- Nice story telling
- Good cinematography
- Attention to detail
The Painter is a stunning short film that will not disappoint
A boy, barely 12-years-old, lives in a world where violence surrounds him. His sole means of survival is to escape the violence outside by creating art. He is alone – abandoned for as long as he can remember. He begins this day like every other: quietly sipping a cup of coffee in his run-down kitchen, walls covered with newspaper clippings that chronicle the epidemic death toll in the inner city. Amid wailing sirens and a squawking police scanner, he sits uncomfortably…cleaning a paintbrush. An interviewer’s voice, unsure of what he is witnessing, asks the boy to explain his existence…his art. Though the police instruct the boy to “return to work”, the interviewer holds them off until finally the boy agrees to show us his art. Step inside the line…his art – a world at war. Are you ready?
There is no single social issue in our cities more tragic than the killing of children and young people in high-risk neighborhoods. Children do not make choices about where they are born, and yet each day in America there are what equate to child soldiers struggling to survive due to the constant violence in their neighborhoods. We’d like to thank PBS for its support of The Painter allowing us to be one more outspoken voice asking ourselves as a nation ‘What are we doing to help these innocent children?’
Interview with the makers of
Tell us a little bit about yourself how you got into filmmaking?
After high school, I enlisted in the army and was stationed in Munich where I became friends with some filmmakers from the Bavaria Film Studios. Hanging out with these guys was inspiring and introduced me to people from all walks of life…people shared my love of cinema but who had made choices to pursue a career in the film industry. Up until then, I never even considered being an artist or working in the film industry. Following a stint in the army, I applied and was accepted into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, a very fine film school, where I got a total immersion in filmmaking. From NYU, I took the plunge and went to Hollywood starting out at the bottom as an assistant and eventually working in development on a range of films from Armageddon to Secondhand Lions. After working for others in development, I realized that I needed to pursue some of my own ideas, which led me to start my own company and seek out films that were more personal to me.
How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
I love Chicago, but you can’t help but notice the daily headlines about the violence and killing that happens here, which seemed utterly foreign to me. Politicians don’t seem to have answers for the violence, and police are doing their best but it has also become a nearly impossible set of circumstances for people living in these high-risk neighbourhoods. The idea for the film came from one of my trips into the city: one day I fell asleep on the “El” and woke up to an article in the Chicago Tribune – it was one of those hot summer nights in Chicago when there was a staggering number of people who had been shot and killed the night before. I missed my train stop reading about the young people who died and ended up on the SouthSide of Chicago, a place in the city I realized I had never been before. The train stop where I ended up turning around was mentioned in the newspaper article…from the platform, I could see the police tape surrounding where a teenage boy had been killed. As father of three children myself, I couldn’t help but be affected. I’m not a cop or a politician, but I am a filmmaker. So, maybe, just maybe, I could tell a story that might get some attention…and maybe, just maybe we could be another small voice in a growing choir of people talking about the violence and how it impacts innocent children. But to pretend this violence isn’t happening or there aren’t victims who are children just doesn’t sit well with me since they’ve done nothing to deserve this type of life. So, we made The Painter hoping to bring awareness to this crisis. Over the course of making The Painter, we met a lot of amazing and caring people – some victims…some non-profit organizations like UCAN and Youth Guidance who are committed to helping young people in these neighbourhoods.
The making of the film made an indelible mark on me as a person – it’s now a place I know with people I know…not a train stop with a bunch of strangers where I’m lost. My next film will take a slightly different approach to the violence and highlight “choices” that young people have in these neighbourhoods…a story that is intended to celebrate those people caught in the crossfire who want to contribute to a healthy community.
Talk us through the process of creating the painter?
I wanted the production of The Painter to be self-contained and still experiment. Our crew on The Painter adopted the motto of “practice what we preach,” since several of us also teach. I love that being a filmmaker means you have to spend time dreaming, and balancing that dreaming with the discipline of doing or finishing a film. And so, in many ways this was as much about the role of discipline in my life. The central problem of a working artist’s life can be taboo in certain circles, perhaps because the answers are at once so obvious and so daunting. Tellingly, the artists who do have strong habits—the writer you can never see on weekends because he’s always tapping away at a new screenplay, the easel painter who disappears into her studio every other evening, despite working full-time hours—are the ones who inspire me. It requires discipline to stay tuned to these truths in the crush and noise of each day, and so making The Painter gave my life meaning in a way I never encountered working in the grind of development.
It’s also worth mentioning that once we started in pre-production it became clear that the film should be more than about the violence…we came to realize it could also be a film that children who had experienced violence in their lives could contribute to the making of the film. So, we worked closely with a couple non-profits and brought kids from high-risk neighborhoods to our set where they could act, or watch or job-shadow and learn about the process of filmmaking from the inside-out. The main actor, although you see only one face on the screen, was essentially comprised out of multiple boys who were stand-ins and doubles. There was one “double” who was the main character’s hands, another for his feet, another for his walk, and so on. This was meaningful to me since the film is about more than just a single boy, it’s about a community of children.
What challenges did you face?
When we set out to put the film together, it was obvious we would need to have a small production team because of the limited resources, which in turn would cause my entire crew to wear a lot of hats. This wasn’t a studio film where everyone was paid to work full-time during pre-production, which is when so much of the crucial design work must be done. So, one of the biggest challenges was getting my crew and me on the same page. The script serves to give everyone a broad sense of story, characters, key props and so on, but technically the script does not communicate specific details. Because I wrote the script, I had very specific ideas, but I had to figure out an efficient way of communicating those ideas beyond the script. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the skills to hand-draw storyboards, and so I set out to teach myself software that allowed me to create 3D storyboards. The software, which acts almost like digital puppeteering, allowed me to create three-dimensional space with three-dimensional objects and characters and move the camera where I wanted. Other than giving direction to the actors, I was essentially “directing the film before I started directing the film” including — where is the best place to put the camera to tell this story? Where should props go relative to camera, characters, etc? What should an actor wear? His hairstyle? Color of the coffee mug? Placement of wall-dressing/ newspapers? And so on….
What was most inspiring for me was that I was able to give these early renderings to my crew as a way to start our creative conversations, which in turn seemed to result in what I consider to be more effective collaboration and “better choices” for the film as a whole. This collaborative work also gave me confidence that when I showed up on set, my main focus would be on the actors and performance, an area that I knew would be critical to the final film. Below are a few examples of these 3D storyboards I created….
What are your plans moving forward?
My company Amarok Production is in post-production on a feature film called Precious Mettle starring Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas), which should be finished later this year.
In general, Amarok is focused on finding universal stories about people and the human condition…stories that move people. Some of the projects we’re developing – a film about Barney Oldfield (a remarkable pioneer in the auto industry), a teen-age romantic comedy, a drama about Multiple Personality Disorder and a road movie of Midwesterners searching for the perfect wave right here on the Great Lakes. If all goes well, I’ll direct a film later this summer for New Chapter Entertainment, a company formed by some really smart and cool former executives for Oprah. It’ll deal with, once again, high-risk neighbourhoods and what it means to be a young person trying to do the right thing.
Main Genre: Drama
How long did it take to shoot: 1 mounth – 2 mounths
Film location (country): United States
Film location (city): Chicago
Filmed on: Arri Alexa
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