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Whistler Film Festival 2015 Interview: A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET director Valerie Weiss

by Jason Whyte

"A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET is a coming-of-age drama about an Evanston teenager torn between her potential future at UCLA and her demanding role as a caregiver for her mother, Gloria (Taryn Manning of ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK), who suffers from bipolar disorder." Director Valerie Weiss on A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET which screens at the 2015 edition of the Whistler Film Festival.

I am excited to have you as part of the 15th Anniversary at Whistler Film Festival! Is this your first time with a movie here?

Yes, this is our first Whistler experience. Unfortunately, I am not able to leave LA because of work, but our producer, Jeff Loeb will be attending our screenings and doing our Q&As. He's been at the majority of the film festivals since we premiered at Mill Valley and gives a great question and answer session.

Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and your previous movies.

I was actually a scientist before making the switch to film director. Both careers exploit my never-ending curiosity about the world we live in, so when you think of it that way, it is not as big a jump as it sounds like at first. While making the transition, I started a film program for graduate students at Harvard while getting my Ph.D. at the medical school, My first feature, LOSING CONTROL, is loosely based on my time in grad school and is about a female scientist who wants proof that her boyfriend is "the one".

Interesting! So with your background, how did A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET come about?

I was looking for a script to direct while also writing my own stuff and out of the blue I met Moira McMahon Leeper when the showrunner, Lisa Zwerling, from her pilot Maddox, which had just been sold to NBC. Lisa asked me to meet with Moira about the science in her script. We met at Shaky Alibi in LA and hit it off right away. She showed me some other scripts and I fell in love with LIGHT.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee are we talking here?

A couple of years ago when we lived in Paris for three weeks, I discovered the Nespresso machine and that there was only twenty secons between inactivity and productivity. Besides, two espressos a day, my family, my insatiable curiosity, my love for actors and people in general keep me chasing stories and committed to telling them on screen.

All projects are challenging in many ways, some more than others. What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment where you knew you had something?

The challenge was to tell a story about mental illness that felt authentic and honored the disorder and those struggling with it, while also being entertaining and a ride you want to be on. Every decision from casting to the look to the music impacted every other decision so immensely that I had to constantly be vigilant about what direction each choice took the movie in and make sure it still felt cohesive and tonally consistent.

I am about to go technical on you, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.

As I mentioned above I was painstaking with this decision. I hired Jeffrey Waldron to shoot our film because he is not only such a sensitive artist that captures mood and the fuzziness of relationships beautifully as he did in his Indie-spirit nominated film, DYNAMITER, but also because of the way he liked to communicate. For our first meeting he showed up with a flow-chart of what the film evoked for him visually. I thought any collaborator with charts is for me! We then proceeded to graph the films' progression in terms of how the lighting, color and handheld motion changes throughout. It was a wonderful way of working that helped us be precise but still leave room for experiment.

So after the film screens in Whistler, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to show?

Whistler will be our 14th film festival since we premiered Oct 10th at Mill Valley and won the US Indie Audience Award there. We have been to Chicago, Heartland, Tallgrass, Virginia and a bunch of others. There is a break for the winter holidays and then I am sure we'll be back on the circuit early next year, but I don't know where yet.

If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

The Pacific Theater at the Grove in Los Angeles. We live across the street and it would be amazing to see A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET on the marquee with the trolley chugging by in the foreground.

What would you say or do to someone who was being disruptive at a screening you were attending?

Why are you planning on being disruptive?

And what is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

Tell a great story.

And finally, what is your all time favorite movie? Or film festival movie?

TOOTSIE for all time favorite in terms of a movie I love that I would want to make. There are many that are tied for favorite though. Film festival movie? From this year, I loved the documentary AUTISM IN LOVE.

A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET screens on Thursday, December 3rd, 10:00am at the Rainbow Theatre, and on Friday, December 4th, 1:00pm at the Whistler Conference Centre.

For more information on the film and its progress, be sure to follow the film on Facebook and on Twitter at @alightbeneaththeirfeet.

This is one of the many films playing at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival. For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website at!

Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two. You can also follow the festival on my Instagram at jason.whyte!

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 11/29/15 17:17:25
last updated: 11/29/15 23:33:53
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