Alexandra Hetmerova on Short Film “Mythopolis”

Alexandra Hetmerova, Animation, Film

“In contrast with other mediums, everything is possible in animation.”

Cilect Prize winner, Alexandra Hetmerova discusses her short “Mythopolis” along with her approach to animation…

Honey Wagon Confidential: Mythopolis and your animation have a really unique look and feel. Who are some of your biggest inspirations?

Alexandra Hetmerova: The inspiration is always changing. It depends on the film which I’m doing at that time. When I started developing the style for Mythopolis I was inspired by UPA Films. But I can say that I am big fan of Estonian animation – Olga and Priit Pärn, Kaspar Jancis, Kristjan Holm, Ülo Pikkov, and many other great Estonian directors. All of them always surprise me with new work and it’s always very smart and funny.

HWC: How did you develop your style? Did schooling assist in this or was it mostly independent?

AH: I think it’s more independent, I am trying to make every film bit differently. Michaela Pavlatová acted as a kind of mentor for Mythopolis. If I had a problem, she always helped me solve it. She is great.

HWC: How long did Mythopolis take to make? What was the moment you were most frustrated in making the short? 

AH: I spend, I think half of year maybe more on script, and half a year on animation. I animated everything by myself in TV Paint, but my friends helped me with coloring. After that compositing, editing and sound, so all together one year and two months. It was a long time without any holiday, I worked most of the summer, so maybe that was the worst. But I enjoyed the work.

HWC: Did you write the script for Mythopolis as well? Where did the story line come from?

AH: When I was working on my previous film Swimming pool, [there were also two Greek mythological creatures (Centaur and Mermaid)], I found out that Medusa has potential to be a great hero for some other film. After that I started to write a story about her. But it wasn’t very good-not until I added more creatures. All of them have characteristics which fit perfectly into the final story.

HWC: Your characters all play distinctively different roles. How did you ensure each character was so different?

AH: All the characters in the film are from Greek mythology. I tried to mix together their known stories and transform their characteristics and how their lives would look like in the context of the world today.

HWC: Why did you choose animation as a medium?

AH: Since childhood I’ve loved reading fiction stories. I admire all who are able to write literature.Before FAMU I studied graphic design in high school. I enjoyed traditional print graphic technics, but then I started experimenting with animation. I fell in love with it. I’m not so good at writing but through animation I can tell stories without any words; just with pictures and movements. I adore creating stories for animation.

HWC: Do you think animation offers something other mediums do not?
AH: In contrast with other mediums, everything is possible in animation.

Check out more of Alexandra’s work here!

Jefferson Stein on Short Film, “Tumble Dry Low”

Film, Jefferson Stein, Short Film

“But, I think it was when I realized that the films weren’t real; that the stories were made up by people, that was the moment I wanted to learn how to make them. And I’ve been trying to do that since.”

Honey Wagon Confidential: You wrote and directed “Tumble Dry Low”. What was this experience like? Do you prefer one to the other?

Jefferson Stein: I’ve written each film I’ve directed and I’ve only written one film which I didn’t direct. For my process so far, it’s been important that I generate my own material. Since it takes a long time to make a film, I need to connect to it on a deep level or I lose interest. Although, I would be open to adapting stories from other mediums in the future. This film was always going to be a small project, but I ended up having to shoot and edit it as well. I even got to try my hand at making some of the music which was a blast.

HWC: Where did the idea for “Tumble Dry Low” come from?

JS: I approached this film in two parts. First I thought, what’s the most painful thing I can think of that could happen to me and what are my biggest fears? I came up with a list, and chose my mother dying. At the same time I had been compiling a list of unique places that I knew I could gain access to film at for free. When I had my location, I came up with these characters and wrote the story. The trailer became a motif for isolation, and we sort of crafted the story around what we had access to. At the trailer rental place, I offered to take pictures of the owner’s trailers for his website to get a discount cheap enough for afford to rent the trailer. That’s low budget filmmaking for you.

HWC: What got you into film-making?

JS: I owe it to my parents for getting me into film. My parents love movies and when my mother had me, she took off from work to stay at home with me. She would record movies that played on HBO onto VHS tapes and cataloged them in a truly massive library of films. There was even a rolodex with all the movie titles so you could look up the number and find it on the shelf. I’m the oldest of four, so after three more kids, the collection started to get pretty big. When we were all growing up, during the summers and after school we would watch them. But, I think it was when I realized that the films weren’t real; that the stories were made up by people, that was the moment I wanted to learn how to make them. And I’ve been trying to do that since.

HWC: In 2012, you directed “The Animal”. What have you learned from then and how did your process change when making “Tumble Dry Low”?

JS: The “The Animal” was a student film. It was a painful process. I did it in my first directing class in film school, and I was required to make it in a specific way. That way, was not the way I wanted to make it. In the end, I was brought into the head of the department’s office and he said to make it they way the teacher wanted, that I needed to learn this way of filmmaking. He said that my next film could be made the way I wanted, that this was the point of the class. I ended up getting to keep one shot I had originally planned; the shot you see in the trailer. Looking back, I’m immensely thankful for this experience, and that it happened in film school when the stakes were low. The pain of seeing a project completely get away from me and the disappointment in its result, has taught me the cost of not being true to myself.

HWC: This film has been a part of the festival circuit. What was this experience like and what did you learn from these festivals?

JS: I had an amazing experience on the festival circuit. The best part was meeting fellow filmmakers and seeing their films. Festivals are kind of the R+D of the indie film world, and it’s great to see the newest stuff. It can take years for some of these films to get onto theaters and VOD or for shorts to be released online. I liked doing the Q+A’s after the film screened. It was great to see people engage with the film and bring their own life experiences into the discussions. I never expected any of this, so it’s all been great.

HWC: When directing a commercial do you focus on different aspects as opposed to when directing a narrative short?

JS: So far commercials have been a different animal. But, I think what clients like about me is that I approach the spots from my filmmaking background. I ask questions that maybe they aren’t thinking about. It’s a very collaborative process and I like to be a part of it. It’s also surreal seeing it on TV.

HWC: If you could only watch one film for the rest of your life, what would you choose?

JS: 2001. That film means a lot to me. Every time I watch it, I see something new, and it has this feeling to it that I haven’t seen in any other film. The way the mise en scene, camera movement, and music works in unison; the characters and the setting; it all comes together in a beautiful and unsettling way. I’m a huge space nerd too, so that might also have something to do with it.

Check out more of Jefferson’s work here!

Jessie Auritt on Her Directoral Debut, “The Birdman”

Documentary, Film, Jessie Auritt

“Instead of making a broad issue-based film, I decided to profile the Birdman and his store to shed light on the circumstances through a personal lens.”

The Birdman director, Jessie Auritt sits down with us to discuss the Birdman himself, as well as the difficulties behind the independent documentary…

Honey Wagon Confidential: How did the nickname “Birdman” come about?

Jessie Auritt: I asked the Birdman this question during our interview and he told me that his former employees started calling him “birdman” because he eats a lot of turkey and chicken. I decided to omit that from the film.

HWC: How did you initially encounter the Birdman and why were you compelled to make a film about him?

JA: I used to live in the East Village around the corner from his store, Rainbow Music. The first time I encountered the Birdman was when I went into the store to try to sell some used CDs. Although he didn’t end up buying any of my CDs, he and his store left a lasting impression on me. A few years later, I started thinking about ideas for an independent documentary film. I was curious about how the small independent music stores in New York City were able to stay in business despite the changing nature of the music industry and gentrification. Rainbow Music was naturally the first place that came to mind. After talking to the Birdman about my idea for the documentary, I was instantly compelled to make a film solely about him and his store. He’s such a quirky and interesting character, I felt that he deserved is own film.

HWC: The majority of the shots in the film appear to be hand-held. Was this a conscious decision on your part or an act of necessity?

JA: Yes, aside from the opening shot of the Birdman opening the store and the main interview, I shot everything in the store handheld. As you can probably tell from the film, the store in very tiny and cramped. The pathway in-between the stacks of CDs, is so narrow that I wasn’t even able to open the legs of the tripod all the way to do the interview. In order to capture everything in a vérité style, I felt that I had to shoot handheld. I also think that the movement of the handheld shots gives a sense of how cluttered and chaotic the store is. I definitely knocked over a few stacks of CDs while shooting but luckily the Birdman was understanding.

HWC: A central component of the Birdman is the degradation of small businesses due to the rise of corporate power and presence. How did this give shape to your approach as a director and how you presented the Birdman and Rainbow Music to the viewer? 

JA: I have lived in New York City for close to a decade and sadly I’ve seen neighborhoods change right before my eyes. What used to be unique charming mom and pop shops are now banal chain stores and “luxury” condos. Instead of making a broad issue-based film, I decided to profile the Birdman and his store to shed light on the circumstances through a personal lens.

Unfortunately, I recently got a phone call from the Birdman and he informed me that he will be closing his store at the end of September this year.

HWC: The Birdman was your directorial debut. How did making a film for yourself compare to making films for various companies and organizations?

JA: I’ve been lucky that in my career I have had the opportunity to make some interesting and important videos for great organizations. However, making films for myself allows me to have absolute creative freedom to tell the stories I want to tell in my own style. As a filmmaker, I tend to be drawn to unique characters and situations that fall outside societal norms. My goal is to bring their stories to light in a heartfelt, honest, and sometimes humorous way. I was able to accomplish this with the Birdman and am striving to do so with my current project, Supergirl, which tells the coming of age story of an 11-year-old orthodox Jewish girl who is a world recording holding powerlifter.

HWC: What lessons or experience did you gather from the process of making The Birdman that you will now carry into your work on Supergirl, your first forthcoming feature length documentary?

JA: Aside from color correction, sound mixing and music, I pretty much did everything for the film entirely on my own. One thing I learned is that making independent documentary films is a lot of work and can be very time consuming and isolating. After my experience in making The Birdman, I knew that I wanted to collaborate with other people on Supergirl.

Check out more on Auritt’s next film Supergirl!

Evan Mann on Short Film “Voyage of the Galactic Space Dangler”

Evan Mann, Film, Short Film

“I thrive on rules. They make infinite possibilities more accessible. By limiting myself to the real materials and shunning CGI, I am forced to solve problems that play within reality.”

Evan Mann sits down with us to talk inspiration behind short film “Voyage of the Galactic Space Dangler” among other things…

Honey Wagon Confidential: How does your background in sculpture and painting affect your work?

Evan Mann: I am grounded in material. The physical world has so much to offer, and making a sculpture or a prop with my hands: shaping, gluing, texturizing, manipulating, painting, really having the opportunity to transform matter from a disparate list of materials into a cohesive object (prop) or interior installation (set design), is essential to my process. Placing these props in front of the camera allows their context to further change. Familiar materials are pushed into a space that questions their reality, especially in a digital age of CGI. This forces me to use traditional, practical effects, like masking techniques and stop-motion, to achieve what digital imagery could easily overcome. What remains is a tactical world. Real, yet unreal. This is painting. Pigments combined to create the illusion of something so far beyond themselves, not only visually, but also metaphorically. When we look at a painting, we are seeing pigments on a surface. But in most cases, the initial observation sees the illusion of a larger image. Trompe l’oeil. The pigments join together to point towards something greater. Physical becoming metaphysical. This is transfiguration.

HWC: What were some inspirations behind this film?

EM: I wanted the first human to encounter the last human. To pull humanity, and all of our achievements into one time and space. A simple interaction between two people. I have little faith in the “progression” of humanity. We make one thing better and another gets worse. Cause and effect. The idea of the pioneer really came forward. I watched Ken Burns documentary The West around the time I was editing Voyage of the Galactic Space Dangler (VOTGSP) and this was so obvious to me. I also live in Northern Colorado with oil and fracking. Big drills assembled upon the landscape. Big money. Big consequences to the little communities who surround them. Other inspirations: 2001 a Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Christian Mysticism, portals, space, time, light, sound, paradoxical situations, and I wanted to make something more narrative. Loosely narrative. I wanted it to be funny and weird still.

HWC: Your film “This Mountain” won the “4K Challenge.” Did you learn anything through making this film?

EM: Most of my projects seem to take years to make. The Samsung 4K challenge only gave me two weeks, and coming out on top among 500+ submissions was a huge surprise. I think my experience making wedding films should get the credit for winning. Weddings were the bread and butter when I first started my company, Otherworldly Productions. Filming a wedding is really a non-sexual form of voyeurism. Honing in on intimacy and vulnerable moments and making them beautiful. for the Samsung film, I turned the camera inwards. My own life and intimacies were exposed. I let strangers in. People appreciate the sincere rawness of being vulnerable.

HWC: You play around with different mediums and forms (i.e stop-motion, using everyday objects to build your sets). What sort of freedom do you think this gives you artistically and why do you choose to pursue it?

EM: Absolute freedom is found within boundaries. I thrive on rules. They make infinite possibilities more accessible. By limiting myself to the real materials and shunning CGI (not because I am against it, I just choose not to employ it), I am forced to solve problems that play within reality. I prefer to use what is accessible to me, what is economical, thrown away. To repurpose, re-contextulize. This adds a touch of humor to my work, but it also makes my worlds more accessible, believable.

  Behind the Scenes

HWC: How long did the stop-motion in this film take to complete? How did you keep perspective on the film throughout this process?

EM: This film was not heavy with stop-motion, so it was not terribly time consuming. The proboscis poking the planet, the arm going down the rabbit hole, and the shaving cream rings. Less than three days. Building the props took way longer. Keeping perspective for two and half years was not possible. I would say perspective was discovered along the way. My wife, Deborah, and I had two children and bought our fist home, which I extensively remodeled. We also grew our production company and allowed life to happen. I could not pause life for this project. I was created in little increments. Build props for two months, film day, build more props for three months, film a sequence. Patience.

HWC: What stylistic choices did you make to isolate the themes of the film, such as pioneering or technology in our global culture?

EM: Lots of portals. A proboscis. Juxtaposition of cave man and space man. Old and new. Analog versus digital. The interior of the space ship is created from mostly analog music players. But please know this was not my intention to make a film “about” these themes. They are what emerged through the process. For example, in building the interior of the spaceship, I had access to old electronic components for cheap. As I assembled the cockpit, the record player, piano and tape deck all become components to control the spaceship. The obsolesce of these objects were subverted when placed in the context of a spacecraft. Meaning was formed through process.

For more on Evan, head over to his site!

Alexander Engel on Short Film, “Digits”

Alexander Engel, Film, Short Film

“Every time I see the bar drop just a little too low, I get real inspired to remind people of some effing standards.”

We sat down with Alexander Engel to discuss his short, “Digits,” festival culture and keeping your standards…

Honey Wagon Confidential: You’ve worked on commercials. How is your process different when shooting the two and which do you prefer?

Alexander Engel: The process is the same— write the best you can, make the best you can. Then do whatever you can to come out above water in the edit.

There is a lot between the two though. With commercials, you’re catering to the client. It doubles the amount of work in prep— you have to explain all your decisions in fully formed presentable ways— every step of the way. Can really slow down the creative momentum an idea can roll with.

HWC: You write and direct. Do you prefer one to the other?

AE: No. They are both the hardest, most un-fun things in the world. It’s just overwhelming disappointment followed by incredible self-loathing over and over again. If I could skip both steps and just have the finished movie, I would.

“Remember “structure” doesn’t compromise art or originality. Look at the sentence— a sentence needs structure; there’s a subject, a predicate, and an order in which the words must exist to make the most sense. And none of that compromises the content or uniqueness of the sentence.”

HWC: Who are your biggest inspirations?

AE: Buster Keaton and Die Antwoord. Solid.

Oh and you know what really inspires me— every time I see mediocre work receiving plaudits. Omfg. Drop the NES and get my head in the game. The real game. I think, oh they don’t know what they’re talking about— they don’t know what “good” really is. (The “they” here is the rest of the world.) Am I allowed to say that? Every time I see the bar drop just a little too low, I get real inspired to remind people of some effing standards.

HWC: Any advice to filmmakers just starting out?

AE: Oh the advice is endless. Here I’ll keep it basic— so right, you need to understand writing and directing are crafts. And like all crafts, you have to learn them and practice them. So like with directing, you don’t learn it by spending three years developing your opus of a short film. You learn it by directing that short. Then directing another and another and so on.

Also, and this is the big one with writing, beginners often push back learning story structure— but that’s crazy— remember “structure” doesn’t compromise art or originality. Look at the sentence— a sentence needs structure; there’s a subject, a predicate, and an order in which the words must exist to make the most sense. And none of that compromises the content or uniqueness of the sentence. So there. Structure.

HWC: Do you think the internet has helped or hurt how your films are received?

AE: If I spend a year touring 20 festivals with a short, maybe 5000 people see it. And really aside from the four or five prestigious festivals (that I’m probably not in), none of these 20 are attended by people of consequence— whatever you think.

When I release online, within the first week I can have 10x the number of views and if it’s any good, trust me, the industry is watching. It’s a lot of work to do a release like that, but the internet’s where it’s at. Festivals are so 90s.

To check out more of Alexander’s work head over to his site!

Oscar Nominee Adam Pertofsky on the Fluidity and Spontaneity of Film

Adam Pertofsky, Documentary, Film

Adam_Pertofsky_image

“There is no substitute for actually making or working on a film. No book or classroom can substitute for the real thing.”

Adam Pertofsky sits down with us to discuss Oscar Nominee, The Witness, among other things…

HoneyWagonConfidential: What’s your opinion on a director editing his own film?

Adam Pertofsky: I tried that and didn’t like it very much. I didn’t like taking a head of department out of the equation and I feel one of the best assets you have as an editor is you are not attached to the footage. You only use want is needed to tell the story. In bgFATLdy I had a friend edit a scene for me that I was having trouble with. He used shots from another scene as well as an outtake that I didn’t see because I was looking to only use what I shot to complete the scene. It was that other point of view that convinced me for me that I need to over see the edit of my directorial projects not do the actually editing alone.

HWC: How did your Oscar-nominated film The Witness come about? How did you initially cross paths with Rev. Billy Kyles?

AP: I became friends with the producer Margaret Hyde through a school function. At some point she told me she grew up in Memphis. So, she knew Rev. Kyles from her childhood and has heard his story over the years. As Rev. Kyles was getting older she was very passionate of wanting to document his story. Margaret knew I was an editor and that I’ve done some directing. She asked me if I’d be interested in telling Rev. Kyles story and donating it to the National Civil Rights Museum if she could procure the funding. I jumped at the opportunity. We flew to Memphis to meet with Rev. Kyles. I’ll never forget meeting him for the first time. He’s a man of great presence and humility. He’s one of the most elegant and classy men I have ever met in my life.

HWC: You’ve been successful in your more commercial pursuits as well. Do you find commercial media-making to be artistically expressive and gratifying or is the process always more constraining in that respect?

AP: I do enjoy working in commercials. There’s a rush to trying to tell a story in 30 or 60 seconds. Plus the talent exposure you get to work with is incredible. Commercial making is a terrific playground to learn your craft in and then expand upon it in film. The disciple of telling a story quickly really helps once the time constraints are taking off.

HWC: An instrumental aspect of the film was the inclusion of video from Kyles’ sermon. Why did you make the creative decision to include moments from the sermon throughout the film?

AP: This is the part I love about film making. You always have a plan but you need to be open to finding a better solution. As we cut together the film something was missing. At the same time we were asked for a trailer, to give the Museum a sneak preview. So, we stopped cutting the film and put together a trailer. In the trailer we used Rev. Kyles sermon for the backbone of the piece, to build dramatic tension. Once we finished the trailer and watched the rough cut of the film again it fell flat compared to the trailer. Then I thought why not use the structure of the trailer for the film. And that’s what ended up being the final cut of the film.

“Commercial making is a terrific playground to learn your craft in and then expand upon it in film. The disciple of telling a story quickly really helps once the time constraints are taking off.”

HWC: How did working on your first feature-length film, BgFATLdy, compare to working on your short films such as Dead in the Room?

AP: BgFATLdy was my film school. We had no time, no money, our backs were constantly up against the wall and yet we were able to make a film I am proud of. That being said I didn’t really have any money for my other films, so the biggest difference I guess was time and experience. BFL was my first film so even though I had been editing for over a decade at the time I didn’t have a lot of experience directing and none working with real actors on a narrative piece. The amount of shoot days also changes the approach to the film. BFL was a 19 day shoot where as my other films were anywhere from 1 to 4 days. It’s much easier to power through a short film compared to a feature.

HWC: What do you find to be the most essential component of the creative process?

AP: I think being fluid. It’s an incredible journey making a film. The process is usually full of extremes and you are constantly problem solving. You have to be able to think fast and adapt to any current situation.

HWC: What advice would you give to young aspiring filmmakers?

AP: Just get out there and work. There is no substitute for actually making or working on a film. No book or classroom can substitute for the real thing. I look at filmmaking as a craft. And with any craft you have to put in the man hours to get better. No two projects are alike even if you are shooting the same script again because circumstances always change be it weather, location, equipment, etc. So as Nike says “Just do it.”

HWC: You can watch only one film for the rest of your life…what is it?

AP: That’s easy, Jaws. I watch it every year around the 4th of July and I can honestly say I see something different every time I watch. And I also enjoy knowing the backstory of how difficult of a shoot it was and seeing how great it turned out.

Check out more of Adam’s work here!

Jason Kupfer on Horror Short, “Invaders”

Film, Jason Kupfer, Short Film

“I think it probably leans just a bit more toward dark comedy, but I definitely didn’t want the horror element to feel like a weak supporting foundation to that. I think the element of real danger still has to exist for the relief to payoff.”

Scream in the Dark Film Festival winner, Jason Kupfer sits down with us to talk about making the short horror film and blurring the line between genres…

Honey Wagon Confidential: Where did the idea for “Invaders” come from?

Jason Kupfer: I’ve always been creeped out and intrigued by faceless/emotionless antagonists in horror films that show up with nothing but an absent motive and disturbing masks to terrorize people strictly for the sake of terrorizing people. The awkward decision making process that must have gone into these mask selections could never be a cool conversation. So, going back a few beats to sit in on that exchange would obviously strip these characters of the ominous mystique they’re going for and sort of embarrassingly humanize them. Once you start from that perspective, there’s just no way to take these guys seriously in a grueling home invasion-type scenario.

HWC: “Invaders” has an extremely unique tone and feel. Where did the inspiration for this tone come from and what did you make sure to include stylistically to achieve this tone?

JK: The driver’s romanticized vision for the upcoming home invasion is informed by his own knowledge of film references and masks (Eyes Wide Shut, Point Break, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). There are moments where we sort of dreamily slip into his perspective (knife demonstration/door arrival) and it was important for those moments to subtly shift into his cinematic delusion for a moment with lights shifting and languid slow motion. The rest was sort of reverse engineered from that, with the general atmosphere not straying too far outside of that hyper-realistic tone in terms of lighting/cinematography/fx. We’re fans of everything from Audition to Naked Gun and I think there’s a little bit of all of that stuff sort of mixed in there somewhere.

HWC: There is definitely a lot of gore in the film. Was it difficult to shoot the bloody scenes? Were you concerned with making these scenes appear realistic?

JK: As far as appearing realistic, yes and no. Everything with the passenger is intended to be generally realistic (with his neck stab/head wounds/car-key injuries), while everything with the driver was to always exist in over-the-top exaggerated crazy-land. All of the blood setups were, hands down, the most challenging (technically and emotionally). We had an unfortunate amount of setbacks while shooting the driver’s main blowout and ended up having to shut down the entire shoot for months, while we scrambled to find a new (fortunately incredible) fx/makeup crew to re-work them. We ended up shooting off over 300 gallons of blood all over our producer’s back yard. I’m pretty sure a good amount of that is still nourishing the ant population that’s now accumulated there.

HWC: The short borders on horror and comedy, which is definitely rare. Did you think about how to best balance these two genres or did it just happen naturally?

JK: I think it probably leans just a bit more toward dark comedy, but I definitely didn’t want the horror element to feel like a weak supporting foundation to that. I think the element of real danger still has to exist for the relief to payoff. Regardless of the ridiculous opening exchange, we’re still about to potentially witness two guys terrorize an unsuspecting family….though now we’re just waiting around with them awkwardly before anyone even comes to the door. It’s definitely intended to be unsteady footing between both genres before just diving full-on into complete ridiculousness.

HWC: Sound plays a huge part in the short. What was your thought process behind the slow classical music?

JK: It’s actually the music that the family is listening to while serving dinner. It can be heard faintly through the window in the opening. It picks up and fills the soundtrack when the driver nears the door. To me, it’s his adopting of that music for his own imagined home invasion film. The music picks up, the lights shift around him, and for that moment, before he rings the bell, we’re watching his idealized home invasion film. Carrying that music throughout the remainder of the film, I felt, created a sort of beautiful antithetical tone to what’s actually transpiring on screen.

HWC: What’s your favorite horror film?

JK: A perfect tie between The Exorcist, The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Haunting, The Wicker Man, The Fly, The Tenant, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Opera, Evil Dead, American Werewolf in London, Dead & Buried, Poltergeist, The Thing, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Twilight Zone, Hour of the Wolf, Inside, High Tension, Dead Alive. Sorry, I know this is a complete cop-out answer.

HWC: Any upcoming projects?

JK: A couple of half-written feature length things that could potentially have a second half written at some point, but I more than likely will distract myself with some other ridiculous short film before then.

Check out more on Jason here!

Michael Wong on Debut Short “The Story of 90 Coins”

Film, Michael Wong, Short Film

“I guess there’s always inspiration around us if we observe and dig deeper into the day to day.”

We sat down with director Michael Wong to talk about his debut short and the differences between directing for advertising and the short film…

Honey Wagon Confidential: Where’d the idea for ‘The Story of 90 Coins’ come from and who were your inspirations?

Michael Wong: The short film is partially based on a true story of a friend’s friend. I guess there’s always inspiration around us if we observe and dig deeper into the day to day.

HWC: You have a lot of experience shooting commercials. What is the main difference you found in shooting a commercial as opposed to a short? How is your process different for the two?

MW: I’m blessed to have spent 15 years of my life in the advertising industry being a creative and then the past 5 years as a film director doing mostly TV commercials. Personally, I think there are a few differences between shooting a commercial and shooting a short film. Commercials are like 45 seconds or 30 seconds (now we’re getting requests for 15 seconds!) and you’ve got to deliver a message within that short time frame. So, time duration is naturally a big difference.

Secondly, I tend to look at a commercial through a ‘magnifying glass’ because that’s how an advertiser will scrutinize their commercial; they are more concerned about their product appearance, product benefit, selling points, etc. On the other hand, I look at a short film with a ‘wide angle’ approach; seeing things with a broader perspective; getting an entertaining storyline that happens around interesting situations with good performance from the talents, etc.

This film being my debut short film, I realized that the approach in finding the right actor/actress for a short film is entirely different from shooting a commercial. The latter, in 90% of the time requires a good-looking face and physical appearance.

HWC: What camera did you shoot ‘The Story of 90 Coins on?’ Why did you choose this camera?

MW: We shot on Arri Alexa for the wide dynamic range and great skin tone. It’s perfect as we shoot a lot with existing ambient lights.

HWC: The short has a very unique and soft feel, conveying the romance surrounding it. What measures did you take to achieve this tone?

MW: We wanted a romance/love story that really evokes memory and emotion of the viewers. Having trained as an art director back in the days of doing ads, I paid a lot of attention in the actual crafting of the film, mainly the color tone and the music.

For example, I requested wardrobe colors to match the emotion needed for a particular scene. Also, we took great effort in getting the right location. Does the color of the wall in the location help with the emotion? What about the existing lights, do we need warm tungsten or a colder florescent? On a humorous note, I think the polluted air in Beijing during those few days of filming really helped with the atmospheric feel.

HWC: Why did you get into film in the first place?

MW: As mentioned earlier, I started off in the advertising industry as an art director and then as a creative director, having worked in various multinational advertising agencies in China. As I climbed up the career ladder, I noticed that I was getting more involved in management and politics than actually doing creative work. Eventually I took a leap of faith and worked as a film director on the receiving end, concentrating on the crafting and artistic expression.

HWC: What is your advice to filmmakers just starting out?

MW: Grab whatever opportunity comes and then make the best out of it.

Check out more on Wong’s work here!

Jack Anderson on the Future and Limitations of Animation

Animation, Film, Jack Anderson

“I love animation because you can do anything with it. I could make a movie as crazy as my wildest imagination with just my computer and a couple programs. That’s pretty empowering.”

Student Academy Award Finalist, Jack Anderson sat down with us to discuss his animated short “Wire Cutters” and the challenges of animation…

Honey Wagon Confidential: You directed “Wire Cutters” as well. What was the biggest challenge in balancing both the animation and directing?

Jack Anderson: I think the best possible way to learn how to direct is to make an animated short. Every last moment in “Wire Cutters” had to have a directorial decision behind it. Every blink was meticulously considered. Every scratch in the metal had purpose. When you shoot live action so much is left to chance. In animation you get to create everything so you are allowed the luxury of making sure every last thing facilitates your story. Spielberg speaks to this here:

HWC: How long did “Wire Cutters” take to make?

JA: The process top to bottom was a year and a half. I put over 2000 hours into it. Over half that time was spent on the story. I can’t tell you how many revisions I went through. When it came time to go into production, I simply divided the number of seconds my storyboards ran (about 500) by the number of days I had until graduation. That came out to about 3 seconds a day. So I would get up every single morning and work until I got the next 3 seconds. Sometimes it would only be a few hours and I would have time to render and composite. Other times I would be working until midnight.

HWC: Was it difficult to keep perspective on a project that took so much time?

JA: Great question. That is 100% the hardest part about filmmaking for me. By the time I finished this movie it was like a complete blob to me. I had no idea if anything worked or felt right. I always have to remember my gut instinct of when I first see a shot. If I liked it the first time I saw it, chances are it’s going to work despite my inevitable backpedaling towards the end of production.

It seems petty but this is why I really appreciate hearing that people like the film. Because it reminds me that it is working for people. When I watch it now I think it doesn’t really make any sense.

HWC: How did you first get into animation and why have you stuck with this form?

JA: The true story to this is I got into animation because I was rejected from a Film Production program. I really wanted to attend Chapman University but didn’t get accepted into the directing program. I was allowed to get into the Digital Arts program, however, so I just ran with it. I had a lot to learn but I can’t see myself going back to live action for a while. I love animation because you can do anything with it. I could make a movie as crazy as my wildest imagination with just my computer and a couple programs. That’s pretty empowering. It just takes time, vision, and hard work.

“I like the idea of collaborating with actors to find the story without any of the logistics of filmmaking. No camera. No Lights. Nothing. Just capture an amazing performance over audio and then find the staging and blocking of the film through animation.”

HWC: When directing with animation, do you feel your shots are affected by the form or do you feel pretty free to direct in whichever way you wish?

JA: I would say with animation you are much for free than live action. As far as blocking, you get the luxury of changing the size of your characters on a shot by shot basis to help with staging. You don’t have to worry about having lights in frame. You can do cool things like have lights that actually send out darkness. You don’t have to worry about renting some expensive steady-cam to get the perfect tracking shot. It is really a sandbox which I love.

HWC: Have you noticed a change in the world of animation within the last ten years? What do you think the future of animation is?

JA: I ask the question, “Why do we animate?” to myself a lot. From a commercial film standpoint it really has never changed (dating all the way back to ‘Snow White’). Animated films are usually a combination of a) something children will like and b) something that couldn’t be filmed in real life. I think the future of animation will open the door to animating for more reasons. I, for one, would like to use it to get amazing performances from actors. I like the idea of collaborating with actors to find the story without any of the logistics of filmmaking. No camera. No Lights. Nothing. Just capture an amazing performance over audio and then find the staging and blocking of the film through animation.

HWC: In animation you get to create everything so you are allowed the luxury of making sure every last thing facilitates your story
Who are your biggest inspirations for animation/directing?

JA: Lots. For “Wire Cutters” I looked a lot at Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen brothers for mood and staging. I also really liked what Linklater did with animation in Waking Life.

From an animation standpoint I took a lot of inspiration from mechanical things around me. Before starting on this film I was working a summer job involving a lot of outdoor machinery. That really have me a solid foundation on how robot things should move, act, and sound.

HWC: What advice do you have for animators/filmmakers just starting out?

JA: 70% of it is hard work. 20% is making sure you have something to say. 10% is staying truthful to your gut. There really is no secret to creating something people will respond to. Frankly, I don’t think it even takes insane talent. It is just hard work. Put thousands of hours of love into something and it will work out.

Check out more on Anderson and keep up with his upcoming work here!

J.Ollie Lucks on Experimental Documentary, ‘Wilbur Force’

Documentary, Film, J. Ollie Lucks

“I love the idea that when I am gone there will be something that tells people what I thought, what I liked, how I lived.”

We sat down with International Movie Awards winner J.Ollie Lucks to discuss new approaches to shooting the documentary…

Honey Wagon Confidential: ‘Wilbur Force‘ is really one of a kind. You go in-between real footage and a fictional re-enactment of a fight. What was the thought process behind this choice?

J.Ollie Lucks: The best wrestling matches have an element of truth to them. This might be a conflict between the opponents in real life, them reacting to what the audience demands etc. In that sense our film is very much inspired by the real struggle of having two friends that are equal, transform their relationship into director and talent. Conflict is guaranteed when you change the dynamic like that and Wilbur being a strong character that knows what he wants and does not want, it escalated quickly.

HWC: When you first started shooting, did you intend on cutting in-between these shots or had you initially wanted it to be more of a traditional documentary?

JL: By the time we started shooting we knew what we were doing. But during the writing phase I went from a more straight forward approach to something far more interesting, aspiring and true. Wilbur is a born performer so allowing an element of the unreal in the film actually portrays him much closer to what he is really like than if I had hidden behind his bed with a camera.

HWC: You conveyed Wilbur’s sleep apnea very realistically. Was it hard to get him on board about this?

JL: Initially it was. The original vision for the film was much more traditional with Wilbur as victim of his choices. He did not like that approach and so we wrestled with how best to portray him in a way that is not belittling but also accurate of what he is going through.

HWC: You also cut a lot between real footage and fictional in ‘The Characteristics of C Minor.’ By doing this you play on the notions of what is fact and fiction. Is this a theme that interests you or is it just by chance that you shoot in this manner?

JL: I am very interested in meta ayers and breaking walls between film and audience and genre conventions. With my previous film, ‘The Characteristics of C Minor,’ we realized quite late that having the final shot be off the interview setup (showing the camera, lights, interviewer) would clarify that for Nick-the talent in the film-the making of the film itself was the process of being vulnerable. I love that we were able to give the film this extra dimension with the last shot and I hope that people will think about it afterwards.

“Documentary as a genre is such an interesting genre to work in because it is evolving more than any other film genre. Just look at what has come out over the last 10 years.”

HWC: You directed and edited ‘Wilbur Force.’ How did you like this? Was it difficult to keep perspective?

JL: I am used to directing and editing. The hard part doing it with ‘Wilbur Force’ was that I am in it. ‘Wilbur Force’ has lived in my head for such a long time that having someone else editing it would have actually been quite a relief. But due to time and money restrictions I had to do it. Warren Saunders is my editing mentor (he lives in Sydney) would give me feedback after each cut. In a way that was like having another editor and me just being his hands. He is a true master and without him this film would have been half as good.

HWC: You’ve also shot a lot of music videos. What’s the most difficult part about shooting those?

JL: When I started making music videos I would have said that the most difficult thing is to come up with a concept that does not have someone running or walking in it. Conveying a story without dialogue, you tend to drift towards ideas that have someone running from A to B for some reason. Keep thinking, there must be something more creative in there. However after the last few music videos I have worked on I have to say that the biggest challenge is finding a band or performer that you really share a taste and vision with. Meaning that you know that if you make something you like they will like it too. There is not much money in music videos so if you can’t make something you love and are passionate about, it turns what could be such a fun experience into a clusterfuck.

HWC: Do you prefer shooting documentaries or these music videos?

JL: I love documentaries and working with something that already exists. Music videos are great too but it has to be a song I really care about. Documentary as a genre is such an interesting genre to work in because it is evolving more than any other film genre. Just look at what has come out over the last 10 years, blurring the lines between real and fiction, telling you things that if in a fictional film you would have shaken your head at. I love and breath documentary filmmaking.

“Find out what makes you unique and than translate that into your work. “

HWC: What makes it worth it for you?

JL: Sharing your way of seeing the world with others is hugely rewarding. I love the idea that when I am gone there will be something that tells people what I thought, what I liked, how I lived. It is a bit selfish but I find the thought of dying and leaving nothing to be remembered by very very sad.

HWC: Any advice for inspiring filmmakers?

JL: Find out what makes you unique and than translate that into your work. Do as little corporate work as possible, it can dilute what makes you special. Work hard, be nice, don’t give up and you can not fail. Easy.

Check out more on J.Ollie Lucks over at his site!