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Persephone Vandegrift
Tonight's Feature Presentation


an interview with persephone vandegrift

The Green Room

Persephone Vandegrift has a story to tell, and she’s overcome a lot to be able to tell it.  Facing down the traumas of her own past, she became determined to use her talents as a writer to give something positive to the world: something that could offer hope, inspiration, and healing to others affected by domestic violence.  The result is All Things Hidden, a short film that is currently in the post production process.  The journey hasn’t been an easy one… but the worthwhile ones rarely are.

The Interview

For more about the film, visit the All Things Hidden website!

Ziggy:  Tell us what viewers can expect from All Things Hidden.  What’s it about?

Persephone Vandegrift:  The shortcut answer is that All Things Hidden (ATH) is about domestic violence (DV) and the legacy it leaves behind.  The long answer is that it’s about so much more than that.  Without giving too much away, folks can expect ATH to present the issue of DV a bit differently.  It addresses the ramifications, and asks: how far does one have to go to morph out of it?  All those things we spent years hiding – or hiding from – catch up with us eventually and manifest in ways we do not expect.  There might even be a bit of magic… if you look real close…

The interesting thing is that when I tell folks what it’s about, I get different reactions, ranging from “oh, it’s a comedy, then” to shock, and still others have burst into tears and thanked me.  One person had to excuse themselves because when I told them the story, they became so emotional that they had to step away, return, and give me a hug, because they had just left an abusive relationship.  I know folks are still afraid to talk about it.  Sure, they see others talking about it, but sometimes the fear and humiliation has been ingrained for so long that all they know is fear.  I don’t always “face my fears and do it anyway,” but with regard to my experience (which was not as bad as Dannie’s in ATH), I knew I had a story to tell, and as difficult as it was to go through those past memories again, it was the determination to not let them hold me back anymore the propelled it forward.  I tried my best to not make ATH a stereotypical film about domestic abuse.  My director, Sean Avichouser, was in agreement about that, too. 

Ziggy:  This story is very important to you personally.  Why does it mean so much for you to tell it?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Seeing what happened to my mom, how she dealt with it, and the amazing decision she made to leave the abusive situation put a stamp of strength on my journey.  But it took me a while to realize it.  I had to go through a lot of not-so-great experiences to find that stamp and what it meant.  The passion to tell this kind of story was inspired by my mother, and the millions of other DV victims who put on a brave face to get through the day.  I want ATH to be a story that reflects the struggle of those who were a witness to DV or who experienced it firsthand: we are what gets left behind.  

Some of us morph our way out of it – disheveled and limping perhaps – and some of us never make it.  Some people leave their abusive relationships successfully, some try and tragedy strikes; but no matter what, they found the strength to make the break and even though their lives were lost, and I wanted that courage included in All Things Hidden.  I was looking for a way to express the ramifications of growing up with DV and what those ramifications feel like.  How can we move forward in our lives with these traumatic memories?  Dannie’s quest in ATH is just one example.  It is a monumental shift for people to decide to not leave such a violent traumatic legacy behind.  But then you have those who honestly don’t care.  I believe that if one person makes a positive change, it starts a positive domino effect around the world and gives that ‘one’ becoming thousands, and those who do not care will become the minority.

Ziggy:  What made you decide to finally translate your experiences into a screenplay?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Many things.  The more I read about DV and the crimes being committed and the victims left behind, the more I felt compelled to bring my experience to the forefront.  Though my experience was not exactly the same as what you will see happen in ATH, that experience launched the idea for it.  I took my experience and multiplied it to a “worst case scenario.”  I had to do something to start the healing process, not just for myself, but for others.  It didn’t belong in a short story, poem, or play format, so I went for the screenplay option, which I didn’t know much about [at the time], but I did my best.  Many films have changed my life over the years.  Film has the power to move us on every level, and I wanted ATH to do the same or to have a chance to do the same.  

ATH used to be a feature many, many moons ago, but it didn’t work as a feature.  So I nipped it into a short believing it would have more of a visual and emotional impact, won two awards with it, and then set about fine-tuning it further after Sean expressed interest in it.

Ziggy:  Once you realized that your script was being received well enough to make a serious go of putting it to the screen, how did you go about making it happen?  Walk us through the process of going from “I want my script on the screen” to “we’re ready to start raising money.”

Persephone Vandegrift:  Luckily, Seattle has a great film community.  I’ve been doing theatre here since the mid 90s, and slowly made my way over to film.  In July 2011, I worked as a writer during the 48 hour film festival on a project called “Happy Monday.”  That’s where I met ATH director Sean Avichouser.

Sean was the assistant director for “Happy Monday.”  He mentioned he wanted to get into directing.  So, a few weeks after the 48 was over, I boldly emailed him the ATH script.  He was interested, and we met a few times to talk about the script and story.  In November 2011, we had auditions and cast a few key roles.  I left for the East Coast to go on a writing hiatus, and returned in April 2012.  We went into second gear in May after ATH actress Julianne Christie and I formed Tura Lura Films, and then full fundraising speed mid-July.  

Ziggy:  Once you were ready to raise funds, you ran into a last-minute snag with Kickstarter.  What happened there?

Persephone Vandegrift:  We got everything looking great: our perks, our story, our trailer etc. were all set to go.  We submitted, and simply because I talked about domestic violence in the story and wanted to let folks know that they could include a survivor’s or victim’s name with their contribution and we would include it in the film under ‘In Honor Of’, Kickstarter accused us straight away of being a charity.  Even though 1) we clearly were making a short film, 2) we did not register as a charity, and 3) we were not raising any money for any DV charity.  

It set us back another week, because when you have worked on a script for over a decade and spent a year getting people involved and ready and then you get told you are something that you are not by a platform that could make or break your chance at making your film, it takes the rug out from under you a little bit.  I know it’s happened to others as well.  It’s a shock at first, because KS is so well known, but you catch your breath, dry your eyes, clench your jaw, and press on, because luckily there are other, more supportive platforms out there like IndieGoGo.

Ziggy:  After you “rebooted” your fundraising efforts by taking them to IndieGoGo, you spent the next several weeks as a social media machine.  Did you ever sleep that month?  What are some moments that stand out for you from during that thirty day roller coaster ride?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Ha!  I don’t know… I don’t think I slept that much…  It’s all a blur, because I was also working full time and still tweeting.  I just remember going ‘into the zone’ and saying to myself “no one is going to give me permission to do this, I have to take it, and take it all the way,” because I had a team that was depending on me to raise funds – actors, gaffers, grips, AD, PAs – and there was no way the ball could be dropped, so sleep became something that could be sacrificed.  During those 30 days, what stood out for me was seeing people retweeting the ATH link from me and the ATH team.  People really got on board for it once they saw what it was about.  They were even tweeting about it of their own accord when I was sleeping.  I owe a lot to Twitter and Facebook friends for helping the campaign get as far as it did, and I could not have done it without them.

We even had a filmmaker from LA, Calvin Vanderbeek, hop on board ATH wagon after seeing our trailer.  He believed in it so much that he flew up from LA for the last day of principal photography, stayed the weekend, and we (Tura Lura) have now brought him on as our Consulting Producer.  It was, and still is, an amazingly beautiful and exhausting whirlwind!  I tried to contact local media about ATH, but they weren’t keen, so I contacted Film Courage, Mid-Life Flourish, and Indie Chicks for help.  They asked me to write an article about ATH, and I think that helped reach folks that I would not have ordinarily reached.

Ziggy:  Many Kickstarter/IndieGoGo style campaigns have a “fixed funding” or “all or nothing” clause – if a project doesn’t raise every cent of its goal by the time the campaign is over, it doesn’t get a dime and everyone’s back at zero.  All Things Hidden had a “flexible funding” campaign, so you were able to collect your pledges even though you only hit about 90% of your goal.  With that in mind, would you have been able to start filming All Things Hidden had you been on a “fixed funding” campaign and thus lost all of those pledges?

Persephone Vandegrift:  We would not have been able to film All Things Hidden at all had we not gone to IndieGoGo and chosen the flexible funding.

Ziggy:  Do you think there is any point to a “fixed funding” campaign, other than to guilt potential backers into donating more money (i.e. “this puppy won’t get adopted if we’re even two bucks short of our goal”) or to force project producers to come up with “realistic” or “bare bones” budgets?  What’s the advantage?

Persephone Vandegrift:  I’m sure there is a point to fixed funding… I just don’t know what it is.  It does have the ‘desperate puppy/kitten’ vibe to it.  Maybe fixed works best when you’ve spent a long time hyping it, have a marketing team in place, had some great local media coverage, etc.  But I don’t really know, as I don’t have a lot of previous experience with fundraising.  ATH was my first.  The fixed platform could be down to a solid mix of luck, great planning, social media outlets, and the power of determination that sets some projects on the road to funding success.  

I feel that Flexible is a better way to go, because you can make your goal or not and still end up with something at the end – a starting point.

Ziggy:  Barely a week after your funding campaign finished, All Things Hidden started filming.  That’s quick.

Persephone Vandegrift:  We filmed end of August and have just a few pick up scenes to do now.  I heard that folks thought it was probably the fastest pre-prod into principal photography anyone had ever seen!  I think we’re all still a bit shell-shocked.  I could never afford to go to film school, so I used ATH as a substitute.  I flew a lot by the seat of my pants, but held tight to the confidence I had in my story and in the ATH team of Sean Avichouser, Angela Bernardoni, Landon Salyer, Morgan Thurlow, and Parker Wrenn, and actors Julianne Christie, her daughter, Zoe, Ben Andrews, Carollani Sandberg, Trin Miller, and David Hogan.

Ziggy:  As the Screenwriter, Executive Producer, and Dreamer in Chief, what was your official role on the set?  Remembering the very personal genesis of All Things Hidden, was it difficult watching any of these scenes being filmed?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Wow that’s a lot of titles!  I decided early on that I did not want to watch the filming, mainly because as a former actor, no matter how nice the writer was, I always felt a bit of pressure if they were there watching, and now, as the writer, I wanted to step back and have them not worry I was ‘watching’ or if what I saw them doing with my work was how I saw it etc.  I felt my writing role was done, and because I had a great deal of trust in the ATH visual team, I wanted to stay out of the way of the filming process so they could now put their own stamp on it.  Honestly, I just went into “make it happen mode,” and though I couldn’t pay them all that much, I was adamant to make up for it with food.  So I decided to do Krafty.  I fed and watered them, and that kept me focused on “do I have enough granola bars” instead of what they were or were not filming of my script.  I was too busy cooking lasagna, making coffee, sorting out ice and drinks, boiling eggs, making salad, stressing over if there was enough food, and signing checks to think about the rest!  My mind was already on the other scripts I wanted to get back to.

My co-Executive Producer, Julianne Christie (who also plays Maggie Turner in ATH) is a director and has more overall experience in the film field, so I am letting her take the lead on editing decisions etc. with Sean.

What I really want is to see the film for the first time with the rest of the audience at the premiere.

Ziggy:  What are your favorite memories from filming?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Other than the shell shock of arriving on a film set for the first time in my life for something I wrote (which I’m still in shell shock from, methinks)…  I loved watching the crew set up, how they communicated on how to film particular scenes, watching Director of Photography Angela Bernardoni frame her shots, and the actors getting ready.  You see a bunch of lights, extension cords, wires, blankets, baskets of props, and hangers, and then realize: that’s what makes the film.  The on-set jokes, the crew tents next to the homeowner’s chickens in the backyard, the laughter, the coffee runs, charades, watching folks interact and make new connections, and seeing the crew share their filmmaking techniques with each other without ego.

Ziggy:  One of your locations was called the “Double R” in a former life.  As a “Twin Peaks” fan, how did it feel to be using that particular café for a set?  Did you have any cherry pie or damn fine coffee while you were there?

Persephone Vandegrift:  It was magic. For those who love “Twin Peaks,” I know you all will understand why.  And yes, I totally geeked out, but had to hold a lot of it inside for fear of exploding into gobs of joy.  It was embarrassing at one point, because I got quite teary-eyed talking to the owner about how it was “Twin Peaks” that set me on the writing path full time, and how sitting in that café as an extra in my own film brought back that tingly feeling my heart and fingers had after “Twin Peaks” finished.  It was like being inspired for the first time all over again.

Ziggy:  What surprised you the most during your time filming?

Persephone Vandegrift:  The unsurpassed level of passion, talent, and determination of the Seattle film community to make this film happen which wasn’t so much a ‘surprise’ as a confirmation: Seattle has an incredibly talented community on all levels, and it was great to see it in action!  And they were in action on my short film!  We also had a lot of firsts on this short: it’s Sean Avichouser’s first time directing (which will be the first of many), Angela Bernardoni’s first time as a DP (and definitely not her last, as she’s way too talented), and my first time being produced (and hopefully not my last)...  I think we all surprised ourselves with what we found we could do not just individually, but also as a fine visual team.

Ziggy:  What’s surprised you the most so far about the All Things Hidden experience off the set? 

Persephone Vandegrift:  Oh, definitely the cost of it all…  And the fact that ATH is well known within the community now – all the compliments that ATH is getting; people are really looking forward to seeing it and they knew folks who had worked on it.  My local community knows a bit more about me now as a writer, and that makes a difference when one is struggling to make a writing-name for themselves.

Ziggy:  Filming’s done, but you’re not finished yet.  What’s left to do?

Persephone Vandegrift:  We have a couple pick up scenes to do and then there’s the final edit sound, composing, and I think a bit of CGI.

Ziggy:  You’re also still working to raise funds for the post production work (as of September, 2012).  If people want to contribute to the cause, where can they go to do that?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Flex funding is great, but when you don’t hit your mark, a higher percentage comes out.  We asked for $16K, and ended up with $14K, but then of course IndieGoGo and PayPal take their chunks of change out of that, so in the end we fell behind by about $3K.  We made enough to film and to start editing, but there’s so much more to Post, and we don’t want to cut corners on that if we can help it.  If people would like to help us with post production funds, that would be fantastic.  (I know money is tight for everyone.)  Our website, www.allthingshidden.com, has a Donate page where folks can pick up a $5 - $500 perk that we offered during our IndieGoGo campaign, or they can just donate what they would like via the Donate button.  Or they can send a check (check the Donate page for how).  It is our hope that when folks understand the story and passion behind All Things Hidden that they will share it with their friends, family, etc.  Word of mouth works wonders – even if people can’t contribute, just knowing ATH is getting out there is appreciated.

Ziggy:  Do you have any release targets yet?

Persephone Vandegrift:  I would like to premiere in Seattle in late November, and send it out to festivals before the end of the year.

Ziggy:  What is your ultimate hope for All Things Hidden?

Persephone Vandegrift:  It is my hope that audiences will enjoy and appreciate it on every level; the directing, acting, cinematography, writing, lighting, etc.  It’s a tough subject for many to watch, because there will be so many who have lived it or who are living it right now.  Many who worked on ATH also had some experience with domestic violence and felt impassioned to help me tell this tale, and hold the same hopes as me – that it will encourage healing, and maybe even a proactive change in how we treat each other.  Even if one person is moved to get help or talk to someone, then the power of storytelling can work.  We know film can move us on a profound level, and we would like ATH to have a chance to do that.

Ziggy:  Talk about your Production Company, Tura Lura Films.  What’s next for you?

Persephone Vandegrift:  I met Julianne Christie, my Tura Lura creative partner, at the All Things Hidden auditions last November.  She’s a kindred artist, and she’s not only an extraordinarily talented actor, but also a fantastic director and acting teacher.  Tura Lura Films also has another extension called Pitch the Bitch Productions.  We at TL are currently considering my short script, Stewart, which would be Julianne Christie’s film directorial debut.  We set up Pitch the Bitch as a way to keep our local film community active, finding and pitching new ideas for production and encouraging more women’s roles in film, TV, and theatre.  TL has several pans on the fire.

Ziggy:  Outside of your own work, what other indie film projects have you excited right now?  Any specific short films, features, or webseries?

Perspehone Vandegrift:  I’m excited to see local Seattle projects such as Revelation and Koinonia.  Another social justice issue short called No One Knows.  The Vanquished, which is an indie WWII historical TV series in process out of Illinois that I was asked to help write a pilot for.  A few indies from across the pond: Impardonnables, Grabbers (who doesn’t adore Richard Coyle!) and Welcome to the Punch. 

Ziggy:  What about from Hollywood?  Anything exciting for you at the multiplex either recently or coming up?

Persephone Vandegrift:  YES! I’m drooling over Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, Lincoln, and The Hobbit.

Ziggy:  Who and/or what have been your biggest influences as a writer?

Persephone Vandegrift:  I’ll start with ‘what,’ because I think it was the ‘what’ that helped shape the ‘who’.

What: My innate curiosity and desire for imaginative freedom at a young age was triggered by watching episodes of “In Search Of,” “Dr. Who,” and “Unexplained Mysteries” (things I did not learn in school), and reading about world mythology and ancient oddities.  I would spend hours at a bookstore researching books on sacred places, ancient mysteries, and early history.

This quest let me to discover writers such as Neil Gunn, Marian Zimmer Bradley, Marion Campbell, Sharon Kay Penman, Tracy Chevalier, Bernard Cornwell, Katherine Cocquyt, and, of course, the magnificent David Lynch.  I did not do well in school, and it wasn’t until later that I understood why.  Looking back, it was the uninspiring confinement of it for so long, and yes, it was a different time, and there was so much going on at home that I always felt quite lost – except for when I was reading about history or mythology.  Although I didn’t understand why or what it would lead to at the time, I know it set me on the course of who I am now.  

Oh, and the one influence I will never forget: that college professor who, when I had just dipped my toe into the short story writing water for the first time, told me I was a horrible writer and would never be one.  I was so traumatized I didn’t write (publicly) for over a decade. Then I found “Twin Peaks,” which turned me on my head and pointed me in the right direction.  Once I re-found my voice, the dam had broken and all was right in the world again.

Ziggy:  What do you like to read?

Persephone Vandegrift:  I am an ancient history nerd, so I’m often looking at archaeology pages to satiate my unrequited desire to be an archaeologist and to find ideas for stories.  I have mythology and folklore reference books on hand.  I love good fantasy, i.e. Lynn Flewelling’s “Bone Doll’s Twin,” and dystopian fiction such as Neil Gunn’s “The Green Isle of the Great Deep,” and Marion Campbell’s Bronze Age tale “The Dark Twin.”  Poetry and flash fiction are also on the list.  I can tell within the first couple pages if it is something I want to read.  I go through phases of reading and writing, so it just depends on what my Muse has in store for me.  And no one writer wants to ever cross their Muse…   

Ziggy:  What kind of cheese and recreational beverage do you pair well with?

Persephone Vandegrift:  Sadly, I can’t pick just one.  I love cheese so much I’ve been known to bring home a bag of it from the store instead of, you know, what I went to the store for.  So there are a few I’d like to think I’d pair well with: a slab of baked double cream brie with side of raspberry jam and oatcakes, a nice wedge of creamy Welsh cheddar and apple chutney, and definitely some slices of melted Isle of Mull cheese on toast.  Recreational beverages (in order of how much I love them): Guinness, single malts such as Dalwhinnie, Macallan, and Lagavulin, and red wine – usually a Syrah.

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- Interview conducted by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2012

You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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