Friday, November 11, 2011

Beneath the Festival: An Interview With Jeff Pinilla

After watching the official selection for this year's Beneath the Earth Film Festival I decided to interview Jeff Pinilla, director of the Audience Award winner, After Ever After. Given that both Jeff and I are currently in different parts of the world, I was more than impressed by his willingness to talk about his work for my site (ahem, take a cue up-and-coming filmmakers in Latin America...). Jeff was extremely helpful and you can see he has a real passion for his work. One of the things that made me curious about him, was the bio in the festival site where he reveals his passion for film began quite early in his life.

After Ever After is Pinilla's first short film after a notable career in television and advertising. While the film lacks a bit of mood and a harder punch near the climax, it more than makes up for it with inventive technique and some little moments that feel both intimate and universal. I forgot to tell Jeff, that a few lines in his movie seem to have been extracted out of my very own love life. I remembered to tell him this...

Jose: Watching the film one can't help but get the idea that it's very autobiographical (then you get to the credits and see it's based on a story you wrote). Is it autobiographical on any level?

Jeff: It's absolutely autobiographical. I went through one of the most excruciating heartbreaks I've ever felt in my life. I had been through breakups before and I remember thinking "okay, Jeff... two weeks and you should be okay." I kept psyching myself out by breaking down my emotions into these weekly phases. Obviously, it wasn't that easy. I was sleeping in my office, trying to find an apartment, I was obsessed with a commercial I was working on, and I couldn't figure out a way to get this girl out of my head Now, some parts in the script are exaggerated, but the emotions that I felt were in the script which I think helped make it completely honest.

Jose: I loved the way in which you capture some tiny details that make a difference. For example

when Sidney and his friend are playing pool, they have a short exchange that's filled
with pitch perfect timing. Would you say you plan this nuances or is some of this luck?

Jeff: It would be a lie if I said it's completely planned. Every time you're on set you get happy surprises.
A lot of this scene, however, was planned. There's definitely some choreographed moments like the crossing of the 180 when the conversation has a power shift and Dan's subtle moment of putting Sydney in his place by saying "what's your target demo". There's also a subtle moment in the beginning when the title card reads "Saturday morning" and we see them wake up together. This same title card appears later on when he wakes up at 1pm. The significance behind this is that Saturday morning is when you really feel the emptiness. One Saturday, you're waking up with her by your side and the next, you find yourself alone waking up in the worst way in the middle of the afternoon. It's very subtle and you'll only really know what this means if you really dig for it.

Jose: Michael Furlong gives a great performance in the film. Can you please share a bit about your process while directing actors.

Jeff: The process of finding Michael was funny, actually. Originally I was going to play the role myself (like every naive first time director usually does). The only reason I even considered it was based on a passage I read where Chaplin said "the only reason I ever starred in my films was to elevate my directing." I didn't want to risk it, so I decided to hold a casting call and when I saw Michael I was convinced. About two months prior to shooting, I made it a priority to really know how his mind works. We spent almost every night going to bars, playing pool, having conversations. When we were on set and he had his emotional breakdown scene, I came into the set in the morning and pretended that me and my father got into a big fight. He knew I was upset so I got him to start giving me advice by talking about his own personal problems he has had. The thought of loss lingered with him all day.

Jose: I enjoy the way in which you mix fantasy with reality. Sometimes I was reminded of 8 ½, would you say that was an influence? Can you mention filmmakers who have influenced you.

Jeff: It's crazy how you were spot on. 8 ½ was a complete 100 percent influence. I tend to drift into the Fellini/ Jonze/ Gondry realm with my style. It's not just with this film, but also with all my commercial work. Those are the guys that are my day to day influence. They have both style and substance.

Check out one of Jeff's commercials:
Jose: I was very impressed by the editing work. Knowing that you have a background in television, you can see the quick cuts and the flashy moments but you also managed to create a great symmetry with longer takes and subtle cuts. In the future would you like to work more in movies or TV?

Jeff: Well, the only reason I ever started working in TV was because I had the freedom to create 30 second short films. Essentially, that's what an Ad is. I have the opportunity to tell a story in 30 seconds and I do my best to incorporate a little bit of style, a strong message, and a sell. I mean, if you can't tell a story in 30 seconds what makes you think you can tell one in an hour and a half? 

Jose: I come from a third world country where the film industry is barely starting and official film education is very flawed. How important would you say is the importance of a film  degree in a global context?

Jeff: I got myself a film degree and to be honest, I contemplated framing it everyday. Yes, a film degree is an awesome thing to have but it's not the degree itself that gives you the ability to chase your dreams. It's about the knowledge and experience you gain from going to a school that focuses on your passion. I don't believe there is such a thing as an official film school education. I've learned more in my two years out of school than I did at anytime in film school. 

Check out After Ever After and all the other films here.

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