HI, and welcome to Depth of Field’s first installment of the “Throwback Thursday” blog, featuring independent filmmaker Zach Clark. Every other Thursday, you can look to the Dreamfly team for a #TBT post highlighting some of the very first projects made by filmmakers we love, as well as the tumbles they’ve taken and the new heights they’ve reached since then. This week we have a special treat, a one-on-one interview with Zach himself!
I first met Zach in June 2014, at Dallas’ own Oak Cliff Film Festival. He was at OCFF with his short Be With Me (The Notebook), starring indie darling Sophia Takal. He was participating in a Director’s panel near the Texas Theater and, to my starstruck delight, turned out to be an incredibly friendly and approachable human being. I had seen White Reindeer, Zach’s 2013 feature (which premiered at SXSW that year), several months earlier on Netflix and LOVED it. I wasn’t expecting to have this opportunity to ask a real filmmaker real questions about a real film that I had really seen. Through our growing friendship, Zach has opened my eyes to some of what goes on in the world of independent feature filmmaking. I wanted to share this great human and his great insights with you. Enjoy!
DFLY: For starters, when did it occur to you that you could (or should) make films?
ZC: I got into movies when I was about 14 years old. I had seen Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, and that was the first time the filmmaking process was demystified for me. Like, if this crazy transvestite can steal props and shoot on cardboard sets and call it a movie, why can’t I do that, too? My grandfather gave me a VHS camcorder and I started making movies for school projects, editing them VCR-to-VCR. I started going to this independent video store in town called Video Vault, where I later got a job and that was basically film school before film school. I watched all kinds of movies, but really fell in love with cult films. Euro Art House, and Hollywood Auteurs. Whether or not I should make films is probably up for other people to decide.
Before I really get into Zach’s many successes, I wanted to touch on the “throwback” aspect of our interview. In 2003, he made a feature film called Rock & Roll Eulogy. Suffice to say, it got weird. Check out the trailer above.
DFLY: Rock & Roll Eulogy is….
ZC: R&RE is a teensploitation tragedy about a good girl who goes bad, gets into Satan worship, murders her parents, and becomes literally addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.
DFLY: And White Reindeer is….
ZC: WR is a sad Christmas sex comedy about a young widow who connects with her late husband’s mistress during one sad, strange December in suburban Virginia.
DFLY: Describe the conditions and challenges of making your first film Rock & Roll Eulogy as they compare to the experience of shooting your latest finished feature, White Reindeer.
ZC: Rock & Roll Eulogy was the first movie I made outside of film school. We shot it during my senior year using some lights and sound gear that some of my professors helped us “borrow” from the school. I had been in a car crash that wasn’t my fault, and I got a $1,000 insurance settlement. That seemed like a ton of money, so I decided to use it to make a movie. We really had it drilled in us at film school that you had to feed people every six hours, so we never shot for more than five and a half at a time. We’d shoot half a day, then I’d tell everyone to take a two hour “break” and come back for the second half of the day. I think we bought all the costumes at Salvation Army. We shot on weekends when people were free. It took maybe three or four months. I’m not sure there were challenges really because the stakes were so low.
We had a lot more people and equipment on White Reindeer, and it cost more money, and we fed everyone. On all of my movies, I’ve really tried to take the sense of fun we had when we just kind of casually made Rock & Roll Eulogy and carry that through, so I tried to build some fun things into the shoot. When we needed to decorate the Christmas tree in the movie, I put on some holiday music and had everyone on the crew join in putting up the ornaments. That kinda thing.
DFLY: So was White Reindeer your first film at SXSW?
ZC: It was my second time as a writer/director. Modern Love is Automatic premiered there in 2009, and a movie I edited called Dance Party USA played there in 2006, which is the first year I went, and the first film festival I ever attended. The first “real” film festival. I went to a couple tiny little fests with Rock & Roll Eulogy.
DFLY: What do you think is the largest misconception about the film industry? Or about the people in the film industry?
ZC: I don’t even know that I consider myself part of the film industry yet, but what I have learned over the past few years is that things that would have seemed unachievable to me in film school (i.e. getting a real budget or name actors) are way more accessible than you think. Maybe that’s because I’ve made some movies and they’ve been released and some people like them or that the “industry” is now looking for talent in the micro-budget world, but I think a lot of it is also just that my self-perception has changed. I don’t necessarily think that means that everyone should go make a movie… Like Marge Simpson said, “One person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”
DFLY: I’m gonna have to disagree with you that you’re not “part of the film industry.” White Reindeer is on Netflix. Tell me a little bit about that process and also how IFC is involved.
ZC: IFC released the movie theatrically and on Video-On-Demand in 2013 and the Netflix release was a part of that.
DFLY: Did they approach you to negotiate that deal? What earned you the kind of visibility you’d need to land something like that?
ZC: We had a sales agent, Cinetic, who represented the movie at SXSW, and they dealt with approaching distributors and negotiating the deal.
DFLY: So people actually do sell their movies at film festivals? It’s not just something they told us in sophomore year of film school?
ZC: We didn’t have a deal until a few months after the festival, but IFC did see it at SXSW.
DFLY: That’s really awesome. Can you tell me what has been the hardest part of trying to get your latest script off the ground and into the camera?
ZC: Oy, a little too in the middle of this one to talk about it publicly! Sorry!
DFLY: No that’s good. That means things are happening! On that note, what do you think is the best piece of advice you’ve come across in your career, like a “secrets of the universe” piece of industry advice?
ZC: The only thing I’ve really learned is that “perceived success” is the only thing that matters. If people think you’re successful, that’s all you need.
DFLY: Dreamfly Productions has a short (The Outfit) premiering at the Dallas International Film Festival in less than two weeks time, starring Anna Margaret Hollyman (of White Reindeer). What was directing her like for you?
ZC: Anna Margaret is a dream. She was suggested by a few friends to read for White Reindeer and we all just totally fell in love with her. The movie wouldn’t have worked without her. She understands tone in a really special way. I hope we make a bunch more movies together.
DFLY: That’s what I like to hear! Because the Dreamfly film starring Anna Margaret is a short, I want to hear what you think about shorts. Do you think that the decision to make a short film versus a feature-length project should be based solely upon what the story calls for?
ZC: I used to think shorts were kind of a waste of time. Since technology makes a feature film achievable, they just made the most sense, and that’s what I focused on after film school. Now that I’ve made a few features, shorts are becoming attractive again. Not as calling cards or selling points for features, but as a way to explore smaller ideas, or ideas that are so strange that they couldn’t really be stretched out for 90 minutes. In school we were taught that everything needed to exist in a three-act structure, which is completely ridiculous for a 10-minute movie. I’ve made a couple little things over the past couple years and they’ve been a fun way to work out various obsessions.
THANKS ZACH CLARK! WE LOVE YA!
The Outfit premieres Tuesday, April 14 @ 10PM: DIFF Shorts 3 Screening at The Angelika at Mockingbird Station.
Rachel Wilson, 2015.