Officially Selected Alumni Interviews

Zachary Valdry: Lift-Off Filmmaker Interview

LA-based Filmmaker Zachary Valdry’s narrative short “Waste” follows a mother and son who must travel the post-apocalyptic, creature filled wasteland in search of food before it’s too late.

Waste”  won the Tokyo Lift-Off Online Festival, and therefore will screen at New York Lift-Off on Wednesday 27th June at 9:45pm, as part of Shorts Programme 2. We interviewed director Zach to hear a little more about how this film came to be, and his path as a filmmaker.

Interview by Sneh Rupra

Firstly, a huge congratulations for winning the Tokyo Online Festival! We at Lift-Off always emphasise the importance of marketing your film — what methods did you use to promote Waste?

Thank you! I mainly used facebook, instagram, and people I knew in order to promote the film. I seem to find that as long as you have some level of a support group you have a much better chance at promoting your film. The number one thing that helped in this process was speaking to the crew, letting them know what was going on and having their support. This whole process from start to finish is a group effort and it’s important not to forget that.

How did you come up with the concept for Waste?

Waste was one of the films that I had on the backburner for a long time. I never thought that I’d be able to actually make it or pull it off. Originally it began as a brother and sister crossing the desert, but that idea itself didn’t have enough substance. I began thinking about higher concept filmmaking and things that I personally like to watch, the rest is history.

What were your initial ideas about how to portray the creatures on screen?

Reeks, although never completely specified, are mutated human beings. I wanted to stay away from traditional zombie archetypes and move the ideas into a new direction. Unfortunately, these creatures were meant to have a bigger part in the film as a form of tension and trial the main characters would have to face. However, in the final version they look close to how they were imagined, pale skin, pitch black eyes, and a gnarly set of teeth. The only thing I wish I had done better would be to show the detail involved on their faces and bodies more, but the fact that you can barely tell what they actually look like adds to the mystery of the creatures themselves.

How did you go about casting the roles?

Casting was definitely the most difficult part of the process. As I believe many other filmmakers will say, the film is brought to life in the casting of the film. We went through multiple casting sites to find who we were looking for and the auditions themselves were quite interesting considering the lack of dialogue in the film. At the end of the day I wanted to nail the mother, the matriarchal character, so we went with Milena Phillips who is a fantastic Theater actress who showed some real grit in the entirety of the process. She really blew us away. When it came to the casting of the son, we needed someone with a young face who still had a tinge of vulnerability within him making Arrington Foster the perfect choice.

The landscapes and locations used in the film create such a strong atmosphere – how did you go about getting that so perfect?

When it came to selling the world I knew I would have to show off the grandeur of it, in order to pull it off. To do so was no easy feat however. Me and a skeleton crew drove from LA to Nevada to shoot the exterior parts of the film. But choosing the location was the easy part. In order for that to work the soundscape of the area needed to be done in such a way that it was not only convincing, but added to the feel of the world. Working with my amazing sound designers Christa Edmonson and Maria Gaynard allowed my vision to truly come to life. From the screeches of far off creatures to the find flowing through the land, everything was meticulously crafted to sell that space.

The relationship between the mother and son is so powerful — was that something you were keen to explore?

Waste, I was in a way mirroring the emotions that I have pertaining to my own mother. From the struggle of the relationship to the necessity to rely on one another. I was mainly raised by my mother, so in a way this was one of the best ways to say thank you for the sacrifices she made for me. In this way, the film is very close to my heart and the films I make in the future, I can only hope, will all be linked to my personal life story in some way.

How did you go about building your crew to make this film?

Much of the crew was composed of people of whom I had worked with before. It is honestly a fantastic group of people. They each pulled their weight and delivered on such an immensely satisfying project. The few people such as stunt coordinators and PD, I had not worked with previously and asked people I knew for recommendations. Some of the best people come from those you know.

Were there any unexpected challenges you faced during production?

Money is always the number one thing that comes up when thinking about these films, but me and my producer put pedal to the metal and raised around 2,700 for this project. Although that may not be allot considering what made it on the screen we were able to stretch our dollar as far as possible. But one small incident happened with our main actress Milena when she got extremely sick the day after filming the desert walk scene. We lost a day of shooting which made it necessary to do pick ups and speed up the shooting of the fight scene which was originally going to take a whole day to shoot. In the end we shot it in five hours. If there is anything I could do over it would be that scene.

Are there any new projects on the horizon that you can tell us about?

The Broken Iris – it is about a woman who is contacted by a demon that proposes to help her get rid of her abusive boyfriend. Another film in the pipeline is Alabaster, a sci-fi drama film. One I hope to turn into my first feature, any funding for that one in particular would be fantastic!

Don’t forget to view the full New York Lift-Off programme and buy tickets.