How did you get started in film making?
I grew up loving movies. My mom introduced me to classics like 12 Angry Men, Papillon, and The Good Earth. In middle school I started getting my hands on edgier, darker films like Se7en, Requiem For A Dream, and Boogie Nights. This got me very curious in the process of filmmaking but no one in my small hometown did anything like that so I didn’t really think of it as a possible career.
I got my first real production job when I was probably around 20 years old. I was in college for a Park and Rec. Management degree and working at a local outdoor store part time. I made a hobby out of shooting and editing short videos of my friends and I mountain biking in my spare time. I was working at the outdoor store one day and a customer overheard me discussing video editing with a coworker. Turns out he owned a video production company and needed a shooter/editor. That weekend I was in a helicopter shooting a reality show. Pretty crazy.
A couple years later I moved to Vancouver, BC to attend film school and have been pursuing Directing ever since.
Why did you want to make Silo?
About four years ago I heard a late-night NPR piece about a tragic grain entrapment accident in a small town in Illinois and it scared the crap out of me. I grew up in a rural area of East Tennessee so I was intrigued but the effects that a farming accident can have on a small community. I researched the subject for the next year before I was introduced to my current Producing partners in New York. Together, we developed a screenplay for a narrative feature film inspired by multiple true stories of grain entrapment accidents and rescues.
We decided to make a companion film/proof-of-concept to the feature but wanted to do something different than shoot a scene from the feature script. That is where the idea of making an atmospheric short documentary came from.
What gear/cameras did you use?
I didn’t really know what content we would be able to capture for the short, but I knew the tone I wanted to achieve early on. I knew I wanted to intercut “documentary” footage with “narrative” footage to create a connection between the real life material and the more cinematic, fictionalized movie we were proposing.
To do this, my cinematographer (Dustin Lane) and I decided to mix formats. We shot about 14,000ft of Super 16mm Kodak stock with an old Arri SR3 camera and an old Canon zoom lens for the documentary scenes and shot Kowa anamorphic lenses on an Arri Alexa Mini mounted to a steadicam and operated by Drew Weaver for the stylized scenes.
To further separate the two formats in the edit, we decided to keep the original aspect ratios instead of cropping the digital footage or letterboxing the film. It’s something I wouldn’t want to do for many other projects but it felt right for this short film. It helps make the digital scenes feel “bigger” and more “cinematic”.
Did you plan out the structure of the story from the beginning?
The only scenes we were able to plan for were the digital “stylized” scenes. I wanted to capture a series of shots of the farm as if we were looking at the scene of the accident a week or so after it happened. We had the idea to add the sound design from the accident and rescue later on in production.
The documentary scenes were really just “day-in-the-life” style scenes. I had some phone calls with the subjects before our visit so we could plan around their schedules and make sure we were focusing our time properly. We definitely came home with a lot of happy accidents and unexpected moments captured.
After production, our editor (Dillon Hayes) transcribed our interviews and assembled a rough edit that we used as a solid starting ground to craft the story.
The sound design is great; how do you think about sound?
I’ve been working with the same sound designer/production audio engineer for over 10 years now. We have a great shorthand and are able to come up with some really awesome stuff together. His name is Jeremiah Nave. Because I know and trust Jeremiah so much, I am able to take some big risks with the story that will only make sense to an audience if the sound design elements are achieved. I love the idea of either seeing things you can’t hear or the other way around. We were able to really exercise those methods with this short film.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
This is a tough question. I don’t know if I really have an answer for it. I will say that five years ago I saw Directing as a competitive field. I’ve worked hard to not think that way anymore. Every filmmaker has his or her attractions and inspirations that other filmmakers may or may not share. I just like to be inspired by other work and I try to be a kind, accepting, patient Director with my crew that has a strong knowledge of what I want from them. I hear a lot of horror stories about filmmakers not knowing what they want. I don’t think there is time for that on set and if I don’t know exactly what it is that I want, it’s at least beneficial to know what I don’t want.
What is currently the hardest part of doing what you do?
Paying the bills, for sure. Haha. It’s a tough industry to become established and financially comfortable. The goal, of course, is for my personal projects to become sustainable. Until then, just like all other filmmakers, I have to supplement with commercial work, crewing work, etc.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
This is a two part answer. 1. Hearing that something I’ve made has inspired someone else. 2. The freedom of being in a creative industry and not having to constantly do what someone else tells me too (this, of course, isn’t the case all the time).
What are some of your favorite stories, web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by lately?
I am a constant movie watcher. I feel like I watch almost every feature film that comes out in a year and, though many of them are great films, only one or two stick with me and give me chills. The most recent things I’ve seen that have stuck with me is Aronofsky’s “Mother!” and the “Narcos” Netflix series. Oh, and anything from Australia… I love Australian cinema.
When it comes to short form content, I feel like everyday I can get on Vimeo and find something that moves me. A lot of it is work that my close friends and colleagues make. People like Dustin Lane, Hayden Mason, Daniel Henry, Dillon Hayes, and Michael Carter. There is nothing that lights a fire under your ass to create like watching your friends make great work.