Deborah Richards is a creative visionary and storyteller with 30+ years of experience in the digital arts.
Her work over the decades has spanned from the dawn of the digital audio revolution as a musician and studio engineer in her teens to consulting, directing, and creating for some of the largest brands in the world today.
As a filmmaker (writer, director, DP, editor, VFX artist, colorist, sound designer, production designer, & camera girl) her passion lies in emotionally connecting the story or brand to her audience.
Originally from England, she is a former 5-time world bartending champion, a four-time regional Emmy® winner, longtime Las Vegas resident, dog owner, and passionate advocate for the arts.
Tell me about yourself?
I was born in England but grew up in the middle east and moved to Las Vegas 20 years ago.
My father was an artist and owned an advertising agency in Bahrain so as a young kid in the 70s I would watch his team composite images with Letraset and tint, well before the digital revolution. Through the advertising agency, I had access to a very clunky early VHS video camera that no one knew what to do with. But after being blown away by Star Wars in ’77 I would kitbash Airfix kits and film space ships on thread landing on foam moons covered in talcum powder for moon dust.
As a teenager in the 80’s I got into playing musical instruments which coincided with the advent of samplers, sequencers, and midi controlled digital synths. I remember reading about all this musical tech that I had no access too so I would save my money and just buy cables. When I eventually went to a local recording studio to get a part-time job I showed up with a suitcase full of every kind of cable which ultimately landed me the gig at the age of 15.
My fascination with technology was further stoked with the advent of the World Wide Web in the late eighties and I started learning HTML and CSS. This ultimately led to me being an early adaptor of Photoshop which in turn introduced me to early digital cameras. Who remembers Apple’s quick take 100 camera? It was amazing and pretty useless at the same time LOL.
Although I had become a flair bartender by the time I moved to Las Vegas in 2000 I was a keen amateur videographer and hobbyist often filming other bartenders doing tricks and flips with Hi-8 digital cameras. This passion drove me to enroll in the excellent film program at the College of Southern Nevada in 2012.
During my time at film school, I made a short called ‘Boy Meets Girl’ which won four South West regional Emmys® in the student category. I won the best director, best short, best screenplay, and best editing. I joke with friends when I show off my Emmys® saying I have more than Ellen LOL.
After film school, I threw myself into freelancing as a director, camera-girl, and editor. Over the last 10 years, I’ve worked on hundreds of projects in all kinds of production roles and have been blessed to create for some very large and exciting brands and clients from Walmart and Snoop Dog to the EDC and History Channel.
I currently have three feature films in various stages of development and continue to work as a freelance director, editor, and VFX artist in Las Vegas.
can you share with us some of your experience as being a director?
Being a director is a difficult pathway. You can only practice directing by actually doing it and the problem with that is so much more time is spent in pre-production and post-production that your time on set actually directing is relatively minuscule compared to the other phases of any project.
What are the challenges you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge for me has always been and continues to be the prejudice I face as a female director. The industry is always talking about inclusion and uplifting minorities, but in my part of the world, I have seen little evidence to support this. In the past, I have been overlooked for certain projects and seen them, go-to white male directors, with less experience and smaller skill sets. Unfortunately, the film industry is very much still a boys club. However, as my skills continue to grow and my work becomes undeniable more and more of these barriers seem to vanish but it has been a hard uphill battle to prove myself as a filmmaker. As Quentin Tarantino once said when asked about the proliferation of self-published digital content, “The cream will always rise to the top.”
What are the knowledge a director should have about film making and visual effects before making a movie?
In film school, they said you need three things to make it in this biz, talent, tenacity, and luck. I think you need so much more than that. To be a director you need to be a jack of all trades. The more you know about EVERYTHING the better. Study story, humanity, sociology, art, technology, lighting, film history, public speaking, leadership, animation, sound, psychology, the list goes on.
As for VFX, it’s simple, you just have to be great at problem-solving. You don’t have to film a building blowing up, you just have to make it look there’s like a building is blowing up. So whether it’s miniatures or CGI, all that matters at the end of the day is what’s in the frame, The audience doesn’t care how you achieved it. They just want to be immersed in the story by believing what they’re looking at.
My favorite type of movie magic is to do is a combination of in-camera special effects augmented with digital VFX.
The best advice I can give anyone trying to create a special or visual effect is to think outside the box and test, test, test.
You have won 4 regional Emmys in the student category can you share more about that.
In film school, one of our first writing tasks was to pen a four-page screenplay called Boy Meets Girl. That was the entire brief. I started the script with a superimposed ’10,000 years from now’ and created a futuristic love-at-first-sight story between an android boy and a human girl in suspended animation. In a production class the following semester I was able to flesh it out and film the project. I was encouraged by my school to submit it to The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences who then awarded me with four Emmys®. It was a game-changer for my career and certainly put me on the map in Las Vegas as an up and coming filmmaker.
Can you share more about short dark lights?
Sure! Dark Lights is one of the feature film projects that I currently have in development. After getting frustrated with trying to explain my vision for the horror screenplay I decided to create a proof-of-concept 10 min short based on the main character from the larger project. We recently completed it in December 2020 and so far it has been generating a chunk of buzz. In the first two weeks of January 2021, it has already been submitted to over 30 international film festivals with full waivers for the entry fees. A slightly shorter version of Dark Lights will also be the first short film in an anthology series called The United States of Horror which I believe will be available on Amazon Prime USA & UK in March.
The short was very challenging and included 74 VFX shots. Nearly everything in the short is a composite. It took me a couple of years to complete and I ended up wearing many hats including writer, director, DP, editor, VFX artist, sound designer, camera-girl, colorist, and more. However none of that would have been possible without the collaboration of my long-time creative partner, Emmy® nominated producer, Patrick Wirtz.
I’m excited to see what doors open over the upcoming year as Dark Lights the short starts its international film festival run. You can watch the trailer and learn more about the project and see a bunch of behind-the-scenes stills at www.DarkLightsTheMovie.com
Can you share more about your VFX experience on your movie project? How you have managed VFX Tasks
When I started Dark Lights I didn’t know how to do many of the VFX tasks. However, I knew where to find specific tutorials on each of the techniques I would need to learn on youtube. Each time I found a relevant tutorial I would bookmark it with the intention of circling back when the time came. It’s amazing to think about how much I have learned bringing this story to life.
All of the VFX were done in Adobe After Effects utilizing some really powerful plug-ins like Element 3d, Saber, Particular, and Lockdown. I also used Blender for some CGI modeling before bringing that into Element 3d to paint.
Can you share with us some of your favorite experiences as a director?
For the most part, being a writer-director-editor is a lonely experience. When I write, I’m alone and once everything is in the can I’m alone again for the long edit. I think that’s the reason my favorite part of directing any project is the satisfaction of answering questions about the finished show to a live audience at festivals. My experience creating is very different from the experience of an audience watching it so I’m always very keen to talk about that with the fans of my work.
Are there any resources that you can suggest like books, movies, etc. that can inspire the next generation artists and directors?
For sure! I can’t recommend the importance of education enough. A great film school will not only teach you to set vernacular and give you access to tools you may not otherwise have access to but your film school buddies of today are your film crew of tomorrow.
I’m also a huge fan of many tutorial YouTube channels like NPS3d, Corridor Crew, Video Co-pilot, Film Riot, Blender Guru, and Cinecom.
As for movies… watch everything!!! I’m currently watching a movie a day from IMDBs top 100. I like to read up on why the movie is so good just before watching it and then discuss it with friends after. I’ve seen 71 from the list and am enjoying revisiting the classics as well as discovering a handful of amazing movies that I have never seen before.
But inspiration can be found anywhere. When I was about five, my father, a fine-art-oil-panting artist, sat me down in the yard and asked me how many colors do I see in the flower in front of me. I replied noting three or four colors. He corrected me and pointed out the thousands of shades. At that moment my world shifted from color to a high definition kaleidoscope of beauty, luminosity, saturation, and hue. Inspiration is everywhere.
Any final advice/ tips/ quotes you wish to share with us?
Keep creating! The answers are within you, or on YouTube.
I’m a big fan of this quote by myself…
‘A good idea today is better than a better idea tomorrow.’
Don’t get stuck up on your limitations (I don’t have the right camera, I don’t have the right skills, I don’t have the right access to talent) just keep pushing forward using what you have and as long as you’re willing to learn from your mistakes and failures you will keep getting stronger as a visual storyteller. The rest will take care of itself.
Follow along with this crazy thing will call life @debbiinpink on Instagram!
Ritto prabu – Thank you Deborah Richards for sharing with us
Deborah Richards- Thank you Ritto