Filmmaker Emily Tomson’s Award-Winning Short, “Kate in Oxnard”

A dramatic narrative on the vulnerability of adjusting to life in a coastal town for a summer of seasonal work

With its web premiere on film curation platform Short of the Week, filmmaker Emily Tomson’s most recent narrative short, Kate in Oxnard, makes its transition from the film festival circuit to the internet, where all can see. The thoughtful 18-minute drama follows Kate, a young woman who’s adjusting to life in a coastal town for a summer of seasonal work. Tomson, along with her cast and crew, strikes and sustains an uncomfortable tone that underscore’s Kate’s vulnerability from start to finish. Shot on an ALEXA mini over the course of three days, the film is ultimately the result of eight months development, production and post—wherein the team worked nights and weekends. Kate in Oxnard succeeds where many short films do not; the story may be one that feels familiar but the nuances of the narrative arc, coupled with compelling performances, blend into a relevant, engaging work. Mood and message work together. Tomson explains more about this below.

What is the significance of Oxnard—or, really, what is the significance of the small coastal town?

This script was originally set in Long Island—specifically Montauk circa 2005, where I lived for a summer in college. When I knew we weren’t going to shoot on the east coast, I set out to find the closest thing to that memory of Montauk in southern California, and ended up in Oxnard. What I was actually looking for was a very blue collar town that looks and feels like a perfect spot for a summer vacation, but isn’t really at all. I wanted Kate to be in a place that could have been one thing but ended up being something totally different, a place that felt very traditionally masculine, where she would look and feel subtly out of place in different ways all the time.

How did you secure such a specific tone and mood?

Place is very important to me and I suppose it really starts with the script, but a lot of the location scouting I did myself and just went with my gut—I spent several strange afternoons wandering around Oxnard by myself. I knew I wanted things to look and feel a certain way, and I knew when I found those spots in real life. In terms of visual style, I worked with an incredible DP named Allie Schultz who picked up on the tone of the film from the start and helped me build that style from pre-production on. She took a lot of the image references I had and pulled them together into something cohesive, and we talked a lot about how we wanted the cinematography to stay connected to Kate’s emotional arc and her POV in the story.

What did you do to express real, tactile vulnerability in the story from the start?

Audrey [Corsa, who plays the lead] and I spent a lot of time talking about Kate: who she was and what this story was about for her. Audrey is a really compassionate person and an incredibly dynamic actor and I think it’s really just a testament to her work—she’s so tough and so vulnerable simultaneously throughout the film and she was able to find that balance from the very first take.

Can you talk about casting?

Both Kate and Sean are subtle characters and I did have a harder time than I expected with casting, but as soon as I met Audrey and Daniel [Ahearn] I knew I had found them. They are both incredible to work with.

You wrote the script. What was your method when working with the actors on something you’d also penned?

Audrey, Daniel and I spent one afternoon rehearsing before we were on set, and I spent time with each of them separately talking about their characters and how we understood them beforehand as well. I was lucky to work with such talented people, I think Audrey and Daniel understood both their characters and the larger story we were telling from the first time we spoke, which only made my job easier.

Can you tell me about the film festival circuit?

We premiered this March at an incredible festival in Idaho called Sun Valley Film Festival where we won Best Short Film, and went on to screen on both coasts (Brooklyn Film Festival, Hollyshorts in Los Angeles, among others) and finished up just last month at BendFilm Festival in Oregon.

Finally, what is the importance of premiering on short of the week?

Short of the Week is amazing. It’s a fantastic platform I’ve personally used for years to discover new films and filmmakers, and they do an incredible job of supporting short film work and the film community. I’m so happy to work with them.

Images courtesy of Emily Tomson