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Director Phillip Van talks “She Stares Longingly”

Even among the other stunning shorts in the Little Minx Exquisite Corpse series, Phillip Van’s “And She Stares Longingly At What She Has Lost” stands out. Hypnotic, texturally gorgeous, and quite devastating, She Stares is the clearly the work of a massive young talent. Van graciously answered our questions about his fascinating background, artistic process, and experience in the LMEC project.

Crackle: What’s your background—how did you start making movies?

Phillip Van: I grew up multi-culturally. I’m Vietnamese and Greek-American. As a kid I could weigh western experience against eastern influence. That was a privilege, I later realized. My father drove a cab for 20 years. In a predominantly white school and neighborhood, I was a perennial outsider. I looked different, I liked art and I didn’t play football.

When I bought something, a shirt, a pair of shoes, that was my one version of that thing, usually for a while, until I wore it out.

I also economized differently. I didn’t grow up wasting and I couldn’t really understand it. When your resources are scarce, everything has meaning. I make all my films like this. I don’t waste time, I don’t shoot much coverage. And I only feel like they’re mine when every shot is intended and fits into the meaning of the greater whole.

When I was 10, my mom bought a Sharp camcorder, the big kind that took full-sized VHS tapes. I would use it to shoot narratives around the house and do in-camera editing and tricks. It was a passion of mine and it taught me how to think and compose stories visually.

I went to college knowing that I wanted to tell stories and that I needed an outlet for visual expression. I became an English major at Cornell and began writing for ABC Entertainment. Through this gig I got to meet and interview all my film icons, acclaimed directors and actors I grew up watching. Before I turned twenty I began to develop an understanding of the industry from their perspective.

I also began shooting a lot of shorts and commercial spots around New York as a cinematographer while in grad school at NYU. These projects taught me things, namely what not to do as a director. I wanted to get inside the material and tell stories in ways the directors often didn’t or couldn’t.

I used my visual and narrative desires as a guide to my own writing and directing and I made a couple of shorts that ended up winning a number of festival awards, including an award at Berlin and a Student Academy Award. This caught people’s attention and put me in a position to work full-time as a director, or really to continue doing what I’ve always been compelled to do.

Crackle: How did you become part of the Little Minx Exquisite Corpse project?

PV: My producer and manager Rhea Scott asked me to do the final film in the series. She thought that the Exquisite Corpse concept would suit my sensibilities and vise-versa.

Coming from a shorts background, I think I have an eye for story structure in unconventional time signatures, which can either be scaled up to feature-size or down to spots and vids. I have less commercial work to my credit than the other directors in the series, and it’s not the world I come from. I’m first a storyteller and I work to tell the best story I can in the time I’m given.

Crackle: It’s a truism that artistic constraints can be liberating. Did you find the constraints of the Little Minx Exquisite Corpse project liberating?

Yes. I think limitations are fundamental to good films and good art.

However, the constraints of the project really didn’t bite into any element of the creative workflow. My idea, while connected to the other works, wasn’t compromised and is complete on its own.

I was actually not allowed to see the scripts or films from the other directors. I was only given the last line of the script before mine to go off of, and the condition that the idea should relate to a “minx,”
whatever that might be.

Crackle: The theme of lost childhood is front and center in “She Stares Longingly”. Was this a topic you’d wanted to consider, or one that the structure of the Little Minx project led to?

PV: It’s a theme that taps into something fundamental and unnerving. I don’t know if I would have made a film about it without the Little Minx concept propelling my thought process. Then again, while the subject matter may differ, I think the film bears a strong resemblance to the ideas of alienation and dystopia in my other work.

My films are all a reflection of my perspective. If they weren’t I would stop making them. They’re in some ways a response to early social trauma – I think initial feelings of alienation, great or small, shape the way we cope with the world. I’m not afraid of that reduction. I don’t think it belittles a concept or a theme, because even world issues go back to playground politics, adolescent ethics. There’s how we treat each other, and then there’s the bureaucracy that surrounds that, which we call being an adult.

Crackle: The emotional wallop of “She Stares” gets a huge assist from the music—the song ‘Come Wander With Me’, which is from an episode of The Twilight Zone. The song is built so perfectly into the film—was the song a starting point for the film, or something that you discovered later?

PV: The song was very much a starting point for the narrative. The narrative ideas and characters complement yet also contrast and reconfigure the lyrics.

I first found the song, sung by Bonnie Beecher in an original Episode of the Twilight Zone and I was so taken by it that I couldn’t think of much else for a while. When this project arose, I felt the elements that the guidelines required I incorporate would work well with the images and narrative the song had conjured in my mind.

Above: Phillip Van’s “And She Stares Longingly at What She Has Lost”

Crackle: What did you think of “And She Asks, ‘Waffles for Breakfast’”, the film that directly precedes yours in the LMEC project?

PV: I like that it bears a completely different tone, as do all the other films in the series. I think that’s part of the magic of the series as a whole. Each film feels intrinsically related to the others but is its own animal.

Crackle: What projects are you working on now?

PV: A feature script that I wrote, called Darkland just got accepted into the Tribeca Film Institute, so I’ll be working on that through Tribeca for a spell. It’s a period noir-thriller set in Laos during the fall of Vietnam in the 70’s. I’m also working on a feature adaptation of my short, High Maintenance, as well as proposals for a few spots. My concern is that a brand can accept and benefit from a new idea.

Visit Phillip Van’s website.

What happens when short film directors play tag

Wikipedia can explain exactly what Exquisite Corpse Little Minx is a hell of a lot better than I can, so I’ll get out of the way and let the wellspring of all human knowledge do what it does best:

In Late 2007, Littleminx.tv released a series of five short films by emerging directors Laurent Briet, Chris Nelson, Malik Hassan Sayeed, Josh Miller and Phillip Van. Little Minx, a division of RSA films, created the series to highlight the work of these commercial directors. Designed in conjunction with Idealogue, the directors had two rules: 1) Respond to the last line of text from the previous director’s script and 2) Define a “Little Minx.”

Ok. Here’s film #4, “She Asks, ‘Waffles for Breakfast?’”, from Josh Miller (more on him and Little Minx). Bonus: try and catch the girl that takes McLovin’s virginity in Superbad at the end of the short.

Watch our other ECLM videos in the playlist below the video – see if you can get them in the right order.

Fresh Fish

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Jeen Lee’s Fish, an extraordinary short that combines live action with CGI to tell the story of two roommates, is the newest winner of the Crackle Shorts Contest. Jeen took some time out from her work at PSYOP, an animation ad agency, to answer our questions about her deft pastiche of the real and the, well, aquatic.

Crackle: Have you been surprised at all by the success of Fish—or did you have a feeling that people would love it while you were making it?

Jeen Lee: I didn’t expect any success while I was making Fish. I am glad [for the] success because I feel like I am paying back all the people who helped me in this project. It was a fun process but it wasn’t an easy process. I could not have made this film without my teammates’ efforts. I was very glad every time I got recognition from festivals and contests. I am glad that people are enjoying Fish; that was what I was hoping when I made this film.

Crackle: Did you do the cool hand-drawn intro to Fish? How did you decide to open with this?

JL: My friend Chulhwan drew the illustrations for the introduction. He was very good at character drawings so I thought he would be the best person for this job. Another friend of mine, Chunghye, did the stylizing, coloring and texturing of the drawings, and Minchung, another good friend, did the slide show animation.

I thought the film needed some kind of feedback regarding the relationship between the Fish and the main guy. I thought the best way to explain the relationship in an interesting way would be the illustrations of Chulhwan, so I decided to make it into a short animated introduction.

Crackle: Your short does an incredible job mixing CG with live action—something Hollywood could take a lesson from. That said, what are the three movies that you think incorporate CG most naturally into live action?

JL: Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man’s Chest
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
The Host

Crackle: Your website says that Fish depicts the relationship between you and your friend Chulwhan. Can you take us a little deeper into how this relationship comes through in the film?

JL: I have one good friend who does not care about me – It sounds weird, but he really doesn’t – because [we're] so used to each other, being together, and hanging out just like two good friends. Since I moved out to the Queens, away from Manhattan, [I've been staying at his] apartment [from time to time]. In between classes or whenever I finish my work late at night, I go to his apartment to relax, sleep, or just to hang out. I didn’t make up this story; this is a real story that represents our usual, ordinary interaction, except I placed a 3D fish character instead of me. Since I am a woman and he is a man, people often question why I always visit his place at night. I see him just as I see any of my family members. Gender doesn’t play a role. What’s important is our connection. It is important for other people to understand our unique relationship, and how we view each other.

In the summer of 2005, I was [doing research] for my senior thesis at the School of Visual Arts. As usual, I hung out a lot at Chulwhan’s place. We took many pictures for no reason; mostly for fun. One day CH took a picture from the ceiling’s point of view while I was taking a nap in his room. It gave me such a huge inspiration for Fish. I loved the picture; that picture made me realize that I should make a film about my friend and me.

Crackle: Can you go into the technical process of making Fish? How did you bring the fish to life?

JL: The most challenging part was the 3D Fish. I wanted to make the fish hyper-realistic. The 3D Fish had to be done by my friends in the 3D department. First, the fish had to be modeled, and it needed to be rigged. While my friends were animating the shots, it was textured, shaded (Sub Surface Scatter for the realistic fish skin), and lighted (HDRI photographs to match with the back plates’ lighting). When the texturing, animating and lighting was done, we rendered it out as 32 float .tif images.

While 3D teams were [bringing the fish to life], the 2D teams were making the clean plates. We did the shooting with the HD camera, edited the tapes, and 3D tracked for the final camera to render with the fish. Also, we tested the visual effects, such as the particles and the fog effects, for the final look of the film and color correction.

While the 2D and 3D teams were busy with their works, the design team was working on the title sequence and the ending sequence. A guy from Korea worked with me online to [write] the musical score.

Crackle: How did you originally get into animation? Has it been a lifelong passion?

JL: There are a variety of ways to express thoughts and feelings; I have chosen visual images. Since my childhood, I observed my environment through the rectangular frame formed by my fingers, and made picture diaries of special days. I believe this habit trained my eyes and brain to skillfully and attentively view my surroundings, which have constructed my life path so far.

After high school, I entered the department of Photography & Visual Arts at Kyung-won in Korea. After graduating there, I wanted to continue my creative learning and developing in the USA. I picked VFX because I wanted to see my still pictures moving. So I went to the Computer Animation and Visual Effects major in the School of Visual Arts.

Crackle: What projects are you working on now?

JL: I don’t have any personal projects that I am working on now. For now, I want to focus on learning and developing VFX skills so I can freely express my imagination later on without any technical limitations. I am working [for] a commercial post-production company called, Psyop Inc, and I am working on many different commercial projects, such as Infiniti, Pepsi, and Adidas.

For more on Jeen, visit her website.

Girl with guitar

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Delphine comes into a guitar store every day and amateurishly plucks at a priceless Les Paul. But she’s hiding a secret

This great short is actually one of only two directing credits of the Irish singer-songwriter Nick Kelly. More on Delphine:

Nick wrote and directed his own first short film, “Delphine” in the summer of 2003 under the auspices of the Irish Film Board�s Short Shorts scheme. Writing in the Irish Times, Michael Dwyer sung “Delphine”’s praises, noting that “this witty vignette packs a sharp punchline”. “Delphine” ran before SCHOOL OF ROCK in 26 screens across Ireland, has been screened at festivals around Ireland and internationally. It was selected by Jameson for inclusion on their “Take 5” programme for screening at Irish and UK airports, and was nominated for Best Irish Short at the 2004 Irish Film and Television Awards. So far “Delphine” has been bought for broadcast by TV stations in Canada, France, Spain and Japan.

The stages of zombiehood

A great, clever little short that condenses the horror, suspense, and drama of 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead into a minute and a half. And you can show it to your kids, which, unless you’re testing social services response times, you shouldn’t do with 28 Days Later.

The Infected is from Waverly Films, a group of Brooklyn filmmakers who don’t like to divulge a lot about themselves on their website. They’ve done work for MTV, VH1, and indie bands the Rapture and Death Cab for Cutie.

ATTACKAZOID grants interview, promises death by laser later

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What would Brian Lonano do? Sorry, couldn’t help it, but seriously, I shouldn’t make jokes because this guy could send an ATTACKAZOID – one of the diabolical, laser spraying giant robots in his unbelievably good short ATTACKAZOIDS! – to turn me into paste. The young and dripping-with-talent Lonano recently answered a few of our questions. Show some respect for our new mechanical overlords and read it.

Crackle: What’s your background? Was filmmaking a lifelong goal?

Brian Lonano: I’m 24 and I live in Staten Island, where I’m an assistant editor at a News Channel. Though working in TV is interesting, film has always been my passion. I was and still am a big sci-fi geek and watched the “Star Wars” movies countless times on VHS. However, the film that inspired me to pursue filmmaking was “Jurassic Park.” I was 10 years old when I saw that and since then I have done everything in my power to make movies, either as flip books, pictures from a disposable camera, or my VHS-C camera that I didn’t get until High School. And to boot, every movie I made either had a space-ship, a robot or a monster in there somewhere.

Crackle: Of course, War of the Worlds is an easy reference point for ATTACKAZOIDS!, but what were your other inspirations, film and otherwise, for the short?

BL: You hit the nail right on the head. Another book that really inspired me is “The Martian Chronicles.” For a while, the dream was to make that into a movie if I ever made it in the Industry. But instead of dreaming, I decided with my brother to write our own Alien Invasion. When writing and developing “ATTACKAZOIDS!” my brother Kevin and I watched films like Invaders from Mars, Forbidden Planet, Children of Men, The Evil Dead Trilogy and all of Tim Burton’s movies. Music also helped a lot with the creative process. I’d listen to “The Rite of Spring” and other intense classical music while day-dreaming about scenes in the film.

Crackle: Science fiction seems like a genre that doesn’t find its way into a lot of short film—maybe for budgetary reasons. Can you talk about the challenges and rewards of shooting sci-fi on the cheap, and in the format of a short film?

BL: Budget is definitely a reason why sci-fi doesn’t show up too often with aspiring filmmakers. I will never have the money to have Industrial Light & Magic do the effects for my films. To be honest, I didn’t want [ATTACKAZOIDS!] to be heavy on the CGI. I love stop motion animation and miniatures. Kevin and I wrote the script in such a way to keep the background and the effects very minimal. I love shooting people in dark voids. If you give the audience a little taste of a special effect, I don’t think you need to bludgeon them over the head with it at every [opportunity]. We showed Holly Lynn Ellis walking down the street with the buildings in the background and after that we never had to show her and the town miniature in the same shot again. Same goes for the ATTACKAZOID: there’s only one shot in the whole film that has more than one ATTACKAZOID.

Below: ATTACKAZOIDS!

Crackle: You display a real love of gore in ATTACKAZOIDS!, and I noticed that you’ve shown your films at a few horror festivals. What are the three most disgustingly gory scenes ever put to celluloid?

BL: I’m actually not a big fan of gore… but I really enjoy over-the-top stuff like the head explosion in “Scanners.” It’s so ridiculous. That was the sort of gore I wanted in “ATTACKAZOIDS!” I get squeamish with scenes like the crucifix sticking in “The Exorcist” and the eye goop scene in “Hostel” but I have no problem with blood explosions, geysers or elevators in movies.

Crackle: You can help settle an internal debate at Crackle. Death by ATTACKAZOID laser: instant and painless, or instant and excruciating?

BL: When you are dealing with an ATTACKAZOID, I’m afraid there is nothing painless about the experience. What I imagined was the laser blast heats you up to the point where you burst like a bloody water balloon.

Crackle: Can you talk about the actual technical process of bringing the Attackazoids to life?

My good friend Jeff Jenkins is fantastic with models and stop motion animation. The script was very vague on what the ATTACKAZOIDS looked like. I originally suggested they look like walking flying saucers with metal claws and one big eye that shoots lasers. Jeff suggested it look more militarized so he drew up a sketch but he wasn’t sure if he could pull off the design. He had spare parts in his house that looked like a gun so he finally told me that it was going to be a big gun with arms and legs. I was sold. I gave him a shot list and storyboards of everything I needed the ATTACKAZOID to do. Jeff attended the outdoor shoot so he could [make sure the lighting in his] shots would match the live action footage. After we wrapped the outdoor shoot for the massacre sequence, he started animating right away back home in North Carolina. I can’t say enough how happy I am with his hard work on the film. Jeff really did an amazing job and I’m so grateful.

Crackle: What projects are you currently working on?

BL: I’ve got “ATTACKAZOIDS!” on the brain. We are sending it to film festivals right now and we’ve been brainstorming new stories. Kevin and I wrote a prequel called “ATTACKAZOIDS, DEPLOY!” and we also have an idea for a part 3. [We also] want to create webisodes that focus on different aspects of the “ATTACKAZOIDS” universe, dealing with characters such as the inventor of the killer robots, the man who supplies the ominous voice, one of the victims of the attack and more back-story as to why the ATTACKAZOIDS came in the first place.

The official ATTACKAZOIDS! website is Robot Hand Films.

A masterful frame-up

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Oh My God will split people into two camps: 1. Those who are squeamish, and won’t find it funny at all. 2. Those who aren’t squeamish, and have a socially unacceptable sense of humor, who will think it’s flipping hilarious. Definitely for fans of the accidental gunshot wound to the head scene in Pulp Fiction.

The short is from 2004, but director John E. Bryant is showing a new movie at SXSW:

John Bryant is writer/director of LOVEolution. Based out of Austin, TX, he’s worked on numerous independent features and shorts for the last 10 years. He also wrote, directed, and produced the multiple award winning shorts ‘Oh My God’ and ‘Momma’s Boy.’ He produced the feature film ‘Baghead’ (Sundance 2008).

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