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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 Director Romina Schwedler for 'THE VISIT' (2017)

ROMINA SCHWEDLER Director l Producer ROMINA SCHWEDLER Director l Producer

Argentine born Director/Writer/Producer/Actress Romina Schwedler is a woman of many talents. She moved to NY at the age of 15 and began her career studying dance at the School of American Ballet and music at The Juilliard School. She followed with intensive acting training at the William Esper Studio during which she began to be featured in films and TV series.

In 2014, she jumped behind the camera for the first time to direct a spec commercial. Through it she was selected as one of the top emerging directors of the year at the prestigious SHOOT Magazine New Directors Showcase. The piece went on to win multiple awards at festivals worldwide. Two commercials later, Romina moved on to directing her first short film, 'The Visit' (2017), an award winning psychological drama starring Oscar Nominee June Squibb (Nebraska) and Sean Maher (Firefly).

'The Visit' held its world premiere at the Burbank International Film Festival where it was awarded Best Short Film by a Woman. It also recently won an Honorable Mention at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival and is now nominated for Best Short Film at CayFilm/ Cayman Island International Film Festival. The film continues to travel the international festival circuit gaining attention and accolades in its wake. While Romina still lives in NY, she is now in pre-production for her first feature film, which will be shot on location in Argentina.


I interviewed Romina about her experience making 'The Visit' and her career goals. Here is what she had to say:


Are the events in The Visit based on a true story?

ROMINA: Well, it all started with a true story but what made me want to write The Visit was an idea that popped into my mind which would take that story farther.


How long did it take you to make the film?

ROMINA: From first draft to final cut it took a bit over a year. We shot for 5 days but the screenplay and the editing went through a few drastic turns which made the process a bit longer than expected. But I'm very glad the story developed in the way that it did. You can always write or edit something quickly to meet a deadline but a story always benefits from that extra time when you can step away from it for a few days and then come back to it from a different perspective. Things magically settle in your mind when you're not pushing and that's the kind of luxury we sometimes get when working on our own projects. The Visit grew so much throughout the pre and post production months. 


Do you have any anecdotes from the journey of getting this film made that you'd like to share? 

ROMINA: I have a few but I'll share this scary one: One week before the shoot I fell really badly, knocked my head against a hard surface and got a brain concussion! I went straight to the E.R. and the doctor told me that I was going to have trouble concentrating over the next 2 + months and that I should try to get lots of rest and no less than 9 hrs of sleep every night for at least 2 weeks! It's amazing how adrenaline fixes everything in these situations. It never even crossed my mind to move the shoot or to ask someone else to do my job so my body just had to step up to the challenge. I had worked so hard to get to that moment, nothing was going to keep me from being on that set. My nights were more like 2 to 3 hours, but miraculously I was able to concentrate. Then, after the shoot was over I started to feel it, but it didn't matter at that point. The footage was already in the can!


You said you dreamed of getting June Squibb in your film. How did you go about doing that? And how did Sean Maher get involved in the project?

ROMINA: I saw Nebraska as I was on the 3rd draft of my screenplay and was mesmerized by June's rendition of Kate Grant. So much so, that after this I kept hearing her voice as I wrote each line of dialogue for Mrs. Perkins' character. When my screenplay was finished I figured I'd write to her agent, give this a shot! But I didn't hear back, learned later that they were moving offices at that time. I thought "well, at least I tried!" But then a few weeks later I couldn't believe it when I found out that my debut micro-short film How a Man Gets Ready had been nominated for an award at the Burbank International Film Festival where June was going to be presenting!

ROMINA CONT'D: I decided to put the script on a flash drive and then at the gala walked up to her. She gracefully took the drive and responded a couple of weeks later. I was excited about her positive response but I didn't really allow myself to get too excited because she's beyond busy and scheduling conflicts could have still kept her from being able to do this. "I'll wait till we're on set" I thought to myself. And scheduling conflicts did happen, big time, but thanks to her willingness to get this done and to her agent's collaboration and positive energy we made it to set! ...But of course by then I was so busy to believe anything that it wasn't until I was in the editing room that it finally hit me. June was amazing to work with. She was fun and laid back and I'll never forget the moment when I first said hi to her in her dressing room and saw her script full of notes. It was such an honor to see how seriously she was taking this role. Everybody loved her, especially me!

ROMINA CONT'D: About Sean Maher's involvement, I was stunned when his agent reached out to say that he wanted to read the script. I had placed a casting call on Backstage and IMDb looking for a NY based actor since logistics were challenging enough already, and I had seen countless actors but wasn't 100% set on either yet and at a certain point I just had to get on with casting and start rehearsals. So it was unbelievable how serendipity kicked in one more time. Sean loves June Squibb so even though he's not based in NY the project had caught his attention. And I'm so glad that it did because he's not only an incredible actor but he also worked extremely hard on a very intensive schedule and still managed to be super nice and supportive. But he's beyond busy himself! So after he read the script and said that he wanted to do this I had to stay cool and hold my excitement one more time until all scheduling and logistics were figured out. And there was a lot of that to be done in order to get everyone on the same coast at the same time! But luckily, after lots of hard work on all ends everything came together.

ROMINA CONT'D: Now, while on the subject of casting, I can't help but mention my other two stars: Sadie Katz and Dominick Coniglio (who I'm proud to say made his film debut with The Visit). They are both outstanding actors who have a great commitment to their work and are also loads of fun to work with. I was truly lucky to be able to work with such an amazing cast.


Did any family or friends influence or inspire your filmmaking?

ROMINA: Yes. My boyfriend Alain J. Carmona who is also the cinematographer on The Visit, has been and still is one of my biggest inspirations in becoming a filmmaker. When I was an actress full of curiosity about directing he nourished that spark in me and helped me find myself on the other side of the camera. Today we collaborate on most projects. Also, my father taught me a lot of what I know about photography. He's an engineer but when he was younger he was -among other things- an award-winning photographer, and his deep understanding about framing, composition and lighting made an impact on me at a young age. And my mother, an award-winning director of musical and theatrical works in Argentina, taught me a great deal about not being afraid to play, trusting my vision and being an artist in general. My family has given me a foundation that I'm infinitely grateful for and have never taken for granted.


Is it your main goal to direct feature films?

ROMINA: It definitely is. And I'm actually about to begin pre-production on my first one! With screenplay by a writer I very much admire, Maria Laura Gargarella. This project is special to me for many reasons. One of them is the production team. To be able to work super hard with colleagues and have fun at the same time is a great recipe and that's the way I feel about working with this team. Another reason this project is dear to me is that it takes place in Argentina which is where I'm from, born and raised, although I've lived in NY for most of my life now. And last but certainly not least is the cast, which I can't announce yet but if everything goes as planned I'll have the honor to work with some amazing talent.


You got into filmmaking through acting. How did that come about and are you still interested in acting?

ROMINA: Even though the curiosity had always been in me, I like to say I "stumbled into directing". I didn't know my life was about to take a major turn when I decided to shoot an idea I had for a 1 min spec ad/micro-short film to include on my acting reel. I wrote it, cast it, and then I gave directions to my co-stars and the DP, made sure costume and set design were in place, etc. but I didn't quite realize that I was directing, I was just "getting it done!". After the shoot I asked my boyfriend if he could be the editor. He told me "Even better: I'll teach you how to edit". And I'm so glad he did because that made me dive right into that crucial part of the filmmaking process. I loved editing right away!

ROMINA CONT'D: After this piece was finished I just knew that I wanted to do it again. I had been writing screenplays for a long time, but after this I started coming up with new ideas and now I realized that maybe I could direct these stories myself! I think that being an actress and paying attention to what was going on when I was on set taught me a lot of what I knew about filmmaking from the get-go, and then came the reading, the lessons and lots of helping out my filmmaker friends on set which is really the best way to learn!

ROMINA CONT'D: As far as acting, I still love it as much as I love directing, but I always say: I love to act!, just in other people's films. When I'm directing I like to concentrate on being on that side of the camera and the same goes for acting. Trying to be on both sides means there's half of you to pay attention to detail. Directing is multitasking enough, plus you're usually not getting any sleep and have a million things running through your mind. Definitely not the best state to be going into hair and makeup or getting into character. I love it when I'm on someone else's set as an actress and can concentrate exclusively on that. So in answer to your question I definitely want to continue doing both!


You recently screened your film at the Sedona International Film Festival. How was that experience?

ROMINA: Oh, I absolutely loved it! And I've said this in other interviews: Filmmakers at the Sedona International Film Festival are treated like royalty. We get spoiled with amazing parties, shuttles driving us everywhere, great filmmaking panels, interviews left and right, and the level of the film selections and how cleverly they are programmed is remarkable. I could go on but I'll say just two more things: It was so nice to meet the loyal audience the festival has, they genuinely love film and they have great questions for the filmmakers. And Sedona itself is just so beautiful, really the perfect setting for a celebration of film like this is.


How would you describe the experience of being in the audience when your film is playing?

ROMINA: Being in the audience is such a unique experience. On one hand it's hard for me to relax because I can't help but take mental notes about new adjustments I discover could be made. This work is never really done, at some point you just say enough and get it out there, but it could be eternally perfected, so when I sit in the audience I can't help but look for those details. On the other hand though, I really enjoy seeing first hand how different people react to the same moments. One of the most rewarding experiences with the film so far has been seeing these reactions up close. The other day I turned around and saw this man completely captured by the ending scene, his undivided attention was on that screen and there was even a tear down his cheek. This caught me by surprise and the expression on his face stuck with me. I can't explain that feeling but when people are moved or affected by your film it's just the best gift you could get.


What are your most and least favorite things about filmmaking?

ROMINA: My favorite thing is to be able to touch people's hearts, make a change in their day or hopefully their life. That's something that I consider a privilege and that I truly love about this medium. And the experience of turning an idea that pops into your mind into a tangible piece of work that wouldn't exist otherwise is also extremely rewarding. The least favorite thing I have to say is the fact that you never get enough sleep! Whether you're in pre-production, production, post-production or doing the festival circuit, there is never enough time and sleep is always the first thing to take the cut, so sometimes it becomes a bit intense, but it's all worth it and when you're doing what you love it's definitely not as exhausting as it would be otherwise.


What are the best things The Visit has given you?

ROMINA: Well, being my first short film, first drama, first piece over a minute, it taught me a great deal about filmmaking, so that's number one! But also, through The Visit, I got to discover places I might never have traveled to otherwise. From big cities to quaint little towns, over the past few months, my team and I were lucky enough to visit (pun intended!) diverse parts of the world, and I don't think I'd ever be going on this amazing journey if it wasn't for this film.

The Visit (2016) The Visit (2016)

Interview conducted and edited by Vanessa McMahon