Thursday, January 2, 2014

Filmmaker Sarah Knight and "Vino Veritas"

Sarah Knight is currently developing a romantic drama, In the Land of Fire & Ice, with writer, David MacGregor.  The film will star Academy Award nominee, Shohreh Aghdashloo, as a powerful Kuwaiti CEO who flees from personal and professional pressures to Iceland where she falls in love with a charming Scottish hotel keeper.

Her most recent documentary, Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend, is a portrait of Nicole Sherry, Head Groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards – one of only two women in that job in Major League Baseball.  Diamonds  premiered at the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame where it became part of the permanent archives.

Sarah’s previous doc, Hot Flash, about Saffire-The Uppity Blues Women, was nominated for a 2010 Blues Music Award, won the Audience Favorite Award at the 2009 Cinema on the Bayou Festival, and was acquired by Shorts International.

Her adaptation of the bestselling novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, was featured in the 2007 IFP Market Emerging Narrative section, was invited to the 2007 Film Independent Screenwriter’s Lab, and was a second round finalist for the 2007 & 2008 Sundance Labs.  The film chronicles the saga of three generations of American Indian women.  Q’orianka Kilcher (Pocahontas in “The New World”) and Misty Upham (“Frozen River”) will star.

Sarah has won fellowships to the Berlinale Talent Campus, the Rotterdam CineMart Producer’s Lab, and the Tribeca Film Institute’s Tribeca All Access.
Short films include Qiana (director, screenwriter, producer), Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (director, writer, co-producer) and the internet cult hit, Survivor in da ‘Hood (director, co-writer).

She directs theatre in New York and Los Angeles.  Credits include An Ideal Wife, based on her adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband,” (Pacific Resident Theatre-workshop space).
Sarah has assisted directors Taylor Hackford and Mikael Salomon and producers Peter Macgregor-Scott and Robert Shapiro.

What is "Vino Veritas" about?

Our story takes place on Halloween night.  Two couples, neighbors and best friends, meet for their annual pre-costume party drinks.  One of them has just returned from Peru where they picked up a truth serum.  They decide to try it and all the things they really think and feel – negative and positive – come out.

This is a story in which, thanks to the effects of a tribal concoction, the characters are stripped of the carefully composed social masks they have diligently fashioned for themselves. The superficial veneer of what passes for civilization is peeled away, layer by layer, to reveal not just personal quirks and secrets, but the primal core that drives so much of our behavior as human beings. Whether the subject is children, faith, sex, death, or the drives and desires that are hardwired into our DNA, this is, finally, a film about what it means to be human.

Why did you want to make this film?

My mom (who has exquisite taste and who often serves as my unofficial development girl) first turned me on to “Vino Veritas” when she saw the original stage play. She fell so in love with the writing she returned for every remaining performance then enthusiastically encouraged me to read it.

When I did, I was particularly taken with the character of Lauren. Much like me, she is an incredibly forthright person who expects those around her to follow suit. I found the portrayal of her coming to terms with the fact that others cannot and often do not wish to do so quite poignant.

As a filmmaker, the challenge of adapting a play set in one location and making it work and move well as a movie also excited me. For research, I looked to several of my favorite pictures, including “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “Deathtrap,” and “12 Angry Men,” which had done so in various inventive ways.

What was the casting process like?

I did not do any auditions.  I had seen Heather Raffo and Bernard White in separate Off-Broadway plays almost ten years ago but they both had such charisma and chops they stayed with me and immediately popped into my head for the roles of Lauren and Ridley.  I was more familiar with Carrie Preston as a film actor from her stand out supporting turn in “Duplicity” and leading role in “That Evening Sun.”  A New York theatre casting director recommended Brian Hutchison to me.

Why did you choose to distribute the film via VOD?

Our distributor, Gravitas Ventures, will make the film available to some 100 million viewers On Demand and iTunes on its launch date of January 15th.  That’s an awfully large number of people who will have access to the picture.  And more and more people I know get most of their film viewing through VOD, Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc.  I always prefer to watch movies in the theatre, at least the first time I see them.  But I certainly appreciate the continuously growing number of platforms which offer so much content that might have been otherwise lost or missed.

Do you think the world would be better off if everyone was completely honest?

In general I think open communication would solve a lot of problems.  If people were honest about what they really wanted in their lives and weren’t so quick to fall into social norms or what is expected of them just think how different society would be.  Happier overall, I would think.  And in relationships, if people would be honest instead of just automatically doing and saying what they think the other person wants them to, it might provide some wonderful and surprising results.  Personally, I strive very hard to only say things I really mean but to not to the point of being hurtful to others if I can help it.  I’m genuinely curious in what others truly think – just not necessarily what they think about me as I’m neurotic enough as it is!

How have your previous projects prepared you to make this film?

Very early in my career, I worked as assistant to producer Peter MacGregor-Scott for many years at Warner Bros.  Although he was producing $100 million plus budget films, he always approached them as if they were small indies (his background was “Cheech and Chong” films).  He watched every penny and came up with scrappy, inventive ways to solve problems rather than just throwing money at them as is often done at that level.  That was an invaluable lesson as I also produce all of my own work.  After that I assisted director Taylor Hackford.  Being able to be at his side, watching his process from prep through post was immensely beneficial and many of his techniques I now incorporate into my own work.  Directing theatre certainly helped my ability to work with actors.  My experience in the legit world spilled over into “Vino” which I ran as a somewhat anomalous film set.  All four of the actors had theatre backgrounds, as well as film.  I managed to secure six days of rehearsal and required the cast to be completely off book before they arrived on location.  We shot entire scenes in one take which created an amazing energy for the actors on set, almost like what they experience on stage.  I’ve spent the past few years making documentaries.  That helped to further hone my storytelling although it felt terrific to get back to narrative work which is what I enjoy the most.

What's your favorite movie?

“All About Eve.”  I first saw the film when I was about 11 and I never tire of the powerhouse performances, incredibly witty dialogue, and perfect structure.  I think it still stands as the best screenplay ever written.  Only caveat is the dreadful ‘you’re not a real woman unless you can look up in the morning and see your man’ speech Margo Channing gives in the third act.  But I’ve always just chalked that up to a sign of that time.

What's your favorite wine?

I don’t drink wine at all.  Dirty martini is my preferred cocktail.

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Many thanks for interviewing me and featuring the film!!