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What If Shakespeare Was A Filmmaker? Producing Short Films About Long Plays

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Laney D’Aquino is part of a team of videographers and filmmakers who produce trailers for the plays at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It is its own art form, creating short films about long plays. D’Aquino reflected on the challenges and rewards from the job.

Daniel José Molina, Alejandra Escalante, William Thomas Hodgson, Stephen Michael Spencer, Jeremy Gallardo.
Photo by Jenny Graham.

Rogue Valley Messenger: Creating a good trailer is certainly an art form. It would seem like one big challenge is finding a balance between presenting enough of the story to be tantalizing, but making sure you don’t offer any spoilers or give away too much of the story.

Laney D’Aquino: People sitting together in the dark watching a story be presented to them is a truly compelling part of the human experience. I find it amazing, still, how powerful that experience is. The work of helping people know what the plays are “like” is a wonderful project. Theatre is a time and place specific event, if you aren’t there right then, you miss it so it becomes important that potential audience members know what is available to them before they opportunity is gone!

The trick to these trailers is to figure a way to present the core of the play without giving the play away. Sometimes when you see a trailer for a film it ends up feeling like a synopsis of the film, once it is over you feel like you have seen the film already, and it doesn’t leave you wanting to see the film at all! With this in mind, we constantly are looking for what is so special about this play, this production, what did this team of designer and creators have in mind when they created it, what is special about this cast and most of all what is an audience member going to want to know so they can be certain that this is a play they don’t want to miss, and when we find that we have the ground plan for the trailer. There is a bit of journalism in the process of filmmaking like this. You need to find the story. In another way, what could be better than to use the visually stunning work they are doing on stage and presenting that in film form, to me, these two art forms sleeve into each other quite beautifully.

RVM: What has been the most fun play to create a trailer for? Why?

L’DA: The play “Love’s Labour’s Lost” on the Elizabethan stage has been the most fun to create the trailer for. A wonderfully staged production, this show was a joy to shoot but wild to shoot as they had action all over the stage! The thrilling, creative element on this trailer was using an original song that the boys in the story play for the ladies when they are in disguise as ‘the “muscovites.” In fact, these talented cast members all played the instruments on it and sang! Such a dynamic way to present that traditional Shakespearean scene! It makes the trailer far more thrilling and interesting and I think captured the real experience of being at the play, which is the goal, after all.

RVM: Which has been the most challenging? Why? 

LD’A: My favorite trailer this season was for “Henry V.” The director Rosa Joshi presented this historical production in a theatrical, spontaneous seeming way. If you have seen it you know that it is very powerful and significant, a fabulous play by any standard. The cast, led by Daniel Jose Molina as Henry was tight as a drum. The challenge was that it is in the small and intimate Thomas Theatre which is a thrilling place to watch a play. We were still in the process of discovering what the character of these trailers was going to be, how they would move, the pacing, the sound, the text elements. The trick to success on this piece was the combination of this particularly powerful theatrical production’s imaging worked amazingly well with the music created for the play by Palmer Hefferan. We were able to replicate the mood, the pacing, the dramaticism of the play with the music from the show itself and it made all the difference. My favorite trailer of the season was about my favorite play!

RVM: Stage productions are such unique and “present” form of storytelling. How do you film so that the “immediateness” of a stage production is not lost in translation to film?

L’DA: Interestingly, one great difference between filmmaking in a traditional way and filmmaking of a play is that the process of filmmaking is so controlled, there is a lot of calculation in what you show and when. With a play you are presenting the entire stage at once and the challenge then is to translate the play and figure out a filmic method of capturing it. The shooters, Kirk McKenzie and Mark Brown and I work on a game plan of how we are going to approach each production. We get into the play, how the set moves, how the play unfolds in the space, the story itself, how the audience is oriented, the lighting, the costumes, the comedy, the dancing everything that makes this play what it is.
RVM: What sort of background prepared you for this?

LD’A: I was always into theatre. Once I got my grad degree from the University of Delaware in costume construction with an emphasis in crafts (which means making prosthetics, masks hats, armor, crowns, jewelry, anything you wear that isn’t clothes) I worked all over the country as a trouble shooter until I landed my dream job at the world renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. I eventually got into filmmaking and presented the idea of making short documentary films about the artists who create the plays as a way to demonstrate to prospective audience members what is so amazing about the shows individually. For the past 5 or 7 years I had been given the honor of crafting hundreds of short documentary films about the artisans who work to create the play behind the scenes, the painters, the costume creators, the innovators who make the stage units move, the lighting teams, the technicians that do the shifts between shows from matinee to evening performances, showcasing their amazing work that makes is even possible for this world class theatre to do such amazing productions in a small town in some remote valley.

RVM: What is the most valuable lesson or skill you’ve learned since starting producing these trailers?

LD’A: Honestly, this might seem strange but I have been learning in the creation of these trailers the power of teamwork. I have been working with Mark Brown, a local filmmaker in his own right has been doing the video work at the theatre since way before I got there, and he has a wealth of experience and ideas and an outstanding teammate. I have been thrilled to bring in the highly technical and creative work of Kirk McKenzie, another very talented local filmmaker to shoot the productions with me on the one time chance we have to be in the audience with cameras capturing the performance. And Julie Cortez from the marketing department at OSF is always at work on making sure we are showing these plays in the best light for the theatre and for the audiences. This group has been working together this season in powerful way reinforcing the fact that theatre as well as filmmaking, is a team sport!

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