There is no shortage of talent in today’s entertainment industry. However, Dana Kippel is truly a force to be reckoned with. She’s been quietly sharpening her skill sets for several years as she prepares for her most significant endeavor to date! In fact, she’s kicked off 2024 in grand fashion with the release of her feature film debut, REFLECT. Serving as writer, director, and lead actress, she’s a triple threat in every sense. This captivating metaphysical cinematic journey centers around Summer, a young woman unhappy with her current relationship. She sets out on a road trip to Sedona, Arizona, with her four gal pals to a spiritual obstacle course. Upon arriving, they are greeted by their uncanny host, Hermes, who leads them into the vast desert cape, which becomes the foreground for the inter-dimensional game show they unknowingly participate in. Transported, they begin a colorful, surrealistic journey of the soul, diving into issues surrounding trauma, mental health, and female relationships. One by one, the girls go missing, and we discover they are being followed by mysterious hooded figures. As the tension rises, who will figure out how to escape this and become the last one standing, ultimately winning The Game of Life?
One thing is sure: REFLECT is an incredible showcase for this star on the rise! Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this creative force on the rise to discuss her creative journey, the challenges of bringing ‘Reflect’ from script to screen, and the lessons learned along the way.
How did you get involved with the arts early on in life, and what went into finding your creative voice as a young artist?
I attended Rockland Center for the Arts in West Nyack, NY, early in life. I was introduced to art and theater this way with many child actors and artists. I also would finish my school work early and do creative writing assignments for my teachers, and I got to write stories. Looking back, they were trying to keep me occupied because I had a lot of energy. Unfortunately, I found my creative voice through darker experiences as a child. Still, I always had a whimsicality about me that I held on to and never let go that, now that I have encountered healing, has come back in full force!
You only achieve the type of success that you have if you put in the work. How did the creative drive and work ethic end up in your DNA?
Well, one, I am from New York, where everything moves fast. Two, it’s me striving for validation and success. I am actually kind of scared of healing that inner wound and hope I will still be able to have a good work ethic, as now I am learning to relax more and enjoy life. What it comes down to is I LOVE WRITING AND DIRECTING. And whatever you love is easy, it flows, and it only sometimes feels like work. I also took a focus test when I was 12 and scored in the 99th percentile, so I think when I am focused on what I want…things work out.
What drew you to the craft of storytelling and continues to speak to you about it the most?
I loved telling stories as a kid with our home videos and in the theatre and playing with my friends. I talked to myself in the mirror a lot, which is kind of weird now. Thanks to my tumultuous childhood, I also have a very overactive imagination, so I escaped into storytelling and fantasy a lot. I am happy to start telling stories from a more grounded and healed place while also incorporating my strong visions. It is also wonderful to be a vessel for good. I hope my films can inspire people to be the truest to themselves they can be, let go and surrender to things they cannot control, and love themselves more.
How did you begin to break into the business?
I wouldn’t consider myself breaking in yet; I have very high aspirations to win an Oscar or Golden Globe! Then I will break in! However, the most important thing in this industry is genuine, loving relationships and patience. I am working on patience.
Your work reflects a lot of your life experience. What are some of the lessons you learned early on as an artist that have continued to resonate throughout your career?
Lessons as an artist early on…hmm…I still am learning so much. The first couple of lessons were to be myself, not let outside voices change me, and hold true to my vision. There are many opinions and people who do not always have your best interest in mind. Have good boundaries and discernment. Even experts can be wrong. You know your vision best. Sometimes advice can be great! Just have good discernment. Above all, listen to your gut, not your fear, but from love.
When it comes to your directorial style, where do you find yourself looking for inspiration?
Funny enough, a lot of books inspire me. And lighting in nature. Futurism also inspires me, as does Science and Metaphysics. I like to do new things. I like to play. I like to let things flow. Inspiration can flow in from anywhere, and I need to work on staying receptive and present. Also, continuing to know myself better and connecting with others inspires me. I like to pull things in from all over and flip them in a way we haven’t seen before. Also, trying to touch the truth inspires me. Complexity inspires me. Dreams and my meditations inspire me.
Your latest project, REFLECT, is your feature film debut. Could you tell us a bit about what inspired the story and how the ball got rolling on this exciting project?
‘Reflect’ was inspired by many different things. My own traumas [laughs], “The Red Book” by Carl Jung, “The Heroine’s Journey” by Maureen Murdock, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and many other terrific authors, the vividness and whimsicality of my favorite board game Candyland, and the landscape of Sedona, Arizona and the legends of its vortexes. I wrote the script in August or September 2021, raised the money through crowdfunding, donations, and one investor in October 2021, and literally made the film in December 2021. It was a fast process with little thought if I am being honest. It just exploded out of me. But every day until we shot it, I worked voraciously on pre-production, my shot list, and other things.
What can you tell us about the physical and mental prep you did heading into this project as a director and an actor? I assume you must be well-prepared to tackle a project like this!
I first did all my director prep and then studied the character for 2 weeks before shooting. I did make her easy, and she was a lot like myself, which made it better. But I still had trouble with it. We went back to Sedona the following May to shoot my emotional scenes because after shooting in December, I was gassed out. I am very, very detail-oriented as a director and actor, and I can get quite obsessive, so I worked A LOT on it in prep. I wish I had given myself more time to think through certain things, but oh well! I also read many self-help books like “The Energy of Money” to help with my mindset around fundraising. I meditated twice a day to stay connected. I also used Shotdeck.com for my prep for the cinematography, which I highly recommend. They are amazing and have so many inspiring images to pull from.
You wore many hats when it came to this film, from producing to acting to directing. What stands out as the biggest challenge you faced in those realms?
The biggest challenge was not being able to make sure everyone else was OK at every moment. I checked in the best I could, but I think in the future, I want to have someone on set to make sure everyone is mentally OK. I say this because I am only one person, and it was hard to do that with all that was going on within me. Mental Health is huge for me, so I feel I failed and learned on that one. Also, reminding my crew how grateful I am for them and their help. When you are the sole driving person for your film in producing, marketing, etc., in post-production, it is so hard to also check in to see how people are, and I wish I could have done that more.
There are so many talented people involved in bringing this film to life. What went into finding the right mix of people in front of and behind the camera to bring your vision to life?
I think since it all happened very quickly, it was just the universe kind of bringing whoever I needed to me. It was a mix of friends and friends of friends for the most part! I got very lucky for everyone working way below what they are worth and doing a terrific job.
In addition to yourself, you have four other talented female leads in the film. What did they bring to these characters that you might not have expected?
Ariana Brown, who played Nia, had never acted before. She did terrifically, and I am very proud of her. She brought a fantastic vulnerability to her character. Marissa Patterson, who played Annie, killed it! She is nothing like her character in real life; she has excellent acting chops. Grace Patterson, who played Katie, cries on command, so they helped a lot with timing. She is a seasoned, professional actress. Jadelyn Breier, who played Liz, shined in her role, and I was really proud of her, especially in the flashback scene with her mom.
Looking back on bringing this film to fruition, how has this project evolved since its inception?
The film’s ending was completely rewritten and shot 5 months after the initial film. I also added some connecting scenes with Beale that my producer, Michael Delano, recommended I do. Besides that, I am really hopeful that the spiritual crowd and everyone will appreciate it for what it is. I would be so happy if this film got a lot of eyes. It would mean a lot for the future of metaphysical film.
What did you learn about yourself through the creative process?
I learned SO much through this film. I learned that I was craving a genuine connection with myself and other people. I learned to love myself more. To be more kind. I learned how important our planet is and how we need to start connecting with it and taking better care of it ASAP. I learned that when people come together, they can make anything happen. I learned to let perfectionism go. I learned to ditch my limiting beliefs. I learned I deserve to be here and tell my stories just like everyone else has that same right! And I am still learning many, many other things. I also discovered that this imagined negative force that I thought was holding me back was actually myself and fear, not this “mysterious darkness.”
You have unique skill sets and keep getting better with age. While we are still early in your career, how do you feel you have most evolved at your craft?
Everything above is how I have evolved in the past two years. I have learned to be OK with my truth and confident in that. I have learned that some people won’t like me or my films, which is OK. And that only I can validate myself. I learned to have more love for myself and others and patience and kindness. And I learned to stop rushing the process. I also learned to speak my voice if I wanted to change something because I was scared to do that sometimes for fear of upsetting others. Now, I’ve realized all I did was silence myself and make myself upset.
Regarding your acting work, which of your past projects has had the most significant impact on you as an artist?
I am really excited about my next film, which is a sci-fi film, this summer. I can’t say much, but it has summed up my last few years and has had an incredible impact on me and learning to let go.
What do you look for in the material you take on these days?
Metaphysical vibes, truth, perspective, depth, magic, things that make our world better, things that make people curious, things that make us want to live in that created world…things that make us imagine…
Your journey will undoubtedly serve as an inspiration to a lot of young creatives. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Oh gosh, that is all I want! I want everyone to know they absolutely CAN make the stories they want to make. Keep going, NO MATTER WHAT. It is not always easy, but you must believe in yourself and keep working on yourself. The quickest way to make your dreams happen is to know yourself better and heal your trauma roots from childhood and past lives. Yes. Past lives. [laughs] The best lesson is LOVE ALL OF YOURSELF. That is such a multidimensional statement with many sides and depths to it. But I hope it reaches you in a cellular way and you really think about what this means in all aspects of your life.
Dana Kippel’s ‘Reflect’ debuts on Digital VOD January 9th, 2024, including Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu. Follow her continuing adventures via social media on Instagram. To take an even deeper dive into her world — Click Here!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.