- NEW YORK
The odds are long in terms of getting a short selected for the Tribeca Film Festival. This year’s lineup of 63 shorts was curated from a record 5,131 submissions, underscoring what an accomplishment it is to make the festival cut.
SHOOT connected with two of the filmmakers debuting shorts in Tribeca’s Down To Earth/Sci-Fi competition--Sophia Banks for Unregistered, and Will Kindrick for Storm--as well as another, Daniel Askill, who’s in the running for the Tribeca X Award on the strength of Universal Machine for Calvin Klein. The Tribeca X Awards celebrate the best artist and brand collaborations of the past year.
Banks, Kindrick and Askill are all experienced commercialmakers. Kindrick’s roots are in music videos via RadicalMedia but that company has also helped to diversify him into spots and branded fare. Askill is with Serial Pictures for commercials and branded content. And Banks, who had been at BODEGA, is currently contemplating her next commercial production house roost while having picked up feature/TV representation via CAA.
The road to Tribeca was circuitous for Kindrick who first established himself during four seasons working in the art, animation and VFX departments on Nick Jr.’s hit series Yo Gabba Gabba. This led to his writing and directing a comedy web series, Dead Grandma, starring Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite), and a foray into music videos which has proved lasting, starting with London-based Korean DJ Postino’s “I Love It.” Kindrick got the clip gig through Kevin Lee, the former animation director on Yo Gabba Gabba. At first, Kindrick was called upon to do a simple animated loop of an owl dancing (the owl being from Postino’s album cover). But upon listening to the track, something clicked for Kindrick. He wrote a treatment for a far more ambitious live-action video--replete with visuals, costume design concepts, props, etc.--and wound up directing it.
The Postino piece--which earned a UKMVA Best Dance Video nomination--caught the eye of RadicalMedia music video executive producer Jennifer Heath, who was also a fan of Yo Gabba Gabba. Kindrick joined the RadicalMedia roster in fall of 2013 and his video career has since blossomed with collaborations spanning such artists as Ice Cube, The Moth and The Flame, Brian Wilson, Neon Trees, Noah Cyrus, Lindsey Stirling, She & Him, and Loren Grey. Via Radical, Kindrick has also moved into the ad arena with campaigns for Twitter and the Best Friends Animal Society.
Kindrick began fiddling with a concept for a narrative piece, perhaps another music video, centered on the current dating culture and related apps. Over time, the idea evolved into Storm in which a young man, Blake, is looking to find his life’s love via a government-enforced dating app. Just when it looks like he will make an algorithmic match at the 11th hour, the futuristic iPad-like device running the app falls into the bathtub in which he’s soaking. Blake is thus thrust through a series of turbulent splash portals on the road to either romance or oblivion. When his first journey ends in limbo, he’s left to decide what’s next, including perhaps another splash-laden sojourn.
Kindrick related, “On a surface level Storm is a fast paced and whimsical story about a guy teleporting through a series of splash portals, but at its emotional core is a metaphor chronicling an entire relationship that I hope people pick up on. When you first start seeing someone, you’re both vulnerable and don’t know what to expect, a lot like Blake running around naked and disoriented. When he finally meets Natalie and is shown a simulation of what their life could be like together, that’s when you’ve found your partner. You’re in love and everything is right in the world...then the storm hits. Someone losing a job, death of a parent, or a million other external or internal trails test the relationship. Sometimes all you can do is hold each other tight through all the chaos. Sometimes you make it through, other times you’re taken out by a flash flood and ‘restored to default settings.’ Then you have to decide whether it’s worth it or not to ‘reenter the splash portals’ and do it all over. The second time around for Blake, he knows exactly what he wants and goes for it regardless of the impending storm.”
Kindrick first came up with the basic Storm premise two years ago in New York while shooting a music video. “It was Easter 2017,” recalled Kindrick who in-between videos and other projects worked on the short off and on. “There’s something about coming back to New York for Tribeca two years later that’s pretty special,” he related.
At first, Kindrick did a bit of a double take to find that Storm was selected to be in competition in Tribeca’s sci-fi program. “I never once said sci-fi when we were doing the film. It didn’t dawn on me. It wasn’t until we got to Tribeca. And I love-sci-fi. I grew up on that genre.”
Perhaps Kindrick wasn’t thinking sci-fi during the writing/directing process due to his focus which was “to tell a story where you were able to connect to with the character in a short amount of time, so that within 10 minutes you’re rooting for him, understood what he was going through; the same for the girl on the other side, what she was experiencing.”
In terms of what Kindrick experienced on Storm, there was a notable stop and start to production that couldn’t have been anticipated. Kindrick had an extra two days of shooting scheduled for about a month after the initial production had wrapped. But during the interim his lead actor, John Bubniak, had a snowboarding accident, breaking both of his wrists which were in casts. Thus the additional shoot days had to be pushed back six months. Like the splash portals, Kindrick observed that in filming “you’re often swimming upstream but you have to keep going.”
The upstream journey has yielded an eventful year thus far on the festival circuit for Kindrick, extending beyond Tribeca. Back in March, his Kaskade music video “Tight” (featuring Madge) was screened at the SXSW Film Festival.
Banks’ filmmaking is informed by expertise that spans fashion, design, visuals, branding, and extensive work as a commercial director. She initially established herself in the fashion industry, founding the store Satine and earning such honors as being a Harper’s Bazaar Fashion Leader over consecutive years. She then launched her fashion line Whitley Kros which was embraced by various celebs.
Harboring directorial aspirations, Banks didn’t rest on her fashion laurels, studying at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, UCLA and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. She even had a stint shadowing famed filmmaker Wim Wenders.
Banks made her first directing mark in the ad arena for such brands as Pepsi, BMW, Target, Doritos and Ford as well as fashion films with Pam & Gela, Ralph and Russo, Fred Segal and GenLuxe Magazine. She also helmed a number of music videos. Among Banks’ work that gained recognition was a piece for Christian Siriano, Making It On Time, featuring women wearing couture gowns skateboarding through the streets and industrial back alleys of downtown L.A.
Many of Banks’ commercialmaking exploits came at production house Splendid & Co., and then BODEGA (which Splendid was folded into last summer). She has since left BODEGA and plans to seek a new spotmaking/branded content roost after Tribeca.
Unregistered marks Banks’ first full fledged narrative short and it being selected for Tribeca is personally gratifying. As a filmmaker, she observed, “you’re often making something in a bubble. It means something to you and you hope it means something to someone else.” Gaining inclusion into Tribeca underscores that Unregistered indeed means something to others--and that it will have the opportunity to find a festival audience which in turn can serve as a launch pad to other venues and/or outlets.
Directed by Banks who wrote it with Erin Dignam, Unregistered introduces us to a young couple navigating analog and digital connections in the not-too-distant future of a dystopian Los Angeles. Placing us in a society in which a big brother regime restricts individual freedom, including limiting each household to one child, the film tackles a theme of great importance to Banks, one which she first became aware of through her grandmother who recollected her time as a teenager living in Nazi-controlled Poland. Banks’ grandma told her that prejudice, discrimination and hate built gradually over time there--against the disabled, gays, Jews, Blacks. “The moment someone is discriminated against, we lose all freedom,” Banks recalled as being her grandma’s message. It’s a message that sadly still has relevance and resonance today and it lives up to the Tribeca Down To Earth competition in which sci-fi shorts explore the “gravity” of situations.
Unregistered not only reflects Banks’ concerns but also her filmmaking prowess, including the ability to attract notable talent to help realize a narrative vision. For Unregistered she connected with and enlisted the talents of DP Paul Cameron, ASC (Westworld, Collateral, Man on Fire, Gone in 60 Seconds), VFX producer Ivy Agregan (The Revenant), consulting VFX supervisor Christoph Roth (VFX producer on the upcoming live-action The Lion King), and composer Liam O’Neil, a member of the Kings of Leon band. Unregistered marked O’Neil’s first movie score.
Banks, Cameron and their colleagues also innovated for Unregistered, creating an in-camera virtual reality experience in which actors could interact with images projected onto a 360 giant lampshade-shaped configuration consisting of panty hose-like material. Actors could be situated within this environ, and in turn see and react to projected original imagery lensed by Cameron as if they were in the midst of an immersive experience. Cameron could in turn shoot through the lampshade material, capturing these interactions, putting viewers into a VR world in the year 2025.
Director Askill made the Tribeca cut for Universal Machine, one of four finalists for the Tribeca X Award in the Shorts competition. Askill collaborated with agency Visionaire on the film for Calvin Klein. A meditation on the ultimate fate of humanity’s relationship with technology, Universal Machine follows a gifted young woman who awakens into a post-apocalyptic world and must transcend a violent confrontation with a lifelike Artificial Intelligence. Progressing through an elaborate sequence of dance and fight choreography, the action of the film beckons towards an evolved future of peace and compassion.
Askill assembled varied elements to bring the short to fruition. Universal Machine was shot in Dubai, the lead character was from Pakistan, there was a Japanese performer, a Belgian choreographer, and a CGI character had to be created. Universal Machine also features music by Philip Glass, whose work Askill has long admired.
Universal Machine marked the third time Askill had a project calling for a CG photo-real character to interact with a human. He embraced that creative challenge on Universal Machine, adding that the overall project was made easier by both Visionaire and Calvin Klein. Askill said he was afforded a measure of creative freedom that far exceeded what a brand-related project would normally allow, with Calvin Klein taking on a more philanthropic bent as opposed to a commercially driven one, with the fashion brand providing wardrobe for the film.
Gaining inclusion into Tribeca is especially pleasing for Askill who maintains the nearby Collider Studio, a creative collective he co-founded. Askill, an Aussie who now splits his time between Los Angeles and New York, earlier this year joined bicoastal Serial Pictures for North American representation in commercials, branded entertainment and music videos. He also signed with Serial partner company Anonymous Content for film and TV literary management.
Askill has directed campaigns for assorted brands ranging from Audi to Dior, Smirnoff, XBOX and Sony. His music videos include Sia’s “Elastic Heart” and “Chandelier,” the latter generating nearly 2 billion views, making it one of the most-watched YouTube videos of all time. The director’s work has received nominations and/or awards from such competitions as The Grammys, MTV VMAs. Lumiere Awards, Clio, D&AD, and Cannes Lions.
Askill is no stranger to the festival circuit. In 2003, for example, he wrote and directed the critically acclaimed, surreal short film We Have Decided Not To Die. Exhibited in various international film festivals, the film won prizes at France’s Clermont-Ferrand Festival, Melbourne International, Brooklyn International and SXSW. The work is notable for its portrayal of the human body, ritual and use of visceral special effects.
Editor’s note: Below are trailers for Unregistered and Storm.
Production Banks Films and TXL Productions Sophia Banks, director; Paul Cameron, DP; Peter Winther, Luke Watson, Erin Dignam, Kim Winther, producers. Editorial Howard Smith, Claudia Costello, editors. VFX Company Ingenuity VFX Ivy Agregan, VFX supervisor. Music Liam O’Neil, composer. Performers Trevor Jackson, Dylan Penn