NYU allowed me to experiment and discover what type of filmmaker I wanted to be. Living in New York City only augmented my experience. I quickly learned to be a stealth observer and continue to draw inspiration from everyday encounters and experiences. If I hadn't made the choice to move across the country, I don't think I would have taken the risks to develop into the experimental filmmaker I am today.
NL: Your short film, "Sam + Jo" is a quietly unsettling story of two women at a crossroads. It's depicted with mostly sound design and little to no dialogue at all. Was that part of your initial idea for the film and was that a challenge or benefit to you?
RC: I usually create short films to exercise a focused idea or emotion I want to ultimately explore in a feature length film. Before production begins, I meticulously storyboard each frame so that while we are filming, I can truly focus on the actors' performance. In SAM & JO I wanted to explore how a character would react if they felt paralyzed and out of control in their relationship. Each frame was a vehicle for exploring and enhancing Sam and Jo's fears and the ultimate rupture of their relationship. I wanted the audience to feel itchy with anxiety and nothing is scarier in a relationship than silence and the inability to verbally communicate and understand what is on your partner's mind.
I usually find working without dialogue to be a benefit because it allows actors to express themselves in the most primal way. In it's limitations it forces actors to embody a feeling in ways they'd never expect. Imagine feeling like you are having an anxiety attack and not being able to scream or react verbally. The silence of the film only intensified the characters' experience of feeling stuck with no way out. I was very fortunate to work with the talented actors, Karen Eilbacher and Andrea Goldman, who after reading my treatment and backstory of their characters were able to embody the feelings of Sam and Jo's anxiety and paralysis without words.
After the edit I worked closely with my composer Max Aruj to create a score that was an embodiment of the emotional monster both Sam and Jo were trying to escape. Max created music with eery breathing and creaky vocals that only enhanced the anxiety of Sam and Jo's dilemma.
NL: You have worked extensively on many productions, including a lot of time in art department roles. Tell us a little bit about that and how has it helped you as a director?
RC: When I graduated from NYU, I found working in the prop department to be a real world version of grad school. When you are an onset prop you work closely with the director and actors and usually stand right behind the camera watching the frame get set and executed. My experience as a prop assistant and prop master has taught me how a crew functions, how to budget (from indie to major, union and nonunion), the differences between a television and film set, as well as what is expected of a good director and how to execute these skills during production. Additionally, working in the art department has forced me to understand the importance of every department on set and how to actively communicate with crew members (the props department works closely with all departments).
My time in the art department has been invaluable, and I wouldn't be able to make the films I develop and produce today without these experiences. I truly feel like all department heads (directors and cinematographers especially) should have experience in another position on a film set in order to be a more well rounded and understanding leader.
NL: Have you directed any other short films? Tell us a little bit about those.
RC: I love making short films! It is the perfect vehicle for experimentation before you take on a feature film. I am obsessed with exploring what a person might do when faced with dire circumstances and how they might react when their life spirals out of control.
A woman uses meditation to block out memories of an abusive boyfriend, but it is fruitless (ANGELINE). A life is suddenly taken (TA MOKO), a woman is driven to deform her own hand (JOANNA), and a man is compelled to murder his wife because he sees no other way out of a failed marriage (HEREAFTER)....
These are just a few of the plot lines of my recent short films which you can watch on my website www.raquelcedar.com. With every new project I examine what drives individuals to extremes, why they might choose to act outside the norms of so-called “correct behavior”, and how these actions can dangerously ripple through a community.
I am currently working on a documentary short film series, "Who Knows?" about the history of my family, nose jobs, and the shape of our noses.
NL: Do you have any plans to make a feature film? If so, can you share some details with us?
RC: I am currently polishing my feature length script, "Her Island", which I am working to produce in 2019/2020. "Her Island", is a thriller about Roxanne, a Long Island housewife, who unwittingly gets involved in a murder.
NL: What are some of the obstacles to making your own films as a woman that men might take for granted or not know about?
RC: As #femalefilmmakerfriday reminds us, "the world needs to see more images of women directing. It is hard to become what you cannot see."
In my ten plus years of experience working on set, I can count on my hand the number of female directors I have worked with on set. A female director usually has to work much harder to earn a crew's respect, sexual harassment is real, disrespect is not uncommon, and the struggle of choosing between family life and career is still a battle rarely discussed in our industry.
As a female director, I know I have to be more prepared than a male director, but I pride myself in leaving no question unanswered and no weaknesses visible.
I say this in 2018 aware that my generation stands on the shoulders of a generation of female directors that had it much worse, yet paved the way for me to work in this industry.
It is important for female filmmakers to never be discouraged and to believe in yourself and your work. If you have a story to tell, tell it. Make no excuses and never apologize. I see myself as equal to all male directors and do not often define myself as a female filmmaker, rather a director and filmmaker who wants to share her stories and ideas with you. Gender differences will never break my desire to create films.
NL: What have been some of your experiences with Sam + Jo on the festival circuit? Any interesting or funny stories?
RC: Sam and Jo had an amazing festival run. It was so inspiring to meet filmmakers across the U.S. and share our film with lovers of films of all genres. I particularly loved when audience members would approach me and tell me they felt itchy after watching our film!
NL: What's something you want everyone to know about you as a filmmaker and creative human being?
RC: I am fascinated by the offbeat and weird, the distorted and the disturbed, the limp arm, the itchy scalp, our unique neurological disorders, "the man who mistook his wife for a hat". I love to collaborate and I will never stop expressing myself and my ideas through film so keep checking back on my website www.raquelcedar.com or follow me on instagram @raquelcedarfilms for the latest updates and news.