Student Spotlight: George Nicholas’s films ANTIGONE, SOAP N SUDS, and 7 SPLINTERS IN TIME


Current VCFA MFA in Film student, George Nicholas’s short experimental documentary ANTIGONE, a twelve minute meditation on life, death, presence, religion, family, emptiness, and light centered upon the death of the filmmaker’s beloved Mother, has several scheduled screening this Spring (2018).  Nicholas created this film while here at VCFA, and writes,

I spent the first two semesters working on an experimental documentary about my mother’s death from cancer in 2014.  I had made brief overtures at starting the film before I arrived at  VCFA,  but I’m glad that I continued it while here, or I would have given up on it for the potential scale of it and the gut-wrenching emotional journey that met every editing session.  With the good advisement of some truly wonderful faculty, and the keen insight of a fellow student… I was committed to finishing it, and it had its world premiere at the Cyprus International Film Festival in Paphos, Cyprus in June (2017), where it received the Nostimon Imar Award, an award given to the film that best embodies the sense of “nostimon imar,” from a passage in Homer’s Odyssey, loosely translated as “the day of the sweet return to one’s homeland,” a film for the Greek and Cypriot diaspora.

ANTIGONE also screened at the 2017 8th Bridges International Film Festival of Peloponnesse and was nominated for best documentary at the 2017 Kerry Film Festival, Killarney, Ireland both in October of last year.
In 2018 (so far!) ANTIGONE will screen at:
  • Three Rivers Film Festival, Pittsburgh, PA, (2018 dates not yet posted) Three Rivers Film Festival only accepted 10 shorts, and ANTIGONE was one of them. Nicholas calls his return to Pittsburgh a  “bittersweet homecoming, as most of the 8mm footage was shot there in my childhood and before.”



Additionally, Nicholas’s short animated film, SMOKE N SUDS, also completed while here at VCFA, will have it’s world premiere at the 13th Athens ANIMFEST in Athens, Greece, March 15 – 18th, 2018! SMOKE N SUDS is a lo-fi animated film (reminiscent of early Jim Jarmusch) that follows two punks who meet at a laundromat in late 80’s Hell’s Kitchen NYC.

Finally, 7 SPLINTERS IN TIME, a film that Nicholas helped produce and was the DoP of, had its world premiere at Cinequest in San Jose on March 3rd, 2018.

Horror Society writes of the film, 7 SPLINTERS IN TIME is an intricately constructed, visually arresting, graphically exotic and groundbreaking lo-fi sci-fi detective story that mashes up Phillip K. Dick and Raymond Chandler.

Congrats George, we are thrilled for you!


George Nicholas is an award-winning New York – based filmmaker and director of photography. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to first-generation Greek immigrants, picked up his father’s love for photography at age 7, and wrote and directed his first play at 11. He studied drama at the University of Texas, Arlington, moved to NYC in 1998, worked as a sound technician for Off-Broadway Theater and as a roadie, working with bands like the Rolling Stones, before moving a bit north to attend the Conservatory of Film at the State University of New York at Purchase, where he graduated with a BFA in Film Production. He has worked as a cinematographer professionally since 1992, and his work has been shown worldwide on air and in festivals. George has produced and directed music videos, including Elizabeth Cook’s “Sunday Morning,” which aired on VH-1, GAC, and CMT. His 2004 short film, “Exact Fare,” won the CINE Golden Eagle Award, and his most recent film, “Antigone” won the Nostimon Imar award (for films of the diaspora) at its premiere at the 2017 Cyprus International Film Festival. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Radio, Television, Film at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and prior to that taught at and was the Technical Director of Film and New Media at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. He currently resides in Mamaroneck, New York with his wife, Marie, their son Peter, and two cats. He is a bassist and vocalist for the J.D. Southard Band and the upright bassist for The Quarter Moon. Nicholas will graduate from VCFA MFA in Film April 2018.

Alumna Emilie Upczak’s (’15) feature film, MOVING PARTS, makes the festival rounds


MOVING PARTS, the narrative feature film, directed by VCFA aluma Emilie Upczak, premiered at Denver Film Festival in November (2017). MOVING PARTS also played at Havana Film Festival in December (2017) and San Francisco Indie Film Festival in February 2018. MOVING PARTS was produced by  John Otterbacher,  with music composed by Rafael Attias, both also VCFA MFA in Film alumni (’15).

Synopsis: After being smuggled into Trinidad and Tobago to be with her brother, Zhenzhen, an illegal Chinese immigrant, discovers the true cost of her arrival.

About the film, Upczak tells Sydney Levine of Medium, “The movie has taken shape in a way I feel very excited about, from the storytelling to the acting to the cinematography and score. I’m also proud to be telling a story about life experiences that are not commonly represented: that of immigrants, the disenfranchised, the desperate, or another way to view them: the strong.” To read more from this interview pop on over to Sydney’s blog.

Faculty member Josephine Decker’s film, MADELINE’S MADELINE, dubbed a “mind-scrambling masterpiece,” premiered at Sundance ’18

MADELINE’S MADELINE, a film written and directed by VCFA MFA in Film faculty member Josephine Decker, made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, January 18th-28th, 2018. MADELINE’S MADELINE was selected in the NEXT category, which Sundance distinguishes as, “Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling… Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema.”

Synopsis: Madeline got the part! She’s going to play the lead in a theater piece! Except the lead wears sweatpants like Madeline’s. And has a cat like Madeline’s. And is holding a steaming hot iron next to her mother’s face – like Madeline is.

IndieWire, has called MADELINE’S MADELINE a “mind-scrambling masterpiece… one of the freshest and most exciting films of the 21st century.”

Check out this great clip of Decker and her cast discussing the film at Sundance:

It’s always exciting when a filmmaker who has generated acclaim on the festival circuit finally lands at Sundance, whether it’s Sean Baker with “Tangerine” or Andrew Bujalski with “Computer Chess.” This year, one of the notable directors making her Sundance debut is Josephine Decker, the experimental filmmaker whose intense psycho-sexual thriller 2013 “Butter on the Latch” was a sleeper hit on the circuit. Now she’s in NEXT with a somewhat more traditional movie, “Madeline’s Madeline,” a reportedly hypnotic drama about a young woman keen on landing the lead role in a rather unorthodox theater piece. The cast includes Miranda July and Molly Parker, but the titular star is New Jersey native Helena Howard, who may be a genuine Sundance discovery. “It’s a concentrated storyline and she really pulls it off,” Groth said of Decker’s direction. “It looks different from her other films but her authorial voice comes through as well.”
-Eric Kohn, IndieWire



Decker has received previous acclaim for her films, BUTTER ON THE LATCH and THOU WAST MILD AND LOVELY. Congrats Josephine! We can’t wait to see MADELINE’S MADELINE!

Writing is Writing: An Interview with Annie Howell and Lisa Robinson

Current VCFA MFA in Film faculty member, Annie Howell, along with her co-writer and co-director Lisa Robinson, discuss their film CLAIRE IN MOTION (now available to stream on Showtime), their co-writing process, character development, and how film can be vehicle for change.

Aja Zoecklein: How did you first meet and when did you begin your collaborative teamwork?

Lisa Robinson: We met at NYU grad school, but didn’t actually make any films together there. After we finished school we had both written our own features and were trying to get them made but financing was taking a while…we had a conversation about an idea and decided we should make a web series together. It was called SPARKS and was eventually syndicated by the Sundance Channel, which was great. We had fun with it. We would each write an episode and kind of piggyback off each other. From there, it kind of naturally evolved into making a feature, SMALL, BEAUTIFUL MOVING PARTS, which was partly based off the series.

Annie Howell: When we made CLAIRE IN MOTION, I was living in Athens, Ohio and teaching film full time at Ohio University. As soon as I landed I was like “oh, this could be a really interesting place to make a film.” Lisa visited, and I would send her pictures, and that was one of the jumping off points, just thinking about this interesting town that is not as often seen on screen.

 AZ: What is your writing process like? How do you structure your writing as collaborators—together in a room, separate, both?

AH: We typically write independently, swapping and sharing ideas. For the two features, for example, we would have this really long running text/blast email conversation that never stopped! (laughs) Which is great because it’s what the writer’s brain does anyway, but you are just sending it off to another person. We both like having our assignments, agreeing on what that is, and then coming back together with the results. We had a couple of times when we would sit in front a whiteboard together to figure out whatever challenge was in front of us.

AZ: Do you write differently knowing that you will be directing the work?

LR: I don’t think we write differently because we’re directing. The script has to communicate to not just us, but to our actors and to the rest of the crew. It needs to be just as transparent in terms of what we’re trying to do as it would be otherwise. The prep is actually the really important partwhere the writing is changingbecause you are starting to manifest the stuff, physically: you’re picking locations, costumes, actors… It’s such a crucial part of the translation; it’s at that moment the writing gets pulled into the directing space.

AH: I agree, the writing doesn’t deferwriting is writing. We probably have our producer’s hat on a bit: Is this possible? Can we write for a location that we already have? But, consistently, the writing has to work first.

AZ: The characters in CLAIRE IN MOTION are so well-fleshed out. I never felt like anyone was behaving inauthentically or outside of their spectrum of responses. As writers you get the fun task of people-ing your world, how do you go about writing your supporting characters?

AH: For this film, again, it was really informed by this particular town, and also our shared knowledge of the world of academiaa lot of that world is the personal and the professional mixed togetherand so we brought those instincts, impressions, and experiences to the table. Often it’s so challenging and difficult to understand your protagonist and to keep searching for that thread or theme. Supporting characters can often come much quicker, which helps to build that confidence in the writing. In this case the place that she is in and the people around her are just such an important part of the story…

LR: Since Annie was teaching and living there she had a lot of interesting encounters and specifics to bring to it. Since I was further away, I brought a more abstract mental state to it, more along the lines of, what is Claire going through and what kinds of characters would trigger her or bring out parts of her psyche? Those two things combined helped create some of these character.

 AZ: While part mystery/thriller, CLAIRE IN MOTION really tells the story of a woman who is faced with the reality that, in truth, you never can know somebody entirely, and that, perhaps even more importantly, that lack of recognition extends to yourself as well. What prompted you to explore this subject matter in the way you did? Did you know going in that you wanted Claire’s evolution to start at x and end at y?

LR: We knew we wanted her to go through a tragedy and have to grapple with that uncertainty, and letting the viewer grapple with it as well. We weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it, or even what the tragedy was going to be,  but we were interested to see how that uncertainty shifted her identity. We set out to explore a character in a place in her life where she is comfortableshe’s a little bit older, not in her 20s anymore, has a sense of who she is and what her life is going to beand we wanted to upset that, let that run out, and see how she shifts and changes.

AH: We also had some time in the writing process to really chew on a number of different scenarioswe played quite a bit with it in terms of plot, running a lot of what-ifs. We have a strong shared value that we want our audience to have their own experience, so we weren’t going to wrap everything up neatly. The persistent interest in theme being: the not knowing of life and how that can surprise you; what you learn from it and how you might be damaged by it; and inevitably, how you have to just keep going.

AZ: In light of the current state of the world, how do you see filmmaking as an art form shaping and/or informing us as humans?

LR: There’s a lot of exciting films out there right now. GET OUT is a really amazing example of a film that is surprising and exciting in terms of genre, subtext, and choices…So, I’m still really excited about stuff I’m seeing every year. Film is such a powerful medium because it hits people on multiple levels at once. Unfortunately, that means film is related to propaganda, to Facebook, and to all this discussion about fake news. It is just such a powerful force that spreads out in all these different mediums, but, I still think it’s a great tool for change. We see films like MOONLIGHT or LADY BIRD, these are very particular voices that are getting widespread attention. It’s so great.

AH: A well-crafted visual story provides this opportunity for identification, empathy, complication of stereotypes, and personal introspection that’s unlike or dissimilar from the other other ways in which those things happenwhich is, through actual physical relationships with other human beings. When you have the ability to silently interact with othersby that I mean, the charactersit’s a totally different process of growth. These stories are important for any person who is interested in evolving, and I am glad we can do that in different types of waysthrough literature, through cinema, through just observing and watching.

AZ: Thank you Annie and Lisa!


Annie J. Howell is an award-winning screenwriter and director. Howell’s first film, co-written and co-directed with Lisa Robinson, was SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS, followed by the duos second feature, CLAIRE IN MOTION. In 2016, LITTLE BOXES, a film written by Howell and directed by Rob Meyer premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it sold to Netflix. The script for LITTLE BOXES is the recipient of an IFP Emerging Narrative Award for Best Feature and a San Francisco Film Society/Kenneth Rainin Foundation grant. Howell’s other credits include a short for the vanguard ITVS series FUTURESTATES, as well as the web series SPARKS, also created with Robinson and licensed to the Sundance Channel.She teaches in the MFA in Film program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, as well as City College, and has also been a member of the faculty at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, Ohio University’s MFA in Film, and at The New School, where she was the Founding Director of the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Media Studies Program.

Lisa Robinson is an award-winning screenwriter and director. Her credits include the feature films CLAIRE IN MOTION and SMALL, BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS, both written and directed with Annie Howell. Robinson has directed several episodes of television, including the Emmy award-winning A CRIME TO REMEMBER and the series FUTURESTATES, that had its series premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. Robinson has written and directed several award-winning short films. She also works as a screenwriter and wrote MIND BLAST, an IMAX film for the Blue Man Group. She is the recipient of the Martin E. Segal Prize, the Mitsubishi Digital Media Lab Award for Excellence, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. Robinson is currently  Associate Professor of Film at LIU.

Dan Schrecker, current film faculty member, nominated for a VES award for his work on MOTHER!

VCFA MFA in Film faculty member, Dan Schrecker, has been nominated with his team for a Visual Effects Society Award for his work as Visual Effects Supervisor on the Darren Aronofsky film MOTHER!. They are up for the award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, along with fellow nominees from the films DARKEST HOUR, DOWNSIZING DUNKIRK, and ONLY THE BRAVE. The 16th annual VES award will take place February 13, 2018. The full list of nominees can be found here.

VCFA’s MFA in Film program screened MOTHER! here in Montpelier at our October 2017 residency. It was such a treat to have Dan here to talk with us about his work and the film.

To read more in detail about the VFX of MOTHER!, check out this great interview with Dan by vfxblog from September 2017 .

Congrats Dan!

Dan Schrecker is an award winning visual effects artist and animator. He is the Creative Director and Visual Effects Supervisor at Look Effects, Inc., with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Canada and Stuttgart, Germany.

Dan earned his Master’s Degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program and his BA in Visual and Environmental Studies with a focus on Animation from Harvard University. Dan was nominated for a BAFTA Award in 2011 for Best Special Effects for the film BLACK SWAN and for Visual Effects Society Awards for BLACK SWAN, THE WRESTLER, THE FOUNTAIN, and FRIDA. His work includes being Visual Effects Supervisor on WARM BODIES, MOONRISE KINGDOM, LIMITLESS, BLACK SWAN, PRECIOUS, THE FOUNTAIN, FRIDA, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, and Darren Aronofsky’s MOTHER!. Through his career Dan has supervised and created visual effects, designed titles and motion graphics, adding to his expertise in multimedia and interactive formats, traditional cel animation and claymation.

Student Spotlight: Lex Lybrand’s thesis film, MAYBE SHOWER

Current MFA in Film student, Lex Lybrand, just dropped the trailer for his thesis film project, MAYBE SHOWER. Written and directed by Lybrand, MAYBE SHOWER stars Kelsey Thomas (SUMMER LEAGUE), Rachel DeRouen (GLASS), and Megan Simon (INDOOR CAT). With Carlos O’Leary (THE TROLLS), Jeff Pearson (HOME REMEDY), Nathan Ehrmann (THE TROLLS), and Caitlin French.

Ash, Shannon, and Wendy are all late. You know… LATE. As their collective anxiety grows, they band together to face their fears, confront the potential fathers, and egg a car or two. All part of the world’s first MAYBE SHOWER.

On October 26th, 2016, Lybrand wrote the following on the “Maybe Shower” blog, and we just had to share it here because, well, it brings us great pride:

I’m sitting in a dorm room in Montpelier, Vermont just a couple of days before Halloween. There’s snow on the ground, I can see my breath in my room, and I’m almost out of coffee. I haven’t been this happy in a very long time. 

This is the last day of my first week at VCFA’s MFA in Film residency. I entered this program with no idea what I would work on while I’m here… but now I know. I’m excited to announce that I have begun work on my next feature screenplay, and I plan to take it from conception to reality during this 2 year program… This is gonna be fun.

MAYBE SHOWER will screen this April at our spring residency and will be hitting the festival circuit soon. Visit the MAYBE SHOWER site to learn more. We can’t wait to see this one! Congrats Lex!

Check out the trailer below. (See if you can spot another one of our talented students in the film, Mr. Kris Atkinson. We love to see our people crewing for each other!)

(Lybrand photo courtesy of George Nicholas)

Student Spotlight: Mark Schimmel’s KILL THE LIGHT

Current MFA in Film student, Mark Schimmel, just dropped the trailer for his new 22 min. narrative short film,  KILL THE LIGHT. Check it out below!

Cheryl, a mysterious woman left for dead on the side of the road is found by Ray, a county sweep who picks up road kill. Together they unravel the mystery of Cheryl’s haunted past.  

Directed by Schimmel (The Originals, Operation Snowplow, Geppetto’s Secret), KILL THE LIGHT features Coburn Goss (Man of Steel, Superman vs. Batman).

Other credits for KILL THE LIGHT include:
Written by Lee H. Ross (Downloading Nancy, Benjamin Troubles)
Cinematography by William R. Nielsen (Chicago Fire, Sirens, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll)
Music by Angelo Panetta (Creedmoria, Mad Town)

To learn more about Mark and his work visit his website.  Also, check out the great article with Mark on MovieMaker about shooting a short and the filming process for KILL THE LIGHT.


We look forward to seeing where KILL THE LIGHT screens, and of course, what’s next for Mark!

Faculty member Annie Howell’s film, CLAIRE IN MOTION, now on Showtime. Howell’s LITTLE BOXES also available to stream on Netflix.

Annie Howell’s 2016 film CLAIRE IN MOTION, co-written and co-directed with Lisa Robinson and starring Betsy Brandt (of Breaking Bad), is currently available to stream on Showtime. The film premiered at SXSW. Annie Howell is a faculty member of the VCFA MFA in film program.

CLAIRE IN MOTION is the second feature film from filmmaking team Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell. Exploring a short period of time inside one woman’s life-altering crisis, the story begins three weeks after math professor Claire Hunger’s husband has mysteriously disappeared, the police have ended their investigation and her son is beginning to grieve. The only person who hasn’t given up is Claire. Soon she discovers his troubling secrets, including an alluring yet manipulative graduate student with whom he had formed a close bond. As she digs deeper, Claire begins to lose her grip on how well she truly knew her husband and questions her own identity in the process. Claire in Motion twists the missing person thriller into an emotional take on uncertainty and loss.

Lisa Robinson and Annie J. Howell have crafted a transfixing, thoughtful thriller — where the directors’ deft maneuvering around the intimate performance of Betsy Brandt keeps you glued to the screen.
— Oakley Anderson-Moore, No Film School

What can one say about a film as perfect as Claire in Motion? With a script that subtly explores the realm of emotional conflict, and powerful performances from its ensemble of actors, the movie is a gentle tour-de-force about trauma and healing …. One emerges after its brief 80 minutes as if from an intense, cathartic dream, haunted and challenged by its raw truths, perhaps, but made all the stronger for them.
— Christopher Llewellyn Reed, Hammer to Nail

Howell also wrote the screenplay for LITTLE BOXES (2016), starring the late Nelsan Ellis and Melanie Lynskey. LITTLE BOXES can be viewed world-wide on Netflix. The film premiered at Tribeca and was the largest sale out of the festival in 2016.