Film Maker And Libertarian Vanessa Leonard
How long have you been making film projects?
Vanessa Leonard: I started loving the idea of filmmaking at the young age of 12. Once given a kids camera, I was shooting family vacations, school events and even the occasional short film by gathering friends and other kids in my neighborhood to act in it.
As I got older in high school, I became interested in different activities. But once graduated, the opportunity presented itself in my community just over 10 years ago, and I've been involved with filmmaking ever since.
I think it's really cool how a passion that started in my pre-teen years has become full circle in my adult life.
What are your influences? Who or what inspires you?
Vanessa: This may not be the typical pop culture answer of being inspired by a Hollywood star, but it’s every day people who inspire me. People’s backgrounds. People’s interests. People’s passions and history. We all have a unique story that made us who we are today. Our backgrounds drive us to hold the very beliefs, and opinions and interests that we hold so dear to our hearts.
What can you tell me about your feature film A story worth living?
Vanessa: A Story Worth Living is about a college-age girl who gets off her medication, per her doctor’s advice. As she finds new love and they embark on a journey of completing a class assignment together over the summer, she is soon faced with old demons.
What was the film making process like for this project?
Vanessa: I took my time on this project. I spent a year writing the script in 2017. Pre-production lasted a couple months in the beginning of 2018. Production was summer-long, since it is a summer movie and shot in the Midwest. So we had about 5 months to complete before the leaves started changing. I also took my time in post-production, as I wanted the infamous 2020 year to be the big debut for my long-awaited project.
In a way, I succeeded as it made its world debut in Hollywood just weeks before the Covid-19 shutdowns. But completing the festival circuit the following two years was very challenging.
Do you create art with a specific message? Or do you prefer art for arts sake?
Vanessa: I chose mental health to be the focal point of this film, because I have many friends who live with mental illness (extreme anxiety, depression, bipolar, personality disorders etc.). I wanted to normalize the topic as these are very normal people, living very much normal lives. The topic, though very timely, was created prior to Covid. The statistics pre-pandemic were 1 in 5 adults have some emotional or mental disorder. I can only imagine what those numbers are now post-pandemic.
As far as anything political, I tried my best to make A Story Worth Living as a-political as possible, because I think many people who know me personally assumed I would subtly hide political or even faith-based undertones in the film.
With the polarized culture that we live in today, I am sure people can find what they want to believe I purposely wrote into the script, but my intention wasn’t to distract but rather to unite the audience on the topic of mental health. I am very much an individualist. I do not believe in collecting and grouping people. So because of this, I do my best to focus on the individualized person.
What is your creative process like? What tools and methods do you use to make your films?
Vanessa: I took my time on the writing process because I wanted to make sure the script could be as solid as it could be. When writing the film, some of the characters I wrote with local talent in mind, but for the other characters I didn’t, we had open casting as a part of pre-production. Pre-production also included scouting for locations, scheduling, budgeting, raising funds etc. – all the boring, but very necessary paperwork that needs to take place before shooting begins.
But once in production, that is when the fun begins seeing the film come to life.
How long have you considered yourself a libertarian?
Vanessa: I have leaned conservatively all my life, but my beliefs have developed over the years through adulthood. I have different reasons as to why I believe what I do today.
I adapted the libertarian mindset about 7 or 8 years ago when I saw how polarizing our country was becoming politically. Being a part of the art community, I have met several individuals who don’t think, believe or see life as I do, but I very much welcome their thoughts.
At the end of the day, we don’t always agree on the solution, but we can often unite on the problem. Being friends with people outside my “thought bubble” has really opened my eyes to their perspective – as I, to their’s.
And that is what I love – diversity of thought.
What do you think the role of art should be in the libertarian movement?
Vanessa: I believe more libertarians need to be making art. I feel the far left dominates the art realm, which is why everything has been normalized, and we see propaganda not only in every commercial, print ad, and movie, but it is also now in our small communities, schools, libraries and churches.
I believe if we take back art to focus on the individualized stories, rather than this collectivist mindset that everyone believes and thinks the same, that is when we will start to see compassion and understanding for all human beings again.
Where can people go to watch your film A Story Worth Living?
Vanessa: Amazon Prime Video
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