In June 2021, we launched The Stylist Short Cuts Competition – a short film competition aimed at discovering, celebrating and promoting female filmmakers within the Horror film industry. We caught up with the three winning entries to discuss their films and as a reminder, you can watch all the winning films on ARROW.
*** Get to know Connor Sandheinrich – director of the short film UNSAFE SPACES ***
The talented Connor Sandheinrich took home the Best Short Film Award 🏆 with UNSAFE SPACES. Not only did she win the Best Short Film Award, but her short was also praised by the team behind The Stylist (who supported the competition) for its overall quality and also won the Best Editing Award 🏆, thanks to her collaboration with Nathan Shapiro.
Before you discover (or rediscover) UNSAFE SPACES on ARROW in the UK, US and Canada, Connor is here to share a bit more about her background as a filmmaker and how she came up with the idea behind UNSAFE SPACES!
Hi Connor, congratulations again on your win and thanks for taking the time to talk with us! Could you tell us a bit about how you started your filmmaking journey?
Connor Sandheinrich: As a young teenager growing up in the small town of Waterloo, Illinois finding things to keep us entertained during the summer was a daily feat. We were too far from a shopping center and too young for driver’s licenses. One amenity my hometown did have was a movie theater, and oh did we use it. Those summers are where my fascination for films first started. I have an uncle who works in the film industry in Los Angeles, California, and his lifestyle seemed so glamorous and so unfamiliar to any job I’d ever heard of before. So when I announced after my high school graduation that I wanted to study Film Production, it was a shock to most. I headed to Kansas City, Missouri and shortly after to Lawrence, Kansas to attend the University of Kansas where I received my B.A. in Film and Media Production in December of 2020. During my time at KU, I was able to work with countless filmmakers from all over, furthering my love for filmmaking. When the COVID pandemic hit, it took the production industry down hard and we were all very worried for our futures. Oddly enough, it left me in the same position from when I was a teen, sitting around with a whole bunch of nothing to do. My close group of film school friends got together and started (safely) making content of all types, music videos, spec ads, and short films. I usually specialize in producing, never did I think I would be writing and directing my own shorts but I am very happy I took that leap.
How did you come up with the idea for your short and how Nathan Shapiro come on board with this project?
Nathan Shapiro, the editor for Unsafe Spaces, has been involved with this project from the very beginning. He was a great friend of mine throughout college and a brilliant writer/director, who I admire greatly. After completing his feature film (which is currently in post-production) we were out for celebratory drinks and the idea for Unsafe Spaces was born. After he graduated and moved out of state, he encouraged me to continue on with the idea, so I began writing. Since Nathan couldn’t be on set, it was only right that I let him finish out the project. I brought him on as the editor, where he really brought the vision to light, creating the perfect amount of tension you feel while watching the short.
Horrors, thrillers, and dramas have done a more than ample job of showing all the “big” things women should be afraid of. Throughout these genres there has never been a shortage of violence against women. As a woman, I was more interested in the small things that most men* don’t even stop to think about. I wanted to bring attention to all the micro-motions women take every single day to ensure their own safety. At various times, I can remember my guy friends asking me why I always check the backseat of my car before getting in, why girls always go to the bathroom together, why we don’t run at night. It was astonishing that behaviors that have always felt second nature to me, were completely foreign to others. I wanted Unsafe Spaces to showcase the extra precautions we take in isolated moments; to show how a mundane task like walking to your car, turns into a situation of survival.
*I do believe there are more genders outside the gender binary.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?
Life after graduation has been wildly busy. I do have a script floating around for another short I’d like to direct in the near future, just waiting for the right time to kick it off. In the meantime, I continue to work in the media production industry in Kansas City and I always have projects in the works!
Any final mentions you’d like to share?
This short was filmed during the pandemic, so safety was our biggest concern. I cannot thank my cast and crew enough. We were the definition of a skeleton crew, with five crew members and three actors on set. Everyone was running multiple jobs and that is never easy. Winning the Short Cuts competition and being recognized by ARROW really helped solidify the fact that you don’t always need a big budget and a big crew to make your art worthwhile. Thank you to all involved with the making of Unsafe Spaces, the panel of the Short Cuts Competition and to ARROW for this truly amazing opportunity.
UNSAFE SPACES is streaming on ARROW now.
For those of you keen to keep up with Connor Sandheinrich and Nathan Shapiro’s upcoming projects, here are the links to stay up to date:
*** Get to know the team behind the short ATTENTION ***
Following its participation in our Stylist Short Cuts Competition, Nora Unkel and her short ATTENTION distinguished themselves by winning both the Best Cinematography Award 🏆 – thanks to Armaan Virani – and the Best Art Direction Award🏆 – thanks to Deidra Catero’s involvement in the project.
Being hailed as “a pair to keep a close eye on” by Robert Patrick Stern (director of photography & producer of The Stylist) on behalf of The Stylist judging panel, Unkel and Virani’s collaboration has definitely impressed many. The Stylist judging panel also made a point to praise the amazing work accomplished by Deidra Catero stating that “ATTENTION achieved the Best Art Direction achieving this very definition – the team created a world within this bedroom that moved them”.
Nora, Armaan and Deidra have kindly agreed to tell us a bit more about ATTENTION, how they came to work together on the project and discuss some of the challenges they’ve encountered whilst shooting!
Hi Nora, Armaan & Deidra- congratulations on your wins! Could you tell us a bit about your background?
NU: I went to NYU Tisch to study film and TV. It was there that I met my business partner and collaborator, Devin Shepherd. Together, we created Wild Obscura, a content company focused on genre stories by/for/about women, to help champion female voices in the film and podcast industries. Through the company and independently, I’ve directed several shorts and a feature film, A Nightmare Wakes (2021, Shudder). I always like to approach any story from a feminist, genre, historical, and music perspective.
How did you come up with the idea for your short?
NU: I was lucky enough to be brought the script from our incredible writer, Omri Kadim. He read an article back in 2017 that discussed a massive rise in exorcism requests throughout that year. He got to wondering – why is that? What changed that is making people seek such an antiquated fix? When I read the script that came from that, I instantly heard all its pop beats and could see the music jumping off the page into neon glory.
Your short won both Best Cinematography (Armaan Virani) and Best Art Direction (Deidra Catero), how did Arman and Deidra both get involved in the project?
NU: I met Armaan during our time at NYU and was thrilled to finally be able to work with him in a director/cinematographer capacity. We’d been aching to do that for years. I started working with Deidra during our feature film set where she spent painstaking hours handcrafting all of our props. The two of them bring such creative and deep thoughts to every project, I was honored to be able to work with them on such a fun candy piece such as ATTENTION where we all got to dive in and have some fun.
AV: Nora and I go way back to our film school days, and we had always talked about trying to make something together, but could never align our schedules. Then, in February of 2019, I got a call that she and the Wild Obscura team were making a horror short, and the rest is history!
DC: I got involved with ATTENTION through having had the honor of being a Production Designer, Art Director, and Historical Magick Consultant for Nora and Devin before. On one of these pieces, I got to meet Omri [Kadim]. On that short, he and I jived on a variety of topics, including the Occult. When he, Nora and Devin reached out to me about this piece, I was elated. Given my background as a Scenic Designer and as a High Priestess, this project felt like both of my passions were coming together.
How did you approach working on this short, were there any challenges you encountered?
NU: We knew we wanted to make something short and sweet. But also something packed with details that would allow a viewer to have multiple experiences with multiple viewings. A lot of that came with bringing in the neon color scheme to parallel the neon music, both of which then contrast against the darkness and the would-be silence. The key was bringing together a team that was going to treat this small film as a much larger entity and fill it to the brim. Luckily for us, we got the best!
AV: Our approach for Attention was pretty lighting intensive. We had three different elements playing: cold moonlight that our protagonist is bathed in when she awakens, warm light from a salt lamp, and RGB LED lighting playing behind the bed. We wanted the warm light from the salt lamp to act as sort of a beacon of hope and counter the pervading sense of dread conjured by the moonlight. While that’s a fairly traditional approach to horror lighting, we also wanted to use the RGB LEDs to foreshadow the protagonist’s journey: starting with purple to emphasize confusion, going to red for terror, green for shock/fear, and ending with a chaotic flicker of color that ultimately ends on red to signify that something is amiss. The main challenge we encountered was time, as one generally does on a shoot!
DC: Nora had this great vision that was very different from what most would associate demonic possession with: Neon lights. Coupled with the concept to NOT give attention, I loved the challenge of holding a creepy space while using brightness. Being a low budget piece, most of what is portrayed in the film is what I had in my own home. Occult tools, books, sketches, artwork, different textured fabrics, a glowing Purple Gummy Bear, a Salt Lamp, even one of my own Painted pieces that I had put into a shadow box for additional color and a soft glow. We wanted our main character to feel like she was in a false sense of security. Almost childlike with all of the bright colors, and yet, it wasn’t helping to distract her from the situation.
Any anecdotes that you’d like to share about making it?
NU: The lead actress, Shannon Spangler, and I had been roommates and artistic collaborators for many years. But ATTENTION was the first and only time that we allowed ourselves to shoot a project in our own apartment. We wanted it to feel authentic, for Shannon’s performance to really sink into the reality of her own space, and for us to capture a moment in our 20-something lives living in Brooklyn and making art. We now see this film as a symbol for that wonderful apartment and the art that we got to make there!
AV: There’s a shot in the middle of the film on which we spent a bit of extra time that I’m really happy turned out well! The camera goes canted during a dolly push-in on our subject, while the LED lighting in the background changes color. It took a bit of creative problem solving to figure out how to pull that shot off because we only had a 2-axis tripod head and very limited time, but we were able to achieve it!
DC: One of my favorite moments from this project is not related to the piece itself, but rather a testament to the true care and dedication of this team, and why I love working with Wild Obscura so much. When production asked what our dietary restrictions were for catering, my list was unfortunately long. With certain conditions I have, taking care of what I intake is really important, or I am in a lot of pain. Devin, our Producer, asked me personally for what kinds of things I could have, and went as far as asking me for a recipe or cooking style breakdown. She is so incredible, that come our meal time, I emerged from set to find her cooking for me herself! I was floored. This was an unheard of experience for me, and I was so grateful beyond expression. When I say I love working with this team, I mean it with all of my heart. They truly care.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to tell us about?
NU: This team just came back together to create something new, a short film. We were so thrilled to be able to take the next step with this team in a slightly larger project, and an even darker premise. The film is now in post-production and we’re excited to continue making more together as a team soon!
AV: I just finished production on another short with the Wild Obscura team, so hopefully we can show that one soon!
DC: One of the things I am working on now, is rebuilding my website, which will now include my Magick Services, as well as my Art Services. When COVID had brought the film industry to a near halt, I was able to focus more on how I could help people with healing and personal growth through Spirituality. In alignment with ATTENTION, one of the courses that I offer includes: “The 15 Layer Shield”, which I am making public for the first time. It’s about setting up boundaries and filters that will only allow what you want to let in or out. The best offense is a good defense; don’t get caught in a situation like our character did.
To keep up to date with Nora, Armaan and Deirdre, go check them out on Instagram @wildobscurafilms!
ATTENTION is currently available on ARROW in the UK, US and Canada for your viewing pleasure!
*** Get to know the team behind the short TICKS ***
Our last category Award winners but not least, TICKS directed by Chloe Carroll has been praised by the judging team who awarded Gabriella Piazza, its lead actress, the Best Performance Award 🏆!
Recalling Gabriella’s performance in TICKS, Najarra Townsend (lead actress & producer of The Stylist and member of The Stylist Short Cuts judging panel) said “her performance was natural, funny and made me feel like I knew that girl. I wanted to keep watching her. I always find the mark of a good actor is when I want to see more. And with Gabriella Piazza I will definitely be looking out for more of her work.”
TICKS is currently available on ARROW in the US, US and Canada for you to enjoy! But before that, let’s speak to Chloe and Gabriella about their winning collaboration!
Hi Chloe & Gabriella, congratulations on your win! Could you tell us a bit about your respective backgrounds?
CC: I have always been interested in making films in some capacity. I studied Performing Arts and Film Studies in college in the UK. And when I came to America I developed an interest in learning how to make films and produce instead of just acting. I love creating stories visually and am a big horror fan so I started my own production company Fear Crypt so I could produce short horror films. I also co-own Aspire Motion Pictures and PGC Studios which both produce films of all different genres.
GP: After graduating college, I went the traditional route and climbed the ranks of the corporate ladder. By the age of 26, I was a VP of Sales for a major technology company in NYC but I realized something was missing. I had always loved acting and acted sporadically through high school and college, so I enrolled in the New York Film Academy at night and attended classes after work. After about 6 months of attending school, and meeting an incredibly talented director, I decided to quit my job (eek!), Executive Produce, and star in my first short film, To Whom It May Concern. The rest is history!
Chloe, Could you tell us how you came up with the idea behind TICKS?
CC: I am pretty grossed out by the thought of ticks in general. Like the fact that you can’t feel when they bite you and you could have hundreds on your back and you might not know, is such an awful scary thought. So I took my own fear and just magnified it for horror entertainment purposes and wrote TICKS.
Gabriella, How did you get involved in this project? Was that your first collaboration with Chloe?
GP: Well, I had the most incredible honor of working with the ever-so-talented Chloe on another horror film, Stay Quiet. When she asked me to help produce and act in TICKS, I COULD NOT say no! 🙂 She is one of the most talented writers, actors, producers, and directors I have ever worked with. Quadruple threat!
Any anecdotes that you’d like to share about making it?
CC: I got myself covered in fake blood filming the end scene at the start of the day that my husband had to give me all of his clothing for a short while so I could continue directing in clean clothes – as you can see in the picture – while he sat with no clothes in the bathroom waiting until someone could pick up clean clothes for us haha!
Do you have any upcoming projects (together or separately) that you’d like to tell us about?
CC: Currently in development with a horror feature film called Need To Feed which will be Fear Crypts first feature film. It is based off the same characters in the short film Elysia which will be released on the Fear Crypt YouTube channel in the next month or so.
GP: I am super excited to announce that I will be having my international and domestic debut in, The Many Saints of Newark which is the Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema Sopranos’ prequel! It will be in theaters and on HBO Max on September 24th. I am part of the ensemble cast and am so excited for the world to see it! Also, I have a short film in post-production that will hopefully be hitting the film festival circuit soon called, When It Stops!
Wanna see more of TICKS? Here is a little Behind-The-Scenes video – courtesy of Fear Crypt – for your viewing pleasure:
To keep up to date with Chloe, Gabriella and Fear Crypt’s upcoming projects, go check out their website: www.FearCrypt.com
You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram @FearCrypt or have a look on their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/fearcrypt