NYU student seeks collaborations, ‘extras’ for local filming

Giffune has come a long way from her middle school and Westfield High School days

WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – Grace Giffune knew by middle school that she wanted to work behind the scenes in movies.

“I was home sick and watching commentary from the cast and crew of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” said Giffune during a recent phone interview. Giffune, the daughter of Jen and Joe Giffune of Westfield, is in her senior year of New York University’s Film & TV Program at the Tisch School of the Arts. “After talking with my mom that morning, I realized at that moment I wanted to do that too.”

Grace Giffune, on right, directs Leanne Velednitsky in a scene from “Unprotected.” Velednitsky has the lead role in the film. Photo by Jamie Sweeney.
Grace Giffune, on right, directs Leanne Velednitsky in a scene from “Unprotected.” Velednitsky has the lead role in the film. Photo by Jamie Sweeney.

From that pivotal moment, Giffune has come a long way from her middle school and Westfield High School days in dance and drama club productions.

“I decided around 10th grade that my passion lies in the entertainment industry,” she said.

As Giffune was deciding on her senior thesis project, she knew the city would play a major role.

“I’ve lived in New York City for the past few years but I still have strong ties to Westfield,” said Giffune. “When it came time to start development for my senior thesis project, it became clear that shooting in Westfield would be essential to the success of the project.”

The short film to be shot in the city is titled “Unprotected,” written by Krista Ray, which Giffune will direct. A local casting call for several unpaid minor roles (including superheroes and supervillains), extras, as well as individuals working behind the scenes, is planned in the coming months. Giffune noted that most roles would only require spending one day on the movie set.

The cover of Grace Giffune’s pitch package, including a character sketch of “Shay,” the main character in the film.
The cover of Grace Giffune’s pitch package, including a character sketch of “Shay,” the main character in the film.

“I’ve come a long way since leaving Western Massachusetts and entering film school here in New York City, but one thing has always stayed the same – my desire to direct,” she said. “As soon as my writer, Krista Ray, shared the story of ‘Unprotected’ with me, I knew that I had to do it.”

Giffune said that the world of “Unprotected” and its characters have “captivated” her from day one and it is an “honor and a privilege” to be working with Ray and the rest of the crew to bring this “little seed of a thought” to fruition.

Without giving away too many details on the action adventure film, Giffune said the story is about the characters – including several youthful superheroes – and their relationships to each other and the world they live in.

“An easy film to compare this to is ‘Juno,’” said Giffune, noting that the main character, Shay, is pregnant and has to learn how to deal with the aftermath of choices she made. Key characters in Shay’s world include Brainbasher, Doc Rumble, Mo and Ban-She.

Leanne Velednitsky in a scene from “Unprotected.” Photo by Grant Johnson.
Leanne Velednitsky in a scene from “Unprotected.” Photo by Grant Johnson.

“The main theme of the film is taking responsibility for your actions,” said Giffune.

Even for a 15-minute film, Giffune said that expenses add up fast, ranging from production costs, cameras, sound effects and wardrobe, hair and makeup, to stunts and special effects, transportation, food and lodging.

“We hope to raise $23,000 to $25,000 for this project,” said Giffune, noting she has submitted a grant to the Westfield Cultural Council, as well as the Screen Craft Short Film Production Fund, Panavision, the Women in Film Foundation, and the Film Finishing Fund.

“We will be launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in mid-December for small-scale donations, and we also welcome in-kind donations from Westfield merchants and the community,” said Giffune. At press time, the link for the crowdfunding campaign,  https://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/03be412f, was in its final draft phase.

In addition to monetary donations which are tax-deductible, individuals and businesses can offer their assistance to Giffune by providing in-kind donations which can range from deals for meals to supplies and props.

“Big parts of our budget involve food and supplies, so I’d love to reach out to local businesses to see if they’d be interested in working with us,” said Giffune.

Also, Giffune will be looking for a home to film that is on a street with little traffic, as well as a playground, a convenience store and a hospital room. Giffune added she will be following up with Peter Miller, Westfield’s director of community development, on specific sites that would be appropriate for the film.

The first casting session in New York City for “Unprotected,” led by writer Krista Ray, director Grace Giffune, and producers Jamie Sweeney and Celeste Erlander.
The first casting session in New York City for “Unprotected,” led by writer Krista Ray, director Grace Giffune, and producers Jamie Sweeney and Celeste Erlander.

As Giffune continues to focus on her role as director, she also welcomes high school students from the area who are interested in the entertainment industry to get involved.

“We will give students the chance to work on a professional set,” said Giffune, adding that her New York City crew hired includes Grant Johnson, director of photography; Abby Austin, costume designer; Sam Smith, production designer; and producers Celeste Erlander, Jamie Sweeney, and Connor Martin.

Giffune’s production timeline includes locking in locations and wrapping up major fundraising this month, and casting all major and minor roles and finishing a fundraising push in January. Additionally, during February and March, Giffune said rehearsals will begin, as well as finalizing rentals and polishing the script, with one week of production at the end of March.

“Our post-production schedule begins in April,” she said.

For anyone who would like to make a monetary donation and receive a tax deduction, mail a check to her attention, Grace Giffune, 611 Nostrand Ave., 3B, Brooklyn, N.Y., 11216, and make out the check to Fractured Atlas (fiscal sponsor) and add ‘Grace Giffune’s Senior Thesis’ in the memo line.

For persons interested in starring in the film, working behind the scenes as production assistants, or getting involved in a myriad of ways, email Giffune at gng225@nyu.edu for more details.

“Beyond the academic requirements, we hope ‘Unprotected’ gains acceptance to film festivals and can be used as a calling card to jump-start further work in the industry,” said Giffune.

With her fierce determination – just like Shay – Giffune will no doubt scale to new heights in the years to come.

“My goal will always be directing,” she said, adding those endeavors can include commercials, short films, music videos or movies. “I know I want to be on set.”

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