Dan Wachspress

Judith Robinson

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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 23,


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`One Take,’ a nice Payoff

As members of the celluloid century well know,


one" is movie talk for the first full-fledged shooting of a scene,

the costly kind, in which the lights are lit and the camera loaded

with expensive film stock. Princeton’s independent filmmaker Dan


titled his debut feature film "One Take" to reflect his


that this costly venture could be his only "take."

Writer, director, and editor Wachspress will accompany "One


when it takes first prize for Best Feature Film/Video in the


New Jersey International Film Festival "indie" competition.

The filmmaker and members of the cast and crew will be guests at the

festival screening of "One Take" on the Rutgers campus


June 26, at 7 p.m.

Wachspress protests a little to hear his film described as a

"no-budget" independent. Gary Dowell of USA Film Festival

notes it was "shot on a budget so low you couldn’t use it to shop

for clothes at a yard sale." "I did have a budget," he

quips, "20,498 baseball cards, 654 Mad magazines, 1 kidney."

In fact, Wachspress self-financed the feature’s minuscule $80,000

budget through his full-time engineering job.

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Dan Wachspress

The native of Schenectady, New York, majored in aerospace engineering

at Princeton University, Class of 1980, and went on to earn his


degree there in 1982. He then started work at Continuum Dynamics Inc.


the Forrestal Campus, where he continues to work on research related

to fluid mechanics. His current specialty is helicopter modeling.

With Continuum’s cooperation, which allowed him to work half-time

for two years, Wachspress enrolled at Columbia in 1985, studying with

John Avildsen and Milos Forman. Over the course of his time there

he made three short films, graduating in 1990.

Completed in 1998, the film took three to five years to make,


when you start counting. The story, loosely based on the death of

one of Wachspress’s Princeton classmates in the late 1980s, was


in 1994; and filming took place in Princeton and upstate New York

over 23 days during the summer of 1995. Post production work was done

at Rider University’s Media Center, with the cooperation of professor

Barry Janes.

"People who study and love film think of it as a storyteller’s

medium," says Wachspress. "I chose to do a story that meant

something to me. I wanted it to be a personal story and a story that

I felt good about telling — even though I know it’s not


So instead of doing a sex and violence story I did a story that meant

something to me.

"You also have to choose a story that you can afford," he

adds. "I couldn’t do a big science fiction fantasy film —

I could never afford it."

These storytelling instincts have paid off. At its debut screening

at last year’s Filmfest New Haven, "One Take" won the audience

award. It has also won screenings and awards at the USA Film Festival

and Telluride Indiefest, and at the Atlantic City, Oshawa-Durham,

Breckenridge, New Orleans, and Central Florida film festivals.

Set in central New Jersey and upstate New York in 1990,

the 85-minute feature film is a small gem of a modern fractured


Weeks after Kevin (Jamison Selby) get a phone call informing him that

his ex-girlfriend, who broke up with him four years previous, Jessie

(Jessica Queller), has died, he receives in the mail a photo of the

two of them, signed by her. Haunted by guilt, curiosity, and the dead

girl’s ghost, he embarks on a quixotic quest to find out who sent

the card and why. Over the course of his search and his interactions

with Jessie’s family and friends, he learns about what it takes to

let go of the past and find happiness in the present.

The photo shows the couple, more than four years earlier, on a hike

in the Adirondacks when Jessie was stricken with appendicitis and

had to be rushed to the emergency room. Kevin’s first stop is with

Jessie’s father, who know nothing of the mystery, but asks Kevin to

take her depressed younger brother Jerry (Karl Giant) on the next

leg of his journey. Another intriguing misfit on Kevin’s quest is

the tortured mystic, Jon (Kevin Orton), whose personal search plays

off against Kevin’s frustrated despair.

Writes David Hunter in the Hollywood Reporter: "In an understated

way, the character-driven film explores several areas of human


— love, loss, depression, guilt — with winning performances,

lively dialogue, and inspired locations. The remarkable climactic

scene, set on a mountaintop, is a nice payoff."

Wachspress worked with non-union actors, all just breaking into the

business, and all of whom were willing to work without pay in exchange

for the feature that provides a showcase for future job hunts. Should

the film ever make money, the actors’ contracts ensure them Screen

Actors’ Guild minimum rates for their contribution.

Leading "One Take’s" cast in the role of Kevin is Jamison

Selby, a graduate of Rutgers’ Mason Gross School, whose theatrical

appearances include Eric Simonson’s production of "Hamlet,"

Emily Mann’s "The Matchmaker" at McCarter, and roles at the

New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Jessica Queller, a stage and


actress, makes her film debut as Jessie. Her recent New York credits

include shows at the WPA, Two Rivers Theater, Cleveland Playhouse,

Capital Rep, and the Boston Publick Theater.

Outstanding supporting roles are provided by Kevin Orton as Jon, a

1994 Juilliard graduate who describes himself as a veteran of


single off-off-Broadway production in New York City." Karl Giant,

as Jessie’s uncommunicative teenage brother Jerry, has been featured

in the independent short "An Afternoon with the Kidnappers,"

and in John Sullivan’s theatrically released feature,


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Judith Robinson

The film also features Judith Robinson as Jessie’s mother, Donna


Robinson, who studied acting under Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood

Playhouse, took a hiatus from her career to raise her family, settling

in Princeton where she taught acting for several years. Now, having

sent her children off to college, she is back in Los Angeles, resuming

where she left off. Princeton’s Jeffrey Folmer can be heard on the

soundtrack, which also includes a couple of terrific scenes inspired

by singer-songwriter Patty Larkin.

Although Wachspress entered Princeton as an engineering major,


has been a lifelong passion. "I made films as a kid," he says,

"but I was always good at math and science. I wanted to get a

degree in engineering so I could make a living."

Also appearing gratis in "One Take" are both Wachspress’s

parents. His father, in a funny cameo as Grandpa Max, is a retired

mathematician who worked at G.E. His mother, who plays Jessie’s


is a retired social worker. Not present are his older brother and


If "One Take" is a heartfelt tribute to romantic love, so

were the years of its making. The filmmaker met his wife-to-be,


during pre-production when she was working for the Department of


Protection in Trenton.

"No one can understand what it’s like to make a film until they

witness it," says Wachspress. "She lived through the process.

And she was instrumental in me being able to finish the film."

When the sound broke down on the hospital set in Schenectady, setting

off the need to purchase $1,000 worth of replacements, she had to

use her own credit card at the local outlet store.

Wachspress says his years working with Forman will remain a benchmark

for his aspirations. "If there were anyone I’d like to emulate

as a director, it would be Forman. He has the ability to inspire


not just to get adequate performances, but to get performances that

are the best they can possibly be. He looks for truth — believable

performances that smack of reality, that provide insight on the human


As for future films, having found his own romantic happiness,


is less sure about plowing his professional earnings into his


"This was my baby, but now I have two real ones," says


who, with his wife Debbie, lives in Lawrenceville with their children

Jacob, 2-1/2, and Anna, six months.

"At the Princeton screening of `One Take’ that same question was

asked by my boss," says Wachspress. "All I can say is that

it’s going to be my calling card to get my next job in filmmaking.

But at this point, I’ll continue to work my engineering job and write

in my spare time."

— Nicole Plett

One Take, New Jersey International Film Festival,

Scott Hall 123, College Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-932-8482. $5.

Saturday, June 26, 7 p.m.

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