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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 Writer/Director/Producer Vanessa Knutsen for 'Only Humans' (2018) at NVFF

Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Vanessa Knutsen for 'Only Humans' (2018) at NVFF Director Vanessa Knutsen

Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Vanessa Knutsen for 'Only Humans' (2018) at NVFF Film still of Ivy Matheson and Micah Hauptman 

Vanessa Knutsen's feature film Only Humans (2018), an arresting and lyrical tale about love in varying forms, is making its way around international film festivals; it most recently screened at the Napa Valley Film Festival. Known for her work on such high profile films as The Interpreter (2005), Maps to the Stars (2014) and The Deep End (II) (2008), Only Humans is her directorial debut.


Is the film inspired by real events?

VANESSA: No. The only element somewhat inspired by my life is the relationship between the mother and daughter. Nancy, played by the incredible Peri Gilpin, is an exaggerated version of my own mother. But that’s where the similarities between real life and the film end.


Is it difficult to make indie films today with distribution outlets so hegemonic? 

VANESSA: I made my film completely independently – it was financed by friends and investors. The budget was so low that it didn’t present a real risk. But I’d say with crowd funding becoming such an acceptable way of raising money, it has become easier to make indie films. I have not tried to get a project financed by Netflix or other outlets. 


The actors have incredible chemistry. How did you cast the film?  

VANESSA: Thank you, I’m really happy with the performances. I was familiar with Peri Gilpin’s work from Frasier and had been a fan of hers for years. I knew Micah Hauptman personally and was familiar with his work. And Ivy Matheson was recommended by my amazing casting director, Deborah Maxwell Dion. I was very lucky to secure such a talented group of actors. We didn’t have any rehearsal time and the shoot was incredibly challenging in that it was as so short, forcing us to move very quickly during production.   


Why do you suppose this situation is forbidden in our culture yet so common in others? 

VANESSA: Well it’s by no means a situation that I condone. While I tried to portray Vince in the fairest way I could, he’s not entirely innocent. I wrote this relationship (of a thirty-six-year-old man and a sixteen-year-old girl) into the film as I was interested in exploring an impossible love...there was no way this relationship could lead to anything serious, yet it happens. Sarah is drawn to Vince and pursues him relentlessly despite his continued rejections. I’m interested in human fallibility and particularly in characters who, while they know they should not do something, can’t help themselves – and observing how they deal with the consequences. I suppose I like to make my characters suffer.


How long was the shoot and where did you film? 

VANESSA: We shot for twelve days in Los Angeles.


Do you have any anecdotes from filming you'd like to share?

VANESSA: As with almost any production, there’s no shortage of crazy stories. We unfortunately had a shake down the night we filmed the love/lookout scene. We were in what seemed like a very deserted area of Woodland Hills, but a few hours into setting up at the location, a very threatening looking man comes driving down his jeep with a large German Shepherd in the passenger seat and basically demanded cash or said he was going to call the cops to shut us down. We had a permit, but we didn’t have time to deal with it, so we paid him off as we had very little time to complete the scene. 


Do you think it's necessary to wear multiple hats in the film industry?

VANESSA: If you’re like me and working with very small budgets, then definitely. Seeing as our film was a micro-budget production, I was forced to produce and put as much of the film together in pre-production before my co-producer came on to handle paperwork, crewing up, equipment, etc. I simply did not have the money to pay someone for an extended period of time. I also served as the location manager, having secured every location you see on screen. I was actually still hunting down some locations while we were filming. There were a few nights where instead of heading home after a long shoot day, I had to scout locations. 


You recently attended NVFF. How was that experience?

VANESSA: NVFF was an incredible experience and one that I will always cherish. Seeing as I was in the narrative features program, me and several other directors were hosted at the stunning Meadowood Resort as part of the festival’s Artists-in-Residence program. They did a fantastic job organizing panels and workshops for us with industry professionals. On top of that, the parties, dinners and array of events held at the local wineries were unforgettable. This festival is one of the best I’ve attended, and I would encourage any filmmaker looking for an engaged audience and a thoughtful programming staff to submit to the Napa Valley Film Festival. I felt so welcomed by the community and met many talented filmmakers.


How did audiences react to the film?

VANESSA: We had a wonderful response at the festival. There was one screening where the Q&A got a little heated, but aside from that, the reception was very warm and audiences seemed to respond very well to the film. They were curious to hear about my next project and wanted to know how they could share the film on social media and with their friends. One woman who happens to be a single mother to a teenage daughter said that she would like to watch the film with her daughter as a way to open up and start that conversation so many parents dread. I was very touched.


Can you tell us about your next project?

VANESSA: I’ve been developing a film set in the Middle East about a couple in crisis who go on vacation and the events that unfold when one of them suddenly goes missing.


Interview by Vanessa McMahon



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