Filmmaker Q&A Kate Rees Davis
by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"
The Vanished is such an amazing film and has a story that is very near and dear to my heart for personal reasons. So what made you want make the film/What was your first impression upon reading the script?
As a filmmaker I am passionate to tell stories about people who are misrepresented by society. I love the underdog and I strive to speak to the audience through the human condition and make them see things in a different perspective.
I asked Taylor to write a story about human injustice, my brief was either a human trafficking story or a Mexican illegal border crossing story. He came up with The Vanished and when I read the script for the first time, I was thrilled. The script was pretty much ready to shoot. The story was so moving and heartfelt and was much better than I had imagined. Bringing two men together from different cultures who’s struggles were basically the same and although they couldn’t speak the same language they had more in common than they could know. Logistically the script was quite a challenge as I had to replicate Mexico. I also had the first half of the movie in Spanish and I can't speak a word! Along with guns, stunts several locations and only four days to shoot it. I really enjoyed the challenges with this movie and I think having a strong cast and crew really helped get it done on time and within budget.
I saw that over half the film takes place in the desert - Where did you shoot/What were your experiences like shooting in the desert?
We shot the film in the Mojave desert and Lancaster, which is only one hour north of Los Angeles. Being an independent short film, I didn’t have the budget to film in Mexico, so I had to get creative and find locations that could double for Mexico. The Lancaster location of Ernesto’s house in Mexico, is across the street from the Church used in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. It made me very happy to be on the hallow ground of amazing filmmakers before me!
It was magical to shoot in the desert, the landscape, the colors, the sunsets and sunrises were all cinematically stunning. I was so lucky to have a jib arm to capture the scope and vastness of the endless desert. We shot this film in October and it got pretty cold on the last day of shooting, there was a lot of cloud cover and the winds picked up. I do feel the weather element added to the drama of the scenes we shot that day.
Can you tell us about putting the cast together/What were some memorable experiences from shooting the film/Is there any lesson from this (or any) film you've directed that you'll always carry with you on future projects?
I was so lucky to find my lead actor Eloy Mendez, he had just been in a film that had been in Sundance and when I sent him the script he was very interested. On chatting more with him, he said he had resonated with the story because he had been through exactly the same experience himself ten years before. He had crossed the Mexican Border into the USA illegally, to find work to send money home to his family. When we shot his scenes saying goodbye to his family, it was very emotional for all of us.
I love the casting process when I make movies and I often have the people I want to star in my films already in my mind. Gary Cairns who plays the other lead was an easy choice. I had worked with him on a feature I had produced and he was such a good actor and so easy to be around, he was perfect for the role of the US father.
The two little boys I cast were so sweet and despite the fact they didn’t have that much experience in front of the camera, they pulled it off and enjoyed every minute of it.
The rest of the cast were wonderful, Ty Grandson Jones who played one of the coyotes, took his character to a whole new level. This is why I love working with actors and giving them the scope to create what the character means to them. I often find when you give the actor that freedom, they often deliver a much better performance.
Casting is so much fun, I get to meet so many different people. Seeing actors lift the words off the page and bring those characters to life is such a joy. I am also an actress so it helps me when I get to direct my actors to help them overcome any challenges they may be having in their scenes. I know what they are going through and can often help them solve any problems they are having with their performance. It also gives me an opportunity to fully direct, as I love that interaction with the actors.
One thing I’ve learned from casting is giving the actors the opportunity to be free and do their best work. I want to support them and make them feel secure and safe enough to deliver their all to every scene.
What inspires you, not just as an artist, but as a human being?
Passionate people and life inspires me. Everyday is a precious gift and the greatest joy to each new day is not knowing what comes next. Love and kindness inspire me, even if it’s giving another human being less fortunate, a happy hello or buying them a cup of coffee or paying for their food at a seven eleven. Making people smile or laugh is a good day for me.
Can you tell us about any other future projects you may be working on?
I am currently in development on a documentary about Women in Rock and Roll, called Babes with Attitude. The research I have done on this project has been amazing, so many amazing women and so many outrageous stories! I love music and the women in Rock and Roll deserve to have their stories told. Women are often behind some of the greatest men in this music business and it’s time we heard it from their perspective. The documentary covers the stories of the ladies on stage making the music and what goes on behind the scenes. Besides that, I am always looking for my next exciting directing project. There are so many amazing stories out there that need to be told!