Introducing Nerd Infinite!

September 1, 2015 at 8:07 am

Nerd Infinite

Just over two years ago, I shut down The Athletic Nerd in order to focus on other projects.  It was bitter sweet letting go of this blog.  I spent over four years writing articles for this site and I missed writing about movies.  But it was time to move on.

Since then, I’ve developed and launched The Screenwriting Spark!  Today, it’s one of the largest collections of screenwriting resources on the web!  There are hundreds of resources, guides, videos and more with much more to come.  Yet still, I missed blogging about movies and television.

Today, I’m pleased to announce Nerd Infinite!  A brand new movie and television blog I’m proud to be a part of.  It may not be a direct sequel to The Athletic Nerd but many elements have carried over.  There are new countdowns, new breakdowns, new features and much more.  Nerd Infinite will also carry on this blog’s dedication to independent film.  Especially short films.  Kicking off the September 1st launch is a 30 day short film festival featuring some of the shorts posted here long ago!

Below you’ll find all the relevant links to keep up to date on the new site.  It’s good to be writing about the stories I love once again!

Nerd Infinite

Nerd Infinite Introduction

Nerd Infinite on Twitter

Nerd Infinite on Facebook

Nerd Infinite on Instagram

About Nerd Infinite

The September Short Film Showcase

The Screenwriting Spark

Cheers,

Jason

Paperman & The Inspirational Animations We Adore

February 5, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Paperman & The Inspirational Animations We Adore

A NEW CLASSIC & THE CLASSICS OF OLD

We all have favorites.  Whether they are short films or full length features, we’ve all been captivated by animation.  I often think about the animations that inspired me as a child and how I still hold those films close to my heart today.  I love animation.  I regularly search the web looking for new animated short films.  I’ve actually featured some of these discoveries in nearly every edition of The Post I’ve ever published.

It was my dream growing up to create cartoons but my path deviated when it became painfully obvious I couldn’t draw.  Still, I’m fascinated by the process and inspired by the limitless possibilities animators have at their disposal.  I’ve always been jealous of people that can draw.  I’ve written about it many times.

XTRA | Confessions of a Wannabe Animator

In a way, I have to thank animation for leading me to screenwriting.  I may not be able to draw anything my mind comes up with but I can certainly describe it.  Perhaps someday I’ll write something worthy of a talented artist’s time and dedication.  Until then, I will always have the classic cartoons I adore and new cartoons that continually inspire.

Recently, Disney released it’s groundbreaking and Oscar nominated short film Paperman online.  I missed Wreck-It Ralph in theaters and never got a chance to see it.  If you still haven’t checked it out I recommend hitting play immediately:

This touching short film is a testament to how far technology has come but also a reminder of where it all began.

3D animation has given us some of the best animated films of all time but there are some who still love the nuance of hand drawn 2D work.  Paperman blends both of these techniques to create something incredibly unique and new.  In my opinion, Paperman is visually spectacular and features characters we can all relate too.  The jealousy is taking over again…

XTRA | Be sure to check out the Paperman featurettes I embedded below.

Paperman & The Inspirational Animations We Adore

The second Paperman began I was brought back to my favorite era of Disney Animation.  Way back when they were steadily releasing classics from like The Lion King, Beauty & The Beast, Alladin, The Little Mermaid and more… It was a golden age because I was still able to watch legendary films like Snow White, Cinderella, Dumbo and my personal favorite: Peter Pan.

There is still a shelf back home that houses each and every one of those films on VHS. They are situated next to some of the best non Disney animated films I’ve ever seen.  Movies like All Dogs Go To Heaven & The Last Unicorn.  I’ll never sell those movies even though I no longer own a VCR.  They mean too much to me.  Also featured on my magical animation shelf are collections of animated short films featuring characters we all know and love:

I can’t believe some of the animated films I love are over 70 years old!  Here we are, decades later and the medium is just as important and influential.  I think back fondly on all the cartoons I grew up with and still love today.  Now a new generation of children will grow up and look back on so many years of great stories.

Paperman was brilliant but beyond that, it brought me back to my childhood when 2D animation reigned supreme.  When I discovered new and colorful worlds and characters that I’ll cherish forever.  When a movie can do that, it’s hard not to love it.

THE FUTURE OF 2D ANIMATION

PAPERMAN FEATURETTES

Click here for more Reviews

LOTR Extended Editions: The Best Special Features Ever?

December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am

LOTR Extended Editions: The Best Special Features Ever?

DO THE LORD OF THE RINGS EXTENDED EDITIONS CONTAIN
THE BEST SPECIAL FEATURES EVER PRODUCED?

I watch the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy at least twice a year.  The second I finish watching the films, I immediately watch the incredible special features included with each film.  These wonderful documentaries are THE most in depth and interesting special features I’ve ever seen.  Indeed, the story of the filmmaker’s journey is as compelling as the movies they dedicated themselves to create.  Each and every person associated with these legendary films brought so much passion and commitment to their craft.  It’s beyond inspiring.  As an aspiring screenwriter, it makes me feel lazy and that’s a GOOD thing.

I’m at the point where I can pretty much recite the documentaries from memory.  It’s fascinating to watch their journey play out.  It’s so inspiring to watch people pour so much effort into something they believe in.   So much thought is put into every detail no matter how small it may seem.

What’s even more inspiring is the leadership shown by director Peter Jackson.  Throughout the documentaries, people sometimes question whether or not he has pushed them beyond their limits.  Only to discover that they are truly capable of remarkable things when challenged.  Peter Jackson commanded a well oiled machine with thousands of artists willing to do whatever it took to achieve his masterful vision of J.R.R Tokien’s world.

The documentaries themselves are split on two discs for each film.  One disc is devoted to pre production covering everything from inspiration, to the screenplay (nice) and finally the creation of all the sets, props, weapons, armor and more.  The second disc chronicles the production itself with tons of behind the scenes footage from the set.  This disc is complimented by an in depth look at the fascinating post production process.  This includes the tale of Weta Digital and their Oscar winning visual effects work.  There is nearly 6 hours of content to view for each film.  All of this is complimented by lengthy interviews with the cast & crew.

It’s a phenomenal wealth of information for anyone who loves ‘making of’ documentaries.  In fact, these documentaries redefined what special features could be.

WILL THE HOBBIT CONTINUE THE TREND?

I sincerely hope The Hobbit will come packaged with more amazing stories from the set.  Actually, I’m not concerned.  It has to!

We’ve already been treated to tons of behind the scenes videos including these:

It’s great to see so many familiar faces hard at work again.  I’m already planning on skipping the initial Blu Ray release in order to save my money for the inevitable extended editions.  More inspiring documentaries are on the way and like the movies, I can’t wait to follow the journey over and over again.

LOTR Extended Editions: The Best Special Features Ever?

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film

November 19, 2012 at 8:14 am

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

INSIDE THE THESIS FILM FROM TWO DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES

XTRA | Have you watched a short film today?

The Calling Card short film.  The big one.  The film you’ll use after you graduate to show people what you’re capable of.  It sounds daunting but it’s an exciting project that you work towards for years as a film student.  Personally, I never went to film school.  I went into Television but I’ve always wondered what may have been if I had decided to go to Film School.

Fortunately, Amanda Prentiss and Evgueni Mlodik were kind enough to share their experience at the Colorado Film School.  Their current project is a big one.  It’s a short film called By the Light of the Silvery Moon and it’s based on The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen.

The film is currently in pre-production with Amanda producing & Evgueni writing & directing.  So what’s it like to produce a calling card film?  Read on for both perspectives on what it’s like to be a student, how it impacts their choices as artists and what they hope to achieve with their latest project.

What is ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’?

Amanda: “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” is the name of a song from 1909. The music was composed by Gus Edwards and the lyrics by Edward Madden. In our film, the lead character, Sybille (our little mermaid), sings the song. It’s about love and being in the arms of the one you love. It’s representational of the love she yearns for, as well as a foreshadowing of a later scene that takes place in the moonlight, but isn’t quite as romantic.

Evgueni: “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” is a classic romantic song that ironically reflects the themes and characters of the film and appears in a number of forms throughout the story. The song speaks of finding grand love and marriage under the beauty of the silvery moonlight, and all of that does occur in the film… But with a twist.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

As a student and aspiring filmmaker, how important is it to select the right subject matter for a thesis film?

Amanda: Selecting the right subject for a thesis film is extremely important for two main reasons. For one, it’s the final project you’ll make in film school, so it means a lot personally. On the other hand, it becomes your calling card – whether you apply for grad school or immediately try to get a job, admissions counselors and prospective employers are going to look at that film.

Evgueni: I think it is important to stay true to one self while experimenting with different styles and themes in order to find your own individual voice. It is easy to conform and get lost in imitation while attending film school, so it was crucial for me to find a good story that spoke to me personally and would lend itself to a unique and interesting dramatization in front of the cameras. I also feel that the more your finished product stands out, the bigger the chance you and your work will get noticed.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

What made you finally decide on adapting The Little Mermaid?  What inspired you about the story?

Amanda: I was actually not involved in the decision at all. This is Ev’s thesis project – I signed on after he had already written the first draft of the script. That being said, the story had a lot to do with why I got involved. I love fairy tales, especially the original ones. I think it’s because they are darker and less cheesy than a lot of the adaptations that have been made from them. For me, the story is inspiring because it’s so applicable. We all yearn for that “true love” but at the same time, we have to question whether the sacrifices we make for it are worth it. Particularly in this day and age, when we as a society are so materialistic, people often find themselves in the position of debating between love and furthering themselves in a different way – whether it be a career opportunity or what they perceive as the freedom to “experience life” before settling down.

Evgueni: An adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” has been on my mind for quite some time. I grew up in Russia, where the tale is quite famous, but in its original form, before the Disney revision. I always felt drawn to the tale of the tragic misfit who could never properly integrate into any of her surroundings, especially those she earned for. When I move to the US, I was surprised that no one knew of the story as originally written and its deeper themes and tragic ending eluded so many people. While the Disney version is known and loved in Russia, the original conclusion is much better known. In light of some recent personal events, as well as my growing fascination with German Expressionism, made me feel that it was the perfect time and opportunity to adapt this story into a new film, as well trying something completely brave and new for my final college thesis project. It was always my determination to try creating something challenging and thought provoking, since this is first and foremost a concluding thesis of fours years’ worth of education.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

Choosing to do an adaptation presents many challenges for the screenwriter.  Can you elaborate on your approach to the story and some of the challenges you faced writing the screenplay?

Amanda: As I mentioned before, I was not involved in the writing of the screenplay. However, I was a part of the rewrite process. In that regard, I would say one of the challenges was determining where to stick with the original story and where to make it our own. Another issue was with the story itself – up to the last scene, it’s a pretty well-known story. We had to face the challenge of figuring out how to engage the audience and keep them interested while still telling that familiar story.

Evgueni: While I believe “The Little Mermaid” was tailor made for a German Expressionist style film, there had to be changes made to fit the style and our budget. Amanda was amazing in helping me prune the original screenplay and bringing it down to a tight and concise story. Some of the fairy tale’s original aspects were either removed or changed, such as the Mermaid’s initial meeting with the “Prince Charming” and the Witch’s role had to be modified somewhat to fit our narrative better. Of course, we have no fish tails or sea foam, but in spirit, I think this is the closest adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s immortal work.

What sets this adaptation apart from previous work such as Disney’s animated feature film The Little Mermaid?

Amanda: This adaptation is completely different. To begin with, the stories are opposites of each other. Disney’s The Little Mermaid is extremely light-hearted and ends with the traditional “happily ever after.” Our film is a much darker story and ends in tragedy. The Disney version also focuses much of its attention on what happens to Ariel after she becomes human, as well as the interactions and growing love between her and Eric. One might say the theme is true love prevails (like many Disney stories). In our story, a lot of time is taken to establish Sybille’s world and the ramifications of her choices for wanting to be with Matthias (our Eric). I would say our theme falls more along the line of choices, and how when we make choices, we must then face the consequences of them – particularly if the end result is not as we expected.

Evgueni: I feel our film will be the complete antithesis of the Disney version, exploring different styles and themes. The ocean setting is now a macabre cabaret, a setting so familiar to German Expressionist films of the 1920s and 30s. The mermaids, while still the ethereal sirens, in our story appear as tempting dancers living under the harsh contract of a devilish Madam. The Prince “Eric” of the piece is no longer the saintly cardboard cut out of a leading male character, but more complex and flawed human being. We also added a new character, that is unique to our version, that of the Pale Man. He figures greatly in our Mermaid’s ordeal and is related greatly to her final fate.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

As students, what do you hope to achieve with this film both professionally and academically?

Amanda: Wow, that’s a good question. Professionally, I hope to make a film that I can be proud of, and that we can get into festivals. Who knows, maybe someone will see it, and that’ll be my “big break”. (Laughing). No, just to get it into some decently good festivals would mean a lot to me. On an academic level, I just hope it’s a film that people like, and maybe even get into the student show. Oftentimes, you’re very judged by how good your film is (which is completely fair) and people decide whether or not they want to work on projects with you based on the other work you’ve done. I hope people don’t see this and decide they don’t want to work with me. That’d be super unfortunate.

Evgueni: First and foremost I would like to create a film that the cast and crew can be proud of putting on their resume. Second, I wish to present a complex and beautifully constructed thesis film that will stand out as its own unique creation that will also create buzz and help all the amazingly talented and hard working people that helped create it. Of course, having it end up in a place like the Cannes Film Festival would be a dream come true, but I would be extremely proud and happy if “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” traveled the American festival circuit, and who knows, maybe after that we will conquer Europe as well.

Having never gone to film school, I find it fascinating how people carve out filmmaking identities for themselves.  Some discover their place at school while others skip film school altogether.  What are some of the advantages of film studies and how has it affected your growth as an artist?

Amanda: Honestly, I’d say it’s six of one and a half-dozen of the other in regards to whether or not to go to film school. I would say that one of the big advantages of film school is the freedom to fail. In the “real world” the stakes are a lot higher whereas we have the ability to be able to experiment with our projects (at least the lower level ones) and if things don’t go as planned, we have people there supporting us and walking us through what went wrong and how we can avoid those mistakes in the future. Another advantage is the access to equipment – Colorado Film School has an entire equipment cage full of various cameras, lights, and other equipment that we can use and learn about. For example, we’re shooting this film on the RED ONE. The rental fees for that camera run at roughly $600-$1000 per day. If we didn’t have access to the camera through the school, there’d be no way we’d be able to use it. You also get a lot of exposure not just to your instructors, who are film professionals, but also the guest artists they bring in to talk with us. As a producing student, I feel that’s extremely beneficial, since I’ve had the opportunity to attend talks with entertainment lawyers, television CEOs, and big-budget film producers. Each has taken the time to talk one-on-one with students about our current projects and our future plans. This is a subject that I could go on a long time about. To put it simply, for me, I feel really blessed by the experiences film school has allowed me to have, from the classes to the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Evgueni: That’s an excellent, and difficult, question, Jason! I don’t think I’d be able to pursue filmmaking without a degree and going to film school has truly instilled me confidence of finding my own voice, as well as learning the craft itself and the rudimentary “tools of the trade,” so to speak. The teachers who worked in the industry and the numerous guest speakers have provided me and other students with great experience and knowledge of what to expect in the real world of film business and how to pursue our goals and dreams. I also feel that film school is a great crutch for your first productions, seeing how it can provide amazing equipment to shoot your film that would never be able to obtain otherwise on a dilettante’s budget. Most importantly, however, thanks to film school, I have met many amazing young artists and nothing inspires creativity more than an atmosphere charged with talent and ambition and to try bold new things in story telling and filmmaking.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

Given your unique take on the literature, what challenges have you faced during pre-production?  Has it been difficult to pull off the vision you have in mind?

Amanda: I think one of the most difficult things was determining a coherent vision for the film. We wanted to give the film a period look, without pinpointing it to a specific era, much in the way many of Tim Burton’s films or done, or Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover. That being said, finding period locations on a budget is another big difficulty. We found a few places that we initially thought would work great, but they wanted to charge us pretty exorbitant rental fees. Pulling off our vision has been pretty hard, most of that due to our monetary limitations. Oh well, they say limitations breed creativity, and I’d say we’re a pretty creative lot, so I have a lot of faith that it will all work out.

Evgueni: This has been one of the hardest projects I ever worked on. The budget angle is important, but it’s easy to get lost with scale and ambition of the film. I’ve studied many older films made in the style we’re going for, some few have even heard of, as well tracking down any adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” I could find to make sure we’re not repeating ourselves. I’ve also been working closely with the production designer and director of photography to make sure all the colors and visuals are in sync with the intended vision. It’s been difficult to maintain the dignity and integrity of the project on a small budget and tight schedule, but Amanda is a true angel and a consummate professional who’s guiding hand has been a blessing. I truly believe that by pulling our resources together we can create something worthwhile and beautiful.

What’s next for ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’?

Amanda: We’ve got a ton of things going on right now. Our main focus is to raise the remainder of the funds we need. We have our IndieGoGo up but time is running out. I’m personally a little nervous about this. Either way, we’re making this film, but meeting our budget would make life a lot easier. Not reaching our goal will affect the overall production value of the film – especially the production design, since this is a period piece. On a more tangible level, if we don’t get that money, we can’t have as much food available for craft services, and that weighs really heavy on my mind. Everyone is working on this project for free, and we need to be able to feed them 2-3 meals per day for 8 days. We currently have a crew of 35 and a cast of 47. That’s a lot of mouths to feed, and not a lot of money to do it with. So, funding, funding, funding is my main priority as the producer. An equally important thing is to film our trailer, which needs to be completed by December 1st. That’s less of an issue to for me, because we are intentionally making the trailer very, very simplistic.

Evgueni: Oh, wow, where to begin? Right now we’re all set in preparing an intriguing and abstract teaser trailer to help raise buzz about the film and we are deep in rehearsals for the film’s complex dance and music scenes. Our amazing choreographer is doing a beautiful job and I’ve often had my jaw drop when seeing her work. We are also locating the best possible settings to shoot on our conservative budget.  I’ve also recently got in touch with a talented local composer and we’re in the process of writing some gorgeous melodies fort he dancers, as well as a brand new arrangement or “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.” All in all, the production is steadily moving along to its triumphant completion, no matter how slow and rocky the road ahead might be.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

What’s next for you?

Amanda: My next big project coming up will be my Production II film. I’ll be working on that from January-March, which means that it and this film will overlap. I’ve chosen to make my project relatively short and simple, with the overlap in mind. I have at least a year left until I graduate, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll end up doing at that point. My hope is to someday be a showrunner for a television show, so I’ll probably apply to a variety of grad programs as well as professional training programs. We’ll see what happens.

Evgueni: Well, as this being my final college project, I’ll be acquiring my BFA in Writing/Directing in May and then moving on to Los Angeles to pursue my dream. I hope that “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” will be a tangible “Calling Card” film. My main dream is to settle somewhere close to the film industry and continue doing what I do best. Giving people entertaining and challenging films.

Thanks to Amanda Prentiss & Evgueni Mlodik for the interview.

For more Indie Film Interviews click here.

Film School & The Calling Card Short Film | By The Light of the Silvery Moon Colorado Film School

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part TWO

October 14, 2012 at 9:39 pm

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part ONE | Independent Film Interview Steve Janas

CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE

Back in July, I featured a short film called The Tolltaker in The Post. Today we go behind the scenes with the film’s director Steve Janas. This interview will be split into two parts, the first examines the film’s origins and pre-production. The second delves deeper into production and post-production.

The story behind the Tolltaker is one of ambition but also tragedy. At the center of it all is a passionate filmmaker, determined to make a feature film version of this story for himself and as a tribute to the author who inspired it all.

But first, check out the full short film:

PART TWO: THE FILM

Talk about the decision to create a short film before attempting the feature version of The Tolltaker.  What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of such an approach?  What advice would you give to people considering similar options for their projects?

That’s a biggie. I’m not sure I’m in a position to give advice to others for something I haven’t yet succeeded at myself. I’m certainly not the first person to make a short film with an eye toward finding backing for the feature-length version. It’s an approach that worked for George Lucas and the Cohen Brothers, among others. So maybe it will work for me.

Now, there are people who have made feature-length films for less – considerably less – than what I spent on Tolltaker. However, I just didn’t think that micro-budget approach would work for the story, so I decided to concentrate my resources on creating the best quality snapshot of the overall story that I could manage.

The question was whether to do an actual trailer for the film or a fully realized story that could stand on its own. I decided that, ultimately, making a stand-alone movie would have more impact. People embrace a full story more heartily than just the fragments they’re enticed by in a trailer.

And my goal for the short film is for as many people to see it – and like it – as possible. I want people to fall in love with the story like I did, to root for it as “the little movie that could” (to quote my co-producer Lavinia).

In these days of social media, the way people do that is by watching videos online, posting the link on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and talking about it in chats. That’s how I’d like to develop a following for Tolltaker. I’d love for people to want to read the screenplay for the feature after seeing the short, and I would like to use the number of viewings on Vimeo and “Likes” on Facebook as proof to potential backers that an audience exists for the feature-length film.

That’s not to say I’m not entering the film into festivals as well. Nothing imparts respectability upon a film like those little film festival laurels you can put on the poster or the website.

The Tolltaker has several distinct styles.  What inspired that approach and how did you go about planning each unique look?

Well, for the live-action stuff centered on Bobby’s life in Philadelphia, I guess I wanted to render it mostly in the honey-drenched glow of nostalgia. This is a story being told from the perspective of an adult looking back on his childhood. Like Stand By Me, or Frank Darabont adapting a Stephen King story such as Green Mile.

The animated scenes are broken into two distinct styles. We come across the first after Bobby turns and fires his toy gun at the camera in what we called the James Bond shot (you’ll know it when you see it).

This animation is more playful and “cartoonish” in the Hanna-Barbera sense. This is Bobby at play, a young kid lost in his own imagination. It shouldn’t be surprising that it resembles the cartoons that Bobby no doubt loves watching on TV.

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part TWO | Independent Film Interview Steve Janas

The second style is altogether different: more sinister and creepy, and looks more like the kind of “adult” animation you would expect to see in a Ralph Bakshi film. It should be noted that this animated world is beyond Bobby’s control. It sneaks up on him like a traumatic memory bubbling up out of the unconscious and seizes control of his mind through the force of sheer horror.

The third distinct style can be found in the Vietcong tunnel scenes with Bobby’s dad and his fellow GI Gary. This is grainy and washed out, a nod to the gritty, hyper-realistic style of certain Tony Scott films, for instance. However, thanks to the work of our VFX guy Mike Enright and Sound Designer Rodney Whittenberg, these sequences cross the line altogether from realism to a kind of feverish nightmare world. It wasn’t planned exactly that way, but was instead one of those unexpected syntheses you’re occasionally rewarded with when you take any project from planning to execution.

I guess you can also say there is another style on display when Gary tells his story to Bobby’s family, and Bobby enters a sort of temporary psychosis to block out what Gary is saying. I’ve always been fascinated by surrealism and expressionism, and that’s exactly what this scene is.

The word “surrealism” literally means something that exists “on top of” realism, or realism taken a step upward, beyond the dimensions of reality that we’re familiar with. I like to think that’s what I was attempting with this scene: starting with reality and crossing the line at a certain key moment to something trippy and fantastic.

One director who I think is truly an expert at this approach is the late British director Lindsay Anderson. His movies If… and Oh, What A Lucky Man made a real impact on me, and I would encourage people to seek them out and watch them.

What challenges did you face planning and executing the live action elements vs the animated sequences?

They both had their challenges. Or, rather, the execution had its challenges. I saw the movie very clearly in my head before shooting it, so the imagining part was easy.

The “doing” part was another story entirely. As I said, for the Vietcong tunnel scenes, we built a 60-foot long set out of old pallets in a warehouse. The audacity of that can be credited to my co-producer Lavinia DeCastro. When we were discussing how to do these scenes, she said, “We’re going to have to build it.” And that was that. She can be very determined.

It was actually Dan Buck who oversaw construction of the tunnel. He was an absolutely invaluable motivating force behind this project, who oversaw the logistics of actually getting stuff done. He proved himself to be an absolutely killer Line Producer.

The warehouse itself was an interesting place. Aside from being home to a few businesses, it also provided rehearsal space to some very loud death-metal bands, as well as a location for some rather elaborate S&M parties.

In the movie, when Bobby ventures into the mouth of the Tolltaker tunnel, he winds up in a maze of subterranean passages. These were actually not beneath the streets of Northeast Philly, but Girard College, a private school for underprivileged boys in North Philadelphia. The school’s often been used as a movie location, for films like James Franco’s Annapolis, among others. I remember watching television one time and getting a shock of recognition when I realized the commercial I was watching was shot in the same tunnel where Bobby has his final confrontation with the Tolltaker.

As for the animation, as I said, it was overseen by Lavinia. I storyboarded pretty much the entire film, and handed the storyboards for the animated scenes to her to realize. We chose rotoscoping as the method of animation because it’s based on live-action footage that you shoot before the animation process begins. Since Lavinia was still a student at the time, she felt this was safely within her capacities.

Her “lieutenant,” as it were, was a guy named Jake Hoisington, a highly-regarded fellow student at the Institute, whose participation in the project Lavinia thought of as something of a coup. At one point, we shot a little “behind the scenes” feature with Jake, where he explains the rotoscoping process from one of the animation bays at the school.

What was it like on set?  Was it difficult ensuring that the live action would fit with the animation?

This was a pretty ambitious project, with multiple locations. We only had the budget for seven days of shooting, so we had to be pretty organized. Again, much of the credit goes to Dan Buck for that.

It was important for me to make sure I had professionals do the shooting, lighting and sound, and I was willing to pay for it. Fortunately, I found Mike Brand, the Director of Photography, who was about as pro as you can get. He brought along a whole stable of capable professionals to serve as gaffer, sound recorder and such.

The scene in the diner with the waitress at the beginning of the film was shot in a small café in downtown Royersford, Pa. I have to say that the town of Royersford bent over backwards to help us. They even had the police shut down a street so that we could shoot the scene where five-year-old Bobby is walking home with his Paw-Paw.

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part TWO | Independent Film Interview Steve Janas

What wound up being the biggest stressor in terms of getting the thing done was the fact that the lead actor, Cullen Clancey – who plays Bobby – was about to move to Zurich, Switzerland, where his father had gotten a new job. I mean, it was down to the wire – on the last day of shooting, Cullen and his mom had to go home and finish packing afterwards, because they were leaving, literally, the next day.

As for getting the live action to match the animation, that wasn’t too difficult, thanks to the rotoscoping process. Since rotoscoping begins with live-action footage, the animator has a pretty solid base to work from.

Can you elaborate on the animation process?

The process, as I said, is called Rotoscoping, and it dates to 1917. Basically, what it involves is shooting live action and then drawing over top of it. In past eras, what took place was that each frame of movie footage would be projected onto a pane of glass, and an animator would painstakingly draw the animated scene on the opposite side of the glass. These days, like most things, the process is digital, and instead of panes of glass, the animators draw on what are called Wacom tablets. Instead of pens, they’ll use a stylus whose markings will register on-screen in whatever animation software is being used.

In America, the filmmaker most associated with rotoscoping is without a doubt Ralph Bakshi. He has developed a large cult following for trippy, adult-oriented cartoons like Fritz the Cat, Wizards, and an early, animated version of Lord of the Rings. Other directors who have done rotoscoped films include Richard Linklater whose A Scanner Darkly, as I said, shares a member of the animation crew with Tolltaker: Monique Ligons.

When it comes to animation and live action, do you prefer one over the other?

I can’t say that I do. Each has its appropriate time and place. I’ve always been a fan of animation, and I’m gratified that, for example, the old Warner Bros. cartoons are highly regarded as the meticulous works of art that they are. I’m also happy that the last generation or so has seen the development of animation beyond being just being a gimmick for kids (in some people’s eyes) to becoming a fresh way to explore more grown-up ideas and themes.

Of course, these days, the line between animation and live action is growing ever more indistinct. Many – if not most – big-budget Hollywood movies have some sort of motion-capture going on, where the actors are shot against a green screen, and some kind of computer graphics are inserted into the scene.

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part TWO | Independent Film Interview Steve Janas

What’s your favorite moment in the film?

Not an easy question to answer. You don’t want to tell any of your children that he/she is your favorite. That being said, I do find myself most affected emotionally by the end, after Bobby has his confrontation with the Tolltaker.

Over the years, I’ve become a huge devotee of people like Joseph Campbell and – especially – Carl Jung. Rather late to the party, I know. But still, when I read what they had to say, it just makes sense to me, from a storytelling perspective as well as many others.

I bring this up because I realized, mostly after the film was shot, that there are plenty of archetypal forces at play in Tolltaker. The whole idea of a hero journeying into the underworld to meet his dead father, for example. Odysseus did it, and so did Aeneas. Also, the concept of the underworld, this subterranean place, being a representation of the unconscious, and the appearance of the Tolltaker being what Jung might call “emergent content” filtering up from way down deep in the psyche – I love playing with ideas like that.

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part TWO | Independent Film Interview Steve Janas

What’s next for The Tolltaker?

Well, the goal remains what it’s always been – to get the feature-length film made. As I said, I want to build an audience for it any way I can, so I can show a potential producer that there are people who would go out and see this. It’s available for anyone to watch online, for free, on Vimeo.

What’s next for you?

In a non-Tolltaker sense, you mean? Well, I’ll continue running Reel Stuff Entertainment with my business partner Jesper Olsson, for one thing. We’re based in Center City Philadelphia, and have produced somewhere in the neighborhood of 600-700 web videos since 2006, for clients like the Discovery Channel, the Travel Channel, AOL, Lexis-Nexis and many more.

I also want to continue developing series for the web and television. We have one TV series in the marketplace right now called Europe After Dark, which is about nightlife in Europe. We shot it in places like Ibiza, Amsterdam and Prague, and have a lot of material up on our YouTube channel.

I also have the opportunity to develop a web series about the supernatural for James Franco’s web TV channel Rabbit TV. I’m really looking forward to that.

But it will always be making movies that remains my chief ambition. I have no shortage of ideas. My computer is filled with story treatments that could keep me busy for years to come if I could come up with the resources to get them made.

We’ll just have to see what the future holds.

CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE: THE INSPIRATION

Special thanks to Steve Janas for the interview.

Tolltaker will screen at the Terror Film Festival in Philadelphia Oct. 18, 2012.  It has been nominated for several awards including Best Short Film, Best Director, Best Actor and more.

Visit Steve Janas’ Blog Here.

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Read more Independent Film Interviews here.

The Tale of The Tolltaker Short Film Part ONE | Independent Film Interview Steve Janas