Creating a distinctive style all your own is the heart of filmmaking. In a world where anyone can pick up a camera, use technology to edit or buy a laptop to write, we lose sight in the ocean of expression and creative power the minds that cultivate this talent and take it to the next level. With a flair for the macabre that is found on every level of her being, filmmaker Jennifer Valdes is a force. An accomplished filmmaker on many levels, her works span the dark corners of horror storytelling.
Her latest short film which premiered at Long Island’s own horror film festival the MACABRE FAIRE FILM FESTIVAL offers another view in that dark prism of Jennifer’s mind and heart. Teaming with HARVEST MOON PRODUCTIONS, Valdes tells a Poe style tale of purgatory, abuse, bloody revenge and loss in the short form film LAID TO REST. We grabbed Jennifer in between projects to talk with Jay Kay in his first conversation for BENEATH THE UNDERGROUND.
Jay Kay: Thank you for taking the time Jen! LAID TO REST is your latest short form film as you return to the graveyard to tell the narrative of dying, coping, the afterlife and the macabre personal connection to it. Talk about where the idea came from and influences?
Jen Valdes: Thanks Jay! I had written the script for LAID TO REST is based upon an eerie dream I had. I like to bring a personal dramatic feel to my movies, and I knew that I wanted to create something emotional yet horrific here. I knew I wanted an other-worldly feel. A sort of- never ending dream sequence. A place of timelessness. I would have to say my influence comes from an unhealthy obsession with running out of time. I have also experienced many others who want to extinguish my light and feed off my positive energy. sifting through toxic relationships I have experienced has helped in creating the character of “Jesse.” I wanted a supernatural character who had experienced pain and emotional turmoil but although she is dead, she is still relatable. I would have to say I am very largely influenced by somber poetry, Edgar Allen Poe, Tim Burton, gothic literature, things that are creepy and a bit off kilter. The television show “Dead Like Me“, A little bit of “Creepshow” and a whole lot of “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds.
JK: How did you get connected with HARVEST MOON PRODUCTIONS? What did they bring to the overall production as well as the visual feel and cinematography of LAID TO REST?
JV: When I had my vision of the film, I knew I had to work with Jessica Felice. She and I were only Facebook friends at the time, but I saw her in the role, so I sent her my script. She showed interest in the script and it also got the attention of Shawn Anthony, CEO of “Harvest Moon Motion Pictures and Television”. Shawn and Jessica are long time colleagues and encouraged her to work with me on the film. Shawn really liked my previous work and showed interest in being the cinematographer. From there we began planning pre-production. Shawn and I talked endlessly about what I wanted to do and he offered many solutions and advice to create the specific shots I was looking to achieve. Shawn Anthony is a skilled and talented professional. He also did an amazing job color grading, adding post production VFX, and amazing sound design to just bring this to a different level. I am so happy that we got to share this experience. A high level of production value and a solid product are very important to both of us but so is the sheer enjoyment of filmmaking! We had a blast!
JK: Recently at the MACABRE FAIRE FILM FESTIVAL, you premiered and received nominations for the short. How was that experience overall? What do film festivals like my Macabre offer filmmaker like you?
JV: It was exciting to see the audience’s reaction, it was my first time screening it so I had many butterflies, but it looked and sounded beautiful. We were hoping to win the cinematography award but had some tough competition. The experience was great. I’ve met a lot of film colleagues and friends at Macabre Faire Film Fest. It’s a great way to network and get the word out about your work.
JK: Jessica Felice plays your lead in LAID TO REST of the tortured soul waiting. She is the focal point of the storytelling and offers a gothic look as well as performance. What made her the choice to play the lead in LAID TO REST? What made actor Taylor August right for the abuser Doug?
JV: Jessica wasn’t a choice really, I don’t think the film would have worked without her. I saw her in this role. I loved working with her. I pushed her to become the character of “Jessie” and she delivered beautifully. She is expertly skilled and professional to work with, not to mention delightfully sweet.
Taylor August was cast one week before the shoot because the original actor quit and considering that, I think Taylor delivered on point. At one point during shooting the hotel scene, I saw the “Doug” come out of him… that was a proud moment for me. I love working with actors, it’s amazing to see them work.
JK: What does Jerry Janda mean to you overall?
JV: Jerry who? Haha! No Jerry Janda is a friend and colleague. He is the writer of the short film, Painkiller. We met during the screening and I found the movie very personally relatable. we became friends after that. He enjoyed my last film Isabelle, and we have been trying to work on something together. While brainstorming, I wrote, Laid to Rest and Jerry helped out by associate producing and acting in the film. In short, Jerry Janda means EVERYTHING to me! He continues to believe in my work and he has been supportive of all of my insanity. For both of which I am forever grateful! Thank you Jerry!
JK: LAID TO REST’s storytelling relies on the foundation of purgatory, revenge and spousal abuse. These are storytelling tools that can be very compelling as well as sensitive to the viewer. Can you talk about addressing these themes in the short respectfully as well as building tension? Was the seven-minute run time enough to fully convey these themes?
JV: The runtime is 8:07 and I think it conveys a lot of themes in that short runtime but tells the story exquisitely. Domestic abuse is a heavy subject but I feel it’s ok to show the viewers who relate to this that- they are not alone, and it’s never ok. Tension builds quickly between them, revealing an unhealthy relationship. I wouldn’t look at it so much as Jessie gets revenge, I would look at it as, karma came around and bit Doug on the ass. Jessie is a ghost, she’s dead so nothing on earth will change that, but energy is now even. She is more like a reaper than anything. Doug off sets the scales, the balance of nature, so the ground takes him back.
JK: Speaking of purgatory, LAID TO REST has an overall painting kind of artistic touch. It is a canvas that brings together the colors, dialogue, mood, movements and location. Can you speak to the artistic essence of your short?
JV: The dialogue and images and their placement are all very purposefully specific. You are supposed to be feeling what Jessie feels as she flows through this ghostly realm. Losing air, constricted, weighted down, trapped on a lost plain, buried in sand. The flashbacks are supposed to unfold the story as Doug stands over her grave. I had specific colors in mind that were flowing through my head. I wanted a gothic look and feel but very different than the look of Isabelle. I wanted greens and blues popping. I had an idea in mind for the look of all the shots and Shawn and I worked closely to master everything I was trying to achieve.
JK: You bring your own style and personality into each of your projects. You have a distinctive vision and the flair for all that seems macabre. How personal is LAID TO REST for you and where do you feel your fingerprint what is most found with the short film?
JV: Thank you! I appreciate the compliment! Laid to Rest is extremely personally to me. I put myself into all the work I do, but the shoot, the people involved, the entire production was the most amazing yet. I had an Amazing production team of dedicated professionals who went above and beyond for this film. My fingerprint would be the entire collaborative effort. We made a beautiful film and to me that stands on its own as a legacy.
JK: Talk about the score for LAID TO REST and how much it helped create the mood and impact?
JV: I think the score is amazing and fully adds to the creepiness factor. It really feels like another world, which is what we wanted. The music is by Frederic Mauerhofer. The sound design is excellent and notable as well.
JK: One of the most impactful parts is the practical FX and makeup. Can you talk about working on this very visual aspect of LAID TO REST?
JV: I knew what I wanted to achieve but I couldn’t figure out how to pull it off. I called up Meg and Jeff Scott. They had previously worked with me on Isabelle, doing makeup and FX. Jeff got to work right away on professional schematics as I racked my brain over and over thinking about how I would pull off the effects and not kill anyone. Jeff came up with a plan, built the set and tested it out. I talked to Meg about the monster hands in my vision and she got to work on the look I was going for. Meg and Jeff Scott should just be referred to as “Great Scott!” Just two amazing and dedicated artists.
Day 2 of shooting was at the studio. A 4-foot-high platform was loaded into a freight elevator and here we go! It took 15 min to reset each take and there are At least 5 people below a platform, creating the illusion. I got the idea from watching how actors on Broadway descend into trap doors. The final VFX made it seamless once everything was put together.
JK: As they say, any film has three different stage to it, pre-production, production and post. What was the most challenging stage of LAID TO REST?
JV: Pre-production for me was a bit challenging because I had actors and crew coming from all different places. I was freaking out about the weather because it kept saying rain and I was shooting outdoors. I had to watch it like a hawk for the outdoor shots. we only had that weekend to shoot and only before noon when the light changed. Luckily the production ran totally smoothly and went off without a hitch.
JK: What is the benefit to your career and the endgame of LAID TO REST?
JV: LAID TO REST is definitely the most professional and personal film I have done so far, so hopefully it will lead to new opportunities and excelling professionally! LAID TO REST will hopefully screen at more film festivals this year and then eventually go to VOD and DVD.
JK: What’s coming up next for you and where can we find out more?
JV: If you are in or around NYC you can see LAID TO REST’s NYC premiere at the “Winter Film Awards” Feb 24Th (9:45pm film block) film is screening a little before 11pm at cinema village movie theater on E12 St! Check out my website for updated screening and production info! www.jennifervaldesfilms.com
JK: Thank you for taking the time.
JV: Thanks so much for the interview!!!!
Jay Kay – “Rondo Nominated” Horror Journalist including HorrorHound Magazine, Cinema Chords, Tom Holland’s Terror Time, Icons of Fright, Horror News Network.net, From Dusk Till Con, Indie Mac User, Nightmarish Conjurings, DiaboliqueMagazine.com, Moviepilot & as the Radio Show Host “The Horror Happens Radio Show” at http://Horrorhappens.com