A dedicated filmmaking cadre of SCAD grads and students known as the Dandy Dwarves have made quite an impression on the Savannah Film Festival. The 28-minute The World Outside won the coveted HBO Best Student Film Award at last year’s festival, as well being named Best Savannah College of Art and Design Student Film.
This year, the Dandy Dwarves have submitted a 23-minute look at the journey of a conflicted young man (played by Michael Porten) into a world at war in An Abstraction on the Chronology of Will. We spoke with three Dwarves, producer Josh Lind and codirectors Kevin Phillips and Ben Collins.
Connect Savannah: This is long for a student feature, so give us a breakdown of the plot.
Ben Collins: A young guy gets a girlfriend, and she breaks up with him abruptly. His life goes downhill from there, and he becomes a Special Op soldier. He ends up in a foreign conflict and is taken prisoner. He’s pretty much gonna die until an act of divine intervention saves him.
Connect Savannah: Why this concept?
Kevin Phillips: For our senior project Ben and I wanted to do something completely different than The World Outside, something more subtle. Something really pertinent, really personal. Josh and the Dandy Dwarves always shoot through ideas, so it’s kind of an amalgamation of everything we liked. It’s a huge melting pot of all of our creative ideas.
Connect Savannah: This takes place during wartime, so the obvious question is, are you specifically commenting on current events?
Kevin Phillips: If you live in a world at war these ideas come up more often. It’s certainly not a direct comment, but then again you can’t ignore that that’s a situation inside the current worldview.
Connect Savannah: Have the Dandy Dwarves improved any methodology in the wake of last year’s success with The World Outside?
Kevin Phillips: The biggest step we’ve made as a production crew is in realizing what a production team actually means. One person isn’t overworked as much. Each person focuses on their individual thing. We love wearing lots of hats -- this school brought us up well in knowing how to do everything -- but it was counterproductive to do that because the project was so big.
Connect Savannah: Dandy Dwarves productions generally have outstanding production values. How do you get funding?
Josh Lind: We’ve been blessed with the fact that whenever we’ve needed a certain amount of money we’ve found it.
Connect Savannah: How many Dwarves are there in total?
Josh Lind: There are basically eight people pretty involved in everything we do. From there we have a whole cast of people who want to be involved in every way they can.
Connect Savannah: What’s next for you all?
Ben Collins: We’re writing several different ideas right now. Then we’ll see what everybody wants to do. Of course I’d love to write something that’s nothing but dialogue, but the idea behind the Dwarves is that what everybody wants is the idea we do.
Connect Savannah: What’s the secret of your continued camaraderie?
Ben Collins: Generally the quality of the Dwarves’ work is so good that people want to stay involved with it. Once they get a taste of it people say, “I want to work with you guys forever.” ƒç
Abstraction on a Chronology of Will screens 11:30 a.m. Monday Oct. 30 at the Lucas Theatre, and 9:30 a.m. Friday Nov. 3 at the Trustees Theatre.
It’s a simple concept: Make a movie documenting a self-portrait in charcoal, stroke by stroke.
It may be simple -- and short, at less than four minutes -- but Reflection of Self by SCAD student Becki Halloway has seen a lot of success on the film festival circuit this year.
Reflection of Self has competed in 24 festivals since it’s completion in 2005, winning Best Student Film at a recent Animation Block Party in New York City.
“It’s a series of eight portraits that evolve from nothing after each pencil stroke,” says Halloway. “It tells a story, and goes through certain stages. There’s an audio dialogue that talks about my process about what kind of journey I go through as I’m drawing. And of course it’s ironic, because I’m drawing myself.”
Halloway herself says the enthusiasm with which her simple project has been received isn’t what she expected. “It’s been a pleasant surprise. I did not anticipate this to do as well as it’s done,” she says. “I sort of made it on a whim. The fact that success wasn’t my intent makes it all the more pleasing.”
Reflection of Self had its genesis during classes at SCAD.
“My professors have noticed I’m an animator and I love movement, so this was kind of their recommendation, to combine portraiture with animation, and find a median in between to marry both of them,” she says. “This is an experiment to try and do that.”
Reflection of Self’s simplicity and minimalism give it a hypnotic effect.
“You’re intrigued and you’re watching this unfold,” Halloway says. “Then of course you have the narration -- people have given me a lot of positive feedback over the narrative itself. They just love to watch this thing come about.”
Halloway plans to continue filmmaking as an avocation.
“By practice I’m a 3D character animator. I aim to do that for a career,” she says. “My mom’s an art teacher, and I grew up in a household based on fine art.” ƒç
Reflection of Self screens at 11:30 a.m. Mon., Oct. 30 at the Lucas Theatre and 9:30 a.m. Nov. 3 at the Trustees Theatre.
SCAD graduate Steven Piet’s entry in the Savannah Film Festival, You’re On in 5, features something somewhat unusual in the typical student film: a professional cast. Piet gave us the lowdown in the following e-mail exchange:
Connect Savannah: Give us an overview of You’re On in 5.
Steven Piet: You’re On In 5 was my senior thesis film that I made at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Ten minutes before he appears on air, Albert Dickerson, a respected news anchor, is handed a story that may change the face of his community. He decides to lead with it on tonight’s evening news. Jason Parker, the newly appointed manager of the news station, has been promoting the younger employees around him. The latest promotion is Freddie, a young technician who is now the new evening news director. After Jason is informed about Albert’s decision to air the controversial story he immediately leaves to confront him about his decision. When Albert shrugs off his young manager he’s threatened and forced into dropping the story. Tom Dodd, the reporter of the story, tries to convince Albert to air his piece anyways and is fired during his attempt. When the anchor appears live on air he sits frozen staring at his set desk as the clock continues to click we await his next move.
Connect Savannah: What inspired you?
Steven Piet: I saw this black and white photograph of a businessman from the ‘50s smoking a cigarette and something really struck me about that image. I was an intern at a news station in Illinois, and I gathered a lot of negative opinions on how the integrity of the stories were being reported.
Connect Savannah: What were some particular challenges you faced?
Steven Piet: The most challenging thing about being a young filmmaker is the amount of hats you must wear in order to see any kind of results. Martin Scorsese said that he found out in school that nobody is going to care about your film as much as you. He also said that this doesn’t change in the independent and studio world of filmmaking either. I feel that not enough weight is put on performance in student films. What I decided to do was put up a ad on the website craigslist.com for actors in the New York area and see what I brought in. Well, 600 headshots later I decided to whittle it down to 15 people and have a casting call in New York. I found a small studio space to rent and flew in to see the 15 actors. I had to fly out the very same day because I didn’t have enough money or time to stay. I cast two SAG actors and flew them down to Savannah and put them up for the week of filming. Most of my budget was spent on the cast, but I couldn’t be more happy with my decision. The other big challenge was finding a news station location for the film. After being denied multiple times from the Savannah news stations I was running out of time and options. My director of photography, Josh Goleman, and I made a trip out to the the University of Georgia to look at their facilities. They generously agreed to let us use 1 of 3 studios as long as we paid for someone to stay and oversee us. We had it for two days which meant we would have to shoot four days of material in two days and build our studio set in less then a week. Somehow with an all-star crew this feat was accomplished.
You’re On in 5 screens 9:30 a.m. Monday, Oct. 30, at the Lucas Theatre and 11:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 3 at the Trustees Theatre.
“Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re really thirsty and you’re looking for water, and then you wake up and you really are thirsty?” asks SCAD student Andrew Shipsides in explaining his new film Bottleneck.
“Here, thirst is a metaphor for sexual desire.”
Shipsides’ 11 minute-long “experimental narrative tells the story of a man “haunted by a demon figure,” specifically the famous minotaur of Greek mythology.
“He comes to realize what desire really is,” Shipsides says. “He sees beyond that initial concept of thirst, and he fights back against it. Eventually he’s able to overcome and identify his problem.”
The director says his film’s altered state gave him a lot of freedom.
“I’m usually more interested in typical narrative filmmaking, in the feature-based, more reality-based sense,” he says. “But I really enjoy visuals, and the structure I used with this allowed me to experiment and have a lot of fun. There’s no dialogue -- it’s strictly visual, based on that experimental dream structure.”
In that metaphorical dream, the protagonist takes a trip through many of his life’s challenges.
Shipsides cast local actor David Andrews for the main part.
“He’s a very unique individual,” Shipsides says. “He’s very expressive, so I knew he’d work well for the part. David’s character sees different parts of his life, encountering a female authority figure in each part. There’s a mother figure, a young high school girl, a secretary – five girls total.” ƒç
Bottleneck screens Monday Oct. 30 at 9:30 a.m. at the Lucas Theatre and Friday Nov. 3 at 11:30 a.m. at the Trustees Theatre.