Filippo Scotti

Relieving trauma has Filippo Scotti revisit parts and memories of himself

Filippo Scotti wears a worried look as he fires off apologies for being five minutes late into the call. He was helping his friend with a project and lost track of time. He asked him to pedal fast when the two breezed through the street on his friend’s bike, hoping to catch the interview on time. After a bout of reassurance that he has nothing to worry about, he drinks from his 1.5 liters of water bottle to fight off the 38 degrees celsius heat crashing over Rome. Drinking tons of water forms part of his daily routine along with hours of physical training for his next project. NR tries to break through the secret project, but Filippo’s lips remain sealed. The only piece of information he gives is that “imagine wearing a t-shirt when it is 10 degrees out there. I have to prepare my body for that.” He assures us that he will not be doing jump stunts like Tom Cruise. Even if that were the project, Scotti would buckle down in a heartbeat to physically prepare for it.

On starting out

Scotti started out as a theater actor in Naples at the age of 16, and even before that, his mother had encouraged him to try his hand out at acting when he was 11. While on tour with his theater group for shows, an agency signed him, the gradual shift of the young actor from theater to cinema. His new lineup brimmed with auditions where he would prepare each day to spew out his memorized lines with depth to match his character’s emotions, almost melding with his own. Those moments culminated in Scotti earning the role of Fabietto Schisa in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God (2021). Now that he is thinking about it with NR, he admits he got lucky.

Working for the movie nudged Scotti to look at the cinema industry as a spider web where he always has to move, audition, secure roles, act, and go on press tours. The cycle repeats, and he admits it took him a while to get a hang of the rhythm. But his strike of luck keeps him in the spotlight, project after project. “I am also lucky that people whom I worked and work with trust and have taught me how to be and stay in character, to always be ready for what is coming. I am always learning and never stopping, and that is a double-edged sword for me. It scares me, but at the same time, it excites me. The whole experience is just wonderful,” he says.

On preparing for the shoot

From luck, the conversation flows to how mathematical he sees the process of being on set is. Everything seems to be planned – a miscalculation in schedule, equipment, script, and post-production means shooting delays. The viewers see the finished product flashed on the cinema screens, but it only scratches the surface of what happens behind the scenes (not the bloopers that seem to detract the attention from the hard work invested in producing and making a movie).

Scotti tells NR that often he wakes up early only to start shooting late in the afternoon or at night. The physical and mental preparation he undergoes also comes in handy when his first hours are spent idly waiting for his turn. Then, when he acts in a scene and the first take is not good enough, it might take two, three, four, five, or more takes before he can settle down. “During the shoot, I block out any thoughts so I can stay focused on my character. When I do more than five takes – even four because I always target a maximum of three takes – I start to hit this wall and fall into this repetition. It affects the way I act, so I strive to get it all done before the third take,” he says.

On relieving trauma

For The Hand of God, some takes took more than three times, and as the shooting went on, Scotti found himself in the shoes of Fabietto’s character, beyond the biopic he was portraying. He would think of ways to tap into Fabietto’s pain and tragic experiences, but would end up feeling obligated to play the role. Sorrentino noticed, sat with him, and told him that he should give his truth to the lines of his character. “If I am to say my lines, I should think of my truth – the painful events that happened in my life,” he says. Scotti followed the director’s advice and soon, he relieved his truth, even if it meant digging up the past he had already buried. “While I did not live the tragedy Fabietto lived, I felt the pain he felt as I remembered my past,” Scotti tells NR.

When asked about the experiences he went through, Scotti pauses. Seconds of silence have passed before he speaks. “I am only going to share one event that was strange for me,” he begins. When he was in high school, Scotti enjoyed the company of his friends, the topics his teachers delved into, and the theater classes he had in between. Yet the young actor felt as if he was in limbo, the weight of an unknown sensation seemed to be putting him in stagnation. He felt stuck and he could not pinpoint why. “Until now, I find it hard to describe the feeling,” he says. “I wanted to study, but I did not want to study. There was this push-and-pull feeling that tired me out.” Suddenly, Scotti was playing a role of a character who was stuck and wanted to find a way out, a real-life portrayal of a role he saw in movies. Like a coming-of-age movie, he figured out that he felt free after he pursued acting full-time. He still studies for pleasure from time to time, but he no longer has time to beat. His pace, his time.

Relieving his past traumas for his role in The Hand of God made Scotti realize how, at times, he has to take off his mask and acknowledge and understand his vulnerability. “To accept it is difficult sometimes,” he says. “But I feel lighter afterward, knowing that I have understood what it meant.”

On fame and recognition

Scotti has experienced being recognized on the street for his role as Fabietto. When asked if the gradual build-up of fame surrounding his career affects him, he says that he is more focused on the emotions and depth he dedicates to his roles rather than the recognition he receives from the public. It pleases him to know that he can influence viewers with his acting – he even receives direct messages on his social media, which he reads, double taps, and treasures – and Scotti reminds us that the Scotti who portrayed a role in his previous project differs from the Scotti today. “Am I the same person? Would I be able to do better in the next project? Responsibilities come and go. I love being the message people can relate to, and I hope to continue that.”

On moving beyond acting

During his press tours for The Hand of God, Scotti was asked at times if he wanted to be a director one day. He could not remember when he had said that, or if he had even said it at all, but somehow, it piqued the press’ curiosity over his next venture. For NR, he says he loves writing and the idea of crafting characters over directing a movie, but that above all, he would love to produce movies. “If I were to have the opportunity in the future, I would love to open my own production company,” he says. “It would be difficult but worth it at the same time. The idea is exciting, to be honest.” 

Scotti already has a name for his production company, but he says he will keep it to himself for now. As for the movies he will produce, he wants some gut-wrenching scripts based on reality. They do not have to be drama or tragedy. He envisions his movies as means to address topics that the general public might not be open or ready yet to talk about or reflect on. While he is unsure of specific themes, his statement circles back to how he dealt with his trauma, a potential overview of the visual narratives he wants the public to see.

On reflecting on his own

As a fan of words, Scotti used to bring a notepad in his pocket to jot down his thoughts. They were gone the moment they crossed his mind, and he wanted to keep track of these phrases, hoping they would make sense when he revisits them in the future. Touring and traveling means he stays far from home and finds himself on his own. In the times he is in his own space, Scotti ponders on life, love, movies, his career, his next path, his decisions, his regrets, and what he might have forgotten to say or do. “For example, I am living in Rome and my family is living in Naples. It feels far and close at the same time. I check in with myself on what I feel when I experience this. Then, I write down my thoughts,” he says. He has replaced his notepad with a ‘notes’ app on his phone. He reminds us that his thoughts are not poetry, but just jumbled words that made sense to him at the moment of writing, a set of word vomit he feels acquainted with.

Filippo Scotti appears hesitant to share one of his personal thoughts. He fumbles on his phone and stammers as he finds an excuse to refuse. We assure him it is fine if he does not want to share anything. He calls his typed-down thoughts shitty and bad. We disagree. He turns his phone to the camera and shows a long list of saved thoughts on his app. He clicks on one and purses his lips. “Last night, I dreamed of your pain. Up close, I can see the waves of the sea,” he reads. Earlier, he said he wants to base his acting on emotions for people to relate with, a mission he eyes to fulfill by playing a character. His delivery for NR can attest that while he still has mountains to climb, he is already on his way to reaching their peaks.

Team

Talent · Filippo Scotti
Photography · Bobby Buddy at Kaptive
Fashion · Victoire Seveno at Kaptive
Hair and Grooming · Miwa Moroki
Set Design · Clara de Gobert and Nico Plinio Lanteri
Agents · Carole Congos and Amal Jefjef
Fashion Assistant · Flore de Sermet
Special thanks to Gianni Galli

Designers

  1. Full look PRADA
  2. Full look PRADA
  3. Full look PRADA
  4. Full look PRADA
  5. T-shirt RON DORFF, jacket, trouser and shoes BOTTEGA VENETA
  6. Full look PRADA
  7. Jacket ACNE STUDIOS and t-shirt RON DORFF

Willem Dafoe

“when you aren’t trying to accomplish something that serves your goals and you start to consider some else’s point of view, that becomes creative and that becomes fun”

Willem Dafoe connects to Zoom from Rome, where he lives with his wife, Giada Colagrande. The actor has just returned from filming in Budapest – where last week, the shoot for NR took place. For the shoot, Dafoe wore exclusively Prada, a brand he says he likes very much. “There were some crazy colours, but I like to stick out my neck a little bit. Sometimes I put on clothes I wouldn’t normally wear in life, but I enjoy doing it to shoot with.” As one of the most prolific actors in cinema for some forty years, the actor must have some familiarity with stepping into clothes he might not otherwise. “That’s the idea, and that’s the pleasure,” he says. Whether he steps into Prada attire for a magazine or spends countless hours in make-up to embody the legendary Nosferatu in 2000’s The Shadow of the Vampire, Willem Dafoe is a master of using costume and his surroundings to capture the emotional profile of a character. 

And his characters are vast and varied. The actor has played a red cap-wearing ship engineer in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), a weather-beaten lighthouse keeper in The Lighthouse (2019), and as Sergeant Elias in the career-launching 1986 film, Platoon. From voicing the world-weary Gill in Finding Nemo (2003), to courting controversy through association with Lars von Trier’s provocative arthouse films Antichrist (2009) and Nymphomaniac (2014), Dafoe’s career is difficult to pin down. It’s not surprising, given the kinds of roles the actor has undertaken, that he is often asked if he has difficultly in leaving his characters behind. The answer is no, he can shut them out and return to his life, being Willem Dafoe, without problem. But are there elements of characters, perhaps some more than others, that stick with him regardless? 

“When I do a project, I have an experience. It’s part-social, part-artistic, part-life experience, and you learn things,” he explains. “When I learn things, I don’t unlearn them – unless I really make a concerted effort to. So certain things do stay with me, or certain things surprise me.” That, for Dafoe, is part of the adventure and the pleasure of stepping into the shoes of a character he hasn’t previously met. “Other possibilities occur that didn’t occur before in your life,” he adds, “like new skills or different sensibilities. “Those are the things that stay because I return to that feeling.” Besides the lasting impact that playing a role can have on Dafoe as a person, I wonder if he ever looks back to a previous character in order to shape a new role? “I hope not! You know, the idea is really to start from zero every time.”

The reverberations of previous performances can linger, but Dafoe is careful to avoid revisiting the past. His process involves “trying to steer away from that, not to repeat yourself – not that that’s a sin, but it might suggest that you aren’t going deep enough, or you’re leaning on something.” Delving into the unknown is where Dafoe finds his energy. The actor has also made a career-long effort to avoid being typecast. Despite his distinctive face and a persisting misconception amongst some that he almost exclusively plays ‘bad guys’, it’s difficult to see the same person twice across his oeuvre. 

The surface characteristics of a role are something that Dafoe specifically tries to mix up, in order to avoid repetition. “Sometimes I’ll approach a character and look for a trigger for your imagination – so I’ll change my external appearance in some way.” That might be a prosthetic or a hairstyle. It might, for example, be a moustache. “The style of that moustache, in my head, is owned by a certain character, so if I have a moustache that looks a certain way, I think ‘Oh – that’s too Bobby Peru!’” 

Dafoe has spoken previously about playing the lecherous gangster Bobby Peru in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), recalling that the director handed him the character’s costume without discussion. How much of the process of bulking out a character is a collaboration? That depends on various factors: the character, the project and the personalities involved. Part of what Dafoe calls the “beauty of working in film” – and to a degree, in theatre too – is that “one must figure out what they think their area to explore is, their area to perform in, or what their responsibilities are.” Those boundaries aren’t fixed, but perennially shifting. “Sometimes one has to support other aspects of the story to get it on its way; sometimes you are the story.” 

“And in a similar way, some directors want talent to collaborate, [while others] want their actors to inhabit what they’ve created.” In At Eternity’s Gate, the 2018 biopic of Vincent van Gogh, director and painter Julian Schnabel taught the actor how to paint in preparation for the role. Writing in The New York Times in 2020, Schnabel recalled how early scenes from filming didn’t make the final cut: “He was wearing the same clothes, had the same hairdo, but he wasn’t the guy yet. Then there was a certain moment when all of a sudden he was. He was transformed, transfigured. He was somebody else.” Dafoe says that he likes a flexibility of approach in order to not take himself too seriously or get stuck in the belief that there’s only one way to go about the acting process. “It makes me feel more fluid and energetic somehow.” Figuring out how to navigate a role or a collaboration is also where the pleasure lies. “Once I feel comfortable in that mode and I’m working with people that I trust, then the sky’s the limit.”

Dafoe’s response intrigues me, in part, because of an interview he did with fellow actor and Mississippi Burning (1988) co-star, Frances McDormand for BOMB in 1996. “That’s another age!” he exclaims. It is, but there is something he says that is particularly interesting. In the interview, Dafoe refers to actors as “serving someone else’s construct,” before asking McDormand the extent to which she finds that position frustrating or liberating. In 2021, how would Dafoe respond? In order to answer, he asks what McDormand replied. I can’t remember, I confess. But going back to her answer – that “actors are in the service industry” – it is undoubtedly similar to Dafoe’s. “Part of an actor’s process is serving [the] idea and being able to articulate and inhabit what [the director] is trying to do.”

“I think I say this a lot,” Dafoe continues, “so maybe I’m getting stuck in a certain kind of idea, but I still think it’s true – it probably was true in 1996 – when you aren’t trying to accomplish something that serves your goals and you start to consider some else’s point of view, that becomes creative and that becomes fun.” In doing so, one is “let of the hook” in a way because the actor is not responsible for the film’s meaning, or its framing. “But the quality of being there, of what someone is doing, and the pretending is an actor’s responsibility – and I can do that if I’m doing that for someone else. If I’m doing it for myself, I sometimes have a little voice in the back of my head that’s always asking how I’m doing; ‘Is this what we want?’ ‘What’s this going to get me?’ And you want to get away from that.” To let the experience wash over Dafoe in this way allows him to “feel looser and more open,” and to forget himself in that moment. “You’re not there anymore, you’re someone else. And that taps you into a whole other world that’s not based just on your experiences and the things you want.” It’s in that state that allows for “something pure and intuitive – beyond your understanding,” shutting out a self-consciousness that can (dis)colour the action. “That’s usually where the most interesting things happen.”

Dafoe may be deemed one of Hollywood’s leading actors, but he rarely appears there – preferring films shot on location. In the case of Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Dafoe headed to Morocco to film, only to return to the US to encounter a backlash. The actor’s all-too-human portrayal of Jesus was deemed blasphemous by some religious groups, but it demonstrates the extent to which Dafoe seeks out real emotion during the filming process. “Shooting on location is a lot of fun because my life experience working in that place informs [and roots] what I am doing.” In a more extreme way that some of Dafoe’s other films, The Last Temptation encapsulates how the environment and emotion interact in order to shape the character that appears on screen. 

In Sean Baker’s critically acclaimed 2017 film, The Florida Project, Dafoe plays Bobby, the overstretched but unflappable manager of the Magic Kingdom motel on the periphery of Disney World, Florida. Filmed at a functioning motel, many of the film’s stars were, unlike Dafoe, non-actors. In order to master his role, Dafoe learned the ropes of management from the Magic Kingdom’s real-life manager. It catapulted Dafoe into another world, shaped by the surrounding characteristics and quirks of the location and its weather system, the lifestyles of its inhabitants, and so on. “I spent my time working with people that are actually living there, so it’s super rooted. Hollywood does not exist for these people,” he explains; “after a couple of days, they’re over the fun of the circus coming to town [and] it becomes life for them. And also, for myself.” If that made the film’s situation “easier to enter” for Dafoe, it also contributes to the uncomfortable truth portrayed in the reality of the characters and their experiences. 

Then there’s the overwhelmingly morbid The Lighthouse by Robert Eggers, in which Dafoe and Robert Pattinson feature as two nineteenth-century lighthouse keepers on a remote island in New England. Shot in black-and-white in square format (recalling the silent films of the previous century), the film is uncomfortably claustrophobic. The lack of theatrics gives The Lighthouse a terrifyingly real atmosphere – except for very brief uses of special effects that blur the realm of ‘real’ versus ‘surreal’. “The isolation was so complete,” Dafoe recalls; the film was shot in Nova Scotia under terrible conditions. “The weather was so extreme that that put us there right away. There’re certain things that are very difficult to act, you know, extreme cold, runny noses, flush skin from brutal wind. These kinds of things put us in a state that allowed us to be there in a very full way.”

The strife and struggle that burdens Dafoe and Pattinson is rendered visible by the circumstances under which they filmed. Not least, as Dafoe adds, in the moment of filming something like The Lighthouse “I’m not thinking about how the movie is going to do. I’m not thinking about my career. I’m not thinking about any of these things because I’m in it.” Shooting on set, meanwhile, is fundamentally different. “I go into make-up [and] there may be movie magazines around, which I don’t like very much because I don’t want to be reminded about those kinds of things when I’m making a movie.” Inasmuch as Dafoe seems to resist the ‘cult of the movie star’ when it comes to being an actor, though, it’s inevitable that he cannot always control how he is perceived.

Given the nature of some of the characters the actor has played, I wonder whether other’s perceptions of him, as Willem Dafoe – the person, are shaped by a particular film role. And if so, which characters tend to be referenced the most? “You know, I can tell. I can tell what films people have seen when they approach me.” Because Dafoe has undertaken so diverse a range of roles and films, it’s easy to demarcate one type of movie watcher from another. He says that he often feels that people who watch the higher-pace films have “no awareness of the European movies or the auteur movies, and vice versa. Someone will come up to me and say, ‘I’ve seen all your movies,’ and they’ve probably seen 10%.” That’s normal; it’s a reflection of different tastes. “Spider-Man, The Lighthouse or The Florida Project – those are three distinctly different movies.”

The actor has identified, for example, a middle-aged audience who watched his earlier films before getting caught up in life as they got older; “they stopped watching movies and if they did, they tend to go to the more available, the more commercial. They were less cinephile.” So, there are different camps of the Dafoe-phile (‘fandom’ does not seem to be an appropriate way to describe it). “Sometimes you see people that are stuck in another time of your career because it reflects their viewing habits. People do see you depending on the films they watch and the characters they see.” It’s curious how this then feeds into preconceptions about the kind of person Dafoe might be. “Some people think I’m, you know, some crazy nut. Some people think I’m eccentric. Some think I’m a normal guy. Some people think I’m athletic. Some people think I’m an old guy.”

Dafoe talks compassionately about the encounters people have with him. He recognises that the interaction is not always specifically to do with the actor himself, but rather the characters he plays, in order for people to make sense of themselves. “I am touched by people’s need to make some sort of connection, and when they see actors and films, it connects to some prior feeling or experience they’ve had.” In that moment, “that world in their head came together with that world that was up on the screen.” Talking to Dafoe, however, he seems to embody neither the Green Goblin who lurked in the corner of my bedroom for some time after the release of Spider-Man in 2002 (“yes he is – so behave yourself”), nor does he have the pained visage of van Gogh, battling demons in his latter days, as in At Eternity’s Gate. Instead, wearing black-rimmed glasses and Bose headphones, Dafoe appears to be, well, himself. The actor’s portrayal of van Gogh is one that, nonetheless, leaves a lasting impression.

In Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 biopic of the French painter, Lust for Life, Kirk Douglas takes on the role of the ‘tortured genius’; the artist misunderstood by his peers, only to be discovered in death. The enduring legacy that exists around van Gogh created the appetite for a depiction of the life and suffering of an artist in a film like Lust for Life. But in Dafoe’s portrayal, what is so compelling is not its ‘authentic’ depiction of ‘true’ events, but his haunting portrayal of human feeling. In one scene in which Dafoe’s van Gogh explains how he cut off his ear, it isn’t the uncanny recreation of the artist’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear that makes it such an affecting scene. Rather, it’s Dafoe’s arresting ability to convey a person caught between certainty and confusion with pained restraint.

But by playing a real artist, with whom the world ‘identifies’, some criticism is inevitable. Over the course of a career defined by such a range of characters – real (a motel manager), ‘Real’ (van Gogh and Jesus Christ) and fantastical, where does Dafoe locate and connect with the essence of a character? And how does he decide whether or not to take up a role? “I read a script and I say, “What does the person do? Do I want to do those things? Am I interested in them? Will it be fun? Will I learn something?” 

The pandemic allowed Dafoe the chance to stop temporarily and spend time with his wife, Colagrande, who as a filmmaker and musician has a schedule to rival his own. Dafoe scrambled back to Rome from New York and recalls how volatile and scary those early days of the pandemic were. There was the aggressive jockeying in the run-up to the US election, misinformation surrounding COVID and the point of view that Italy was, besides China, the “worst place in the world to go”. By July, however, Dafoe was able to get back to work, something that he says he is grateful for. The circumstances, though, were different. “The idea before Nightmare Alley [director Guillermo del Toro’s forthcoming carnival-based thriller] of spending two weeks on entering Canada in an apartment unable to leave, having your food delivered to you, was basically like prison – actors’ prison.” 

If the pandemic slowed down Dafoe’s usually busy schedule, the actor is now regathering pace. And Poor Things, based on the 1992 novel of the same name by Alasdair Gray, is one project that is worth keeping an eye out for. “Listen, it was a great experience and Yorgos Lanthimos is a real talent. It’s got a beautiful cast, and you get self-conscious. I don’t want to blow my own horn by association saying how great things are, but it’s very special.” Given the nature of the story, it will be fascinating to see how it is realised on the big screen. Dafoe is, equally, intrigued – but shuts himself up before sharing any potentially revealing details. “Since I just finished, I’m still high off the experience. I’m excited about many things, but this one is high up on the list.” I don’t ask Dafoe whether the rumours are true that he will be resurrecting the Green Goblin for this year’s highly anticipated Spider-Man: No Way Home; he certainly wouldn’t tell, and, for the sake of my younger self, I don’t really want to know. 

 

Credits

Creative Directors · NIMA HABIBZADEH AND JADE REMOVILLE          
Photographer · LUC COIFFAIT          
Fashion Stylist · SAM CARDER          
Grooming · VIRAG MOGYORO
Assistant · ALEXANDER CSOMOR
Interview · ELLIE BROWN
WILLEM DAFOE WEARS PRADA AUTUMN WINTER 2021

Christine Haroutounian

“I’ve always had a desire to go from the unreal to the real”

Founder of the production company Mankazar – a platform to explore independent cinema in Armenia and beyond, filmmaker Christine Haroutounian works between Southern California and Armenia. Her work explores transnational life, ancestral inheritance, and darker layers of humanity.

Attending an Armenian school in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, Harourounian didn’t head down the filmmaking path immediately, as she was first an art school student, then a photographer. Her time studying for an MFA in Directing/Production from the UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television was when she produced both her shorts ‘Fixed Water’ and ‘World’. They have received Official Selection in International Film Festival Rotterdam, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Palm Springs International ShortFest, and more. Mankazar is currently in development with Haroutounian’s first feature film, set in post-Soviet Armenia.

Haroutounian’s first short ‘Fixed Water’ follows the lives of an older Armenian mother and daughter who are seemingly the same yet worlds apart, delving into a difficult family dynamic. Like her first short, Haroutounian’s second film ‘World’ also explores a mother–daughter relationship, this time with a sharp and impolite rendering of end-of-life caretaking. Each film uses different textural approaches to impressionistic slow cinema.

NR Magazine speaks with Haroutounian to gain deeper insights into the cultural ties in her work and her attitude towards the concept of identity in her filmmaking process.

What inspired you to start your production company Mankazar Film?

My directing style is deeply intertwined with the production process, so it was only logical to start a production company. Mankazar is a filmmaking platform for a new Armenian cinema that works independently to the commercial film industry.

You have an MFA in Directing/Production from the UCLA School of Theatre, Film & Television – what did you learn about yourself during this time? Can you pinpoint a specific moment where you started to really shape your creative vision?

I learned all the rules of filmmaking but ultimately, no school can teach you how to look. In order to move away from a story,

“I realised my whole life had to become a work of art, and that starts with observing.”

You’re currently developing your first feature film set in post-Soviet Armenia. What has this process been like?

It’s been a complete act of faith. Psychic, scary, and ecstatic.

The film is titled ‘After Dreaming’ and is described as an odyssey of selfhood, drawing on the mythologies of freedom, family, and motherland. How have these concepts shaped your identity as a filmmaker?  

I would say that it has shaped my identity as a filmmaker as throughout my life I’ve always had a desire to go from the unreal to the real.

What has resonated with you the most from working across Los Angeles and Armenia?

I feel spiritually vacant in Los Angeles and very aligned in Armenia. The latter is largely viewed as a corrupt place, where there is no stability or future but plenty of romanticism. I feel like people are deceived into thinking Los Angeles is somehow none of these things. It’s fascinating what stories and projections we choose to believe over others.

‘World’, your second short film, is a sharp and visceral take on end-of-life caretaking, and you’ve mentioned that it questions how one should behave as a caretaker and a daughter in the presence of fear and death. Are these things you’ve had to navigate in your own life? Does this presence of fear ever restrict your creative process?

The film is fiction, but I do grapple with fear and attachment because I love life very hard.

“If fear gets in the way of my creative process, it’s usually because my brain is asking the wrong questions.”

Your first short film ‘Fixed Water’ also explores a mother-daughter relationship and intergenerational tensions. Does the filmmaking process ever take on a cathartic role for you?

I don’t use filmmaking as a psychological exercise, but it is cathartic in that I focus large amounts of energy into something that doesn’t exist until it materialises the exact way I envision it.

What was it like growing up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley?

I always felt that there had been some kind of terrible mistake for me growing up in Los Angeles.

What things help to develop your filmic voice?

Knowing in my heart that cinema is a gift.

You mentioned that Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘The Mirror’ and Chen Kaige’s ‘Yellow Earth’ were among the films to make an early impact on you. Could you talk a bit about the specifics of these inspirations?

I am almost an amnesiac when it comes to films and mainly just remember the physical feeling I’m left with. I recall feeling crushed by the landscapes and weightless through the rhythm of time, and also how real the classical elements felt through such simplicity. I should probably rewatch these soon.

What would you say your ambitions as a filmmaker are?

Total freedom!

You’ve described your background as being of a very particular ancestral inheritance, and that being exposed to the darker layers of humanity from a very young age has made you very sensitive to the human condition. Could you talk a bit more about this?

To learn Armenian history and to look at the present, are in many ways a collision with the abject. I don’t have the option to unsee these crude existential realities, and some days, it engulfs everything I do. It’s a forced awareness of what people are capable of, for better or worse.

With the theme of this issue being Identity, I’d love to know your thoughts on how you feel you explore your own identity with your work.

I follow my intuition more than any intellectual concept, and I can’t work from a preconceived agenda. Even if I’m going through something or making work that is informed by my cultural ties, I never experience it as ‘identity’. Nobody processes life this directly. It’s inherent. Simply being is more specific and universal than any one identity.

Where do you see your practice heading? 

Making more films!

Credits

Images · CHRISTINE HAROUTOUNIAN
http://www.mankazar.com

Dhillon Shukla

“I need to know the mood of a space before I can start to imagine who occupies it”

In the yellowy November gloom, a young Londoner tries to scrape together enough money to take his crush on a date. Money Up, named after the schoolyard game, is a film that captures the “spirit, grit, and resilience of young Londoners in a lighthearted and poetic tone.”  The film has been garnering attention for Dhillon Shukla, whose previous works range from photographing young Sri Lankans who have adopted Californian surfer culture to collaborating with music artists such as Jessie Ware, Disclosure and Gorillaz. NR Magazine joined Shukla in conversation.

As both a filmmaker and a photographer how do you think your previous experience with photography projects informs your filmmaking process.

I think it’s changed over time. When I started taking pictures I was a teenager, I used to walk around and shoot locations I thought would be interesting to set a film in. I had this massive archive and I used to look through it and try to imagine a story. Then a couple of years later I started to work with musicians who were quite established, a lot of them had really creative personalities and sometimes our visions wouldn’t aline so I had to learn how to navigate that. After a few of those experiences, it began to feel natural to work with talent and for sure that’s fed into directing and working with actors.

You have stated that you predominantly worked with music and documentary. Do you find that you include those elements in your fictional works and if so how?

I take a lot of influence from music when starting a film, for me, it’s one of the best ways to find an emotion or feeling and put yourself in the headspace of a character. Then recently I completed a documentary which was shot over 4 year period and in a really observational style when I started it I only planned to shoot for 3 months, I had quite a rigid idea of what it would be but then there were a lot of surprises and the story told me it wanted to be something else. I had to listen to that. Looking back that was probably one of the best projects I could have done as it taught me to really think about an edit while shooting, I was always reacting to a moment and simultaneously trying to capture it whilst thinking of questions to ask and how I would build that into an edit. Creatively I became a lot sharper and able to generate ideas a lot quicker than I used to which helps with fiction work and to not be too attached to the script as it’s always evolving.

What was the most exciting filmmaking project you worked on?

I’d probably say Run Outs – the short film I’m making with the BFI at the moment. Like Money Up, it’s set in London but it’s darker, more ambitious and also quite impressionistic. I’m excited by how it’s developing, it feels quite fresh and more in line with the direction I want to go in.

You stated that you wanted to show the lighter side of London in your film Money Up. Do you find that people tend to have a negative stereotyped view of London and do you think your film works to change those perspectives?

I just felt that a lot of youth-orientated stories in London revolved around drugs and violence and while that’s obviously a reality for some people they’re also a lot of peoples experience that doesn’t reflect that. The intention of the film was to reframe that for sure and also show multicultural London kids in an innocent way.

You mentioned you are working on a script for a large scale work set in the future. Can you tell me more about this project?

Not really at the moment, just that it’s finished and the plan is to make it my first feature film.

What filmmakers and directors do you draw inspiration from and how do you apply that inspiration to your work?

I think when I’m writing I’m more inspired by music or locations. I need to know the mood of a space before I can start to imagine who occupies it. That’s where most ideas come from for me. They’re not many films I would say are perfect but the ones below are and I find it hard to not think about them from time to time.

Chungking Express

A Prophet

The Tree of Life

Barry Lyndon

Apocalypse Now

You shot Money Up on a small budget. What was the process you had to go through to see the film to fruition?

I wrote the script for an open call for the BBC and got selected. My exec producer connected me with an amazing casting director. They’d worked with people like Nicholas Winding Refn, Lars Von Trier and Gaspar Noe but they’d also cast all the seasons of Top Boy which made me feel they’d be perfect for the film. They were great and found all the actors in about 3 or 4 weeks. We shot in November during a lockdown so it complicated things a bit, we weren’t able to rehearse or even meet each other before we shot it. Then for all of the post-production, we had to work via Zoom as well. It was quite a different way to work but I think in the end everyone who was in it and worked on it was pretty happy with the result.

How do you think Covid will affect the indie film scene in the future?

I’m not sure but it’s been a shame all the film festivals have moved online because they’re really important for indie filmmakers to connect with people and continue to keep making work so I hope they’ll come back soon.

What advice do you have for young creatives looking to work with film and documentaries? 

Start by making something independently where you can have creative control. It’ll allow you to develop your style and attract the right collaborators for you.

What are your plans for the future?

As I mentioned before I’ve recently completed a 40-minute documentary called The Prodigy which follows 23-year-old Muay Thai world champion Greg Wootton and his 9-year-old prodigy Jimmy Clarke, they both fight out of the KO Gym in Bethnal Green which has produced over 25 world champions. It’s about two young Londoners’ pursuit for greatness in the sport which leads them to find a deeper meaning in their lives. It’s been quite an epic project so I’m really excited about releasing that later this year and also completing Run Outs. Then beyond that, I’ve got another short I’m going to make before doing my feature film.

 

Credits

Images · DHILLON SHUKLA
https://www.dhillonshukla.com/#1

Logan Rice

“It has to feel right, otherwise it’ll drive me crazy”

Logan Rice is a photographer, filmmaker and cinematographer based in Los Angeles, California. The young artist has established himself in the creative industry as one to watch, with an impressive body of work that includes cinematic and light-hearted collaborations with high profile clients, alongside more impassioned and personal projects.

Growing up filming skateboarding, it is only natural that the artist would make the move to Los Angeles, where his inspiration from day-to-day culture, music and fashion has now come to inform his eclectic and ever-growing practice.

Largely focused on fashion campaigns and editorials, Logan has also worked on a variety of music videos, documentaries, and exclusive content for the likes of Nordstrom, Pull&Bear, Fender, Columbia Records, L’Officiel, Adidas, Flaunt Magazine and more, as well as filming artists including Grimes, Lykke Li, Alice Glass and many others.

NR Magazine speaks with Logan to discuss the versatility of his work and how he has come to develop his style over the years.

A lot of your personal work channels feelings of nostalgia in your depictions of youth culture – is this something you consciously aim to create or is it something that just comes through naturally as part of your creative process? 

That’s definitely something people have mentioned to me before. I would say that it comes naturally. I aim to capture moments that just are and that feel real. The nostalgia element isn’t something I intentionally seek out, it just kind of happens that way.

How have you come to develop your style? 

I grew up filming skateboarding and I think that style of shooting and editing transitioned over heavily when I started creating a lot of content in the music world and eventually into all the fashion projects I’ve done over the past few years. I never noticed until fairly recently when people would point it out and be like, “You used to film skateboarding right? I can see it in your work.”

I definitely use some of the same shooting techniques that I used as a 14/15-year-old filming skateboarding. It has obviously improved over the years but it’s the same method. The same goes for editing – I’ve always edited skate videos to the mood and beat of the song and I let that dictate how a project comes together. I never understood how people could make a rough edit with no music behind it. The music dictates the entire flow and feeling of the project, and I just let the feeling take over rather than looking at something for what technically makes sense. It has to feel right, otherwise it’ll drive me crazy.

How do you juggle your more commercial work alongside personal projects? Do the two influence each other at all or do you have clear separations between your personal and commissioned pieces? 

It gets hard to balance both, honestly, but commercial work always comes first. That’s the work that allows me to be a freelance artist living in Los Angeles and it funds my personal projects and editorials.

Personal work is very important, so whenever I get an idea or have free time, I definitely try to push myself to do something that’s meaningful to me. Those projects take a long time to complete though. I always overthink it or get busy with something else but eventually they’ll all get done.

The personal projects I’ve done are still some of my favourite things I’ve created. Even if they are 2, 3, 4, 5 years old, they still hold up in my opinion. Whenever I watch them now, I’m like, “Yeah, this is it. This is the kind of work that really keeps me going.”

Commercial work shows me what I’m capable of with a bigger team, budget, and resources and pushes me on a production scale. But with that being said, personal work shows me I don’t need a huge team or budget to make something that I really love or that I think is great.

What’s important for you when directing? What sort of things inspire a narrative and help you tell a story? 

The most important thing to me is capturing moments that are real and that feel real. Pre-visualized shots are great, and you always need to have a game plan, but I think I’ve always created the best content from just trying random things to see what works. Also, a lot of the time I roll a bit before and after the main take and those little off moments can sometimes be the most beautiful and unique.

“Storytelling is much less important to me than having a project that makes you feel a certain way.”

What aspects of your own life influence your work? 

I think just living in the moment and going with the flow of things. I really try not to overthink and not do anything that doesn’t feel right. That’s how I’ve always been as a person and it’s how I tend to approach projects. I just have to trust my instincts and usually the outcome is better than anything I try to force.

How have you managed creatively during the pandemic? 

The first few months were absolutely brutal, but over time I started doing shoots for brands my friends owned or worked at and I started doing music videos a lot because it seemed like the majority of the fashion industry was on hold. That kept me busy for a while until everything came back full swing August 2020, and it’s been pretty steady since then. Some months are slower than others, but I always have different things to work on.

I do wish I had picked up new creative hobbies during my time off but to be honest with you,

“I just ate pasta, drank wine, played a lot of video games, and binged a ridiculous amount of TV shows… and I’m ok with that.”

Are you working on any projects at the moment? 

I’m in post-production on about 3 or 4 projects right now and I just did a shoot over the weekend that I’m really excited about. I have a few really cool editorial projects coming out in July and I’m always making content with my really good friend and artist Hudi, so we’ve got some music videos and other things in the works.

 

Credits

Images · LOGAN RICE
http://www.logan-rice.com

Kliwadenko Novas

“innovation is not coming from technology but by having the chance of approaching the building process with more freedom”

Sweeping shots of golden arid landscapes, wild salty Pacific bays, and the rise of the rocky Andean mountains serve to juxtapose the modern architecture nestled in the wilderness. This is one of the documentaries by Kliwadenko Novas,  an audiovisual production company formed by Katerina Kliwadenko, a Chilean journalist, and Mario Novas, a Spanish architect. Since 2015 the duo has been developing an investigation into architecture and urbanism in Latin America, a region they have a special interest in due to its state of “constant crisis that forces it to reinvent itself.” In addition to this, they also focus their projects on “people capable of redrawing the limits of their disciplines and questioning what they do”. NR Magazine joined them in conversation about their work.

What was it specifically that inspired you to create these documentaries about architecture and urbanism in Latin America?

In 2014 we did a one year trip crossing the region starting from Guatemala to Southern Chile. This is a part of the world we really tried to get to know better. Having a common language that allows us to interact properly with everybody is a huge advantage in order to film and interview. This led us to develop a two-year-long research project on its contemporary architecture scene as an editorial work. This kind of matched with the 2016 Venice Biennial when the director has been Alejandro Aravena. There was this momentum of Latin America that attracted lots of views and we thought that the right format for portraying this project would be a documentary. The documentaries format enables a collective experience for viewers when they are screened and this helps to diversify the type of public it reaches. Otherwise, the traditional forms of publications are just consumed by architects.

You describe Latin America as a region in constant crisis. How do you think that affects architecture in these countries?

This means the future is somehow uncertain. Facing this, architects try to develop their profession in different ways, some of them really disruptive and radical. What we’ve found, when we discover some of the new lines of work like one from Al Borde in Ecuador, Solano Benitez in Paraguay or David Torres in Mexico, is that they enjoy architecture in a wider sense. On one hand, they are involved closely in the management of the construction which is an aspect that makes the profession really exciting, and on the other hand, they have to deal with such hard budget restrictions that the solutions have to be innovative. We see it as a change of the architects’ role which enables them to make architecture not only behind a computer screen, but by being on the construction site and related to their clients more closely.

You come from quite different backgrounds as an architect and a journalist respectively. How does that affect your collaborative process when creating these documentaries?

Us architects are often trained in school to express ourselves in quite a strange way. When you read the explanations of a project in the architectural media it sounds over intellectualised or over sophisticated and without any need. So having a journalistic approach means that the way we portray projects can reach the wider public.

I would say now, reading the question again, we are not as aware that we come from different backgrounds anymore. In our daily routine, we switch continuously from our role as a couple, to our role of teammates, and to the role of parents. And we are always trying to keep every sphere safe from the other-one.

Regarding the films, our creative process is really organic. We both carry out all the different phases, from the script to the editing, together.

Are there any new technologies that you are aware of which you think will change how architecture will be approached in Latin America in the future? 

In terms of new construction technology, you have to realise there are not the same as in Europe or in North America for the high budget buildings. Having such a high percentage of inhabitants who can not afford those kinds of constructions, I would say innovation is not coming from technology but by having the chance of approaching the building process with more freedom. Not having so many rules creates a really good environment to try to solve problems in an original way.

Your documentaries also focus on social issues in Latin America. Do you consider them as a form of activism that will help to shed light on, and bring attention to these issues?

We try to create documentaries with a positive approach that show how people solved certain aspects of their personal and local environments. We like to use those examples to show the public the act of taking care of local problems, no matter where you live. Because surely there are many things to solve and improve in our environment. Portraying architects who do it in their areas within their conditions and expertise is a way of saying that if they can, so can you, regardless of whether you live in Miami, Zürich or Melbourne. Ultimately it is about showing ways of coping with life.

In your documentary Do More with Less you explore housing issues for those living under the poverty line. By 2030 two billion people are expected to be living in slums, so you think that indigenous practices of building homes can be used to tackle issues like these in Latin America?

We think solutions have to come from local knowledge. Every part of the world is so different that in certain aspects indigenous practices could be part of a solution. If they did it over 500 years and it is still working, why not? But as I said, every case is different, so a way of facing these issues could be by creating structures to allow collaborative processes, where everyone can bring in their knowledge.

Which architectural project/work stood out to you the most in your work? 

I would say the SESC Pompéia, a project built in 1977 by Lina Bo Bardi in Sao Paulo. Everything you Google about this project, or from the work of Lina Bo Bardi will blow your mind.

What difficulties have you faced while creating your documentaries and how did you overcome those challenges? 

Acquiring funds is our biggest problem. So one way to solve this is to keep production and post-production budgets really low by doing most of the work ourselves. We are still looking for the right partners who can see the opportunity in joining in with these movies.

In a broad sense, how do you think architecture in Latin America differs from its North American and European counterparts?

As I said before, there are fewer rules especially in rural areas that affect the construction process. And, in general, Latin American governments do not provide an equal distribution of wealth. This creates a large economic gap in society that has to be effectively resolved in another way. In our opinion, these two factors are the origin of the architectural examples that interest us in this region.

What advice would you give to young creatives who are looking to get into the fields of documentaries/filmmaking and architecture?

The advice to learn by doing. Focusing on some local issues means they don’t need big production budgets to travel for the opportunity to start filming and editing. This is a way to find your own point of view and voice as creators, to develop an original and outstanding film. In the end, it is not specific advice for the field of architecture. We believe that it is a subject that can be portrayed from many angles so there is still much to discover.

Do you have any projects you are working on at the moment and what are your plans for the future? 

We released this year a six-episode series called Architecture On The Edge. Commissioned by Shelter, which is the only streaming platform focused just on architecture and design content, it is about six constructions located in remote scenarios of the Chilean landscape.

Now we are completing two interactive documentaries which are to be released by the end of this year. One, called Raw Land, portrays an education model capable of renewing the profession of the architect and the rural context in which it is held. A building process of an architecture student’s degree project settled down in Southern Chile, on a waste territory far away from the world. And Making Meaningful Things Happen on the Fuerte El Tiuna Project in Caracas, Venezuela. Portraying politics of the everyday through this 15 years old project as a form of resistance by proposing in such a polarised country.

Credits

Images · KLIWADENKO NOVAS

Fernando Livschitz

“Take a camera or computer and do things that motivate you. Do, do, do and do, that’s the way.”

A whale splashes about with its calf in a garden swimming pool, a speed boat spins in circles upon a galaxy of stars, and famous buildings just up and float away. These are just some of the worlds Argentine filmmaker Fernando Livschitz brings to life in his short films. “His stories unfold organically showing the extraordinary as something ordinary and common. Going deeper into reality through the wonder that is in it by creating a charming and mind-boggling mood.”

Indeed, his works are inherently surrealist by nature, incorporating the mundane with the absurd, but there is an inherent youthful playfulness to them that offsets their obvious technical conception. They invoke all the innocent creativity of a young child, who has been set loose in reality and has been given the power to make it their plaything. In doing so they remind us all of the freedom of childhood imagination, unconstrained by adult worries such as gravity or logic.

Livschiz’s films are viral by nature and have been seen by over a hundred million people. He has directed all over the world, winning The Young Directors Award at the Cannes Lions and worked with well-known brands including creating the opening credits for CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

How long does it take for you to make each project/video and what’s your artistic process when coming up with ideas for your work? 

It could take one day or months to make a project. there is no logic there.

Usually, I start from a small idea or concept I want to show and then the process can lead in other directions.

Which is your favourite project and why? 

I’m not sure, maybe “Buenos Aires Inception Park”. This project is 10 years old, and it has opened all kind of doors in my career.

You stated that during lockdown you didn’t feel very positive because of the current situation, is that what inspired you to make Anywhere Can Happen, which is a very uplifting and positive work. 

Well, I’m not sure if it was the lockdown period. Life is complicated beyond this crazy time. I feel we can see things as different, more positive.

Which was the most difficult project you worked on and how did you overcome the challenges you faced while making it?

Each project has its complications. When I start with a project I’m not sure how I’m going to do it. As I progress, I discover the complications. Sometimes I feel that my work is based on gradually solving the problems that arise.

Is there anyone/anything in particular that you draw inspiration from (ie, literature, films, artists, creators etc) 

Yes, lot’s of artists: Slinkachu, Michel Gondry, David Lynch, Tim Burton, Leandro Erlich, Pablo Rochat, Fubiz, Vimeo Staff Picks, Nowness.

How do you think working on an international level affects the creation of your work? 

I think it affects it in a positive way. The greater the knowledge, the greater the possibilities.

What advice would you give to young creatives looking to work in animation and film? 

Do not wait for things to come from outside. Take a camera or computer and do things that motivate you. Do, do, do and do, that’s the way.

In the BTS of Lost in Motions, I saw your daughter helping you to spray paint the individual pieces you used to create the stop motion. Do you often include her in your creative process? 

Yes!, she has an innocent view of things and life and I love her opinion. She has great ideas.

You have a background in photography and design how did you transition into creating these kinds of works? 

I think in my work, everything is connected. Photography, animation, analogue, digital, design, music. What I do now came from all those backgrounds.

Are you working on any projects at the moment? What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future? 

Yes, I am working on several projects. But shhhhh. I can’t talk about them yet.

Rina Yang

“the pandemic happened, and I think the drama world struggled more than commercials”

When she was younger, Rina Yang would keep in contact with her best friend in London by making, editing and sending ‘video letters’ from her hometown in Japan. Rina later moved to London to study and while there, saw an ad for a film school. The course was mostly theory with very little practical work, she told Lecture in Progress in 2017, but nonetheless gave her a reason to remain in the UK. Rina’s first roles in the industry involved working as a camera assistant on short projects. ‘I only did it properly for a couple of years,’ because as she tells me over the phone, it was a stressful role. But she did find common ground talking to directors during breaks about the creative processes behind the work. ‘I was better at that, than looking after the camera.’ And so, she pivoted – cutting her teeth in music video and short films jobs that her friends would ask her to work on. ‘One thing led to another,’ Rina adds – and she was able to carve out a space for herself as a director of photography (DP), a notoriously difficult role to break into and succeed in.

As a DP, Rina has worked on music videos for artists including Kamasi Washington, Vince Staples, Björk and FKA twigs (including the “controversial” and “risqué” ‘do you believe in more’ advertisement that twigs directed and soundtracked for Nike in 2017). Rina regularly balances projects across music videos, commercials and narrative work, a crossover she tells me is quite uncommon. And though her approach may differ depending on the project, her work consistently demonstrates an aptitude and eye for capturing the people and characters in front of the camera. A scene from the BBC’s Windrush drama, Sitting in Limbo, from last year, or the third series of Top Boy (for which Rina shot a number of episodes) are as beautiful and captivating as, say, a Rimowa commercial with Adwoa Aboah or her work for Sephora. 

Rina’s talent and vision as a DP have made her a sought after name in the industry – even at such an early point in her career. She was named by British Vogue as one of the 14 rising stars in the creative industries back in February, described as a “New Wave of boundary-breaking visionaries bringing fresh, exciting perspectives to the creative industries”. Her portrait to accompany the piece was shot by Campbell Addy who, like Rina, is part of a new vanguard of young talent. Last year, Rina was also included in the BAFTA Breakthrough list for 2020. Being recognised by organisations like BAFTA is great, Rina tells me, but it’s not something she’s had much time to think about, ‘I haven’t properly got my head around it.’ But, she adds, she definitely feels as though she’s at an interesting point in her career. That said, having faired the storm caused by the pandemic, Rina is now remarkably well-placed to continue to grow and nurture her skill. 

You’ve done a lot of commercial work with the likes of Nike, Rimowa and many others, and TV work for shows like Sitting in Limbo and Top Boy. How do you balance the different projects you work on? Is there something specific that draws you in?

I think the selection of the projects really comes down to your personal taste and what you find interesting. When I do commercials, I’m less selective because it is a very short commitment, and it’s a good opportunity to meet new directors and new collaborators. So I’m less picky and I’ll take the risk to work with new people. When it comes to narrative, it’s a whole different conversation. There’s a lot more boxes to tick to see if it’s the right project to do. It’s a different process, but I do like doing both. With my narrative work, you get paid less but I think it’s more of a romantic thing.

With that said, I love that your commercial work don’t just feel like adverts. They’re like short stories in their own way.

The directors and all the creatives I’m drawn to tend to have that kind of style. I don’t find the very straight up advertising that interesting. I mean, to be honest, sometimes we just do very boring commercials. You just don’t shout about it. But I think the ones that I get to shoot, they tend to be creative ads with slight narrative threads. And I’m grateful that I’ve been able to shoot some of them. You kind of flex your narrative muscle a little bit, but it’s a very different working environment in commercial compared to narrative. 

You’ve got a very distinctive use of colour, texture and lighting. How did you develop that style? 

When I started out my style was a bit more documentary because it’s hard to afford to do a big lighting setup. But even with documentary style, I don’t want it to look like what it looks like with the naked eye. So I try to heighten what you see, by using different lenses, or how you expose the sensor or the film – to add your take on the reality you see. 

As I progressed in my career, I could afford to have a good crew with me and all these big lights. And I guess that’s when I started using a bit more colour. I did go through a period of using a lot of colours because I kept getting asked to do that. I think with any artist or DP, we’re versatile so it’s nice not to get pigeonholed into one look. In general, I like to heighten the reality of a scene, and I think, “what if I did this” – I talk about a lot of what ifs, and still do some colourful lighting here and there.

So as a DP, how do you tell a story and create narrative?

How would I tell a good story? First of all, there has to be a good script, and there has to be a good director to execute that. I can only advise how I think we could shoot things, or collaborate with the director. In the beginning when I started out, it was quite hard to find directors on that level. One the hardest things in the beginning is to find a director who can execute the narrative in the way you see it, or better than how you imagined it. So I think I really collaborate with my directors, talk about how we see it. 

I guess it’s such a collaborative process; you’ve got to be able to work together well.

Yeah, definitely. The level of collaboration is different in music videos, commercials and narrative. With commercial, they tend to come with already established ideas –  with exactly how they want it to look because they’ve gone through a lot of chats with the clients and agency, and they tend to have have every exact visual references that I will need to execute. So there’s no huge room for us to create the look from scratch. And then music videos, you can be a little bit more funky with it. And with narrative, if it’s a TV show and you’re the first block DP, you can create the look with your director and showrunner. If you’re coming into the TV show in the middle of it, then you have to replicate what’s been established. And then if it’s a movie, there’s a lot more room to experiment. That’s why a lot of DPs prefer to do movies and the first block of TV shows. 

Has the pandemic changed your work process and schedule much over the past year?

Before the pandemic, I was going to shoot TV shows or films in 2020. I was shooting a lot of commercials early in the year because I was going to work hard on commercials until the spring, so I could afford to do a film or TV show that I like. But then the pandemic happened, and I think the drama world struggled more than commercials, so they’ve been on pause for a lot longer than advertising. Now, I’m reading scripts and trying to decide what narrative projects I should do next. This past year has been an interesting switch I think, because I was going to shoot a drama this year, and after doing commercial for a year, I’m really ready to shoot another long project, TV show or movie. 

Does it help having the balance of both commercial and narrative work, and being able to fall back on one or the other?

For sure – I take influence from both commercial and narrative. But, you know, I do switch my brain; if I’m pitching for a film, I’ll switch my brain to a narrative aesthetic and approach. My visual references would be quite different from what I would put in for commercial work because I think the commercial world is more like eye candy. It has to be catchy because we only have a minute or so to tell something. You have to say something in a very short amount of time. But when it comes to narrative, there’s a lot more room to grow and develop.

Credits

Images · RINA YANG

Tara Olayeye

“when I’m actually there, I’ll naturally feel aligned, because I’m not thinking myself into oblivion”

For Tara Olayeye, whose relationship with her work mirrors her relationship with herself, the practice of film-making has turned into an experience as meditative as it is creative. Her latest short film, So Natural, proves as profound in aesthetic as it is in prose & composition. The visual aspect is only a portion of the young Atlanta-based director’s crafts, as the poem she recites over the film is an adaptation of a song she wrote when she was 18 years old, which she re-appropriated from her archives for the purpose of the film. Her experience with music– singing and playing the piano– reflects in the care she has for the rhythm and pace of a narrative.

The production of this short film was a tough tango between Olayeye and the vintage 16mm camera she swears by. The texture and character of the footage shot on film is true to the attitude of the device. The level of attention and awareness required to shoot with it turned being on set into an undertaking of mindfulness.

Being drawn away from her initial inspiration and expectations, she picked up on the resonance of her own creativity. As So Natural emerged, she found her expectations exceeded by what it turned into, despite coming inches away from moving on from it. Olayeye’s latest project was the fruit of months of internal tides of inspiration which intersected between motion picture, poetry, spoken-word, and music. Patience, with herself and with her work, was of the essence. As she learns to trust her processes, she has been reminding herself not to give into doubt and fear.

Fear forms the roots of many of our expectations, as they manifest a need for security into the future. Figuring out how to let go of them becomes essential to tapping into one’s uninhibited creativity. Our apprehensions are often an architecture of our own mind, and moving forward and beyond them is the only way to embrace reality and discover the multitude of possibilities that may be, both in our work and our lives.

In constant creative expansion, the latest craft she has picked up on is knitting. Amidst the present circumstances, the therapeutic elements of art consist in much more than a practice: it becomes a philosophy and a way of life that nurtures and carries over into everything else.

Olayeye granted NR an introspective insight into her work, distilled below.

Between the visual, the musical and the poetic dimensions of your last film, So Natural, and over the course of the year during which it was shot, what was your creative process like?

I started brainstorming it in January of 2019, I had a concept that I wanted to do – I had a script and everything written out – and actually the final result of that project is not even close to what the original concept was supposed to be. Getting things set up and put together didn’t end up working out the way that I thought it was supposed to. Whenever we were shooting, there were so many mishaps and things going wrong because we shot on 16mm, and the camera that I was using, and still use, is a really old film camera, it’s – it has an attitude, so it was a little temperamental, and there were a bunch of hiccups that ended up happening. As I was trying to piece everything together, when I got the first rolls of footage back in the summer, in the way that I thought that it was supposed to go, it wasn’t working and

“I was almost about to scrap the entire thing, because I thought ‘This is not how I wanted it to be, this is a failure’.”

I walked away from it for a few months and realized “Okay, maybe this project isn’t working in the way that I initially thought, but that doesn’t mean I have to completely dispose of it, I can just re-imagine a storyline, re-imagine how I want this project to feel”. So I picked it back up again around September or October last year, I started re-shooting and I had these lyrics to a song that I wrote years and years ago, I don’t know how or why it came into my head while I was looking at this project, but as I was reciting the lyrics, I thought “wait, this could actually work really well as a poem”. It worked really well with the footage that we had shot over the past few months, so instead of the original script I had, I decided to use the words of that song that I wrote, when I was maybe 18 years old, and that’s where the poem is from. The music is one of my favourite songs of all time, and I emailed the record label that owns the rights to the song to see if I could have the permission to use the song in my project, because I just felt like it fit so perfectly. So that’s the story of the project. It was definitely a very unique experience, that’s not really how I’ve gone about making a lot of my film projects, typically I have a script, I have a very clear vision of what I’m gonna do, and even though things change and evolve, it still holds that same essence of the original concept.

“This project was literally writing itself and I was just there to be as open with it, and accepting of the path that it was taking.”

How did you feel about the way it turned out as opposed to what you initially had in mind?

I’m even more happy with what it turned into. It’s funny because as artists or creatives, whatever you wanna call it, we have– or, I’ll just speak for myself– I tend to have preconceived notions of what I want a project to look like, I’ll think “it’s going to be like this and like that” and the way the project moves, circumstances change, and the project just naturally evolves and what you thought the project was going to be– it just becomes better than you ever expected it to. So that’s always amazing to witness and experience.

It seems like you had a dynamic relationship with this project; how did that reflect with your relationship with yourself?

Last year was really interesting for me, it was a year where I really began to learn more about myself, and I began to realize a lot of negative patterns I had developed throughout my entire life. Patterns of perfectionism, feeling like I needed to control everything, feeling like I needed to know everything, and if I didn’t, I would feel like I was just missing something. It makes perfect sense that this project was my main focus last year, because I did a lot of self-reflection and flowing with myself and, like you said, surrendering a little, and not feeling like I had to control everything and I think that reflected a lot in this particular project because I went into it thinking I knew what was going to happen but then it just flowed into something completely different. It really showed me the importance of being open and not being rigid with my creativity, and understanding that art can in different ways teach a lesson and teach you about yourself, and teach you about life, so

“that project was definitely a reflection of my inner-growth and of being open.”

What made you inclined to shoot this project on film?

I really wanted to learn how to shoot film for the longest time, just from watching other people’s work, watching films that were shot on film, I loved the look of it and I wanted to try it out. I was fortunate enough to know someone who had a film camera sitting in their basement and they sold it to me. It’s definitely a learning curve– shooting on film when we have such instant gratification with shooting digitally– there’s so much we don’t have to think about, whether its just taking a picture on your phone or shooting with a cinema camera. Shooting on film is a humbling experience and it forces you to be very attentive and be really intentional about every shot that you make; you have to be really alert when shooting on film, which I think is a really good practice just in general

What nurture your creativity, and what inhibits it?

For me, patience is the most important thing. I tend to feel restless at times when working through a creative project because it’s easy to care more about the end result than the process. But every step you take while creating something counts for something. So staying with it and reminding myself that the pace that things are going is the pace that is meant to be helps me a lot.

I realize that fear blocks my creativity, I don’t believe [those two states can co-exist]: true creation and fear. You can’t [be fearful] when creating because what makes creating so magical is that you’re letting go of the need to know, you have to trust the process, so it’s interesting how I am a creator but at the same time I deal with a lot of fear. Wanting to create, and Create wholeheartedly, while having these underlying feelings of fears: fear of judgement, fear of failure, fear that things won’t work out, fear that you are wasting your time… It’s an interesting back and forth between creating and fearing.

The main thing is just going with it and within, not thinking too much, feeling my way around. Each creative flow is different but I guess

“the common denominator with each endeavour is being fully committed because I really do believe that as long as I Commit, I really can’t fail.”

When do you feel aligned the most?

I think I feel the most aligned when I’m not in my head. Over-thinking is so exhausting and it’s something that I have a lot of experience with. I feel like even when I’m doing something that I love, if I’m in my head about it, I don’t feel aligned. It’s really important to live outside of my head as often as possible. [While doing] anything like just walking down the street, talking to a friend or eating a meal, as long as I’m present, when I’m actually there, I’ll naturally feel aligned, because I’m not thinking myself into oblivion or panicking about something that holds no real weight. I feel the most aligned with my true nature, who I actually am, my power, all of that; I feel alive and connected to all that when I am actually within my body, doing something with full attention.