This past Friday the short film Ophelia
began screening at the 2016 LA Shorts Fest. The piece touches on fear, expectation, pressure, and ambition through a the first few minutes of a job interview with the title character. I was able to view and review the film for myself not too long ago.
Answering a few questions himself is Anthony Garland, the director. Garland has acted in a number of small film and television roles, and assisted other directors in filming such music videos as Lana Del Ray’s “Summertime Sadness”.
What did you want to be when you were seven-years-old?
THAT question! … A superhero. Super strength and invulnerability would be preferable but I definitely had to be able to fly. I was obviously past the age where you know that powers don’t exist, but I remember being pretty sure that I’d be the exception. I grew up reading comics before the characters had this cinematic renaissance; that was really my education in storytelling, art direction and frame composition.
What was the strangest question you’ve ever been asked in a job interview?
I’ve actually been relatively safe in interviews and auditions thus far… I feel like I’m the one asking the strange questions a lot of the time, but that’s deliberate! Just the nature of status and hierarchy, we forget that we’re all just individuals, regardless of position, and a job interview is as much for you as it is for the people that might hire you; so questions, however wacky, are a good way to set up a back and forth rather than sitting through an interrogation, which is what most bad interviews feel like.
Do you have any strategies when it comes to interviewing for a job [or auditioning for a role]? [How do you deal with pressure?]
Sure, and maybe this comes from having a background in acting, but so long as the focus is on something external, like engaging with the person opposite you by asking those questions, or really taking them in, then there’s no space to be self conscious.
There’s a popular quote that talks about the thin line between comedy and tragedy, but I think the latter is close enough that it can be switched out for horror.
There’s obviously a lot of humour that can be found in job interviews, and that actually crops up a bit in the first few minutes of the film. With that in mind, why lean more towards the other side of the coin [horror], genre-wise?
We had an opportunity to create an aesthetic that felt different to most other shorts or films out there. The crew on the short were spectacular – Dan Katz our cinematographer is world class, so is Jeremy White our production designer and his phenomenal crew, and all of them just so creative and artistic. So whereas I wouldn’t call the short a horror, we were able to shoot it like one, which plays more to themes and the internal lives of the characters. And that’s one of the best things about short films as a medium, is you can take risks with your visual expression in a way you might not be able to when you’re a young filmmaker trying to reassure and placate the financier or distributor responsible for getting your film off the ground.
As someone who’s currently low-key jobhunting I’ve come across articles that talk about the first five to ten minutes of the interview being the most important. With that in mind a short film feels like the perfect format in which to film the experience. Did you ever give any thought towards making it any longer?
Rather than filming the experience of an interview, I wanted to try and capture the essence of it and allow that to be a context for Ophelia’s story; to let there be a through-line within the parameters of an interview and all that comes with it. Someone once described an effective short as a setup/punchline, and that’s something we were trying to achieve. From the inception of the idea, we were always talking about making a ‘shorter’ short film. I have enormous respect for people that pull off those incredible thirty and forty minute shorts, but with the story we were trying to tell and some of the more ambitious elements of the shoot, it didn’t want to be much longer.
As someone who studied a good amount of Shakespeare back in the day I have to ask: was there any significance in titling your short film Ophelia?
Absolutely. I refer to her character as Ophelia, and the title is the same, but we don’t call her that by name in the actual film. Shakespeare’s Ophelia is such a tragic character, completely defined by other’s perceptions and trying so hard to be loved that she goes insane and it leads to her death. And I always felt like there was an Ophelia in all of us, and how crazy it is that so much of what we do is for the approval of other people based on abstract perceptions. Basically we’re all quite mad.
Given that you’re an actor yourself, what was it like being on the other side of the camera, both in terms of directing and then editing the shot footage?
I grew up in the theatre, so my initial experiences of acting and drama came from putting a bunch of people together on a stage and working it all out. That doesn’t really happen in TV and film for all sorts of reasons, not least of which because it’s incredibly expensive to shoot. It doesn’t make it better or worse, just the nature of the beast. Directing is the closest thing I’ve found to that working culture. Having a crew all working together to solve the problem. It’s exciting and frenetic and rewarding. I have huge respect for every last person on a film set. I also love working with actors, so from that perspective it’s a lot of fun.
Editing was something different all together. I don’t think acting gave me much, if any prep for that. Editing is HARD! I’d recommend anyone wanting to be better at filmmaking or storytelling should do it. It forces you to be so selective and specific with your choices. You cut anything extraneous, even the things your love but just aren’t working. There’s that overused expression about a film being made three times, in the script, in the camera and in the edit. But if writing is where you find and craft the story, shooting the picture is a mad dash to capture any and every interpretation of the material, then editing teaches you how to make film.
Come back tomorrow for another interview with Ali Mueller, Ophelia herself!