Director Marissa Vonn Talks Short Film Next Of Kin
We’re back featuring another incredible filmmaker on the blog; director Marissa Vonn. Her latest short film Next of Kin is the story of Helena, a small town obituary writer who must decide to face their past or run when their own name lands on the desk. Originally interested in directing music videos Marissa’s directorial short film debut soon set her on a path following the narrative route. “Once I directed my first short I knew that was the path I needed to take.” She said, “Getting to work with actors and bring a script to life is so fulfilling!”
I asked Marissa where the idea for Next Of Kin came from. “A few years ago I was scouting for a documentary and had been wandering around old Midwestern cemeteries for about a week and the thought struck me “what if someone saw their own name on one of these stones?”…and that thought lodged itself in my brain for several years.” She explained, “I had a lot of help from my producing partners (Bruce James Bales and John Hennessey Baker) to develop the story. It’s honestly the most rewrites I’ve ever done! I knew I had to direct it because it’s my script and it’s one that I’m genuinely attached to. Typically I write with the intention of directing it myself.”
Shot in Iowa in December 2020, DEFT filmmakers collaborative had a hand in bringing the film to life. “They are the eyes and ears behind the beautiful cinematography and sound design of Next of Kin, as well as my last five films!” Marissa said, “I LOVE working with them because they are patient, smart, curious, and always pressing for better and stronger work. I’ve loved growing with them and watching the work we do together evolve and I’m extremely grateful to Bruce, JB, Spencer, Nick, Ben, and Kalena for everything they do.”
Filming in Marissa’s hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa was a highlight for her during production. “It was always a dream to make something at home and this was the exact right time and story to make there.” She said, “The location was extremely welcoming, and it was honestly surreal to be filming a short on the street I used to run down when I’d skip school and go hide in a coffee shop. I also got to involve my dad, which was amazing. He made us pancakes during our overnight shoot. It snowed, there was freezing rain, it was cold…but we had a great time!” There was of course the struggle of filming during a pandemic which meant keeping the cast and crew safe was a priority. “Our crew was only 7 people and our cast was 2. It was also a challenge to find interesting ways to film a TINY RV. But we made it work!” Marissa explained.
A story with an intriguing female protagonist I asked Marissa how important it was to her to tell stories featuring women. “It’s extremely important to me to tell more stories about women. Especially stories where women get to be full fledged people and not some weird projection of what someone thinks a woman should be,” she replied. As someone out there making films I asked what advice she had for any aspiring filmmakers. “The best advice I can give is to just start making films. Even if they’re two minute shorts shot on your phone. There is no better education than experience. Figuring out exactly what you need visually to communicate your story is such an important skill and making films is the best way to hone it.”
Next of Kin has started hitting the festival circuit with their premiere happening at No Coast Film Fest in Emporia, Kansas in September. “After that we will be hosting a digital screening on Facebook along with a Q+A.” Marrisa said, “The reception is good so far. We’ve received two really kind reviews from Indie Shorts Mag and Film Fest Network as well.”