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Melissa Whitely Talks About 'Light of My Life'

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

I have had a passion for film from a young age. I started making movies when I was 11 years old. I would borrow my parents’ video camera and shoot improv scenes with my friends. Then I would connect two VCRs together so I could edit these works.

What was your first job in the art field?

I got my first job right out of high school working freelance for a local cable company. I was hired to shoot news footage for our local broadcast. I worked in various crew positions in the production of high school and University sporting events as well as in-studio productions such as cooking and talk shows.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

Loneliness is a major theme in my work. I’m a big fan of outsider cinema. I think there is so much power and healing when you see yourself reflected on the screen.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

While every project I work on is unique, I carry the same principles to each set. Filmmaking is a team effort. It’s important to have all members of the cast and crew feel valued and take pride in the work that we are creating. I encourage them to share their ideas. I believe that giving all parties a voice in the creation helps to produce a well-crafted product.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

I mentioned earlier that I’m a fan of outsider cinema so this list of filmmakers won’t come as any surprise. Pulp Fiction blew my 14-year-old mind. Quentin Tarantino introduced me to the power of playing with a narrative timeline. Darren Aronofsky’s Pi and Requiem for a Dream are works I still admire for the unflinching punch to the gut narratives and the visual innovations he employed. David Lynch teaches me to see amazing and frightening worlds beyond the everyday and some that dwell within my psyche. And at the top of my list is Stanley Kubrick, a man who made the kind of films HE wanted to see. I think that is an important lesson for all artists. Make the art that you believe in and the audience will find you.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

I think COVID really changed the value of OnDemand content. Because there are more streaming platforms and a push for new content independent artists have a higher chance of selling their work to these platforms. But this has a positive and negative effect to consider. Yes, your work has the ability to reach a larger audience, but the artist will have a hard time making a living off of their cut of the profits.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

This question goes back to what I have learned from Kubrick. I don’t think the end goal of a project should be to have a shelf full of awards. The reward is the finished project and all the adventures you experienced in the process. Make truthful art that means something to you. Even if only one other person connects with it, you’ve done your job as an artist. You have made a connection with your work.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

Absolutely! Films, or any kind of storytelling, give the audience the chance to see the world through another person’s eyes. We can travel anywhere in space and time via film and learn about each other’s cultural differences and similarities.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

I don’t think the pandemic has changed people’s tastes. I do think living through lockdown has created a culture of binge-watching content. That’s not a bad thing. If you have to wait a week in the traditional, episodic broadcast schedule you could lose a percentage of the audience that was only somewhat interested in your show. Now that most platforms are programmed to immediately start the next episode, people are more inclined to sit and see where the narrative may be going.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

My latest project is a spoof infomercial for a fake film school. This work has been inspired by how many times I’ve received advertisements claiming that enrolling in a 7-week course for $200 a week will guarantee me a successful career in the film industry. Life doesn’t come with guarantees. You have to pick up your camera, have the courage to create your vision and keep on creating, even if to just to hone your craft.


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