“Animation is the most direct visual route to the subconscious and allows for the most amount of creativity with the least amount of money. That’s why I got into it, I had a lot of ideas and no money.”
We sat down with Christie to discuss his new short “Emperor of Time” among other things…
Honey Wagon Confidential: You have a very unique style. When do you feel you first developed this style?
Drew Christie: I have been doing things the way I do them since as long as I can remember. There was no real moment. I have been slowly getting better (I hope) over the years but no time I could pinpoint for developing a style. There are some films, animations and drawings from when i was in middle and high school that aren’t too different stylistically from how they are now, just a little bit more polished now.
HWC: Who are your biggest influencers?
DC: My biggest influences in animation and film are: Brothers Quay, Jan Svankmajer, early Tim Burton, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sergei Parajanov, and the Coen Brothers most likely. For illustration it would be: Edward Gorey, Brodsky & Utkin, and Carson Ellis and Richard Scarry and probably a lot of other stuff I can’t think of right now. Music is also an enormous influence on my work. Music is a huge visual inspiration to me and I think a lot of other people. American blues music of the 1920s and 1930s like Blind Willie McTell and Charley Patton and English folk music of the 1960’s by Bert Jansch, Nic Jones, Shirley Collins and many more and Eastern European folk music are all very influential to me.
HWC: Do you feel your style evolving as you create more?
DC: I can only speak to having a short film on the festival circuit and it’s nice and potentially opens doors for you but the same can be said for having your work appear online. A few hundred might see your film at a festival. If the goal is to get as many people as possible to see your film, festivals are probably not the most efficient route. However, they are great places to meet other creative people.
DC: I have no clue where it’s going to go in the future but I believe animation is the most direct visual route to the subconscious and allows for the most amount of creativity with the least amount of money. That’s why I got into it, I had a lot of ideas and no money.
DC: I looked at a photograph of him and then tried drawing him with a Pilot ink pen on paper. The first drawing I did I kind of liked and decided that that;s how he’d look throughout the animation.
“In doing so, I hope that the piece will be sunk into the audiences’ subconscious as if it were a memory for them, instead of just another movie they came to watch to pass their time.”
Roy Arwas: The film didn’t so much come out of the blue. At Gearmark.TV we are 6 filmmakers, each experienced in his own field of the filmmaking process. The company has made a promise to make 12 short films in 12 months, and the month that was coming up was the month we have decided for me to direct something (February, 2016).
So Alexander Crews, one of the head writers in the company, has been wanting to write a script influenced by the world of GTA where the city is completely shrouded in corruption and violence. In the midst of this terrible place, the main character has the very simple goal of trying to eat his favorite cereal for breakfast. I, being a lover of absurd dark comedies, said it was a great idea, and after a day of brainstorming and talking, we came to the idea that the Cereal was Victor’s way of trying to relive his happier childhood memories before his parents were murdered.
HWC: What were some stylistic choices you were sure to include?
RA: When I went into the script and analyzed it, I was trying to find my connection with it, and when I did. I found a lot of challenges and things to try to achieve. The film, written like an absurd comedy, was crucially needed to be believable. So the biggest challenge was to make a cereal as important as the life of a child, or in our case, the memories of Victor’s childhood (happiness). I felt the style of the piece would be what makes the piece come together as a whole. So, firstly, we shot it like a drama, natural lighting, no high key. Sound wise, I wanted to audience to hear, and in turn, feel, what was going on inside Viktor’s head, and it took 48 hours inside a room with the amazing sound designer, Alfonso Cano, to be as detailed as possible with every single beat of the piece to make it have a feeling of angst and disturbance when needed. The score, as well, was used to emphasize how dramatic and tense the piece was, regardless of its surface topic. And finally, the acting, it was crucial to make sure the audience believes that the film had nothing to do with cereal, hence each character was developed to deal with inner conflicts that audience may not even know of, but in the surface, it came across as way more than a cereal, but a life or death situation.
HWC: What would you like to work on in the future?
RA: My main goal in life is to find the heart in any piece, in any genre I do, and to make sure it isn’t solely there to entertain, but it is exploring a theme which means a lot to me and the people involved, regardless of whether the audience sees it (hopefully they do), I want to make sure that my future projects all have a meaning and a heart to them. In doing so, I hope that the piece will be sunk into the audiences subconscious as if it were a memory for them, instead of just another movie they came to watch to pass their time.
RA: Filmmaking has been a part of my life ever since I moved to England in 2007 when I was 12 years old, my parents both worked in Pinewood Studios as production travel agents, and I always came to visit them at the office, which is where I was introduced to film sets. I started doing visual effects with my little brother with our home cam, and then, I realized I came about to make more and more films the more I struggled in life, be it bullied, or going through a rough patch. Film has become the perfect distraction from life, my obsession, while also a way for me to vent and explore situations that will solve whatever issue I had in life at the time. Film helps me grow as a person and as an individual, because each film has its own challenges, and different cast/crew members that give different perspectives, which teaches me a lot.
HWC: You attended film school. What was the most valuable information you learned while there?
RA: Film cannot be taught, it can be strengthened, so I wouldn’t say I learned much from the teachers. But Iearnt a lot from who the teachers were and their mentoring and advice have been substantial. I would have never ended up where I am today without the 5 people I have met in school. We started Gearmark Pictures as soon as we graduated and we learned and grew stronger together.
I would strongly advice people who attend film school to network, to be open to criticism, and choose who they get criticized by, and who they could grow around. Also, if the school provides equipment, it would be beneficial to go out there regardless of classwork, and shoot with those you feel most creative with, and learn together.
HWC: Any advice to filmmakers just starting out?
RA: Make films, all the time, don’t be scared to fail, because each failure is a lesson, and we all learn something. In my experience, no film has ever gone smoothly when shot, and that’s the most exciting part, the problem solving, always turns out to make the film better than it was planned to be.
RA: While all of those jobs were beneficial to me in my creative growth, I’d pick directing over all of them. Directing is something I have always been attracted to, and it is something that I would consider a necessity in my life, as it is the only way I can express myself and my thoughts. I love telling stories through the collaboration of amazingly talented people, and I love pushing the limits of how we tell stories visually. Directing is not only a job for, it is a way for me to explore and learn about the world we live in, in story, and in reality.
Check out more of Roy’s work here!
“In contrast with other mediums, everything is possible in 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!
“I grew up between a Blockbuster and the local library and I just fell in love with stories. It’s pretty much that simple – I read a lot of books, watched a lot of movies, and had parents who encouraged me to try to express myself. Also, I was terrible at sports.”
We sat down with Patrick Muhlberger to discuss his new short, “Pop Music” among other things…
Honey Wagon Confidential: You shot on a RED. How did you like this? Would you shoot on it again?
“Sound is just as important as picture and vice versa. They should be treated as equals. Sound is an art in itself and you can tell when it is done well.”
Leah Shore on animation as a medium and the importance of sound…
Honey Wagon Confidential: You put a lot of emphasis on sound in your work, especially in your earlier work like Boobatary. Why do you feel that sound is so intrinsic to a film? What do you consider when making decisions regarding sound?
Leah Shore: Sound is just as important as picture and vice versa. They should be treated as equals. Sound is an art in its self and you can tell when it is done well. I prefer to make my own sound/help with the mixing process. My composer, Fritz Myers is a very talented musician and mixer and we sometimes even make music together.
HWC: Your recent short film, Old Man, revolves around Charles Manson. What type of research went into this and how did you go about weaving this information into a film?
LS: First of all, the audio you are listening to is my obsessively edited version of the audio. I was given access to hours of phone conversations between Marlin Marynick and Charles Manson. It took me about three months to edit it down to the five minute version you are listening to. It is a logical thought that makes sense to me and ends perfectly: Manson going to get some mail and walking away.
I purposefully did not research Manson too much. I wanted to reflect on the audio alone and try not to judge him. I wanted to make something that was raw and wasn’t like any other Manson-themed films.
HWC: Where did the inspiration for Old Man come from?
LS: I was fortunate to have my undergrad thesis Meatwaffle compete at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010. There, I met Producer/Entrepreneur Chris Barrett. He came up to me and said, “I saw your film. It was awesome. I know someone who is friends with Charles Manson and I think you two should make a film.” Then, I was introduced to Marlin Marynick. We hit it off as friends and collaborators. I was also introduced to my EP, Carl D’Andre, without whom I wouldn’t have been able to make the film.
HWC: Do you feel animation offers anything that other mediums don’t?
LS: I just think it is a different medium in which we can convey a meaning, story or art, just like live action. I suppose it is a great vice to use if you do not have live action or need to completely make up an image, like in my film Old Man. It is technically an experimental documentary; we did not have Manson’s image, so I had to fabricate that.
HWC: What is the hardest part of working with animation and where do you see the medium going in the future?
LS: Perhaps on how time consuming it is as opposed to live action. That and how sometimes you have to work with a big team to produce maybe thirty seconds. I think the medium is infinite. I love Oculus and what they are doing with film and animation. I cannot wait to see what develops with that, interaction and filmmaking.
HWC: Do you have any advice to filmmakers just starting out?
LS: Make as much as possible and keep producing. There is always time to make a film.
HWC: Are you working on any new projects?
I am trying to produce three films, two live action and one animated and pitch three TV shows! I guess things really do come in threes?
HWC: You’re based out of Brooklyn. What is the community like there for film? Do you find it supportive?
LS: It is the most supportive community. I love all the filmmakers, artists and weirdos here. Thank you Brooklyn! I am a lucky lady to have found you.
Check out more of Leah’s work on her site!
“Making short films is so desperately unglamorous that to have people watch and hopefully enjoy your work is a genuine thrill.”
Catalina Film Festival winner Ariel Martin sits down with us to talk about his new short, “iMom”.
Honey Wagon Confidential: Your ‘iMom’ feels so much like a robot. How’d you go about planning the style of this character?
Ariel Martin: Obviously there are many great characters through cinema to draw on. I sat down with actress Matilda Brown and talked about where on the spectrum of ‘roboticness’ the iMom would sit. Haley Joel Osment’s character in Spielberg’s A.I. felt like a really interesting meshing between human and machine, and built on this idea in rehearsals.
HWC: How’d you get into filmmaking?
AM: I made alot of coffees for other people. Then I got a lucky break at 20 when I won a grant that funded my first short. On the back of my first short I managed to build a career directing TV commercials for other people’s ideas. I’m burning to make more of my own projects where there’s no client sitting behind me.
HWC: Your films have run in the festival circuit. What’s it like having your film screen in other countries? Was there one festival you preferred?
AM: Having a film at a festival is the closest I’ll ever get to feeling like ‘I’m with the band.’ Making short films is so desperately unglamorous that to have people watch and hopefully enjoy your work is a genuine thrill. And they give you a lanyard. Aspen Shortsfest and Austin Film festival are both absolute killer festivals for filmmakers.
HWC: What’re your plans for the future?
AM: I’m making my next short in the Ukraine, based on those kids that free-climb old abandoned cranes and Soviet structures. I’ve also got a feature in development.
HWC: How do you keep perspective on a film that you are both the writer and director of?
AM: Other than ads, it’s the only way I’ve ever worked. Only recently have I realised the value in feedback from trusted people.
HWC: You can only watch one film for the rest of your life. What do you choose?
AM: Oh that’s easy. Scorsese’s Taxi Driver.
“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.
“Make things. Don’t over think it. You can spend your entire life planning, but you aren’t a filmmaker until you make a film.”
Robert Kolodny of House of Nod sat down with us to talk about the production house and how they do the work they do…
Honey Wagon Confidential: House of Nod’s work has been in many film festivals including the NYC Filmmakers Festival and Garden State Film Festival. What’s it like being in the festival circuit? Did you prefer some to others?
Robert Kolodny: Having your work screened in a festival is one of the greatest experiences that a filmmaker can have. We’ve had the privilege of taking several of our films to festivals all of the country as well as internationally. You get to screen your work in front of an audience, which…let’s be honest, is the entire point of creating something. A film isn’t really finished until it has eyes on it.
Festivals provide you with the necessary feedback and critique which allow you to grow as an artist. The wonderful thing about being in this type of environment is that you are surrounded by like-minded people, other filmmakers who you can identify with, connect with and even potentially collaborate with.
Great programmers are what make great festivals, people who put work into curating what-films-screen-when. Not only are people seeing your film, but you have a chance to see great films that you may not have seen otherwise. Some of my personal favorite festivals that I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to attend with my work are the Festival de Cannes, the BET/HBO Urbanworld Film Festival and The Woodstock Film Festival.
HWC: The sound in “Coney Island Love Letter” plays a huge role in the short. What was the thought behind including this particular soundtrack as opposed to natural sound or a different song?
RK: Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune from his Suite bergamasque is a deeply mystical, impressionistic track that cannot help but echo a sense of nostalgia. It really pulls at the heart strings with its magic. It is also perhaps one of the most commonly used piano pieces in media, so the decision to use something so ubiquitous was a weighted one. In the end, great works become conventions because they are in fact great. The haunting, romantic and somewhat sad wonder of Coney Island felt like this song to me, it’s what appeared in my mind as I shot the footage. There are a few departures from the music in the short, diegetic from the boardwalk itself, the characters that inhabit it. I liked peppering those moments in, almost to allow the location to add its own voice to the score.
HWC: House of Nod works on music videos as well as more narrative work. Do you prefer one to the other and how is the process different for the two?
RK: My heart is with narrative film storytelling, but you don’t always have the opportunity to dive into that. At House of Nod we strive to make music videos that usually do follow a narrative within a fully defined individual aesthetic. Making a music video deals with many of the same obstacles and processes of a film, just on a smaller scale. You still must decide on an overarching visual aesthetic, a crew, the gear and work with the talent to bring a story to life.
HWC: What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?
RK: Every project is special to me in my own way. I’ve carried them all inside of me and although they have varying scales they each mean quite a bit. If I had to pick I would say my short films Shelter and Fly on Out are the work that I am most proud of and had the most joy in creating. They are more personal works that I put a lot of myself into. These films allowed me to work with larger crews and bring a full story to life.
HWC: Who has influenced you as a filmmaker? How’d you get into filmmaking to begin with?
RK: I could write an encyclopedia on this question. I spend almost all of my time (when I’m not working) diligently researching filmmakers who interest me. I read books by and about them and watch their entire film canons. A brief list off the top of my head would like something like:
François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Leos Carax, Werner Herzog, Jim Jarmusch, Robert Bresson, Luis Buñuel, David Lynch, but really this list can go on for days…
HWC: Any advice to filmmakers just starting out?
RK: Make things. Don’t over think it. You can spend your entire life planning, but you aren’t a filmmaker until you make a film. Get out and experiment, figure out what works for you and what doesn’t define your style and what means something to you. Keep your creative spark well nourished and protect your passion, because it is the most vital thing you have.
Check out more of House of Nod’s work here!
We sat down with Joe Sill to discuss his Star-Wars inspired short, “Kara”, among other things…
Honey Wagon Confidential: You’ve done commercial work with Google, Nike and Lego. What is the main difference in your process when shooting commercials as opposed to shooting more narrative work?
HWC: Where’d the idea for ‘Kara’ come from?
JS: Kara actually spawned from the fact that “The Force Awakens” was coming out. I got inspired by the fact that the universe of Star Wars was being opened back up, and I got excited about it. I’ve always loved it. To see their new interpretation through the very cryptic trailer footage, I just got energized and inspired. I wanted to tell my own story. I saw Rey in the trailers, and I knew her character would be more well-rounded, and so I thought — what about telling the story of a more flawed hero. Star Wars always has a dysfunctional family arc. However, most Force-sensitive characters’ parents are missing…what about if our Force-sensitive main character’s parents are around? What is that dynamic like? What if her father doesn’t have the connection to the Force that she does?
JS: I didn’t want it to feel like a swash-buckling adventure. I very aggressively went for a different tone both in visual language and music composition. My DP Nico Aguilar and I referenced “The Revenant” and “Birdman” for shooting close-focus character close-ups, with a roaming camera that doesn’t feel omniscient and God-camera-esque. We wanted you to feel like you were THERE in the sand and the wind. This is also overall a very somber short film — this girl has lost her mother, she has no idea why she has these weird powers, she doesn’t want to leave home but it’s been blown to bits. I wanted a realistic atmosphere and vibe to this whole spot. Really dive into the gritty, day-in-the-life nature of these two characters.
HWC: Parts of this short was shot using green screen. Was this your first time working with green screen? Why’d you decide to incorporate this?
JS: I’ve worked with green-screens pretty consistently throughout my career. When used the right way, it’s such a helpful tool. You can really screw with your audience’s expectations on what is visually capable. You can really show something that isn’t entirely realistic but nonetheless intriguing. In KARA, we used it sparingly in two sections — Athena our pilot flying in the interiors of her cockpit, and our Stormtroopers floating in the sky. Everything else was shot on location, with real environment and lighting. Even the exterior dogfight shots were real aerial plates.
HWC: Were you nervous of how other ‘Star Wars’ fans would react to the film?
HWC: What’re you up to next?
“Technology is what makes a film like this possible and more importantly, makes it accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise see it.”
“Comic Book Heaven” director, E.J. McLeavey Fisher sat down with us to discuss this short documentary, telling the story of long time comic book store owner Joe Leisner…
Honey Wagon Confidential: How did you first come across Comic Book Heaven? What inspired you to make the film?
E.J. Mcleavy Fisher: Since I had moved to Sunnyside a few years before, I had seen quite a few businesses open and close and was interested in documenting that process, particularly in a smaller independent business that has seen the neighborhood change over the years. I saw an article about Comic Book Heaven announcing it’s closing in the local blog, The Sunnyside Post so I went over to speak to Joe, figuring it might be a 3 minute piece since the store was supposed to close that month. But it became apparent that he wasn’t quite ready to close yet, and there was a bit more to the story.
HWC: Was Joe Leisner hesitant at first about you shooting a documentary about him and the store?
E.J: He’s a talkative guy as you can see, so the proposition of capturing some of that banter on film definitely interested him. He was comfortable on-camera from the first day and really seemed to enjoy the process.
So often I’m shooting in situations where I have limited time with a subject and this was the complete opposite-I could come by whenever I wanted to shoot which was amazing. It was almost this meditative exercise for me, just setting the camera up and rolling for hours-hours when not a single person would even walk into the store. At times I think Joe felt pressure to make it more interesting because business was so slow-he’d say “What do you want me to do now?” But in those quiet moments when he wasn’t concerned with what I was doing, we got some amazing stuff.
HWC: What stylistic choices did you make to bring out or emphasize Joe’s character?
E.J: To bring out Joe’s character on-camera, I had to go against my normal instincts in filming, which is to create a more cinematic and stylized image. A lot of the other work I shoot is more energetic-filming with musicians or athletes. This was the complete opposite-an 82 year old man sitting in an empty store with little to do. So I tried to embrace that atmosphere with long, locked-off takes, shooting on wider lenses to show the empty space that becomes its own character for Joe to play off of. We also experimented a bit with the color grade and gave it its own little arc.
It’s not super obvious, but as the story shifts from summer to winter we gradually cooled the footage off. At first it’s all burnt-out browns and yellows, accentuating the cardboard and paper in the store. But as the seasons shift and the store empties out, we pushed it in a cooler direction that picked up the desolate white walls and inevitably more depressing feeling that crept in as the days of the store were numbered. Then we brought it all back once we see Joe at home in Brooklyn, where he’s a bit happier and energized.
HWC: A lot of the scenes are of Joe’s day to day life. Were these scenes planned or did you simply observe?
E.J: I had the luxury of rolling for hours and not needing anything necessarily momentous to happen. With Joe being the character that he is, he would provide great moments without any direction. But if there was a specific topic that I wanted to cover, I would try and bring it up while he was occupied with a task-checking prices of a book, arranging the shelves- which I found provided for some more poetic rants and would lead to places that I hadn’t initially envisioned.
HWC: What is the hardest part about shooting a documentary in this style?
E.J: The hardest part of shooting this way then, is that we had an insane amount of footage to sort through to whittle it down to a short piece. Joe keeps asking me if I can make him a longer version of the story because we shot so much footage and he wants to see it all. My editor Ethan Simmons did an amazing job (with such patience) in sorting through everything and putting together a cohesive story to follow. Joe repeats himself often too, which worked in our favor because I basically had him telling the same story on-camera in multiple locations and could choose which one to use based on what we wanted to see onscreen.
HWC: Was your process in shooting “Comic Book Heaven” the same as when you shot your previous documentary, “Stacked?”
E.J: “Stacked” was completely different than “Comic Book Heaven.” We shot Stacked during the two weeks that the Quiksilver surf tournament was happening in Long Beach, so we had a pretty strict schedule knowing we had to get it all done in that period of time: getting up at 5 am every day in case the waves were good and the contest was happening, and then being out on the beach most of the day. We were chasing surfers for 10 minute interviews and hoping to capture the best surf footage we could, never knowing which set was going to be a great one. The inconsistencies in surf conditions do not make for favorable production scheduling, but we got really lucky in the end.
With “Comic Book Heaven” though, I pretty much knew what I’d be walking into every time I went to film, and I had control of when I shot. I shot 2 or 3 times a month with Joe from August until January, slowly chipping away at what I felt I needed to tell the story properly. A much more relaxed pace-almost too relaxed. I never thought we’d finish it!
HWC: There is a moment towards the end of the film in which Leisner remarks, “I’d like to be content with my life if I can”. He discusses the difficulties of reaching contentment and expresses the belief that technology makes it difficult for people to be content with their own lives. How do you feel about this sentiment?
E.J: It’s definitely something to consider-the fact that we now have so many options for everything, there’s always something new and better out there, etc. But that technology is what makes a film like this possible and more importantly, makes it accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise see it. It’s not going to play at a theater or on TV, so I can’t support the idea that we’re worse-off because of technology.
Do I see how it can be problematic? Of course. But in terms of Joe’s contentment with his life…I know him well enough now to say that regardless of his situation, he’s going to find something to complain about. The most important part of that closing line is, “That’s just the way life is…” He isn’t necessarily depressed about having that mindset, that’s just the way he talks. He still enjoys himself and I hope that balance comes through in the film.
HWC: We hear Joe is interested in acting now…any comments?
E.J: Joe needs to keep himself busy now that the store is closed and being on-camera in our film has gotten him interested in doing some dramatic work. I made him some headshots and have gotten them in front of casting agents, so hopefully it could work out for him. As he says, he doesn’t care about the money he just wants to land a role! You won’t find a more authentic old-school Brooklyn accent, I’ll tell you that much.
Head over to Vimeo to watch the full film!