Joe Sill on Star-Wars Fans, using Green Screens and his new short film, “Kara”

Film, joe sill, Short Film

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?

Joe Sill: Shooting commercials and shooting narrative work have been very different processes for me. In commercials, I’ve usually gone after making visually complex pieces where the challenge is breaking down a technical puzzle, where my focus is purely visual storytelling on a 30 second level. You have to get the story across — quick. It feels like building a perfect clock, or crafting a lens with no scratches. It needs technical and visual precision. Narrative, on the other hand, has felt more exploratory and challenging in the sense that you have to ask yourself — is this story we’re telling that has never been told before — or are we telling this recognizable story in a way that has never before been seen? Either way, both need perfection and ideally come from a place of fresh imagination.

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?

HWC: Although clearly inspired by ‘Star Wars,’ Kara has a really unique look and feel. What steps did you take in establishing this tone and how did you determine what feel you wanted the short to have?

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? 

JS: Hell yes! Star Wars fans are single-handedly some of the fiercest people on the planet. I know this because I consider myself on of them! I knew, since I was taking a bit of departure from the overall vibe of SW, that people would either react favorably for its differentiation, or reject it for not adhering nostalgically to how the stories have been portrayed in the past. All I can do is make my version and hope it connects with someone.

HWC: What’re you up to next?

JS: I am developing several feature projects, and finishing up a few commercial and documentary pieces for Nike right now! Very exciting, but again, different obstacles and challenges for both avenues. I’m very excited to cook some new things up!

To see more of Joe’s work, check out his site!

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!