Today we’re talking to rising director and veteran script supervisor, Brenda Wachel. Over the course of her career, Brenda has worked closely as a script supervisor for experienced directors and producers including Steven Spielberg, Joe Johnston, Paul Haggis, Michael Mann, John Dahl, and Gary Sinise. Film credits include Jurassic Park 3, Hidalgo, October Sky, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Next 3 Days.
As a director, Brenda has created projects for clients in travel, tech, financial, beauty, and lifestyle and directed cold opens for WSOE live gaming tournaments on Twitch. Additionally, she is proud to have written, produced, and directed a Get Out The Vote video called America, Vote. Brenda has learned from some of the most experienced film mentors in the world, and we’re so excited to share this interview with you!
Hi Brenda, thanks for taking a moment to answer my questions! How have you been?
Thank you for asking. We are having a quiet year. A heartbreaking year. I don’t mind the quiet time, but I miss seeing loved ones. I am committed to living in the way we are being asked to live during this pandemic. I try to take each day with a fresh approach of what I can do to keep moving forward amid the inertia, and focus on being more patient and kind with everyone.
Has having worked with so many world-renowned directors as a script supervisor informed your current directorial approach? How so?
Absolutely, without a doubt. I have been so lucky to have such a rich background in filmmaking. Every director I have worked with has taught me something invaluable. How to pivot and think on your feet, recognizing magical moments that just appear and grabbing those even though you are straying from your well-thought-out plan, how to work with different types of actors — to hear and intuitively know what they need, understanding those special moments needed to visually tell a story in a dynamic, emotional way, guiding all that talent and creativity around you into a distinct vision… I could go on and on. It is infinite.
And I can’t limit this to directors. Cinematographers, editors, 1st assistant camera people, production designers, writers— all have gifted me with extraordinary perspectives that have shaped and expanded my instincts and eye. Most significantly, as a script supervisor, I have learned how to listen, and to really hear. I love to collaborate. If you engage your team in the process, if you listen to them and respect their ideas, you will initiate a freedom and openness for a very rich, creative experience.
You recently directed a get out the vote branded content piece. Can you tell us A) how this project came to be. B) What was your proudest moment of the project?
During the stay at home spring and summer, I was compelled to get involved politically. I wanted to make an election video / ad and I noticed that everything I was seeing was incredibly negative. There is a place and purpose in that, but it’s not who I am. I believe people are inspired to act because they are emotionally moved — in a positive way. When they see and feel humanity they can relate to, it makes them feel that they are a part of this world, that their voice matters.
This project began with a song. I kept hearing a soulful version of “America the Beautiful” in my head. It was a rich woman’s voice and sort of bluesy. I contacted a composer named Steve Pardo and told him the idea. He immediately was on board and “heard” the song, too, and knew that woman’s voice. That one phone call energized everything. From there, Mac Fisken was inspired to be the cinematographer and film the beautiful images, and I found the talented editor, Sean Rowe.
Everything came together because of the generosity and spirit of the people on screen and behind the camera. It is beautiful when the final project matches your vision or surprises you with something even more interesting, simple and moving, better than the vision. That’s the thrill of making little stories and seeing them come together. When I watch the project, I am filled with such joy the second I hear the woman’s gorgeous voice begin singing.
What went into your directing for the production you were involved with on Twitch?
These projects are done very fast, and completely differently than the movies I have worked on. Each of these projects began as pieces of an idea the executive producer had. It’s kind of like doing everything at once, instead of methodically, where one element leads you to the choice of the next element. As the script is being written, locations are chosen — which affects the script you are writing. Talent is chosen. So you get these other creative elements and write based on these things, instead of choosing locations and talent based on a script.
We are always answering the question of what can we weave to make sense and have some impact? Knowing I only had eight hours to film, or maybe just three, I had to imagine a narrative story line, write the script, devise a shooting plan with a very skeleton crew — as in a 3 or 5 person crew. It was all adrenaline. Shooting fast, grabbing everything in between, hoping it would all work. I learned a lot on those projects. Working this way is a great challenge and sometimes being under so many constraints and having some success despite all of that is quite exhilarating and a great confidence builder.
What are your dream directing projects?
Any story that I emotionally connect to — its characters, place, narrative style — is a dream project for me. A story needs to be very compelling, despite its genre. What matters to me is making something that touches people. Caring about the characters on the screen is the most important goal. That is the magic. I love making visual branding projects, but I hope to make visually larger-scale, beautiful, story-driven projects for brands. I would love to make a dramatic film that has the potential to carry us away into a very real and human story.
Who are your filmmaking heroes and what are your favorite films?
Some of the filmmakers who inspire me are the historical greats — Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder…. And then more recently, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Jane Campion, Quentin Tarantino, Alfonso Cuaron — all for different reasons. I work with directors that inspire me. Seeing their choices, how they are constantly creating their vision amid the compromises they have to make, and turning the day’s disaster or triumph into an unforgettable gem.
My favorite films range across the spectrum, there are so many — The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Notorious, Rear Window, Amelie, American Beauty, It’s a Wonderful Life, Schindler’s List, An Affair to Remember… I could continue … basically a film that deeply moves me. I can’t count the times I’ve watched It’s a Wonderful Life, and yet my eyes well up in the exact same moments every single time. All of these films have that quality to reach deep into my emotional being, and in that moment, they own me.
In a few sentences, how would you describe your unique approach as a director?
The story always dictates the approach. The classic filming processes work best usually. Having been a script supervisor for many different directors and a part of the inner circle of the film — which means I intimately know the story, the director’s vision, and the approach to getting there — has trained me to be very prepared for each day, and to create an open environment where everyone feels comfortable and safe to communicate their ideas during filming. It is one of my goals to inspire a “we are in this together” spirit — to make the best project we can. It is everyone’s project, and I like to be right there with the talent and the camera. It’s intimate. It’s collaborative.
What is next for you as a director?
I just started prepping a 3 part project for a big gaming company. Unfortunately, the project just paused for a bit because of the pandemic. So I’m pivoting and starting to focus on writing a short dramatic film to make in a few months — as soon as our world is safer to be together. In the near future, I would love to make a small feature film, maybe direct an episode of a limited series, and continue making brighter and more inspiring branding ads. The truth is I love making stories come to life on film. I just want to keep challenging myself and learning how to have a better and better impact with my work, the people I work with, and in my life.