EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: 'Death is Orange' by Lauren Tepfer

Death is Orange directed by Lauren Tepfer is an intimate look into grief, love, family, and understanding. Heavily influenced by the intersections of time and personal identity, Lauren captures her work in real time as she herself is still processing her life. She was one of the first directors we interviewed when the Light Leaks was launched and has remained a fervent supporter and incredible friend of the site. Her eye for detail, colors, and feelings shine through her work and her ability to use social media to connect with other transparently is beautiful. She is a much needed and refreshing voice in the arts industry. Lauren, though just 19, has shot for Google, Nike, Vans, Converse, VSCO and other heavy hitters in the commercial industry. We are proud to premiere her latest short film "Death is Orange" alongside an interview with our founder, Kim Hoyos.

Why do you think you gravitate towards creating work around taboo subjects (mental health, death, etc)?
I have no idea. I think it’s probably because I feel everything a zillion times more intensely than I need to. My practice of creating art has also always been a way for me to process the things that happen in my life, and sometimes life can be really shitty. It’s easier for me to shoot a photo or film about something than talking about it, and when I do go to shoot it, it becomes easier to talk and write about.

When did you decide to create this film? Were you shooting moments in real time knowing that you'd create this?
‘Death is Orange’ was prompted by the recent death of my Grandpa. Even saying that says weird. He was probably one of the closest people I had in my life.

Growing up, I experienced a lot of death. It was a strange phenomenon and by the time I grew old enough to understand, it felt normal. I was explaining this to someone recently, saying that death had become a routine -- which is crazy to think about, because I’m only 19 and I already have such strong ideation of the whole experience. I think I was in eighth grade when it first started. There were a lot of funerals that year and I missed a lot of school. It was really strange. I remember being on edge all of the time and wondering what would happen next and praying all of the time asking for it to stop. Between eighth grade and my sophomore year of high school, I lost ten family members. The number is kind of shocking, even writing out, but the timeline was just a coincidence, life was just happening all at once.

Even though I held all of these experiences and death impacted the majority of my childhood, I had never up until now made any art or work about death. I think it was something I was trying to escape for the longest time. I think another reason I felt so hesitant to make anything about death is because I felt as though it would rob the situation of sentimental and actual value and I didn’t want to categorize these intense moments into something so tangible because they felt so out of reach. I didn’t want to water anything down. But, when my Grandpa passed in October, I was just feeling so much all at once, I needed to put it somewhere. His death was really abrupt. I was caught off guard and knew I needed to document everything I was experiencing no matter the medium. He was someone I never thought I’d lose.

So, when I found out he was in hospice, I went home to New Jersey with my camera and shot everything I was experiencing. My grandma and my mom. My brother. All of it. I continued to shoot through all of these moments and days right before his death. And then when he passed, I continued. I had my camera with me the day of the funeral. It felt weird. Some of the footage you see in the film is from that day. My brother in his shirt and tie on the way home afterward. My grandma’s empty house.

Over how many days was this piece shot?
‘Death is Orange’ was shot over the course of about two and a half months. A lot of the footage is from the days right before and after my Grandpa’s funeral but there is footage spanning throughout the months of October - November.

When did you decide on the title/color schemes?
The weeks preceding my Grandpa’s death, the words ‘Death is Orange’ would not get out of my head. It was then I realized that all of these intense moments I had categorized by colors. Looking back into the others I had lost, all of the memories were so vivid - in yellow, maroon, green and then presently - orange.

Considering your main medium to be photography, why was a video the right medium for this piece?
Even though I shot a lot of photography in conjunction with the film, I knew that the ultimate medium would have to be video. I struggled for a while wondering whether or not it should just be about my Grandpa and his life, but the more I moved forward the more I realized that this moment was part of a larger experience I had had my entire life. It felt right to group everything together, without generalizing.

Did you write your monologue before or after shooting?
I wrote after! The majority of the time I was shooting, I couldn’t express anything in words and that’s why I dove in right away with my camera. After going through all of the footage, talking with my family and thinking everything out, I sat down with my laptop and just wrote everything. And that’s how I ended up with my monologue!

What challenged you with creating this piece?
Like I said earlier, I think the scariest part about actually making this was the fear that I’d generalize or water everything down, or even make light of the situation. Because that is not what I wanted at all. (I also was and AM terrified of what my family’s reaction would/will be). Making this piece was an exercise in understanding all of the deaths I’ve experienced. I made it in hopes to move forward and to feel better and stronger. Even though I am really happy with the way it came out and I do believe it holds emotional value and rings true to everything I was experiencing/feeling I still haven’t completely processed the loss of my Grandpa. I’m not sure if making this numbed me of processing, or maybe it just takes a lot of time.

How has your filmmaking evolved since your last film?
I hope it’s evolved a lot! I can’t even watch that film anymore without cringing. It’s really sweet and special to me but I’m so glad it’s in the past. Technically, my filmmaking approach has been perfected a bit more (I think?!) and I’ve also experienced a hell lot of new things since making Eight Hundred and Fifty-Six Growing Pains. I have new stories to tell! Which is so cool!

Stay in touch with Lauren’s work by following her on Instagram