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This month we talk with Stephanie Zari, a writer, director and producer based in the UK who has created a variety of short films and is currently working on her feature “In Our Blood”.Stephanie Zari

Stephanie’s first short film, “Marigolds” appeared at many international film festivals, including the London Film Festival and the Cambridge Film Festival. her short film “Dawn“, a teaser for “In Our Blood“, was BAFTA longlisted in 2014.

We asked Stephanie some questions about her filmmaking journey and the process of making “In Our Blood”.

When did your career in film start, and what got you into the industry?

I started off as an actress in Toronto 20 years ago, having done drama in high school. I flittered between studying art and ended up getting the acting bug. After pursuing acting for about 7 years, I started writing and realized I loved writing more than acting and was probably better at it! From there I started wanting to direct what I was writing and so went to film school part­-time while working full-time to learn the language and grammar of film behind the camera. There I pretty much fell in love with the collaborative nature of this temporal art form and the power stories told through film can have. I wanted to tell intelligent stories that are unique and thought provoking in their premise, but universal in their themes.

What have your past projects taught you about working in film?

Always surround yourself with likeminded, talented people who know more than you so you they can help you achieve your initial vision and make it better than you ever thought it could be, which in turn helps you to keep growing as a filmmaker. Sometimes your gut instinct is better than anything. Don’t over-analyze. Hire actors at the top of their game ­- priceless. As our legendary directors like Elia Kazan, William Wyler, John Ford, John Huston and Robert Altman said, ­ directing is 80% casting. Collaborating is much more fun than being a dictator.

You are currently working on the film “In Our Blood”. What is the premise of the film?

“In Our Blood” is a psychological thriller/horror film about two surviving triplets who tragically lose their sister at a very young age, are raised by their zealot Jehovah’s Witness uncle, and embark on a dark and twisted quest to bring back their sister.

Besides it being a meditation and exploration of the unique bond (and broken bond) of twins/triplets, grief and loss, family and religion, some tough themes are explored like the impact of religious indoctrination on children.

“Dawn” was actually an exploration/teaser for the feature film. I had the idea for the feature film, but had not written the full feature script yet. I was lucky that our Exec Producer had seen my first short film “Marigolds” and liked it so much he invested fully in my next short, and so I took the opportunity to explore the themes of the feature film idea and use the short as a financing tool/taster for the feature film. Most people take an excerpt from a feature film script and shoot a taster/short from that,­ but I did it the opposite way and for the most part I think it will make the feature much better having gone through that process and it’s taking on a life of its own, which is great as I don’t want to make the same film twice. 

What was your inspiration?

The premise came about while I researching sibling codependency for my second short film; I came across a few bereavement sites and started to learn about the unique form of grief a vast majority of twins experience after the death of their ‘other half’. This statement especially was pretty profound: ‘50 percent of twins follow their identical twin into death within two years’.

The real-life stories were so compelling and harrowing. Their overwhelming grief and loss and their sense of abandonment and loneliness was like nothing I’ve read about before. For most, it’s as if a part of them is literally severed mentally and physically, except there is always a reminder of the missing part. It stares back at them every day in the mirror. I wondered what psychological impact this must have, compared to someone who experiences death, as we experience it, however tragic that may be. And I thought, how far would one go to bring back a part of her/himself to make them whole again?

I then set their upbringing against the backdrop of Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely being brought up by their guardian uncle the Elder. This is something I experienced briefly at a young age and not something we’ve seen explored very much in cinema to my knowledge, but is just coming to light over the last few years through ex­-JW’s on You­Tube and other websites. Many people – and horrifically, many children – have died at the hands of the ‘no blood transfusion’ doctrine and so I felt it was an important topic to explore. 

Stephanie Zari

 

How has the positive reception of “Dawn” influenced you in taking the first steps with “In Our Blood”?

Very much so! “Dawn” was BAFTA long­listed this year and has garnered some great support from various organisations, not to mention having two amazingly supportive producers, one of which optioned the feature film script, which in turn helps us to finance.

What have been the most difficult aspects of production? How have you overcome these hurdles?

Time and money. Always. No matter what you’r shooting. Always. I think we get more clever with each project on how to manage these and remember when it’s all going to pot, what really matters? To me, that is the actor ­- it is his performance that the audience will connect to. I have learned that when I’m up against it, always get the performance; the fancy shot might have to go out the window or be used another time, but the audience will never know that.

How did you get involved with your producers, Isabella Marchese Ragona and Claire Otway?

I met Isabella on a feature shoot I was the 1st AD on and she came on board to help Produce “Dawn”, which in turn got her interested in optioning “In Our Blood”. I met Claire through some mutual film contacts and subsequently she hired me as a 1st AD on a few features. She had just finished line-producing “Montana” and producing “Soulmate” when I was thinking of bringing on board another producer to help Isabella as her slate is quite heavy. We’re a great team that compliment each other, both ambitiously and creatively.

I’ve really learned how to be in script development with them from a producer’s perspective, about the feature film industry ‘game/biz’ side of the industry and learned how to be open, take and cipher all the development feedback, notes, etc. They keep me in line for the end goal and remind me that they have to sell this film and we want it to be successful and so they keep me from going ‘off with the fairies’ in the script too much so that we can attract a wider audience. They are my endorsers, my champions, my supporters, my encouragement and my reality check. Without them, I would be nowhere near a third draft,­ or, rather, I would have thought that a 2nd draft was good enough!

What are you and your team doing to promote the film?

We’ve launched various sites on social media – twitter, facebook – as well as launching a crowd-funding campaign to help raise funds for our development stage ­ to help pay for assets, script editor, casting director, etc. You can see our whole project here: https://www.megafounder.com/in­our­blood­ feature­film.

We’re also supported by Director’s UK, Shooting People, Underwire and we had an article in the Kent Newspaper.

How has your involvement with Cinema Jam supported the production?

Cinema Jam is a great community, really supporting filmmakers who wanting to share and learn from each other. Cinema Jam is not only supporting us with our crowd-funding campaign, but they’ve helped in other ways like suggesting me for other film panels and discussions and just really getting behind and backing “In Our Blood” through development right up until the final film is released. We’ll pre- post crew opening exclusively first to Jammers once we go into production and we’ll hold a free preview screening + Q&A of the final film. So it’s a great, continuous support and endorsement from them that is help driving awareness of the film and we greatly appreciate it!

Just for fun: to go along with this month’s theme, what are your favorite film journeys?

Oh man! These are always so tough! So many – from Thelma & Louise, Into the Wild and Paris, Texas to Mad Max, Little Miss Sunshine and Bad Lands, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Sideways, Wild at Heart, My Own Private Idaho….I could go on and on! When you’re lover of film, there is never one film!

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Posted on Dec 1, 2014

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