By Katie Chambers
Welcome to NYWIFT, new member Edna Luise Biesold! Edna is a German-born and New York-based filmmaker who honed her craft at NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a special focus on cinematography. She received the Franz Wieser Grant from ARRI as DP for the fantasy short film The Molok. She co-wrote and co-directed The Color of Time, starring Mila Kunis and James Franco, and is presently developing 3 Monkeys, a screenplay which earned her a Creative Career Design Fellowship from NYU’s Production Lab in 2022.
Most recently, Sunscreen, her first film in ASL, has won her a Best Narrative Short award at 1904 Deaf Film Festival and the NYWIFT Award for Excellence in Directing at the 2022 SOHO International Film Festival.
Edna spoke to us about her favorite collaborators, the challenges of lighting 16-foot tall puppets, and exploring the subtleties of communication throughout her work.
Tell us about yourself – give us your elevator pitch!
I’m a filmmaker with 15 years of industry experience currently metamorphosing from Cinematographer into a Writer/Director. After moving from Berlin to New York and graduating from NYU’s Tisch School, I took all sorts of set jobs, some of which allowed me to travel the world. Eventually I started itching to write my own content, including a provocative short film called Motherhood as well as my recent short film Sunscreen, both of which did well in festivals. So, I’m motivated to keep writing.
I’m always curious to hear other people’s stories and what they’ve learned along the way. And I love meeting female-identifying cinematographers and watching their work.
Congratulations on receiving the NYWIFT Award for Excellence in Directing at the SOHO International Film Festival for your short film Sunscreen! This film observes how accountability is handled in a crumbling relationship. What inspired the film, and how did you make the most of the short content format to tell such a complex story?
I often take inspiration from observing the people around me. I find, for instance, that many couples suffer from the lack of respect in their relationships. To me, owning up to one’s mistakes is an integral part of keeping each other’s respect alive.
Sunscreen serves as a cautionary tale that captures the beginning of the end of a relationship: In the story, only one partner is willing to take responsibility for their wrongdoing, although it soon turns out they did nothing wrong. I’ve tied the idea to an object, a missing bottle of sunscreen, which both protagonists think the other one was meant to bring to the beach and which resurfaces at an inopportune moment.
Feel free to hit me up for the screener, anyone reading this and interested in watching!
The film is also in ASL with English subtitles. Why did you choose to feature to tell this story through the lens of Deaf characters?
I have been learning ASL for several years and I am currently developing a feature film called 3 Monkeys including multiple CODA [Child of Deaf Adult] and Deaf roles. And since I also planned to employ Deaf and CODA Crew, I really wanted to practice directing in American Sign Language on a miniature scale with a team of trusted filmmaking friends before attempting a full-scale feature film production.
If anyone has any experience (or can think of anyone who has) with working with CODA and Deaf cast and crew, please reach out to me!
I’d love to hear more about The Molok, the fantasy short which features a 16-foot tall puppet! How did that come about, and what are some of the challenges and freedoms of working with puppets on film?
The Molok was directed by Sam Wilson. When he and his producing partners commissioned the puppet from sculptor Annalisa Baron, a friend of mine, she recommended me as DP and we instantly hit it off. It has been the most elaborate work I’ve done thus far as a Cinematographer. The space was bigger than any space I’ve had to light before.
I was able to get ARRI on board, as well as other companies, who supported us with equipment and post-production services.
Working with Leah Hoffman, our puppeteer, best known for Broadway’s War Horse, was an entirely new challenge for me. The heavy puppet was carried by eight men and had to be maneuvered in a way that would look natural but also work for my lighting scheme.
Also, we didn’t have the units to mimic the beautiful rays of sunlight flooding through natural foliage into the space at very particular hours. But I was really keen on capturing that effect on screen. So I requested a schedule that would allow us to harvest these short moments on each day we were at the location, even if the rest of the schedule featured completely different angles within the space.
I felt so alive dealing with these and many more challenges on this set. I could go on, but the bottom line is that the project and wonderful people involved were a great reminder of why I picked this profession.
You hold a degree in Linguistics and Literature studies. How does your educational background inform your work as a filmmaker?
I would say that having read a lot during my childhood and studies helps me distinguish strong from weak stories more easily, which is useful for selecting my projects as a DP. I can’t say to what extent my writing is informed by literature, other than a general care for the right words. However, the subtleties of how we communicate loom large in my work. For example, both Sunscreen and 3 Monkeys explore the effects of miscommunication.
What kind of work excites and inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who face their fears by attempting exactly what they’re afraid of. And I love to work with people who are deeply motivated to get the job done, no matter which role I’m hired for.
I’ve been on multiple sets where everybody got overpaid and at the same time didn’t seem to be invested in the production, including the head of departments. That was so sad to see. I have a weak spot for indie movies, because they tend to attract more self-driven cast & crew.
What is the best advice you ever received?
The best advice I ever received came from my beloved teacher Jay Anania, who said to create films which I would want to watch. He said that if I achieved that, I would always find an audience. So, I try to think of marketability as little as possible, which may haunt me as soon as the time for finding money comes around…
And what is next for you?
This year, I am hoping to find financing for my first feature film 3 Monkeys, which I have been developing over many years. I’m also directing a no-budget feature film called Zeitlang this Summer, just so I can keep the ball rolling while waiting for the big bucks.
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