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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Dan Damman and Chris Thomas for 'Awarewolf' (2017) at Napa Valley Film Festival


Interview with Dan Damman and Chris Thomas for 'Awarewolf' (2017) at Napa Valley Film Festival

Writer/director Chris Thomas co-directed short film 'Awarewolf' (2017) with director Dan Damman. The film tells the story of an young boy who is forced to prematurely become a professional yoga athlete by his despondent and no longer pliant mother who lives vicariously through him. The film is beautifully produced with a remarkable performance by newcomer Nicolas Yurkevich. It screened at the 7th Annual Napa Valley Film Festival where I had a chance to interview both filmmakers together.


For those who haven't see the film, what does 'awarewolf' mean?

DAN: There's a werewolf toy that the boy, Parker, plays with in the short and his mother tries to separate him from it. The werewolf represents both the boy's innocence, and his eventual transformation into either a competitive young person like his mother, or a more aware young man. A werewolf is controlled by the full moon, forced to change into something he is not. Parker’s full moon is his mother’s modeling, which seems to be going in the wrong direction.

CHRIS: The big theme is self-awareness, We wanted to play around with the idea of a mother's ego telling herself she's aware because she's so focused on what's best for her child, while her child points out that maybe she's not. 


Do you think people do yoga more for trendiness now than for actual mindfulness and miss the point?

CHRIS: I think people are drawn to yoga for both the spiritual aspect and exercise, which is great. We need a place to check in with ourselves and make sure that we're treating other folks well. I think that a therapists office is the best place for that, but as long as folks are seeking out input to make themselves more compassionate, we're for it. We're just pointing out that it's funny that we can bring our competitive nature, even to a yoga studio and then miss the point of the yoga sutras, which are a practice in self-awareness.

DAN: There's nothing wrong with looking at the asana's as just an exercise too, but it's almost like it should be called something other than "Yoga". What happens on the mat in the studio, a classroom, meditation room, a church, in a plant medicine circle, etc. is not the beginning and end of an experience, but maybe more of touchstone to bring intention from that experience into the world…being kind to other humans, and approaching difficult situations with love instead of judgment are what I try to remind myself to practice.


How did you find the Nicholas? He was great!

DAN: We auditioned quite a few kids and no one felt right. A friend recommended Nicholas who had never acted before, but is a dancer in the SF Ballet. We met him and his incredibly supportive family and knew right away he was Parker. Everyone else we had seen acted like a little adult, focused on acting with their heads. Because Nicholas is a dancer, he was very aware of his body and could just relax into being himself. He was also great on set. Please, any casting agents out there, this kid is good!


Did it take you a long time to make? And, was it an experiment to make a feature out of it?

DAN: It took a few months to nail down the concept and script, and 3 days to shoot. We already had a feature script which is in the same world as the short, but different story and characters. We wanted to do the short to test out the tone of the feature. In the feature, an overzealous mommy blogger goes undercover to expose a charismatic guru's hellbent plan to bring his competitive yoga to the Olympics. A sort of Devil Wears Prada for the yoga world, it has the backdrop of yoga as a big business, which feels timely. As it explores elements of narcissism, power, and sexual harassment, it’s, unfortunately, incredibly relevant to what’s happening right now.


How did you and your partner Chris Thomas start working together?

CHRIS: We had met through a mutual friend who is a comedian and editor. We found a connection through music first, then started working more closely doing video work to change the political climate in 2006. In 2007, we began writing together and started to focus more on film.


You recently attended the Napa Valley Film Festival Fest. How was that experience?

DAN: We were ecited to attend Napa since it’s local for us, but also because we wanted to do what we could to show support for the area after the recent fires. The short has been to seven festivals so far and the experience in Napa was one of the favorites for us. Lots of events, parties and screenings that, as filmmakers, we got to attend for free. Which isn't always the case. Everyone that we met from the staff was kind, helpful, professional, and fun to hang out with.

CHRIS: They also seem to do what they can to keep things artistic and ... weird. For example, your badge says "artist" rather than filmmaker, which is a nice touch. The Friday bash featured an active outdoor Lucha Libre wrestling ring and bowl of nacho cheese chips the size of a car. How can you have a bad festival with amazing wine and food in the Napa Valley?


How have audiences reacted to the film?

DAN: Really well. Some folks learn that there really is such a thing as competitive asana competitions and the usual response is “That seems like an oxymoron!” The short won “Best Comedic Short” at the Maui Film Festival and after the showing, the actor Connie Britton (who was there with Beatrice at Dinner) came up to Chris and said “I loved your short, I want to be in the feature!” Getting affirmation from an actor that we really respect felt really good, and the possibility of her in the feature takes things to a whole other level.


What will you work on next?

CHRIS: We have a few projects that we are working on including a musical about raising a baby in the techy-go-go former-hippy Mission District in San Francisco - which is what I'm doing right now - but the main focus is to move forward on the feature comedy with production hopefully starting in summer 2018.

Interview with Dan Damman and Chris Thomas for 'Awarewolf' (2017) at Napa Valley Film Festival

Interview with Dan Damman and Chris Thomas for 'Awarewolf' (2017) at Napa Valley Film Festival

Film stills from 'Awarewolf' (2017)


Interview by Vanessa McMahon


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