Narratives focused on our over-reliance on technology have become very popular in the world of Short Film in recent times. Tackling “fashionable” subjects from a fresh perspective is always a challenge, but one filmmaker who always seems to find a new angle is Tokyo-based Director Mackenzie Sheppard. His latest short Moth seeks to examine the disconnect our obsession with devices has developed, but as is always the case with his work, he does so in an inventive and challenging fashion. The filmmaker joins us today to discuss shooting on 16mm, creating CGI moths and his interest in using technology as a plot device:
Welcome back to Directors Notes Mackenzie, today we’re talking about your latest short film Moth – can you introduce the film to our audience and explain a little about where the story came from?
The film is called Moth, and was based on an analogy: Man is to Phone as Moth is to Light. From this main idea, we built out a matrix of scenarios & characters that expressed different facets of the idea. Each character had their own digression into moth-like behaviour, that formed a sandbox for us to explore each vignette.
We’ve seen you tackle a range of subjects in your film, but from Man in Phone to Donny the Drone, technology seems to play a key role in your storytelling, what is it that draws you to narratives revolving around technological themes?
I’ve always been interested in personification and how it can make the inanimate animate. I’ve done this in a literal way with Donny the Drone before. For Moth, it was all about finding ways to personify technology using the camera, the characters, the moths in a style that was more abstract to the senses.
Reliance on technology feels like a subject already well-covered in film, what do you feel that Moth adds to the conversation and how aware were you when creating this film that you had to make something “different”?
Moth was all about exploring the disconnection, derealization, and depersonalized experience that the overstimulation of technology can precipitate. I don’t think the majority of people realize how addicted they really are to technology in distracting themselves from subconscious stress.
With that in mind, what do you hope a viewer takes away from a viewing of your film?
I hope the viewer feels the freedom to interpret the film as they like. There’s a lot more in there that we talked about while making it that people will latch on to. I don’t want to spoon-feed.
Visually, as we’ve come to expect from your work, Moth is a striking piece – can you explain a little about the cinematography of the piece – what did you shoot on and what was the effect you wanted the photography to have? At times it almost feels like it’s shot from a moth’s perspective?
Oliver Millar was the main collaborator on this project. We started shooting some tests with the Light Monolith at the beginning of the shot. Ironically, the last shot of the film was the first shot of the project.
We originally planned to shoot it all on an A7, but we decided to shoot some 16mm tests for fun. After seeing the dailies, we decided to fully commit to 16mm. The main reason being that the analogue effect of the flickering of the gate, created an ADHD-MOTH vision. It personified the moth perfectly. So yes, you are right in interpreting that the camera was intended to always feel like a Moth POV fluttering through the city.
Moths play a role not only in the film’s analogy, but actually starring in the film. Can you tell us how you went about creating the moth’s in the film? The look very real, but I’m assuming they’re done in post?
We knew that Moth’s would be impossible to block and stage. Moth actor-unions are a pain to deal with anyways… 😉
Platige Image was the VFX company behind creating the realistic CGI moths. They absolutely crushed it. My most memorable shot is when the Moth crawls out of one of the characters mouths.
Music plays an important role in driving the story forward, how did you get composer SCHALLBAUER involved and what do you think their works adds to your piece?
SCHALLBAUER and Thomas Seuss of Audioforce, have done all the original score on my shorts since Man in Phone. They are wonderful collaborators and tackle music in a way that draws on a lot of sound design elements.
We wanted the Light Monolith to start off the film as something to be entrancingly beautiful. But by the end, it HAS YOU, and you are pulled in by its energy. This was the main brief for them, and they crushed it.
Last time we talked you were discussing a longer version of Donny the Drone and a web series you were working on, are these still on the cards and do you have any other new projects on the horizon?
Yes Donny the Drone is on its way. I just completed an original series with Wieden Kennedy Amsterdam that will be released this month. Excited to share it with you all!
Thank you for having me!
Moth is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.