This year, I had the pleasure of checking out a suspenseful short film called Roses are Blind. Unfortunately, screenings of it have been pushed back due to the coronavirus. Visit the film’s Facebook and Instagram pages in the coming weeks to get the new screening dates once the film festival circuit picks up again.
Based on the true-life story of Wendy J. White, the film focuses on Julie Janson’s journey of discovery. On the advice of her college roommate (Nicole Medoro), Julie (Christina Jolie Breza) visits psychic Addison Spellings (Daniel Davis of The Nanny and Star Trek: The Next Generation). Their encounter reveals a family secret and changes Julie’s life forever.
Filmmakers Wendy White and Gui Agustini joined me on a conference call to share their insights about how this multi-award-winning short film came together.
Wendy, how did you combine facets of the true story into the artistic vision you wanted?
Wendy: Born an artist, that is the way I see the world. I’ve been writing a journal since I was 10 years old. I write lots of notebooks. One of my English teachers in high school encouraged me to write more than ever, even though I was involved in every activity at school. It became my daily ritual. Her question was, what makes Wendy run? because I was constantly doing and trying to achieve.
When this [event] did happen in my life, I was 19. I also kept a journal. When it came time for me to feel comfortable enough to start writing this story into a play, I was 32 [or] 33 and it was the year after my mom passed.
I was involved with a gallery in the East Village exhibiting my paintings every month. One gallery director was about to start a little playwriting workshop and he invited me into the theater there. My promise to myself and to my roommate Wanda at the time was that I was going to come back one day and write a play, create a movie about it.
As an artist, it was fortuitous that I had the opportunity to write a three-act play in the ’90s and have it done with actors in New York City. It worked really well as a play. The vision of what happened in my life was incorporated artistically that way. Everyone seemed to love the play and the drama. It is based on true-life stories that happened.
This was always a dream. It went on from New York. We moved to Florida in 2001. I also produced it in Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Luckily, [it went] to Holland. It has traveled as a play! Every time it comes up, people say, “What are you going to do with this?” My intention has always been to make a movie.
A few themes that popped out when I watched it were trust, family, and the concept of home. Tell us more about how you wanted to capture these themes.
Gui: The story was so fascinating. Wendy wrote a couple versions of a screenplay for a feature film. I told her it’s best to do the short film. I was crafting scenes and ideas from her script. I wanted to capture the beginning, because for me that was the intention to use the short film on just the beginning of the story as a perfect concept. All the events were already there. I was intrigued, fascinated, sad at the same time that they were all true.
As we started creating the structure of which scene we were going to use, I’m super visual. Most directors are. I’m thinking of it as under budget and as a producer all at the same time. I have very specific intentions and visuals.
With the subway opening, I wanted to catch people’s attention right away. We all know the cliché about this new era we live in, about attention spans. I wanted it fast-paced to show Julie’s chaotic life already. In the main point of the story, she finds out about a family secret and goes to her parents’ house. Scenes come with very specific visuals. Others not so much.
It’s about crafting, getting good dialogue, and working as a team. With our DP, who was also our editor, he was wonderful and I learned so much from him. If I said something would be cool, he’d ask why and sometimes I’d get riled up. [laughs] Afterwards, I appreciated it because everything we do needs to be meaningful.
Home or family is such a universal theme. In this case to me, it’s not a broken family per se, but there’s something out of trust as you’ve mentioned. There’s something hidden from somebody and it comes to the surface. People are acting in a way that you would never expect or believe. To me it felt like you have a glass and for whatever reason, that glass shatters! You have a family that’s together in a way, but not really. Then it gets broken or shattered by this specific event.
Wendy: It’s powerful that the word trust is what you’re keying in on. My motto in life is “Trust God and love people.” Trust, family, and home are the root of it all. It’s significant that you chose those. The foundation for a child is a mother and father and maybe the grandparents. When that foundation is shattered at a young age – or it probably wasn’t really there to begin with and I was making up for it – but when that event happened, there is no longer any trust.
Not to give away the whole movie, but the finale is that Julie can never go home again. That’s what happened in my life. It’s based on real life and dramatized to consolidate events that Gui shared so beautifully. Those three themes are together very powerful. Home is a base, then Julie developed her own home inside herself.
Another friend years ago called my family a “gestalt family.” It’s a term in psychology, referencing the illusion of how a family may appear, versus revealing the instability of the family at its core foundation. Everyone, as I learned in life, has challenges in family dynamics. No one family is so-called normal.
The color palette and other elements in your shots are impressive, Gui, including in the psychic’s apartment scene. Share your thoughts on the sets.
Gui: That apartment is unique. In my experience so far, in research and my curiosity of listening to great filmmakers, there are those happy accidents, especially in a low-budget production. I had been at that apartment maybe a year ago. When that scene was in the script, I automatically thought of it. The owner of that apartment became a good friend. It was the perfect spot and [it was] somebody I knew. He was so kind to offer his home.
Everything that’s there is how his apartment was. I went in with my DP and we went over the idea of how the scene should go. I don’t think we even brought anything in that wasn’t in there already. Even the metronome was there! I thought it was something Mr. Addison would have and use. Things start to fit in while you’re discovering. I would always consult with Wendy. It wasn’t true but it’s based on the ritual with Wendy. [laughs]
Wendy: Well, it was close enough. [laughs]
Gui: The hats were all hats that that actor has used in Broadway shows. His collection has so much history. I wanted to include those for this character with his own mystery of who he could be. When Julie walks in, it’s already a weird situation. Everything is unsettling to her. She’s noticing what’s around her.
Wendy: In the first scene when Julie is running into her apartment, ironically unplanned as we were filming at this location was that roses were there. They happened to be on the table that Julie passes. I loved being on set watching. I remember Gui was so excited to see those roses.
Gui: You’re right, I forgot about that!
Wendy: That’s an artistic touch that was already there.
Gui: The acting background and training that I have goes with using everything that is going on with you emotionally, personally, and on set. It’s all there and it’s alive. It can be used as part of your scenes. We had to reshoot the scene and all of a sudden, those roses were there.
Wendy: The metaphor of the dried roses: they’re there drooping and sad.
Gui: If you study Woody Allen, these are details in the background of his movies you just won’t see if you close your eyes. They all have a meaning. Sometimes these little touches go by the audience, but there’s a deeper effect for filmmakers.
Wendy: Another funny little thing is how Hitchcock will show up in his films. Well, at the beginning in the subway car scene, it was sort of an accident that I was sitting there helping. It’s older Wendy and Julie sitting there. It’s another happy accident.
Gui: I wanted you to be there, because I wanted your cameo. We were trying to figure out where to put the crew in the subway car. Then it was “Oh, my God, just sit there and be a part of it.” We needed extras and she was a perfect extra.
Continued in Part 2