"The Foster Portfolio" (excerpt from short film)

Danielle Katvan

Unaffiliated

1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
A web spot for a dating app called Swoon, which was done 3 years ago.  It was the first time that I was actually paid to direct, and it was also the first production where I wasn’t involved in the producing side, but was hired solely as a director.

2) How did you get into directing? 
Growing up in my parent’s photography studio, I was exposed to the art of visual storytelling from a young age. I grew up taking photographs on a 35mm camera, and developed the images in my parents darkroom. When I was 12 years old, I spent all of my Bat Mitzvah money on a handheld camcorder. I took it with me everywhere and filmed everything. Literally everything.  I started editing little videos together to share with my friends, and that’s when I fell in love with cinematic storytelling. I started working as an editor after college, but I felt compelled to explore other aspects of filmmaking, so I attended a 16-month filmmaking program, which is where I discovered directing. After directing my first short, I realized that there was nothing else I would rather do. I wasn’t just piecing together someone else’s vision—it was my vision, from concept to completion.

3) What is your most recent project? 
My most recent project was a short film—a 20-minute period piece adaptation of a story by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., called The Foster Portfolio. It’s a story about a rookie investment counselor, who discovers that his penniless client is hiding a million dollar inheritance in order to conceal a strange, double life. It took five years of back and forth emails and phone calls with the Vonnegut estate, but I was finally granted permission to make it. We shot over 6 days in Brooklyn and upstate New York on an extremely tight budget. Luckily, we had a passionate, talented crew, who worked for little or close to nothing. The film just had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last month.

4) What is the best part of being a director? 
I can imagine something in my mind - any image, any story—and make that image from my head come to life before my eyes. It’s pure magic. What’s more, I then get to share the finished product with the world, watch them respond to it and connect with people. I also love collaborating with other creatives, getting their input and watching them do what they do best—and together, with our talents combined, we create this beautiful thing. There’s nothing like the rush you get on set, when you see everything come together—everyone’s hard work and ideas come to life. When I’m in that place, I feel so excited by what’s possible and so proud of what the team involved has accomplished.

5) What is the worst part of being a director? 
The career I’ve chosen isn’t an easy one to succeed in. I’ve discovered over the years that having talent and passion for what you do isn’t always enough. It’s incredibly difficult to break into the industry as a new director, especially with digital technology making it more accessible to so many people. You’re a needle in a haystack, so you really need to find someone who believes in you and is willing to take a chance on someone new. I think the key is to stay true to your vision and keep moving forward. I have days where I feel discouraged, but then something incredible happens and it gives me new drive to keep pushing. Being accepted into this showcase is one of those things.

6) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
Being as my most recent project was a short film, my focus lately has been more on narrative content, but I’m also very interested in commercial work. Feature films are a slow burn, especially for a new director trying to break in, and I want to be shooting more often and exercising my craft. I’d really love to find a commercial production company to join that matches my sensibilities as a director, so I can have more opportunities to work and be creating all the time. 

On the narrative front, there’s been a lot of momentum for me, as well. I’ve been meeting with development executives at several production companies and I’m working on a feature script at the moment, as well as episodic concepts.

7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
I’ve never had a mentor, but I love the idea of it. It would be incredible to have someone I could shadow and learn from. I hope I never stop learning, even when I’m directing all the time.

8) Who is your favorite director and why? 
I have so many directors that I admire, but if I had to chose a favorite, it would be the Coen Brothers. I’m incredibly inspired by their masterful execution of offbeat, character driven stories and the way they create heightened worlds through cinematography and production design. I also love the way they tackle so many different types of stories, genres and periods, but what stays consistent is their voice and their unique style. Another director that does this really well is PT Anderson, who I also love. That’s what I hope to achieve with my work. I’m interested in exploring many different genres, styles and worlds, but I hope to have a distinct voice as the underlying thread that ties my body of work together.

9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
I just started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, and I think it’s brilliant. Having just adapted a book myself, I know how difficult it can be, and they did such an incredible job of sucking you into this character’s world and her head without letting the voiceover dominate the story. The cinematography is gorgeous, the colors are so rich and the story is incredibly poetic and engaging. I think they did an amazing job creating that world. For branded, one of my favorite spots of all time is “Mr. W,” the wind energy commercial for Epuron from 2007. I think the concept is brilliant: the wind personified as a lonely, misunderstood French man. There’s so much humor in it, but it’s also very emotional and touching.

10) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born and raised in Manhattan. My parents are photographers and I grew up in their studio in Chelsea, watching them work and soaking in the craft of visual storytelling. I feel lucky to have been raised in that environment, and in a city filled with so much culture and stimulus. I spent my childhood in public schools and exploring the city with my friends. I actually didn’t study film in college—I majored in Art History, but I think learning to look at art with a critical eye and learning about what came before you is really important as an artist.

I started working as an editor after that, which I think is a perfect stepping-stone to directing. That’s where you learn to piece stories together, and it really helps me when I’m on set because I’m always thinking about how it will come together in the edit.