Friday, October 24, 2014

Interview with Carl Bachmann


I have a pet theory about “training” for filmmakers.  Many film students who go to ritzy schools graduate and are a dime a dozen out in Hollywood.  The people who do end up doing great work are artists who draw from a wide variety of skill sets.  They don’t necessarily have degrees and diplomas, but they have grit and determination.

Filmmaker Carl Bachmann is one of these people.  He has experience as a member of the US Navy, has traveled extensively, and discovered his passion for movie making organically.  He had a consumer camera and began to make polished home movies that lead to him trying his hand at the real thing. 

Carl has answered a few questions for us about the making of his first feature Party Slashers.  Aspiring filmmakers, pay close attention to Carl’s answers about crowdfunding.   His Kickstarter link is also at the bottom of the page; why not toss him a few bucks? 

The Interview

Okay, Carl Bachmann, please tell us who you are in a few simple sentences.

I’m a US navy veteran, I’ve traveled to 36 countries, I’m a rugby enthusiast, self-taught filmmaker with an unrelated college degree, married to a stand-up comedian and living with a dog named Mr. Jeff Goldblum.

What are some of your formative film experiences?  Was there a certain movie that made you want to grow up and be a filmmaker?  What are some of the movies that you loved (and possibly still love?)   

Some films that left lasting impressions on me were Fight Club, The Matrix, Alien, Apocalypse now, Ghostbusters, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and countless others, the list could go on. To me these tales were so unique and went against the grain in many regards. A lot of these movies were met with a lot of resistance by studios but the filmmakers truly believed in these stories and once the chance was taken to make them, turns out that they resonated with millions, including myself. I’ve always loved movies, but no movie made me want to become a filmmaker. I was working as a deckhand on a yacht in Malaysia, and I started chronicling my experiences, and made a little fake Pirates of the Caribbean type-trailer on a small digital consumer camera, and decided to share it with people. The positive response I got struck a unique chord in me, and I wanted to explore it more. If anything, I’d wish that it had happened before I went off to college so I could change my major!

What is your relationship with the horror genre?  What excites you about working in that medium?  

Horror, to me, explores a darker side of the human mind. It’s often a side that disturbs most people, and many people try to suppress it, but it is an aspect that is present in all of us. I think it is something that should be analyzed by everyone. What attracted me to the script of my first short film, Miracle on Metal Street, was that it revolved around a character who drew inspiration from a darker side of himself to create something beautiful. That’s also why I’m thankful for Halloween, because to me it’s a celebration of a darker side in people.

What excites me about this genre, is that it does not restrict itself of sensitive subjects or explicit material. It exploits it to the fullest degree, and exacerbates emotions such as fear or anguish in people that serves as a great reminder that it feels good to be alive! My reason for choosing horror-comedy though, is to mend my darker side with the important life-coping mechanism of comedy. The blend of comedy and horror emits a sense of absurdity, which is very central in my type of humor. To me it reflection of several absurd truths that are omnipresent in the world. Just read the news! I bet you can find several headlines that are the epitome of absurdity.  It is a genre that is not fully explored and very hard to pull off, but it attracted me so much, and one big advantage of being an independent filmmaker is that we can express ourselves without being confined to marketing concerns to optimize box office revenue.

Will you tell us a bit about your filmmaking background up until this point?  Are there shorts you have worked on?  Was film school a part of your life?  
My filmmaking is for the most part, self-taught. As I said earlier, my first experience was creating small digital films and comedic music videos with a digital consumer camera I had. That expanded to me taking one formal class for a semester, (intro to filmmaking) where they had us film and edit both in super 8mm as well as shooting little shorts with a Sony Handycam. It was a fun experience, I won a couple of awards at a small festival my school put on, but a lot of aspects in filmmaking were glossed over. I was itching to get more professional. Also during school, I was a production assistant in the art department in an indie feature film shooting in Oakland, CA, which was a horrible disorganized shoot, but was great because it taught me so much of what NOT to do! So after I graduated I moved down to LA and started freelancing on any film that would take me. The pay was low/non-existent, and the hours were long, but the experience was invaluable. I got quite a few gigs because I owned a pickup truck, which is great for transporting props/equipment. I freelanced in all different departments to learn and respect the separate crafts, which was quintessential to me being a more effective director. My other short, which has just wrapped up it’s festival run is Miracle On Metal Street, a dark-comedy musical about an introverted album cover artist, who runs behind deadline on a heavy metal album cover and is then visited by a bi-polar demon from hell to help inspire him make the best heavy metal album cover ever. In fact I’m offering the film to anyone who backs Party Slashers, regardless of how much they donate.

You are deep in the preproduction of your first feature Party Slashers.  Give us the pitch!   

Party Slashers is a Horror-Comedy about a Mr. Popular wannabe has to team up with his introverted ex-best friend for survival during a high school Halloween Party crashed by undead mass murderers whom were accidentally summoned during a Dungeons & Dragons game.

You are using crowd funding (specifically Kickstarter) to raise at least part of your budget.  What is the biggest obstacles filmmakers face when crowdfunding?

Self-doubt and the doubt of others. But then try to imagine yourself settling for less in life. This will help you hold up your middle finger to these obstacles and march on. 

Would you give us an inside scoop on what that process has been like?  How is it going?  How do you attract attention to a campaign?  (My filmmaking readers will be fascinated…me included.)  

The process is long and grueling, but exciting at the same time. Some people think that you can just put a project proposal up and have it be discovered by everyone and it goes viral and you get all this free money, but that’s not the case. My weaknesses in drawing funds from complete strangers is that I didn’t have A-list actors attached to this, I was not making something based on existing content with a built-in audience, nor did I have the amount of clout that some of these million dollar raising campaigns had. I had an idea, a vision and a drive. I knew that my content is my strongest selling point, so I had to show people as much as I could to have them be attuned with the content. That’s why I filmed a scene from the script so people had a better idea of what the tone of this film was like.

Once it was filmed I was anxious to get it online, and as soon as it was cut I originally wanted to give myself 2 weeks to get it ready. But I got cautious, read some literature about crowdfunding, and realized that there was so much I didn’t know! Many people state that you should be preparing months for a crowdfunding campaign. You have to develop a fan base to get people amped for the launch, establish a rapport with bloggers covering your genre, building marketing material, thinking up clever incentives (No one wants a damn mug, post card or pen featuring the film’s logo), that were desirable and at the same time didn’t eat into the money that you raised. Many projects don’t anticipate manufacturing and shipping costs of their rewards, and find out that a good portion of their budget is dissolved by reward costs. I spent a long time compiling a list of over 600 websites, bloggers, twitter/fb users that are horror enthusiasts.

The next hard part is cold-emailing people. This requires you to craft a clever and personal email that is concise but captures a person’s attention that is already committed to several other things. This is where the rapport can help you. I figured October was the best month to launch this thing considering the time of year, which is only half true. Yes, people are in the mood for horror, but most of the bloggers I’m trying to reach are in the mood for horror all year long! So in October, most of them are in hyperdrive and are consuming and posting so much content that is ALREADY MADE, which makes it difficult for them to pay attention to my project that may never be made. All I can do is be personal and genuine with them. There has been lots of ignoring, lots of rejection, but the more people I contact, the more earnest I am about myself, I will eventually find people who are interested in what I have to offer. Yourself included!

Then you launch it, and it becomes a full time job contacting people, blasting stuff on social media, etc. Sometimes it’s depressing that you have so far to go with your goal, amidst all the rejection, but then, you find your audience! People like your stuff, and they show support! This has been a bit of cycle so far during this campaign. But I roll with the punches, stay true to my vision and press on!  

What are your plans beyond Party Slashers?  (I know this is a somewhat obvious question, but indulge me…)  Is there a dream project that you have?  A script stashed away in your desk that you can’t wait to make?  
Every director has to accept that they will put their time, money and soul into some projects, and it will never see the light of day. You accept this, and move on to the next project. My current objective is to build my audience, and expand myself beyond just the format of feature films. The current climate of motion picture entertainment is shifting rapidly with the changing behavior of how people consume content. Big game changers are streaming sites, youtube, mobile devices, and excellent video game content that can have you glued to your seat for months! I want to explore creating content for youtube, I want to continue making shorts, as well as explore other genres besides horror and comedy.

My lofty dream would either be directing a space odyssey (Kudos to Nolan for getting to this point) or a sci-fi adventure set in the realm of cyberpunk (What is that? Think Blade Runner). These are big budget dreams, so I’ve got some work to do in the meantime!

Anything else we should know about you?   

I’m left-handed, people always seem to be stunned by that...I also speak Japanese.

Please help Carl realize his dream of making a feature. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Jeremiah Kipp's "Mastermind"

"Mastermind" by Jeremiah Kipp

If you’ve followed this site for a while, you have no doubt encountered the work of Jeremiah Kipp.  He is an independent filmmaker based out of New York with a “can’t miss” visual style and a highly developed narrative sense.  Kipp often takes big risks that pay off in interesting ways, and has an impressive body of work. 

I don’t ever mind promoting his stuff.  This is not “bally hoo” or hyperbole, but his new project has kept up his high level of quality.  The project in question is a music video for Aaron David Gleason’s neo-soul track “Mastermind.”  (It sounds like “neo-soul” to me…meaning that it’s a modern take on Sam Cooke crooning.  Is that an adequate label for it?  I don’t know).

There is a familiar face in the video; that of Mr. Chris Saradon.  (The male lover from Dog Day Afternoon and the vampire from Fright Night.)

That’s slightly important, but I would put more emphasis on Kipp’s technique in this piece.  He assembled what is very loosely a “story” to compliment the lyrics.  Actors take turns mouthing the words in different, eerie contexts that stay with you.  This is the darker side of Magic Realism, with a kick ass beat to boot. 

In short, a most enjoyable way to spend three minutes. 

Check it out here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Interview with Luther Bhogal-Jones


One of the unexpected pleasures of having this blog has been making contact with fellow independent filmmakers.  Why?  Because they are ultimately my brothers and sisters in the “struggle.”  They are working to maintain their connection to creativity, and their own personal visions of what film should be. 

That said, few people I have talked to are as honest as Mr. Luther Bhogal-Jones.  Luther found me through one of the horror blogger communities.  He inititally approached me about watching his short Black Spot.  What is that?  Imagine a Tarantino/Rodriguez “Grindhouse” inspired short…but without the smarmy irony.  This is the work of a filmmaker that respected the genre enough to use intensity instead of jokiness. 

Luther is fully aware that he has to work a day job, and get his stuff out however he can.  (This means approaching writers like me and using whatever audience we have).   

Luther provided very detail answers to my questions.  Take a look, and then (most importantly) please follow the links to his samples of work. 

Dusty:  Mr. Luther Bhogal-Jones, please introduce yourself in a few simple sentences.

Luther: I've been making films in my spare time for 20 years – from college during a media course, to working full time since leaving college and continuing to make self funded films in my spare time. Life understandably gets in the way with a situation like this and when everyone is working for free/ expenses my films can take a long time to complete, so I'm not as prolific as I'd like to be!

Dusty:  What were your formative film experiences? Favorite movies growing up? “A-ha moments” that inspired you to follow you the path that you are now on?

Luther:  I'm not sure if they're formative film experiences – although I visited the cinema occasionally as a child once we got a VCR around 83/84 my exposure to film ramped up. My parents were pretty lax when it came to the films they'd hire out for myself and my older brother, so I sat through a lot of violent exploitation “trash” from an early age – films such as The Bronx Warriors and Atlantis Interceptors have always stayed with me, lots of 80s classics and not so classics. 

Running tandem to this would be the films we'd be seeing on TV – Star Wars, “James Bond” films on Bank Holidays...

I guess these films became my favorites, but strangely some of my favorite films are musicals or musical based – Streets Of Fire, The Blues Brothers, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Little Shop of Horrors...

I don't recall any magical moment – there may have been a point during film making at college, editing on an analogue VHS edit deck and seeing some sequence come together, that really felt it flowed.

I sorta fell into film making, after lacking confidence in writing and being terrible at drawing – all I wanted to do was tell stories and film making was the next medium I fell into.

Dusty:  You have your own production company; Faster Productions. Was this established for your to work on your own projects? Do you have a specific aesthetic that you are going for?

Luther:  Faster isn't a proper production company per se, as this isn't what I do full time...I guess most film makers go under a production name to pretend to be bigger than what they are – it's certainly not something to produce other people's work as it's difficult enough to arrange my own films! There isn't a specific aesthetic to my work – I think everything since I returned to film making in 2006 has been stylistically diverse and I really like that. If anything, “Faster” has become an ironic name to work with, seeing as every one of my films seems to take bloody forever to finish...

Dusty:  You approached Playground Of Doom to talk about Black Spot; an intense, ‘70s horror flick inspired extravaganza.  We would love to hear about the genesis of this project, as well as the production.

Luther:  The film was conceived as a “proper” narrative test for the cheap 3D camcorder I received as a Christmas present. I didn't want to invest too much time and money in it, as I had no idea how well the film would work with the limitations of the camcorder, so it was written around places I knew and things I had or could source easily.  I'm not sure where the germ of the idea for the storyline came from, or why I decided to set it in a car – I think it may have been considering layers of depth upfront and so considering a location that would have a bit of depth and background to it. As the camcorder's 3D effect was apparently hampered in low light, I was probably also thinking it would have to be something predominantly set outside.

Although I hoped to shoot the film very early in 2013, the shoot didn't actually take place until around June time. I'd always wanted it to be a grey, desolate day but the UK weather is unpredictable to say the least, so there was no guarantee of that in January...then come the shoot it was a day of intermittent rain showers, but this did give me the grey, dreary look I wanted but thankfully without the low temperatures.

The most frustrating aspect of the shoot came from my issues with the camcorder battery – I mistakenly presumed I'd charged it fully when I hadn't. I also assumed (but hadn't checked) that I'd be able to continue shooting inside my car while the camcorder was connected and charging from the car's usb port – this turned out to be incorrect, so a vast majority of the shoot was spent sat in my car waiting for the battery to charge enough to continue, which added a new dimension of tension and urgency to the shoot and the performances from the actors.

Between the rain showers and the battery the filming over ran by about 3 hours but I'm pretty sure we did get almost all of the shots listed for the day. There was no sound or lighting crew, so in some regards shooting this was back to the freedom and from the hip film making from college and with the tiny size of the camcorder it was fun to get it in places where a normal sized camera would have never fit.

A couple of months later I'd shoot at a flat in Brighton for Paul's flashback – this was all improvised by the actors and took a few hours to do. The first edit had been completed with these shots waiting to be dropped in...

Incredibly one of the hardest aspects to film was the end title sequence with my wonky cardboard road signs – I had to return to the location several times as several factors continued to make the footage unusable and awaiting the right opportunity to shoot it never seemed to arise due to temperamental weather.

My original edit ran for around 7 minutes, then I cut this back to 5 minutes (including titles) as I was hoping to enter it into a film festival which I thought had a running time limit (I later found out it didn't!) but this version seemed to run too fast and felt almost incomprehensible to watch, even to those who had read the script and knew what was supposed to be happening!

I went back and gave the film some breathing space which resulted in the final edit.

The last aspects were the sound and grade – my grader had problems where everything he did to the footage came out in the wash during the process to 3D, resulting in much of his work not being very apparent. The composer/ sound mixer was particularly meticulous and we had to adr (additional dialogue record) every aspect of the film as all the sound on the in-camera mics was unusable. He was so meticulous he scored the film twice – after hearing the film with almost complete sound design, he decided the score wasn't quite right and went back and recorded a new one!

(Editor’s Note: For any filmmakers reading this, this is a very logical and practical approach to making a movie.) 

Dusty:  Black Spot is available in two different versions. One of them is in 3-D. Was the movie shot for 3-D and how are you planning to use this technology?

As above, the film was conceived as a test for the 3D camera so would have never existed if it wasn't for the camera. I'd love to do another 3D film but it's doubtful I'd use this camera again as it is, though I have had a particular idea I need to try out to see if it work, but apart from that and with no funds for a next level HD 3D camera I don't think I'll be doing another film in 3D in the near future.

Ironically I hoped that the 3D element would be the thing that set the film apart from the multitude of other horror shorts available to view on the internet and to some degree it has, but I've been amazed how many horror bloggers haven't had a pair of red/ cyan glasses to view it as I presumed it would almost go hand in hand. At the time of writing the 2D version has had more than twice of the red/ cyan 3D and stereoscopic 3D versions put together, which seems to suggest that the criticisms against 3D and the lack of public interest may well hold some weight.

(Editor’s Note: That is because we can’t afford the glasses.  I can’t speak for my horror blogger comrades, but I’m broke ass poor.)

Dusty:  You’ve done an interesting and brave thing. You have reached out to the horror blogosphere to help promote your projects. (Even lazy writers like me who take forever to get interview questions to you). How are you planning to use social media as a filmmaker?

Luther:  I'd like to think it's not that interesting or brave – I'd presume that many filmmakers in a similar situation/ level as me would do the same. I don't have any spare money for marketing, nor to enter it to film festivals that charge entry so this seems a free and targeted approach to help promote myself and the film. I previously approached the horror blog community when Creak was finished and had a really encouraging response that time, so that spurred me on to approach a wider range of horror bloggers this time round as well as go back to those who supported me previously.

I do get the impression that some bloggers are sometimes at a loss of what to post and feel the need to have new content as often as possible, so being handed something on a plate, whether they like it or not, is a good thing to have. I've also found that no response back isn't to be taken as a lack of interest, as quite a few bloggers never received my initial email and I've gone back to several chasing them for a feature, which has finally resulted in some belated posts. 

(Editor’s Note:  Oh, really…guilty as charged, unfortunately.) 

I've perhaps been a bit more thorough this time with the bloggers I've contacted, keeping tabs on who has posted what, responses back etc but the information I've sent out has also been much more thorough – with Creak I was using the advice from Chris Jones of Living Spirit Films fantastic advice for press releases, FAQs etc to promote your films and with Black Spot I followed his advice much more closely and it seems to have resulted in a better response.

I'm not in marketing, so the press release and all the marketing materials are written by myself, but as many bloggers have pretty much placed what I've sent them up as a post verbatim I like to think that might be because I've written a solid press release...though I do miss the personal touch!

As for the social media thing I don't that it's working that well for me – despite probably around 50 blog posts for Black Spot across the world I've not seen a massive uptake in Twitter followers, nor Facebook followers – and I don't really know how to create a particularly big upswing unless some super large scale horror site gets on board with it, but even with the expected 2% response back it's not going to result in a mega increase.

I guess Twitter followers are growing organically and slowly, but I struggle with the profile that you're supposed to keep up (if you read any How To Succeed At Social Media type guides) as those channels are only maintained during spare time and I don't see the point in spamming out some inspirational quote you've cribbed from 101 Inspirational Quotes To Use On Twitter To Keep Your Profile Up etc.

Twitter seems great at starting or even joining in conversations with people, but there's also a horrible white noise aspect to it – if you're being followed by someone with 25k+ followers, realistically what is the chance of them seeing your post, promoting it, sharing it? Hmmm...

Gallingly, despite the great response from the blog community it still hasn't brought in that many views per post – I saw a friend was involved in a 48 hour sci-fi film challenge in the UK and within 2 days that film had received more views than Black Spot had received in 4 months online and with all the blog support. Frustrating, but at least if someone did search online for myself and the film there's plenty of posts out there, so it has a presence, if not the views...

But as I said, Twitter is brilliant at starting conversations with people and as a free facility to a film maker it's a fantastic tool, perhaps I'm just not using it right!

(Editor’s Note: If it helps, I’m not sure there is a “right way” to use social media or the blogosphere.  I have been incredibly surprised that I have gotten any responses at all to this site…or my films.  I think you’re over the hump just by trying.) 

Dusty:  You have other short films currently making the rounds at film festivals and the blogosphere. Would you tell us about Creak, The Crunch and Stranded?

Luther:  Well, none of them are doing the rounds as such. The Crunch, which has always been a marmite film, had a few screenings at film nights (not festivals) for a few years after it was finished, but always seemed to get a wall of silence afterwards – quite uncomfortable! I got suckered in with Stranded as some people who saw it initially genuinely thought this was going to be the film that would take my career up a ladder and help me towards making a living doing this, but the response back from film festivals was nothing, so again, apart from a few film nights and being online it hasn't done anything, which was a massive disappointment to me.

After the failure of both those films with the festivals, and the lack of money to send anything to festivals, Creak was always intended to go straight online and to hell with premiere rights that some festivals demand. I think I made the right decision and that's what I intend to do with most of my short films in future.

Creak at least had a market I could target with the horror bloggers, but there are no bloggers that cover psychological/comicbook/drama/noirs, nor any that specialize in melancholic coastal dramas. Outside of genre bloggers, general film bloggers don't seem very interested in short films, preferring to concentrate on commercial releases for reviews and analysis, either the art house or mainstream end, so I couldn't promote these films in the same manner I presented Creak and Black Spot to blogger. As far as I'm aware there's been no coverage for them online that I recall.

I still continue to submit those films to screenings where I can, but as time goes on there's less opportunities to give them an airing.

(Editor: As you and I both know, Vimeo is a wonderful thing!)

Dusty:  What is your ultimate “dream job” as a filmmaker? Is there a project that you hope to someday make?

Luther:  Hmm, well, as an English director I guess I've always joked it'd be great to do a Bond film and relive those Bank Holiday Monday transmissions for real. As a big fan of the comic 2000AD a dream project would be to turn Zenith into a movie – the first chapter is pretty concise with a self centered 80s pop star fighting a resurrected Nazi super soldier with the assistance of his parents' aging washed up superhero friends. It's one of my all time favorite comics...and probably something like Halo Jones (which would cheese Alan Moore off yet again) or Strontium Dog – all which I could see working so well on the big screen. Anything along those lines would be incredible.

I'd love to do a Phillip K Dick adaptation – I have a soft spot for We Can Build You and Clans Of The Alphane Moon, though the latter would probably be a hard sell.

Or Bronx Warriors 3, if Enzo Castellari wants to pass the mantle to me. Or a sequel to Streets Of Fire, if Walter Hill would give me the scripts to the further adventures of Tom Cody!

(Editor’s Note:  I hate to break it to you…but Albert Pyun made a quasi-sequel called to “Streets” called Road to Hell.  The thing barely got a release, though…so that works in your favor.) 

Dusty:  What’s next?

Luther:  I'm in post production on two films – Pick-Ups is an awkward comedy drama short which I've just done some previews of and got some good laughs, which is really encouraging and hopefully that should be complete in the next few months. I've also had some really good news this week which means my 15 minute fantasy thriller Goodnight, Halloween could be coming closer to completion – it's required some reshoots that I've been unable to do and these now look like they could happen in the next month or so. I've always described it as The Diary of Anne Frank meets Clive Barker's “Nightbreed,” set in an alternative 1986 Detroit where Halloween creatures, that exist alongside mankind, have been outlawed by the right wing Christian government.

I'm in the middle of shooting Sincerely, Psychopath 2 which was to be called “Knock Knock,” but seeing as there's at least two features being shot with that name I think it'll be going through a name change – that's a real homage to Mario Bava's Drop Of Water from Black Sabbath, as well as elements from Argento's Opera (Daria Nicolodi at the door and her demise) and the final of Tenebrae...but I'm hoping for some of the playful madness from Hausu to creep into it too.

With the SFX contact making the reshoot of Goodnight, Halloween a reality it's really opened up the next two Sincerely, Psychopath shorts I want to make – one is basically a big fight between two bird humanoid creatures in a forest, as wafer thin plot wise as Black Spot but should be striking looking and memorably odd, then a more splat-stick horror short that I think I've got a pretty interesting angle on to make it stand out.

Naturally long term I'd love to do something feature length – I've got a strong idea of a feature film following the MacKenzie family from Black Spot, I've got a treatment for a commercial monster movie that I think could tick some right boxes and I'd really, really love to do a giallo around Worthing where I live, something coastal, and again I think I've got an interesting take on that harkening back to the past of the giallo genre, but coming to terms with the present.


Faster Vimeo (featuring Black Spot):

Faster's Production Blog:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Interview: Mark Pellington

Mark Pellington (Or What This Interview is About)

Let’s begin with a brief story; imagine me as a nineteen-year-old college kid driving around looking to kill a few hours on Monday night.  (Actually, don’t do that, I was somewhat of an unsightly youth.)  The clock on my dashboard radio read: “10:00” and I found myself in front of a movie theater.  This was not exactly a hot spot on a Monday night (and in some ways I am surprised they were showing movies at all).  I wandered up to the ticket booth and plopped down some cash for a movie called Arlington Road. 

A funny thing happened on the way to the theater; I found myself sitting completely alone in a space full of a good 150 seats.  The lights were starting to dim, and I was still the only theater patron in what would prove to be a first.  How many movie theaters have you had at your complete disposal?   This was just the ambience before the main attraction; Arlington Road. 
Some people might say that Arlington Road falls into the standard Hollywood genre known as “thriller.”  The film focuses on Jeff Bridges as a college professor who slowly begins to suspect his rather innocuous neighbors (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack) of terrorism.  Arlington Road, however, is more of an exercise in ghostly subtlety. 

The suburban setting looks haunted, and is shot in rich color that is combined with an intricate sound design.  The viewer is constantly being pressed to ask: “Am I watching a story about reality?  And how do I know what to trust?”  There were themes of isolation, grief, and dread.  I didn’t know much about film at nineteen, but I did assume these elements were directorial flourishes. 

The empty movie theater?  That was only the perfect container for the filmic experience I just had.

I was then able to connect Mark Pellington’s name with the iconic Pearl Jam video “Jeremy.”  Everyone in my age group (mid-30s) remembers that video on heavy rotation.  I can perhaps fully credit it with making me wonder how a simple collection of images could “build” and have resonance.  Could I see a connection between the video and Arlington Road?  Rich colors, isolation, dread…

Lone (Chelsea Wolfe) 

The second part of this story starts when I found a message in my inbox from Mark Pellington.  He had recently completed a short film featuring a musical artist named Chelsea Wolfe.  The project wasn’t quite a feature at 52 minutes.  That said, it was clearly something well beyond your standard four-minute music video.  Would I be interested in taking a look? 

Before we move on, let’s talk about the experience of watching Lone.  The best kinds of cinematic experiences (for me) invent their own logic and create a world.  The Lone viewer watches as Wolfe (a striking screen presence) moves from one charged scenario to another.  There’s an elderly man, bodies on gurneys, an empty theater, lush soundscapes…and then there are the moments when Chelsea breaks the fourth wall and sings. 

Lone is not a narrative; this is a deeply felt, personal experience for anyone who has a chance to view it.  I got the feeling that I was a collaborator with both Pellington and Wolfe as a viewer.  They were supplying me with images and sound that I was allowed to make my own meaning out of.  As with the most interesting pieces of art, the viewer arrives with his or her own experience and contributes to the dialogue. 

My 13 inch lap top hardly did justice to the cinematography. What would be the ideal space to view Lone in?  Remember that empty movie theater that I first saw Arlington Road in?  I say blow Lone up as big as life, and let the audience be lucky enough to find it. 

Mark Pellington Part Two (Or The Conversation)

The third part of this story happens after Mark and I started trading e-mails.  I mentioned that I occasionally did interviews, and was wondering if I could talk to him. 

Specifically, I wanted to know:

1.  What was the process of making Lone?  How were decisions made? 
2.  How did the making of Lone compare to working in the studio system?
3.  What was the next step for something like Lone?  How do you the thing out into the public eye? 

I did about an hour of research on Pellington’s site before we spoke.  The over all impression that I gained was that Pelington’s was equally comfortable switching between “personal projects” and work in the mainstream.  More importantly, though, the emphasis is much more on the intuitive and creative process of the medium. 

How does Lone fall into that path? 

Pellington informed me that the best way to answer this question was to start at the beginning.  He chooses five of Wolfe’s songs from her current album to work with.  The next step is to begin a full tilt collaboration.  Pellington asked Wolfe to write down every image she associated with each song.  After that, Pellington began to write a script and create a shot list to be used during the shoot. 

“The goal was to make something that was deeper, more subconscious, “ Pellington said. 

Pellington did borrow a trick from his friend Cameron Crowe for this particular project. 

“You always have an idea of what your first and last shot are,”  Pellington said “That allows you to shape the rest of the movie.” 

The shoot took all of four days, and utilized a budget that Pellington estimated at $45, 000.  What does that sort of schedule allow you as a filmmaker? 

“Freedom” was the word that came up again and again.  Pellington told me that his favorite projects are the ones that allow him to “smuggle” personal material into them.  This doesn’t happen as often on a higher budget production that is loaded with expectations from a studio.  Low budget productions allow a filmmaker a chance to do “what feels right.”   The Chelsea Wolfe project was no different, as he recounted a moment that happened towards the end of the shoot. 

“We both looked at each other,” Pellington said “and I said ‘Thank you for letting me do this.’  Chelsea seems to have felt the same.  The project allowed both of us to expose ourselves in a safe way.” 

Was this a catharsis?  It sounds like one to me. 

What’s next for Lone?

Pellington spoke about the contradictions of the project; the fact that is it not quite a feature, and yet is very much a short film.  What lessons are to be learned for next time? 

“My favorite movie of the last two years is Under the Skin,” he told me  “That was a case of getting a recognizable name (Scarlett Johansen) attached to an experimental project.  That gives the filmmaker a greater chance for visibility, not to mention funding.” 

The foundation for a future project is already percolating in Pellington’s head.  Why not expand the next musical film to 70 minutes?   Why not try to attract a “name” to interact with the musical artist? 

Lone will be available to the public eventually.  (At the time of our talk, Pellington was attempting to figure out the specifics of licensing the video for iTunes).

The Moral of the Story

I would like to end with a lesson that Pellington taught me (unbeknownst to him).

“This is a time when filmmaking has become democratized,” he said “You can create the work, and then build your audience.  I love it!  I’m just going to keep creating stuff and doing these smaller projects.  Teaching myself IMovie is next.”

If you’ve read Playground of Doom for any amount of time, you have no doubt encountered some of my misadventures in the filmmaking trade.  I come from a generation that sincerely believed we were going to be able to work creatively and get paid handsomely.  Those “rock star dreams” (and their dissolution) have made us forgot about why we wanted to create in the first place.

Catharsis, personal expression, diving into the subconscious…isn’t that the real incentive for making movies?   

Create the work, and then build the audience.  Do it for yourself. 

Thanks, Mr. Pellington.

Mark Pellington's Official Website:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Interview: Galia Barkol


Gaila Barkol might very well represent the image that we all have of a “renaissance person.”  What would lead one to draw that conclusion?  Take a look at the list of diverse interests covered in the interview questions below.  There’s classical music, the French language, acting, and (finally) film production; all skills that Galia has at her disposal.  She spent some time talking about both her past and upcoming projects with us recently.

Dusty:  Your first passion appears to be acting. Can you tell us your history with the craft? What first hooked your interest? What kind of training have you had?

Galia:  It is indeed my first passion, but it took me about a decade to admit it. I used to be the shy girl, with a rigid classical piano training and undeniable urge to move in space. Film and acting came later, when I began to realize the immense potential in those art forms. Briefly, I went to Paris to study Film at the Paris-Diderot University. My French education was beyond what I could have hoped for. So rich, profound and insightful. I am very grateful for that gift. But life in Paris was challenging for me as a very young foreigner alone, and when I got just enough of the existential suffering to feed my romantic fantasies, I was ready to move on. I applied for a Franco-American student exchange program (despite being neither), and got in. I was sent to New York and graduated there. Needless to say, the American education system is as different as can be to the French. The great thing was that I was allowed to take acting courses, which I did, and got to do more hands on work, both behind and in front of the camera. When we had the end of year screenings at school, my Production teacher took me aside and said there was something intriguing and unique about my relationship with the camera and that I should think about going deeper into acting. After a year or so of exploration of various approaches and teachers, I finally went to HB Studio for a 2-year conservatory program. I studied with amazing teachers and actors, and discovered that acting is both more spiritual and intellectual a craft than I’d imagined. In the process of relearning yourself as a human being (and the attempt to unlearn much of the rest), you become a more compassionate and mindful person.  

Dusty:  As many creative professionals have done, you have seized control of your career as a performer by stepping into the producer role.  I am assuming that this was a move which allowed you some creative control over the projects you chose to work on.  Could you tell us a little more about wearing the "producer" hat?  What was the impetus for that decision?

Galia:  Two things. First, I’ve had some good experience in the production world, working for two major Israeli companies, so it didn’t scare me as much. But from an actor’s perspective, it was a way for me to take control over my work. Starting out as an actor is tricky, and it can be very discouraging. What often happens is that you find yourself auditioning for anything you are called in for, even when you don’t really want to do it. Something in your thinking changes, and you are left with wanting to be liked. You depend on others completely - the type of role you’ll play, the quality of the footage and post, the story that is being told… and you’re often not getting paid. That’s a lot of effort and frustration for very very little. I don’t rule that out, but I carefully select what I apply for today. So, since I don’t like the feeling of being passive and reactive in my work, and since I have a background in writing and film, my natural inclination is to create my own content. 

Dusty: Would you give us an elevator pitch for your 4 Variations on a Theme?  

Galia: With this project, a group of collaborators was invited to isolate and reexamine the cinematographic components that reveal and portray characters and their universe. The focus was on exploring the range to which one sequence can be stretched, to see how elastic it can become when adjusted to viewers' interpretations.  The footage consisted of a 4-minute silent sequence, following our protagonist as her day unfolds. It was then sent to 4 writers of different backgrounds, nationalities and styles, who each came up with a script. With no defined boundaries and directions, the writers followed where the footage took them. Each version was then matched to a different composer who wrote a score for it. We ended up with 4 completely different short films, made with identical footage. 

Dusty:  Tell us about the 4 writers. How were the scripts selected? I’m assuming that the footage was shown to the writers in advance?

Galia:  Yes, the writers saw the footage and had to write a script to go with it. I left it completely open, as long as the content was triggered by what they viewed. The writers were selected in advance and I trusted that their scripts would be interesting, so there was no selection afterwards. I contacted very different people who I’d known on very different levels. Roy Ben Shai is a good friend who is not in the film business at all, but a brilliant philosopher and fascinating person with a very independent thinking. Yael Nussbaum I'd known very little and only heard about her work, and I was blown away by her sharp writing and interpretation of the piece. Justin McElwee is a dear guy who made me laugh like no one else at a random party in Brooklyn. Thanks to Facebook, I was able to hunt him down and make him write something for me. Chris Bentley had sent me an interesting script before, for another project, and I was glad for the opportunity  to finally work with him. 

Dusty:  Tell us about working with Director Jeremiah Kipp (we’re fans around here).

Galia:  Well, I don’t know how he does it but he does it all and at the same time. I’m certainly a fan too, although following his work is getting really challenging! He was really the best. He brought extraordinary people to the set - Andrea Urbinati the DP, who made the footage look absolutely beautiful, Brian de la Cruz and Alex Gavin, who held it all together and made it work, and super charming actor Lucas Rainey. Working with Jeremiah on the production aspects was a wonderful experience because he was responsive, helpful and thorough and, of course, very experienced. As an actress, I appreciated his style, taste and direction very much, and his openness to wherever the moment took us. He’s also the sweetest guy, as you know. I’d be thrilled to work with him anytime. 

Dusty:  Is there any other projects you have in the works? What’s next for you, Galia?

Galia:  I’m currently co-writing a narrative feature with Jay (Yair) Vilnai, to be produced in late 2014. Preproduction is planned for early June. Jay wrote the score for the first film of “4 Themes on a Variation” (“Justin & Jay”), performed the VO for the second (“Yael & Izzy) and recorded the sound for all the voice overs. Since everything he touches turns gold, I forced him to collaborate on this one, and it’s a very interesting journey we’re on. A woman's life as she's known it ends abruptly, which pushes her to remove herself from her immediate environment. In her last attempts to see if she could reinvent herself or her take on life, she moves to Paris. An encounter with a frequent visitor to the city turns into an unusual kind of relationship which allows her to look at things from a slightly different angle.


Galia’s Official Site:

Her Production Company: