LOUISIANA FILM PRIZE: Filmmaker Rachel Emerson on the Making and Meaning of MAVEN VOYAGE

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Rachel Emerson’s Maven Voyage, one of twenty short films selected from this year’s crop of 120 submissions to compete for the coveted $50,000 cash award bestowed by the annual Louisiana Film Prize. One of the submission requirements is that the short have been filmed in Shreveport, or in the surrounding area. Emerson comments on the making and meaning of her film, an engaging scifi adventure in which Commander Maeve (played by Emerson) is trying to fulfill a life long mission to join the first manned expedition to Mars. She tests her abilities by recreating what life would be like on Mars, however she sets up “camp” on someone else’s property, forcing her to adjust how she views the world. The Louisiana Film Prize audience voters recognized Emerson with a Best Actress award of $1,000, The Film Prize jurors awarded her a $3,000 Founders Circle Award, intended as seed money for her next project.

Jennifer Merin: Please tell us what your film is about.

Rachel Emerson: Maven Voyage is about a woman who is training and submitting herself to be apart of the first manned mission to Mars.

Merin: How is Maven Voyage stylistically distinctive?

Emerson: The style/aesthetic of our film was to purposefully contrast with the darkness of space. We wanted to showcase the beauty of Earth to show Maeve’s internal conflict with her choice of wanting to leave it behind. From the camera setup standpoint, we to feel the vastness of earth around Maeve while we still get to view inside her tiny “Mars” geodesic dome. All set dec and wardrobe were trying to feel like a step to the left of what would be space/NASA approved, close to what could work but with a hint of personality to it.

Merin: How and why did you encounter and commit to the subject/theme of your film and the main characters in it?

Emerson: The idea stems from the open in call in 2013 where a private space program was seeking candidates to go to Mars. Then, NASA began putting people in Mars-like environments (i.e. lava rock areas of Hawaii) for a year at a time to see how humans would respond to the toll. Both of our main characters are dealing with that isolation, one of them wants an escape and the other wants to push through, similar to how we are dealing with climate change (some of us want to fix it, some of us just want to go to Mars!).

Merin: What did you learn about the subject/theme from making the film?

Emerson: After screening our film at the Louisiana Film Prize, I was surprised to see how many people were passionate about space, and the amount of people who had actually submitted to go to Mars back in 2013. Our intention with the film was to fall in love with Earth and I loved to hear people’s stories of wanting to leave it and what that would mean for them.

Merin: What did you learn about filmmaking from making the film?

Emerson: I learned that you HAVE to ask for what you need. You HAVE to. It’s a collaborative effort and you can’t do everything on your own. If you want that one extra shot at an observatory, ask around to see if you can get that location. Just ASK. And at the same time, value everyone’s time and be appreciative and you will have a really positive atmosphere on set.

Merin: What were your biggest challenges in making the film?

Emerson: We were looking for a geodesic dome for MONTHS. We searched everywhere. Then we found one that would fit the essential crew/talent, shipped out of Rhode Island. It was a greenhouse and we had to assemble and shrink wrap it, which took two days and a lot of trial and error. THEN, we realized it’s a GREENHOUSE and it’s MAY in LOUISIANA! What was I thinking?!?! It got up to 120 degrees inside the dome, so I ended up purchasing a portable air conditioner. We had to keep the crew cool and safe. It was a huge obstacle to locate, build, maintain and shoot around but the wide shots of the dome lit up at night made our film what it is.

Merin: Do you think that being female gave you a distinct perspective and/or way of handling the filmmaking process?

Emerson: I suppose it did. I tend to forget that I am woman, especially when I’m surrounded by really positive men who give me the floor to speak as I do with them. I also realize as a woman, I tend to “check in” with people throughout the filmmaking process… making sure they feel heard throughout the process and that they have what they need to feel good about the job whether it’s pre or post production.

Merin: What are your plans for the future?

Emerson: I have a story I’m dying to tell. So with even more collaboration, we are planning on making a dark comedy heist, I want it to be a backwards story that’s incredibly stressful but FUN to watch. We also have a series that’s been in the works for 6 years and it’s coming to a head which is very exciting.

Merin: Who are the Filmmakers whose work has inspired/influenced your own?

Emerson: Oh. Gosh. I have so many peers that I admire who make their own work. I also think Michelle MacLaren, the director of The Deuce on HBO is amazing. She creates this vibrant yet seedy world, that has outstanding real performances, all while shedding light on sex workers, sexuality and not being shy about it all. She is this intelligent woman with a great voice creating content that we don’t see a lot of women creating. Listen to an interview with her, she’s so inspiring and thoughtful.

Merin: What advice do you have for other female Filmmakers who are trying to make their way through a still male-dominated industry?

Emerson: Don’t let gender norms or your sexuality put you in a box. You don’t have to be defined as single sided dice, you have many facets to you as a complex person and you should absolutely find a means to telling the narratives that speak to other sides of you. We are all rooting for you.

Watch the Maven Voyage trailer

ABOUT RACHEL EMERSON: Rachel Emerson is a Los Angeles based director, actor and writer. You can catch her briefly in the FX series, The People vs. OJ, and in several commercials. She also has a guest star role in Netflix’s Girlboss. Rachel co-directed Esmeralda for the LAFP in 2018. Additionally, she writes… narrative shorts and articles based off of interviews. She’s a member of the Hollywood Labor committee which bridges the gap between entertainment industry unions. Rachel Emerson’s ambition and love of snacks has allowed her to be surrounded by some great people within the industry.

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