katherine wessling

Cambria Film Festival Recap

We premiered About a Donkey in California over the weekend in Cambria as part of the Cambria Film Festival. I flew into LA the weekend before to work out of the Seed&Spark office for a few days before heading to Cambria. It was nice getting to see my coworkers in person (I hadn’t been back to LA since September 2017!).

Alexandra Clayton (who plays Annie in the film) was kind enough to drive the full 4 hours to Cambria on Thursday. I have to say, truly the best part of the festival for me was getting to catch up and spend time with Alexandra all weekend, who moved to LA right after we wrapped production on the film back in April 2017. The opening reception was that evening, where Katherine Wessling (who plays Ann in the film) met us. I was so glad she happened to be in California that week and could join us. She always makes any experience more enjoyable with her warmth and humor. It was a nice night where the local community welcomed the filmmakers with great food & wine.

With About a Donkey, since it’s such a small indie without any names or industry connections, our mission has largely been to reach regular people who would never see our film if not for the festival in their small town. So our strategy with submissions has largely been about targeting smaller festivals that appear to get good local attendance. We’ve also targeted festivals in areas we’d personally like to visit and/or areas where the election data implies a conservative leaning audience. We’ve largely been trying to reach people who wouldn’t typically seek out inclusive content, in order to hopefully spread a bit of empathy and engage in conversations about acceptance and inclusion. Cambria being in California near the beach, the choice to submit fell more into the “area to visit” qualifier. That said, it is a retirement community, so we felt our inter-generational story could really resonate, and that we may find some locals still a bit behind the progressive times whose minds we could open a bit with our #loveislove story.

I was happy to see that Cambria really delivered on what we hoped to get out of it. The festival as a whole had great local turnout for the screenings, where people were excited about the filmmakers in attendance and wanted to delve into the artistic intentions of the work; and as for the area being a place to visit, it definitely is! It’s beautiful. I hope to return to explore more of the coastline someday.

On Friday, we took a trip to the beach to see the amazing elephant seals before heading back to the festival (photos below). Our screening was at 2pm and we had 77 strangers in the 100 seat theater. I will say that I was disappointed with the sound quality, something I expected from hearing the films the night before. The main venue had one speaker behind the screen that kind of muffled the dialogue track. And if a film’s sound was in the slightest bit tinny (which ours is at times), that tinny quality was mega amplified with the muffle. So, I watched the film with mixed feelings. It was getting laughs and people seemed to be enjoying it for the most part, but some lines (in our dialogue-heavy film) were missed because of the muffled quality. That said, we got really nice feedback. A lot of people told us throughout the weekend that they loved the film and that it was so sweet and uplifting. A couple people said that they appreciated the positivity of the story. Many people recognized Alexandra throughout the weekend, jokingly asking her where the baby is (her character is pregnant in the film), and some spoke about the relatability of Katherine’s character and how impressive her performance was.

On Saturday, Katherine had to head back to LA for an event, so Alexandra and I explored the many quirky antique shops and watched a few films. One that we tried to watch the night before in the second venue had major sound issues. The dialogue track wouldn’t play at all, so they had to reschedule the screening. Thankfully, it played fine (though muffled) in the main venue, but it made me super nervous for our screening in the second venue Saturday night (and I just felt bad for the filmmakers, who had a lot of cast & crew in attendance for their first screening). Alexandra Kalinowski (AK), the film’s composer, drove up with her husband Spike for the Saturday night screening. They had moved to LA about 6 months ago, so it was so nice to grab dinner and catch up. The screening itself, thankfully, went mostly well in the second venue. The volume of our tracks were off, which was odd because it was the same file we screened in Montana 2 weeks ago (in a beautiful theater with great sound); so that was a bit disappointing again. But even so, people seemed to really enjoy the film. It got some big laughs. In the 80 seat space, we had 27 people in attendance, which wasn’t bad for an encore screening.

I’d like to shout-out my LA-based friends Allen Negrete, Alpha Faye, and their 2 friends for driving up just to see our film that night! It was the sweetest thing. I don’t think I expressed enough to them how much I appreciated that. It can be tough just getting friends to take a 40 minute train ride in NY to come see a film at a festival. Allen and Alpha are such kind and cool people. I’m so glad they were there, and hope to collaborate with them somehow someday, even though we’re on opposite sides of the country. They had really nice things to say about the film, as did a few of the locals in attendance. One of my favorites was from a woman who is a retired family counselor; she said she really appreciated the way we handled heavy subjects. She said it all felt touched upon in an accessible way because we were doing it with humor and heart. And she said the family dynamics felt really authentic. That was just wonderful to hear. After the screening, we all hung out at the only bar in town open past 9pm and had a great time catching up and getting to know each other.

Sunday, we grabbed breakfast and then AK had to head back to LA. Alexandra and I explored Hearst Castle a bit before I had to head to the airport (which a festival volunteer was kind enough to drive me to), and Alexandra and Katherine (who returned right as I was leaving) went to the awards ceremony at Hearst Castle. We didn’t win anything, but Katherine and Alexandra said they got more nice comments from people who told them they enjoyed the film, and a few even said it was their favorite of the features.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. Cambria is beautiful and charming. The festival is well-organized and offers great perks (like giving filmmakers a free hotel and doing airport runs), and the locals really come out for the screenings. They just need to get better sound equipment and a more knowledgeable projectionist, and they’ll be solid. Since this was only their second year, I think they can definitely take feedback and get better. It is lovely having a festival completely devoted to love, so I do hope they stick around.


Local Vegan Treat:

Catch the film next at:

YoFiFest Recap

Last weekend was our About a Donkey screening at YoFiFest. It was my first time screening at the festival. I decided to submit because a few filmmaker friends recommended it as a festival with a nice & supportive team, and as one close enough to the City to not be a bad commute, but far enough that it may attract locals in a way that most City festivals have a hard time doing. I figured we’d get a nice sized crowd, since there doesn’t seem to be too much going on in Yonkers regularly, particularly in the arts. Unfortunately, though, that wasn’t the case.

I’ll start with the good. The festival directors were really organized and communicative leading up to the festival. I found them and the overall staff to be nice and welcoming on opening night, where there was a great party with free food samplers from local restaurants and an overall filmmaker-friendly vibe. Opening night had a solid turnout of maybe 100 people (of what seemed like a decent mix of filmmakers and non-filmmaker locals). The 3 shorts that screened and the feature were all well done, and showcased in a nice theater space. Overall, from what I was able to see from the programming, I think they have good taste with a nice mix of true indies and only a couple higher profile invitationals. All of their venues are within walking distance from each other. The Q&As are thoughtful and well-run. And the Fall foliage in Yonkers is definitely a sight to see, which makes visiting the area via a scenic train ride from Grand Central not bad despite there not being too much else to do or see in the general area of where the films screen.

Now for the not so good. Aside from opening night, plus the high profile features with celebrities and the couple local features shot in Yonkers, the attendance was very low. Most features, such as ours, averaged 12 people in the audience, including the filmmakers. Some fared worse than that. And even the shorts blocks; while having 35 to 40 people in the audience is by no means bad, it’s not great when considering the blocks featured 10 to 12 films each. I was surprised because the festival presented itself as having strong recognition in the community; but I attended enough screenings (and inquired about others from other filmmakers) at each venue at varying times of day, and found that, for the most part, it was just filmmakers and friends/family of filmmakers in attendance, with small exceptions here & there.

Our screening was the first full day of the festival, 12pm on Saturday. I wasn’t thrilled with the time because it meant not having much time to build any buzz with locals. And I was skeptical about how many people would go see a movie at that time on a Saturday. However, after our wonderful experience with the Adirondack Film Festival 2 weeks before, I’d realized you never really know what a good timeslot looks like. It all depends on the local community. So yeah, I went in to our screening with mixed feelings. The venue was small but nice; seating about 40 people with a good screen. I hoped it’d be almost full; but by the time it got rolling, we had 5 filmmaker friends in the audience (all there for their own screenings and thankfully came out to see ours first), plus 4 locals, including a man I met the night before who had come from further Upstate and was a friend of the festival directors. I was thankful he was intrigued enough by our title when we spoke at opening night that he chose to come back to Yonkers to see the film. And then it was me and Katherine (plays Ann in the film), plus Ben (plays Burgh in the film), who surprised us along with his brother right before the screening. A total of 13 in the room. As I said about our not-great Buffalo experience, I’m always grateful when anyone chooses to see our film; so it’s awesome that we even had 4 strangers there (and it’s lovely that our friends were interested in seeing our film enough to come to Yonkers early to support). But after our Adirondack experience where over 100 total strangers from the community came out for our film, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the low turnout. That is until the film started…

A short film screened before ours and I noticed that the dialogue was muffled. I didn’t know if that was just the quality of the film or if there was something off about the speakers. Then our film started and it sounded equally muffled and very bassy. I had an internal freakout (though was suddenly grateful the room wasn’t packed). The tech in back managing the levels didn’t seem concerned, so I wasn’t sure what to do. And the dialogue was kind of just clear enough to hear that I wondered if it was simply the quality of the speakers and not something that could actually be fixed, so I wasn’t sure if I should say something or just accept it as the quality of this venue. But after 5 minutes or so, I couldn’t stand to listen to it like that anymore and left the room. I found the technical director in charge of the venue and talked to him about it. He went in to listen, then came out and definitively said it’s not supposed to sound like that. That was a relief, but also a disappointment because the movie was already underway. The co-festival director Dave showed up and went through the screener files and inspected some stuff in back while the film was still screening, and he eventually came to the conclusion that he had mis-wired the speakers that morning. Dave gave me the choice to pause the movie and have them bring the lights up, try to figure out how to correctly wire the speakers, and then pick it up where it left off. But at that point, the movie was nearly 40 minutes in. I felt that, if by chance people were actually engrossed in the film despite the audio, it didn’t feel worth it to interrupt it and go through that hassle, especially if there’s no guarantee they’d be able to rewire it correctly. So, we just let it play out. I sat in the hall cringing and then eventually went back in the room for the very end. I can’t speak to how the film was received during the screening. But Katherine said there were still a decent amount of laughs because the dialogue was overall understandable, just very hollow sounding (though there was apparently one key scene where overly bassy music combined with the muffle made the dialogue nearly impossible to hear). I guess I’m grateful I didn’t hear it and can choose to believe others’ comments about it being “really not that bad.”

All that said, no one walked out of the movie, which is either a testament to the politeness of this group of people or maybe the overall enjoyment of the characters and story. To be honest, I’d probably have to walk out of a dialogue-driven film that sounded like that, even if I liked aspects of it. I just found it painful to sit through, not only because I knew my movie doesn’t/shouldn’t sound that way, but the heavy bass was truly hard on the ears. Despite that, to my surprise, people seemed to genuinely enjoy the movie. Filmmaker friends came over after the Q&A to compliment the production design and color scheme (I share that compliment with DP Peter Westervelt & Art Director Nicole Solomon), the authenticity of the family — both from a visual perspective as well as acting & chemistry, and the overall way the ensemble stories were weaved seamlessly together. People called it sweet and charming, and a really fun and relatable family dramedy. The locals in the room had great inquiries and thoughts during the Q&A, which can be watched below. Getting to speak with them made me feel a bit better.

After the screening, the technical director was able to rewire and fix the speakers. I’m glad I was able to save other filmmakers from my experience (my friend’s feature in the same room the next day sounded great), but I wish they had done a tech test after they set up the room that morning before jumping into the day. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t annoyed & disappointed that that wasn’t done … and that no one seemed to notice during the 2 hour block that happened in the room before my screening.

Patty, the festival director, was really apologetic. I can tell she works hard to run a smooth ship, and she was really frustrated that such a major ball was dropped. She tried to make it up to us by offering us another screening. I appreciated it but ultimately turned it down because the only people we knew attending the fest had already experienced it at the first screening, and, considering the turnouts overall, I didn’t have faith in the festival attracting any locals with a last minute screening. I figured I’d just end up sitting alone in an empty room whereas a local filmmaker with friends & family in Yonkers would probably appreciate the extra slot far more.

All in all, I like the people who run the festival despite their mess up (tech issues happen with such a big operation sometimes, I get it), and I really enjoyed the conversation with & reactions from the few locals at our screening. And, ultimately, I had a really good time at the festival because it gave me a reason to spend a bunch of time with Katherine, who’s just such a great person and movie-viewing partner (though that’s really more to the credit of our friendship than YoFiFest specifically), and get to see Ben and meet his brother (though only briefly, unfortunately). But, aside from those pros, I don’t think the festival has too much to offer someone not from Yonkers. Without local community engagement, I feel I essentially reach the same people (filmmakers) I’d reach at closer festivals in the City; and I can get the upper NY Fall foliage fix from the Adirondack Film Festival (along with all the other perks that that festival offers). So YoFi doesn’t make my personal list of top festivals worth attending. But maybe, as they continue to grow and gain a foothold in the community, it could be worth it a few years from now.


Local Vegan Treat:

  • Yonkers is not vegan friendly (another con). This is the first time I have nothing to report.

Catch the film next at:

  • We have a January screening in Montana & a February screening in California, but we can’t announce those festivals yet. Stay tuned!

BTS of New Short "Revelations"

Yesterday, May 12, we completed my (Kelsey's) directorial debut "Revelations."

Logline: On a familiar girl's night, two adult women with burdening secrets can no longer keep them from each other. 

Like most of my more recent projects, this script originated from a creative discussion between Christina Raia, Ryan Kramer, and myself. For a while now I've wanted to direct a short, mostly to improve my writing. I love to try new things, probably because I have a real fear of becoming stagnant in life. And I am obsessed with lesbian content as well as representation of adult women beyond the usual "husband left/cheated on her, then she xyz" narrative. 

So, I knew I wanted it to be about two women with secrets. Does that sound vague to you? Because yes, yes it is. Which is probably one of the reasons it took me about five variations to get to the final script. At one point I had a revelation be that one of the women was Catwoman and the scene took place in an apartment in Gotham City. I was so excited about it until Christina pointed out that one needs to buy certain rights to use trademarked names and places... so, I started over. Not completely. But mostly. 

Once the script was completed, I figured I would take my time (this was mid-March) and SLOWLY build my cast and crew. But Christina (thankfully) had other plans. Her shoot got pushed back, which is why the week my script was in a finalized form she let me know "Great! I'm free May 12th, let's lock it down!" 

And so we locked it down. 

Since I did not study film and this was my first time directing I had a lot of questions. Because I have been on a couple of sets (mostly by CongestedCat) I thought I was prepared to do this. But once the date was set in iCal-stone, my deficiencies became palpable. It was invaluable to me that Christina agreed to produce the short.  

It was also Christina's idea to choose a DP who I could grow with. So, I was ecstatic when Kim Whiten, our IndieWorks videographer, agreed to come on board. We have been friends for a while and she assisted on the About a Donkey set, but this was her first time as a DP and it was a fantastic fit.

We alleviated some of the day-of stress by testing the lighting a few days prior to the shoot. I always had a vision of a very blue-pink look. I made a Pinterest page which helped me share the vision with others. I was very inspired by Janelle Monae's "Make Me Feel" video as well as the "San Junipero" episode from Black Mirror.

I had written this short with Katherine Wessling in mind. She was phenomenal on About a Donkey and I was hoping to work with someone that I knew and trusted. I was worried it would be incredibly short notice but thankfully, she was free, allowing me to determine half of the cast about a month out.

Finding Lina, the other half, turned out to be a little more difficult. We'd already seen how difficult it was to find women who are non-union and of a certain age while casting for About a Donkey. As I became pressed for time I had to loosen the age restrictions and luckily cast the talented Dana Scurlock, who also played a role in About a Donkey!

The three of us met up the Sunday before the shoot to go over any questions and do a reading to see if all the dialog felt natural. And once that was done, we were ready to go to production.

Having seen how Christina operates during production I was convinced I wasn't going to get any sleep the night prior to the shoot. Then I was reminded that the thing that gives me the most anxiety in life is the fear of not getting enough sleep. So, I slept.

Then, on May 12th, we did it. After some initial sound issues, we started shooting at 9 am. The full scene takes place on the couch, so blocking was easy. I honestly could not have wished for a smoother shoot. 

We wrapped early(!), getting the tentative shots we had added. And we were still able to see daylight as we ripped down the garbage bags from the window. 

It was an incredible experience. And it never would've happened without everyone involved.  


I have to thank everyone mentioned above as well as Matt Gershowitz who agreed to be my Assistant Director. His input and ideas helped me pin down my vision. Also, huge thanks to Erin Clayton and Adnan Malik who helped make the look come to life. Thank you Chelsea Frati who agreed to do set make-up and nailed it.  And thank you Marlene Eric, Christina's mom, for catering.


I could not have wished for a more talented and kind cast and crew.



"About a Donkey" Start of Principal Photography Recap

Thanks to all who supported our successful crowdfunding campaign, we were able to start principal photography on our second feature film, About a Donkey, this past weekend. You can check out this blog post to find out more about the film and see behind the scenes of our first unofficial production day back in January. I'll be sharing more about the experience of making this film, the creative choices behind it and how we're able to do it on $20,000 in 12 shooting days after we wrap production. But in the meantime, I'd love to include you in our progress through a bit of behind the scenes along the way via a weekly blog post. Here's the first.

We'll be shooting the film over four weekends through April 2nd. This was our first (three consecutive days), and it was a huge success! We're running on 12 hour days and I'm proud to say that we not only made our day all three days but made them early! This is a testament to the talent and skill of our small in quantity but mighty in quality crew & cast (or film-family, as we like to say)!

On Friday (thanks to my cousin Lauri, who loaned her house for the shoot), we shot scenes set in Annie & Paul's kitchen. See BTS below. 

And check out a couple raw Stills from the day:

On Saturday, we shot scenes set in the nursery for Annie and Paul's soon-to-be baby. See BTS below. 

And check out a raw Still from the day:

On Sunday (thanks to my mom Marlene & stepdad Jay for loaning their home), we shot scenes set in our main picture house, the home of parents Ann & Tim. See BTS below.

And check out a couple raw Stills from the day. 

This weekend we'll be jumping back in shooting a scene set in a hospital waiting room on Friday and scenes set in (grandma) Farrah's nursing home on Saturday. (We're skipping Sunday because our pilot "Two Gays & a Girl" is premiering at the Queens World Film Festival that afternoon!)

You may be wondering where the titular donkey is in all this production. Well, stay tuned!