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The Times-Delphic

The Student News Site of Drake University

The Times-Delphic

“Influenced” director discusses filming sequel and independent filmmaking

“INFAMY,” which is being filmed right now, will follow the main character Hannah after the events of “Influenced,” a previous film of Chris Veninga’s. Veninga started making films while in high school. PHOTO courtesy of Chris Veninga

Senior Chris Veninga began making films in high school with friends but didn’t consider it as a career until his time at Drake. 

“I started off as a marketing major and then a psychology major. There were aspects of each major I liked, but I wasn’t really finding what I wanted to do,” Veninga said. “Then my dad and I talked about it one day. He’s like, ‘You know, you always like putting on shows.’”

Veninga took a motion graphics and editing class based on that interest and then decided to pursue filmmaking.  

“I would like to think that he fell in love with it, and he dropped both majors he had at the time,” School of Journalism and Mass Communication professor Lakshmi Tirumala, who taught the class, said. 

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Veninga’s first film he worked on after his decision was “Park Pine.” After finishing that film, he began working on “Influenced”, whose sequel, “Infamy,” he is currently filming. According to Veninga, the original idea for “Influenced” was about an influencer going to therapy to deal with the expectations of the job, over time it morphed into the current plot. 

“Influenced” follows social media influencer Hannah as she deals with a break-up and an obsessive fanbase. According to Veninga, “Infamy” will deal with the fallouts of the ending of “Influenced.” 

“I think influencer culture is just such a huge thing in our generation. In Generation Z, it’s so prevalent every day,” Veninga said. 

Junior Camille Marquart worked with Veninga on a previous play he wrote titled “Drinking to Forget.” Based on the quality of her acting and, in part, the superficiality of the character she played, he asked her to play Hannah. 

“I don’t see her as my character anymore. I think Cami has completely dominated the role,” Veninga said. 

Marquart, who has acted in student films since high school, influenced Hannah’s character over the course of “Influenced” and “Infamy.” A lot of details of her character, according to Marquart, came out of conversations between the two of them. 

“There was a basis, and then I created everything,” Marquart said. “Her signature colors, her signature scent, how she talked, her background.” 

Part of the challenge of playing Hannah, according to Marquart, comes from the layers of her personality. She is bubbly on the outside but also has a seriousness to her. As an influencer, Hannah deals with having to put on a mask, what Marquart calls a “face.” 

“In those moments were a lot of digging into how I think she would respond,” Marquart said. 

Veninga sent out a mass email through Jacob Lemons, the Drake Fine Arts coordinator, about auditions for roles in “Infamy.” 

Marquart advised beginning actors to audition for roles and to not take failure too harshly. Rejections are often not personal but rather reflections of what directors are looking for. 

“Take a chance, audition,” Marquart advised beginning actors. “Have fun. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.”  

Beyond “Influenced” and “Infamy”, Veninga has created two more films. The first was “Gun to the Head,” a story informed by his experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder and the second was a fan music video for Blink-182’s “Ghost on the Dance Floor.” 

Veninga submitted “Gun to the Head” to various film festivals, several of which accepted it. He hopes to do the same with “Infamy.” 

“We have better audio. Our actors are great [and], we have great cinematography. This will be festival-worthy,” Veninga said. 

The film is currently being filmed, but part of the difficulty comes from the actors’ busy schedules. Marquart is involved in several Drake productions, and all the actors have to balance this production with their classes and other commitments. 

“Sometimes it’s stressful, but it’s also very thrilling,” Veninga said. “I also really enjoy ‘go, go, go’ because I’m doing everything that I want to be doing.” 

According to Veninga, part of what has helped is the people that he is working with. Tirumala and SJMC professor Chris Snider have given him tips on the film, and another (currently anonymous) Drake professor will be acting in it. 

Tirumala has read over the script and is involved on set. Tirumala added that, from what he has seen on set and script, the film is going well so far, and the process is “very professional”.
Veninga said that his cinematographer, Mithi Sivaprakash, was a “great voice to have on set” during the past four projects. 

“I’m not going in alone on this,” Veninga said. “I’m surrounded by people who believe in me, who believe in my projects and who believe that they can contribute something helpful.” 

If all goes according to plan, Veninga said the film might be done in early December. With this film, like his others, he has tried to increase professionalism, hosting professional auditions and using better equipment. It is part of what he thinks will make it festival-worthy. 

Veninga, an independent filmmaker, is currently losing money on every project, but says what’s important is to “bet on yourself” and your skills. 

“The thing about independent projects is that it really is self-made. There is pride when you are putting your own blood, sweat, tears and, above all else, money into it,” Veninga said. 

After “Infamy,” Veninga plans to help his friends with directing. He also has an idea for a cop comedy. 

Veninga will be graduating this year, after which he plans to get a day job where he has room to create films on the side. 

“I want to keep filming my life, or at least keep putting on shows in my life for as long as I live,” Veninga said.

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    Mary KilburnNov 2, 2023 at 3:50 am

    A great article! Chris has done remarkable work and addresses subjects so relevant to todays social climate!