In the Director's Spotlight this week we are proud to present our interview with writer/director Christine Vartoughian. Her debut feature film about love and suicide which she wrote and directed, Living with the Dead, has been awarded the Audience Choice Award at the Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, Best First Film at LIIFE, and Best Feature Film at Aberdeen Film Festival in the U.K. She wrote, directed, and produced the short, The Visions of Dylan Bradley, a modern day fable about the dangers of virginity. It traveled to festivals in the U.S. and Europe, and received the Cine Golden Eagle award.
1. What inspired you to start your blog A BEAUTIFUL BLUR?
I was inspired to start my blog, A Beautiful Blur, after a month of
being a background performer, or as I call it, a "pretender." I
initially began doing BG as a way to pay my bills while working on my
second feature film as a writer and director but I soon realized that
there is a lot of interesting experiences from that kind of job on
set. I knew that I wanted to write about how living in NYC (or
anywhere, really) can make someone feel like they are in the
background of their own life and I think paralleling that with being
an incognito part, one of many people in the crowd, of a big set would
be an interesting way to parallel my personal life and my life as a
filmmaker. I strongly believe that no experience is a wasted one and
that we can learn from everything we do. I also wanted to give a voice
to background actors because while they are not always treated very
well, they're still a necessary part of what you see on screen.
Everyone can read about being directly behind-the-scenes and relate to
the topics even if they don't work in film or TV-
2. How do you feel growing up in New York City may have inspired you
to pursue a career in writing and directing?
I think the art and culture in New York City is a huge part of why I
went into filmmaking. I was a very young teenager when Velvet
Goldmine, directed by Todd Haynes, was released in indie theaters and
that movie really did it for me. I probably wouldn't even know about
it if I didn't grow up in such a cultured and diverse city. I think
a large part is also that I wasn't just an American, but I was a
first generation American born to refugee parents, so coupled with
being in NYC and raised with European values for art, it made me
really seek out all the different art events and museum exhibits that
go on in NYC. The writing part is all because my mom taught me to read
at a very early age so my love of words has been with me as long as I
can remember and goes way beyond screenplays. I think I would die if I
wasn't able to write.
3. Having worked in theater and film, how do you determine if a story
is a better fit for stage or screen?
A lot has to do with the dialogue. Some lines are so poetic and
beautiful when said on stage, but if you were to take the same
dialogue and put it in a narrative film or TV show, it could possibly
sound unnatural or melodramatic. I think with film and TV the goal is
to make audiences feel like what they're watching is "like real
life" where in theatre audiences are aware they're not watching
real life. I think this has to do with the fact that we have screens
in our home that we watch in private where as in theatre is a place we
have to go and sit amongst strangers. It's almost like the
difference between a newspaper article and poetry.
4. What inspired you to write and direct The Visions of Dylan Bradley
and Living with the Dead? How are these films similar? How do they
differ? Where are these films available to be seen?
The Visions of Dylan Bradley was my thesis film and can be seen for
free online here- http://www.dylan-bradley.com/
I had a friend at the time who was in similar situation as Dylan and
my way of cheering her up was to make absurd jokes of how she can
trick her boyfriend into losing his virginity to her. We had so many
concoctions that we decided to make a dark comedy about it.
Living with the Dead was born out of some of my own experiences and I
really needed a way to write about my own life and get some catharsis
and create something positive out of suffering. It has a few things in
common with The Visions of Dylan Bradley- both have a young woman as
the central character, both include a character that commits suicide
on screen, and both have books and note-taking involved. Both films
deal with issues of love and loss and the path to realizing that the
way we see people is not always how people actually are. They both
have a decent amount of sarcasm but DB is a comedy and LWTD is a drama
with some lighthearted moments.
Living with the Dead is currently available on Amazon VOD in the US
and Amazon Prime in the UK-
It will be available in Canada, the Danish, (look this) early 2018.
5. Which films directed by women do you feel are most important and
influential in our society today?
I love Sophia Coppola's Lost in Translation. I think what makes it
valuable and timeless is that it's about a young woman who is smart
and attractive (but not glamorous) and gets lost behind her new
husband. She's not always very nice or polite but we like her even
in spite of these things, so it shows that women don't have to be
these delicate, pleasing, dolled- up creatures. I also think the whole
process of making this film shows how strong women directors are, how
fearless it is to just get a tiny cast and crew, fly to a foreign
country, and shoot wild in the middle of busy streets all day and
I also recently saw Lady Bird, and I think it's especially profound
to see Greta Gerwig, who is known as actress, directing. I think it
bursts the stereotype that women and actresses can only be movie stars
that sit in a chair getting their make-up done; We can be the boss and
run a set as well.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? And, what advice
would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
I think the advice I would give to aspiring filmmakers is the same
advice I would give my ten-years-younger self, and that's to focus
on the creative aspects of the film or show, and try to stop having
the daily existential crises. Don't worry about failure, don't try to
be perfect because things you make on screen will rarely look the way
you had them in your head. As John Steinbecks's wise words in East of
Eden: "And now that you don't have to be perfect you can be good." I
was so hard on myself ten years ago, and while it fueled me, it also
burnt me out. For any aspiring filmmakers, it's most important to not
exhaust yourself. It's really not a race.
Christine Vartoughian is an award-winning filmmaker. You can see her directing work and her blog, A Beautiful Blur, on her website https://www.christinevartoughian.com/