Date of Submission
Film and Electronic Arts
Project Advisor 1
Senior Project Submitted to The Division of the Arts of Bard College
by Gisella Urciuoli
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY May 2023
No Vacancy is a film project that I was inspired to make last summer. I spent a majority of July and August driving cross country between California, Tennessee and New York. During the leg of the trip in which we visited the Grand Canyon, my boyfriend’s mom insisted we listen to the audio book of John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley: In Search of America. I had never read this book as a kid, so the story was completely new to me. Between sleeping and driving there was a portion that struck me. As Steinbeck travels through upstate New York he stops off at a motel. He writes that upon entering the motel, the radio was playing and there was hot coffee brewing, but no people around. He waits for anyone to show themselves and claim their coffee and pie, but still no one comes. He explains how he felt like a trespasser, so he decides to sleep in his car rather than take any chances inside the strange motel. I’m not sure if I was struck by the eeriness of this situation or the fact that it was reaffirming my unsettling view of upstate New York, but I was inspired to make it a film.
Thankfully I had many hours ahead of me in the car and the ideas for my Senior Project slowly came together. I knew I wanted to use this excerpt of the book to inspire the introduction of my film. The story felt like it was naturally leaning towards the horror genre, which is one I felt like I knew both everything and nothing about. I knew the tropes and the formula for making the audience scared, but I wasn’t the biggest fan myself. When we got back to school in the fall I began writing my script and watching all the horror classics, some old and new. I was interested in making a project that was visually beautiful, while also utilizing some of the classic techniques seen throughout the genre. I had a clear visual in my head of what I wanted the film to look like, but the most challenging part was creating a linear story. I had never written a script before, so it felt impossible at times, but slowly I felt like the story was coming along. I gathered a team that I trusted and already had an idea of who I wanted to cast, so I quickly began that process. I was overly ambitious in the beginning and thought I would be able to write, cast, prepare and film all before winter break. This didn’t happen so I pushed the shoot back until February, knowing I would have to be ultra prepared in order to get everything done as neatly as possible. We managed to shoot the entire thing in 4 days with the same crew each night, which I like to think was what made the project successful. I was lucky to have accumulated a team that was as passionate about making the project come to life as I was.
As we have come to the end, I watch the film and still get excited. While it changed a lot since the beginning, there was a lot of hard work and problem solving that went into the project. I learned how to work with a crew for the first time and the importance of making sure everyone is taken care of. I also learned how limiting it can be to try and tackle everything on your own. There are many people who have helped me along the way, and I know this project wouldn’t exist without their help. As for the purpose of my film, I was simply hoping to make something that would excite an audience and keep them entertained. Parts of the film are intentionally
vague in the hopes that anyone watching can change the story details to their own liking. The ultimate goal was to turn the location into a 4th character and bring the space to life. Whether or not it is “scary” is up to the viewer, but I hope to have at least achieved the same sense of eeriness that Steinbeck experienced.
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Urciuoli, Gisella, "No Vacancy" (2023). Senior Projects Spring 2023. 347.
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