Over the years I have connected with many fillmmakers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Social Media, for all its downsides (trolls, faux friendships and random DMs), has opened up a unique pathway connecting to many creatives over the world.
This would have been nigh-on impossible without the Screenwriter Groups on Facebook and “writers-lifts” on Twitter. It’s also been a pleasure to see those connections forge ahead with their craft, either on their original pathway or in an entirely new creative folly. Seeing shoots happen, or networking at festivals, these filmmakers are truly inspiring to all of us seeking to make inroads into this notoriously elusive industry.
One such person who has always stood out to me is filmmaker Venita Ozols-Graham. I’ve adrmired Venita’s dedication to her work from afar, her recent posts about her new short film The Ossan have been exciting. From the start of the funding campaign through to the shoot. It’s been a pleasure to see this entire process unfold.
I am HUGELY grateful that I have this opportunity to grill Venita about her extensive career. By the way, I was super impressed to see her Asst. Director credit for one of my favourite shows, The Sopranos!
How did you get into the film industry?
I was born and raised in New York and I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, where I became a film major. When I graduated, I flew to Los Angeles to take the annual Director’s Guild of America’s Assistant Director Training Program test. About 1200 people applied and they whittled it down to twelve of us. They trained us at every studio and production company in Hollywood for about 2 1/2 years and then we were granted admittance into the Directo’s Guild as Second Assistant Directors. Thought the years, I worked on many TV shows and movies and worked my way up to First Assistant Director, Associate Producer and now, producer and Writer/Director.
From your body of work, what are most proud of and why?
What I’m post proud of, ironically, are the short films I’ve been writing, producing and directing this past decade because even though they may not be star studded and watched by millions like what I worked on in the industry, they’re mine. My creations and my blood, sweat and tears that push them into creation.
Is there a general theme running through all your work or do you treat each film separately?
There is, indeed, a general theme I discovered runs through my work and as I’ve gained clarity on that, the work gets better. I love cautionary tales. What can go wrong will go wrong in life. And it’s actually comical at times. So, I’ve segued into darkness…thrillers, very dark comedy, even dabbled in horror.
Is a passion for film enough? What business sense do you need to succeed?
Ah! A very important question. Art versus commerce. The struggle to be an artist and pay your bills at the same time. The lucky few manage to make that their reality but most everyone else juggles these balls their entire working lives. I dealt with it by working IN the industry I loved, learning, making a good living, raising a family BUT…putting my drams on the back burner until I’d served my time and then finally said “It’s MY time now!” And I’m racing against the clock to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish for 30 years prior but couldn’t. Everyone deals with it in their own way. But it’s important that creatives DO deal with it and find an outlet for their creativity, or they’ll become bitter and probably drink or drug themselves to death. Not kidding there…
Social media – is it essential for filmmakers? What are the pitfalls and benefits?
Social media for filmmakers. Well, that depends on where you are in your career. Starting, you’d be well served to navigate social media. It’s where you’ll network and get your fledgling projects seen. But if and when you enter the true business of filmmaking, not so much. There’s publicists and managers and others who’ll do that for you because you’ll be too busy creating. Social media is a time suck!
Has the popularity of streaming changed the way you work?
The popularity of streaming has changed how everyone works! The studio system is gone. It’s the Wild West out there and it still hasn’t settled down. There’s a gazillion more opportunities to get your work out there but there’s also a less clearly defined path on how to do so. There is SO much product out there right now that it’s ridiculously competitive. In the old days, you had to live in Hollywood to be a writer. Now someone living in a cabin in the Appalachian Mountains can write a screenplay and send it in.
As a director, what are your main considerations when on a shoot?
As a director, my main considerations are everything, lol. From supporting the actors to get their best performances to communicating with the crew constantly and efficiently so they can do their best work…I produce my own projects as well so I make sure in pre-production everything’s as well organized as possible so there’s minimal drama on the set. I want to be able to focus completely on the camera and what’s happening in front of it during production.
Tell me about your new short film, The Ossan.
We just wrapped shooting my most recent short film, ‘The Ossan’ and are beginning post-production. It’s my most ambitious project to date. I co-wrote it with Brigitte Graham (who also acts in it) and co-produced it with Calvin Vanderbeek (who co-produced my last short, ‘Who Wants Dessert?’). I told an old friend the idea for the movie, complaining that I couldn’t make it because I needed a mansion to shoot it in and those aren’t easily accessible for short film budgets. She very kindly offered up hers. Just wow! We were off and running, lining up visual effects and a great DP and sound and post team…we had to snow in the front of the mansion with real snow. The challenges and constraints were nerve wracking…so much could have gone wrong. But the movie gods were smiling down at us and it all went brilliantly! I’m very excited to throw this out into the film festival world next year
How can we support you with The Ossan?
If anyone would like to see more about the film and perhaps support, they can visit TheOssanMovie.com. Our crowd funding campaign is still active as we have a long road of costly post-production ahead of us! If anyone is interested in the movie’s we’ve already made and watching the journey of The Ossan, they can go to our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@wanderlustfilmsllc.
YouTube – please LIKE and SUBSCRIBE!
The Ossan – website – all about the movie & donations link.
Recent interviews and blogs.
The Rose, stars Alex Alessi, an actor who provides a powerful performance. I just had to ask him onto the podcast!
We discuss his latest movie, Oppenheimer, where he portrays Senator Scott. We also look back on his career for some stand-out moments. This includes working with the Cohen Brothers, starring in Malcolm in the Middle and Star Trek.
Patrick Wirtz has been on my radar for some time for an interview for The Mighty Dragon. His work with past The Mighty Dragon interviewee, director Deborah Richards, is truly an epic glimpse into the life of a producer. After speaking with Patrick, I have so much more appreciation for this role. Naive me, thought…