Below is a Q&A with Jared Varava from the American filmmaking duo, the Varava Brothers. As one of the longer shorts on the Aesthetica Shorts DVD, it’s a brilliant narrative that highlights the modern-day dilemma. A man decides that his life needs to be changed. He takes an enlightening and competitively priced journey of self-discovery in today’s self-obsessed world.
How did you begin filmmaking?
I made a horror movie with my friend John Westberg in high school called BLOOD PARTY. More than anything it was an excuse for us to build a bunch of elaborate gore effects and to murder off horribly clichéd versions of the teenage cliques we didn’t like. We thought we were revolutionaries. Turns out we were just angsty teenagers.
Who and what are your influences?
There are so many: William Eggleston, Bob Dylan and Godard who will forever be the most mind-boggling filmmaker, but in a good way. Also the Coen Brothers, coffee, whiskey and girls. The usual stuff, I guess.
What do you try to achieve through your filmmaking?
I had to write a thesis paper in college to accompany my final film and in it I argued in favour of creating a filmic tone that emulated the emotional result of combining the evocations of punk and folk music. To me that means an unbridled, sometimes forceful sense of urgency with a clear and sincere understanding of its purpose and subject matter, a smart, scathing sense of humour, seen through a beautiful, if not somewhat unrefined, aesthetic in hopes of really creating a deep empathy for the characters of a particular narrative. I think I’m still trying to achieve something along those lines.
Can you tell me about the balance between cinematography and narrative, which takes precedence?
I think it’s a balance of all things. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful, horrible movies and I’ve also seen a lot of movies with interesting story lines that would have been so much more effective with a better DP. We really lucked out with Damian because he has an amazing capacity to understand and internalise the overall tone of the film and then translate that into lights and lenses. A DP like that considers not only the narrative of the film when setting up shots, but the end product itself (music, pacing, etc.) and does his part—as every department does—to work towards a unified IDEA of what the final film is supposed to become. In terms of one aspect of the production or another taking precedence, I think that’s a bit of a dangerous approach.
Talk me through the process of making a film – working practice, shooting, collaborations, funding?
Working in independent films, the process is usually dictated to us by whatever circumstances happen to present themselves. It’s really an art of survival. We always try to surround ourselves with talented people whose work we know and trust, we try to be as meticulous in our planning as possible and account for every potential hiccup along the way, we try to encourage input and discussion while maintaining a rigid schedule, but it always comes down to problem solving and pressing on until each part of the process has been adequately fulfilled.
What was the most challenging aspect of making your film?
THE SHADOW EFFECT was a pretty ambitious project from the beginning. It required some large sets and cumbersome art direction (the recycling plant), a car chase, several different locations, a truckload of heavy gear, an additional production within the production (the soap opera), and just a lot of small details and moving parts that had to work in unison. If I had to pick one, I’d say the colour correction process was the most challenging. We worked out a deal with a high-profile post house to colour correct the film for a minuscule amount of money. These types of deals are great to keep the budget down but can come with incredibly frustrating repercussions. In this case, we had to work with a roving cast of night crew colourists, assistants, and interns who would randomly be assigned to our project. Each time a new person got involved there was a lengthy period of familiarising themselves with the project and, on more than one occasion, familiarising themselves with the colouring hardware itself. Over the course of a week or so we’d chip away, shot-by-shot, somewhere between the hours of midnight and 6 am. By the time we finished I remember having absolutely no idea if the film had a uniform look to it or not.
How would you define cinema culture today? How easy is it to make a film versus the process involved with screening and distribution?
Cinema culture is a subjective term. I think there are different cinema cultures existing simultaneously and all of them are accessible if one is so inclined to seek them out. Arguably the main cinema culture, Hollywood, is what it always is: the loudest, most publicised, most disappointing and sometimes most pleasantly surprising culture, but a quick spin through Netflix, a visit to the local independent movie theatre, a scan of various Vimeo channels, and it should become pretty obvious that there’s really no shortage of different styles and approaches to filmmaking and that with a little effort any taste, no matter how mainstream or obscure, can be satiated.
How do you feel short films fit into today’s cinema culture?
Sadly, I think that short films are largely disregarded in today’s cinema culture. I guess the argument could be made that everything posted on YouTube or Dailymotion or Vimeo is a short film, the internet has allowed for (and demanded) an influx of short form media, but I see a drastic distinction between a short film and a viral video. Short films, at least ones that are made with a certain degree of integrity and professionalism, are rarely seen by wide audiences outside of film festival screenings or the occasional international in-flight entertainment. They are most often screened to audiences that actively seek them out. They are primarily calling cards, and in our case a way to avoid stagnation while attempting to get a feature off the ground, which hopefully doesn’t sound too jaded, because I do like short films.
How do you make yourself stand out from other filmmakers? What’s your plan for marketing your films?
Admittedly, we are not the best at marketing our material. We try really hard to make genuinely good, interesting films and hope that they are appreciated as such.
What are your future plans?Make bigger and better movies, and hopefully pay back all the talented people who have done incredibly generous favours for us in the past.