By Vanessa Martinez | Shadow and Act March 11, 2014 at 10:30AM
Victoria Mahoney’s avid curiosity and fearless approach has kept her hunger for indie filmmaking alive. We first witnessed her knack for storytelling and directing with her compelling feature directorial debut Yelling to the Sky, a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama that, after its debut at the Berlin Film Festival three years ago, propelled Mahoney to be considered one of 25 New Faces of Independent Film by Filmmaker Magazine in 2010, and one of S&A’s favorite filmmakers to watch.
In between financing her ambitious passion project Chalk, she’s signed on to direct the indie Paper Tiger this summer, written by Jessica Steindorff. Mahoney also shot and directed the newly released short Searching, executive produced by Amanda de Cadenet for Flaunt Magazine– an 8 hour day shoot – that stars Selena Gomez and Shiloh Fernandez.
Also, in case you missed it when it was announced in May of last year, the filmmaker just wrapped directing the second season of the female driven talk show series Exhale on Magic Johnson’s Aspire Network. In our candid chat below, Mahoney tells us more about the experience of directing her latest short (watch it below the interview), Aspire TV’s Exhale, other projects in development and more.
S&A: Did Flaunt Magazine come to you to direct the short Searching?
VM: We were in London shooting the UK version of The Conversation, and Amanda [DeCadenet] asked if I was interested in capturing footage of the Flaunt shoot with Selena, they usually do a behind the scenes. I said yes, if we can do a narrative; so I came up with this idea, homage to an old French film then put together the synopsis for it, once Selena approved it, I then begged Shiloh to do it and we went off and running.
S&A: How did the concept for the short come up?
VM: It was meant to reflect what young people are going through now, young artists and this discussion about what, especially women musical artists, need to do in order to keep a high profile, and Selena is at an interesting place in her career, without having met her we could guess she was getting poked and pushed in different directions; it doesn’t take a PHD to figure that out, anyone coming up is getting pushed and pulled. Amanda and I culled through filmic resources and our favorite photography. We worked through it and gathered our ideas about what shape it would need to take. We have a great short hand. We love culling textures and tones, whether it’s for an individual or an actual color palette or the frame.
The talented Bridget Palardy shot 2nd Camera. It had to happen in one day from 9am to 5pm. We had that sole timeframe to do 8 set ups, 9 different wardrobe changes, 6 different locations, interiors, exterior, upstairs, down on the ground to the street and all the way in between; so Amanda would do her bit first, shooting still photography for the magazine spread and while she was doing that, Bridget and I, shot b-rolls essentially. Once the still shot was done, I’d grab Selena and Shiloh to do sequences of the film portion. The entire set was alive and moving; it was really exciting and raw, Selena and Shiloh were very trusting and willing to explore. We couldn’t separate time or days for shooting the short and the still photography, so whenever we were faced with a hurdle in pre or on the day of, the answer was always “if that’s not going to work, what do we do instead?”
I went with our AD the week prior and shot every single set up, tested the light and made a concise storyboard from those images. That was the only prep we had. No matter the obstacle we would immediately shift to meet our overall goal. Everyone thought we were crazy and said, “you can’t shoot a short film inside of a still shoot in a single day. It’s not possible.” We keep shape-shifting; a key ingredient for finishing projects versus talking about them. There’s always a deep desire to be proud of what you do while not being hindered by perfection, the hunt for perfect is a killer and the illusion of perfection will stop you at every turn. It’s worth distinguishing that hunt from much needed sharp instincts, a keen eye and very specific, deliberate framing.
S&A: It also means using your spontaneity, creativity and intuition right?
VM: Absolutely, and that sort of whatever-independent-spirit-meant-back-in-the-day, isn’t the same anymore. I’m rooted in this deep wish to investigate truths and learn more about the human condition. It was never just…I want to get signed with an agency; or that I want to get laid. S&A:
S&A: Are you still working on your feature Chalk?
VM: Yes. My feature Chalk, is so special to me, so dear. It’s in the nutbags financing stage, I kept being told, if I alter a component, I can get the kitty and the prize and if I don’t alter it, I’d risk having a longer gestation period.
S&A: Are you willing to “compromise”?
VM: It’s hard because there’s an ethical element I’m working around, against things that I’m trying to map out in the long term, the challenge is if I give here, is there a guarantee later on that I’ll be able to then take a stance. The only compromise if we want to call it that – when I’m shape-shifting my perception about a creative endeavor or decision – is that this shift must guarantee something in the long haul. If I make a decision and it gets me three proactive moves on the chessboard, then I’m good. If it only garners unilateral moves, then why bother.
S&A: From what I gathered, it's the story about “a person on a hunt to find murder suspects.” It’s a nationwide issue. What else can you tells us?
VM: Yes, that’s the nutshell until we pull the last pieces together and make a formal announcement. It’s based in Pennsylvania, Washington, DC and Southern California. It’s a mammoth; it’s a beast, and I’m really excited. It’s based on actual events. It has nothing to do with me or my life. In a lot of ways it’s a 180 for me because when I made Yelling everyone thought “Oh ok, so she made that about her life; how wide is her bandwidth?” Chalk is in many ways a beautiful counter to everything that Yelling was. I had to acutely abide by events that occurred, by historical facts, by individuals far outside of my day to day realm. It’s a special piece for a number of reasons and I can’t wait.
S&A: How did you get involved with Aspire TV’s Talk Show?
VM: The most vital info I can relay about directing Exhale is, they wisely sought the amazing Ava DuVernay, but she was booked out and generously, loyally referred me. That gig and all the inspiration that has come from it, is the sole result of peer to peer support. I was blown away everyday, I went to work by the commitment and level of openness from our hosts: Rene Syler, Issa Rae, Angela Burt Murray, Malinda Williams and Erin Johnson led by the finite producing savvy of Lynne Robinson. It’s so powerful; it’s one of those things that came about in a moment, the format wasn’t something that initially made me jump up because I usually lean towards drama in any capacity; it could be a feature film, a one hour TV show or short films but by doing this I realized, my true interest is simply exploring and reflecting, no matter the container.
What’s interesting about Exhale when they came to me is, it was a chance to walk my talk, it’s something that hadn’t been done and I was really curious about all of the topics coming forward the first season; every topic had potential to spark much needed discourse. Season two was equally powerful and equally insightful. There are some gut wrenching moments in this season from Dionne Monsanto, who has an incredible organization for families battling with teen suicide to Lorrain Taylor, whose two sons were murdered outside in the streets of Oakland on the same day while working on a car; you walk away from Lorrain and you’re not the same. What she’s made up of is some other level shit. The way that family has helped their community and what they do now is just so profound.
S&A: And perhaps being deeply affected by these issues can only help inspire you even more as a filmmaker.
VM: Indeed. It comes back to curiosity; the level of my curiosity never drops. There was a stretch of time when I wasn’t sure if I’d find support or resources for whatever it was I wished to reflect; could be art, film, TV, photography... There was a beat, a moment in my life when it was kind of like damn the game is jimmyrigged. Meaning in order to play, I will have to create a parallel game, fine. Other than that single moment, my curiosity level has never faltered. For me, being on set is no different than being at a dinner table or riding the subway next to someone; inevitably their life story is always more compelling than most ads in magazines and most commercials and reality TV and all the stuff we’re sold and told is valuable.
S&A: Which filmmakers and artists would you love to work with? Whose work currently has your interest and/or fascination?
VM: That’s a great question. There are so, so many. I’m pining to work with DP’s, Bradford Young and Adam Arkapaw of Animal Kingdom. I would jump at the speed of light to collaborate on a multi-layered ride with the inherently gifted and incredibly skilled, Lupita Nyong'o. I would love to work with, obviously [chuckles], Daniel Day Lewis, but I would only work with him in 5th gear, I would only want a project with an invitation to play at the most challenging scope, for myself as a filmmaker and for him as an actor.
S&A: There’s also a lot of undiscovered talent.
VM: Jessica and I are dealing with it on Paper Tiger. The most tapped in person for one of the roles isn’t widely known. But they’re further inside the character than any household name we’d ever get. With every indie, at some point you must come together as a team and decide either, screw it let’s run from the bankers and make something we’re extremely proud of that less people will see – or not and let the bankers call the shots in hopes of wider exposure. Neither equates heroism but instead, an honest survey of what best serves a project’s ticking clock. When you can balance out the talented people we all know with the people who are just coming up that no one knows yet, the ones who in a single exchange, you can tell they’re the real deal and posses an incredible skill set and are intuitive and hungry, that’s always gratifying. In Yelling, that balance was a big thing for me.
S&A: What kind of films/stories do you want to tell? What’s currently inspiring you?
VM: I’m an audience member first. My inspiration is still based on hunger. Often, when people try to tell me “nobody wants that story; I’m like bullshit because I want it.” I still stand in line on the first Friday at 10am, to go see feature films when they open, to this day. I will do it this weekend, and I will do it next weekend for two or more movies. I love the experience of walking into the theater, buying a ticket and all that goes with it. We’re getting some great storytelling, but it still seems like a lot of protagonists are similar; so one of the things that I want to do with stories is tilt the absence closer towards some of the people that I find really, really interesting. My aim is to reflect the actual human-scape, a little bit.
Regarding specific stories I want to tell, a team of us are in the midst of navigating showrunners for a one-hour drama I came up with that takes place in vintage NY. The show is called 51/50; it’s multi-tiered with a kicking ensemble, it’s such a wicked ride. I hope audiences have as much fun watching it, as I’m having writing it. I hold a deep love for Sci-Fi and ache to widen young adult storylines, which is the root of my feature trilogy starring a girl. Sci-Fi is incredibly challenging and has its own language. I have to speak its language; it’s not going to learn mine. I’m really excited about the places I’ve gone and the places I’m going, internally and externally speaking, and working to bring different spectrums of curiosity to life.