Guest Post by Victoria Negri
My debut feature film “Gold Star
” is loosely inspired by my experiences as one of my father’s caregivers in the last year of his life following an intense stroke. And because of how personal this film is, and how many hats I chose to wear for the production as writer, director, producer, and lead actor, it was imperative that I bring in the best possible collaborators to offer new and thoughtful perspectives.
” evolved so much over pre-production, during the production process and in post, and I credit my collaborators for challenging my vision, questioning my choices, and making the suggestions necessary to transform the movie from one chronicling a fictionalized version of my own specific life experience into something more universally relatable.
The first person I brought onto the project, producer Katie Maguire
, helped me understand that I did not need to be wedded to the biographical details and it would be Ok to change the character of Vicki and her story in the movie to the point where she could deviate from my own experience. Through the process of working on drafts of the script, she helped me focus on what to heighten and what to cut, and she helped immeasurably in the process of turning the narrative of a specific woman faced with a specific burden in a particular time and place into something bigger: the complex challenges of caregiving and carving out a distinct identity for yourself in the midst of losing your parent.
It was terrifying to open myself up to other perspectives, but I knew I’d need them, especially during the shoot itself. Cinematographer Saro Varjabedian
and associate producer Greg White
helped me through extraordinarily difficult, emotional scenes, some of which incorporated my real father’s hospital equipment, others that were shot in the rehab hospital that cared for him after his stroke, and still others that used real articles of clothing and props from his life.
Here’s just one example of many: During one challenging day on set in September, 2014, I had to lift Robert Vaughn
, who plays my father in the film), into a bed using a Hoyer lift. Because this was something I did in real life for my father just one time, and felt ill-equipped to do it even then, essentially reliving the experience was becoming increasingly stressful take after take. After about an hour or two of shooting, I spoke with Greg
and Saro and we decided that after we finished an angle and wrapped my close-up, we would take lunch and move to Robert’s close-up to break it up for me and give me a chance to process what I had been doing.Catherine Curtin
, who plays my mother in the movie, also had an enormous impact. She suggested a major change to a scene’s blocking that ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the film. I opened up a lot of myself personally in private to Cathy and Robert, speaking with them individually about why scenes mattered beyond the dialogue or merely filling in the blanks in the story. The scene between Cathy and I was crucial to the film, as it’s a moment in which the roles of mother and daughter are abolished. Cathy and myself, as characters in the film, became equals, both in denial and fear of losing a loved one.
After wrapping the production and moving into editing, this same ethos applied. Working with my editor Chris Steele-Nicholson
was an exercise in further staying open to changes in the film. There were many personal, emotional moments for me that didn’t necessarily work once we were watching the edit, and in going through the footage with Chris
and hearing his thoughts on the film, and specifically what kind of film we were making, I had some huge epiphanies.
The final film you will see is far from what was on the page. The beginning and ending are completely different than what I initially conceived. They’re ideas that came through conversations, talking about other films, relaxing and staying open, and most importantly, trusting my collaborators and giving them room to offer their input.
” screens at Cinema Village in New York City November 10–16 and begins streaming on Amazon and Amazon Prime on November 10. For additional theatrical dates and more information, visit the film’s official website.Victoria Negri
is an award-winning writer, director, producer, and actress. “Gold Star
” is her feature directorial debut. The film won the Audience Award at the Buffalo International Film Festival and Blue
Whiskey Film Festival (Chicago), as well as Best Feature Film at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival. Negri has directed and produced numerous award-winning short films, music videos, and web series featured at festivals around the world, including the Lower East Side Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, Cleveland Film Festival, and Nitehawk Shorts Festival.
Guest Post: How to Stay Open to Collaboration When Your Film is Deeply Personal was originally published in Women and Hollywood on Medium
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