Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Interview with a student filmmaker--O. K. Keyes

A Media Arts major at USC-Columbia, Olivia K. Keyes has been helping me with my video production class for several years. A devoted filmmaker, she just recently finished There Is No Silence, and she kindly agreed to answer some questions concerning the craft.

1) What suggestions would you have for someone just beginning to make movies today?

I think everyone stumbles into the film industry in their own way.  I got really involved in online communities as a middle schooler, learning to use Windows Movie Maker to create little animated music videos (AMVs) for Teen Titans and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and then started making my own little videos that I posted to YouTube.  But it wasn't really until I got into college and started making real-life contacts and started collaborating with others that I really started improving my craft and learning to do real networking.  So it's great to make those little individual projects, but if you want to start improving then make films with your friends.  Collaboration is not only a great opportunity to gain real work experience with and to network, but I've also found filmmaking is way more fun with a group of people who are just as passionate about it as you.

2) Who are your three favorite directors at work today and why? 

I love Sofia Coppola, Akira Kurosawa and Christopher Nolan.  As a female in the male-dominated film industry, women like Sofia really give me hope that I can also be success in my craft.  I loved The Virgin Suicides and Lost in Translation, not only because of the masterful directing, but the fact that there's a definite feminine touch to her films and an intimacy with characters that I feel female directors are often advantaged to tap into.  Basically any film by Kurosawa is a masterpiece in my book. However, if I had to pick a single film that stands out, I'd go with Rashomon for it's use of non-linearity, lights and darks and in particular its use of silence.  Having studied Japanese for two and a half year now and traveled there twice, I am amazed by the influence of culture on film, and Kurosawa's use of silence is so effective because of its position of power in the Japanese language.  And finally my mainstream film director crush, Christopher Nolan.  From Memento to Batman to Inception, I am amazed at his films.  However, his reinterpretation of the Batman series (my favorite comic book series since the age of 4) a film noir-action flick proves that he is able to translate any story to a modern audience, a skill that many of today's directors could really learn from.  Originality is not always in the story but in how you tell it.  

3) What are the classic traps that novice filmmakers fall into? 

I think it's really important to get all the film cliches out of your system while you're still a student and not losing any money.  However, there are things you might want to watch out for, such as, opening with an alarm clock, having a dream sequence or show every little movement of your character.  Your audience knows that if you cut from a scene in a bathroom to a scene in a car that you walked out of your house, no need to show it.  Give your audience more credit.  And another useful piece of advice from my film professor at USC, "Don't show what you tell and don't tell what you show." One last note:  Rehearse your films before your film them.  Like a theatrical play needs a dress rehearsal, a film needs a run-through.  Just go through the whole thing shot for shot with a little point and shot or camera phone, and it'll make the actual day of filming go so much smoother.  

4) What do you think of film school classes ? Are they really needed? 

I'd say film school is more about networking than learning the craft.  Granted, I've always liked an academic setting and I like being challenged in my assignments.  However, the way the internet is today, you can build your own online community and network and raise your own funds on something like Kickstarter.  The other thing that film school gives you is free access to a variety of equipment that the average American would probably not be able to afford.  I've learned to work about 5 different cameras and 3 different audio systems as well as 2 editing platforms while at USC, and my tuition fees are nowhere near the total of those programs and equipment.  

5) What are some of the best places you like to visit on the web that relates to filmmaking? 

I'm a huge fan of vimeo.  Imagine a YouTube without Rebecca Black and dramatic chipmunks, and that's vimeo.  It allows me to network with not only local filmmakers here in Columbia, but also other ones across the world.  It's always exciting when some random guy from Germany likes one of your films!  However, I do still visit YouTube frequently, since that's where most videos go viral from and publicity is a great way to network, as long as you go viral for something of good quality and not because it's junk, which sadly is what the kids these days like to tweet about.  Speaking of Twitter, I do follow a lot of my film professors as well as other filmmakers on Twitter as a means of networking.  However, my newest discovery is Tumblr, a twitter-meets-blogging social network site, and there a lot of talented and creative people who are starting to network there as well.

6) How do you network on vimeo?

Well, I'm just starting to get the hang of it, but what seems to work best is having every type of social media and then link them all together through one.  I'm my case, I prefer Tumblr as a way of meeting new people who might be interested in my work, while some prefer Twitter or Facebook and others like Youtube.  I think it really just really depends on your target audience.  I'm looking for people to critique my work, so Tumblr and vimeo tend to have more in the way of constructive criticism whereas YouTube and Twitter often suffer from immature teenager comments.  I've also started commenting on other people's works on vimeo and in return they'll give feedback on mine.  And while it's nice to get complimented, there is nothing more valuable than a good critique.  

7) You mention several social media websites where you visit for networking purposes.  Are there any websites where you go for information?

I actually follow the SC Film Commission updates pretty regularly since they notify you of state competitions and potential grant money.  It's also more localized.  So if they mention a workshop, then it's going to be within driving distance.  They also have a great registrar of people with equipment and talents that I didn't know you could find in SC.  For example, there's a registered stuntman living in Charleston just waiting to be in your next action short.    

8) Describe a typical day at work on your current film project. 

Well, I'm still a student, so I don't get the leisure of focusing on one project, but am actually split between three, nearly constantly.  However, I'll take the time to talk about my current production crew I'm working with called GoShinjuku!, which is a collaborative team of USC media arts (and film studies AND computer engineering) majors.  Our team leader Matt Laborde earned a grant last year to fund five anime-style, live-action shorts.  We shot one over the summer called The Welder and we're working on next one called The Way of the Broken Thumb (title inspired by this test shot here).  I work mostly in pre- and actual production.  I usually sit down and plan out the film shot-by-shot via storyboards and set up the shooting schedule.  I also do all the camera work for our shorts.  I do edit my own personal works, but I really prefer the actually filming part of production the best, although everyone tells me that my organizational skills and trouble-shooting on set would probably make me better suited for a production manager.  But we'll see what happens.  I'm young and still have a lot of films to make and thumbs to break!

9) Any favorite recent low-budget independent films?

If we're talking in terms of on vimeo, I really love this little film Moving Day by Jason Wingrove.  But if we're talking about recent big picture releases, then it would have to be the recent 2011 Sundance Audience Award winning Circumstance that absolutely blew me away, and I highly recommend it.  It gives you an inside look inside the rebellious youth scene in Iran through the window of two teenager girls dealing with all the confusion of falling in love. Also, Winter's Bone (2010) is one of my favorite all time low-budget independent films. I love everything about it from Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Ree to the gritty, handheld cinematography that manages to find a softness in the harshness of the film.  

Anyone interested in keeping up with O. K. Keyes' work can follow her Tumblr blog or Twitter feed.


Hokahey said...

She sounds like a great person without an ounce of arrogance in her. She's the type of filmmaker I'd like to meet, and I'd rather listen to her talk about moviemaking than some of the greats blustering about all their masterpieces. She likes films I've actually seen. Also, I like Vimeo, too!

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Hokahey. Both assistants for the video production class helped the students in numerous ways. Olivia let us know what's going on with her production crew (she tends to be most helpful with pre-production), her various projects, and her plans for an upcoming documentary made in Japan. She helped the class learn of the importance of preparation and story boarding especially.