- This week on Frame of Mind, we will be featuring a set of short films by North Texas filmmaker, David Lowery. Tune into KERA TV on Thursday, September 18 at 11 PM to catch this week’s episode.
I had the chance to speak with David Lowery on the phone about his films that are being shown:
On My Daily Routine:
I made My Daily Routine at a point where I was just really frustrated with where I was and I wasn’t even making things. There was a lot of red tape I was trying to cut through with other projects, but I really wanted to make something and this film is what I wound up making. The drawings came first and t last thing to come together was the narration.
I sat down and did a bunch of drawings that I felt would convey the story – which is basically what I was doing every day – and then I stitched those together and wrote the narration around them.
I used this specific type of animation partly because I was just lazy – the part where I’m running is about as animated as it gets, it’s as far as I was willing to push in terms of drawing. I don’t consider myself an artist or an animator so I didn’t want to bite off something that I wouldn’t be able to chew. I also just wanted to make something quickly, so if I had done a more traditionally animated movie, it would have taken months.
On his favorite type of filmmaking:
I think I would just sum it all up in that I like to make things that look “handmade.” I want it to feel, to some extent, as if it was made by hand, by one person. Most of the movies I have made have been digital because that is what is easiest for me to do; the means are there for me to make a movie, in my house, all by myself, as I did with Some Analog Lines. I was afforded the ability to do that by digital technology because I didn’t have to rely on anything other than owning a little camera. But I love film too because it has something organic. When you think of something handmade, the idea of an organic texture or of something that is not broken down into 1’s and 0’s comes to mind. And that’s what film innately has – it has that sort of earthy quality to it because it’s imperfect and I love that too. When I can afford to, I love shooting on film because it’s a wonderful way to reach that aesthetic, but it’s often counter intuitive because it requires so many more people to pull off and kind of gets in the way of achieving that handmade kind of field.
I was writing Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and I had some writer’s block, which I often get because I’m on the internet way too much. I went running and while I was running I had the idea for this short film: it was going to be a dad telling his son an epic bed time story that was not constrained by the rules of time. So I went home and sat down and wrote it. What I wrote was almost exactly what we ended up shooting. It’s good sometimes to just make something. There’s a tendency in filmmaking to wait to make things (actors, money, permission, etc.), but I think it’s important in the creative process to sometimes just make things. This was the case of Pioneer where I just decided to write it and decided to make it.
It was a very quick process: I wrote it in May of 2010 and we were going to shoot it the next month, but we had to put it off until September because Will Oldham, who was on tour, asked if we could wait until he was finished. Even getting him to be involved just kind of happened. I didn’t know him, but he was one of my favorite musicians and I knew he would just be able to nail the role so I wrote him a letter and he said yes. It was a lot of people saying yes that let this film happen.
We shot it in two days and it was something that was very manageable so we were able to give ourselves a lot of room to succeed. One of the key things about it was that it was just going to be a guy telling his son a story and there weren’t going to be any cutaways showing what he was talking about. Because of this, I knew sound design was going to be really important in terms of the tenor of the actor’s voices but also with whatever else was going on in that room. So we worked with a couple of different friends who worked in sound to do that and then my friend, Daniel Hart, wrote the music for it. It was the easiest film that I have ever made – it came together with an unnatural grace and simplicity and it just worked. And I think that the fact that it is good is a result of that. There was no stress or compromises, it was a good experience that resulted in a good movie. And that’s a rarity, I found. I felt like we had achieved something with my production because it was so painless and the results were so good. It’s a film where I feel like I achieved everything that I wanted to with it. We made the next film (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) which was much harder and not as smooth sailing and I think the movie is less successful because of that. It’s nice to have Pioneer as sort of that high water mark to aspire towards – if you can get all the pieces in the right place and have pure intentions and keep doing it for the right reasons, things can turn out really well.
On Some Analog Lines:
I made that 10 years ago, which is crazy. I look at that now and I think, wow that was before I started shaving my head! I was 23 at the time and I had made a bunch of movies and none of them felt like they were my movies, they felt like I was imitating other filmmakers and I hadn’t found my own voice. I decided that I really needed to dedicate myself to what I wanted to do as a filmmaker and what was important to me. Part of that, for me, involved getting rid of scripts altogether and making things that were predicated on gut instinct. I had been working, by that point, for six months on a stop motion film without a script and just making it up as I went along. It was taking a long time, and as I was making it I was doing a lot of critical studies on filmmaking, so really thinking theoretically for the first time in my life about the medium and I decided to make a movie about that.
At first, it was not going to have any narration at all – I was just going to make a movie on the thoughts on burgeoning thoughts that I had about that handmade aesthetic I was talking about earlier. So I was making it, and filming things that I thought would be useful – I spent a lot of time filming myself animating this short film, and then my brother was learning how to do CGI animation at that time so I thought I would film him to create a parallel. And then I spent a lot of time filming things like handwritten letters, which none of them made it into the final cut. It was just a matter of things that felt like that they might fit together.
I started editing it together and it was a matter of feeling my way through the dark and learning to trust my gut, which, since then, has become one of the first rule of filmmaking for me – listen to your instincts. This was truly that – making something that I didn’t really know what it was going to be. So as the film starting taking shape and the pieces started to come together, I started coming up with some narration for it in my head and then once I had a final cut, I wrote specific narrations for it and recorded it. I had always intended to have someone else do it, because I didn’t think that my voice was strong enough. But my narration wound up being in the movie itself, and you know, I’m not the best narrator, but it does make it all the more personal. That was really the first movie that I made that I felt like I could actually call my own.
On his biggest challenge:
It’s sort of an interesting collection of shorts in that they were all relatively easy to make in certain regards because they were all sort of spontaneous in their own way. Each one was an idea that became a movie very quickly and didn’t entail many challenges. I mean, of course everything does have some challenges. For example, with Pioneer, it was difficult to work with a four year old. Or with Some Analog Lines, it was not knowing exactly what I was making. There were little things, but I would say that these movies were all unchallenging to make. I think that out of duress, great things can come. But I also believe that that doesn’t have to be the rule and that great things can also come from spontaneous positivity. I think that all these movies came from that, from curiosity, from exploration; there was no great struggle in any one of them and each film is exactly what I had wanted to make and that’s a good thing. That’s something that I try to keep in mind – movies don’t have to be difficult to be good. They almost always are, but they don’t always have to be, it’s something to take solace in.
On the state of Indie filmmaking in Texas:
I think it’s great! The state of Indie filmmaking as a whole, across the world, is an interesting place in that it’s easier than ever to make a movie and harder than ever to get people to look at it. I think Texas is a wonderful place to do it. There are tons of resources in Texas and people who care about movies to help out and that’s wonderful. As far as independent filmmaking in general goes, geographic boundaries are mattering less and less because the Internet has allowed a filmmaker in Texas to connect with and collaborate with a filmmaker in London or Taiwan, or whatever. And that’s something that I think is really special, that the geographic limitations and boundaries that were once present are disappearing. The state of independent filmmaking in Texas is great, but I think it’s not just limited to Texas. All of the filmmakers in Texas who are working today, if they haven’t already done so, I think it would behoove them to reach outside of those boundaries. As far as a place to live while making movies, I love it. I always get more work done and better work done when I’m in Texas.
On his favorite Texas filmmaker:
In the grand scheme of things, Richard Linklater still has the crown in that regard. He’s making the movies that he wants to make and doing it in a way that he wants to do it. His movies are both populous and also incredibly challenging and he bounces back and forth between these. That’s something that is really exciting and inspiring. I often go back and watch his movies with director commentary because his perspectives on life and filmmaking and art and philosophy are just so great – they’re really something to take inspiration from. And the fact that he has remained true to his Texas roots is amazing – that’s something that I admire personally because I don’t want to pack up and move to LA; I want to stay in a place where I am comfortable making films and knowing that he’s done that is great.
On his future projects:
I’m working on a Disney movie right now [Pete’s Dragon] ; it’s something that I wrote and I’m going to be directing it in the next few months. Two years ago, I would not have expected that to be my next movie, but it seems to be the case. And then I’m coming back to Texas to make a movie that is set in Dallas with Robert Redford [Old Man and the Gun]. I’m putting the pieces together for that right now because everyone is planning on making that next year. Those movies are bigger and they take a little bit of time to put together, so in the mean time I ordered a new camera that I am waiting to show up so I can go and make a little handmade stop motion film. As soon as that camera shows up in the mail, I’m going to start shooting that. Right now, I’m sitting on the sofa, writing, and really wanting to make something.
On being included in Frame of Mind:
It’s awesome to have an episode of just my work. It’s hard to believe that I’ve made enough things to justify that. I remember in Junior High, watching Frame of Mind late at night on PBS and being taken aback by these strange independent visions that were being showcased. It’s exciting to know that not only is the show still running all these years later, but that there’s going to be a full episode of films that I’ve made.