Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Interview with Colin Cunningham, actor/director of "Centigrade"

I'm a big fan of short form film... and for various reasons. As a filmmaker, they're great and economical ways to explore a subject matter. Features cost a ton of dough and take lots of time and man-hours to make. If you can make a short, based on a bigger idea, you have something to show financiers, studios or executives. You can also enter it in festivals and drum up interest. They're great calling cards, you have a better chance of getting people to actually watching them and they're easier to get into film festivals. Also, short form films are easily distributed through the web... Once again, a great way to get your content out there and in front of people and that's really what you want. At the end of the day, if you're looking to make a name for yourself or get noticed, short form film offers a lot of opportunities.

Now, because of all that, we've had a lot of short form films sent our way over the last few years and have seen a few people go on to big things because of them. Most notably are the Fewdio guys and Paul Campion, who, between the two of them, made some of our favorite films of the year; "Nightmare House", "Eel Girl", etc... Recently, we had the opportunity to watch "Centigrade", by Colin Cunningham, and it now joins the ranks of those films that I just mentioned. The film is both mysterious and satisfying, as it leaves you with some questions, but, really... you don't care that they're not answered. The film is set up perfectly and effectively and it delivers in the end, which is everything you want from a short. That goes without mentioning the cinematography, which nails the claustrophobic and tense look and feel. The film is exactly what a short horror film should be and, not only that, it leaves you wanting more. We had the opportunity to discuss the film with Colin...

Tell us a bit about your short film, "Centigrade"

CENTIGRADE is film about karmic justice. Inspired by Steven Spielberg's (almost forgotten) classic DUEL, a man lives in an old, broken down Airstream travel trailer, but wakes up one morning to discover that he is, in fact, rolling down a desert highway. Towed by a mysterious black pick up truck, the man has to use his wits in order to survive. The film started with Producer (and business partner) Madison Graie. I had actually written the script 14 years previously and she recommended I blow the dust off it and see if it was still worth looking at. It was actually the DGC (Directors Guild Canada) that inspired a re-look because of their annual KICK START AWARD. A couple hundred people go for the thing, to which they only pick 3 or 4. If we could win the award, it would be $20,000 (the films budget). So, we applied. We won. And away we went.

Also, I'd like to mention that everybody thinks that 'credibility' only comes with a feature. If it's not 90 minutes, it's worthless. And nothing could be further from the truth. Some of the best films I saw in 2009 were all shorts. Mind blowing works. Films 6 minutes long packing more punch than most 2 hour epics. It all started with the short format. Hal Roach, Chaplin. All geniuses. And as any lover of good cinema will tell you. It's not how long it is, but what you do with it.

I had absolutely NO interest in acting in the film. If anything, I was somewhat retiring from acting and phasing into directing full time. I've been in a stable of directors over at CMT (Country Music Television) as well as having worked a number of other indie film projects and it was time to make the jump full time. I had actor Callum Rennie slated to play the lead, but we couldn't lock schedules down. So I reluctantly put on the acting hat as well.

You did a great job of creating a claustrophobic atmosphere in the trailer and the camerawork was fantastic. Talk about creating that look and feel

Cinematographer KEVIN HALL, Madison and myself spent a great deal of time working that out. To create an environment that felt like you we're trapped inside an iron lung, as opposed to hanging out in one of those fun, Airstream travel trailers cruising around on holiday.

You not only played the lead role, you also wrote and directed the film. Talk about balancing all your roles out

It was hell. And I mean that. An incredibly hard thing to do. To act in a film that you're directing, isn't really that big of a deal. Provided that you're sitting in an office, or doing a simple walk and talk. No problem. But for this, this was off the chart. And again, it was 'not' an ego thing. I didn't want to act in it. I really didn't. Fortunately, I had Madison guiding the performance from the other side of the camera. Still, on our last day of shooting, I swore I'd never do it again. That kind of stuff will put you in the hospital.

The film has a distinct ending, but does leave the audience with a few questions... the main one is, who's doing this to this guy? Is this on purpose or... is there something I'm missing?

Well, I don't want to give anything away, but no, you didn't missing anything. It's deliberately ambiguous. It's left up to the audience to put their own two cents in there. But it's essentially a tale of karmic justice. The dark irony of what happens when the 'trapper' becomes entrapped.

Okay, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into film?

Madison and I adore film. We both started out as actors on stage and have such a great passion for it. To be on stage, in a moment of pure magic when you connect with the play, the character, the audience. It's incredible. But with film, you can actually capture that 'moment'. To record it. To trap it on film forever. Replay it. Put it in the mail. Wow. To attempt that kind of thing thing is why we're filmmakers.

Film school: Yes or No?

I did go to film school. But there wasn't anything I learned there technically that I couldn't have learned in 3 days on a film set. I don't knock film schools, but I would strongly recommend you DO NOT take a 4 year program and put yourself a 100,000 in debt. That's insanity.

When you set out to make "Centigrade", what was your goal? Was it to get accolades at festivals, was it to open doors, was it financial? Did you accomplish those goals with it?

We'd made a lot of movies. Shorts, music videos, features. And certainly not all of them were as successful as Centigrade. But Centigrade has proven what can be done with 15 minutes. I can only pray that it inspires others to get out there and do the same. But it started out as a presentation pilot for a tv show. But to see how it would be received, we began submitting to film festivals. Then iTUNES heard about the film and we made a deal. And not only did Centigrade make the Top Ten List of 'Best Shorts' on iTUNES, but it was also the first short film in iTUNES history to break the TOP TEN in FEATURE downloads. We literally made it along side such mega Hollywood Blockbusters as IRON MAN and INDIANA JONES (Crystal Skull). These are 60-80 million dollars flicks. And to be a 20,000 dollar 'short'... to make it onto such a list with people like Steven Spielberg is just incredible. But the icing on the cake had to be making the short list for an Academy Award Nomination last year. We qualified by taking Best Short at Cinequest in California and made it through the first couple rounds after that. Pretty cool.

All in all. The project has accomplished what we'd always prayed for. It started out as a presentation pilot for a tv show. And it has served us quite well in that regard. We went to the Banff Film and Television market in Canada and have since partnered up with some great companies in bringing 13 episodes of DARKARMA (the tv show) to the small screen. We've just formally locked down show runner, Sam Egan, are in negotiations with both network and distributor and it's all systems go.

The film won various awards at film festivals, so you obviously entered a bunch. Talk about the festival scene. Is it something that every filmmaker should get involved in?

Absolutely. But the tough part is that you never know which one is going to be a bust. You just don't know. You think, just because 'such and such' is the biggest, then it's the best. When in fact, it's a tiny festival where you may want to be. Plus, it's a bit of an unpublicized truth, but SO many film festivals are nothing more than a racket. Pure and simple. When submitting, you may wonder if they actually ever watched your film. But you can be damn sure they cashed your check. I've always said, want to make money in film? Don't start a film company. Start a film festival.

Talk about the horror and indie horror scene. Where do you think it is now and where do you see it going?

It's an exciting right now. Incredibly exiting. And if you're a filmmaker, try not to get too caught up in 'what's happening now' or where it's going. Learn as much as you can about what is happening in terms of the industry, distribution etc. Just don't forget to get out there and SHOOT!

Where can people find out more about "Centigrade" or get their hands on a copy?

iTUNES is perhaps the easiest place to get hold of it. Just type in 'Centigrade' in the search window. But also, keep a look out for the feature version of Centigrade and, of course, the tv series inspired by it. The new show is called DARKARMA. The first show in the history of television devoted entirely to the concept of karmic justice.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

I hope someone deletes the spam ahead of me.
Anyway, I have seen Centigrade and have met Colin on a couple of occasions. He is truly deserving of the success of this feature. It is an amazing feature and he is a genuinely wonderful guy.
I hope we see more in the near future.

Dead Harvey said...

Hey Lauretta,

I deleted it... not sure why I get so much spam on here.

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great interview.

Silly place for spam if you ask me.

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Yeah... and I get a lot of it, for some reason.

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