Palm Springs International ShortFest 2015
ALYCE TZUE, MAVERICK MOORE & BEN BRIAND
interviews by JORGE PEREZCHICA
director/writer ALYCE TZUE
Can you tell us about yourself and background as an artist?
I feel like I’ve gravitated toward film because it is a medium that combines so many of the arts. Starting when I was very young, I took years of private lessons in the fine arts as well as music (violin and piano) and dance (ballet). The rhythm of the arts is sort of ingrained in me, I guess. As an undergrad at Princeton University, I studied architecture. But after graduating and working in NYC for a year, I found that architecture didn’t allow me to be as creative as I’d like to be. So I took a risk. I moved across country to California to pursue what I thought was a pipe dream: to make a movie. I enrolled in the Academy of Art hoping it would give me the opportunity to do that. And that’s where I created SOAR as my MFA thesis.
How did the origins to SOAR begin?
Grad students at the Academy all knew that our thesis would absolutely consume us for the next two to three years. I kept this in mind while brainstorming for ideas, actively looking for something that I was absolutely fascinated with. If I wasn’t, I didn’t trust myself to still have my heart in it after so long! So, I settled on the sky. The sky would be a setting and a destination for the film.
Can you tell us about the main characters?
Mara is a precocious 13-year-old girl who designs her own model airplanes and dreams of one day piloting a real one. Like the rest of us, her ideas don’t always make it off the ground. One day, a tiny boy pilot named Lucas drops out of the sky on his broken flying machine. Stranded on Earth, Lucas is afraid of the much-larger Mara, but also can’t make it back home without her help. Mara must call upon both her generosity and her wits to return Lucas to the sky.
What was the journey like to go from an idea to a finished film?
It was an incredible journey, made all the more incredible, because it was the first time for many of us, going through a film pipeline. We really had very little idea what was in store. I would say coming up with the idea and pre-production was the most fun. It’s fun to throw ideas out there and get constructive feedback. It’s rewarding to draw up a rough animatic and feel the pacing of your story, then have your composer and sound effects artist do their magic to further flesh it out. It’s exhilarating to see multiple artists’ interpretations of the characters while we went through visual development. All of pre-production probably took close to a year. Production itself was definitely more stressful. I had a clear idea of what I wanted the film to be, but now all these technical obstacles stood in my way. And part of the reason they were obstacles is because we’re all still students! Not only was I myself learning about every stage of the pipeline — modeling, rigging, animation, texturing, lighting, dynamics — the students I was working with were learning their specialities as well. We needed to rely on each other. But because so much of this was new to me, the bulk of production felt challenging. Often it felt like I didn’t know what I was doing — but that’s when my mentors stepped in. This project would have been impossible without their help! The mentor that had the most influence on my work is Derek Flood, the short’s visual effects supervisor… and I owe much of the film’s visual polish to his mentorship.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
I go to music to find inspiration. It can be any kind of music, from orchestral arrangements and movie soundtracks to pop, indie, experimental, anything at all. When I listen to music, my visual imagination expands. I find a moment in my story whose vibe matches the music and the scenes just unfold. I love retreating to that space. But actually, the heightened inspiration only lasts for twenty minutes tops. Because there’s so much stimulation, I get mentally exhausted pretty fast. So I always have to enter this with a fresh mind!
SOAR won best student film at the Palm Springs International Short Fest — What was your experience like throughout the festival and screening your film with an audience?
It was such a fun experience. Everyone I met there was incredibly passionate about film and the arts, so it felt especially rewarding to show SOAR to that audience. The other animated shorts were also impressive, so it was definitely flattering to be screened alongside with them!
What are you currently working on — what’s next?
I’m working on a pitch for SOAR as a feature film!
director MAVERICK MOORE
Tell us about yourself and your background as a filmmaker?
I fell in love with filmmaking when I was a little kid – I would always borrow my aunt’s camera to film my friends skateboarding around town and prank our unsuspecting neighbors. I quickly grew serious about filmmaking, moving onto filming and editing skateboarding videos around Texas for several years, and later to directing and editing narrative films as a graduate student at Baylor University in Waco. The older I got, the more interested I became in telling stories. I’m currently based back in Waco, Texas, where I teach film classes at Baylor University and continue to nurture my passion for teaching, watching movies, and making films.
What are the origins of Shotgun?
The idea for Shotgun all started with Zachary Korpi, the film’s co-writer and co-producer. The idea was a mischievously fun little story about three girls on a road trip to revenge (to tell you any more would be a sleight of hand). I loved the idea so much that I would always pester him about making it. For whatever reason, he caved into my nagging and told me to make it instead. So I did.
Much of the film is dialogue driven — but it’s very funny to watch. Can you tell us about the screenwriting and story structure?
Writing Shotgun was a rigorous but fun experiment. We wanted to futz around with the conventional parameters of a film story, but also didn’t want it to be an endurance test to sit through. We wanted people to sit down and not be able to stop watching it, no matter that eighty percent of it consisted of girls talking about nothing inside of a car. So we catered to those goals. We wrote everything to draw the audience in and keep them guessing by fooling with their expectations. We wanted people to have a good time at the movies.
What was the journey like to go from an idea to a finished film — the challenges and joys of the process
Shotgun was an incredibly fun film to make, but we certainly had our fair share of hurdles and hiccups. The biggest challenge was turning our crazy vision into a reality without letting our practical limitations affect the story in a damaging way. So, there were practically infinite drafts of the screenplay to get the story just right. We endlessly debated the right language for the script, how the characters would react in their situations, and whether or not what we wrote would work on the screen. Then there was casting, collecting props, securing locations, and the all-important task of finding vintage automatic Mustangs (and for free), all of which actually panned out very smoothly thanks to great help from Steven Trebus (and a great dosage of luck).
All the actresses in the film are talented and perfectly cast. Can you tell us about the casting process?
Casting is where the screenplay first comes to life, so it’s a very delicate process. Thankfully, we got extremely lucky with our actresses. They were the bona fide femme fatale characters we had written. All of them were absolute knock-outs. They were all actually theatre students at Baylor University, which was where I attended graduate school. That added convenience made it an even sweeter deal.
Shotgun pays homage to filmmakers Tarantino and Godard. What draws you to their style of filmmaking? What did you want to say with your film?
With Shotgun, I wanted to make a film that broke all of the rules. I was really inspired by the playful approach to story and structure of many French New Wave films, particularly ones made by Jean-Luc Godard, and I wanted to make a film in a style that was reminiscent of those films – a film that was coolly simple, mischievously self-aware, and delightfully fun. The more stylistically rebellious and whimsical films of the Nouvelle Vague, such as À bout de soufflé (Godard, 1960), Shoot the Piano Player (Truffaut, 1960), Zazie dans le metro (Malle, 1960), Jules et Jim (Truffaut, 1962), Bande à part (Godard, 1964), and Pierrot le Fou (Godard, 1965), really expanded my perception of storytelling. To me, these films demonstrate that a story can transcend formula and challenge its inherent parameters, yet still be engaging, entertaining, and full of ideas. Characters can break the fourth wall, stories can be out of order, and genres can be mixed. So, as an homage to Godard and many other French New Wave films, I wanted to cast away tried-and-true methods of filmmaking and storytelling logic as a way of exploring more ways to tell a story effectively on screen. At the same time, I was also inspired by the pulpy, post-modern stylization of many contemporary Quentin Tarantino films, which have many stylistic similarities to Godard’s early French New Wave classics. So, I wanted to make a film that was a radical fusion of the two influences – a black-and-white French New Wave pastiche with an explosive rock-n-roll attitude that’s a straight-up good time at the movies. It’s my bizarre love letter to cinema.
What have been some of the rewards so far, from screening Shotgun at festivals?
There are lots of benefits of screening a film at a festival – attending the festival and seeing your film with different audiences, meeting different filmmakers and networking, receiving press coverage for your film, and visiting all kinds of cool places. It’s also cool to see a community gather simply because of a film screening. The spirit of filmmaking is alive and well.
What’s next? What are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on the story for my next film, which I plan to shoot sometime next year.
BLOOD PULLS A GUN
director BEN BRIAND
Alice lives in her father’s isolated roadside motel. She bides away her time reading magazines while “the same boring parade” of guests check in and out. Occasionally, “stealing from strangers is as thrilling as it gets,” she explains. “I like to collect memories, mostly other people’s.” Suddenly, things are about to change when an enigmatic visitor named Blood checks in. Just as Alice’s first sexual feelings begin to emerge, her curiosity leads to a dark and mysterious world. By the end, Alice learns a deadly lesson: “but not even love is free. When you take something, you pay for it.” Blood Pulls A Gun is the anticipated follow up film to director Ben Briand’s critically acclaimed short, Apricot. Written by Kevin Koehler and shot by DOP Jeremy Rouse.
Can you tell us about yourself and background as a filmmaker?
I went to a very sporty school. I had a deal with my high school, where if I shot the football on Saturday I was allowed to take the largest and most cumbersome camera home for the weekends to shoot my own experimental videos. This led to a Fine Arts degree that encompassed photography, sculpture, and moving image. No film school for me.
How did the origin to Blood Pulls A Gun begin?
The short film I had made prior was called Apricot and had been very successful online. It dealt with the idea of a first kiss. The emerging emotions that a child feels as they engage in that pivotal moment in their life. I was keen to explore the next phase, the first emerging sexual feelings in teenagers and how obsession can take hold of that.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
All my projects are conceptualized from a mood that is evoked from music. Either soundtracks or strange bands that I like. If I can find a few tracks that express the feeling that I want the idea to be expressed through then those pieces of music are looped over and over whilst I work on developing the project. Apricot was written in a Paris hotel room with one single song on loop for three days.
What was the creative process to Blood Pulls A Gun?
Long. It’s always quite methodical for me. I love the crafting of filmmaking. That’s where the exploration of the psychology of the project is at its most dynamic. If you change a color, a character name, or a motivation it shifts all the human understanding of the project. I feel like making films is very much like an experiment. You place the characters and dynamics of the world in a dish and see what happens. At certain points you poke and prod it to push it around and change the balance.
I love the cast, especially the main character played by Odessa Young. Can you tell us about the casting process?
We searched for many months for the cast. I wanted this film to operate on a global level, so all aspects, camera, music, lighting, and especially casting needed to sit in that realm. Lucky Gorka at McGregor Casting saw many young teenagers for the role, but Odessa clicked for the producers and myself the moment she came on screen. Aside from fitting all the tonal references, she was wise beyond her years, which is something the character needed to be. When we shot she was exactly in the gap between a young girl and a self-aware teenager. She was also the most professional person on set.
Blood Pulls A Gun is beautifully photographed. What was it like collaborating with rising-star cinematographer Jeremy Rouse?
Jeremy accepted the project before even reading the script, which I though was such a compliment. Since that moment, we have been very tightly synced. This was the first project that we worked on together (and have since done many more) and I was so refreshed by his enthusiasm and excitement. His camera work, lens choice, and lighting comes from a very emotional place. There isn’t too much over-intellectualizing between us, which is great. We are just trusting instincts and moving towards those choices.
Which artists have had the most influence on your work?
I am inspired and influenced by all the collaborators that I work with. People think filmmaking is always a dictatorship and I believe there is always a right time for that, but I think it’s a two-way street a large part of the time. However, selecting those collaborators is the first place where you should be picky.
What are you currently working on — what’s next?
I really enjoy moving between different types of projects. I have just finished a number of commercial projects in France and now one back here in Australia. Much of my focus next year will be going into the feature.
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