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Gavin's Underground

Tower Theater's Open Screen Night Winners: March 2010

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2010-04-16 -

Last month the Tower Theater played host to its third year of Open Screen Night competitions. In the process introducing a new schedule and also bringing in a brand new award for filmmakers to win. So in came the directorial talent with film in hand and the competitions began a new.
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At the end of the night David Komatar walked away with two awards (Critic's Award and Audience Selection Award) for two very different films he submitted,
“Cartes De Voeux” and You Really Got A Hold On Me” respectively. While Shane Smith took home the brand new SLFS Choice Award for his piece, “Status Battles”. I got a chance to chat with both men about their works and winning the competition, plus their thoughts on local film and other topics.

David Komatar
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Gavin: Hey David. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into filmmaking.

David: I always had cameras growing up and I was very interested in photography. I wanted to be a photojournalist. I was a photographer for my junior high and high school newspapers. In junior high I got my first video camera and started making movies with friends that they showed to the school during the morning announcements. I made movies in high school that they showed to the whole school too. After high school I showed movies at the Utah Film & Video Center and a few local film festivals. I have always enjoyed having an audience for my movies.

Gavin: Did you seek out any college for film, and if so, what was that experience like for you?

David: When I first went to the University of Utah I was a film major. After a few semesters I decided the university’s filmmaking program wasn’t for me. I changed my major and continued to make movies on my own and I’m really glad I did. The ethnographic films I watched in the anthropology department were a lot more influential on me than most of the movies I saw in the film department.
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Gavin: Do you think of yourself as more of an independent filmmaker or do you prefer to work with a group?

David: I’m independent in the sense that I write, shoot and edit all my movies so I’m nearly 100% responsible for how they look in the end. On the other hand, I certainly couldn’t make movies without my friends who act in them and help out during shooting.

Gavin: For the first film, how did the concept for “You Really Got A Hold On Me” come about?

David: It began as an exercise in macro photography. I really just wanted to film something really close up. I have a lens for my camera that brings the focal point inside the glass of the lens so something actually touching the glass can be in focus. I had a venus flytrap and decided to film it eating an insect. I intended to make a pretty serious piece with dark music like something you’d see in a documentary. But at the last minute I decided to dress it up a bit and when I added the music it ended up being a pretty silly movie. It was only then that I considered showing it at Open Screen Night.
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Gavin: What was it like setting up the shots, and more specifically, using nature as characters?

David: I had a lot of control over how everything looked and there was no pressure to work quickly so it was relatively stress free. I’m very happy about how it ended up looking.

Gavin: Were there any difficulties in filming it or did everything work the first time around?

David: I wasn’t completely sure what I was going for so I just took what I shot the first time around. It was in the editing that it came together.
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Gavin: Where did the idea come from for the second film, “Cartes De Voeux”?

David: I had an idea of where I wanted to shoot but not a lot of substance. The actors were on their way over before I knew what I wanted the story to be about, and I think that shows in the final piece. I showed it to my mom and she said it was “cute”, which is the ultimate failure if you ask me. I don’t like cute. A friend of mine reasoned that the cuteness of "Cartes De Voeux" is why I had to submit another movie in which I killed something, to balance it all out.

Gavin: What was it like on set during filming? And how long did it take you to film and then edit it up?

David: I thought we’d just go to a store and shoot the whole thing without anyone taking notice. Within ten minutes the manager approached us and told us we couldn’t shoot video in the store. We negotiated for a while and promised not to disclose the location and they said we could finish up as long as we were out in ten minutes. 45 minutes later we finished shooting and left. It was all very rushed, and again I think that shows in the final piece (which I’m not too proud of if you can’t tell). Editing didn’t take very long, I like to shoot long sequences so there weren’t very many shots to put together.
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Gavin: In both films the music really plays a key part. How was it for you choosing those to fit the piece?

David: Usually the music comes first, I have a song in mind and I make something that more or less fits it, but both of these movies were shot without knowing what music they would end up with. I was hesitant to use “You Really Got A Hold On Me” for the wasp video because I thought it was cheesy, but I showed it to a few friends and they convinced me to keep it. Because there was to be no dialogue in "Cartes De Voeux" I wanted it to have the feeling of a dance, something you could understand via the movement of the actors. In the end I think the camera did most of the dancing. The music for "Cartes De Voeux" really came down to choosing a song that was about the same length as the movie. All of the camera movement gave it a European feel so I went with La Vie En Rose. Consequently that is why the title is in French.

Gavin: How did you hear about Tower's Open Screen Night?

David: I have shown movies there before and I have friends that keep me posted.
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Gavin: What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction to both?

David: I am always nervous and anxious to hear the audience’s reactions to my movies. "You Really Got A Hold On Me" went over very well until the end when I heard some people booing, but that really didn’t bother me. Some people may think what I did was exploitative and I hear those guys, but I think wasps are horrible animals and after killing one I feel no remorse, especially if it means feeding a carnivorous plant.

Gavin: At the end you won both the Critic's and Audience's Selection awards, one for each film. How did it feel winning both?

David: More than winning an award for both films I am proud that "You Really Got A Hold On Me" won the Audience award. For the same film to win the audience award despite being the only film that was booed means that it evoked a visceral reaction from the audience, which is right where I’d like to be.
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Gavin: Putting you on the spot, what would you say are the top films that have had an influence on you?

David: That is an impossible question but I will attempt to humor it. Specific movies that are always in the back of my mind include: "Stardust Memories", "L’avventura", "All The Real Girls" and "Through A Glass Darkly".

Gavin: If you had to pick one, what director would you say was most influential on you?

David: As of 4 o’clock this afternoon it is Michelangelo Antonioni.
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Gavin: Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

David: I can’t say I’m really in touch with the local film scene. The Tower's Open Screen Nights have been my only exposure to what’s happening with the local film scene lately. Based on just that, I can say I’ve seen a few things that are quite good. I saw a movie last year called "Cakeday", it’s the best thing I’ve seen at the Tower. As for the bad, there is that too...

Gavin: Anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?

David: One of my favorite directors participated in a “film magazine” early in his career. There was a topic and several directors contributed short films with their treatment of the topic and they were all shown together. I would be happy to be involved in something similar here in Salt Lake.
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Gavin: Any local directors you feel are at the top of their game?

David: Again I won’t say I’m very familiar with the local scene but I know a guy named Stephen Simmons who knows how to make movies. Although we work in very different genres I can see he understands the craft.

Gavin: Do you know what you’re doing for your next film, and what can we expect from you the rest of the year?

David: I never intended to make a sequel to “You Really Got A Hold On Me” but with all the hullabaloo over it I am compelled to, you can see it May 19th at the next open screen night at the Tower. I have an adventure movie in mind that takes place on a small island in the Great Salt Lake for this summer. Also I have an idea for a movie that takes place on the set of a documentary film in Sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond that I have an idea for a movie that begins with a shot of the entire Milky Way galaxy but I don’t want to use a computer generated image so I’m waiting for the opportunity to film it for real.


Shane Smith
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Gavin: Hey Shane. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into filmmaking.

Shane: I'm a 26 year old librarian at The City Library and a student at the University of Utah. I got into filmmaking about four years ago when a couple of friends invited me to be a part of their team for the 48 Hour Film Festival. Before that I'd always had a strong interest in watching film, but not in the actual process of production. Having to create from start to finish a short film in under 48 hours though was incredibly exhilarating, and introduced me to every aspect of production, from writing scripts to editing and everything in between. Working under those time constraints and with a small crew means everybody does everything: operating a boom mic, acting, bouncing fill light, or whatever else needs to get done. After that I became progressively more and more interested in filmmaking. I started participating in the Tower Theater Open Screen, and I've participated in the 48 Hour Film Festival three years in a row. Last year I was on the Dada Factory's team, and we ended up winning the Best in State for our short "Halcyon". The year before, my team Colormachine won Best Animation.

Gavin: Did you seek out any college for film, and if so, what was that experience like for you?

Shane: I went to college to study creative writing, but over the course of my English degree I've become less interested in traditional writing and more interested in literary hypermedia, or the hybridization of creative writing with all different types of electronic media. That's one reason "Status Battles" has subtitles. We were interested in seeing the effect of transcribing colloquial speech, even down to the syllable or phoneme. People make some pretty strange noises in the course of a normal conversation, and it was funny to expose all of that through text. All of the stuff I've learned about filmmaking has been self-taught or learned on set from peers. Most of the people I know who went to film school regret it, and wish they'd just spent all of that tuition money on a camera, mic and some lights - and figured out the rest along the way. I am happy I went to school for an English degree, as the sensibilities of creative writing have informed my film work more than anything else.
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Gavin: Do you think of yourself as more of an independent filmmaker or do you prefer to work with a group?

Shane: I love making movies with friends. Working with local filmmakers is always a blast. I've collaborated with my friend John Schwarz on almost everything I've done. I've made two movies alone, a horror short and a documentary about business suits, but whenever I collaborate with other people the movie always eventually turns into a comedy. I really enjoy the actual, physical process of making movies, and working with friends just makes that process all the better.

Gavin: How did the concept for “Status Battles” come about?

Shane: Brandon has a blog that he writes poetry on Brandon Alien Fine. He's always cooking up these promotional gimmicks, and last summer he made a line of t-shirts that had words on them, like "xanax" or "failing" written in these really cheesy neon bubble letters. John and I had just bought a bunch of filming equipment, and we thought it would be fun to make an internet commercial for Brandon's T-shirts. So we got together some models, put Brandon's T-shirts on them, and filmed them standing around downtown looking cool. We put an awesome song over it all, and tossed in some flashing neon text. John and I thought it was hilarious, but Brandon hated it and told us so outright. Some time went by, and Brandon visited Salt Lake for the winter holidays. He wanted to make a movie with John and I while he was in town, so we came up with the idea of a fake documentary about the making of the commercial Brandon hated.
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Gavin: Was was it like on set during filming? And how long did it take you to film and then edit it up?

Shane: The script was written down on like a napkin or something. We lost it right away. The idea was to have a general plot point for each scene that had to be communicated, but otherwise we would just improvise and talk like we normally do. So the takes would be like 45 minutes long, just the three of us shooting the breeze and drinking beer, eventually getting around to furthering the plot. I think we spent four days total shooting it, but the editing has taken a really long time because there is so much great material. It's hard cutting down 60 minutes of funny into a two minute scene.

Gavin: Any difficulties come up along the way or was it pretty smooth going?

Shane: Brandon had to back to Seattle near the end of shooting, so we had to come up with a creative way to end it all. Think "dramatic reenactment." Hopefully people will think it's funny. We all got along during shooting, even when Brandon was telling us to our faces why he hated our commercial, or every time John and I made fun of Brandon - all of that wasn't acting.
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Gavin: What did people think of the film when you finally finished it?

Shane: Everyone enjoyed it, especially the subtitles. We had John's girlfriend watch it towards the end of editing, and at one point she was laughing so hard she started snorting and choking. I took that as a good sign.

Gavin: How did you hear about Tower's Open Screen Night?

Shane: I was hanging around the Tower a lot when the Open Screen first started. I think it was Patrick Waldrop, David Fetzer and Evan Brown that started it up, and I was friends with all of them at the time. John and I made a 14 minute short called "Mechastentialism" on a crappy Canon Powershot for the first Open Screen. It was a science fiction epic with Legos, dinosaurs and robots - probably still one of the coolest things I've ever done. We've played a short in most of the Open Screens since then.
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Gavin: What was it like seeing it there and hearing the audience reaction to both?

Shane: The Open Screens are always a lot of fun. When you edit a movie yourself, by the time you're done you've watched it so many times over and over that the movie loses it's meaning, so it's nice to hear the fresh reaction of the audience. The Open Screen crowds are a very particular type of audience though who want short, accessible, funny movies - so if that's the type of movie you make then that audience is a good barometer.

Gavin: At the end you won SLFS Choice Award. How did it feel winning that and receiving that recognition?

Shane: I was happy about that, because the Audience's pick is more about which filmmaker can bring the most friends, and the Critic's pick seems to always be about who's film is the most traditional auteur cinema. I think it was smart adding a SLCFS Choice award, as their staff has very cultivated yet diverse tastes.
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Gavin: Putting you on the spot, what would you say are the top films that have had an influence on you?

Shane: When we filmed "Status Battles" I was thinking a lot about Jim Jarmusch's "Limits Of Control". John and I had just seen it in the theater. We thought it was hilarious and laughed throughout, but the rest of the audience was totally silent. I enjoy humor like that - you can't tell if you're supposed to be laughing or not. We were also keeping in mind the tone of Brandon's blog, and another blog that John and I read called Hipster Runoff. The interesting thing about filmmaking, and an aspect I really enjoy, is that elements from all facets of your life creep in, from the music you're listening to that week to what you're studying in school. So there's some chillwave and gender theory slivered into "Status Battles" at times too.

Gavin: If you had to pick one, what director would you say was most influential on you?

Shane: For comedies like "Status Battles" I think a lot about the films Woody Allen and Wes Anderson have made. I know that's the typical hipster response, but I really like all of their movies.
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Gavin: Going local, what’s your opinion of the local film scene, both good and bad?

Shane: I really like the local film scene. It's a small community, and most of us know each other in one way or another. Personally I like that, but I can see why others would not. The "scene" feels like it has slowed down a bit in the last year. I think it's important people attend events like the Open Screen, or the Salt Lake Film Festival. I believe that attending events like that will rejuvenate the "scene" and motivate locals to produce higher quality work more frequently.

Gavin: Anything you think could be done to make it bigger or better?

Shane: I know a lot of people who have a strong inclination to create film but don't have the technical know-how, or funds to learn the basics. I believe a community institution like Spy Hop, but for adults, would work wonders on the local "scene". Most people aren't privileged enough to attend film school, or buy expensive equipment, so we're missing out on a whole chorus of voices who might have incredible talent or interesting perspectives. The Community Writing Center on Library Square is already doing it for creative writing, now we just need a group to step up and do it for film and music.
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Gavin: Any local directors you feel are at the top of their game?

Shane: My good friends over at the A/V Club are pretty much the funniest guys around. Al and Davey over at the Dada Factory. Dustin Guy Defa and the Bad Fever crew. Yoshi Ishida has been putting out interesting stuff the last couple of years. I like, even in shameful retrospect, the stuff John and I have made, but I might be biased. Our company name is Colormachine if anyone out there is interested in seeing our other stuff. Search "John and Shane" on Youtube, or "Colormachine" on Vimeo to see some of our other shorts.

Gavin: Do you know what you’re doing for your next film, and what can we expect from you the rest of the year?

Shane: I will be showing "Status Battles" parts 2 and 3 at the next two Open Screens. I will also be playing the full 25 minute version of "Status Battles" in December at the "Best Of" Open Screen. This summer I will be shooting a longer short called "Whatevs.", and John Schwarz and I have a live multi-media concert/movie that we're working on called "Futr Kids". That will involve live performance of music of several genres (hip-hop, dance, dubstep, etc.), films, animations, music videos, chapbooks handed out at the shows and costumes that we've designed just for the occasion. "Futr Kids" is supposed to be a cultural reflection of what the internet has done to music and art, so expect it to be strange, colorful, loud and fast. We hope to be playing "Futr Kids" live in local clubs, bars and theaters towards the end of the summer.
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Gavin: Anything you’d like to promote or any final thoughts you wanna voice?

Shane: I guess I would just encourage people to attend local events. Get out to the Tower, go to local film festivals, go to events at the library, go out on gallery stroll every month. We have a very rich community in downtown Salt Lake, and I wish people would take greater advantage of it. One event in particular that will be a blast is the Alternative Press Festival at the Main City Library branch on July 9th. There will be local musicians playing in the auditorium, local zinesters and writers hawking or giving away their work, local artists of all kinds, and we'll be showing a collection of silent films made by 13 local filmmakers. The Alt Press Fest promises to be a good time.

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