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David A. Holcombe
2014, 82m, comedy, experimental, romance
GRAFFITO tells the story of a graffiti artist struggling to express himself within the context of an increasingly digitized and violent world that encourages disconnect and apathy. The film endeavors to present a vibrant and beautifully complex artistic community thriving in the Logan Square/Avondale neighborhoods of Chicago by using local crew, local actors, musicians, painters, graffiti artists, and locations; the film also strives to elevate art as a means of cultural expression rather than glossy entertainment.
Produced by: David A. Holcombe, Heather Mingo, Nicholas Reise
Cast: Antonio Brunetti, Michelle M. Oliver, Kristin T. King, Brittany Ellis, Natalie DiCristofano, Nicole Wiesner, David Steiger
10 questions with Graffito director, David A. Holcombe at the half-way mark.
Thursday, May 12th, 2016
1Hi David! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Spring festival. First, what was the initial seed behind Graffito? Heather, John, and I were excited about the idea of updating the classic French New Wave genre for the modern era. Those films were a direct reaction to the stale mainstream formulaic way of making films, as well as an anarchic political statement. The epitome of those impulses are manifest in the life and daring of Chicago graffiti artists.
2Heather Mingo and John Sutton were the writers for this film. What was it like working with them and what was it about the script that made you want to direct it? We worked very organically through the structure of the film during filming. I believe the initial script was no more than 20 pages, and it covered the first act, part of the second act and maybe a scene or two of the end. We basically began shooting every day with a handful of ideas that I had extrapolated from the written script and we filmed until the ideas ran out, or the weather froze Antonio's feet.
3I live in Chicago too and saw lots of familiar Logan Square landmarks. Why did you choose to shoot in that neighborhood? Logan Square is a vibrant and exciting mix of people, culture, and architecture. It is a community in transition due to the forces of gentrification. There is a tension between those moving into the area and those with established roots. Our protagonist is an artist who believes that he is at least partially responsible for pioneering the culture that attracts a more affluent residents to the neighborhood. Now he is being priced out of his home. It feels unjust to him, just like it must have felt to those that his generation displaced.
4This film takes a heavy stance on technology and politicians. What are your thoughts on the current i-telephone age? While technology can make things convenient, there is a cost. It eats up our attention. We become distracted. We begin to interact with the world in a virtual way. We're concerned with how our experiences will translate online rather than living in the moment. One scene in particular that has been the source of some controversy is the protest scene near the beginning of the film. A group of students shown staring at their phones during a rally were incensed at their portrayal in the film. We showed up with our cameras and happened to document an unstaged moment of total disconnect. A protest can be an opportunity for powerful connection between motivated and focused energies. Instead, we witnessed a lot of play-acting for cameras: it was more important to be seen at the event online than to be present and engaged.
5Your first feature was a horror film called Yellow. What did you learn from that shoot that better prepared you for this film? This film was a direct reaction to that experience. Yellow was very much a formal challenge. It was our first feature film and we were determined to up our game in terms of professionalism and production value. With Graffito, I wanted to throw all of those concerns out the window and try to make a film about ideas. I wanted to create beauty through energy and expression. The quality and meaning of the images in Graffito has nothing to do with lighting or smooth camera movement. I framed everything based on what I was getting from the creativity and vitality of our amazing acting ensemble. I did my best to stay in the moment and accept everything that was happening around me rather than trying to bend the environment to my will. One example is the scene in which Graffito emerges from his "rabbit hole" experience in a park. We initially began filming that scene earlier in the day at a different park and were kicked out by the police. I was panicked that we had lost our light. We ran to another park nearby and I just started rolling. The scene became magic: the setting sun created beautiful flares in the camera, a young girl skipped through the scene, dandelions blew in the wind.
6You also shot and edited this film. What are your thoughts about director's wearing multiple hats? Do you think that's a more pure form of filmmaking or do you think having collaborators is more important? It totally depends on the project, but in general I like to edit my own films. The biggest reason is time. On set, I can shoot only what I need because I know how I plan to put it together and don't need multiple "options". I also believe that the on-set rhythm translates directly to the edit. I've edited feature films on which I was not a part of production and it takes a lot of detective work to determine and establish a rhythm in an edit, especially when it contrasts with that on-set. I love working with DPs. But my wearing so many hats on Graffito was partly a joke. I wanted to make the film as an ego maniacal "filmmaker" character. I set up artificial constraints to serve the story. The basic premise is mirrored in the subject choice: how can a filmmaker shoot a film as if he is a graffiti artists? No permits, no permission, limited tool kit, taking risks, running around the neighborhood. Writing, directing, shooting, editing on the fly. Accountable to no one but the artistic impulse.
7What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? Six Figures Getting Sick by David Lynch
8This is a very experimental film. The acting is over the top, there are moments when you're conscious there are people shooting the movie, and the story is not a traditional one. What is it about experimental cinema that appeals to you? I get bored easy. I hate a film that begins and is SO traditional in its approach that I know exactly each beat in advance and how it's all going to end. I want films to surprise and delight. I really think a film only feels experimental if it doesn't work. While our approach is experimental, I don't watch Graffito and think of it as experimental. Nothing is totally random. We weren't just beating off on-screen. We all made the strongest possible decisions at every step in the process and it worked......right?
9We are in such an interesting time to be making films. What are your thoughts on the current state of indie cinema? I think this is the best time to be a filmmaker. I hear a lot of older filmmakers lamenting the digital revolution. They're just feeling threatened. Films used to be so expensive that the barrier to entry was insurmountable to a lot of otherwise promising artists. It was an exclusive club. Now ANYONE can make a film on their phone. Of course there is a lot of noise out there, a lot of shitty films. There are also a lot of shitty books, but I don't hear anyone arguing that pencils should be more expensive.
10What's next? We're in production right now on Breaking, our followup to our most recent short film, Pilgrim. We have a feature length Native American documentary in production and a feature horror film about a woman that believes her fish is god in preproduction. I'm editing a feature length documentary I shot three years ago in Spain. Other than that, just chillin with my baby boy.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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