Call Answered: Julia Verdin: "Lost Girls"

Call Answered: Julia Verdin: "Lost Girls"

Because I follow All My Children’s Cady McClain on Instagram, I was introduced to a magnificent filmmaker named Julia Verdin who has been making movies for over 30 years! Cady posted a picture of her & Julia in post-production on Julia’s upcoming feature film of her short Lost Girls.

Julia has made an amazing short Lost Girls, spotlighting the issue of sex trafficking. The film is very powerful, depicting how young girls get lured into this terrible life. Julia has used this short for many educational needs. The is a film that everyone needs to see

The short of Lost Girls is currently available on Amazon Prime.

The feature film of Lost Girls: Angie’s Story is currently in post-production with an expected release in 2020.

In addition to filmmaking, Julia is the founder of a wonderful non-profit organization called Artists for Change, which assisted her in getting Lost Girls: Angie’s Story made. Artists For Change mission is “to create high impact film, television, and multimedia projects to inspire individuals, organizations, and communities to bring about positive social change.”

She is also the founder of Rough Diamond Productions. Since 1993 Julia’s production company has been making feature films that entertain and inspire. “Rough Diamond distinguishes itself by crafting social message narratives at all budget levels that arouse compassion, guarantee entertainment, and foster participation. We are in the business of audience engagement and participation through stories of informed hope, both touching and visceral.”

For more on Julia visit https://www.roughdiamondproductions.net and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Lost Girls Short poster.jpg

1. Your short film, Lost Girls: Angie's Story has just been released on Amazon Prime. It's a film about sex trafficking. What inspired you to create this film? I volunteered at a children’s shelter for runaway teens a few years ago and I was surprised to learn that some of them had been trafficked. I was really shocked to find out that child trafficking was so prevalent in the US and felt it was an issue that more light needed to be shed on and knowing that film can be a great tool to raise awareness on issues such as this, I ended up writing a script with my writing partner Janet Odogwu. I raised some funding via crowdfunding and put up the rest of the funding myself.

2. How did you turn your short into feature film and how did Cady McClain get involved in the feature? I had a lot of success with the short film, it won some awards and got good festival play and I gave copies of the film to organizations and institutions to use to provide education and raise awareness on child trafficking. This inspired me that there was more that could be done.

I developed a feature screenplay with Janet Odogwu, who also wrote the short film with me. I also founded a non-profit, Artists For Change, whose mission is to use media to raise awareness on key social issues such as child trafficking.

I produced the short film myself and have a lot of experience as a producer but on the feature film, I really wanted to be able to focus on directing and so decided to bring on some producers to work with. I have known Cady’s husband Jon Lindstrom for a number of years, and shortly before we were about to go into production, Cady came to an Artists For Change event with him. She was interested in what we were doing. I immediately was drawn to her passion and energy and as she was interested in getting involved, thought she would be a good addition to the producing team that already consisted of Sean Acosta who was a producer on the short and had been behind the project from day one and Jason Piette who is on our board and had offered his help.  I immediately liked Cady enormously and thought she would be a great addition to the team and nice to have another woman involved too.

3. What was the hardest part of the short to write? What scene just flowed out of you? It was a hard script to write as researching this world was tough emotionally as I hate abuse to children. Hearing some of the shocking stories of what some teenagers had been through was painful.

At the same time, it also made me really determined to do what I could to stop this terrible crime. Finding a way to write the rape scenes was hard, as I did not want to make a gratuitous film but at the same time what happens to young girls who are trafficked is pretty awful. As my primary goal was to raise awareness on this issue, and to make a film that teenagers and families could watch, I avoided having any nudity in the script and went with the Hitchcock approach of focusing on the characters reactions and using sound to imply what was happening and letting the audiences imagine what happens.

4. What did you learn about yourself from working on this project? I learned that to get a project like this done is a big time commitment. It can also be hard emotionally.  I am really glad I did it and have no regrets as it is an issue I feel really passionate about and want to do whatever I can to make a difference. I was lucky to have an amazing and committed team during the production period. Cleaning up all the missing pieces and getting post-production done is an enormous amount of work. It’s the non-glamorous side of filmmaking. I also learned that as it is my passion cause, I have to do the heavy lifting and so every time I would feel alone and drained from the long work hours, I would just keep thinking about the faces of young survivors I had met and that would keep me going.

5. How do you hope this film will help fight sex trafficking? I hope that my short and when it is finished my feature film will really raise awareness and get the conversation started. To me it’s not acceptable that children and teenagers are being taken and raped and abused on a daily basis for their traffickers’ monetary gain.

I believe that education can lead to prevention and if teenagers, parents, teachers, hotel staff and the general public can understand how to recognize the signs of someone being groomed by a trafficker, they could report it and save that child. I hope that it will galvanize people to sign petitions and put pressure on the government to allocate more resources to fight traffickers and put in stronger penalties and deterrents for men that pay for underage children. If the demand stops then the need to supply will stop.

6. In addition to Amazon Prime, what are your other visions for the short? My short has also screened in many festivals and is being used by NGO’s and organizations for education and awareness. We have also done a number of community awareness screenings and events with it. I am working on getting into the educational system and hope to do more screenings for schools and communities.

7. The logline of the short film is "A former victim who is forced to lure young girls into sex trafficking must confront her inner demons and dangerous employers in order to break free from the cycle of victimization." What inner demons have you confronted in your life? I have been through painful experiences as a teenager and in my early 20’s and struggled with feeling not good enough and that there was no hope for me. It led to me self medicating in unhealthy ways. I have been sober for 20 years and have worked hard on developing my self- esteem. That comes from doing estimable actions and helping others and focusing on how I can be of service in the world and to all those around me. I am very grateful to say that I have a wonderful life today.

Anton Narinsky, Tori Griffith, Will Brandt, and Jonathan Julian in “Lost Girls”, Photo courtesy of Rough Diamonds Production

Anton Narinsky, Tori Griffith, Will Brandt, and Jonathan Julian in “Lost Girls”, Photo courtesy of Rough Diamonds Production

8. Since the film is called "Lost Girls," when has there been a time you felt lost in your life or career? How did you find your way? For me whenever I have moments of feeling lost, I realize I am not in faith and have to go back to trusting that I would not have come this far with whatever I am doing if I wasn’t going to be led to the finish line. I am also a great believer in gratitude lists. They are a way back when I have moments of doubt as they put everything into perspective.

9. In addition to being a filmmaker, you also founded the organization Artists for Change. What made you want to start this non-profit? I founded Artists For Change after making the Lost Girls short film and showing the film at a conference to NGO’s from all around the world and speaking to them about how I developed it and got it made and how they could adapt the principles of what I had done with a film on child trafficking to other issues. In talking to them all after, I realized that there was a big gap as most NGO’s do not have any media budgets or the personnel with the narrative story telling and filmmaking skills to create them.

I believe strongly that narrative film can be very powerful to raise awareness and instigate change. Look at how “Blood Diamond” changed the way people brought diamonds and as a result of public pressure as a result of the film, many Diamond companies changed their policies. People tend to go and see a documentary if they are interested in an issue or topic, but a narrative feature has the ability to get audiences interested in an issue and want to find out more about it. For this reason, I created a 15- minute educational piece with more information to go with the short film that plays directly after the film finishes. I plan to do the same with the feature. When people watch the Lost Girls Short on Amazon, they can also continue with the 15 -minute educational look at the world of trafficking that goes with it after. My goal is to also encourage other filmmakers to think about creating social impact films and give support and help on how to do that effectively.

I also want to help other non-profits create media that raise awareness and highlights the work that they do so they can raise funding and get the support they need. I think showing what an organization does visually can be very powerful. Artists For Change just served on the advisory board of the See It, End it Film festival which was a two day showcase of various films and art and panels on trafficking in San Pedro. I also went to Mexico and directed a promo for another non-profit GIFT for them to showcase the work they do and use as a fundraising tool to get sponsorship and support.

10. In addition to raising awareness/eradicating sex trafficking, what is another change you would like to see in this world? Where do I start? There are so many! The main one is to get all operating from a place of love rather than just self-interest and thinking about protecting our environment and supporting those that need help and support. The homeless crisis is a big issue, Opiod crisis, finding a way to have a sustainable future and not burning all up for future generations.

Julia Verdin

Julia Verdin

More on Julia:

British Director/Producer and Writer Julia Verdin recently made her directing debut with the short film Lost Girls that she also wrote and produced starring Bar Paly, Marisol Nichols, Siena Goines, Rena Owen and Jamie Harris. Julia is passionate about making social issue driven films as a writer/director and using the power of film to shed light on important social and humanitarian issues. Julia screened the film and spoke at the recent World Bank conference for NGO’s from around the world on social message film making and the film is currently doing the festival circuit including the Raindance Festival in London, LA Shorts and the up coming LIFFA and La Femme Film International Festival. The film has also received awards for Best Drama and Best Ensemble Cast. It’s success inspired her to write and direct a feature film on the same topic and Lost Girls: Angie’s story is currently in post production and will be released in 2020. Julia is also currently in production on a short documentary Lost Girls: Supply and Demand to act as a companion piece to her upcoming feature film.

Julia has a strong background as one of Hollywood’s leading independent producers, with 36 critically acclaimed feature films produced to date. She also has a background and many credits as an actress and that background as well as working closely and learning from other directors helped to give her a good understanding and ability to direct actors. She also has an MA in film with distinction and is known as an educator and mentor for many young filmmakers.

Prior to embarking on a career as a director, Julia produced acclaimed theatrical releases including the Newmarket release Stander, directed by Bronwen Hughes starring Tom Jane, Deborah Unger, Dexter Fletcher and David O’Hara; Sony Classics release The Merchant of Venice, directed by Michael Radford, and starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes; and Riding The Bullet based on a Stephen King story, directed by Mick Garris, and starring David Arquette, Jonathan Jackson, Erica Christensen and Barbara Hershey. These films played in major film festivals including Sundance, Venice, Toronto and London.

Her faith based film, Lionsgate release, The Least Among You, starring Lou Gossett Jr., Lauren Holly and William Devane, premiered on Showtime and was featured in many major festivals. The film was nominated for the 2012 NAACP awards for Outstanding Television Movie and Best Lead Actor.

Julia’s recent film 2 Jacks, based on Leo Tolstoy short story “Two Hussars,” directed by Bernard Rose, and starring Danny Huston, Jack Huston, Sienna Miller, Jacqueline Bisset and Billy Zane, was released theatrically in the US and is still playing on Netflix and VOD. The film also played in prestigious festivals including Montreal World, Vancouver International and the Hollywood Film Festival. Julia also Executive Produced Born of War, directed by Vicky Jewson starring James Frain and Sophia Black D’Elia which was recently released by Lionsgate.

Recent films Julia has produced include Pursued starring Molly Ringwald, Sam Trammell, Angus MacFayden and Paul Sorvino  and 7 Seconds starring Christopher Lloyd and Dwight Yoakum both currently in post. Surviving Christmas with the Relatives, written and directed by Academy Award Nominated filmmaker James Dearden, starring Natasha Richardson, Gemma Whelan, Julian Ovenden and James Fox just had it’s theatrical premiere in the UK and The Unwilling starring Dina Meyer, Lance Henriksen and Jake Thomas has also just been released in the US.

Some of the films Julia produced earlier in her career include I Witness, directed by Rowdy Harrington, starring Jeff Daniels and James Spader, Green Mail starring Steven Baldwin and Tom Skerritt, The Shipment starring Mathew Modine and Nick Turturro and Elisabeth Berkley, The Contaminated Man starring William Hurt, Peter Weller and Natascha McElhone and STYX starring Peter Weller, Angus MacFayden and Brian Brown, directed by Alex Wright, and all for Promark. Ballad of the Nightingale with Virginia Madsen, Maria Cuccinota (Il Postino), Seymour Cassell, Michael Madsen and Harry Dean Stanton, and Lone Hero directed by Ken Sanzel starring Lou Diamond Philips, Sean Patrick Flanery and Robert Forester, Slipstream starring Sean Austin and Vinnie Jones, and The Set Up, a bank heist thriller based on a James Hadley Chase best-selling novel, which stars Billy Zane, James Coburn, Mia Sara and James Russo for MGM/Showtime, and Temptation, an action-packed revenge thriller for Dino De Laurentis Communications starring Jeff Fahey, David Keith and Alison Doody, both directed by Strathford Hamilton.

She founded and has been running Rough Diamond Productions since 1995 and is currently developing various projects with well-established Hollywood writers and directors including; Invisible Army by acclaimed festival award winning writer/director Éva Gárdos; A.K.A written by Phillip Morton and to be directed by Academy Award Nominated director Jonathan Heap; Curtains, a WGA Autumn Stories 2010 selected period piece about eccentric Parisian stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, written by Cynthia Riddle and Honor another film that she will direct.

Julia has always been an active supporter of independent film. She served on the board of BAFTA LA for many years and whilst on the board chaired the film committee and the newcomer committee. Having worked in the film business for 30 years and hands on produced many films from idea inception all the way to release, Julia has an excellent overall knowledge of all aspects of film making from story development, casting and packaging, budgeting, financing, on set production skills, festival strategy, and getting films sold and out into the marketplace. Julia is also a top indie film consultant and speaks regularly on industry panels including BAFTA LA, American Film Market Seminars, Women in Film, WGA, and many film festival panels and has given seminars on producing films for the last two years at StoryExpo. She also recently gave a five week producing certificate course for Raindance LA and taught various other workshops on filmmaking for different filmmaker groups. Julia has, through her consulting work, helped many filmmakers to get their film into production. She is also the author of the popular filmmaker’s guide Success in Film.

Julia received the La Femme 2015 Executive Achievement Award and was honored for her work in film and supporting female filmmakers. She also served as a judge on the LA Shorts Festival in 2015. She believes strongly in mentorship and mentors many young filmmakers and promoting important social issues through film.

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