Meet Indie Filmmaker: THE MAGICIAN

We speak to directing duo Taylor Alexander Ward and Valentina Avayu about their atmosphere piece, The Magician, a recent submission to ECU’s Non-European Dramatic Short category. Their questions shed some light on an enigmatic story of one person s attempt to face up to a terrible loss.

By Katie Jackson

Q: The film has a very personal feel to it. Did the project deal with a subject that was close to you?

Valentina: The process of loss in everyday life is a close to my heart. The idea of experiencing something for a particular time, and then having it end, and all the subsequent feelings about it, is certainly a theme in my life. This concept is what first interested me in the story.

Q: According to the credits, the film is based on a story. What kind of story is it? Where did you find it and how did you adapt it for the screen?

Taylor: A friend had written The Magician as a short story. It had a lot of cinematic qualities that we believed would easily lend themselves well to the screen. When writing the screenplay we felt very strongly that we didn’t want to simply adapt the short story to a screenplay form, but instead start somewhat from scratch. Almost all of the beats that you see in the film are present in the short story, but we made a point of telling the story through picture and performance as opposed to text. The narration required the most reshaping. We had to pick and chose what would be said in voice-over versus what would simply be seen. Since the story is so grounded in a single POV, in a sense the voice-over and the images are the same thing.

Q: How did you choose your locations?

Valentina and Taylor: We wanted something American and Timeless a house that we all had seen before generic and comfortable, yet domestically cinematic. We shot at a friends home and knew right away that it would be perfect. We didn’t even consider an alternative. The church was more problematic. We probably looked at 25 churches before picking the current one. It was important to find something intimate, without much religious iconography.

Q: The lighting is very polished. Did you experiment before deciding on the final effects?

Valentina and Taylor: Not really. We deeply trusted our cinematographer, Matt Lloyd. We decided to shoot 35mm black and white very early on, and gathered mood images. From there we mostly just worked off of image references.

Q: The narrative begins at the mid-point of the story, facts unravel gradually, and indeed by the end of the piece the characters still remain largely anonymous. As a result the film is very elliptical. The magician is an especially mysterious presence. Was this approach designed to privilege atmosphere over plot?

Taylor: I think the plot really exists within the atmosphere, and therefore we knew that if the world was not precise, then the narrative aspect would most likely fail. Whereas if the world succeeded, we still had room to play with the plot points.

Q: The film appears to allegorise the grieving process. Was this your intention?

Valentina: Absolutely.

Taylor: Yes and no. I d like to think some people out there aren’t quite as indifferent as the characters in the film.

Q: There is some palpable tension between the characters views on death, the dead, and then scepticism over magic what is the link between these in your opinion?

Taylor: Rather than making any sort of concrete statements, the intention was simply to present questions about the real versus the unreal, and leave them purposefully ambiguous so the audience would be forced to participate. We definitely attempted to maintain this enigmatic quality in the film.

Valentina: The link is the way in which people react.

Q: The soundtrack becomes very prominent in one instance, almost as if it takes over the narrative. Who wrote it and how did you come up with it?

Valentina: We tried different music pieces looking for something enigmatic and playful It engages you right when the Magician engages the audience.

Q: For a short film there is a large cast with a great variety of ages. How did you meet/choose your actors and actresses?

Taylor and Valentina: Lots and lots of casting. We had to basically create a family for the deceased man. We were shocked by the amount of responses and interesting people who were very eager to participate in an ensemble cast movie. The casting process was extremely entertaining.

Q: Tell me about your next project?

Valentina: I ve just wrapped on my latest short about premature sexual awakening, and I m currently developing my next movie which is set to shoot May. Its an hour long film about a possessive man and his blind girlfriend.

Taylor: I m finishing my first feature script. It s essentially a post apocalyptic love story.

 

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