AN INTERVIEW WITH KATE VOZELLA, WRITER/ACTRESS - MIA
Winner: Best Original Story - January 2021 Edition
Nominee: Best Female Director Short / Best Actress in a Short
Kate Vozella (she/her) graduated from The Australian Institute of Dramatic Arts with a Bachelor’s degree in 2018. She immediately began an internship at "Playwriting Australia" where she assisted in the development of new works by Angela Betzien, Jane Hampson and Claire Testoni. She moved to NYC at the end of 2018 to study at the "Stella Adler Studio of Acting". After graduating from "Stella Adler", Kate worked on many independent script developments.
In 2020, her play "Burning Falling Rising Monster", (also an A.I story) was shortlisted for the "Platform Presents Playwrights Prize". "Platform Presents" produced a short film adaptation of the play starring Phoebe Fox (The Aeronauts, The Great) and Kyle Soller (Olivier Award Recipient) which was featured in The Marquee TV short film festival in August, 2021. Her work has been featured in The Daily Telegraph (AUS), Arts and Culture Hub (UK), Platform Presents (UK) and The National Portrait Gallery of Australia (AUS). At the end of 2020, Boycott Entertainment produced her script, MIA (another A.I story) – casting her in the lead role, alongside Jason Butler-Harner and Pooya Mohseni, Directed by Jac Fitzgerald. She is now working closely with Boycott Entertainment as the in-house script assistant. Her most recent play Machine Learning (yet another AI story) is now in pre-production in Sydney, Australia for a 2022 run.
Kate is passionate about the development of new works and is particularly interested in stories about new technology and its attempt to mend our fractured and disconnected society.
Hello Kate Vozella, thank you for having us! First, we'd like to introduce you to our readers: When did you find out you wanted to be an actress? Where did you study? How can you describe your process in becoming both an actress and a writer?
I decided I wanted to be an actor when I was about 19 years old. I was adamant I wanted to be a visual artist before that; which in hindsight I’m glad I didn’t pursue as I probably would have found it to be quite a lonely endeavor. My favorite thing about this industry is that many minds come together to create something out of nothing.
So at 19, I was given an opportunity to act in a short film in Melbourne and when I was on set I fell in love with the feeling of creating in that way; using my body and my words as tools to tell a story. It was really fun and of course a little scary. I got to play, I got to think deeply about humans - why they do what they do, what motivates them, what breaks them.
After that experience, I wanted more of it, but I knew I needed to learn all there was to learn about acting and storytelling first, so I auditioned for a drama school in Sydney, and it was while I was there that I got to do other things, like read plays, understand story: structure, plot, characterization, directing and of course acting. I also got to practice viewpoints, suzuki method, and a bunch of other more physical theatre techniques which opened my eyes to a more experimental style of story-telling... which I think really helped shape me into the artist that I am today.
As for writing, it was there that I wrote my first play and it was my teacher’s response to that play that really catapulted me into wanting to be a writer. I really felt like a light in my brain had turned on. I felt that I could see the world in a new way and I just had to keep writing and writing and writing so I could try to articulate it.
What made you choose Jac Fitzgerald to direct "MIA"? How did the "Author/Actress" and "DoP/Director" dynamics work? This combination hints at a feeling of a pretty unique alchemy…
Production first reached out to Jac as a DoP and it was Jac who, after reading the screenplay, put herself forward to direct. After a few zooms we both knew it was a fit. We took a deep-dive into this imaginary world in a really enthusiastic and committed way right from the start and I remember some of our initial zooms went for hours and hours. I came away from them feeling so energized and inspired and that continued all the way through pre-pro, through the entire shoot until the very last day of the edit. As for Jac and I balancing many hats, I think we were both completely in our elements. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. I have this image of Jac buzzing around set with this big smile underneath her mask, running up to Jason and I to give notes and then back to camera, and then managing the whole crew simultaneously.
As for me as writer/actor - I think I’m pretty good at leaving the writer at the door and putting my acting hat on when it’s necessary. Once you get to the shoot, and you all know your lines it becomes less about the words and more about what you’re actually doing in the scene and to your scene partner.
There was once or twice when I wasn’t in a scene though and I got to hear my words being spoken by Jason and Pooya. Once or twice - I picked up on an impulse by an actor and I would say quietly on the side, (for eg. to Pooya) “Just drop that line. You don’t need it.” and she would. I think thats something Jac and I both do as Artists which contributed to this "unique alchemy” you speak of- we play with what we’ve got and we’re not afraid to solve, re-jig and adjust along the way for the betterment of the story. For eg. There was one time we were having trouble with the elevator scene; just coordinating timing, managing the whole crew and equipment and fitting it all in to a tiny space to quickly get the shot. So after a few failed attempted Jac said to me “Kate - you and I will get the scene.” and she grabbed me, grabbed a hand-held - balanced it on her shoulder and we both jumped in to the elevator. She’s a badass! And yes, we got the scene.
To continue on this theme, would you say that "MIA" could be tagged a "Women's film"? Is this story specifically told from a women's perspective?
Hmm. This is a tricky one for me to answer. No, I don’t think it is a women’s film, but I am interested in the question of what makes a women’s film. I think unfortunately when we label something as a “women's" story, we limit ourselves from seeing the story for what it actually is; in all of its multifaceted layers. MIA is not about women, it’s about the future; the future of technology; the demise of intimacy and connection. I use both a man and a woman to tell this story and show two responses to this world.
The women’s film point is particularly interesting to me and something that I wanted to subvert, as we don’t seem to do this with films centered around men. The Matrix is not a Men’s film. It’s also not a film specifically told from a man’s perspective, or I mean, it is, sure, but we never concern ourselves with that question, we just accept it. We accept that it is ultimately a film about an alternate reality - whether he’s a man or not is neither here or there, although I can’t help but think if Neo was a woman or a gender-nonconforming person the story would suddenly become about that rather than the world of the Matrix.
Maria Irene Fornes said of female writers who tell stories with female protagonists at the centre - “critics think that my play ‘Mud' is saying x, y and z about women, but it’s not actually about women, it’s about poverty.” Well, my story is not about women either, at least no more than it is about men.
The eerie, anticipation/thriller atmosphere is installed right away. It feels like viewers would immediately ask themselves "What's going on here??!" Tell us about the cinema you love, your favorite directors, and why you chose this genre to tell your story.
That’s certainly what we were interested in doing - asking for more from an audience, rather than just passive engagement; asking an audience to think, to pay attention to clues, to imagine what a particular image or the composition of a scene might represent about the character, rather than simple, easy to digest dialogue or exposition. I understand this is not how the masses consume content, so I know my style will not be enjoyed by all, but I think you have to stay true to what you vibe with as an artist, and that's how you find your people.
In terms of what I enjoy - a few of my favorites (classics: my go to films when I’m feeling a little hopeless about my place in the film industry): "Code Unknown" (dir. Michael haneke), "Persona" (dir. Ingmar Bergman), "La Grande Bellezza" (dir. Paolo Sorrentino), "Three colors" (dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski), "The Lobster" (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos) - not limited to the films mentioned, but these directors in general are just so specific in their work that I love to watch several of their films at a time. They’re not one-trick pony’s (lol) is the point I’m trying to make. I also love "The OA" (Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij), anything Alex Garland does (Devs, Ex Machina), "Her" (Spike Jonze), "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" (Charles Kaufman). The common thread amongst all of this work, to me, is that I feel the visual journey is not an after-thought, but contributes greatly to character, plot; story. The performances are also fantastic, the dialogue is well-written and economic, nothing is there just to fill silence. And actually in these films/series silence is used intentionally and it’s very compelling when it is. In this work, there just feels to be a perfect synergy/cohesion between all of the story-telling elements. They're like works of art to me.
Your film leaves us with a number of questions. Was that the purpose, to push viewers to question something, or some things? Is it a critical reflection on what would be the perfect woman in a hi-tech world? On society's expectations? On dysfunctionment and neurosis?
There is one interpretation that MIA is the perfect companion, but of course she subverts that expectation early on. Yes, the question of society’s expectations is something that I considered - the way we are expected to couple up, to find companions, this idea that we might be of more value, or live better lives in a couple, or be more “fulfilled” than we would be independently.
The social pressure of this is definitely changing but I can still see it. Of course in MIA, the added layer is that we’re in the future, so if we’re already feeling liberated from these constructs now in 2021, how might we feel in the future? When it’s harder to connect, will we crave connection even more or shut ourselves off from it completely? As for dysfunction and neurosis; I think they’ll be present themes in everything I write. But as for how they fit into my A.I stories, I am really interested in what we will pass on to future generations. I’m looking at future generations, not just as our children, or our impact - socially or environmentally, but technologically.
If we do have A.I humanoids in the future - then we will be the ones that program them. So what will we teach them? What is our responsibility for the things that we create?
Throughout the story, it feels more and more that the man is an "accomplice" and the woman a "victim" of a third entity. Yet that third character, if you may, is the one in control. What does it represent?
Yes, I wanted to play with the audience's initial judgement of what their dynamic is, and what these two people mean to each other; along the way subverting it, but then playing into it. I think ultimately though they are both victims of this higher corporation, and of course within the corporation they have their own dynamics at play.
Did you shoot and complete the production of the film during lockdowns in New York? Can you share your experience in managing your project in that context?
Yes, not only did we shoot in covid but also during the week of the election results, which was a very high-tension time for most Americans. I can’t speak too much to the production side of things, besides the fact that indie shoots are already hard, without the added challenge of managing a pandemic, but we did it - we were all compliant, everyone masked at all times except actors when they were on camera, and no one got sick. There was something very special about coming together and making something during such a turbulent time.
Short statement describing your vision of the post-Covid cinema, do you think there will be notable changes?
Um… no I don’t actually. I think that there are big social changes happening at the moment that will probably have more of an impact on the industry in regards to the way we consume content. I think unfortunately covid showed us all that the big corporations (inc. the big giants of the film industry) will continue to thrive - regardless. Covid (and post-covid) certainly made what is already hard, even harder in regards to independent film - but as for ‘Hollywood’ - no, I don't think there will be notable changes, I think they’ll be juuuust fine.