ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR
vanessa ionta wright
Interview by Nate Ludwig
NL: What's your story so far? What do you bring to the table that makes you a unique filmmaker?
VW: I was born in Riverside, CA, moved to Boston, MA when I was 2 then off to Dayton, OH when I was 8 and stayed put until after I graduated from Ohio University. A couple of college friends and I decided to move to L.A. after graduation because that is what you do when you want to make movies, you go to Hollywood. I’m not gonna lie, it was quite the struggle. We all had poorly paying jobs, rent was high and we had ZERO connections. There were no feet in any doors. The two years I spent in L.A. gave me time to really think about the type of film career I wanted and how I was going to achieve it. Fast forward 20 years and I know exactly what I want, what I am willing and not willing to do to get it, and a lot of life experience and wisdom to inject into my work.
What makes me unique? Farkle, i don’t know…I will say I’m pretty transparent. I don’t know if that is a unique quality or not, but I have noticed a lot of smoke and mirrors in this business and I don’t participate in that. I’m not one to pretend to know something I don’t, in fact I’ll be the first to say I have no idea what you’re talking about or how something works. People tend to talk a big game and spin tales, I only do that in my screenplays ;) I’m still a very new filmmaker and I think as I direct more I’ll discover what sets me apart and makes me unique.
NL: Rainy Season is an impressive short film. Tell us about adapting a "dollar baby" and working from the work of Stephen King himself.
VW: This was a really cool process. First of all, I am a HUGE Stephen King fan. Not like Annie Wilkes crazy, but I do have quite the extensive King library. I have always wanted to adapt one of his stories into a film. I would finish one of his novels and dream of the day when I got direct one of those films. When I found out about his dollar baby program I was thrilled. Here was my chance to take one of his stories and turn it into a film! One dollar will get you the non-exclusive rights to one of his short stories and you can produce it into a film. The only caveat being that it can’t be available anywhere to the public, there can be no distribution and no profiting; festival use only. What could be better than pouring a ton of time and money into a project that can never profit in any way? Sign me up! In all seriousness, I thought it would be a good way for anyone involved in this project to get some exposure. No one knows Vanessa Ionta Wright, but they do know Stephen King so I thought it would be a great opportunity to get this film noticed.
NL: What were some of the challenges making Rainy Season?
VW: There were a few challenges. First and foremost was funding. This was an expensive short film, and every way we cut it, we knew we were gonna need at least $30k to make it happen. We ended up raising about $18k when it was all said and done, so I had to call in a lot of favors on this one. I was not willing to cut any corners on this film. The scope of this film felt very much like a feature. We had a cast/crew of about 35 people and we shot in the middle of nowhere Georgia in a location that had no electricity and no running water. It was also 4 of the hottest days in Georgia. This film really challenged me as a director to think about how to navigate around obstacles and do some creative problem solving. I chose to take the focus off the “monster” and really toy with suspense. I also wanted a soundscape that would play with the senses. I really relied on sound to help build tension.
NL: You're one half of the force behind the red hot Women In Horror Film Festival. Tell us how that came about and why only crazy people like starting film festivals.
VW: It all began in a hotel room in South Carolina. Samantha and I were chatting about “if we had a festival, this is what we would do” conversation and as the conversation went on we looked at each other and said “We should really do this” We put a pin in it at the time because we were two months out from shooting Rainy Season and even though we are workaholics, we knew that would have been completely insane, even for us. Once Rainy Season had wrapped and I Baked Him a Cake was done, there was this quiet time of getting the films into festivals and we came back to seriously talking about launching a festival. We both wanted to do a genre fest and we wanted to help encourage female filmmakers and screenwriters, thus the Women in Horror Film Festival was born. We knew the name itself might raise some eyebrows and we have gotten some backlash because it is not an exclusively female fest. I look at it like this: We are women in horror and this is the fest we created with the goal of creating opportunities for filmmakers and screenwriters and celebrating diversity and equality. We strive to continue building community and to support independent filmmakers and screenwriters.
NL: You've also worked on a lot of other short films in various capacities. Tell us a little bit about those if you can.
VW: I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years. The very first set I ever stepped foot on was for a music video by The Bloodhound Gang for their song “The Ballad of Chasey Lain” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=If9fC9aJd-U) I was unofficially the talent wrangler. We had about 15 naked women on set so I made sure they found their way to/from set in a somewhat modest and safe fashion ;) Full disclosure, I do not endorse this song in any way shape or form. It will anger a lot of people and it should. I was a PA on a few other music videos like “Boys Don’t Cry” by Oleander (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBX0F-xvdwo) and “Sleepin In” by Smokey Robinson (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ-u2S7PRTQ). Once I left L.A. and moved to Atlanta, GA I worked for a commercial production company for a few years and realized I wanted to do narrative projects. There is a big 10 year gap in my career as I decided to take a break and stay home after my daughter was born. Once both of my kids were in school full time I turned my attention back to filmmaking. I just recently got back from Maryland where I helped produce Samantha Kolesnik’s short film Mama’s Boy. I’ve also done crafty and a little bit of wardrobe ;)
NL: What are your plans right now and what are you working toward today? Any cool future projects you can share with us?
VW: I’m enjoying the festival ride with Rainy Season and I Baked Him a Cake. Both films are still circulating and doing pretty well so I’m trying to enjoy all that comes with that. I am also full tilt back into festival planning mode as we gear up for year two of the Women in Horror Film Festival. We have such sights to show you ;)
I have a few projects on the horizon, but nothing to discuss publicly just yet. Still early in development but there is definitely a feature or two in the works.
NL: You work closely with your co-fest director Sam Kolesnik, a talented filmmaker in her own right. How did you come to meet her and what's it like working with her?
VW: We met in a very random way. We were both screenplay finalists at a festival in L.A. and it was between film screenings. I was sitting a table out front enjoying some street tacos when she approached me and asked to sit down and join me. My response was “Sure, but do I have anything in my teeth?” and I smiled a full cilantro grin in her direction. The rest is taco history ;)
Working with her is amazing. We gush over each other all the time talking about how amazing it is that we came together. We are both extremely ambitious and tenacious and we work 24/7. It balances out well because we know if one of us needs a break, the other is there to carry on. I joke all the time that she is my film wife, but she really is!
NL: What's something you want people to know about you that they might not already be aware of?
VW: Oh gosh, I’m a pretty open book, but let me think about something that I haven’t shared publicly. Some people might find it odd that I love horror films and Halloween, but I do not like being scared. I do not like going into haunted houses during Halloween. The novelty kind, mind you, not real, paranormal haunted houses, I love those. I don’t like people sneaking up on me or jumping out behind something. I don’t investigate strange noises at night because it’s definitely a monster. I don’t interact with clowns because something is wrong with them. For someone who has dedicated a huge chunk of time and career to horror, it may surprise people that I am scared of just about everything.
NL: Seen any good movies lately?
VW: Yes. I’m a bit behind on watching movies because I’ve been watching a lot of WIHFF submissions and can’t talk about those until all the judging has been completed, but watch out, because the competition is really tough this year.
Ok, back to my watch list. I just saw The Big Sick for the first time and really loved it. I also watched ‘The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)’ which I really enjoyed. I did see the new Star Wars and I don’t care what others say, I really loved it. I’m sure I’ll get some hate on that from someone, but whatevs, I liked it. I also enjoyed the new ‘IT’. While I agree it relied heavily on CGI, I think the meat was still there and I was thoroughly entertained. Really loved Jumanji, complete fun fest. I’m forgetting some, I’m sure. If I think of any more, I’ll get back to you ;)
Submissions for Women In Horror Film Festival are open right now! Big thanks to Vanessa for putting up with our inane questioning...