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Daniel Laabs: Making Personal Films

by Mashal Noor 22 Oct 2014 8:20 AM

This week on Frame of Mind, watch two short films that were showcased as a part of the SxSW Texas Shorts.


This week on Frame of Mind, we’re highlighting two of the top shorts from this year’s SXSW Texas Shorts.

  • Tune in to KERA TV on Thursday at 10 PM to catch this week’s episode!
Jeff Walker and Brennen Bliss in Easy, a short film by Daniel Laabs. Photo: Noe Medrano Jr. and Jan Brandt

Actors Jeff Walker and Brennen Bliss in “Easy,” a short film by Daniel Laabs. Photo: Noe Medrano Jr. & Jan Brandt

The episode will feature two shorts:

  • “Easy”, by Daniel Laabs – A character study about the relationship between two brothers, one on the verge of becoming an adult, the other becoming a teenager, and impact each others choices have on one another.
  • “Molly”, by Craig Elrod – After a breakup with his girlfriend Molly, Byron and his best friend organize a complicated breakdown.

I spoke with Daniel Laabs, the director of “Easy”:

On the idea behind “Easy:”

Prior to making the film, I came out to my family as gay.  I had known since I was 10 years old, so that was 17 years that I had not talked to them about it.  I think a lot of what kept me from wanting to come out was just interpersonal relationships within my family.  I had made another film prior to “Easy” in which I noticed that when I said things in my films, my family was very keen and receptive to them and the ideas, and so when I set out to make “Easy,” I just thought that I’d like to make a film that communicates some ideas with my family, maybe not just about me, but about a lot of things that were on my mind and that we don’t talk about as a family.  It really opened up a lot of those pathways, which is exactly what I had hoped it would.  To be more concise, I typically approach films with one or two people in mind and make it with the idea that they will watch it some day.  So for “Easy,” I approached making it with the idea that I could watch it with certain members of my family.

On the process of creating “Easy:”

We did open casting with this film, so we found all of our actors from just people who showed up.  My producers and I really didn’t have a clear idea of who the people were that we needed, so we wanted to see a lot of different types of people.  From there, we found actors that I wanted to work with, that I felt like I had a good rapport with and then rewrote the script around what those actors were really good at doing.

On his biggest challenge:

With this particular film, the most challenging part was editing.  I think the film became a lot more personal and exposed a lot more o my own personal experiences during editing.  It became more of an honest film than I had intended it to be, not that I wanted to make it a dishonest film.  The more we cut away the frivolous stuff, the more it was about these really personal things.  It was very difficult to get over myself and let the film be about something really personal.

Dallas filmmaker Daniel Laabs. Photo: Jan Brandt

Dallas filmmaker Daniel Laabs. Photo: Jan Brandt

On being a filmmaker in Texas:

Well since I’ve never made a film anywhere else and don’t know what that’s like, I can’t compare Texas to LA or anything.  The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is a lot of peers that I look up to and really admire are always from out of state, either in New York or Chicago or Seattle or New Orleans, or just somewhere else.  But what’s funny is that whenever I think that I feel isolated and that there are so many people making such great films in New York or something, they always turn around and say that’s what they always say about people in Texas.  They always see people making films in Texas and say things like “Woah! We can’t believe they’re making those films in Texas!”  I think it’s a very subjective thing to make a film anywhere because you get caught up in your head and in your own little world, but I think it’s the same everywhere.  I can’t imagine it being any different making an Indie film anywhere – if you want to make a film, you just make it.  If you don’t have any money to pay anybody, then shoot the film yourself, steal locations, and just break the rules.  Then again, there are no rules.  I don’t think making film in Texas is any different from anywhere else.

On his favorite Texas filmmaker:

I think Richard Linklater is a super outstanding filmmaker.  David Gordon Green is from Texas and I really like a lot of his films and I admire all of the work that he’s done in comedy and drama.  When I was a young filmmaker, people like David Lowery, James Johnson, Clay Liford, Yen Tan, were very influential to me.  The four of them were very inspiring to me and showed me that I could make films about anything – I didn’t have to make films that my peers were making in film school, I could make whatever I want.  When you’re in film school, you have a very insular community, and if everybody’s making horror films, then you make an even better horror film.  I was never really interested in that, and those guys were making films that were very personal and dramas and simple and experimenting in how to tell a story, or what constitutes a story and I thought that was very interesting.

On his future as a filmmaker:

I’ve got like a million short films that I want to make.  And I guess the cat’s out of the bag, but I’m in casting for a feature film right now that’s going to shoot sometime next year.

On being included in Frame of Mind:

This is my third time being included on Frame of Mind and every time I’m always surprised and honored.  Bart has been a supporter of my work for many years.  If it wasn’t for organizations like the Dallas Video Fest, I don’t know if I would have kept making films, because it’s really important to have organizations like that go out of their way to fight for your work.  They are that for so many different filmmakers and it’s incredible.  I’m always thrilled to be a part of Frame of Mind and every time it feels fantastic.  I never expect it and it’s always a true privilege to be a part of that.

On where to find more of his work:

All of my short films are now available on Fandor.  You can sign up for a free week and watch all of my films.  I highly recommend that people sign up for this service, especially if they like the films similar to those shown on Frame of Mind, independent films in general, or challenging documentaries, Fandor is way better than any other streaming service.  I’ve had it for three months now and I don’t know how I could live without it.