*** 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!