Victoria Negri, whose debut feature Gold Star begins its theatrical run on Friday, November 10, 2017, took time recently to talk with #DirectedbyWomen Catalyst Barbara Ann O’Leary about the family crisis that led to the creation of her film, her decision to step into the role of director, casting Robert Vaughn—an actor she’d grown up watching in movies and TV, playing an active role as a member of a growing community of female filmmakers, and more.
DBW: Your feature film Gold Star is opening in theaters November 10, right? This is your debut film, I believe—an exciting time in a filmmaker’s life. Can you share about the theatrical release? Where can people see the film?
VN: Yes, we open in New York City on November 10th at Cinema Village through the 16th. The film will also be available on Amazon and Amazon Prime the 10th as well. We have additional one-night-only screenings planned for Los Angeles (20th) and Boston (27th).
DBW: Oh great. So people not on the coasts won’t have to wait!
VN: Exactly! Distribution strategy is so tricky and every film does something different. I wanted to use all of the efforts with audience outreach and press through our theatrical release to make people aware that they can see the film immediately. And, if they’d like, they can request a theatrical screening through Tugg. Right now, people can follow the film there until it’s available for screenings in early December. Full release information can be found at here. And, yes, this is my debut film. It’s been such a journey for me.
DBW: Let’s talk about that journey. This story arises from deeply personal experiences in your own life. I’d love to hear about how you wove your filmmaking and your personal life together to create this moving film.
VN: Yes, would love to elaborate on that! I began writing the script immediately after my father (who was 87 at the time) suffered a massive stroke. I was just 25. I was constantly revising the script as my experiences caring for my father changed. I started to dive more and more into things I was going through and exploring what it means to be a young person caring for an elderly parent.
DBW: Was the screenwriting process supportive for you as you dealt with this major life altering experience for your family?
VN: Yes, I think so. It gave me an artistic outlet when I felt incredibly trapped. The film is essentially about a young woman who wants to run away, and I wrote a character who rebelled against her surroundings and family and role as carer, when I was really always there for my father. I was primarily an actor before making Gold Star, and hopping behind the camera gave me more control not only over my career, but also a perceived control over my own life, in many ways. It definitely gave me a sense of power in thinking that I could take something terrible happening in my own life and hopefully create something that would make me feel less alone, and connect with audiences going through something similar.
DBW: You wrote, directed, starred in and produced Gold Star. Am I leaving anything out? That’s a lot of hats to wear.
VN: Ha! No, not leaving anything out. Yeah, I wore many hats and I’m so happy I did. Initially, when I first conceived of the film and said to myself, “I’m doing this no matter what,” I only had the intention to write, star in, and produce, as I think many people making first features end up having to do a lot of the producing. I began interviewing directors, and quickly realized I saw this film in my head. I wrote for location, and I knew the core of the story to a much deeper level than anyone else would. It was a huge moment for me to say to myself, “I can do this. I can wear all these hats.” And I feel like it’s the best decision of my life.
DBW: I love hearing that. And there’s so much power in the statement: “I’m doing this no matter what.”
VN: But, yes, it was terrifying on many levels. And part of me was afraid that I’d be thought of as a control freak, narcissist, or something, which I think is a thing women worry about more than men, what we’ll be thought of for trying to do everything. I wasn’t reinventing the wheel. Other people have written, directed, produced, starred in. And if someone was going to screw it up, I’d rather be angry at myself than frustrated in making a bad hire. Yeah, that statement has been my mantra. And other people have done it before, so why can’t I?
DBW: Yeah. I hear you. I think it’s so important to trust our inner knowingness.
VN: Right. So many great moments from this film happened when I listened to my gut instincts. I’ve really learned to trust myself more.
DBW: It’s clear from the way the casting unfolded that people trusted you. Robert Vaughn co-stars with you. And he delivers an almost entirely wordless but highly nuanced performance. I’d love to hear about your experience casting and working with Vaughn.
VN: Yeah, I’m so incredibly honored that Robert signed on to be in my film. He was so gifted. Bringing on casting director Judy Bowman was essential in bringing Robert on board. Together, we made of list of actors we thought could play the role and Robert was at the top. It was actually shockingly quick. She sent his manager the script, who forwarded it along to Robert, and Robert read it and said yes. I remember a moment where I had to send over my biography and experience and I was feeling completely inadequate. I thought for sure Robert was going to back out, as this is my first film. But my “newness” didn’t deter him. I met with him in person after he signed on at his house in Connecticut, and any nervousness that it wouldn’t work with him evaporated. We talked about the script, about the role and my actual experiences with my father, and Robert opened up to me about his life and experiences as an actor. He told so many unforgettable stories throughout our shoot. We joked back and forth by the end of the production that he was my “movie dad”. And he nicknamed me “Mighty Mouse” because the role I gave myself is so physical. It is so surreal how somebody I grew up watching in classic films and television became somebody I worked with in such a deep way. I feel like the impact of working with him has given me such confidence in my voice as a filmmaker, and I’ll be forever grateful to Robert for trusting me with his performance and work.
DBW: That’s moving. It seems to me that it is so important for writers and directors to trust intuition, to see the work unfolding beautifully, and to recognize that actors NEED to be invited. They rely on artists to create roles for them to do their work. Often filmmakers—perhaps especially early in their careers—think that they’re asking actors to do them favors, but it is a co-creative process.
VN: Exactly! I think my background and training as an actor was essential in me collaborating with Robert and Catherine Curtin, who plays my mother, Deanne, in the film. I said to them constantly, “If something doesn’t feel right to you, let me know. Let’s figure this out together.” It was about creating a space where my actors felt free to trust their own instincts and play within the scenes and spaces. Many great discoveries were made in working with them. Why hire people with a lot of experience if you’re not going to take full advantage of that? It made my job as director so much easier.
DBW: That’s such a great approach. I can see from the behind the scenes images that you were working closely with the actors to draw out the nuances. And speaking of co-creatiion… you’ve worked as a producer on a number of film projects—some with women directors. Can you share a little bit about what it is like to support another woman’s vision in that way?
VN: Yes! While working to release Gold Star into the world, I’ve produced a lot of projects. It’s been so wonderful to be able to help other women make their films. Filmmaking can be a lonely process sometimes, and I love working with people who are equally open to collaboration and want to figure things out together—everything from the logistics of a shoot to audience building. I’ve produced projects that I’m so proud of and it’s so re-energizing to me to problem solve together and come out on the other side of a film with a piece everyone can be proud of. I really like motivating people to do their best work.
DBW: And I believe you’re engaged with some of the female filmmaker communities that have been forming over the past few years.
VN: Yes, I’m a member of NYWIFT and also Film Fatales. I was Film Fatales’ social media coordinator for two years, which was wonderful, because I got to know so many filmmakers and their work. Also giving a voice to women in film to a worldwide audience was and is very important to me.
DBW: Thanks for doing that work.
VN: Of course I love connecting filmmakers and saying, “Hey, so and so is making this film. You should check it out.” I think that’s why I produce a lot, too, I love bringing talented people together.
DBW: I find being online is such a great way to connect. I agree. I think it is so important for filmmakers and film lovers to share about the work that is coming to their attention.
VN: Yes, I really credit so much of what I’ve done to networking not just in person, but online. There are so many resources out there and people to learn from. Yeah, it can’t just be me, me, me! I make films because I want to engage with people. I want to hear from audiences and other filmmakers. And it’s crucial for me to support other people’s work in whatever way I can. We are all in it together. And we all learn from each other and improve and get better.
DBW: I know you know SO many women directors, but I’d love it if you could mention a few whose work excites you but that a lot of film lovers may not yet have become aware of.
VN: Yes. I produced a short Cake by filmmaker Anne Hu that’s doing so well on the festival circuit right now. Anne is off to Cucalorus as we speak, and she’s a wonderful person in general, and so specific in what she wants as a filmmaker. She’s someone to look out for as she develops her first feature. I also just saw Jessica Thompson’s The Light of the Moon last night at the IFC Center. It’s getting a ton of buzz and I encourage everyone to see it. It’s such an important and timely piece and so many people I know worked on the film, so it makes me happy to see so many worlds colliding.
DBW: Great. Thanks. Yeah. They are both definitely filmmakers to be on the lookout for! Before we run out of time today I wanted to circle back and follow up on something you said earlier in our conversation about creating Gold Star in part to “connect with audiences going through something similar.” Can you talk about what it has been like to share the film with audiences during your film festival run?
VN: Yes, of course. Sharing Gold Star on the festival run has been surreal. I have had conversations with audience members afterward who have opened up to me about things that they’ve never told anyone else about losing a parent—honest, difficult moments in their own lives. One man broke down telling me about the only time his father ever told him he loved him. I’ve heard stories about people around my age with much-older parents, and I’ve stayed in touch with many people online since. I felt so alone when I was in the first stages of creating Gold Star, and it’s been meaningful for me to share this film with people that can connect to being an imperfect caregiver. I tried to make a film that was incredibly honest about my own experiences, and I’m so moved that people are connecting.
DBW: There’s so much power in film.
VN: Yeah, I could watch, make, and talk about film all day and be a fulfilled human.
DBW: And having the opportunity to share the film with audiences in person can be daunting, but also so moving. Will you be doing Q&As at Cinema Village?
VN: Yes, I’m incredibly overwhelmed and excited about our upcoming theatrical run. I will be doing nightly Q&As at Cinema Village surrounding themes of the film and the filmmaking process with special guests at each 7:15pm screening. Again, trying to connect different communities and filmmakers and have meaningful conversations beyond just Gold Star. I hope audiences will get a lot out of it. And I’ll be in LA and Boston as well.
DBW: I know you have a LOT of preparation to do. Anything else you’d love to share before we wrap up?
VN: Nothing specific other than if anyone is reading this and afraid to make the jump to a feature, do it. You’re never going to feel ready. Do something small every day to get it done and continually remind yourself of why this film for me right now. And I would love for people to rate Gold Star on IMDb after they watch it, and reach out if they stream, etc. I love speaking with other filmmakers and connecting!
DBW: That’s so important. The timeliness of a film in a filmmaker’s life!
VN: Yes! You don’t want to lose yourself in the process. Continually check in on why it means something to you. What’s the core of the project that made you want to create it? That’s so important to stay motivated, because making a feature can take a while.
DBW: Great. Thanks so much for taking time to converse today, Victoria. Have a wonderful time sharing your film in this next phase… and with all the films yet to come.
VN: Of course!! Thank you so much for the opportunity to spread the word about Gold Star, Barbara! So appreciate it!
DBW: Keep in touch.
VN: Great, thank you so much! You as well!
Find out more about Victoria Negri on her website and connect with her on Instagram and Twitter. Visit Learn more about the film on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on the Gold Star website. Find local screenings or arrange to host a screening in your community on TUGG.