Brooklyn-based filmmaker Danielle Kampf arrives on Close-up Culture to chat about her short film Presentation.
Q: ‘Presentation’ deals with a teenage girl’s struggles with anxiety and self-doubt. Was the story inspired by your own experiences?
A: Yes, the story was inspired by my own feelings of anxiety and self-doubt, especially at that age. I thought those traits would make for a relatable protagonist.
Q: Holly also deals with the temptations of drug use, which I know is a particularly concerning issue in America. Did you want to convey the ease at which a teenager can slip into that cycle of drug misuse?
A: Yes and no. When I was writing the script, I was thinking more about portraying a character who is evaluating their own anxiety and internally debating if they need drugs to treat what they are going through. Because of that, the film does bring up discussions about teenage drug misuse but I didn’t intend for that to be the main focus of the story.
For me, it was always more about a character’s personal conflict rather than a countrywide issue but then by being about that, Holly’s story becomes representative of that issue.
Q: Vanessa Britting plays a particularly inept Guidance Counsellor. She brings humour to the film, but also a worrying example of failing infrastructure. What did you want to say with this character?
A: Almost everything I write is a blend of drama and comedy so having a humorous character like hers was a natural inclination for me and how I envisioned telling the story. I wanted to use her character to express the discomfort that comes from speaking to a counselor or a therapist for the the first time.
Q: I thought you captured the family unit and dynamics wonderfully. How much fun did you have writing and putting together those interactions?
A: It was a lot fun, those were some of my favorite scenes to write and direct! I love the idea of a sibling tormenting and teasing another one and the parents being completely unaware of it.
Q: This short gave you the chance to work with two talented young actors. Tell us more about working with Emily Rey and Lily Brooks O’Briant?
A: They were great! At the time of filming, Emily was 15 and Lily Brooks was 10. My goal during rehearsals was just to have fun with them and let them get to know not only me but each other. We played a lot of board games rather than strictly only rehearsing the scenes and I had them make up a fact about their character with each turn so they were contributing to the development of the characters. In pre production, I also made them music playlists for their characters.
Q: You are a graduate of Tisch School of the Arts and have already collected some prestigious awards. Can you tell us more about your background and what brought you to filmmaking?
A: I was 15 and I went to the movies to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. We stayed through the credits of the movie and I realised there are a lot of people involved with making a film and it’s not just some magical thing that appears! I thought that was pretty incredible so I started learning more about how movies were made and began watching classic films with my uncle who knew a lot about them.
From there, I applied to a summer high school program at Tisch to put my production skills to the test and see if this was really what I wanted to do. I fell in love with it and decided to pursue it for undergrad as well. Needless to say, I’m happy I stayed through the credits of Harry Potter!
Q: What is the best piece of advice you have received so far as a young filmmaker?
A: My thesis professor taught us that 70% of your intentions while creating a film should be to please yourself and 30% should be made with an audience in mind. I thought that was a great balance for creating work that’s both authentic and entertaining. It’s something I’ll take with me to every project.
Q: What kind of stories interest you?
A: As I continue to grow as a female identifying filmmaker, I find that at the core, all of my work is about young women searching for and developing a sense of self. I’m open to telling all types of stories, but this is a recurring theme I’ve noticed that connects all of my bodies of work. I’m specifically interested in coming of age stories, women finding their voice and confidence, mental health and how social media is having an impact on our culture.
As my films become more complex, I plan to continue to explore these themes and add layers upon them all the while developing my skills as a filmmaker and artist.
Q: I believe you are currently developing a feature. Can you reveal anything about that and your plans for the future?
A: I am developing a feature version of Presentation! The first draft of the script is near complete. The feature version will expand upon her school life, friendships, crushes, mental health, family and her science project!